Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From the Obscure History Department

St. Fillan
Tartan of Clan MacNab
Brother Steve (the family historian) and I made our annual trip up to Perry County a few days ago to see the progress on the cemetery marker cleaning and repair he has initiated at the mostly abandoned Bull Cemetery near Donnallys Mills. Finally, we made it to the Perry County Historians library, which hasn't been open on most of the days we were up that way. We were also aided by the years of research done by cousin-many-times-removed Perry Brandt of York County; thanks to him and Steve, I finally had enough names and facts to do some digging with. Sylvia, who is of course a relative a couple of times over, helped us navigate; but despite their extensive, accessible records, I can tell you genealogical research is like chasing your own tail. In addition to sketchy records, wildly various spelling and impossible-to-read Victorian handwriting, everyone seems to share just a few first names. I had one question above all that I wanted to resolve, however, and finally did.
It's a shame I was too young, far away and self-involved to question our grandfather on all this when he was "present" enough not to wander off into the same story countless times. I loved the stories, though: Robber Lewis, the Robin Hood of Steretts Gap, the great-uncle who held the same bank job for 42 years and was quite the dandy, his grandfather Ard Brandt who gave him nothing but a nickel once, the relative who enlisted during the Civil War to escape his awful wife, the appearance of the first car in the county, a Maxwell owned by a doctor, and the Revolutionary War stories set in Chester County, the best of which included George Washington (accepted as true by the DAR and in many sources; I was on the dirt road he had taken on the retreat from Brandywine and it passed right by the first Rice homestead).
One story I couldn't reconcile was his statement that his mother's family, the Brandts, were Scots-Irish. Even years ago I could only find this name in German families, so I thought there was a mistake there. Grandad had reddish hair and smooth, fair skin, and I could see that being true but the names, I knew, were all German.
So this History Detective went to work and, having the name Jane Gilfillen from the old Millerstown Memorial Cemetery as married into the same Brandt line, found out that she was Elizabeth (Eliza) Jane Gilfillen (1819 - 1892) who married Charles C. Brandt in 1840. Charles C. was an estimable gentleman, serving as County Commissioner and State Representative in the 1850s. Among their many children were Ard (possibly Arden; saw Howard on one document) and Perry K. Ard is our progenitor and Perry K. is Perry Brandt's. I figure their brother Milton, a prominent businessman in Lewistown, was the source of my grandfather's name.
So, Ard was half Scots-Irish. He married Sarah Jane Cauffman in 1865; Cauffman was a Swiss family while her mother was a Long (English? Didn't get that far). His daughter Anna (Annie) Thompson Brandt married our great-grandfather, Charles Grant Rice (named after the Union general and President) in 1893. Our grandfather Milton was born in 1895, and saw the world going from no indoor water to the computer age.
Being curious, like a cat, about the tiniest thing, I had to know why Annie's middle name was Thompson. John Thompson (d. 1829) married another Jane Gilfillen but died young. The widow was "more than ordinary in ability and enterprise," was owner of the canal boat Dove and put her 11-year-old son Jon to work driving it. This John might be the source of the name, for he became quite a local magnate, building a stone house for $4000 (can you imagine what that is today?). He also ran the Thompson House Hotel in Mechanicsburg, still there, which became famous for being the headquarters of Confederate General Jenkins when he occupied the town during the Gettysburg campaign.
So, having generations of pious and serious German, Austrian, Swiss and Alsatian ancestors, I was intrigued to find some more colorful Scots Irish in there. Most family histories around here begin no earlier than the migration from the German Rhineland in the 18th century. Ships' manifests show the place of origin of the passengers and age; beyond that the curtain descends.
The feisty Scots, however, have a long preserved history. The Highland Gilfillens are first recorded in a charter in 1124, and resided in the area between Stirling and Edinburgh. Their origin was much earlier, on the western Isle of Mull, where they were exterminated by a rival clan. Two widows escaped and bore twin sons each, who were the source of all the descendants.
The origin of the name is Gillie Fillan, or servant of St. Fillan (pronounced FEElan). To complicate matters too ancient to unravel anyway, there were two St. Fillans in the same area doing the same things (a couple of centuries after the Romans left).
Their more peaceful stay in Stirlingshire was disturbed when Robert the Bruce murdered the brother-in-law of Angus MacNab (the Gilfillans were a sept, or division, of Clan MacNab) in 1306. Once he was in full power after 1314, the MacNab lands and charters were forfeit. It seems they thought it would be prudent to lie low and slowly relocate; some decamped to Northern Ireland in the 1600s during the religious and civil wars, and again after 1745 after having chosen to rally behind Bonnie Prince Charlie, the losing side once again.
Clan MacNab (meaning "child of the abbot" -- Abraruadh the Red, a "secular" Pict abbot) has its home near Loch Earn, in Glendochart and Strathearn. Ol' Red (note the hair color) was a son of King Kenneth Macalpine and a descendant of a nephew of St. Fillan. This might explain the inclusion of the Gilfillans.
Sir Walter Scott, in Waverly, mentions the "gifted Gilfillan," described as tall with ruddy cheeks. Who might that have been? I wish I had known to look for Gilfillan Court in Old Town Edinburgh when we were there (we were also all over Stirlingshire finding the locations related to the great Wallace without knowing this connection). A letter written in 1907 about this family states they were talented, but unbalanced. It describes one fellow in northern Ireland as "irascible" in his dotage, then goes on to say this was more normal than not in that family. They did, however, stay clear of the law (keeping a safe distance from English and Scottish kings) while maintaining their fondness for whiskey.
Back to considerably less royal and less bloody Perry County and a rare personal portrait... In the 1860s, Lewis Gilfillan (1813 - 1893) was among the 50 or 60 prosperous farmers in the Pfoutz Valley, and was known as the "best all around fun maker" at the winter turkey roasts held at a score of families' homsteads. "He possessed much native Scots Irish wit and could do a homely anecdote with great aplomb."
A James Gilfillan was Treasurer of the United States in 1884, but the "strong and rugged family lives only in memory and in other names through the female descendants." That is, in Perry County. There are, despite the seeming rareness of the name, many in New England, Ohio, Kansas, California, Australia and Charleston, South Carolina.
Charles Robert Gilfillan was the last survivng male in the line founded by the original Perry county immigrants James G. and Nancy Watts of the mid-18th century. He was a World War I draftee, but was not in the book of casualties at the library. As I said at the outset, tracking people down who all share the same few first names is daunting: James and Charles were used multiple times in each generation. I was looking for a Rice Civil War veteran and found five with the name Samuel, all enlisting at the same place.
The Gifillan motto is Armis et Animis -- Arms and Courage. The same as the Carnegie family's and Virginia's 80th Division's 317 Airborne Infantry. And I was in the 80th Division when in the Army Reserve. History and its actors are twisted up like a Celtic knot, intriguing but devilish hard to unwind.

1 comment:

  1. My brother is our genealogist, and I wonder "Why?" There is no riches or fame, maybe being at Appomattox but that was surrendering, so even in recent times, the "family" didn't talk about past history. Descendants will say, we were all a little unbalanced. Now you can order some kilts.