Remembering My Inherited Past


This blog is meant to focus on me, my interests in gardening, cooking, and nature, and how who I am and where I’m from has influenced what I will be.  I find it only fitting that I frequently remind myself of my heritage, of my ancestors, and of the historical events that have brought my family together and shaped who I am today.

I am of mixed European and Native American ancestry.  My roots have been traced as far back as 1120 in some cases.  My brother has even undergone DNA testing to connect me to long-lost cousins in the DeVault family tree.  I was born here, my parents were born here, and my grandparents were born here, as most of my recent ancestors.  However, I do have one great-grandmother from Slovakia, one from Germany, one great-grandfather fromPoland, and one from England.  Out of the remaining great-grandparents, half were Pennsylvania Dutch pioneers who immigrated here hundreds of years ago.  The other half were Potawatomi Indian with a touch of FrenchHuguenot, here for thousands of years.  (Ironic, isn’t it, that my last name is French and yet I’m hardly French at all?  Yet one lone French ancestor is not at all uncommon in the Woodlands Indians.)

My Indian ancestors have lived here for thousands of years and have faced incredible hardships in the last few centuries.  I am actually descended from captives in the Indian slave trade, which many Americans aren’t even aware existed.  My French ancestors fled to North America in the 1600s to profit on the trapping industry in Canada and made their ways down south, settlingpeacefully with Indian communities in Tennessee.  My Pennsylvania Dutch history began with religious persecution in the 1500s that forced my family to emigrate from Switzerland and the Netherlands and eventually settle in eastern Pennsylvania.  I am descended from a long line of Mennonites,Amish, and Brethren preachers who were documented in historical articles as being peacemakers with Shawnee tribal leaders.

And out of the newcomers in my family: I’m not certain the reason for myEnglish/Scottish family to leave its ties, but my German great-grandmother fled when she was 5 with her young, single mother.  My great-great grandmother was sent to Pittsburgh to marry a Jewish man; their marriage certificate indicated that she had never been married, yet she had a child?  That child later had my grandfather whom she named Sherman, but my PapPap was christened and the church wouldn’t allow him to have a Jewish name.  That’s why his full name is Thomas Sherman Middlemiss, but everyone called him Sherm.  Then there’s my great-grandmother fromSlovakia, sent here because she wasn’t beautiful enough to go to finishing school like her sisters and had a better opportunity following her brother’s footsteps and coming to Pittsburgh.

But the best story has got to be that of my Polish great-grandfather, raised Catholic in the farmland of Czestochowa.  His brother was a priest and, when my great-grandfather spoke out publicly against the church in a story I will later disclose, the Machovski family banished him from Poland.  That’s why my great-grandfather moved to Montana as a cowboy, working there for some time during the 1890s before moving to Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines.  That’s how he met my Slovakian great-grandmother, a boardinghouse worker in the coal town where he got off his western train.

That’s a short history of my roots.  I will eventually write about gardening, cooking, and all that good stuff…but my next few entries will be about my parents, my grandparents, and about my Polish great-grandfather – the greatest influences on my life and why I think they should be remembered for their perseverance, candor, and honesty.


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