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Outcasts, Rogues, and Misfits

My grandmother Edna, the hard-drinking, pipe-smoking and headstrong Irishwoman in the white dress above, always told me I was her favorite little boy, because she knew we were exactly alike. In the early 1900s she gave up her vaudeville singing & dancing career and got married in Ohio to one Frank Joyce, whose ancestors lived in a small village in the Maum Valley, to the west of Lough Mask in the northern part of County Galway, Ireland.

Edna was always drawn to outcasts, rogues and misfits. And liked to hear stories about her husband Frank’s great grandfather, Jack. During The Famine he was convicted of sheep stealing and subsequently transported to a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia. Jack eventually ended up in America, got a job on the railroad.

Edna may have left vaudeville, but she never gave up singing, dancing, smoking, and drinking. She did what she pleased. Always. Frank thought that once his wild wife gave birth to baby Jack, and then Betty, she'd settle down. Not a chance.

The picture below is of Edna and her daughter Betty—my mother!—at the Avalon Ballroom in Youngstown, having a good time. Frank is at home, with the dog, listening to the radio play-by-play of the Cleveland Indians game.

I enjoy being a direct descendant of an Irish sheep stealer and a vaudeville trooper, and a distant relation to the famous writer, James. Such a history provides me all the excuses I ever need for my own wild and outrageous behavior.

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...the best outrageous and wild behaviour should never be excused or explained, only enjoyed...

Tell that to my favorite ex-wife!

Love the women with the pipes! Is that you off to their left?

If it were, that would make me about 100 years old! Actually I have no clue who that kid is. Nothing is written on the back of that photo, and of course all those who would know are dead by now.

this makes me wish I knew more of family history...but I was raised by hippies who sorta let those stories go.

When Erik Homburger was a boy he learned he was the result of his mother's extramarital affair, which his parents kept secret. Wiki: "He was a tall, blond, blue-eyed boy who was raised in the Jewish religion. At temple school, the kids teased him for being Nordic; at grammar school, they teased him for being Jewish."

So Erik changed his name to Erikson and in effect created his own history and identity as a world-famous psychoanalyst.

His lesson is that if you are unhappy about or don't know your family history, just create one that you like!

Wow. This is ridiculously close to my own heritage. My great-grandpa Paul Allen was a magician, a carnie, a con artist, a schemester, a snake charmer, living life on the carnivale, the circus, and eventually on the roadside attraction business with his own "Snakes Alive!" exhibition, where he used both my grandmother and mother as damsels in distress.

He lost his way, after hoaxing Life magazine, he drunkenly fed his pet cobra, and died shortly after, a little too smug over his dominian of the animals.

I spoke often to my great-grandmother, his widow, as a kid and an adolescent, and she, having long converted to a stale form of Christianity to repent from her very wayward youth, was always trying to convert me, confusing me with my younger brother who would always flount his agnosticism.

Of course, I always realized she saw me as something of a reincarnation of her first love, a man who literally was arrested because he called himself Fra Diabalo, son of the devil, a little too close to cities with unsolved murders.

In the last few weeks, my mother has expressed shock that my grandmother, a wonderful painter and the closest thing to a true genius my family has ever had, has always seen me, both in my evident faults and possible virtues, as the true heir to her father, a troubled, miserable figure who was touched with something rare.

My mother claimed she never made the connection.

Personally, I always have. Even if he's not a well-known figure, a manipulative, addicted conman making do (as the least sympathetic portait of Paul Allen would show him as), and not the greatest shaper of the English language since Shakespeare (as I believe Joyce was), I would not exchange my family history for anyone else's. Ever.

I think Americans are utterly convinced that we need to break from family history, like the founding fathers supposedly did from the English, that we expect creative types to emerge from seafoam, with an amnesiac's genealogical history.

I am proud to be a mere stepping stone in my family's cultural footprint. Apologies for hijacking this thread. I just think so few of us think of our ancestors and appreciate them...

Was your g-grandpa by any chance the Paul Allen who edited the two-volume account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition? In any event I was struck by the similiarity in style and tone between your post and Allen's preface! (See below)

You're right, somehow looking back gives us a greater sense of being, or identity, which indeed is something to appreciate and savor.

* * *

Title: History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, Vol. I.
To The Sources Of The Missouri, Thence Across The Rocky
Mountains And Down The River Columbia To The Pacific Ocean.
Performed During The Years 1804-5-6.

Author: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Editor: Paul Allen


In presenting these volumes to the public, the editor owes equally to
himself and to others, to state the circumstances which have preceded
the publication, and to explain his own share in compiling them.

It was the original design of captain Lewis to have been himself the
editor of his own travels, and he was on his way towards Philadelphia
for that purpose when his sudden death frustrated these intentions.
After a considerable and unavoidable delay, the papers connected with
the expedition were deposited with another gentleman, who, in order to
render the lapse of time as little injurious as possible, proceeded
immediately to collect and investigate all the materials within his

Of the incidents of each day during the expedition, a minute journal was
kept by captain Lewis or captain Clark, and sometimes by both, which was
afterwards revised and enlarged at the different periods of leisure
which occurred on the route. These were carefully perused in conjunction
with captain Clark himself, who was able from his own recollection of
the journey, as well as from a constant residence in Louisiana since his
return, to supply a great mass of explanations, and much additional
information with regard to part of the route which has been more
recently explored. Besides these, recourse was had to the manuscript
journals kept by two of the serjeants, one of which, the least minute
and valuable, has already been published. That nothing might be wanting
to the accuracy of these details, a very intelligent and active member
of the party, Mr. George Shannon, was sent to contribute whatever his
memory might add to this accumulated fund of information.

[Etc., etc.]

PHILADELPHIA, January 1, 1814.

That wasn't the same guy, but that Paul Allen could certainly be in my family tree. Supposedly the Allen line is pretty much directly descended from Ethan Allen, which would make sense, but it's hard to separate fact and fiction when we're talking about ancestors.

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