The recent History Channel mini-series on the Hatfield-McCoy feud has given rise to an overwhelming interest in the history and sites associated with a conflict that is more than 130 years old.
The local Chambers of Commerce and tourism offices, as well as the websites of the West Virginia State Archives, are inundated with visitors and contacts. Theatre West Virginia at Grandview State Park is witnessing an increase in ticket sales for its Hatfield and McCoy outdoor drama; producers for a new reality show are looking for descendants of the infamous families; and visitors to the West Virginia State Museum are asking about the exhibit that features this much-publicized story.
The reasons for the bitter feelings between these two families - the Hatfields in West Virginia's Mingo County and the McCoys in Kentucky's Pike County - make for a story that includes elements of drama - betrayal, romance, loyalties and economic rivalry. And, while we will leave it to historians to debate how close the mini-series came to portraying actual occurrences, we can see how the story has captivated audiences for so many years.
The same can be said, in some ways, of our own family histories. Where our families came from, how they arrived here and our own traditions are more than dates and places noted in the front of a family Bible or on a genealogical chart. Our personal stories may not be the stuff of popular legends, but they are what make our family histories unique and intriguing. These stories are one of the many reasons West Virginians are interested in learning and preserving their family heritage. Fortunately, around the state there are many ways to do that.
Start at the Culture Center at the state Capitol with a stop at the West Virginia State Archives - a visit you can make in person or online (www.wvculture.org/history). The archives offers an ever-growing collection of free vital records (births, deaths and marriages) and statistics, primary source documents such as newspapers, photographs, letters, diaries and manuscripts and special online resources. Through research, you can find out for yourself the truth behind that family tale about your grandfather's war record or an aunt's state fair blue ribbons.
Around the state, libraries and some historical and genealogical societies (www.wvculture.org/history/featlink.html) host workshops designed to help you learn more about your family history, the stories of the towns in which you live and the special historic places you see every day. These local programs are another invaluable way to connect with your past and learn how you are associated with your neighbors.
I encourage all West Virginians to use these opportunities to get to know your family better. Discover for yourself what makes your ancestors special. And, who knows, perhaps you'll discover a connection to the Hatfields or the McCoys.