Shakespeare said that a rose by any name smells as sweet. In the Southern Appalachian Region, that is somewhat true. We all hold our family name as being almost sacred. Except in the case where we are convinced that we are of a different "set". I don't know where this denial of family connection originated. Perhaps, there were some savory family members in our family tree a generation or two back that we would rather not admit a relation. I would maintain that the most common reason is simply not knowing the family connections of the past.
Few people truly realize the historical significance of the Cumberland Gap. During the years from 1775 to 1830, it is estimated that 300,000 settlers passed through the Gap to begin the Westward Movement and ultimately going all the way to the west coast to fulfill what was known as "Manifest Destiny".
To demonstrate my point in this posting I would like to share a brief story from my past. In 1988 I had the privilege of attending the Century 21 Real Estate Training Academy in Irvine, California. One evening my travel companion and I took a short trip north to Los Angeles and to Beverly Hills. As we were sightseeing and experiencing those landmarks that we had seen on television all our lives, just for the hell of it, we decided to eat at the Beverly Hills Kentucky Fried Chicken.
As we were seated in the dining room one of the restaurant employees came to our table and asked if everything was okay. As I was giving my response to that question I noticed an eyebrow raised when she realized we were not from California. I am sure my Southern dialect blew our cover. So she asked, "Where are you guys from?" I replied by saying, "Oh, you probably have never heard of the little town that we are from, but it's located at the intersection of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The name of the town is Cumberland Gap." Her reaction to my response surprised and somewhat startled me when she said, "I can't believe it. I have family that's from that area." Being the true Appalachianite that I am, this is where the genealogy interrogation begins by saying, "Oh, really! What is your family name?" Had I not been in view of the Hollywood sign atop the Hollywood Hills I could have imagined that I was dining at any of the many KFCs located within the Cumberland Gap Region when she replied, "Hensley."
I was stunned to hear this. However, I refrained from delving into the disection of that response by questing, "Which Hensleys? The Virginia Hensleys, the Tennessee Hensleys, or the Kentucky Hensleys?" However, if I had been seated in one of this region's KFCs, I assuredly would have continued with the interrogation and would have most likely gotten a decisive answer such as, "Oh, my family is the Kentucky Hensleys. The Tennessee and Virginia Hensleys are of a different set."
For demonstration purposes I will be using Hensley as the family name. Regardless of your last name, be it Gibson, Chadwell, Collett, Garnett, Cosby, Bussell, Daniels, Saylor, Jones, Davis, Kirkland, Overton, Seabolt, Scott, etc. the implications are the same.
Let's take a brief ride back into history a couple hundred years or so prior to the signing of our U.S. Constitution and 14 years prior to George Washington being elected as our first president,
At that time Daniel Boone was in the process of creating his historical legacy. The Westward Movement had begun, but there was one small obstacle that stood in the way of this westward expansion. That one thing was 1,500 miles of the Appalachian Mountain Range that ran from what is now Maine to what is now Birmingham, Alabama. For hundreds of centuries no European had ever stepped foot west of the Appalachian Mountains. One of the leading reasons for this was due to the expanse of this mountain region with no way over, under, or through. This huge obstacle became less of a deterrent in the mid-1700s when Dr. Thomas Walker and Daniel Boone learned of a gap in the mountain that Native Americans had used for centuries for hunting expeditions. It Was through this Gap that Daniel Boone began the westward expansion in 1775.
When Daniel Boone left Northern Virginia on his quest to follow the Holston River shed to the Cumberland Gap, he brought with him the Davidsons, Harrisons, Hursts, Rays, Singletons, and all the other previously mentioned including the Hensleys.
At that time in history it was very common for families to have ten to even twenty children. So as Boone led the settlers westwardly, many of them, fresh off the boat from their mother country, may have become disenchanted with their travels. They may have decided that they loved this region and chose not to follow the group any further. So family members broke off. Some followed the Holston River into what is now Knoxville passing through what is now Grainger County and Union County, Tennessee. Other family members may had ended their quest at any point in between. Once in the Knoxville area some continued on into what is now Campbell County and perhaps took a northernly turn to what is now Claiborne County. Some family members though continued with their Westward Movement and passed through the Cumberland Gap. Once through the gap they were now in the western frontier. Some then decided to follow a northeast vector into what are now Harlan and Bell County, Kentucky. Some continued following the Boone Trace into what is now Knox County, Kentucky. While others took a more westward movement into today's Whitley County, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and all points west. Many along the way married into the Native American popolation whos roots trace back to the anciant tribes consisting of the Inca, Aztec, and Maya.
As the group of Boone's followers traveled along the Appalachian Mountain Range, which formed Powell's Valley, other members of the group stayed in what is now Lee County Virginia. While others broke off and went in the direction of what is now Hancock and Claiborne County, Tennessee.
So you see this Hensley family consisting of ten to twenty children, some of which were teenagers and young adults, split and went in every direction. Yet, whether they started their family in any of the three states (or even in California) they were all of the same seed. Therefore, of the same "set".
We would rarely, if ever, think of our genealogy in mathematical terms. Yet a mathematical study may be applicable.
Consider YOURSELF, a person of one, as the first generation. Your two parents will make up the second generation. Your four grandparents will make up the third generation. In your 4th generation you will have eight great-grandparents. While in your 5th generation you will have 16 great great grandparents. If we continue with this mathematical progression, in your 12th generation you will have 2,048 great great great great great great great great great grandparents.
If we consider that most people marry and start the next generstion around the age of 20, then we will say that a generation is approximately 20 years. So your 12th generation would put you approximately in the year 1775 when Boone first brought your family through the Cumberland Gap. If we go back three more Generations to approximately the year 1700, you would have in your family tree 16,358 (repeat great 12 times and then say grandparents).
I, therefore, surmise, not only are all the Hensleys, all over the world, of the same set, and all the Bolingers of the same set, and all the Robinsins of the same set, etc.. . . we are ALL related in some way to each othet due to the thousands of past grandparents who planted our family tree.
Carl Nichols, President
Cumberland Gap Tourism Association