When Stephen King was just two years old, his father went out for cigarettes and never returned.
“When people ask you why he left,” his mother would instruct, “say he’s in the Navy and that he’s at sea.” She’d follow up with, “That may not be a lie.”
The mystery of just who Donald Edwin King was – and where he was from — has stymied the great fiction author his whole life.
That is, until the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” intervened and shed a little light. King was one of the three guests on last night’s installment, an episode that featured others searching for their long-absent fathers.
Vicki Doudera here. In the event you missed it, let me tell you a little of what transpired.
The fist thing that “Finding Your Roots” discovered was that King’s father’s surname was not originally King.
No, until he was 23, Donald Edwin King’s last name was “Pollack.”
Although no one knows why the name was switched, this discovery helped the show’s genealogists trace back generations to King’s fourth great-grandfather, James Pollock, who, after the American Revolution, emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. This was clearly news to King.
Did Stephen ever suspect he had Irish roots? He said he’d always wondered if his belief in fairies, combined with a stellar ability to tell great stories, had something to do with the Emerald Isle. When asked how he felt knowing about James Pollock and his lineage, King said that it felt like “a foundation under you.”
A separate branch of King’s family tree revealed another fact: a third great-grandfather, Enoch Bowden, was a Methodist church leader and judge who left Tennessee for the north because he was against slavery. King was visibly proud to discover his ancestor’s moral fortitude.
Many other secrets were revealed to our master of mystery. (His DNA, for example, shows that he is 99% European.) I watched the show thinking how writing a story is one way of solving a question, of finding an answer that just could be possible. Perhaps King was unconsciously trying to solve his own puzzle while writing some of his books.
What’s the mystery in your family history? And how does it influence your life? Are you still looking for the answer to a puzzle that’s stymied you?
What a fascinating glimpse of a fascinating writer! I hope I can track down the whole show. Thank you for writing this, Vicki!
For anyone who wants to watch the show, it’s supposed to be available to stream on pbs.org. I wasn’t able to connect yet but it should be available probably sometime today. Ancestry.com showed yesterday that episodes would be available via their website a day after broadcast, but today I can’t find the links. In Maine, the show is on at 8 pm Tuesdays and then repeated at odd times: Thursday, September 25, 03:00 am on MPBN-HD – Thursday, September 25, 06:00 am on MPBN – MCC –
Sunday, September 28, 01:00 pm on MPBN-HD –
Sunday, September 28, 04:00 pm on MPBN – MCC –
and similarly for the future shows. Check your local PBS station to see when it airs in your area. Hope this is helpful.
Great post, Vicki. I’m addicted to Who do You Thing You Are? and have been climbing my family tree since I was a kid. The only danger nowadays is getting sucked into solving one of the many mini-mysteries that remain and spending hours on end at Ancestery.com, Find-A-Grave and other sites when I’m supposed to be writing!
Thanks for the post, Vicki. Shared!
I just watched this episode and found it fascinating. I always like this show as well as Who Do You Think You Are?
I’m fascinated by genealogy, too. I’ve subscribed to Ancestry.com several times for short periods, but I’m always afraid if I got into it, I’d fall in completely and no books would ever get written.
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Where did the surname King come from? Maybe Donald wanted to feel royal or something.
Secretly, I always hoped that Stephen King was the son of my grandfather, Stephen Paul King who was a merchant marine in the 40’s on the Great Lakes. He and Lyna had my mother Linda in 1943 in Ohio.
S.P. King came to the USA as a child (formerly Kral or Krall).
Still looking for more historical documentation.