Open Forum: What’s in a name?

Posted: January 19, 2013

Editor’s note: This is Lee Martin’s final written offering of her semester spent as an intern at The Winchester Star. Lee, a senior at James Wood High, came to The Star courtesy of Frederick County Public Schools’ Gifted Independent Study Program.

When most people hear the name Lee, they imagine a boy. At least that’s what I’ve been told. They don’t expect a young girl like me.

I can understand this confusion. But I have learned there is more to a name than just the prototype in your mind for the person who fits it. For some, names stretch back multiple generations.

Old family legend on my mom’s side insists that we are in some way related to the great Gen. Robert E. Lee. Tired of not being able to confirm or deny this, I decided that I wanted to see where my true roots lie, and if I am, in fact, related to the famous Confederate soldier.

I started with my mom’s side of the genealogical tree, being that they are part of the Lee family. After talking with my mother, I decided to go a step further and see what my grandmother (more affectionately known as Nana to her grandchildren) had to say on the topic. After much discussion, she directed me to her knowledgeable cousin, John Lee.

Through the process, I learned a lot about my family’s rich history. As for Robert E. Lee, we are, in fact, related. Though it stretches far back, it has been shown that my sixth great-grandmother, Mary Lee, was a 76 percent match for the famous Lee family of Virginia.

This partial match indicates that her relation to the Lees is not particularly close, but it is thought to be connected back to England. Now I can confirm that I am, indeed, related to Robert E. Lee, even if it is a tiny bond.

It is not just my small heritage from Gen. Lee that I find interesting, though. Indeed, I now realize I have many family members I am proud to call my ancestors.

I learned that my fifth great-grandpa, Andrew Swallows, was a private in the Revolutionary War. Another ancestor, Col. Stephen Copeland, also served as a captain in the Revolution and then as a colonel in the War of 1812.

Continuing the line of military men, my third great-grandfather, John Madison Lee, served as a sergeant in the 8th Tennessee Cavalry during the Civil War. He was captured by the Yankees in 1863 and sent to the “dreaded” Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island.

Though many around him took the oath of allegiance to the Union, he was steadfast in his beliefs and refused to be what folks from his neck of the Tennessee woods called a “Galvanized Yankee.” A comarade in arms, Felix Bilbrey, remarked that he was “a very good soldier” and a man of “good character.”

But perhaps looking at the relatives even closer in my lineage can serve as inspiration, too. My great-grandma, Myrtle Lee Harris, was a devoted teacher for decades, and spent the last few years of her career at the Tennessee School for the Blind.

My own Nana taught for years as a music professor at the University of Rhode Island. It’s interesting to see how education-oriented the women in my family have been. As a writer myself, I can relate to their desire to share knowledge and information.

Something that my great Cousin John Lee shared with me through this process really stood out: The innate characteristics passed on to us from our ancestors “define, in part, who we now are.”

Looking back at my family tree, I can say I wholeheartedly agree. Though I do not see myself being a soldier or teacher, I like to think that my ancestors passed down traits to me that I have exhibited — or hopefully will exhibit later on — traits like kindness, perseverance, bravery, and loyalty.

No, I may not seem like a “Lee” when people meet me. But my name reminds me of the vast heritage backing it. Every person has a story behind their name. I encourage you to find yours — and then tell it.

Lee Martin is a resident of Clear Brook.