April 26, 2012
Is there a Romeo and Juliet in your family tree? By this I mean star-crossed lovers who defied all odds to be together. Once you begin researching your ancestors who lived during Medieval Times (also called Dark Ages or Middle Ages) and the Renaissance, chances are you’ll come across some interesting marriages.
I have a very famous feuding family in my lineage. The Maxwell-Johnstone feud of Scotland lasted for well over a hundred years. During the 1500’s, James, Laird of Johnstone, married Sarah Maxwell. One of Johnstone’s sisters was married to Sir Robert Maxwell. These marriages created a truce for a few years.
Then in 1608, Laird James Johnstone was to meet the new head of the Maxwell clan in an effort to achieve permanent peace between the two feuding families. The meeting ended with Maxwell shooting and killing Johnstone with a poisoned bullet. Maxwell went on the run and eventually, he was publicly beheaded in Edinburgh, thus ending the feud. More than 700 people were reportedly killed over the years as both families fought for supremacy.
Unrequited love and family feuds didn’t only exist during these times. They existed during the 19th century and likely a few still occur in some cultures where land and power still rule.
A more recent example of family feuds and star-crossed lovers is the Hatfield-McCoy feud which took place on the West Virginia-Kentucky border beginning shortly after the American Civil War ended. Although many family members claim not to know the full reason of the feud, it may have stemmed from a love affair between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy.
The story reads like a romance novel. Both families disapproved of the relationship between Johnse and Roseanna, so the two decided to elope. They were followed by their respective families and separated. Johnse was threated with his life, and although Roseanna was pregnant, he was afraid to ever stand up to her or her family again. Roseanna lost the baby and Johnse eventually married her cousin, Nancy McCoy.
Between the murders, fires, and executions, only five family members survived the feud. Johnse Hatfield, Roseanna McCoy, Devil Anse Hatfield, Nancy McCoy and Randolph McCoy.
I had a family feud/love triangle come up when I first began doing genealogy. One brother had killed the other over a woman in 1863. The two sides of the family had parted ways at that time. I found enough information on the story to know it was likely true. My job was to get the grandsons from each line to speak to each other with me present. What should have been a nerve-wracking experience turned into a family reunion. Neither man knew why they weren’t supposed to speak to each other. They’d been told as young boys to keep away from each other because of the murder. I learned a lot of information between both men and their wives. Their first meeting took place in 1980. I arranged for them to meet with me present several times over the next few years.
It’s important to keep your ears open for interesting love stories from centuries past. You may not be descended from feuding families, but chances are if your ancestors are from Scotland, you probably have at least one family member who was a feuding Laird.