Who is that Masked Ancestor?

My grandmother told me a story many moons ago about her grandparents. She never mentioned them by name, so I had no clue who she was talking about, but it was the kind of story that tends to stick with you.

If you thought I was going to talk about an ancestor who was a bandit, sorry, but no, I have none that I’m aware of. Same thing for ancestors who were cowboys or bank robbers; nor any who had an overwhelmingly large collection of Halloween costumes. My Uncle Steve worked in a nuclear plant for several years, but I don’t think that’s the same thing at all.

No, what I’m talking about is ancestors whose stories you know, but whose names you do not. Or perhaps ancestors whose stories have been mixed up with someone else’s. We all have them, and unfortunately they can create quite a tangle in our family tree, or at least cause a lot of puzzlement.

So, this story is about my masked ancestors. My maternal grandmother, Ruth (Anderson) Ledford, whom we called Maw-Maw, once told me about her grandparents. The man was Dutch, or so I recall her saying, and his wife was Cherokee. Now, apparently the wife was a harridan. She was very mean to her husband and possibly even abusive, but worse (in my grandmother’s eyes anyway), she refused to cook for him.

Of course, my grandmother’s version was much more colorful. I regret that I did not capture this story in some way outside my own memory, but considering my age when she told me, perhaps I can be forgiven.

For years, I searched for this couple. Not knowing their names, I naturally began with my grandmother’s actual grandparents, but quickly eliminated them: neither husband was Dutch, or even of Dutch or German (Deutsche) origin, and neither wife was Cherokee, or even partly Cherokee, that I could determine.

So I began to go backwards through Maw-Maw’s lineage, from her great-grandparents to her great-great-grandparents, and realized eventually that she would not have referred to anyone that far back as a grandparent. I finally settled, tentatively, on her great-grandparents, Andrew John Curtis and Marinda/Miranda Fletcher, parents of Maw-Maw’s maternal grandmother Lelah (Curtis) Dills, primarily because I suspected that they had a troubled marriage from the records I had found related to them.

The summer before my mother’s death, I finally confessed the identity problem to her, in the hopes that she would remember the story and perhaps knew the names of the individuals involved. She thought for a moment and then told me that the couple was Maw-Maw’s mother’s parents, Charlie Dills, who was called Dutch (and was not of Dutch origin), and Lelah Curtis. Mom remembered hearing stories about this couple, and was happy to help me (finally!) identify them.

From other researchers, I’ve learned that it was Charlie’s brother, Canary May Dills, who was called Dutch, not Charlie. And I’ve never been able to show that Lelah was a Cherokee, nor either of her parents, nor their parents. (To be fair, I still have research to conduct in those generations.) But to have this story finally matched with the right ancestors has been both a relief and a pleasure.

Take that, you masked ancestors!

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