Am I the descendant of a Red Indian chief?

Carol Appleyard with some of her research

Carol Appleyard with some of her research

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CAROL Appleyard never forgot the family stories told round the fire when she was a little girl.

The wide-eyed youngster listened enthralled at the legend of her Cherokee ancestor.

She was desperate to find out more.

Thirty-two years later, she’s ready to share her story with Family Roots.

CHRIS CORDNER reports.

“I never tire of it” says Carol Appleyard, as she talks passionately about her love of researching her family tree.

From a girl of 17, it has been her countless companion.

“I would go into record offices and come out hours later, wondering where the day had gone,” said the mum-of-two and University Hospital of Hartlepool nurse.

She studies documents, records, census files ... anything which could yield that hidden gem, the one which takes her further into her past.

But one piece of information has eluded her and it’s the very one she is most interested in.

Ever since she was a child, there has been a legend in the family.

“My great uncle John Heatley would tell us stories,” said Carol, now 52 and living in Ventnor Avenue in Hartlepool.

“In every story, there would be talk of ‘The Indian’ in our heritage.”

Carol has confirmed her family does hail from America.

She knows that her great-great-grandfather Edward went to America to seek his fortune in the gold rush.

“He met my maternal great-great-grandmother who was born Maria Mallins in 1853 and later became Maria Howley,” she said

The loving couple made their way back across the Atlantic to Dublin where much of Edward’s family remained.

“I come from a big Irish, Catholic family,” said Carol. “I know that Maria worked her passage on the ship as a children’s maid.”

Maria lived to the age of 69 before dying in Glasgow in 1922.

But where does the Cherokee link come from?

“Maria’s mother was purportedly a Cherokee Indian and she was possibly the daughter of a chief. I know that her English name was Jane Young, but I never did find out her Cherokee name,” said Carol.

But every avenue of research that she tried, failed to come up with positive proof.

She was almost ready to give up.

Then, around four years ago, Carol made a breakthrough. She found a branch of her family living in Australia.

And by complete coincidence, they were researching the same suggestion of American Indians in the family history.

Carol added: “I was speaking to a cousin David from Derby, who comes from a different line of the family with relatives in Australia and he knew from them about a story that there was an Indian ‘princess’ in the family.

“It is in the origins of another branch of the family I have never met before. There must be an element of truth in it.

“I would love to verify it, but it has been my brick wall for the last 30 years.”

Despite the occasional setback, there have been positives along the way.

She has traced the other side of her family back to the 1600s and knows they were very much more of North-East English roots.

“They all came from around Castletown, and Monkwearmouth, in Sunderland, and Great Lumley, near Chester-le-Street.”

Sadly, one tradition looks set to end with the current generation of the family.

For decades, it was the norm for the men in the family to be called Michael Gibson Kirk.

“It goes back for the last 250 years, but my brother is the last,” said Carol, who is married to retired teacher Neil Appleyard, 53, and has two children Charlotte Appleyard, 19, and Matthew Appleyard, 15.

We’re hoping someone, somewhere, will have that vital missing piece in the jigsaw for Carol, the one that finally shows she is the descendant of a Cherokee chief.

If you can help, contact Chris Cordner by writing to him at New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX, via email to chris.cordner@northeast-press.co.uk or by calling (01429) 239377.