Hi there!

My name is Lori Lyons and I am a genealogy addict.

The first step is to admit it, right? I am one of those people who stays up to the wee hours of the morning, trying to find the missing pieces of my family puzzle. I'm also not too shy to ask "who were your people?" to see if we may have a family connection.

I am the daughter of an English-Cajun man and an Irish-German woman. Their parents -- all born in Louisiana -- were a mixture of Cajun, English,French, Irish and German. Half of them were born in the big city of New Orleans, the other half down the bayou in Houma.

Here in Louisiana, we call people like me a Heinz 57.



For 57 varieties. Or a gumbo... maybe a spicy jambalaya.

I also am a Mayflower descendant and can claim a very thin link to the Royal Family of England (Liz and I are 20th cousins once removed.). Some trees have me as the 15th great-granddaughter of King Ferdinand I and Queen Isabella II of Spain (but probably not).

I belong to the 31st generation of Lyons descended from Roger de Leonne, the first known of our esteemed line. I am the 12th generation of Lyon/Lyons in America, descendent from William Lyon, "The Immigrant," who came to Massachusetts from Harrow, England in 1635.

I belong to the 5th generation of Lyons in Louisiana, descended from Joseph Lucius Cincinatus Pitt Lyon, who came south from Illinois in 1849.

I have been putting together my family tree since the early 1990s. It was my grandmother who did all the work. The granddaughter of three different Louisiana plantation owners, she spent much of her free time chasing down relatives.

I would walk into her house and find her slumped over her dining room table, surrounded by books and scraps of paper. Sometimes she was asleep. I found quite a few papers with her pen mark scribbling off the page as she dozed off. I can only imagine what she might have accomplished if she had the Internet.

When she died in 1988, my mother asked me to go through Grannie's papers to see what was there. I spent a weekend hunched over my own dining room table -- and dozed off a few times myself. And I was hooked.

I think we have a fascinating story -- Knights, queens, kings, orphaned children placed on ships to the new world, soldiers, Patriots, plantations, Cajuns expelled from their homes, Civil War rebels.

And yes, slave-owners.

I spent my life as a journalist -- a storyteller. It's up to me to tell this one.

Like all good recipes, this will be a work in progress. Feel free to add your own ingredients -- give a little, take a little. And don't be afraid to let me know if you find a mistake. Genealogy is not an exact science.

So come on in. Sit a spell and take a look around. You might be related -- an ingredient in our family gumbo.

If so, welcome to the family!


Lori Lyons
Louisiana
email: thelyonsdin@gmail.com

Saturday, February 27, 2021

My Grandfather, Mr. Banjo

 This was originally posted on my other, personal blog The Lyons Din.


 

His parents named him Martin Behrman French, in honor of the one-time mayor of New Orleans who counted his father, former Louisiana State Representative Henry David French, as one of his dear friends. Oddly, his family would forgo the simpler, more usual name of Martin, calling him Behrman (pronounced Ber - man) instead. 

His wife called him Behrman too, but with a distinct west bank of New Orleans roil that turned it into "Boy-man." Only a handful of people ever called him Martin and he was never, ever a Marty. 

I just called him Grandpa.



Born in 1904, Behrman French was the fifth of six children born to Henry and Matilda Louise Sutherland French of Algiers, he of Irish descent, she of Dutch.  Three sisters came before him and a brother who was "sickly" and died at the age of 11. Two years younger, Behrman used to wheel his brother, Henry Jr. or "Bud" around in a little cart. His death in 1913 profoundly moved Behrman, who idolized his big brother. Likewise, the tragic death of little sister Lillian Irene, age 2, who, according to family legend, choked on a chicken bone at the dining room table, haunted him all of his days.

Behrman grew up in Algiers on the west bank of New Orleans, in a traditional camelback shotgun double at 813 Pacific Avenue. His mom was a big fan of ginger beer (a precursor to ginger ale) back in the day, and used the ceramic tan bottles to line the garden. There were hundreds.

When he was about 6 years old, he was playing with friends in his neighborhood when one of them, carrying a BB gun, tripped. The weapon fired and hit Behrman in his left eye, permanently blinding him on one side.

But that didn't stop Behrman from playing football or baseball. He matriculated at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, every day riding the ferry across the Mississippi River, then taking a streetcar down Canal Street. Behrman was a member of the Eagles baseball team and later played on a few of the semipro teams in and around New Orleans. He loved to boast that he played with the great Mel Ott.


                                             Martin Behrman French, back row, third player.

In 1926 Behrman married a girl who lived in the neighborhood, Evelyn Himel Cross, who had broken up with the Mothe boy because she didn't want to marry the undertaker's son. (The Mothes later opened one of the largest funeral homes in the city.) 

Around that time, Behrman went to work for Bell Telephone Company. His first job was in an office, but when he got laid off, he offered to go to work as a pole digger. He did that for several years until he was able to work his way back to a desk and a position as office manager. His job took him from New Orleans to Patterson, where his only child, Lettie Lee, was born, to Baton Rouge and, finally, to Houma. He would retire in 1969 after 45 years with the company. The Houma Courier did a story on his retirement.

To this day I can't help but think of Edith and Archie Bunker when I think of my grandparents. He was a cantankerous old coot for much of my lifetime, a "get off my lawn" kind of guy who nearly had a stroke anytime anyone of the male persuasion dared to pull into our driveway to visit me. She was the sweetest soul you'd ever meet, who put up with his ire and anger for more than 60 years. Somehow, they made it work.

Grandpa loved to fish, too. But just a few days after his boss retired, Grandpa took him out on his boat fishing. The man suffered a heart attack and died on the trip and, shortly thereafter, Grandpa put his boat up for sale.

But he also doted on us grandkids, teaching my brother, Rhett, the proper way to throw a baseball and trying to turn my nephew, Lee, into a mini-Archie Manning back in the day. I wasn't into the sports thing, but we did share a love of music. 

Paw Paw may have spent 45 years working for the telephone company, but in his heart, he was an entertainer. I don't know when he first picked up an instrument, or how, but I know he loved music -- playing it, writing it, performing it. He played the guitar, the banjo, the ukulele and the organ.

But the banjo was his jam. And I'm guessing, if he had a say in the matter, he would have preferred to be called "Mr. Banjo." It was the title of one of the many tunes he played.

Most of my early childhood memories of my grandfather are of him with a banjo across his lap. He played it often on the breezeway of his home in Houma and he had frequent jam sessions with his musical pals, Gene Dusenberry and Sonny Thibodeaux. (And one of my greatest regrets is that I never asked Mr. Sonny to teach me how to play the Hawaiian/slide guitar.) 

He also played at the annual Telephone Pioneers picnics, before downtown Mardi Gras parades and at any other public event that called for musical entertainment. But Grandpa and Grannie were most known for their frequent gigs at the local nursing homes in Houma where they -- great-grandparents, mind you -- would perform for the "old folks."


Behrman and Evelyn French, performing at one of the long term care facilities in Houma.


The two of them had compiled a large repertoire of really silly songs from the early 19th Century, including such novelty tunes "Once There was a Little Pig" (in which the baby pig died and the mother pig cried herself to death), "The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia," (in which a cow was loitering on a railroad track and got run over), and "The Burglar Beau," about a burglar who happened to choose the home of a one-eyed, toothless woman for his victim. And we all learned to spell Mis - sis - sippi by singing it every time we crossed a bridge. 

But Gramps also wrote a few ditties himself. When his adopted home of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1972, Grampa wrote a lovely song called "This is the Place."

"This is the place where I was born.
This is the place I'll carry on.
This is the place I toot my horn.
Houma in Terrebonne."

He really hoped the town would adopt it as its official song, but, sadly, nothing ever came of it.

He also went to his grave bitterly convinced that his greatest story had been stolen from him. Back in the 1970s, Grandpa wrote a song about a Cajun Santa who delivered toys up and down the bayous of Louisiana in a pirogue with a red nose. He called it "La Christine" and it predated the immensely popular "Cajun Night Before Christmas." But no one ever seemed interested. 




But there were victories. 

In 1925, just a year before he got married, Berhman French recorded two records with the Norman Brownlee Orchestra. Brownlee also was from Algiers and was married to Grandpa's sister, Irma Lee French. 

I grew up knowing that Gramps had played on two records with some famous jazz musician in New Orleans, but that's really all I knew. After a visit to a recently opened museum to local jazz great Kid Ory, I was spurred to find out more about those recordings. Thanks to the modern marvel that is the internet, I was easily able to find the recording -- nearly 100 years after the fact.

This is my grandfather playing banjo. Norman Brownlee Orchestra - "Dirty Rag"/"Peculiar" 
(Note: He is not in the photographs of the orchestra but his name is in the notes.) 

I was moved to tears listening to this old recording and inspired to write this blog post. His dreams of fame may not have come true during his lifetime, but perhaps I can keep his name and a little piece of his music alive.

Rest well, Grandpa, and keep on playin'!













Monday, November 23, 2020

Pilgrims' Progress


The Mayflower replica recreated the original voyage in 2020.




 Here is a joke for you:

If April showers bring May flowers,

What do May flowers bring?

Pilgrims!

As nearly every elementary school student knows, The Mayflower was the ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620. The story goes that once here, they met some friendly Indians who helped them survive the first winter by giving them turkey, pumpkin pie, and corn and they all started the tradition of Thanksgiving. 

Of course we all know that's not quite how it happened...

For one thing, we know they were not the first settlers of the New World. Those who settled at Roanoke and Jamestown came first. But, for whatever reasons, they didn't make it.

The Plymouth Rock Stars did, though, those dreamers who piled their hopes and prayers and whatever they could carry on to a rickety little boat and set sail from Plymouth, England in September of 1620.  A lot of people may not know that there was another boat that was supposed to sail with the Mayflower, The Speedwell, but she sprung a leak and had to stay behind for repairs. 

It's no surprise that only about half of the original 102 survived the cruise from hell that lasted 66 days -- the waves, the storms, the disease that swept through the ship -- and ended up in the wrong place. Only 53 survived that and the first winter spent still on the ship. One fell overboard and drowned.

One of those survivors was Isaac Allerton, my 10th great-grandfather. Another was his wife, Mary Norris. And their daughter, Mary Allerton, my 9th great-grandmother. Mary's future husband was Thomas Cushman, one of the Pilgrims who was stuck on The Speedwell back in England.

I may also be a descendant of Degory Priest, but I have not made that definitive connection just yet. 

Isaac Allerton was born about 1587 in England and was elected the assistant to Governor Bradford in 1621, a position he held until the 1630s when his fellows found out he was double-dealing and putting the colony in debt. 


Mary Norris was Isaac's first wife. She was about 30 when she boarded The Mayflower with Isaac and her three children Bartholomew, Remember and May. She left behind the grave of an unnamed child in Holland, where the group grouped before securing the means to set sail, and gave birth to a stillborn son while still aboard The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor.

Mary Allerton was about 4 years old when she boarded The Mayflower and, somehow, survived the two months at sea and the ensuing year. She not only survived, she procreated and would be the last of the original comers to survive. Mary married Thomas Cushman, who came to Plymouth with his father, Robert, who skipped The Speedwell and arrived on the ship Fortune in November of 1621. Robert then left little Thomas, alone, in Plymouth. Mary and Thomas had eight children and more than 50 grandchildren. Both lived to the age of 83. 

One of their children was Eleazer Cushman, born February 20, 1656 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He married Elizabeth Coombs, who was born in Boston in 1662. They had 10 children, including Moses Cushman, who was born in 1693 in Plymouth. They had 11 children, including Abner Cushman. 


The Cushman Memorial, Plymouth Burial Hill.


Abner married Mary Frances Tillson of Plymouth and they had seven children. Two of their daughters would marry Lyons boys.

Fear Cushman, born August 6, 1749 in Halifax, Plymouth, Massachusetts, married Asahel Lyon of Plympton on October 10, 1776 in Halifax. (This Asahel is NOT the Asahel Lyon who was  killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.) Sister Lydia Cushman married Asahel's brother, Obadiah Lyon on October 27, 1773.

Fear and Asahel, my 5th great-grandparents, had only three children -- Jessie, Eunice, and Mary (1780). 

Jessie, my fourth great grandfather, is an anomaly. My original information was that his father died young and his mother remarried and perhaps the family moved to Canada. Many genealogies for his wife Sarah Dimock (or Dimick) do not even include Jessie as a spouse. But they had at least four children: Asahel Dimock Lyon, George, Issac David, and John A. And, allegedly, Jessie lived for more than 100 years. 

Asahel, my great great great grandfather, served in the War of 1812 as a Corporal in the 11th Regiment of the U.S. Infantry under Captain V.R. Goodrich. After the war, he was given a land grant of 160 acres in DeKalb County, Illinois. He moved his family, including his wife Adeline Woodruff, from Westport, New York to Illinois in 1850.

Only one son did not make the move. My great grandfather Joseph Lucius Cincinatus Pitt Lyon chose instead to join his cousin, George Newell, to Louisiana, where he became an overseer on the Semple Plantation. 

Lucius married four times leaving three sons. John Futch Lyon, my great grandfather, married Emily LaBruyere and had 10 children, including my grandfather Druis Lyons (who somehow added the S). He married Pauline Dupre and had five children, including my father, Lionel Lyons.

And that roughly sums up the 400 years since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and now.

For people like me who spend their late night hours and rainy afternoons doing genealogy, finding a Mayflower connection is like finding the Holy Grail. Some spend years and thousands of dollars digging up dead relatives with documentation so they can apply to The Mayflower Society and receive a lovely certificate suitable for framing. Having only found my connection a few years ago, I'm still thinking about finding the time to do the paperwork. 

For now, I'm content to just let my fellow Lyon/Lyons descendants know that we are, indeed, Mayflower descendants. Do with it what you will. 





Thursday, June 20, 2019

Just in case anyone was wondering, here is my latest DNA update. No surprises. The Lyons are Scotish/English and all my Cajun peeps are French. I honestly have no idea where the Native American comes from.