Occupation: Anthropology Professor
Residence: Washington, DC
Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2014
Primary Language: English
My parents and I were lounging around in our rental house over Spring Break, and we got to talking about family. My father is from somewhat rural Kentucky, and has told a few stories about his family to me before. So I asked my father if he knew of any family legends, and my mother, overhearing the question, suggested to my father, who was trying and failing to come up with something, to talk about the family silver.
Me: Do you know of any family legends or anything like that?
Informant: Family legends…family legends…
Mother [in background to informant]: The silver. Your silver.
Informant: Ah. I’ve got a family legend for you. Yes. You know the silver we have at home? For when we have company?
Informant: Okay. You know that the initial that is on it is an H, not an A?
Me: Okay…To be honest, I’ve never noticed an initial on it before.
Informant: Well there is an initial on it, because part of the custom for having stuff like this is to have a family crest or family initial on it. And the initial on this one is H, because this came from my Uncle Charlie. Charlie Hatfield.
Me: Okay. As in Hatfield and McCoy?
Informant: Yes. As in Hatfield and McCoy. And the story is that…um…let’s see…where did I get this silver from? Ah, yes, I got this silver from my grandmother, my mother’s mother, whose husband, my mother’s father, was first cousin to somebody named Nelia who was married to someone named Charlie Hatfield. Kay? This would have been back in the late 19th century. And I think Charlie Hatfield was a successful merchant. So cousin Nelia…
Me: And how do you spell that?
Informant: N-E-L-I-A. Probably from Cornelia. Her name was probably Cornelia. Acquired this silver that is inscribed with an H, as in Hatfield. And part of the story is that in Kentucky, everybody is related to either the Hatfields or the McCoys in some way. So we are apparently related to the Hatfields in some way. How I don’t know. Kay? And it may be no more than just the coincidence of the name. But in Kentucky, this would be the story of how we’re related to the Hatfields. So cousin Charlie, which is what my grandmother called him, because he was the cousin by marriage of my grandfather. Write this down.
Informant: Cousin by marriage of my grandfather may have been related to the Hatfields. And that’s the story of the family silver.
Me: And what is the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys?
Informant: It’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet story. The Hatfields and the McCoys were two families from Eastern Kentucky in the mountains where people are very family proud and they had some kind of enmity between them. But a boy from one family and a girl from the other family either ran off or got it together in some way. Or he may have abducted her, I don’t know. But this started a feud, a shooting feud.
Informant: Kay? And so lots of people got killed in the conflict between the Hatfields and the McCoys. But Kenucky is not a very big state, so it is possible that Uncle Charlie was somehow related to the Hatfields of Eastern Kentucky although Uncle Charlie was in Western Kentucky. But most of the people in Western Kentucky came from one of two places. One is people with English names like mine came from Virginia. They came from across the mountains mostly after the Revolutionary War to steal land from the Indians, because part of what the Revolutionary War was about was opening up the West, as the British prevented the colonies from expanding Westward. So the Andersons came that way. Basically through West Virginia, the Cumberland Gap, through Tennessee . Kay? And into Western Kentucky. So it is entirely possible that someone named Hatfield from Western Kentucky could be related to someone named Hatfield in Eastern Kentucky because these are English names. How’s that for a family legend?
Me: That’s good. Thanks, Dad.
This family legend is, like all family legends, about both people and stuff. The people are Charlie Hatfield and Nelia. The stuff is the family silver that my father inherited from his grandparents. The Hatfields and the McCoys are famous names in Kentucky, and everyone in Kentucky is said to be related to either the Hatfields or to the McCoys. Whether Charlie Hatfield was truly related to the Hatfields of Eastern Kentucky or not is unknown, but he shared the name, so it is possible. Thus, this legend may or may not be true, and my father and I will probably never know if “Uncle Charlie” was a relative of the famous Hatfields, but the possibility of this being true is what makes this legend compelling. As it stands, I am set to inherit this silver, and I will certainly want to keep its history alive and tell my kids, when I have them someday, this legend. It is a compelling story, and connects my family to one of the most well-known names in my father’s home state.