21 July 2008

This Date In History

On this date in history, the first train robbery west of the Mississippi River was pulled off by Jesse James.

Now, what does this have to do with self defense, firearms and politics? Well, he did use a gun, but as far as self defense or politics, there is no connection.

But there is a connection to me . . .

You see, earlier this year, something that has long been family lore was confirmed. I am related to the notorious outlaw Jesse James. Or more specifically, we share a common ancestor. His grandfather and my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather are one and the same. Or close to that.
For decades I have always wondered about this story. Growing up I had heard hints from my mom on and off, but was told no one really knew anything about it. My mother grew up in Knox County, Ohio, and had heard the stories too. Only she received a slightly different response. In the 1930s and 1940s, her mother told her, "we don't talk about that." Of course, that part of family history -- if it were true -- was handed down orally. There were no written records, and of course no internet to speed data searches. In my grandmother's day, my mother tells me, the crimes of the James Brothers were too fresh in everyone's minds. No one in their right mind would want to own up to that kind of relation.

Today, being related to the James Brothers is a historical oddity. But back then, as Grandma probably felt, no one would talk about it. I wonder if she wondered why no one would share with her the details of a distant member of the family.
A friend and I discussed this a few months ago when this news came to light. She drew a modern parallel that opened my eyes. People in the 1800s, or even early 1900s wouldn't want the public to know they were related to the Missouri-born outlaw, considering how many people he and his brother, Frank James, killed, and how publicized their exploits were. Then she threw me this: Would anyone today want to admit they are related to Charles Manson? For me, that pretty much answered the question about why no one would want to admit the connection back in the day.

Anyway, we fast forward to 2008 where the connection was confirmed. The power of the internet. A youthful family member, at 14, found the relation. I was contacted, asking if I recognized certain names. Yes, I said, those are people on my mom's side of the family back some four, five and six generations. Well, I was told, they are on a James family website. Wow!Shortly after, I exchanged a number of emails with Mr. Eric James, keeper of the James family legacy. I told him that I had heard these stories as a kid, but never knew where to start. And then someone in my family stumbles across his site, and instead of us looking for a connection to him, here on his expansive website is his listing of people who I can confirm are my distant relatives. Eric was claiming a connection . . . to me!
A California resident, Eric James has ammassed an enormous, and I mean HUGE, database of familial connections of James relatives far and wide. His site is called "Stray Leaves," and the name is fitting considering that those who are related to each other often move, or are pushed, due to family issues, economics, or just a wanderlust. They move . . . drift . . . not unlike stray leaves being tossed about in the wind.

I have to chuckle at this newfound news about a distant relative who lived two centuries ago. Jesse James had a reputation as a ladies man, but was ruthless when he was "working." People died. And he ultimately met an untimely end at the hands of one of his own gang members. Still, the chuckling comes from comments that arise at a weekly commercial real estate meeting in which I participate.

Occasionally, one of the veterans will come across an investment property with strong potential that can be bought cheaply -- at a steal, you might say. He will remark, "does anyone here this morning have larceny in their heart?" I, along with a few others, have always laughed a bit as we raise our hands and acknowledge that we want in on whatever the "deal of the day" is.

Armed with this newfound knowledge of a notorious distant relative, a few of my colleagues on Thursdays every now and then give me grief, suggesting that the larceny isn't in my heart, its in my genes. In my heart is good enough, as long as it translates into profits.
Legally, of course.
Inspirational h/t to Lucy

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