An Owen(s) Odyssey
 Our Genealogy & Family History

Naming Patterns

The Viking and the Virgin

At the end of 2004, I underwent a minor operation on my hand to correct Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition that causes the fingers to contract into something resembling a claw. The doctor casually informed me that people who have the condition have Viking blood running in their veins. And, it’s mostly a male disease. Really? Cool… I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the condition must come from countless generations of Viking men tightly gripping oars in frigid north seas, not to mention the death-grip they must have held on their trusty battleaxes as they beat down their enemies. I could just see my heroic paternal ancestor; standing in the prow of his long ship, head tossed back, with long blond hair catching salt spray in the wind. Me… a Viking… already I could feel the ancient testosterone reawakening in my veins as I straightened my posture and sat taller in the chair.

But, wait a minute, I’d always been told our line of Owens males came from Wales. Surely, the good doctor was mistaken. Later on, of course, it hit me… what were Vikings famous for? …raping and pillaging, that’s what. And, where did they rape and pillage? Well, just about everywhere but their favorite target was the British Isles, which, of course, includes Wales. Suddenly, an entirely different image of my ancestor came to mind; that of a roaring brute… ransacking a village, then beating and raping some poor innocent Welsh virgin cowering in the corner of her hut.

When I returned to work following the operation, I mentioned my Viking/Welsh connection to one of my coworkers, Martin, who hails from England. Martin groaned and said “Oow, Virgil, don’t ever let anyone know that you’re Welsh!” The Welsh, Martin informed me, are a primitive race… filthy in their habits of personal hygiene and prone to drunkenness, lying, thievery, and unspeakable sexual deviations. He advised me that I should avoid revealing my Welsh origins at all costs. He referred me to an Internet copy of Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales published in 1847. Ye gods! Upon reading the report, this poor Welsh girl of my imagination was suddenly transformed into some ignorant slut who slept communally on the dirt floor of her hut with pigs, sheep, dogs, and whatever drunken neighbors that happened to stagger in during the night. I could just picture her: a dirty barefoot lass, in filthy rags, with a rosy boil on her neck, runny-nose, bloodshot eyes, and hair all matted with a mixture of mud, pig urine, and clumps of feces.

Thankfully, these images did not fit any of the Owens relatives that I knew. And, thus began my quest to find out just what sort of people my ancestors really were. Of course, I never found the Viking, the Welsh maiden, or anyone like them. What I found were—for the most part—ordinary-hard-working people caught up in the extraordinary events that went into the making of our great country. I found a family of active participants and survivors of a mass migration to America, a Revolutionary War, a westward expansion, a horrendous Civil War, two world wars, and a great depression… not to mention countless other triumphs and tragedies.

Although time has erased much of the story, a surprising amount can be reconstructed—thanks mainly to the Internet. Available to anyone with a home computer and Internet access are millions of online records including old newspaper articles, birth, marriage, military, death, and census records… just to name a few. Just as important, the Internet enables different branches of the same family—most of whom have never even heard of one another—to compare notes on family lore, share precious old photos, and share copies of old documents, letters, and notes that have been handed down within their respective families.

At this website, I have tried to tell the story of my ancestors. Of necessity, their stories have been concocted from bits of family lore, old records, and history books. Just as history evolves when new facts come to light (George Washington did not admit to chopping down his father’s cherry tree), so this family story has evolved—and no doubt will continue to evolve—as new facts come to light. In my research, I’ve found that the family lore has been greatly distorted and exaggerated as it was verbally passed down over many generations. Although I have strived to stick to the facts, a simple recitation of dry facts tends to de-humanize the subjects and makes for dull reading. I wanted the characters in this story to be seen and understood as real human beings, facing and dealing with the serious issues of their day. Consequently, I have tried to connect the dots—sometimes with historical background, sometimes with conjecture—in order to give continuity and context to the story. In most cases, I’ve tried to identify what is conjecture and what is fact but I certainly haven’t done it in every case. Professional genealogists will shudder at this—just as they shudder at the word conjecture. However, I am not a professional genealogist and I make no claim that this is, in any way, a definitive work of genealogy. Please read it and accept it for what it is: one man’s feeble attempt to pay homage to his ancestors by telling their story as he sees it.

Copyright © 2011 Virgil Owens