Genealogy Through Illustration – Oh The Fun!

Besides writing in this blog, I also adore illustrating.  Particularly humans, mainly females; though I have been known to illustrate men before, however it is rather rare.

I know that one is never supposed to be a Debbie Downer of sorts and say negative things about themselves or what they do… but I honestly feel that most people do not like my art, that they even might make fun of it.  I have not had people actually say things recently, but a few people have made smirked faces.  However in the past, they would criticize every aspect and poke fun.

Personally I love the girls that I illustrate.  I adore them all so.  I feel a little like Beatrix Potter when she felt like her wee animals in clothing were part of her family.  I also quite like the fact that my art isn’t perfect quality.  You know what I mean.  The people who render illustrations of people and they’re so life-like that you think you’re looking at a photograph?  Those people are fabulous, as is their art, and while I do admire them, it’s simply not who I am.


I could have chosen to take art classes in high school and in uni and to learn all the proper principles and such, but I didn’t want to.  I knew it would change how I see the world as well as the type of artist that I am.  I’m not knocking it.  If art school is for you, then by all means go for it.  It just wasn’t for me.  I don’t ever regret not going.  I suppose I’m also a bit rebellious and I kind of like the fact that I’m not in the cool art kid group and I’m doing everything wrong.

Doing things in the wrong manner should basically be my life’s motto.  It’s wrong for aspects of society and it’s wrong for other individuals, but it’s the perfect path for me.  I’ve tried straying and falling into line, but I’m abysmal at that too actually.  So, while I’m sure there are people out there who would certainly say that what I do is NOT art or even illustrating, it’s what I do.  It’s how I roll.  It’s all mine and I can be proud of it, at least.

Besides it’s something that I absolutely enjoy doing.  It’s fun!  I do share what I do and try to sell it, though mainly I’m just so happy about it all that I give it away and am not too dejected when sales aren’t made.  I’ve also noticed that little kids think my art is the bees knees.  They think that I am the bees knees too, for the most part.  Warms the heart.  So, basically I enjoy what I do, I adore the end results, it’s fun, and it’s educational too!

Case in point would be the series that I am currently working on which is entitled Girls of the World.  While my art may not be accurate from an art societies stand point, by golly I’ll do my darn best to make sure it’s accurate from a historical stand point.  So anything that doesn’t come from my imagination; meaning historical fashion, traditional clothing or national costumes and the like will be as accurate as one can accomplish.  I take that very seriously.

I also research as much as I can before even starting an illustration of this nature.  I want to know more than just what they’re wearing.  I want to know why they’re wearing it, what every piece means, what the climate is like in that region, any history.  So, not only is it educational for me, but you know I’m going to have that paragraph of information to go along with the illustration, because, to me, it’s important.

So, in getting to the basic point of this post, I drew my ancestral peoples to be included in this series, because of course I would!  And that, dear readers, is what I wanted to show all of you.  My ancestral heritage through my own illustrations.



Paternal Ancestry:

Scotland – traditional clothing


Osage – traditional clothing


On my fathers maternal side, my grandmothers ancestors came over in the early 1800s and pretty much headed straight for the Arkansas territory and never left.   Along the way a male from Scotland married a female from the Osage nation.

Now, I admit that sometimes I have difficult time researching these types of things, for illustrations I mean.  For Scotland there’s a lot of Sexy Lass Halloween Costumes and a lot of women who have created Braveheart era costumes… and not much else.  There is not a lot of information on a traditional dress or national costume and this was the closest that I could find to being accurate… so if it’s not, we’ll blame the internet.  Or better yet, if this is completely off the mark, show or direct me to what is appropriate!

For the Osage, documentation is very limited.  There are no photo’s of current Osage women in regalia, national dress, sports clothes or everyday clothes.  They’ll give you the men’s traditional clothing, which is awesome by the way, but I was drawing a female.  When I searched, they wanted to give me Sexy Squaw (seriously I roll my eyes at all these awesome cultures turned sexy, and demeaned for costuming entertainment) and then other tribes or simply regalia outfits for Pow-Wow specific dances.  All I could find were two sepia toned photo’s, the other three were Osage women after they’d been forced to integrate, meaning they were wearing white women clothing of the 1880s or 1890s.



Welsh – national dress


Cherokee – national dress


On my fathers paternal side, my grandfathers ancestors came over from Wales in the early 1800s.  They also headed towards Arkansas and wouldn’t leave, but it took them longer than my grandmothers people.  A male from Wales married a female from the Cherokee nation (before the Trail of Tears) and then moved her out west.

This was not too particularly difficult, thankfully.  I searched Welsh National Costume and when it came up I said, “Oh yeah… that’s right!” and then giggled.  My maternal grandmother traveled a lot and adored Britain, so on one trip she brought The Sister & I dolls back from Wales, dressed in the national costume.  I’d forgotten all about that doll until that moment.  In my youth she seemed weird to me and I didn’t much care for her attire.  I have a better respect for it now, though growing up American I can’t help but think “Christmas Pilgrim Witch” when I look at the national costume.

It’s the same for Scotland up there.  As an American, all I can see at first is Christmas, because her outfit looks like a picture postcard depicting a wholesome American Christmas.  Also while I adore tartan and argyle I detest drawing them and for those aspects it is not accurate in the least, because I’m sorry to say that because it is so much to draw that I could care less which actual tartan is supposed to be used, though I realize that tartans are almost sacred and shouldn’t be regarded with this lack of caring, but you try drawing tartan accurately down to the last intersecting line and you probably won’t care too much either and will just want the effect of tartan… or argyle (you’ll see later).  Though this has given me a newfound respect for how these fabrics are made.


For the Cherokee national dress, this one is sketchy.  Basically this is it, or was it, but now they’ve changed it, but as that was so recently there aren’t a lot of photos depicting that and the validity of image searching is also sketchy at best.  They’ll show you pictures of Apache and Pima when you’re searching for Cherokee (and they are listed as Cherokee) because… what?  They’re all lumped in as just Indians?  Pfft.  Anyways, so since this was it, this is what I went with.  It’s sad to me.  The Cherokee sort of know what they wore before the white people arrived, but memories get lost along the way.  This is what they were wearing when the Indian Removal act passed congress and they were forced onto the Trail of Tears with numerous other Eastern tribes.  They’ve kept this prairie style white people dress and added silk swatches to it in places.  It is now the Tear Dress and it’s so they can remember what was done.  That’s just so sad and also brave and honourable at the same time.

There are people in Africa; The Herera from Namibia who have done the same thing.  Taken tragedy and made it their own.  German people came and took over in the 1880s and forced the Herera to wear the same clothes, then they slaughtered thousands of them.  The women still wear this style of dress, though they mix up all the prints and patterns for it.  They have also added a hat that resembles cow horns since they are cow people.  It’s just so tragic and to keep that style as a remembrance of all the pain is amazing.

But I’m getting off track here.



Maternal Ancestry:

Irish – traditional clothing


Choctaw – National dress


So, my mothers ancestors were Irish.  All Irish, all the time.  We really only know her maternal line and nothing of her paternal line at all.  But, Irish for days basically, arriving in the states in the latter part of the 1700s.  Mainly settling up near South Carolina, but by the early 1800s they made a very slow move to end up in the lower portion of Mississippi.  Before settling in Mississippi however, an Irish male married a Choctaw female in Alabama.


Now I realize that people are particular to stories over facts, as in “Well, my great granny said that Jim-bo O’Donnely married himself a Choctaw Indian Princess and now she’s buried under HWY 98.” – you get the gist.  But, I like to work on fact.  I like to actually do the genealogy and figure out if the stories were true.  Most times they were, but they’ve been embellished as in my family.  My mother will tell you all day long that Mr. So & So (no, it wasn’t Jim-Bo O’Donnely, but I did like that name.  It just came to me) married a Choctaw Princess.

There is absolutely no validity to the story of her being a princess, and which to my knowledge (according to my friend sources who are Choctaw), they didn’t do the whole princess thing.  Though they do now with a Princess pageant, but the Princess is really just the ambassador for the nation for a year.  Anyways, we’ll just call him Jim-Bo O’Donnely; he married a white woman.  But this other male Irish relative did in fact marry a woman from the Choctaw Nation.


Apparently Ireland does not have a National Costume like Wales, unless you count what came up in the internet searches of Sexy Leprechaun, or Medieval Irish Barbie fashion that people have come up with… which I don’t.  This seemed to be the basic dress for Irish females for several hundred years, so I went with this.  A simple dress and apron, black stockings, shoes, a shawl and headscarf.  Sometimes the shawl was the headscarf.

For the Choctaw national dress, I knew this one, as I said having friends who are Choctaw and hearing them talk about history and visiting the museum they have on the reservation of the Eastern Band of Choctaw Indians.  My friends said that they don’t really know what they were wearing before the Europeans showed up.  And that this style dress basically came from the French and they made it their own.  It’s sad, not the dress, they’re dresses are happy, but my illustration, I mean.  It doesn’t do their national dress justice at all.  I love her and I think she’s fabulous, but the dresses (and the jewelry) and much better in photographs and in person.



See?  They’re in all sorts of rainbow colours.  They’re also all slightly different, custom-made to the wearers desire, but still following basic patterns.  Some are a little frilly, others not so much.  The shape or number of band designs on aprons is different.  The jewelry and amount are different too.  Some women have lace overlays for the shoulders, some do not.  Anyways, I chose maroon because everything that I see from T-shirts depicting anything to do with the reservation to signs, and such, the main colour seems to be maroon.

Also, I already respected their dresses as beautiful works of art, but simply having to illustrate all the intricacies about it, I have a greater respect on what it must take to actually make one of these.  Everything about this dress is separate.  The white bands, the diamond shapes, the wave shapes, the circles; those are all separate pieces of material that has been cut out and then sewn on to the dress, it’s not just fancy stitchery with a machine or simple strips, they’re actual shapes.  That doesn’t even count the time and effort it takes to make all the beaded jewelry that they choose to wear with their dress.  My friend taught me very simple beading designs.  They weren’t hard, but they were time-consuming and one of them was rather intricate and still nothing compared to the pieces they wear when attending social dances (like the photo pictured above).



Now I have two last illustrations, then I’ll be finished with this post.  The first is of the Highland Dance.  So, it’s Scottish.  When I was six my grandmother visited Scotland and sent me a postcard of women in mid jumps and they were Highland Dancers and I’ve been fascinated with that image (& their clothes) since then, so I had to draw her.  While she is wonkier than I’d like her to be (ahem… that left wrist and hand of hers), she’s still phenomenally fabulous and she’s my favourite, but shh!  don’t tell the others!

Also, this is where the argyle comes in that I was talking about before, though I think her socks look great, but I still don’t like illustrating argyle.

Scottish Highland Dance



This second one was a commission piece from a few years ago.  She is a slave from a Plantation in South Carolina who escaped to freedom.  There is absolutely no shred of proof that I have African American ancestry, so I don’t claim it to people… but there’s just something that pulls at my heart about it all.  There’s just this feeling of sorts that she is my ancestor.  I was only commissioned to draw a slave on the cusp of freedom and she is who came to me, her whole story just came to me though I didn’t specifically research that area.  And she feels like I know her somehow.  Or perhaps I was her once in another lifetime.

I would feel honoured and proud if it came to light that I had African American ancestry; as I am proud and honoured by all of the people who make up my ancestry, however, considering that there is no documented proof, if it were a truth, it would probably be a sad one.  Not a romantic notion of stealing away with the man she loved and they simply disappeared to the territories or Californian and so there was no documentation.  No, it would probably be that there was no marriage because it was a forced situation to put it mildly.  So I would hate the circumstances, if it were this, but I would still claim her.  But perhaps there is documentation.  We don’t really know my mother’s father and can’t study his genealogical line, so perhaps it is there?  And if it is, it’s happy?

Doesn’t really matter.  I have a feeling and that’s good enough for me.  And I love her, this illustration.  And that’s about good enough for me as well.


The Journey To Freedom | 2013

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