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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Who We Are




Genealogy research is one of the most popular hobbies in America. In discovering our roots, we discover ourselves.



A few years ago when my book Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely’s capture by Shawnee warriors was released, I was contacted by a Neely descendant. She told me that when she was growing up, she always felt out of place; she never looked like anybody else and it had shaken her confidence. When she saw the picture of Mary Neely along with a police artist’s regression sketch, she felt as though she was looking at herself. It turned out that she lived in a part of the country that was heavily Hispanic and her pale Irish skin, hazel eyes, light hair and slight figure was in contrast with the olive complexions, brown eyes and hair and more robust physiques.



In learning of her Scots-Irish heritage, it opened doors for her—just as it had for me. Since that time, I have delved deeper into my family history. Scores of people spend untold hours placing names in perfect boxes to form extensive family trees, but I always wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know who my ancestors were, why they did what they did, what experiences formed their lives.



My father and brothers were deeply involved in establishing our more recent past, going back to the American Civil War and Revolutionary War. I wanted to go back even further to the time before they left for America. I wanted to know why they left all they had ever known—their culture, their language, their friends and family, to move to a country halfway around the world they had never visited and knew little about.



My quest for knowledge led me to William Neely. In 1608 at the age of eighteen, he left Scotland for Ulster, not knowing that the Neely family had lived in Ulster until the 1200’s. He was, in a sense, going home again. I wrote in Clans and Castles, the first book of the new Checkmate series, his thoughts as he sailed westward with Captain William Stewart:



But isn’t that why men leave? He thought. For a man that is content with his lot, one with standing in the community and a future laid out before him is rarely the man that leaves for the unknown. But take a man with poor prospects of employment, one with a doubtful future, and he has but two choices. He can remain where he is for the simple reason that he has always been there, and take what Life may send him; or he take his destiny into his own hands and set sail for the unknown in search of new opportunities and a brighter future.



At the time William left Wigtownshire, the Lowlands of Scotland had been deforested to the point that it was a crime to damage a sapling, a tree or even a branch. The class system had ensured that those born into nobility remained in nobility and those born with a lesser standing had little or no prospects for improvement. Sandwiched in between the English to their south and the Highlanders to their north, they were often caught in the middle of the fierce battles between the two. So it was when King James I of England offered land to Scottish Lowlanders in Ulster as part of his colonization efforts (the same efforts that landed the British on American shores), he jumped at the chance. He was searching to make his life better and in so doing, he changed the course of history for his Neely descendants.



His experience was not to be smooth, however, as the Irish continued to fight against oppressive edicts against their religion and their native birthrights. The land that was given to Captain Stewart, which was the land on which William first lived and worked, was sandwiched between the Gallowglass MacSweeneys (of Highlander and Viking stock) and the Gaelic clans of the O’Doherty, O’Donnell and more.



Going to Ulster and standing on the land my ancestors once owned was a life-changing experience for me. Looking at the cemetery situated on a hill so it would always overlook their holdings was like no other experience I’d ever had. Visiting a local historian and finding our family tree written in pencil a hundred years prior on the back of wallpaper was a memory burned into my consciousness.



I understand why many of William Neely’s descendants chose Virginia and Tennessee when they immigrated to America, for the rolling green hills must have reminded them of Ireland. My ancestors became ranchers and farmers, taking what they knew of cattle and sheep as well as farming vegetables, and creating enterprises in America that mirrored what they had built in Europe. They were tough and had to be tough to carve out lives for themselves against the Native Americans warring against them—just as they had carved out lives despite the Gaelic Irish efforts to drive them out.



In return, I’d like to think they made things better. When visiting Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, I was happy to learn that William’s descendants, who had been given 1,000 acres at Ballygawley-Glencull, had donated land for the Irish Catholic church and school, despite the fact that they were Protestant. I learned that during the heated troubles between the two religions, the Neely family often hid the priests to protect them from harm.



And later, after coming to America, I learned that Mary Neely—the one that had been captured by the Shawnee and kept as a slave for three years before her escape and journey home—had learned so much about Native American medicine that people of all races traveled a hundred miles to see her and hopefully be cured by her.



Are you interested in genealogy? Have you explored not only the names and dates of your ancestors but also who they were, what they accomplished and what motivated them to do what they do? I would love to hear about it!

Read a free excerpt from Songbirds are Free, p.m.terrell's bestselling book about Mary Neely's capture, Shawnee captivity, escape and journey home. Read a free excerpt from Checkmate: Clans and Castles, based on the true story of William Neely and O'Doherty's Rebellion. p.m.terrell is the award-winning author of more than 21 books in a variety of genres, including the award-winning River Passage, the true story of the Donelson journey westward at the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Emotional Impact





There’s a simple reason some people enjoy reading particular books, authors or genres. Though they might not realize it, they’ve experienced an emotional impact.



I am currently reading The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. It is a heart-wrenching story, difficult to read at times and yet I can’t put it down. From the very first page, I was sucked in by the enormous emotional impact.



Noah is a four-year-old who has always been terrified of water and who knows things that can’t be explained, like the identification of lizards, how to score a baseball game or every scene in Harry Potter. His mother chalks it off to an active imagination or even that he’s a liar. But when his stories of being held underwater threaten to involve social services, she has no choice but to find out what’s wrong with him. She goes into debt, her business sidelined and the medical bills mounting yet test after test reveals nothing wrong. Until finally, she is forced to consider the impossible.



What if Noah is the reincarnation of another boy that was killed at the age of eight? A boy that simply disappeared, a boy whose mother is convinced he is still alive and one day he will come home to her? And what if Noah remembers exactly who shot him, exactly who tried to drown him, and exactly where his body is buried?




As an author, I am confronted with the emotional impact with every book I write. I write for my readers and sometimes that means they want to fall in love. Sometimes they want to be whisked away to an exotic location. Sometimes they want to be pulled back in time, perhaps looking for a simpler place, a simpler time only to discover a different set of obstacles. Sometimes the emotional impact comes in the form of having to know what is going to happen next, of solving the puzzle, of learning the answer. Sometimes it’s a heart-thumping read and at other times a breathtaking vista.



When I wrote Clans and Castles, the first book in my new Checkmate series, the emotional impact was even greater for me because I was writing about my ancestor, William Neely. There is something about envisioning an ancestor as a young man filled with hopes and dreams and desires… Knowing he loved deeply and lost intensely… Knowing he left everything he had ever known to forge a new future in a foreign land amidst odd customs, different dialects and warring factions. In a world that is divided today by religion, the divide between the haves and the have nots, power struggles and political alliances and upheavals… and then moving back in time to discover this has occurred for almost as long as man has lived on this earth. Some would flourish despite the odds; others would falter and still others would die far too early in their lives. It is the emotional journey that kept me writing and, like every author, it is the emotional journey that I hope keeps the reader reading…





p.m.terrell is the author of more than 21 books, including her bestselling book, Songbirds areFree, the true story of Mary Neely’s capture by Shawnee warriors; her award-winning River Passage, the true story of the Neely family’s journey westward with John Donelson; the award-winning Black Swamp Mysteries Series and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mysteries. Discover book trailers, download free excerpts and read more about her books at www.pmterrell.com.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What if you could walk in your ancestor's footsteps?


What if you could walk in your ancestor’s footsteps?



Today’s environment comes with a host of challenges, including economic recession, political drama, declining industries, a shrinking middle class, wars and threats on multiple fronts. It might be easy to come to the conclusion that living in today’s day and age poses more challenges than ever.



But what if you could take a step back in time to live as your ancestors did? What do you suppose you would find there?



I discovered a series entitled Victorian Slum House that takes modern-day families and places them in the environment of their ancestors. The day-to-day struggles are an eye-opener. Consider that during the 1870’s the average lifespan in areas of London was 28. Or the 91,000 Irish that immigrated to London in search of work, many of whom came because they had watched their own family members starve to death during the potato famine. One couple, when arriving in London, discovered lodging meant renting a coffin-shaped bed for eight hours, surrounded by dozens of others; or when the bed could not be afforded, one could sit on a wood bench with a rope that prevented falling off it during sleep for half the cost.






It may be easy to think that if we are doing well economically today, our ancestors did as well. Perhaps we have an image of our ancestors living a simpler life but having all they needed—plenty of food, a stable roof over their heads and adequate, steady employment. The reality, however, may be far from that.



When I began writing Clans and Castles, the first book in the Checkmate series, I was astounded at all I learned about Wigtownshire, Scotland in the early 17th century. The Lowlands of Scotland had become so deforested that it was a crime to cut off a branch, fell a tree or damage a sapling. Tenants often received their homes as part of their payment for work on a laird’s property, and they were moved on an annual basis. Because of that, they tended to build houses that could be erected within two days’ time and often blew away during major storms. They did not understand rudimentary agriculture such as irrigation but often thought if the land was too wet or too dry, it was simply “God’s will”.



It was that environment that my ancestor, William Neely, was born into. At the age of 18, he had the opportunity to leave Wigtownshire for Ulster—an opportunity he jumped at. In the scene below, Wills is with his friends Fergus and Tomas discussing a beautiful woman he has fallen in love with but her father doesn’t seem too keen on him:



“You have been unusually silent since you returned from dinner last eve,” Tomas said. “Things didn’t go well with the lass?”

Wills sighed. “They went well with her, aye. ‘Tis her father I am worried about.”

“What’s the story there, ‘ey?”

With the ropes secured and a short stretch of northward sail before them, Wills leaned against the railing and looked his friend in the eye for a moment. “I am afraid he could be looking for a nobleman for his daughter.”

“Ha! And didn’t we tell you?” Fergus said. “What would she want with the likes of you? More importantly, what would her da want?”

“What of your family?” Tomas pressed.

Wills shrugged. “Truth be told about it, they are tenant farmers—same as the three of us are here. Oh, and for sure, the Neely family has a decent reputation, one that has served us well. It has been a long time since our house and lands were rotated, so the house is sturdier than most and we’ve served the same laird for several generations now, we have.”

“Ah, but there’s the rub, ‘ey? Her father is looking for a nobleman for his daughter; a landowner. And a tenant farmer never owns the land himself, now does he? He tills it or he ranches it for the pleasure of the laird, and at his displeasure, he can be sent packing. ‘Ey?”

He nodded and turned to face the ocean waves. The mists were heavy this morning, the skies gray like his heart at the moment. “But though her da has lived in Donegal for two decades, at least, I had the impression his family was not of there.”

“Aye?”

“So why does a man leave all he has ever known for the wilderness of Donegal?” Without waiting for a reply, he jabbed his finger in their direction. “I’ll tell you this, I will. No man leaves home if there is something there for him.”

“Are you suggesting—?”

“I am suggesting that Varney Ó Dálaigh is a self-made man himself. See, here’s the thing: when a man is at the top of the heap, there is no reason for him to leave that. He may own lands, a manor house or a castle, even; he might have the ear of his noblemen neighbors, a place in his community. Why would he give up all of that to travel to a place so vastly different?”

Fergus and Tomas grunted but whether they approved of his logic, Wills couldn’t tell. After another moment of thought, he added, “I’d be willing to bet, I would, that he had nothing to keep him close to his family for a man does not leave home unless he sees a brighter future for himself and his children elsewhere. He brought his wife to Donegal as well, which means at the time he knew he would not likely be returning, and with his two daughters having been born in Donegal, I believe it’s safe to say that he has determined he is better off now than he was before.”

“So where does that leave you?” Tomas asked.

“Truth be told, I left Wigtownshire for the same reason, I did. I knew I was leaving. I just didn’t know when or how.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, now does it?”

“Oh, I have an answer alright. I do. I came to Ireland to make something more of myself than I figured I could do where I was. And that I will do, or die trying. It’s just now the timetable has sped up a bit, ‘ey?”



If you could place yourself in your ancestor’s shoes, where would you be? Who would you be? How vastly different would your life be from what you are experiencing today, here, in the 21st century?



My ancestor’s life was to change dramatically when Cahir O’Doherty, the last Gaelic Irish King, launched O’Doherty’s Rebellion and he found himself fighting for King James I of England. His actions on the battlefield would set in motion not only his own fate but those of future generations. Here’s a trailer from the book:







p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books, including Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely’s capture by Shawnee warriors; River Passage, the true story of John Donelson’s river journey to Fort Nashborough; the award-winning series Black Swamp Mysteries and award-winning Ryan O’Clery Mysteries, and more. A full-time writer since 2002, she founded Book‘Em North Carolina and The NovelBusiness to assist other authors and connect readers and authors. Visit www.pmterrell.com for more information.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Behind the Bloody Hand




While visiting my ancestral home in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, it is impossible to escape the images of the bloody hand. It appears in various forms, sometimes with lions, a fish, a crown or a knight’s helmet. It can be found on the side of buildings, on flags, at sports complexes or in pubs. And they all tie into the O’Neill’s family crest.



I wrote about the bloody hand in my latest book, Clans and Castles, the first in the new Checkmate series of historical books about my ancestors. The scene takes place in 1608 between my ancestor, William Neely, and an Irish lady named Penarddun who had sewn the Neely family crest for him:



Penarddun slipped her long fingers under the wool and retrieved a piece of material that had quite obviously been painstakingly constructed. In the center was a castle with three turrets sewn in a grayish-black color, above which was the Red Hand of the O’Neill clan.

“Do you know what this is, lad?” she asked.

“I am afraid I do not, Lady Penarddun, though I have seen the hand.”

“Aye, and I am sure you have. It is the Bloody Hand of the Clan O’Neill. It is said that in the days of the Celts, several great chieftains sailed across the waters. They spotted the beautiful Irish coast and as their eyes fell on the magnificent shades of green, they debated who would lay claim to her. Ah, but they were powerful competitors, they were, and after great deliberation they decided they would each row a boat toward the land and whosoever touched her first would lay claim to her.”

She placed both hands on her knees, her eyes staring into the forest and yet seeing something miles and centuries apart. “So off they rowed, and it was a fierce competition, it was. The weaker ones dropped back and seeing that all was lost, they watched as two neared the shore. Oh, they were so close that none could tell who would reach it first and as the final stretch was there for the taking, Niall could not bear to lose that beautiful, precious land. So he reached to his axe and he severed his left hand at the wrist and with his right, he tossed it to shore.”

“Oh.”

She smiled. “Aye, and so Niall won, you see, for it was his hand that touched Eire first. It was in the days before we were told we needed last names… So his descendants called themselves ‘uá Niáll’ to mark themselves as the children of the champion, and it’s since been changed to O’Neill. And there you have it.”

As she handed him the material, he said, “You are too kind, Lady Penarddun. But I do not understand what the Bloody Hand of The O’Neill—”

“Your ancestors, dear boy, were descendants of Niall. You are related to the O’Neill clan.”



This was a bombshell revelation to my ancestor because O’Doherty’s Rebellion had begun. Led by the last Gaelic Irish King Cahir O’Doherty, clans that included the O’Neill, Maguire, O’Cahan, O’Donnell, MacSweeney and more united against the Scottish and English settlers, burning their settlements in an attempt to drive them out of Ulster. But Wills, who had immigrated to Ireland from Wigtownshire, Scotland in 1608, was to discover that four hundred years earlier, the Neely family had left Ireland for Scotland—which meant he had come full circle. It also meant that he would soon face off against distant relatives on more than one battlefield; one side would fight to the death to keep Ireland Irish while the other would fight for King James I of England to claim it as a colony.



The words on the Neely family crest mean “One Family, Several Countries” as the family eventually immigrated to such diverse places as Canada, the United States and Australia. Shown here is a modernized version of the family crest.



I did not know what I would find when I began to explore William Neely’s journey from Scotland to Ireland. I found much more than I could have imagined because it was a fascinating period where cultures collided; the Gaelic Irish population against the Scottish and English settlers, the Gaelic Kings against Queen Elizabeth I and then King James I, ultimately the Catholic faith against the Church of Ireland’s Protestants, betrayal… and death.



Below is a trailer:







Clans and Castles, the first book in the Checkmate series is now available on amazon in Kindle and Paperback, and will be in all bookstores on June 1. Autographed copies can also be ordered from the author’s website. p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 21 books in a variety of genres.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Journey of the Scot-Irish


The odyssey into my family's history has taken me to unexpected places, and anyone of Scot-Irish (or Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish) descent likely has ancestors that traveled a similar path. Scotland is only twenty miles or so across the Irish Sea from Ireland and the inhabitants of both countries likely sailed from one country to the other at various times. But the modern version of the Scot-Irish descendent has its roots in the 17th century and specifically between 1606 and 1652.

In the late 16th century, Spain and England were at war. And in 1588, Philip II of Spain dispatched 130 ships in a failed effort to invade England. Having been defeated at the Battle of Gravelines, the Spanish ships attempted to return home by taking a route around western Ireland when they were caught by a massive storm, blown off course and onto Ireland’s western coast. Queen Elizabeth I believed the Spaniards were attempting to occupy Ireland and she sent a substantial force to stop the invasion. With rumors that Spain was sending additional troops to assist Ulster’s Hugh O’Neill in driving out the English, the English onslaught was merciless. Around 5,000 Spanish were killed and those few that survived escaped across Ireland and the Irish Sea to Scotland and the English occupation of Ireland began in earnest.

When King James I ascended to the English thrown after Elizabeth's death, the age of colonization began in full swing. King James wanted more Protestants loyal to the English Crown in Ireland to prevent Spain from attempting another invasion and to ensure that Ireland remained an English colony. Scottish Lowlanders were encouraged to relocate to Ireland, particularly Ulster. Scottish Highlanders were forbidden from participating in the relocation because they were largely Catholic and they had been less agreeable to England (to put it mildly).

In 1608, my ancestor, William Neely of Wigtownshire, joined Captain William Stewart and moved to Donegal. Fort Stewart was eventually erected on the Lough Swilly just across the water from the Inishowen Peninsula. That Peninsula was in the firm control of Sir Cahir O'Doherty, whose family had ruled Inishowen for more than one thousand years.

In discovering my roots, I discovered the role that the Scot-Irish played in Ireland's history. Born in Scotland and migrating to Ulster, they formed Plantations similar to those in America's Deep South, consisting of potato or vegetable farms and cattle and sheep herding. The men that journeyed there were searching for a better life, as the Scottish Lowlands had been deforested and were in a bleak state in the early 17th century. However, it meant displacing the native Irish - and therein lay the conflict.

William Neely and William Stewart were to come face to face with the chieftains of powerful Gaelic Irish clans, including Cahir O'Doherty, Niall Garbh O'Donnell, Phelim MacDavitt and The MacSweeneys. And the struggle for the future of Ireland would pit the native Irish against the Lowland Scots, culminating in O'Doherty's Rebellion.

The first book in my new series, Checkmate, is entitled Clans and Castles and it begins with William Neely joining Captain Stewart in sailing to Ulster and settling in Donegal. It introduces the complexity of the relationships between the Irish chieftains and the settlers, leading to O'Doherty's Rebellion and its aftermath.

If you are a descendent of Scot-Irish heritage, this is your ancestor's story as well.

It is now available on Kindle and in other formats on Smashwords, and it will be available soon in the iBooks store, Barnes and Noble Nook and other eBook stores. The paperback officially launches on June 1. If you'd like a personalized autograph copy of Clans and Castles or any of my books, please visit my website. Free shipping!

I hope you'll join me in taking a look at our ancestors' lives and seeing them come alive through the pages. For more information, check out my website. This is the first in a new series that will take the Neely family - and the Scot-Irish - through a journey that begins in the 17th century and is on-going today. The series will cover a number of events and rebellions in Ulster eventually leading to Irish independence for the Republic of Ireland but the establishment of Northern Ireland remaining under British rule, as well as both World Wars and the migration of the Scot-Irish from Ulster to America and beyond.

Watch the short video below about Clans and Castles.



p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 20 books in various genres. Her love of Ireland is apparent in her suspense books such as The Tempest Murders, The White Devil of Dublin, Dylan's Song and Cloak and Mirrors. Her most popular book is Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely's abduction by Shawnee warriors in 1780 near Fort Nashborough (now Nashville, TN), and River Passage, the true story of the Neely family's river journey to Fort Nashborough at the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars won the 2010 Best Drama Award.