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Short essay contest winners! "Share a story about one of your most interesting ancestors."

Created date

July 23rd, 2013

Short essay contest winners! Share a story about one of your most interesting ancestors was the theme of our recent contest. Thank you everyone for your wonderful stories and congratulations to our winners! The winning essays are below; you can also read them and a few honorable mentions on our Erickson Living Facebook page ( and online at

Grand prize (National Geographic DNA Ancestry Kit) By Gene Corrigan Highlands Ranch, CO

My mother s great-great- grandfather, Black Jack Cobern (later Cockburn; now Coburn), was reputedly a heartless, rapacious pirate. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in about 1753, he went to sea as an indentured cabin boy who later captained a British privateer brigantine. Operating out of Nova Scotia sea towns, he preyed on American shipping during the Revolutionary War. The ending of the war terminated his legitimate activities on behalf of Great Britain. He then became a pirate who no longer limited his victims to American ships. He disposed of most of his captured goods to merchants in Nova Scotia but reputedly buried many coins and jewels along the coast. He eventually abandoned his career as a pirate, cleaned up his act, and headed west. He settled in Winnipeg, married a member of the local Metcalf clan, opened a store, raised a family, and died a prosperous and respected Canadian merchant. The source of the capital that he used to establish his flourishing business remains shrouded in mystery. The family suspects that it came from treasure that he had buried along the Canadian coast during his buccaneering days on the high seas. All of his descendants are respectable. Or so we claim.

Second place (National Geographic 125 Years coffee table book) By Jerry Beth Shannon Ropesville, TX

On May 6, 1930, Texas sixth worst tornado in terms of casualties cut a swath through Central Texas. A rural school in Navarro County known as McCord was directly in its path. Barely twenty-two years old, Lillie Yarbrough was sharing teaching duties with her friend, Lois, the only other adult present that day. They had no idea that before the dismissal bell would sound, they would have to act to save their 75 students. When the tornado was spotted, they knew that to remain in the frame structure would mean death. They guided their charges to an adjoining field and made them lie down along the rows of cotton. From this vantage point, they watched as the twister tore the building apart. Miraculously, not one child was injured. Miss Lillie, as she was known, suffered a back injury that plagued her for the rest of her life because she chose to stand above the children instead of lying down to protect herself. A tornado is not unique in Texas, but this story that my mother, Lillie, told to me as a child made me feel safe and secure. I knew that whatever happened, she would take care of me. This act of courage is just one example of the interesting and unselfish life that my ancestor lived.

Third place (National Geographic: The Best of 125 Years 2-DVD set) By Lois Zanow Towson, MD

On March 7, 1862, my great, great grandfather Abraham Ellis was shot between the eyes by infamous border raider William Quantrill and lived another 23 years to go on to serve in the first Kansas State Legislature. Quantrill was the legendary leader of the bloody guerrilla band that left 150 dead in a raid on Lawrence, Kansas, on August 21, 1863. Ellis, a quartermaster in the Kansas Brigade, was traveling from Fort Scott to Fort Leavenworth when he stopped for the night in the small town of Aubrey. Ellis was asleep in an inn when he heard the cry, The bushwackers are coming! He ran to the window to look out and Quantrill s bullet struck him in the forehead. When Quantrill entered the inn where Ellis lay, he said, You are not the kind of man I am looking for I am damned sorry. Quantrill recognized Ellis because years before, the young Quantrill had sought a teaching certificate from Ellis who was then Superintendent of Public Instruction. Union Army doctors later removed the ball from Ellis forehead, along with 27 pieces of bone. The slug and shards of bone eventually went to the Army and Navy Medical Museum in Washington. The hole left by the shot was clearly visible the rest of his life. He came to be called Bullet Hole Ellis.