April 9, 2012
Folklore Type: Legend
Informant Bio: Greg is my father. He is the hardest working man I know. He really values hard work so much so that he named his daughter after the hardest working woman he ever knew, his grandmother Laura. He grew up relatively poorer or lower middle class, and his father grew up dirt poor in very rural Hix, Texas. Both of Greg’s parents worked, and he started working at the age of ten. He has never stopped since as far as I know. Today Greg is a very accomplished and sought after Corporate Financial Officer. He is also very caring like his father.
Context: My Papa, my Father’s father, died. We were going to have the funeral soon. I knew I wanted to ask my Dad about the stories his grandfather told him because he talked in length about talking about them, but never told them himself. The one he came up with although he was a little hesitant to tell it because it is not very pretty is the story of our last name, Williams.
I spent every summer with them [father’s parents] as a youngster until I started playing football and had summer workouts at home. It was like going to camp except with much better food as my grandmother was an amazing cook having raised 8 kids. I did everything with my grandfather during those summers – milked the cow, tended to the acres of garden, mowed the pasture, rode horses, hunted squirrels and listened to him tell stories usually about people I did not know. He was a small man at 5’ 2” tall and my grandmother was 5’11” tall. They made quite a pair. She was fairly quiet but Lee Williams loved to tell stories while we sat outside at night eating watermelon. My grandfather and my father always thought our last name was different. I asked how they could not know. They said it was a different time. My grandfather had several siblings and they all thought this was true.
My grandfathers’ father’s family migrated from Ireland and my great grandfather lived with his family in Baltimore, Maryland during the civil war. My grandfather’s father got into a confrontation with the law. We think either over union confiscation of horses the family owned or somehow taking up for his brother over something or both? My great grandfather fled Baltimore to New Orleans where he traveled back to Ireland for some period of time. He later returned to the United States via Galveston, Texas migrating up from the coast into central Texas settling about 30 miles west of Bryan/College Station, home of Texas A&M. He settled in central Texas and we think my great grandfather changed his name to Williams to easily blend into society.
Informant Analysis: We heard the same stories over and over again. No television, (laughing) no radio, it was pretty much the only form of entertainment. At first it bothered me a lot. You know it’s kinda one of those things where as a kid, Tommy was doing the project, and we were going to go to Baltimore to figure out who we were. And at one point the court house burned down and a lot of the documents were gone, but in the end it is what it is and I know I’m Irish and who I am. The other thing it probably did, is it gave me a sense of you know when they were in Baltimore they had horses and a farm and back in those days that was everything, and then it was all gone. You know he went back to central Texas with the shirt on his back and had to start over, and he had a family and started a new life.
Analysis: This legend really is not discussed in my family. I probably bring it up the most out of everyone because I think it is interesting. It tends to make other people in my rather large extended family uncomfortable. What made it stick in my mind is that the last person I talked to about it was my Papa. I identify with it as a part of my identity that is yet to be explored because I really value my origins. This is something I learned from my father. He knows where he has come from because of where he ended up in spite of his origins, as did his father, and as did my Dad’s great-grandfather. Whether or not all of the details in this legend are true is unknown thus far, but it is the closest thing to an ancestry the Williams family has.
Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California
ANTH 333m Spring 2012