Holiday Tangent: My Schofill family roots include Cherokee and lots of American South skeletons

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Hi Blog.  As today is a holiday, here’s a Holiday Tangent of a completely personal nature:

About six weeks ago I received out of the blue two fat books from a distant relative.  Information on the Schofill Clan, hand-collated from family history and lore.

I have gone through four name changes in my life:  I was born 1965 as David Christopher Schofill, was adopted after divorce by my stepfather around 1971 to become David Christopher Aldwinckle, became Sugawara Arudoudebito (due to koseki woes) when I naturalized into Japan 2000, and then had the Sugawara legally removed from my koseki in 2006 by Japanese court weeks after my divorce to become Arudou Debito.  Hiya.

But I have been so far removed from family, any family, my entire life (birth father, step father, and mother all moved far away from their birth roots, and my mother severed almost all contact with the Schofill Clan after the divorce; I’ve furthermore been excommunicated by my parents since my naturalization) that receiving these fat books of family lore was a very pleasant surprise and unprecedented experience for me.

So here’s what I’ve gleaned:  I have a picture of Philip Schofill, my great great great great grandfather, born March 31, 1803 in Lexington, South Carolina.

This is of course a photo of him (undated) at an advanced age, when photography was possible.  He died March 3, 1891 at the age of 88 (quite an accomplishment for that era).  It seems male longevity runs in the family (happy to see), but so does, from what I’ve also heard, alcoholism, violence, and ill-temper (the last one I can understand:  I’ve felt the spiral of rage plenty of times; why do you think I write so much?)  If bad habits don’t get you first (my major vice is high-fat foods), looks like I come from good stock for a long life.  But Philip above, from his visible demeanor and also family lore, was a nasty-sounding cuss.  The family, from the American South (and England before that), has plenty of Southern predispositions, including slaves (Philip was apparently “mean” towards them, to put it mildly), deaths in the Civil War, and possible KKK connections.  Not something I’m particularly proud to be related to.  But it’s history, and should be acknowledged.  Philip also has a history of remarriage, getting his second wife at age 83!  I’m not sure I’ll wait that long.

The oddly-spelled name of Schofill (often confused with Schofield), according the materials I received, “was found to be spelled Schofield, Schofill, Scofil, Scoldfield, Scovel, Scovill, Coffell, and others.  The different spellings were noted on wills, land records, census reports, etc.  Since many people could not read or write, whoever was doing the writing spelled names as they were sounded.”  Hence I’ve gone through life with a name that nobody will ever quite get without a spelling, be it Schofill, Aldwinckle, Arudoudebito, or Arudou.  It also makes me very sensitive towards spelling and pronouncing other people’s names correctly (my favorite so far is Dimagmaliw, a Filipine name).

What’s also an interesting find is that Philip Schofill’s father was, according to family legend, a Cherokee Indian by the name of Red Feather, before marrying a settler and taking the name Reese Busbee.  Here’s a photo (undated):

So that means that I’m 1/128th Cherokee, which translates to about a pound and a half of my flesh; better not diet).  Might matter in Canada.

Every family has some interesting stuff within, good and bad.  It’s history.  And I want to thank the senders of those lovingly hand-crafted family history books for clueing me in after close to a half-century of my lifespan.  Tangent ends.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

17 comments on “Holiday Tangent: My Schofill family roots include Cherokee and lots of American South skeletons

  • Many of us from the South have the same roots. My great great grandmother was cherokee. A great great grand father in the KKK. Times were different back then, with the reconstruction of the South and yankees controlling the government, it was probally allot like the occupation of japan years, plenty of corruption and blackmarketing. You wont find much about that time in U.S. history books, but I find that odd being that it is part of our history even though a dark time.

  • — I’ve furthermore been excommunicated by my parents since my naturalization—

    Very sad.

    However, it might help explain why you often seem so upset living in Japan.

    — Nah.

  • Huh. I am part Cherokee too, but then again I happen to be an okie too. Its interesting really. In that essay you linked before you had mentioned that perhaps you went to japan to escape your parents. Every psychologist I’ve talked too has told me that that is the deep underlying reason why I am leaving too(although its my dad and I try to tell them of my appreciation of the real culture and try to explain otherwise).

    Anyway, its quite interesting to learn one’s family history. Interesting roots you have, Debito.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Very cool heritage! Nice that you recieved the books. Hope you have a nice “Umi no Hi” pondering this pleasant surprise! Cheers.

  • This is very, very interesting research! Can you tell me how such researches are conducted, how are they funded? Honestly, I also want to know if the legends surrounding my family line are true, so far they are simply amazing, but I can hardly swear they are true.
    So, in the US family history is more thoroughly researched. I think this is awesome! I wish my country had such tradition too.

    — I don’t know. You might try some online databases. The Mormons have the most extensive database of family histories in the world, too.

  • Debito-
    So Schofill is English? Allot, if not most of us from the deep south are Scots Irish. Check out any cemetary down there, on every stone is a name like Mcdonald, Mcgill, etc. They found the applachian mountains to look allot like their homeland of Ireland and Scotland. many intermarried with the Cherokee, I think the Cherokee had been assimilated into the white mans world while the Creek Choctaw were pushed out. Same deal if you go to Minnesota, they are all swedish, probally something to do with the cold.

    — It might very well be Scots. It’s unclear. But very definitely from the first real wave of settlers of the area in the 1700s.

  • Debito, you beat me to it. I, being mormon myself was gonna mention our family history centers.

  • When you say “skeletons”, what do you mean? The only real problem of the South was the slaveholder system. Everyone else there was just trying to get by.

  • I wouldn’t feel to bad about your great great great great grandfather, he may have been a rotten apple but he was just one out of 64 greatx4 grandparents. I’m sure the other 63 were nice enough people.

    People tend to focuse on one particulare branch of the family and think thats who I decende from, but you only have to go back a couple of generations and the number of ancestors ballon out so much that you decende from pretty much everyone.

  • I’m surprised that nobody has brought up the controversial Zuni Enigma* theory due to the Native American connection revelation:

    (Matt Parker and Trey Stone, btw, beautifully did a great spoof of the Zuni Enigma in their movie “Cannibal! A Musical” In that movie, the Native Americans all spoke Japanese — that in-joke reference was too obscure for even Parker/Stone fans. But my wife laughed)

    * Yes, yes, I know the Zuni were not Cherokee. Still interesting, though.

  • Debito, is there a connection between being excommunicated and naturalization?
    Just wondering because I have a few American friends over the years say that their family is disappointed or dis-approving of them for leaving the US behind.
    I`ve been asked myself by a few people when i left the states “is America not not good enough for you?”

    — Oh, I experienced that attitude firsthand in many situations, where several Americans (one from the State Department even called me a “traitor”) expressed utter disbelief that anyone would ever not want to be American when so many people want, and couldn’t believe that any other country could ever measure up to their mansion on the hill. And that was before I even had my American nationality revoked (it takes time, and there is a two-year grace period between Japanizing and renouncing). But in my parents’ case, it’s just a visceral disapproval of anything I do, so this particular excommunication is not generalizable. (It’s also deeply hypocritical, given my stepfather’s naturalization into the America from Britain, but that’s one reason I was glad to be rid of these awful people… anyway, I digress.)

  • Peter McArthur says:

    “So that means that I’m 1/128th Cherokee, which translates to about a pound and a half of my flesh….”

    Not your flesh. It’s your hair that’s Cherokee. Definitely the hair.

  • In response to Norik’s question: in the UK you can order birth and marriage certificates from the national registrars’ offices (e.g. for Scotland, You have to do a bit of work, like you find your mother’s birth certificate and get the details of her parents, and then you look for their birth certificates, and so on. An ex colleague of mine managed to go back about 500 years, but presumably only on one branch of the tree. Not sure if that’d be possible in Japan, or many other countries, though…

  • For yourself and for Mike (#7), my copy of American Surnames, by Elsdon C. Smith (Geneological Publishing Co., 1969) says, p. 208, “The English dweller in the hut or shed in the field would be Schofield” (presumably a variant of Schofill).

  • Joan Schofill Berry says:

    I just happened upon your blog after searching my younger brother’s name David Lewis Schofill. Always glad to find functional family members. I live in Charleston, SC daughter of Otis Harold Schofill, son of John & Jeffie Schofill.

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