Biographical Non-Fiction posted July 23, 2022 Chapters:  ...11 12 -13- 14... 


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A genealogical line in the Shelby family tree.

A chapter in the book Pioneers of My People

Digging for Duckworths

by BethShelby



My husband Evan’s maternal grandmother was a Duckworth. The name Duckworth Is Anglo-Saxon and comes from a location in Lancashire, England called Duckworth Fold. The surname Duckworth was first found in Cambridgeshire where one of the earliest records is of Hugo de Duckworth in 1216 and his descendant Sire John Duckworth who  was summoned to a great council of Westminster in 1324.

As to the meaning of the name, there seems to be some uncertainty surrounding it. In the seventh century the name Ducca was a given name. The name 'worth' means homestead so it is likely it is combination of the given name Ducca and the word homestead. The Duckworth family seems to have migrated in many directions such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the West Indies. At present in the United States there are around 12,435 people with that name.

Nancy Elizabeth Duckworth, my husband’s grandmother, was eighteen when she married a man eleven years her senior. James Martin had a small farm, and Nancy worked willingly, helping him to keep things going. They started a family right away, and within ten years, they had five little girls and one boy, who was severely handicapped and required constant care. At thirty-one, Nancy had given birth to her fifth little girl. She had so hoped this one would be a boy. Jim wanted another son since the only boy they had was physically and mentally handicapped. The doctor was surprised he had survived as long as he had.

The last birth had been a hard one, and Nancy had been in bed longer than normal. Jim needed help with the planting. Baby Artis was less than two months old, but Katie was eleven. She could watch the baby while Nancy got out to help Jim in the field. It was still cold in early May, and the doctor warned against her trying to do much since her condition was so fragile. The doctor was right. Her immune system was down. She got pneumonia and died two days later. My husband’s mother, Merle, was only five.

Jim Martin was heartbroken and blamed himself for having allowed Nancy to go to the field in her condition. Jim asked his mother to take the children and raise them, and he left for another county to find work around other relatives. Merle and her sister were raised by their Martin grandmother. Their brother lived only a couple of years longer.  Merle didn’t get to know her Duckworth relatives as she would have if her mother had lived longer.

The first Duckworth in the Shelby line to come to this country came from Lancashire, England. Records found in New Jersey show that Jonathan Duckworth or John arrived in the United States in 1684. It appears that he was married at the time to Grace Williams also from Lancashire. The couple was in their twenties at the time. Some of their children remained in Burlington, New Jersey while other relocated to Frederick, Virginia. The line scattered throughout the Southern states. I was surprised to learn the name Duckworth is not that uncommon and several others Duckworth families from England came to the states later.

I’ve not been able to learn a lot about the extended Duckworth family other than they had farms and large plantation and fought in various wars like most of those who chose to move into the southern states. There have been several Duckworths who served in Congress over the years.The latest is a lady who is serving in the US Senate at present. Her name is Tammy Duckworth. She has an interesting background, and although I can prove she is from my husband’s exact line, she traces her family back to New Jersey and later to Virginia, so I would assume it is the same branch of Duckworths that came to this country in the latter part of the 1600’s.

Tammy’s father, Franklin Duckworth, was born in the United States, but he married a lady of Chinese origin. Tammy was born in 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand. Because Franklin did refuge work for the United Nations, Tammy’s early life spanned the countries of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia and Hawaii. She graduated from high school in Hawaii and obtained an undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii. She got a Master of Arts degree in international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and later relocated to Illinois where she got a further graduate degree.

While attending Northern Illinois University, Tammy enrolled in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps with the Illinois Army National Guard where she trained as a Blackhawk pilot. In 2004 Duckworth left NIU when she was deployed to Iraq. In Iraq, Duckworth flew Operation Iraqi Freedom combat missions until her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in the autumn of 2004. 

The explosion took both of Duckworth's legs and robbed her of full function in her right arm. She was nevertheless proud to have served her country and claimed she would do it again in a heartbeat. Following her injuries, Tammy was promoted to major and awarded the Purple Heart. During her year's recovery time at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she became an activist, advocating for better medical care for wounded veterans. 

In 2012, Tammy was elected to Congress, as a Democrat representing Illinois. Her victory was twofold: not only did Duckworth now have the platform to advance her political agenda, but she also became a living example for fellow female veterans, as the first disabled woman ever to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Prior to her injuries, Duckworth married Major Bryan Bowlsbey of the Illinois Army National Guard. She announced her retirement from the military in October 2014, shortly before giving birth to a daughter. In 2016, Duckworth successfully ran for the U.S. Senate becoming the second female Asian American to win a Senate seat. 

In January 2018, Duckworth announced that she was expecting a second daughter in April, which would make her the first senator to give birth while holding office. Noting it was "about damn time" someone achieved this, Duckworth said, "I can't believe it took until 2018. It says something about the inequality of representation that exists in our country."

Tammy continues to serve in the Senate and she had sponsored and advocated for many bills having to do with the rights of Veterans, women, and human rights in general. Whether or not you agree with her politics, she is a gutsy lady and a person who cares deeply about her country.


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