Share Your Family’s Exciting Past. Here’s the Why and How.

“One of the most pitiful sights in the world is that of a grown man who has lost all recollection of his past…A school, a state, a nation or a society that has forgotten its own past, that knows no more the great sources of its own vigor, stands in desperate peril.”[i]

Your family story matters.  The ability to pass it on is the power to reorient and anchor a life and the collective life of a family.  It gives light, purpose and understanding.  It explains and empowers.

Chase, Chandler and Clayton Collins at their 4 x great-parents Pleasant Wesley & Rachel Marinda Byrd’s grave in Chico, Texas in 2012.

The ancients in oral cultures used the term “remember”.  They set up sign posts, memorials which pointed to and explained the past.  Fathers and mothers were instructed to recount and remind their children of their past, not simply their lives but the lives of those who went before them.  The goal was to establish “connection” in each generation to their God and their progenitors, to know their vision and values, to understand and restate their goals as a people.

Aubrey and Camy Roberts at their 3x great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts grave in Little Vine Cemetery near Sumner, TX in Lamar County
Aubrey and Camy Roberts at the grave of their 3 x great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts in Lamar County, Texas in 2016

 

My appeal as an old man is NOT for a return to “old-fashioned” ways and practices.  I’m much more interested in function than I am formI urge you to consider this appeal.  We need not convince our children and grandchildren to turn-back-the-clock and give up their mobile devices, dress in a previous fashion, worship in particular ways or spaces, give up their vehicles for horses, enjoy the piano only music of the 19th century beer halls and churches or the organ music of the 20th century vaudeville theaters, etc.  God-seeking parents can demonstrate and encourage their children and grandchildren to seek God.  Freedom loving Americans can demonstrate and encourage their children and grandchildren to love freedom.  These driving values of early Americans may constantly be renewed and understood.

When our families know their past, they’re better able to walk into their future.  When they understand God-given rights, they understand their freedom to choose how they respond to their family’s unique history and their nation’s call.

 ge·ne·al·o·gy

a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor.

  • the study and tracing of lines of descent or development.
  • a plant’s or animal’s line of development from earlier forms.

My genealogy journey is just over four years in duration.  The serious research of my family’s history began in 2012.  I do not consider myself a genealogist.  I’m a family historian using the proof standards of the genealogist to discover and recover my family’s past.  My goal is not simply uncovering lines of descent but uncovering lives and telling their storiesI expect their impact to inform, entertain, encourage and inspire.  If I do it well.

Our third son Chris recently asked me, “Dad, what is it about you and all of this family history stuff?”  Fair question.  The kind of question I would expect from this child.  He grew up and began his own family before he ever heard his father speak of genealogy.  Now…well…you understand.  Most of you have seen the glassy stare or family members or watched them roll their eyes as you shared simple or fascinating facts about their ancestorYou’ve seen them express more interest in discussing today’s reality “stars” or some fictional characters in a book than real people from their rich past with whom they share DNA.

What is it about me and all of this family history stuff?

  • I’ve always been naturally curious, enjoyed a good mystery, and loved history.
  • I’ve lived a very busy life. I’ve had considerable demands on my time and like everyone else, I needed to prioritize.  I’ve lived long enough now to see the end.  I have little time left to recover and record my family’s past.  I need to prioritize.
  • I’ve lived most of my life with little knowledge of my family and our history, our story. I felt no connection.  I knew nothing of the “source of our vigor”.  Our story is in peril.

Hundreds of genealogists and thousands upon thousands of family historians know exactly what I mean.  You understand the pull of “all this family history stuff”.  What shall we do?  What do we do with the facts we’ve recovered?  How do we connect them to the present?

How do we tell our family’s story?

Caleb Roberts family at Jeremiah Horn grave in Collin County June 19, 2016 (2)
The Caleb Roberts family at the grave of his 4 x great-grandfather Jeremiah Horn in Collin County, Texas 2016

If our goal is to present a true and accurate family picture, good research must always precede good writing.  If we’re going to present fables as facts, we need not “waste our time” doing the hard research.  Simply write the fables. If you choose however to do the hard research and wish to accurately portray these facts, think about the kind of writing which holds your attention.  Read it.  Practice writing it.  Take your known facts and write in that fashion.

Four suggestions for writing your family stories:

  1. Have something to share. Do the work.  Do the necessary research.  Know the family facts and the history surrounding those facts.
  2. Connect your family’s stories to their times. Intermingle well-known historical facts and people with the stories of your family.  Provide the context.  Connect your family dots by telling a story.
  3. Grab their attention. Use a quote, question, statement or mystery.  Dare them not to keep reading.  Of course, some may not!
  4. If you want to be interesting, serve your readers and listeners. Always keep them and their interests in mind as you write or form the stories you’ll tell.

Some practical ways to involve our families in their history.

Family FeudFamily Feud.  Our immediate family consists of seven grown children and their families.  (Yes, same mother, same father) At our Christmas gathering we play a game I’ve shamelessly stolen and named “Family Feud”.  The teams consist of the seven family units.  They’re playing for the order in which a set of gift cards will be selected from off of the tree, 1 – 7.  I prepare a power point series of slides with questions about our family’s history.  Photos or historical documents are often used.  Points accumulate for each correct answer and are tallied up when all the slides are revealed.  The top scoring family selects first and so on down the list.

Crew at BL's gravesite
Ashton and Mia Armstrong at the grave of their great-grandfather B.L. Roberts in Denton County, Texas in 2013. Mia is my biggest blog reader and wonders why I don’t write more about my grandchildren.

Begin an online Blog.  Don’t cringe.   We live in a written and visual culture.  Free blogs are available and easily accessible.[ii]  Blogs allow you free space online to share your thoughts and make them available to groups of people or to a broader public.  It’s an inexpensive way to make any or all of your research accessible to your family.  My grown children spend very little time on my blog.  (There is an uptick near Christmas.)  My grandchildren are beginning to access the blog some – and some more than others.  The reality– our families may never care about our family stories the way we do.  But a free blog means that when we’re dead and gone, the research will be easily available online if they decide to access it.

Tell Stories.  As you discover new facts about your family, think about an interesting way to introduce these facts in an exciting story-form.  Look for opportunities to share these little vignettes with your family members.

Take Trips.  Plan “family history tours” with you children or grandchildren.  They may be half day, one day or multiple day trips.  Visit places of family significance, cemeteries where you have family buried, history museums, libraries, research centers, etc.  Do grave marker etchings.  Be prepared and always tell stories as you go.

Mom interview 5 006
Ashley, Camy and Aubrey interview their great-grandmother Bertha Mae Byrd Roberts in 2016

Interview older family members.  Involve your children or grandchildren in the process.  Set an example with your questions.  Then, allow them to ask questions.  Capture the event in photos and on video.  Make these videos available on free resources such as YouTube.  If you need help with the technical side of things, ask your children or grandchildren to help you do it!

Invite your family members to write a guest blog on you site.

Publish sections of family timelines and pass them out at gatherings.

Have family members re-enact episodes of your family’s story.

These are a few of the ways to bring our families into the process.  Use the comment section and share some of your ideas to involve our families.

My grandfather Gus Roberts grew up in the Masonic Home for Children in Fort Worth, Texas.  His lack of knowing or an unwillingness to tell his family’s story almost ended the knowledge of our past.  Backtracking this family has opened up the rich and diverse history of our multiple family lines.  The nuggets continue to be mined from our family’s story and their value is incalculable.

I wish for you this same joy.  I encourage you to follow this blog.  Sign up to the receive free updates.  Never stop learning.  Be inspired!

Happy backtracking!

Gary Roberts 

[i] From a plaque which once hung in the Museum of the Masonic Home for Children in Fort Worth, Texas.  Author is unknown to me.  Sara Bell called my attention to the pictures online.  http://masonichome-exstudents.org/

[ii] https://wordpress.com/  https://googleblog.blogspot.com/  https://www.blogger.com/

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One of My Favorite Documents In All the World

How can one of my favorite documents be a tax document? Please allow me to demonstrate why family researchers should pay close attention to tax documents. Surely you’ve heard… Continue reading “One of My Favorite Documents In All the World”

Hilltop Manor – John Neely house built ca. 1810

My 5 x great-grandfather John Neelly (that’s how he signed his name) built a wonderful home in Williamson County, Tennessee over 200 years ago.

(The quote below was taken from a National Park Service document confirming the addition to the National Register of Historic Places dated March 3, 1988)

“The John Neely House is a two-story brick, hall-parlor plan residence constructed ca.1810. On the main (south) facade is the main entrance with a ca.1900 frame and glass door. Over the door is a wood linteL The windows are ca.1960 six-over-six sash with added brick sills and original wood lintels. The main facade of the house is of Flemish bond construction with the other facades of five and six-course common bond. The house has a gable roof, stone foundation, and exterior end brick chimneys…

The John Neely House, or Hilltop Manor, in Williamson County, TN Photo taken by Ronald Neeley in 2003
The John Neely House, or Hilltop Manor, in Williamson County, TN Photo taken by Ronald Neeley in 2003

…The John Neely House is a notable example of a hall-parlor brick residence from the early 19th century. Hall-parlor floor plans are rare in the county and only three intact examples are included in the nomination. Despite the removal of 19th century porches and door and window alterations, the original floor plan and appearance of the house are evident.

John Neely moved to Williamson County from Virginia in 1806 and purchased lots in Franklin during those years. In 1808 he purchased land south of Franklin and began construction of a two-story brick residence. Neely lived at his residence until he died in 1818. The house was then purchased by John
Fitzgerald, and his family occupied the residence for many years. Fitzgerald was listed as owning 15 slaves in 1820 and owned property valued at $30,000 in 1850. John Fitzgerald Sr. died in 1858, and his home was then occupied by his son, John Jr., until his death in 1884. The house remained in the Fitzgerald family until 1926 when it was purchased by William Sedberry.  Alterations to the house occurred primarily around 1900 when new glass and frame doors were added. Added 19th century porches have been removed and new windows added in recent years. Despite these changes the house displays its original form and notable hall-parlor pflan.”

Below I quote a paper edited by my “not yet met” cousin, Ronald L Neeley.  He writes, “A special ‘Thanks’ to Juanita Naron & Mary Ann Thorton who provided much of the historical facts on the Neeley lineage.”  Here’s some of what he reports about the John Neely House and family in Williamson County.

“…although much altered from its original appearance; this fine old brick house has been a landmark in the Thompson Station area for over a century and a half. Williamson County was still in its infancy when John Neely, along with his family and his three brothers and their families, cut a trail from Virginia over the mountains to Tennessee. John Neely was the son of James Neely, originally from Philadelphia and later of Botetourt County, Virginia, and Jane Grymes Neely of Northampton, Burlington County, New Jersey. He married Susanna Evans, the daughter of Daniel and Rhoda Griffith Evans, sometime after 1770. By 1791 he owned almost 2000 acres “on the north side of the Roanoke (River)” in Virginia where apparently all of his children were born.

They arrived in Williamson County early in 1806 since John Neely bought town lots 85 and 95 in February of that year. In 1808, he made a permanent settlement on land bought from James Robertson in the West Harpeth where he built this brick house on a rise overlooking the rich meadows and forests spread out below. His children were James, Rhoda, Jane, John H, William, Sophia, and Charles Lynch who married into the Sanders, Drake, Neely, Woldridge, Priest, and Welles families and are the progenitors of numerous descendants in Williamson County today.” (bold added by me)

So, if you or your ancestors are from Williamson County, TN, check your family tree, we may be related.  Oh, and by the way, I’m also related to the Roberts, Sammons, Haley, Tatum, Wallace Nichols, Blackwell, Giles and Smithson families of Williamson County from other lines on my tree.

John Neely house known as "Hilltop Manor" in Williamson County, Tennessee. Photo taken by Janice in 2016
John Neely house known as “Hilltop Manor” in Williamson County, Tennessee. Photo taken by Janice in 2016

I recently “met” a wonderful cousin, Janice ____ (last name withheld intentionally because I didn’t ask her permission to publish it?!).  She still lives in the county (lucky girl).  I asked Janice if she had ever seen the house and she ran out and snapped a picture of it!  Aren’t cousins wonderful!  Thanks Janice!  I’ll be by to see the house in the fall.

 

More Connections: Roberts, Smithson, Giles and Nichols

While researching my files for a series of posts on J.A. Roberts, I came across this in his father’s file. In 1838 John R. Roberts and his younger brother Newton bought a tract of land on Rutherford Creek in Williamson County, Tennessee.1838 Roberts, John and Newton land deed from William Tignor (2) W.O. Smithson and Paschal Giles serve as the the two witnesses to this transaction. Giles was the brother of John R. Roberts’ wife Rebecca Anne Giles. Smithson was the brother of John R.’s first wife Sarah B. Smithson (She died perhaps giving birth to their second child). William Overton Smithson was born, as was John R. in Lunenburg County, Virginia. Now, here’s the interesting connection. (I know, you thought I had already shared it.) W.O. Smithson had a son named W.O. Smithson. He was born in Williamson County in 1831 and died in Montague County, Texas in 1900. The surprise: He married Mary Jane Nichols, the sister of my 2 x great-grandfather Frederick Shaffer Nichols.  Both were born in Williamson County. And this reminder from a previous post, My father’s father Gus Roberts, grandson of John R. Roberts, married the granddaughter of Frederick S. Nichols and Sarah Elizabeth Neely. Her name was Emma Lee Ingram and they had to meet in a Children’s Home in Fort Worth to make it happen! I’m certain my grandparents Gus and Emma knew nothing of these earlier relationships in Lunenburg, Williamson or Montague Counties, but now we do!

Gary stands beside grave of W.O. Smithson in Starkey Cemetery in Montague County, Texas (September 2015)
Gary stands beside grave of W.O. Smithson in Starkey Cemetery in Montague County, Texas (September 2015)

Photos of the Week: ca 1906 Masonic Home for Children in Ft. Worth, Texas

Here is a remarkable photo of an early group of students attending school at the Masonic Home for Children in Fort Worth, Texas.  The photo was a gift from my cousin Suzy Cook.  It’s remarkable to us because it contains an early glimpse of no less than four of our ancestors. 

1905 or 1906 Ft. Worth Masonic Home Children (5)

Seated on the first row and moving left to right:  the 3rd little girl is my grandmother Emma Lee Ingram, my dad’s mother.  The 4th little girl is my great-aunt B.G. Ingram. The 5th little girl is my great-aunt Grace Ingram (Suzy’s grandmother).  And the first little boy is my grandfather Gus Roberts.  Remarkable and Wonderful.  That’s right, my dad’s parents met at the Masonic Home for Children in Fort Worth, Texas in about 1904.  They were only seven or eight years old at the time.  They went on to graduate High School at the Home, were married in 1918 and were together for fifty-five years!

Gus and Emma Roberts' 50thGus Lee Roberts 1916Emma Lee Ingram

Emma Lee and Gus Roberts celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Gus and then Emma the way they would have looked about the time of their marriage in 1918.  Any additional photos you have of this family would be appreciated.

John W. Vann: the man who officiated the marriage of J.C.W. Ingram and Sarah Alice Chandler

Ingram marriage document from the records of Kerr County, Texas
Ingram marriage document from the records of Kerr County, Texas accessed at the Texas State Archives in Austin.

My great grandparents J.C.W. Ingram and Sarah Alice Chandler were married in Kerr County, Texas on January 25, 1890.  The officiant was a man name John W. Vann.  His story is not common.  I thought my children or grandchildren might want to learn more about him so I’m leaving them some “bread crumbs”.  Here is a brief sketch I found on Find A Grave.

Birth: Mar. 19, 1860
Plum
Fayette County
Texas, USA
Death: Jun. 21, 1943
San Antonio
Bexar County
Texas, USA
Kerr County, Texas 1856-1976 page 232
“John W. Vann, is the eldest child of Margaret and W.W. Vann. He received his early education at Tatum’s schoolhouse in Center Point. He and Miss Blanche Weston were married before he was 21 years old. In 1890 he was elected Commissioner of Precinct No. 4 in Kerr County and served as deputy sheriff under Capt. Frank Moore. In 1892 he was elected sheriff and Tax Collector of Kerr County resigning during his sixth term to accept the position of Deputy U.S. Marshall. While sheriff of Kerr County he was twice elected president of the Sheriff’s Association of Texas.
He served as Deputy Marshall under Wm. H. Hanson at Houston and Eugene Nolte at San Antonio. Mr. Vann was appointed Collector of Customs by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, and stationed at Brownsville. Later he was transferred to the Department of Justice where he served as an investigator of peonage in Alabama, Florida and Texas and is still in government service there. Mr. and Mrs. Vann reared four children at the old home place north of town. Walter, Stewart, Mrs. Amy Wallace and Charles.”Book D Kerr Co, District Court July 3, 1911
Blanche Vann vs John Vann
…….It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed by the court that the bonds of matrimony existing between the plaintiff Blanche Vann and the defendant John W. Vann be and are hereby dissolved and annulled and the plaintiff Blanche Vann divorced from the defendant John W. Vann. It is further ordered and decreed by the Court that the defendant pay all costs in this behalf expended for all of which let execution issue.January 10, 1920 Kerr Co, TX
Vann, Mrs. Blanche age 56 divorced b. TX dressmakerJanuary 28, 1920 San Antonio, Bexar Co, TX
Vann, John W. age 60 b. TX special agent-railroad
Vann, Maud A. (wife) age 33 b. EnglandApril 7, 1930 St. Anthony Hotel, San Antonio Bexar Co, TX
Vann, John W. age 70 divorced b. TX deputy marshall-govt service”Family links:
Parents:
Wilson Wade Vann (1835 – 1906)
Margaret Laduska Bishop Vann (1839 – 1924)

Siblings:
John William Vann (1860 – 1943)
Mary Ann Vann Burney (1862 – 1950)*
Murray Wilson Vann (1864 – 1918)*
Josephine Ellen Vann Caldwell (1872 – 1943)*
Etta Vann Wright (1872 – 1961)*
Thomas S. Vann (1875 – 1950)*
Maggie Mae Vann Brown (1878 – 1950)*
Edna Blanche Vann Spruill (1880 – 1962)*
Bishop Lafayette Vann (1883 – 1958)*

*Calculated relationship

Burial:
San Jose Burial Park
San Antonio
Bexar County
Texas, USA
Created by: Cathy Morgan
Record added: Aug 26, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 75504519
John W. Vann with his wife Blanche and children William and Amy
John W. Vann with his wife Blanche and children William and Amy

I am grateful to Find A Grave, Cathy Morgan and others who have contributed to this memorial.  I’m also indebted to the West Kerr Current and especially Irene Van Winkle for the photo of John W. Vann and family.  This is how he would have appeared at about the time of my great-grandparents’ wedding.

Photo of the Day: Alice Davies and Suzy Cook

IMG_5230

That’s Suzy Cook with her mother Alice Davies.  Alice is the granddaughter of Sarah Alice Nichols Chandler Ingram and the daughter of Grace Ingram Mohn.  She’s my great-aunt and she’s 95 years old!  Doesn’t she look great?  Thanks Suzy and Aunt Alice!Sarah Alice Ingram

My great-grandmother Sarah Alice “Sally” Ingram (1861 – 1942)

 

Happy Trails: Finding surprises in my research

It’s always a happy coincidence to cross the trail of an ancestor while tracking an entirely different prey.

My dad’s mother and father met at the Masonic Home for Children in Ft. Worth, Texas in about 1905.  They would marry after their graduation from high school at the home in 1916.  It’s doubtful they ever knew their families had crossed paths 100 years earlier in Williamson County, Tennessee.  It’s doubtful anyone knew…until now.

Gus Lee Roberts 1916
Gus Roberts portrait done in about 1917

Gus Roberts was born in Lamar County, Texas in 1898.  His father, John Anderson Roberts was born in Williamson County in 1830.  If you do the math he was nearly 68 years old when my grandfather Gus was born by his second and much younger wife Mary.  He was the only child of this union.  John A. or “Jackie” as he was known, died in 1901.  I doubt Gus had many memories of him and would have certainly not remembered any stories of his origins.  Gus would be raised as an orphan.  (That’s another story for another time.)  John Anderson’s story was very different.  His father’s name was John Rivers Roberts.  He was born in Virginia but arrived in Williamson County as a very young boy in or before 1804.  All of his children would be born in Williamson County and all seven which are known to us would survive to adulthood.  Their place was on Rutherford and Flat creeks.  John R would be the last of the males in his family to leave the county of Williamson, waiting until after the death of his mother in about 1857.  The majority of them would migrate to Calloway County, Kentucky.  His father is known simply as John Roberts.  I call him “My John Roberts” because I don’t know his middle name and I can’t find his father.  He was born in Virginia and arrived in Williamson County by 1804.  He is in the 1805 tax list.  He and Rebecca’s first children, like John R., were born in Virginia.  They would go on to have other children born in Williamson.  He died in the county in November of 1823 and I believe he is buried on the old original Roberts home place somewhere near the headwaters of McCrory Creek.  I wish I knew where.

Emma Lee Ingram Roberts
Emma Lee Ingram Roberts

Emma Lee Ingram was born in Dimmit County, Texas in 1898.  She had a twin who did not survive the birth.  Like her future husband, she was the offspring of her father J.C.W. Ingram’s second wife.  JCW would die in October of 1902 leaving nearly four year old Emma fatherless.  Emma’s mother was named Sarah Alice Nichols when she was born.  Most people knew her, like her namesake aunt, as “Sally”.  She was born in Tennessee in 1861 (Although she is often confused by Ancestry tree builders with some Nichols in Arkansas).  I believe she was born in Williamson like her older siblings but concede it could have been Marshall County.  Her father Frederick Shaffer Nichols, however, was most certainly born in Williamson in September of 1834.  He would eventually migrate to the Hill Country of Texas and die in Kerr County in 1896.  Emma would never know her grandfather.  Frederick Shaffer’s father Allen Frederick Nichols was born in Newberry, South Carolina in 1787.  He and his family were in Williamson before 1816 when his son Andrew was born.  Allen Nichols appears on the same tax records as my 3rd great grandmother Rebecca Roberts and two of my 3rd great Roberts uncles Newton and Anderson (my great grandfather’s middle name namesake).

And so there they are.  Two kids meet in a children’s home in Ft. Worth, Texas without knowing their families had crossed trails and no doubt travelled the same trails 100 years earlier in Williamson County, Tennessee.  The county “marked” both sides of my father’s family and perhaps his family helped shape the county in some small way.

But, that’s not all.  My 2nd great grandfather Frederick Shaffer Nichols married Sarah Elizabeth Neely in Franklin, Williamson County, in 1854.  This was Sarah Alice “Sally” Nichols mother and the grandmother of Emma Lee Ingram, my grandmother.  Sarah Neely’s father was named William L. Neely and was born in Williamson County in 1804.  His father, my 4th great-grandfather, was named James Neely and was born in Virginia in 1783.  He died in Williamson in 1833.  The Neely family was somewhat prominent and influential in the county and spilled over into the northern part of Maury County (Goodspeed histories mention them and their descendants in both counties).  You can find their “fingerprints” all over various records in Williamson County.  There is this one in particular that surprised me.

My 3rd great-grandfather John Rivers Roberts married Sarah B. Smithson before he married my 3rd great-grandmother Rebecca Anna Giles.  John R. and Sarah had two sons together, Clement Smithson Roberts and James S. Roberts.  Sarah may have died giving birth to James in 1825.  Sarah’s father, Clement Smithson, had previously died in Williamson in 1814 when she was about eleven.  His death and subsequent probate produced a considerable number of document pages which continued growing all the way through the 1849 court session!  (It was timber rights and land values based on land and timber on land sold following her father’s death.)  Sarah was a beneficiary and her name appears in those earliest documents and on through and including her sons’ names and her surviving husband John R. as their representative.  And found in the early days of these documents there is the signature of one of the appraisers of the estate in 1815.

James Neely 1815 signature

That’s right.  It’s the 1815 signature of my 4th great-grandfather James Neely on a Smithson/Roberts probate record!

And that’s not all.  William O. Smithson was born in Williamson in 1831.  He married Mary Jane Nichols who was born in the county in 1838.  Yes, that’s the same Smithson and the same Nichols families.  This couple and their family migrated to North Texas, then the Hill Country of Texas (Kerr and Kendall Counties) and then back to Montague County in North Texas.  Just this week the management responsibilities for Mary Jane’s Find A Grave memorial was passed to me.

I’ve only just begun to really look at the Neely family.  I haven’t said much about my Giles family of Williamson and Maury Counties.  I’m sure I’ll find many more connections.  I’m also researching the remarkable number of all family connections between Lunenburg County, Virginia and Williamson County, Tennessee.  If you’re researching families in Williamson and lose their trail, look in Lunenburg, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties, Virginia first for their ancestors.

Emma Lee Roberts with Debbie & Gary
My sister Debbie Roberts Scroggin and me with our “Nanny”

It’s always exciting for me to “strike” the trail of an ancestor as I backtrack the common.  It’s especially exciting to see those trails intersect and at times merge with the trails of other DNA contributors.

Happy Trails!

(This, as with most of my backtracking work, is dedicated to my grandchildren.  GFR 2015)

https://backtrackingthecommon.com/

When Did J.C.W. Ingram Arrive in Texas? And when was the town of Ingram, Texas planted?

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”, we’re told.  And, that’s fun.  But, is it what we want our history books and monuments to reflect?  Should we “change” or can we “correct” history?  Is the correction of “facts” changing history or simply aligning our stories with history?

One of my great grandfathers was named John Charles Wesley Ingram.  Most of what is written about his arrival in Texas is wrong.  Three quick examples repeated with small variances in many different sources illustrate what I mean.Ingram historical marker

The photo is one of the historical markers in old downtown Ingram, Texas.  The site is visited by thousands of tourists every year.  It says my great grandfather J.C.W. Ingram bought land on this sight in 1879.  Wrong.  It says he was a Church of Christ Minister.  Wrong.  (My mother was sure he was a Methodist.  I can’t say for certain he wasn’t ever a Methodist.  I know his second wife, my great grandmother Sarah Alice, certainly was a Methodist.  J.C.W. however was a Presbyterian minister…merchant, constable, sheriff, Mason, postmaster, pharmacist, and much, much more.)

Two more examples describe his arrival in Texas.

“In 1879 J. C. W. Ingram bought six acres, in what is now known as Ingram, opened a store and applied for a post office under his name”  (taken from Kerr County, Texas annual budget report 2011-2012 p. 30)

INGRAM, TEXAS. Ingram is on Highway 27 and the Guadalupe River at the confluence of Johnson and Indian creeks, seven miles west of Kerrville in central Kerr County. The surrounding land was granted by the state to John Twohig in 1847. J. C. W. Ingram bought six acres in 1879, opened a store and post office, and gave the town its name.” (From Texas History Online as of August 13, 2015, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hli06 )

Once an event is incorrectly reported, that incorrect report may travel around the world.  Never has this been truer than in the age of the internet.  And we should also remind ourselves that not everything written in books and published is true.

Sometime, somewhere in the last century it was reported that J.C.W. Ingram arrived and bought land in Texas in 1879.  This “fact” is now part of multiple online articles, family trees, newspaper articles, county histories, Texas guidebooks and several expensive historical markers in Kerr County, Texas.  The problem, this “fact” is wrong and to record it as such is inaccurate.

So, can we change or correct history?

History may be seen in 3 ways:

  1. Events which have taken place in the past.
  2. The stories (oral history) or recordings (written history) of those past events, accurate or inaccurate.
  3. His/Her-story. How an individual chooses to research, hear and interpret available “facts” concerning an event in the past and report those “facts” to others.

I visited Kerr County in the spring of 2013 with by wife, brother and sister-in-law.   We were looking for land and marriage records…and of course, antiquing.  We were fortunate to meet Irene Van Winkle of the West Kerr Current newspaper.  She was surprised and concerned, as any conscientious reporter would be, of a possible error in the dates for the Ingram’s arrival in Texas.  She had reported this erroneous “fact” more than once herself.  I shared with her my concerns and she expressed her intent to look into the matter.

Here are some facts I’ve found related to J.C.W.’s arrival in Texas.

  1. According to the Pacific Rural Press of California dated May 17, 1879, J.C.W. Ingram is elected as an officer of the Lakeport Grange Hall #76.
  2. J.C.W. Ingram was a well-known, well respected and well-to-do man living in Lake County, California during the middle part of the 1800s. There are many records to illustrate these facts.  For now, I’ll refer you to a biographical sketch of Ingram found in the “History of Napa and Lake Counties, California: Comprising Their Geography, Geology, Topography, Climatography, Springs and Timber” written by Lyman L. Palmer, A.M., Historian and published by Slocum, Bowen and Co. of San Francisco, California in 1881.  The digital copy in my possession is a photocopy of a first edition donated to Harvard College Library.  Palmer signs the preface to his book in November of 1881.  The Ingram sketch beginning on page 250 closes with the mention or six surviving children; Luella C., John L., Mary R., Sarah A., Ruth and Maud.  The article ends with the Ingram’s loss of two sons; William R. and Preston.
  3. According to cemetery records William Riley Ingram died in Lake County on November 30, 1878. He’s buried in the Hartley Cemetery which began in 1860 as a Masonic Cemetery.  J.C.W. once served as Worshipful Master of this Lodge #199.  I include this because it is a sequence of events happening prior to the Ingram’s leaving for Texas.
  4. According to the 1880 Federal Census, John C.W. Ingram is a 51 year old farmer living in Scotts Valley Precinct and Big Valley Township. In his household is Mandana A., 46; John L., 17; Mary R., 14; Sarah A., 11; Ruth, 8; Maud, 6; Laura A., 24 (We know this to be the widow of William Riley); Arthur O. Lillie, 4 (a son widow Laura brought into her marriage with William) and Ethel Ingram, 11 months (Laura and William’s daughter).  Enumerated 21st day of June 1880.
  5. This same John C.W. Ingram has his farm enumerated with the following facts recorded on 21st day of June 1880 reporting his production for the year of 1879 in Scotts Valley, Big Valley Township of Lake County, California. Acres of land: 140 tilled, fallow or in rotation.  6 acres meadows, pastures, orchards or vineyards.  105 acres woodland or forest.  Farm values: $8,000.00 for farm including buildings, land and fences.  $150.00 for farm implements and machinery.   Value of livestock, $300.00.  Cost of building or repairing fences in 1879, $350.00.  Amount paid for wages in 1879, $500.00.  Weeks hired laborers in 1879, 52 weeks.  Estimated value of all farm production for 1879, $1,200.00.  Acreage mown in 1879, 10 acres.  Acres not mown, 230 ac.  Products harvest in 1879, 20 tons of hay.  Horses on hand as of June 1, 1880, 7 horses.  Mules on hand as of June 1, 1880, 1 mule.
  6. In the precinct of Lakeport, in the county of Lake, CA, several miles to the southeast of the Ingram farm, John F. Burger is enumerated in the 1880 census 18th of June. Included in his household is his 25 year old son, George F. Burger.  According to the Ag schedule for this farm (1880 Federal) it is larger but valued just over half of the Ingram’s place.
  7. In the 1900 census Mary R. Burger, age 34, is living with her husband George F. Burger, her children (6) and George’s Brother James C. Burger in Township 4, Lake County, CA. Mary and George are reported to have married in 1881 and have thus been married 19 years.  Mary was born in California.  Her father was born in Illinois and her mother in Missouri.  (Mary Rebecca Ingram married George F. Burger in Lake County, CA on 7 December 1881.)
  8. Mary Rebecca Ingram Burger was the great grandmother of Kathy Fuqua Rivas. According to an Ancestry.com message I received from Kathy on March 15, 2015, her relative Gene Burger was still running the original Ingram place until his death in 1978.  His son Fred took over upon his death and the farm was only recently sold within the past 10 years, thus leaving Burger ownership for the first time since the 1880s.  This was the former ranch of J.C.W. Ingram which he sold before leaving for Texas.  (p. 11 of Scottslandia: A Romantic History of Scotts Valley by Alice W. Deacon)

In 1881 J.C.W.

“…sold all of the rest of his land to John F. Burger, and left right away for Texas.  The night before the Ingram family left the Valley, his daughter Mary was married to Fred Burger, son of John F. Burger, and the young couple built themselves a home nearby.”

(Scottslandia: A Romantic History of Scotts Valley by Alice W. Deacon, p. 30)

  1. In the May 11, 1882 edition of the San Antonio Evening Light there is an announcement of a business dissolution.  J.C.W. Ingram of Kerrville, Kerr County, Texas dissolves all business ties with E.C. Tatum as of May 8, 1882.   Mr. Tatum assumes all liabilities of the firm, and alone has authority to collect claims due the co-partnership.
  2. According to the research in Jim Wheat’s POSTMASTERS & POST OFFICES OF TEXAS, 1846 – 1930 (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txpost/postmasters.html), John C.W. Ingram became Ingram, Texas’ first postmaster on October 31, 1882. According to The Official Record of the United States Vol 2, containing a list of the officers and employees in the Civil, Military and Naval Service on the first of July 1883, J.C.W. Ingram is the postmaster of Ingram in Kerr County, Texas.
  3. Deed records copied from the courthouse records in Kerrville, Texas in May of 2013 tell us J.C.W. Ingram bought lots from C.E. Mitzschke in Kerrville in February of 1882 (Vol G p. 71). This is not the land he will later purchase west of town.  The land he purchased from the Morriss family on which he built his store and ran his post office on the Guadalupe River was purchased in January 1883 (Vol H pp 8, 9).
  4. The August 27, 1883 edition of the San Antonio Light newspaper has this item in the Hotels report: “J.C.W. Ingram and Frank Coleman, prominent citizens of Kerrville, are at the Central”. (Notice the phrase “of Kerrville”.) He had stayed previously at the same hotel in June of the same year.

How we interpret and report these facts will determine how close our story is to history.  What may we learn from these facts about J.C.W. Ingram’s arrival in Texas?

Observations:

The facts not only give evidence the Ingrams were NOT in Texas in 1879, they also imply he was not even thinking of coming to Texas until as late as 1881.

  • J.C.W. accepted a new office and responsibility in Lakeport, CA in May of 1879.
  • J.C.W. is the head of a household in Scotts Valley, CA in June of 1880. He can’t be in two places.
  • J.C.W. reported in June of 1880 he spent $350.00 in 1879 on his fences. He spent $500.00 on labor.  He reports only having 7 horses, 1 mule and no other livestock requiring fencing.  That’s a very large financial outlay.  It’s over 10% or the total value of his property, buildings, crops and farm implements!  That kind of investment does not indicate to me he’s planning to sell his place.  It’s already prime real-estate.  If you’re planning on leaving the state, let the new owner invest in his own fences and oversee the labor.
  • The biographical sketch of J.C.W. mentioned earlier was published in 1881. To write this piece it would have been necessary to interview J.C.W. or someone very close to him.  The preface was signed in November 1881.  Harvard College Library obviously received an advanced copy because their copy is stamped with an October 1881 receipt date.  The interview would have been between the death of William in late 1878 and sometime in early 1881.
  • John F. Burger purchases this farm and ranch in the fall of 1881. J.C.W. would need to be in California to oversee this sale.
  • J.C.W. and Mandana’s daughter Mary Rebecca married John F. Burger’s son George Frederick (Fred) on December 7, 1881 and the Ingram family left for Texas the next day. The facts all support this account.    May 11, 1882 Desolution of Tatum and Ingram Partnership
  • J.C.W. is in Texas before May of 1882. We know this because he’s already dissolving a partnership with E.C. Tatum.  This implies he arrived in Texas, agreed to enter a business partnership and arranged an agreed upon dissolution of that partnership all in a few months’ time.  I wonder what happened?  The 1879 San Antonio City Directory lets us know Elisha C. Tatum was a young clerk working for L. Moke & Co. while living in the home of his father.  In the 1880 census he’s 23 and living with his sisters Viana Gillis (widowed or divorced with two children) and Sally Tatum who is 15 and still in school.  His occupation is “clerk”.  In the 1881 San Antonio Directory he’s listed as “E.C. Tatum and Co. (Elisha C. Tatum, Mrs. Viana Gillis), groceries, provisions and proprs Buffalo Camp Yard, 25 and 26 n Flores.  See advr’t.”  Buffalo Camp Yard was a well-known place to gather and move supplies from San Antonio to points west.  There was a regular freight run from the Buffalo Camp Yard through Kerrville and on to Comfort, Texas.  It would have passed near or through the land J.C.W. would eventually purchase on the Guadalupe River.  It may have passed by his property in Kerrville purchased in February 1882.  So, let me speculate.  By early 1882 a young, aspiring business man and his sister need a cash infusion into their grocery and supply business.  Perhaps it was Frank Coleman, the brother-in-law of Elisha Tatum, who introduced Tatum to J.C.W.  Coleman and his wife lived in Precinct 1 of Kerr County (primarily the city of Kerrville) near where J.C.W. bought those lots in February 1882.  He and Coleman are described in the San Antonio newspaper in 1883 as “prominent citizens of Kerrville”.  J.C.W. had plenty of capital to invest and may have been looking to get into business before arriving in Texas.  The young salesman “sold him” and they entered a business agreement.  Something happened.  Perhaps J.C.W. got a clearer picture of the person or the condition of the business.  He appears to have pulled out of the arrangement without recovering his cost or any future income from the business.
  • If one needs a building or a piece of land to have a post office and be the postmaster of the new berg of Ingram, we can say J.C.W. did not own the land now known as Old Ingram until January 1883. He may have owned or invested with his friend Frank Coleman in Kerrville prior to and/or in 1883.  It may have been business or ministry, or I suspect both, but J.C.W and his family began their time on the Guadalupe River in 1883.  So, if you need a property or a building or a post office to have a town and or have it named after you, Ingram was not birthed until 1883.

Unlike most travel guides to this date, Hill County Visitor.com gets it right.

“Ingram, Texas is on the north bank of Guadalupe River. Ingram, Texas was founded 1883 by J.C.W. Ingram who built a store and conducted church services…”

The facts say the Ingrams left California in December 1881.  They were in Texas by February of 1882 and purchased land in Kerrville.  They then purchased the land where old Ingram sits from the Morriss family in January 1883.

Conclusions:

  1. J.C.W Ingram arrived in Texas in early 1882.
  2. The seed for the town of Ingram was planted in 1883.

The On-going Mystery:  WHY did J.C.W Ingram; successful, well respected, settled, choose to pull up stakes in California and move to the Hill Country of Texas?  Was it…

  • Grief over the loss of his sons?
  • The need for a new adventure or challenge?
  • A business opportunity?
  • Church ministry?

Does anyone have a letter from J.C.W. explaining it?  Please feel free to share it here.

1883 Ingram and Morriss land deed Kerr County Deed Book Vol H pp 8,9
1883 Land deed between J.C.W. Ingram and Abner McWhorter & Annie G. Morriss

J.C.W. Ingram

Please allow me to introduce you to my great-grandfather John Charles Wesley Ingram. Though he was a man who shared in our common grace from God, he was not to me a very common man.  Its my hope to one day give the fullest telling of his story, but for now, I share a brief biographical sketch from a book of history.

“INGRAM, J. C. W. Is a native of Gallatin County, Illinois, and was born April 4, 1829. Here he received his education, and resided on a farm until 1844, when he went to Missouri, where he spent about two years. The next two years were spent in Iowa and Wisconsin; after which he returned to Missouri, and in the spring of 1849 he turned his face towards Oregon, where he arrived, after a six months’ journey with ox teams, the last of October. Here he followed lumbering until the spring of 1851, when he came to California and followed mining at different places until September, 1857, when he came to Lake County and located in Big Valley, where he followed farming and stock raising until 1867, when he settled on his present place, consisting of two hundred acres, located in Scotts Valley, where he is engaged in farming and stock raising. Mr. Ingram, during the years 1858-9, held the office of Constable, and in the fall of 1873 was elected Sheriff of Lake County, which office he held four years. He married, August 28, 1858, Miss Mandana A. Musick, a native of Missouri They have six children: Luella C., John L, Mary R., Sarah A., Ruth and Maud. Have lost two: William R. and Preston.”

The History of Napa and Lake Counties, California
Slocum, Bowen & Co., Publishers San Francisco, California 1881 pp. 250, 251

Source:  Google Books online as of August 17, 2015

https://books.google.com/books?id=8skOAAAAYAAJ

To my children, this is your great great grandfather.  To my grandchildren, this is your 3 x great-grandfather.  He leaves you a rich heritage.  Learn his life well.

Next time we’ll consider some facts about J.C.W. that may change the way history has been recorded.