Hard Work and Resilience of the Human Spirit

Annotated Bibliography

To effectively convey the purpose of my project, I had to do extensive research on both sides of my family. All I really knew before I started is that my dad’s side lived in the Kansas and Texas area with their ancestral roots tracing back to England or Germany. On my mom’s side, I knew her family originally came from New York before they settled in North Carolina, and had Irish roots. These were very broad outlines of what I later discovered is a very rich past on both sides. I traced my family’s history back in time using ancestry.com, and after digging a little deeper and accumulating more sources, I noticed remarkable similarities between the two lineages before they ever merged.

With the help of ancestry.com, I was able to determine the precise individuals who brought my family to different places throughout the world. I then delved into their motivations for doing so, what factors kept them where they landed, and what they experienced throughout history.

Google Earth satellite image of Erie, Kansas.

Where on earth is Erie, Kansas? To be honest, I didn’t know either until I begun this project. Turns out it’s a tiny town of only 1,150 people in the southeastern corner of the state. It’s a mile from the Neosho river, making the land exceptional for farming.

To people on an airplane flying overhead, it’s a bunch of squares and circles carved up by farmers, fields of green and gold one would call “the middle of nowhere”. It’s a place most people go through life and never hear about. But to my family it’s where our roots are. It’s where my dad’s side farmed the land for generations to provide for themselves and the people around them. It’s where people were born, others died. Where my great grandfather met the love of his life down the dirt road. It’s where my grandfather made a choice that changed our family’s future forever. A place so seemingly insignificant from an outsider, but that holds so much life for families like mine.

The geometric shapes of midwestern farmland from above. Photo: Ria Misra, 2015

“Fly Over States” by Jason Aldean

Fly Over States [Recorded by J. Aldean]. (2010). On Broken Bow Records [MP3]. Michael Knox.

The term “fly over states” is a dismissive term, and implies that that these areas are an unimportant part of the journey to somewhere more exciting. This song speaks for every small town no one’s heard of in the extensive midwest.

“They’ve never drove through Indiana
Met the man who plowed that earth
Planted that seed, busted his ass for you and me
Or caught a harvest moon in Kansas
They’d understand why God made
Those fly over states”

Aldean sings about all the beauty and significance of these areas that no one knows about until they’ve driven through the backroads of the states themselves. Every farmer and train conductor living each day in a fly over state has seen and experienced so much more than meets the eye, and people don’t often think about how hard they work to make ends meet.

This song really captures the importance of place in my project. My family’s roots run deep in a region that most people overlook, but so much has happened there that has shaped how our family is today. From 1863–2005, the fertile soil of small towns in Kansas helped my family earn a living and was the source of a significant part of my family’s history.

The Agricultural and Rural History of Kansas

Hurt, R. D. (2004). “The Agricultural and Rural History of Kansas.” Kansas State Historical Society,

This paper outlines the rural scene in Kansas over the 19th century. The Homestead Act of 1862 was enacted to encourage people to move west and settle the land. It provided 160 acres of land to settlers for a small fee. Some people bought large tracts of land and rented smaller plots out to individuals, which resulted in tenant farming. Railroads were being built from the Eastern U.S. to the West to encourage the movement of people. The paper contains pictures of advertisements enticing people to move out to Kansas for its wide open spaces and beauty.

While the land was fertile and provided homes and livelihoods for thousands of families, the farms faced tremendous hardships. However, the settlers were tough, and most stayed where they were despite the tribulations. Families faced droughts, wildfires, pests attacking their crops, and unsuccessful crop yields, among other problems. Historian James Malin put it best when he said, “Kansas farmers could and would adapt to the environment. It did not control them.”

This paper provides a good historical framework of what was going on in the United States, and Kansas specifically, when my ancestors moved out there. The Homestead Act undoubtedly motivated my relatives to move from Ohio to Kansas when they did. The paper outlines the numerous hardships Kansas farmers faced, and I think it’s incredible that my family stayed where they were and fought through the bad times. My relatives, beginning with Richard W. Jackson, lived through the Kansas Dust Bowl and all the difficulties that came with that, which shows remarkable resilience.

A mother and her three children during the Dust Bowl. Photo: Dorothea Lange.

This picture truly speaks a thousand words. The mother is looking off into the distance, undoubtedly at the barren soil of the open plains, with an expression of so many emotions at once. Fear, disbelief, uncertainty, concern, helplessness. She has three children clinging to her who need food, but she has no way to plant crops to feed them, and no way to make a living without farming.
She is like so many others who lived in the midwest when the Dust Bowl hit. It brought droughts and wind storms so severe, farmland became useless. Food became scarce, and hunger and poverty shook thousands of families in the area. Many of them abandoned their farms and travelled elsewhere, looking for relief and a fresh start.
The common response to the Dust Bowl was to flee the area; as there looked to be no end of suffering in sight. However, my ancestors, again, had hope where most others did not. They remained on their small farms in Kansas, absorbed the shock of the droughts, and it made them stronger. I never knew this before this project, so I’m going to incorporate questions about it into my interview with my grandfather.

William Claiborne of Virginia: with some account of his pedigree

Claiborne, John Herbert. William Claiborne of Virginia: with Some Account of His Pedigree. G.P. Putnams Sons, 1917.

Additional website source: “Claiborne Family.” Our Southern Cousins.

My great ancestor, William Claiborne. Photo: J. Claiborne.

Again using ancestry.com as my source for information on my distant ancestors, I came across a man named William Claiborne, the first on my dad’s side of the family to come to the United States. Upon googling his name, I came to find he was a pretty big deal, and had multiple books written about him, including this one. William Claiborne of Virginia: with some account of his pedigree reports that Claiborne was selected by the Virginia Company to make the voyage from England to Virginia in 1621, accompanied with English Governor Sir Francis Wyatt. At 34 years old Claiborne was appointed Secretary of State of Virginia, and was Royal Surveyor in the construction of a colony in the New World. Through his work with Governor Wyatt, Claiborne and others brought about the Constitution to Virginia. He was given land from the King of England, and traded with Indians to obtain more land for the colony, which was located near Jamestown. He obtained 17,500 acres in total. Claiborne was the General in Chief of the colonial forces in the first war against the Indians in the area. He established a trading post and plantation on Kent Island, Maryland, which sparked the first Naval battles ever in North American seas, and made William Claiborne the first white man to ever settle in Maryland.

This source is significant because William Claiborne was a key component in the settling of the United States. He helped create the country we have today by dividing up land into settlements, fighting off Indians, and establishing a government.

This source was a great contribution to my project because William Claiborne was an important figure not only in my family’s history as our first pathway to the United States, but to American history as a whole. With the information in this account I was able to see where my ancestors first settled in the U.S. and why. Using Virginia as a starting point, I was then able to trace their moves across the States that eventually landed them in Kansas.

The Aikins (alternate spelling) crest on top of the Aikins tartan

The Clan Aikins

“The Clan Akins Association.” The Clan Akins Association.

This article gives a history of the last name Aikins and the clan it belongs to. I thought it was really interesting that there are so many forms of spelling the last name due to the fact that when the name was established in Scotland, literacy was not a widespread skill.

The name originated in Scotland’s era of viking rulers, with its first documented appearance being in 1405. After a battle where the vikings were defeated by the Scots, the strait between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland became known as Kyle Akin, a Gaelic name.

Gathering of the clan Akins, wearing the traditional Akins tartan

The last name Aikins also became common in Ireland, due to the migration of Scots to Ireland during the early fifteenth century. I think this is interesting because Ireland is where my mom’s side of the family originated, with the last name Brennan. Today, due to the massive immigration from Scotland and Ireland to the United States, both names are common in the U.S.

The first Aikins in my direct bloodline who came to the U.S. was Robert Aikins, whose exact date of arrival is uncertain, but was sometime between 1772 and 1820. He is my great, great, great, great, great grandfather and settled in Zanesville, Ohio. Robert’s great great grandson was the first to settle in Neosho County, Kansas, where our family has stayed since then (ancestry.com).

This source is important to my project because it establishes the origin of my last name and traces its movement from Scotland to the U.S.

Ichabod Aikins with his wife, Rosa Catherine Powell (ancestry.com)

Ichabod Aikins & The Civil War

On one of our family visits to Plano, Texas to see my grandparents, I was wandering their house as I do when I’m there, examining the various antiques and memorabilia they have on display. I came across Papa’s carving room and on the desk saw a figure of a man carved into a block of thick oak wood. He was holding a rifle and wearing a uniform. Not being finished, the carving had no plaque telling who it was. I asked Papa about the mysterious soldier. “Oh that’s your great, great, great grandfather, Ichabod Aikins. He fought in the Civil War”, he said beaming.

According to my grandfather, Russell Aikins, Ichabod Aikins was a farmer, and the first of our family to settle in Kansas. He first lived in Ohio where he was drafted into the Union side of the Civil War. He was a Private in the 63rd regiment where he fought battles in Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina. Before the war ended he was discharged due to the loss of his right eye on the battlefield. However, he reenlisted in the war (unsure of what his role was, due to his injury) a couple years later. After the war ended, Ichabod traveled to Kansas in 1868 in a covered wagon.

Ichabod is a significant figure to include in my project because the Civil War was a huge turning point in U.S. history and he fought on the winning side. He established our roots in Kansas, which set the stage for all the history that followed.

Mill town (Brunley).

The Industrial Revolution In The United States

“The Industrial Revolution In The United States.” Library of Congress: Teaching with Primary Sources, Library of Congress.

The Industrial Revolution in the United States was marked with a huge leap in technological advancements that lead to great economic power. It was a period of drastic change as life made a transition from highly agrarian to urban. It is said to have begun in the late 1700s when Samuel Slater, “the father of the Industrial Revolution”, brought British technologies over to the United States and established the first U.S. cotton mill that was powered by water. New inventions abounded, like the telegraph and telephone, making communication possible from far distances. The sewing machine, and Andrew Carnegie’s use of the Bessemer Process to mass produce steel were two innovations that drastically sped up production. Following the end of the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad was completed, which allowed for the transport of resources and the movement of people from one side of the country to the other. Waves of immigrants coming to the U.S. provided the cheap labor necessary to run the increasing number of factories popping up. Men, women, and children all worked long hours in dangerous conditions to earn meager salaries.

Doffers in Cherryville Mfg. Co., N.C. Plenty of others (Lewis Hine).

This source is a good contribution to my project because my Irish ancestors were part of the immigrant population of New York City during the Industrial Revolution, and likely worked in factory jobs to earn a living. This book provided me with a good context of what life was like for my immigrant ancestors. Additionally, the completion of the transcontinental railroad during this time was likely how my ancestors on my dad’s side made their way from Virginia across the country.

It’s interesting to me how this single event in history affected both sides of my family differently because they were in different places. It provided a means to make a living for my mom’s side, and a vessel to new opportunities across the country for my dad’s side. More recently, the industrialization of the areas both sides of my family lived in contributed to their motivations for moving. When my mom’s family moved from Long Island to North Carolina and my dad’s moved from Ohio to Kansas, they both moved to seek rural land on which they could farm.

Left: Irish citizens crowd outside a work house in search of employment since the Irish soil had failed. Photo: Britanica. Right: Irish immigrants loading onto ships to escape the Famine. Photo: Granger.

I’m technically half Irish, but you would never be able to tell. After many generations of adapting to American culture, the traditional ways of my ancestors have almost been washed away. There is however, one part of Irish culture my family held onto: the potato. Whether they’re baked, mashed, fried, or put in soups, my family loves that starchy root vegetable, and serves it constantly.

The Great Famine

Edwards, R. D., Gráda, C. O., & Williams, T. D. (1997). The great famine: Studies in Irish history 1845–52. Dublin: Lilliput Press.

The Great Famine outlines the tragic Famine in Ireland beginning in 1845, and how it changed the country and the course of history forever.

According to the book, the Famine began with a shortage of food. This was partially due to widespread death of cattle caused by disease outbreak and terrible weather, and partially due to exceeding the soil capacity as the large population became more dependent on it. People were unable to make a living or feed themselves and were plunged into poverty. Many famines occurred over this time period, but the most well known was in the potato, where the crop became riddled with a deadly mold. As the potato was a staple in the Irish diet, huge outbreaks of disease followed. Most people who survived fled the country. Disease was rampant on the ships over from Ireland, and the port areas where immigrants landed. 75% of Irish emigrants settled in The United States, and of that, 50% of emigrants settled in New York. The Irish immigrants were faced with strong discriminatory prejudice when they arrived in America. They were believed to be ignorant, lazy, cheap laborers. There were riots, lootings, and murders in Catholic neighborhoods in protest of mass Irish immigration. Although they escaped the immediate danger in Ireland, life in Northern cities was difficult. Jobs were scarce and living conditions were terrible due to extensive immigration.

The Irish Famine was a very significant part of history due to the large amount of people it displaced. The Famine drove people from Ireland out into all different parts of the world; The U.S. being one of the main destinations. This huge group of immigrants provided cheap labor in factories that fueled the industrial revolution and economy of the United States. These Irish immigrants brought with them their cultural and religious values, which influenced life in the U.S.. Catholicism was the Irish denomination of choice, and with the large number of immigrants entering the States, Protestants feared the Catholic influence. Discrimination and religious violence were commonplace as Americans adjusted to the changing cultural landscape.

This source gave me another necessary historical context for my project. It opened my eyes to the horrific events my ancestors endured before coming to the U.S.. I had always been told that my ancestors left Ireland to escape the Famine, but I learned through ancestry.com that they didn’t emigrate until 1859 and others in 1866, and the Famine ended in 1852. Despite the death, poverty, disease, destruction, and hunger, my Irish ancestors remained in their homeland. It makes me proud to know that they underwent so much and were still hopeful enough to stand their ground.

When they did travel to the United States 14 years after the Famine, my ancestors settled in New York along with the majority of Irish immigrants. I am confident that this was no coincidence. They must have wanted a community where they could feel at home upon moving to America. This book allowed me to see exactly what was going on in Ireland that pushed my ancestors to move to the U.S. and start their new chapter.

Two Irish Catholic churches in Freshford, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Left: taken by Maureen Aikins, Right: taken by Brad Aikins, on their trip to Ireland in September of 2018.

“What are you, Baptist?” This is how the question was always phrased when my peers asked what denomination I was. Living in the Bible Belt, the majority of people are Baptist, so they assumed I would be too. Technically, my immediate family identifies as Methodist, but we were never very religious. I did attend a Christian preschool, and go to Sunday school every once in awhile as a kid, but as my siblings and I got older and life got busier, we stopped going. While you won’t find my family in church on Sundays, my parents always taught us how they believed God wanted us to live. My mom would say that being a good person doesn’t come from sitting in a pew and listening to someone tell you what’s right or wrong; it comes from actually living each day as an honest individual and treating others how you want to be treated.

The Immigrant Church

Dolan, J. P. (2017). Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815–1865. S.l.: University of Nortre Dame Press.

The book The Immigrant Church has a chapter on Irish Parishes which stresses the importance of Catholicism in Ireland, and details how Irish immigrants brought their faith, and the cultural traditions that came with it, to America. The years during and immediately following the Potato Famine brought waves of Irish immigrants to large cities like New York and Boston. New York is where my mom’s side of the family settled, and it quickly became a hub of Catholicism. Catholic life was centered around a parish, a church-based community that brought members of different social classes and professions together. The book states that the Irish believe religion is the “most important of all topics” and it is “ingrained in their life”.

Since I’m part Irish, it’s important for me to know about the cultural values that come with that. My mom was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic girl’s school growing up, so her family held onto its religious roots throughout their lives. This is definitely a continuity from our original Irish ancestors who were Catholics. I think it’s interesting that the Irish had religion as a force of unity as they navigated a new world.

This source added a degree of depth and a religious aspect that tied my project together. It made me want to ask my mom about her thoughts on Catholicism and what it was like being raised a strict Catholic. I want to know if it made her feel closer to her family and friends, and roots as a whole. She raised my brother, sister, and I as Methodists, so while she cherished and respected her religious past, she decided to raise us differently.

Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, taken by my mom, Maureen Aikins.
Photo of a restaurant in Kilkenny, Ireland called Brennan Sisters, taken by Maureen Aikins.
More photos of the city of Kilkenny, Ireland, also taken by Maureen Aikins.
Homes on the Kilkenny waterfront, taken by Maureen Aikins.

Kilkenny, Ireland Photos

These photos are all from the trip my parents took to Ireland this September. They chose to go to Ireland to trace our family’s history, and Kilkenny is where our ancestors originated. The city of Kilkenny dates back to medieval times. It has a deeply religious history, with scattered cathedrals and churches. I attribute this religious influence to my mother’s Catholic upbringing. The city is home to Kilkenny Castle, which was built in the 12th century. The castle was built to control crossings of the River Nore, but is now open to the public.

The photo of Brennan Sisters restaurant is especially significant because Brennan is my mom’s maiden name. The name is still prevalent in Ireland, especially around Kilkenny where the Brennans originated. It is interesting to see the name displayed as a business.

My parents describe visiting Kilkenny as an incredible experience, as they were able to walk the same earth that our great ancestors did. It gave them an invaluable look into our history where they could see all the stories and facts they knew about our past in the place where it actually happened. They were also able to experience the Irish culture with Guinness beer, shepherd’s pie, clogging, bagpipes, and lots of sheep.

My parent’s photos and stories about their travels allowed me to discover so much more about my roots and truly learn what it means to be Irish.

Cover of the book about Papa’s ship in the Navy, The U.S.S. Eversole.

Page of the book giving more details about the Eversole and its voyages.

U.S.S. Eversole History Book

The U.S.S. Eversole was the ship Papa sailed on while in the Navy. After training and preparations in California, the Eversole sailed across the Pacific and participated in battles and blockades all over Asia. As soon as violence broke out in Korea, the Eversole moved in and fought at Hungnam and Wonsan among many other locations.

Papa’s experience on the Eversole was more training based, rather than fighting, but his work was very important and his experiences sailing all over the world shaped him. The book doesn’t go into detail about the battles the Eversole was a part of, but I can only imagine how scary and horrific they must have been for those involved.

I included this as a source for my project because it provides historical insight. The Eversole sailed during the Korean War, which was a significant part of U.S. history that my great Uncle Bill was heavily involved in. Additionally, it shows a parallel between the two sides of my family. Papa was in the Navy right after Korea, and Uncle Bill was in the Korean War itself. This is one of the many similarities my family shares that brings us closer today.

Image of the pins of honor my uncle Bill (William T. Brennan) acquired during his time as a firemen.

History of the St. James Fire Department

“History of the St. James Fire Department, Inc.” St. James Fire District — History.

The St. James Fire Department is located in Smithtown, New York, on Long Island. This is where Uncle Bill and my maternal grandfather, Edward Brennan (Pop), served as firemen for many years. This website gave a historical background of the department that allowed me to see how it went from a volunteer operation, running on donations, to the successful program it is today.

It was originally founded in 1909 by Mr. T. Edward Ellis, as a small organization with hand-drawn equipment. As the technology grew old and out of date, the program lost interest. However, when a home in the area burned down, locals realized the need for a functional fire department and donations were collected to build a proper firehouse and provide needed equipment. Their first purchase was a model T with a pump and ladder and 1,000 feet of hose. A firehouse was built, and the program grew to include a racing team and a drum and bugle band.

This source is significant to my project because my mom’s side of the family has been in the fire department business for years. Uncle Bill was the chief, and Pop was an active member. They made a living and became part of a supportive community through the fire department.

I wanted to find out more about this specific department because my mom has told me about how much of an impact it has had on our family. The men working together in that fire house grew close enough to be brothers. My mom knew them personally and speaks very highly of them.




How two sides of immigrant families changed their destinies

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Katherine Aikins

Katherine Aikins

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