Living Today, History Tomorrow
Published 10:14 am Friday, March 24, 2023
(Editor’s Note: Sam McKinney is a native of Carter County, born in 1960 at the old Carter County Memorial Hospital. Both of his parents were born and raised in Carter County – his father, Sam McKinney, Sr., was from Shell Creek and his mother, Phyllis Boone, from Roan Mountain.
McKinney was raised in Abingdon, Va., and currently lives in Chilhowee. He retired from public education in 2012 as a building principal, but still works. McKinney enjoys sports and genealogy. Four years ago he began writing a book about his mother’s family: The Other Boones, Love and War. He finished it two years ago and is currently finishing a book about his father’s family, The McKinneys, Bucks, and Related Families.
“Many stories from both books come from stories published in the Elizabethton Star and the Johnson City Press that I could find on Newspaper.com. Besides the family stories handed down from generation to generation, these newspapers have been my biggest asset,” said McKinney.
“Our families play a part in the history of the communities of Carter County. I didn’t write these books for money or fame. Instead, I wrote them to touch future generations,” McKinney wrote.)
Living Today, History Tomorrow
How many of us grew up where a typical Sunday consisted of going to church and then to our grandparents for a big meal with our aunts, uncles, and cousins? For some of my family, that was a typical Sunday. Sadly, that was not the case for my family. Not long after my parents, Phyllis Boone and Sam McKinney, were married in the parsonage behind Roan Mountain United Methodist Church, the young couple, unsure about their future, decided that the best thing might be for Sam to join the Army. This would give them a chance to choose what paths they wanted to take. That one decision would lead the young couple to Ft. Sill in Lawton, Okla. After serving his country, Sam and his family settled in Abingdon, Va., where they would raise their two sons and a daughter.
I tell this story only for you to ask if you can answer these questions about your family. How or why did your family settle in the area that they did? If you had a family member in the Armed Forces, where were they stationed? What was their rank, first job, etc.? Or why does a sibling have a specific name? Is it a family name, or were parents expecting a girl, and to their surprise, it was a boy? Maybe they named him after the local disc jockey on the radio station. That’s how my brother received his name, Victor Blake. Some readers may think, I know some of those things about our family, but who really cares? My reply would be maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually, your children or grandchildren or another descendant might want to know. There will be generations of your family to come. What about them? How will they know if your family’s story is never told?
I will admit that I would fit in the “I never really cared” category up until 1994, when my dad passed away. That triggered lots of questions that I couldn’t answer. I knew his parents’ names and his brothers’ and sisters’ names or nicknames. One of his sisters was called “Doll.”” After my dad passed, I discovered her name was Sharon. He also had twin brothers “Jug” and “Little Boy,” also known as Larry and Garry, respectively. Even though I knew my dad was one of 13 children, I didn’t know that I had 25 first cousins. I knew the names of only two of those cousins on that side of the family. Of those 25, I lived within 75 miles of all but four. To explain how distant, I was from my family, my wife and I took a bus trip to Atlanta, Ga., to see my beloved Dallas Cowboys play football. During a stop in Chattanooga, a young man came up to me and said, “I think we are cousins. Your dad and my mother are brother and sister.” Fast forward to 28 years, my cousin, David, and I are good friends, have a mutual love of the Cowboys, and have even flown to Dallas twice to see them play with several other family members. What a blessing that I accidentally crossed paths with him!
As for my mother’s family, she only had one sibling, and they adored one another. There was a time when they were raised apart due to family circumstances. (This was also true for my dad. Other family members raised him and his two oldest sisters because their family was so large.) In 1960, my mom’s sister was in East Tennessee State College school when I was born in Elizabethton. My father was then at Fort Jackson, S.C., so my aunt took a bus from Johnson City to check on her sister and brand-new nephew. Two years later, my dad gave my mom’s sister’s hand in marriage. My mother was her Matron of Honor. But like so many families, the siblings grew apart, most of it due to the 200 miles between them and the raising of their families. Today, they are the dearest of friends and talk to each other on the phone and visit as frequently as possible.
There was a story about a king who wanted to know his family history, so he summoned one of his servants. He told the servant that he wanted him to go and find out about the family he descended from, and he did not care what the cost would be. The servant left and returned several months later. Once in front of his majesty, he explained, “Sire, I have good news and bad news.” Excitedly, the King said, “What is the good news?” The servant replied, “The information and research I have done will only cost you one pound of gold.” The King was delighted and replied, “That is great! What is the bad news?” With a large grin, the servant replied, “It will take all the gold in your kingdom to pay me not to tell everyone what I have learned!”
My families are no different from others in that when you research, you will most likely find it is good and bad. The immediate families I descend from on my dad’s side are the McKinneys and the Bucks. On my mother’s side, we descend from the Boones and Halls. All these families have some beautiful stories, but they also have some tragic events. Our family’s history is our history. It is what makes us.
I have written two books about my family, The Other Boones; Love and War was written about my mother’s family. The McKinneys and Bucks; and Related Families is about my father’s family. In both books, great stories have been passed down from generation to generation. There are humorous stories about things my great-grandfather would say or do. There are stories about the love my grandmothers had for their children and grandchildren and of course, there are stories of love and courtships. There are also stories regarding Native Americans which have brought about many more unanswered questions. There are also stories of tragedy and hardships.
One of the book’s most intriguing stories about the Boones is about a father and son and the Civil War. This story is so fascinating that a play or documentary about these two men’s accounts should be made. I heard the story from two great-aunts and a cousin who wrote a book about our Boone family. Sometimes research proves or disproves some of the family lore, such as the obituary of my great-uncle, which said he was a descendant of Daniel Boone. Research showed that we are related to the legendary Frontiersman, but he is my sixth great-uncle, and we are not his direct descendants. As for my dad’s family, several are tied to Tennessee history, especially in the Buck and the Taylor families. Jonathan Buck once pastored the oldest church in Tennessee, Sinking Creek Baptist, between Elizabethton and Johnson City, Tenn. Sadly, he lost his wife and religion and was “kicked out of the church,” only to be let back in after settling back in and repenting. Jonathan’s daughter-in-law, Nancy Agnes Taylor (sixth great-grandmother), was an aunt to two brothers, Robert and Alfred Taylor, who would become Governors of the State of Tennessee. They ran against each other, one as a Democrat and the other as a Republican.
I have spent hours researching official documents like the U.S. Census, and birth, death, and marriage certificates. I have also researched pension records, service records, wills, deeds, and newspaper articles. I have traveled to various courthouses, cemeteries, and libraries throughout North Carolina and Tennessee. The information provided about the census can significantly help identify who all were in a household and how they were related. Everyone’s age, race, sex, and occupation were listed. Sometimes it was listed if the occupant(s) of the home could read and write or if they were a veteran.
Birth and death certificates vary by state. Besides the obvious, most have the names of parents and spouses. Military records share where the person was stationed, rank, military occupation, qualifications, pay and awards. Surprisingly, when I received my father’s service records, I found that what he did was classified as “SECRET.” I had no idea why, but after some research, I found that my dad taught other service members to set up a Nuclear Warhead called the Lacrosse Missile. Looking at Civil War records has been very eye-opening. Many Confederates would desert to go check on their families and then return to their units. Another story I could piece together was about my great-great-great-grandfather, James Harrison Teaster. James was wounded and captured at Hanover Courthouse outside of Richmond, Va. He was sent back to the area in a prisoner exchange, only to be wounded and captured again at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge. His was one of many sad war stories.
Most of the information from these records was accurate and cut and dry. But that is not the case with all newspaper articles. Sure, they had sections about people transferring property, getting marriage licenses, etc. Still, some of the funny things found were in the community section, for example, “Roan Mountain Happening or Shell Creek News.” Whoever wrote the Shell Creek Section kept great tabs on the community. There probably wasn’t much to do in the sleepy community of Shell Creek except to wonder and report on what someone’s neighbors were doing.
Make no mistake, writing a book about family history is only for some. There is much research and work to be done. While this can all be time-consuming and sometimes costly, it can be very enjoyable and rewarding.
If researching and writing a book about your family history isn’t for you, please consider sharing your stories in recordings or manuscripts. You never know when one of your descendants may share the same passion that I do… to know the family that came before them.