Virginia Musician’s Curiosity About His Roots Leads Him on an Incredible Journey of Discovery
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
By Rachel M. Anderson, Contributing Writer
(Lincoln, VA) - How much do you know about your family’s history? Growing up, singer/songwriter and guitarist Andrew McKnight of Lincoln, Virginia had heard many stories. Older relatives had told him that one of his relatives had gone down with the Titanic, while another had played a key role in the Civil War, fighting to preserve the union.
“My grandmother had instilled in me and my cousins that we had Revolutionary War heritage, something she was particularly proud of,” says McKnight, who adds that when he was young, he thought, ‘Okay, that’s neat,’ but didn’t really have an interest in exploring his heritage further until decades later.
Now in his fifties, he is proud to share what he has learned through his recently published memoir and how-to guide Treasures in My Chest, published by Spirit Ninja LLC in early 2020. The story begins with McKnight’s tribute to his grandmother, Madeleine, who started him on the journey.
“She would have been amazed at all the things we’re able to do now from our computers that she had to do the old fashioned way, like tracking down records, visiting cemeteries and stuff like that,” says McKnight, who relied on the leg work his grandmother had already done to trace his family’s past.
“I didn’t need to do much more than follow all the lines in my grandmother’s family’s past. The records were there to lead the way. It was a treasure trove. I’m not even sure she was aware of some of the things about her ancestry that I’ve learned,” says McKnight, who credits growing popular fascination with genealogy for making it possible for him to trace his own roots.
According to MIT Technology Review, more than 26 million people worldwide have shared their DNA with at least one of the major consumer genetics companies, which include Ancestry.com, 23 and Me, My Heritage and FamilyTreeDNA.
In the book, McKnight explains that his journey of discovery intensified in late 2016 when his parents agreed to take a DNA test. “That moved the ball back a long ways. They were both born in the 1930s, so that got us a lot closer to the more distant generations,” says McKnight, who soon after the test results came back learned that his father’s ancestry had originated in Northern Ireland, not Scotland as the older McKnight had believed all his life.
The test results eventually led to a reconnection with lost relatives in both Ireland and Scotland, and an amazing gift from cousins Eileen and Mark, also musicians. “They gave me a beautiful Lowden steel-string guitar, made in Newtownards in County Down, the hometown of my ancestors,” he shares.
It was while strumming on that guitar that the tribute song to those ancestors' hard lives, “A Dram to the Holidays,” came to life. It is one of 15 songs on the companion album released with McKnight’s book, Treasures in My Chest. McKnight says the title song of the album was inspired by finding a piece of music written by his great grandfather. He adds that all of the songs for the album, “Treasures in My Chest,” were drawn from a collection of remarkable experiences and discoveries he made over six years of exploring his family history.
One of those discoveries was meeting a distant cousin in Florida named Melody Page, who happened to have her own book publishing company. Unbeknownst to them as they were growing up, their grandmothers were first cousins who knew each other well.
“I had met Melody online through Ancestry, and when I told her I was planning to write a book about all this she said, ‘I want to publish it.’” McKnight is convinced that his deceased grandmother had somehow sent along a member of the family to help him at just the moment when he needed somebody to guide him through the book publishing process. Page says she knows he’s right.
"When Andrew and I met, I felt as though we had known each other all of our lives. It is no coincidence that we came together in the perfect time for his book project to start. There is a force bigger than us moving this project forward, our ancestors," says Page.
“I wrote this book because my ancestors kind of insisted on it once I got the notion about it,” says McKnight. “There were a lot of stories I felt were inspiring and entertaining, but also enlightening. I learned a lot about my own life from examining my ancestors, and hope others will find the information I’ve gathered and presented helpful as they trace their own family histories.”
In the back of the book, McKnight has added appendixes that provide information about its accompanying album, as well as advice for people who want to trace their own roots, and what he learned about DNA testing that readers may find interesting.
Early reviews posted on GoodReads.com have been very favorable. “This book is a treasure in itself! McKnight weaves a riveting story and thoughtful analysis of why and how we should care about (both) our ancestors and our descendants, at the same time providing succinct advice about how to go about genealogy research, DNA analysis, and how to record and save your own story. His own story is told with exactly enough detail accompanied with just enough mystery about 'how it will come out'. At the same time, the larger context is clear and compelling. I was especially enthralled by the stories of McKnight's civil war survivor ancestor. Treasures in My Chest inspires me to dig deeper into my own DNA's story, and to work on making sure that my family stories are preserved,” said Peggy Fallon.
“Andrew has done a great job in sharing his own journey in tracking down his roots and inspiring others to do the same. He lays out what techniques worked and which happened organically or serendipitously. He gives assignments at the end of each chapter with suggestions and encouragement to start collecting the photos and stories now and not to wait long since people get old and memories fade… If you like genealogy or folk music or storytelling or Scottish, Irish and American history, order this book and the accompanying CD. You’ll be happy you did,” said Laura Minor.
Copies of Treasures in my Chest and the accompanying album are available for purchase on the author’s website: Andrewmckight.net, as well as through online retailers, including Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.
About Andrew McKnight
While singer, writer, and guitarist Andrew McKnight has been a prolific songwriter, performer and recording artist for a quarter-century, Treasures in My Chest is his first full-length book. A former engineer with advanced degrees in Environmental Engineering and Chemistry, he turned his scientist's eye and songwriting skills towards his family history.
Andrew has released nine recordings and performed at many prestigious venues like the John F. Kennedy Center, the International Storytelling Center, and the Atlanta Olympics. Andrew has used his writing skills to write songs with kindergarten kids and wounded warriors coping with post-traumatic stress. He is a gifted workshop leader, an engaging speaker, and a longtime endorsing artist for Elixir Strings and Fairbuilt Guitars.
In addition to his musical projects, he blogs frequently the old-fashioned way on his website, www.AndrewMcKnight.net. Andrew McKnight lives in Lincoln, Virginia with his wife, daughter and a considerable cadre of friendly ghosts.
_________________________________________________________________________EDITOR’S NOTE: This feature article and the accompanying photography are available for your use copyright free and cost-free. To arrange an interview of your own with Andrew McKnight, author, Treasures in My Chest, contact Rachel M. Anderson, Publicist, at 952-240-2513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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