The grinch who stole Pocahontas


Like a lump of coal in your Christmas stockings, I’m writing this for the next generation: Cecil, Bill, Lawrence, Tarrall and Kate.

I don’t mean to be a bah-humbug type, but it’s a lot worse for your mothers and me. We grew up told we were Indian princesses, the 13th-great-grandchildren of Pocahontas (Pocahontas “Rebecca” Powhatan Matoaka Rolfe, 1595-1618). I don’t think we promised you that you are the 14th with the same degree of certainty.

But we were told this by your Great-Great Aunt Mary (Mary Virginia Williams, 1894-1967), a rather intimidating Victorian-type woman whom we did our best not to cross and who, thank goodness, has no idea that we produced offspring who might pronounce her title as “Ant” Mary.

As long as she was alive, no one challenged her story to her face. And would she lie? Well, maybe, if it were something she viewed as extremely important, such as qualifying for the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Diluted through generations, Pocahontas never could provide enough Native American blood to qualify for scholarships, but she added something exotic to our ho-hum English-Irish combative combination.

But it’s time to strip that false heritage away once and for all.

Your Great-Great Aunt Mary fudged, or her “professional” genealogist did. The shortcut to Pocahontas they took was through Elizabeth Bernard in the 1700s. While we have an Elizabeth Bernard, the one they claimed was married to John Lambeth, Jr. (1726-1813, your 6th-great-grandfather) actually was married to Philip Gooch.

The line of our Elizabeth Bernard (1750-1796) definitely takes us back to daughters and sons qualifications, which I don’t think any of us have considered tapping into, but not to Pocahontas. If you are related to Pocahontas, it’s not direct. At most, Pocahontas might be something more like the 4th-great-grandmother of your 1st-cousin 6-times removed.

You are losing Pocahontas, but, hey, there are a ton of people (many fudging like Aunt Mary) who claim to be her descendants. Instead, it’s time to put away your moccasins and embrace your Spanish blood.

Yes, it’s true, or possibly true, you have Fernandez blood lurking in your veins. And that was a pretty rare infusion in Virginia in the 1800s.

A remote cousin who I have never met and I both have come to this conclusion. Her leap might be based more on fact than mine, and, if it’s wrong, I’ll blame her.

But we think your 4th-Great-Grandfather, Nicholas Marshall Tarrall (1809-1852), married Ann Biddle Fernandis (1815-1884). Ann and her brother Joseph P. Fernandez (1817-1876), a shipmaster before the Civil War demoted to a watchman afterwards, lived in Norfolk, Virginia, but were born in Maryland. Ann Fernandis was christened in Saint Paul Protestant Episcopal Church in Baltimore. Alas, poor Joseph drowned in the Norfolk Harbor.

1850 Norfolk, Virginia, Census: Nicholas Marshall Tarrall 1809-1852: Ann Biddle Fernandis Tarrall 1815-1884; Mary B. Tarrall Nottingham 1835-1886; Henry Alberti Tarrall 1836-1907, your 3rd-great-grandfather; Secluseval V. Tarrall Bryan 1840-1893; and Sarah Virginia Tarrall 1842-1850.

Now these Spanish roots might be part of Aunt Mary’s disapproval of Grana’s background, your great-grandmother (Thelma Virginia Tarrall Williams, 1899-1999), but the joke might be on Aunt Mary. We’re not positive when our Fernandis ancestors first set foot on American soil, but there were not many around and only a handful living in Maryland.


Pedro, or Peter, Fernandise (1652-1736) was born in Valenciana, Spain, and died in Marbury in Charles County, Maryland; although his body has gone missing. Two of his sons served in the American Revolution. I’m hoping they represent our Fernandez roots. If so, Pedro might be your 7th-great-grandfather.

Sorry about Pocahontas, but paella is part of your past. So put on some flamenco music for the holidays, stamp your feet and douse your pasta with extra olive oil. Olé!




Mining a few riches from the Library’s vault

Tucked away in a corner of the sixth floor of the Central Library is my favorite haunt there, the Texana and Genealogy Department. The stunning blond entry room named in honor of donors Joan and Herb Kelleher welcomes you into a world where often forgotten tales emerge from yellowed pages of precious books.

Research needs have left me hunched over microfiche readers for hours, distracted by fascinating newspaper headlines unrelated to my original quests. So many people from our colorful history, all with their own stories waiting to resurface. Shelves lined with rare books, rare enough to be unavailable for checkout, beg you to linger longer as the librarian announces it is already 15 minutes until closing time. Digging for clues will have to resume another day.

And yet, behind another door, is a more amazing world to explore – the vault. While materials from the vault can be requested for viewing within Texana, the general public does not simply get to wander through what lies locked within.

But this week, the San Antonio Public Library Foundation and the Texana Department shared a few samples of the amazingly varied treasures, most irreplaceable.

These riches all require special care and extremely knowledgeable librarians to assist with access, a budget-stretcher for the Library. The Library Foundation wants your help in preserving the collections in Texana for generations to come.

Hoping for another show-and-tell session in the future, and sure wish the ongoing celebration of the 150th anniversary of the San Antonio Express-News included digitalizing the first century of newspapers for the Library before some of us become microfiche hunchbacks.

Photographs from the 1800s place faces on the names found in the registry of Zephaniah Conner’s Bible

Louisa Ann Godwin Conner in mourning for her husband Zephaniah Turner Conner, who died in 1866 in Macon, Georgia, after serving as a Colonel for the Confederacy

Diligently pursuing “Indian depredations” (by Native Americans who objected to the State of Texas having awarded their land to others) around the Coker Settlement on the north side of San Antonio, I paused to look for the copy of The Memoirs of Mary A. Maverick.

And there it was. Not the memoirs, but the small leather-bound, gilded album with photographs of the Conners. Seriously old photos, primarily taken in Macon, Georgia, between the 1860s and the late 1800s.

These will be of little interest to most people unless you are a Conner descendant, but for those, wherever they are, I wanted to post a few of the photos of family members whose births and departures are recorded in Zephaniah Conner’s Family Bible – the behemoth one dating from 1831 featured in this “Older than Methuselah” blogpost, in which you can find out more about this particular branch of the Mister’s ancestors.

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Now, where was I with those restless natives in Texas?

Maybe it will be less distracting to read Mary Maverick’s memoirs online….

July 7, 2016, Update: John Banks wrote a wonderful piece on his blog addressing the Civil War experiences of William Allis Hopson fighting for the South and his younger brother, Edward, fighting for the Union.