The few times I’ve ever had to wait on the microfilm machine at my town’s library, invariably, the person for whom I’m waiting is working that mouse perusing obituaries, no doubt in an attempt to clarify something in the genealogical realm. As evidenced by the popularity of the subscription service Ancestry.com and the number of people who’ve ordered their kits, like Elizabeth Warren, to determine their ethnic origins, there is, to many, a real fascination.
Personally, I really haven’t dug too deeply into my family soil to find Grindrod roots. Some years ago, when I was still teaching school at St. Marys Memorial High School, I did get a call from a lady in Chicago bearing my last name who came upon my name in an edition of Who’s Who in American Education and was seeking anything I might know that could link us.
Despite the fact that Chicago is my birth city, the Grindrod name actually came to Chicago by way of Boston. My father only got to Chicago after his years growing up outside of Boston in Lynn once he got out of the Marine Corp. So we kind of decided that if there was any connection, it was a distant one.
She did tell me that she’d done quite a bit of digging and found out that the Grindrod name actually traces to the region right on the England-Scotland border. As a matter of fact, and this may scare anyone who knows me well, she said there was actually a little village in the region on the border where over half the names in the phone book are Grindrod!
At any rate, my sis and I did some digging using Ancestry.com a few years ago and managed to trace our “peops” back to good old Tom Grindrod in Lancashire, England, in the early 19th century. Actually, while traveling abroad some time later, I over-nighted in Lancashire but couldn’t find anyone who knew old Tom!
At any rate, I suppose the reason I haven’t really conjured up much interest in my own origins might have something to do with the fact that I wouldn’t know what I would do with the information. I mean, how would I feel if generations ago the Grindrods ran a horse-thieving operation? I’ve always felt, regardless of who the Grindrods were and what they did, be it dastardly or noble, that has nothing to do with me and what I’ve become.
Since my email appears at the end of each piece I manage to get published, I do get people contacting me on a regular basis to weigh in on something I’ve penned. One such individual came across a column I wrote about Texas a while back. While he told me he liked the column as a San Antonio resident, the real reason he wrote was because his name was also John Grindrod. Although he said he goes by Jay, that was only to distinguish him from his father John. In similar fashion, as a child, I was Jack to many, to differentiate me from the man who gave me his name.
My namesake in old San Anton did tell me that he had traced his family all the way back to the Mayflower, telling me that he actually was a direct descendent of William Bradford, THE William Bradford that wrote the Mayflower Compact.
Closer to Lima, one of our city’s more prominent barristers, Charles Bradford Kelley, AKA Brad, told me of the story of how a family of Bedouin descent, Syrians to be specific, happened upon a surname more reflective of several listed in a phone book in Dublin, Ireland.
According to Brad, the actual family name is Khalil, and there are two versions of the story as to how the Khalils became the Kelleys, the name passed along to each of Brad’s grandparents’ 11 children.
In the first version, Abraham and Mary Khalil were bound for Boston through Ellis Island where, as Brad said, “a couple Bedouin relatives had already pitched their tents.” Knowing Boston also was a predominately Irish Catholic town, Mary spied a sign above a store for Kelly’s Market while awaiting processing and got an idea. To better assimilate, perhaps, she whispered to Abe, and that was the name they provided for their paperwork, Brad said, tossing that second e in just for good measure.
The second version has it that Brad’s grandparents got to the customs gate after disembarkation. They mumbled when asked their name “Khalil” but then heard an immigration processor yell, “Kelley, next!” so, amidst the chaos of so many seeking admission at the feet of Lady Liberty, they stepped forward and assumed a new name.
As to which, if either, is accurate, Brad’s answer is as cryptic as the story is apocryphal. A shrug of his Bedouin-rooted shoulders preceded, “Who knows? My people never really talked about stuff like that.”
What Abe and Mary did do was plant their seeds in Beantown soil and establish Kelley roots by opening a grocery store in Greater Boston’s South Norwood and start growing those eleven little Kelleys, whose speech began to favor the same soft R’s which are the epicenter of the Boston accent that I heard from my own father until the day he died.
While I have greater interest in the broader implications of history, I think, much like Brad’s grandparents and their offspring, there are many who find their own personal history far more fascinating.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.