Brain Glitches, Genealogy and Grandpa

How do you get anything done with a brain that short-circuits like mine does? To prepare my English class lesson plans, I googled celebratory dates and found out American Indian Heritage Month is coming up in November, which reminds me of our trip to the Badlands and visit to the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota. That enticed me to read about the Battle of Wounded Knee. While admiring photographs of famous Native American Chiefs, I kept seeing images of my grandfather’s weather-beaten, chiseled face with his high cheekbones and prominent nose. Convinced that we have some degree of Indian blood, I am off on a wild goose chasing missing links to my ancestry.

One thing led to another. In the online census report of Madison County Iowa, I discovered my great grandfather, John, was part of a family of 14 children. John’s grandfather, Aaron was born in Osage Indian Territory of what later became Kentucky. His first cousin also named Aaron later lived on the Osage and Kaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma, a stone’s throw from where my grandpa grew up when great grandfather moved his family West. Naturally, I filled in the gaps of history with my imagination, convinced mighty warriors are part of my ancestry.

Sound crazy? Not if you knew my grandpa, a.k.a. Coach Mac. If Coach Mac took off his glasses, folded his arms across his chest and replaced his baseball cap with a headdress, he ‘d look just like the Indian American, Afraid of Bear – proud, sage, ageless.  How many white folks do you know with 40 second resting heart rate, like grandpa? And he was afraid of bears, too!

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

Coach "Mac" - Ralph McKinzie

One fact is sure. The census report answered a question that has perplexed my family for years. My grandpa, never sure of his birth date, thought he was born in early October. Well I found proof  – Ralph Clyde McKinzie born Oct. 1, 1894. He had a middle name, which he never knew about either. No wonder. Imagine having the nickname R.C? Like the cola. If I had a middle name like Clyde I might tend to forget it, too.

As if working for the missing persons bureau, I spent a weekend cruising the web genealogy files. On Monday morning, when the class bell rang, I wondered where the heck did I put my lesson plan? I’ll have to confess to class that I got lost navigating the Internet looking for my McKinzie lineage.

My Grandpa Mac defied age by remaining active by coaching college football in his nineties.  He died at the age of 96. He would’ve been 117 years old today; I still celebrate his life.

Have you discovered  skeletons in your family closet? Do you have any links to genealogy search engines that you could share with readers?

Posted in inspiration, social view.


  1. Pat,
    This is such a captivating story- discovering the “connective tissue” of your family heritage. And Coach Mac’s picture says it all. You also show the inner workings of your own creative process;how your inklings and probings led you deeper into your own story. What a rich lesson is in store for your students! Fascinating journey!

    • So true about intuition and the inner workings of the creative process, Kath. I have found that the “connective tissue” to my ancestry keeps me fighting when the day is long and the journey arduous. Thanks for your insights.

  2. Pat, so, is it true? Is Mac of Indian descent or is it your imagination telling the story? I sure love your creativity!

  3. I like this Pat. It’s interesting to try and discover remmants from your family tree. Interesting and time consuming feat. Hats off to you!


  4. I, too, think of Grandpa Mac on October 1st and remember the many special birthday celebrations we were able to share with him. The photo you posted is one of my absolute favorites. How blessed we are by the legacy he left. I’d like to think his determined spirit and unwavering integrity lives on in each of us.

  5. Sista,
    Thanks for reminding me about our unique and special Grandpa Mac. I feel fortunate that we grew up with very rich experiences with Grandparents. Now Marie and Hannah are filled with similar special memories too of their grandparents. Your tenaciousness and inner strength continue to remind me of Grandpa Mac. Keep on writing………

  6. I remember seeing Coach Mac at your house growing up. I also remember see him at a Eureka game that Lee dragged me to to in the mid ’80’s where a play carried out of bounds and took Grandpa right off his feet. He got up, knocked the dirt off his clothes, and resumed coaching as if nothing happened. What a guy, what a family!

  7. How wonderful for you, Pat! I’m glad your searches were productive.

    When I was researching my novel a couple years ago, I took my mom back with me to North Dakota where she grew up. We flew into Denver, rented a car and drove the rest of the way. After about 10 days of visiting with relatives and combing the countryside, I felt like I knew the place so deeply, I still feel as if I lived there for a while. And the road trip with Mom, spending two days going north from Denver and then the reverse, on the return trip, were a dream. Just unforgettable. Thanks for bringing up a great, great memory.

    • The raw desolate Dakota terrain is something everyone should see once in a lifetime. I am anxiously awaiting the publication of your Dakota Blues. I appreciate your writer’s angst, I too, have a manuscript collecting dust while the digital world revolutionizes the publishing industry. What a great road trip and wonderful memory for you and your mom. I dream of one day taking a journey into my ancestral lands from the Bridges of Madison County to the northernmost fjords of Norway to the Kintail mountains in Scotland.

  8. Pat-Loved reading about your Grandpa! Having never grown up with Grandparents, I know I have missed a lot. My daughter is studying in Scotland this semester and I can remember my dad checking his genealogy several years ago which led back several generations to a small town in Scotland named HUNTLY! We are visiting there next month & taking a day trip to HUNTLY. I am trying to learn as much as I can before I leave. I wish Dad would have written it all down! Keep writing-I always enjoy it!

    • Your daughter is so lucky to be studying abroad and you are fortunate that your dad did all the genealogical leg work. How exciting to be tracing your roots and traveling to the town where your people began. I have yet to make that journey to investigate more about the McKinzie Clan (which back then was spelled MacCoinchy) and started in the Kintail Mountain region of Scotland. Be sure to take notes and lots of pictures ! Can’t wait to hear all about it !

  9. Ah yes, that is so enthralling, to read about your ancestors! My brother did a lot of research on my family, and he used and a lot.
    That would be really exciting, if you had native American ancestry. I am of Dutch, German and Belgian descent. My brother married a Scottish wife with a half Irish father, so his daughter is of Dutch/German/Belgian/Scottish/Irish origins 🙂

  10. I like this site very much, Its a real nice office to read and incur information. “Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.” by Bertrand Russell.

  11. Your grandfather coached President Reagan at Eureka; Reagan lettered three times in football at Eureka, and still called your grandfather “Sir” when he visited the White House!

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