The Science of Superb Skill and its Base in Repetition

Question: What gives  sports greats like Michael Jordan and Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, their athletic value?  Why are they worth the gigantic contract payments they command?

Answer: “Muscle memory”–they have drilled their bodies in the same motion until their muscles (and other body parts) respond without conscious thought or deviation.  Jaworski threw the same pass, to master the perfect throw, more than 20,000 times!

The Utah Jazz, a basketball team who has fielded some incredible players, could never get it right.  There is a point in many games when, as a team,  they falter.  They tire.  They lose focus. They slow down.  And they lose.

In Kentucky genealogy research, “muscle memory” is needed–perhaps more than any other state.  The ability to recognize data gaps and determine which substitute sources and records will fill in the missing data must be honed to a science.  Not just an occasional show of brilliance; a constant, over and over understanding is required.

Kentucky ancestors are difficult to trace–

  • through other Kentucky counties
  • into and through North and South Carolina
  • back to Virginia, and Maryland, and into Delaware, but mostly to Virginia.

Who are these ancestors?  Who flow like water cascading down a chasm into the mountain valleys of Eastern Kentucky?

In A Darkness at Dawn:  Appalachian Kentucky and the Future, Harry M. Caudill poses such a question. This is just a little book.  Part of the Kentucky Bicentennial Bookshelf published 1976 by the University of Kentucky Press in Lexington.  A small companion piece to his other perceptive studies of Kentucky:  Night Comes to the Cumberland, Dark Hills to Westward, and My Land is Dying.

Most of the family names that sound in the Kentucky hills today were already in America, mainly in Virginia, a full century before Thomas Jefferson took up his quill pen to write the Declaration of  Independence.

I am, of course, aware that many careful students, including the eminently respectable genealogist, William C. Kozee hold to the view that the Scotch-Irish is the predominant strain in Appalachia.  There is a possibility that they are right, but other evidence is against them.

Caudill makes a compelling argument:  the structured religion of the Scotch-Irish, accepted by covenant in Scotland and carried like a banner with these people through Ireland into America.  By the beginning of the Revolutionary War, one-sixth of the total population was of this stock, clinging passionately to their Presbyterianism.

Not so in eastern Kentucky.  When the tireless Presbyterian evangelist, E.O. Guerrant traveled through the Kentucky hills, he found 90% of the people unchurched! Although only 10% belonged to the Baptist faith, almost the entire population considered themselves to be Baptist.  Presbyterianism was nowhere to be found.

Another circumstance that argues against the notion of Scotch-Irish predominance among the settlers of Appalachian Kentucky was their persistent illiteracy.  The Ulstermen were, in the main, well schooled by the standards of the time, with a deeply rooted insistence on an educated clergy.

Few [Kentucky] counties had a school of any kind a half-century after settlers began to arrive. Notwithstanding the rough terrain and the distances between families, it is hard to suppose a populace strongly influenced by Scotch-Irish would have lapsed into the unrelieved illiteracy and general ignorance that gripped the region when the “mission teachers” began to arrive eighty years ago.

More than 90% of Scotch-Irish signed their names to documents, petitions, and other written instruments.  Few made a mark.

These circumstances reflect an original populace that was essentially rootless, deprived by their history of church, schooling, and other established cultural facets.  It was a populace that wanted mostly to be left alone and was significantly lacking in the ambition for worldly gain that drove the Scotch-Irish, Huguenots, and Germans, and later the Jews, from Europe’s ghettos.

What we need is more practice.  More study.  More in-depth contact with the ancestors who resided in eastern Kentucky, and whose descendants are still to be found there today.  So that we can recognize, with “cultural memory” just who these ancestors are and where they originate.  The last word for Appalachian Kentucky has not been written.  Your favorite Kentucky genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  My apologies for the gap in Kentucky blog entries:  My entire communications system failed in mid-September and was not restored until early December.  There is a lane along the edge of my property line.  It is being used by large construction equipment to re-build the county high school.  As nearly as we can figure out, a large machine took out the whole system.  My provider company had to re-run the line and supply a new modem.  Satellite television sets still do not work correctly.  So those modems may have to be replaced too.

PPS  A warning:  I live at the end of the world.  No kidding, I’m serious.  And the state-wide power company is installing a new power grid through the Northern part of the state of Utah–with power poles the likes of which we have never seen.  Objective:  to prevent power outages and brown-outs.  That will be wonderful.  Until it is all up and working well, we still have frequent outages.  So my system may fail again.  I will have a wireless laptop later this month–and it may be able to fill in.

Sometimes I feel a kinship with those worthy ancestors in Appalachian Kentucky!

About Arlene Eakle

I trace your family tree; or, teach you how.
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