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Library Happenings – Surname brings search into Irish heritage

By Angie Georgeff

When I was little, I thought that because my surname was O’Dell my family was Irish. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green, but we never ate corned beef and cabbage or recounted any Irish folk tales. I now know why:  the Odells are English. There certainly were clues.

My grandfather George Alfred bore the names of the patron saint of England and the only English king called “Great.” He wrote his surname as his ancestors had, with no apostrophe or capital “D.” That is, until he joined the U.S. Army during the Philippine-American War. That was when his commanding officer, Captain O’Dell, informed George that he was Irish and that he wasn’t writing his name correctly. I doubt that George had ever thought much about it, so he accepted his commander’s pronouncement, tweaked his name and claimed to be “Irish.”

As it turned out, quite a few of my forbears had made their home on the Emerald Isle—just not the Odells. During my genealogical research, I learned that the greatest percentage of my ancestors were Scots-Irish, Protestants who were represented by the orange band on the tricolor Irish flag rather than the green of the native Catholic population. They had left the Scottish Lowlands during a time of English oppression, and settled in the Irish province of Ulster. They eventually acquired the color and name of Orangemen for their support of the British King William III of Orange. While William was popular with my Presbyterian forefathers, his successors were not.

When English persecution of religious dissenters followed them to Ireland, many of them left for America. Most of my Scots-Irish ancestors entered the colonies at Philadelphia, settling for a while in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. They then followed the Great Appalachian Valley south into Augusta County, Virginia and eventually came on into Tennessee. According to the “Washington Post,” Irish heritage is claimed by more Americans than any other ancestry except German. Even so, the 88.9 percent of us who are not Irish can still wear green and claim to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. It worked for my grandfather George.

Board Meeting

The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet in the library lobby at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 16. The public is welcome to attend. If you should need any special accommodations, please call the library at 743-6533.

Easter Forecast

The April forecast calls for fun. Planning is underway for our upcoming Easter celebration for kids. If you would like to help, donations of plastic eggs and wrapped candy would be very much appreciated. Thank you!