March 20, 2002
I'm Ashamed of My People
The greatest thing about keeping a regular site is that sometimes people stumble across it while doing a web search, and send me email. This week I have gotten more email on this site than I have probably in the past six months combined. The most intriguing, however, came from a woman who found me while doing a search on Otho Bentley, a relative I mentioned back in August, when I first started getting interested in family history. Otho was my great grandmother's brother (great great uncle?), who apparently led a very interesting life.
Now, this nice lady who emailed me said she had a mysterious sticker in her possession from the O&C Coal Company of Millstone, Kentucky -- which is where my family is from. She said the sticker was made in 1984, and read: "In Memory Of Otho Bentley", and "I'm Ashamed Of My People", with "1884-1984" on the bottom. Did I know what any of that meant?
Well friends, I'll be honest. I had no idea what it meant. But I was intrigued. I poked around in my information on the family, and found that my uncle Otho was born in 1884 and wound up in Millstone, so it clearly had to be referring to him. But what was the O&C Coal Company and why was someone ashamed of someone else? Out of curiosity, I asked if she could send me a picture of the sticker. To my delight, a few minutes later I received it (click on it to see a larger version):
Here's what we knew: The O&C Coal Company went out of business long before 1984 -- apparently my correspondent knows a little bit about coal mining history, because my web searches didn't turn up a thing about any such company. Both of us were envisioning some sort of family scandal that made Otho say he was ashamed of all of us. Out of curiosity, I forwarded her email along to my distant cousin Janet, who I discovered online when I found her version of our family tree. I think she's my third cousin, as she and I have the same great-great grandparents. Otho is her great-grandfather.
Here's what she told me: "I heard someone say those words out loud [at a family reunion this past summer]. They were telling a story about Otho and said that he would say those words, 'I'm ashamed of my people'. He was referring to his family. It was explained that this was his way of saying that he was proud of them."
I think I'm even more fascinated now than I was at the beginning, even more fascinated than when I thought it was part of a family scandal. Otho had twenty-one children, and somewhere in that vast group of descendants, someone decided to remember him and his odd expression of family love. Now I'm wondering who it was, and why -- and how the heck does this coal company fit in? I may find out soon, Janet was going straight to the source, or close to it: her grandmother, one of Otho's kids.
I feel like we're not only solving a mystery, but that I'm finding a piece of who I am, a part of me that I never knew was there before. It's like this woman told me something about myself by telling me about this little bit of paper and plastic she owns. Posted by Lisa at March 20, 2002 11:02 AM