Granddad Gus’ Birth Certificate Arrives Forty-Four Years Later

It would take an act of the Texas Legislature to legally establish my grandfather’s existence, including when, where and to whom he was born. There’s nothing normal about his birth certificate.

Gus Roberts was born August 24, 1898 on a farm in Lamar County, Texas eleven miles north of the community of Brookston.  That’s the kind of information you normally obtain from your parents sometime after you’re old enough to remember.  But less than a month after granddad’s third birthday, his father was dead and his mother was in jail!  It would take a County Judge named Eugene F. Harrell to establish the facts of Gus Roberts’ birth.  His decision was adjudged and decreed  two months shy of granddad’s’ forty-fifth birthday in 1943!

I imagine my grandfather needed a birth certificate long before 1943 and it was probably problematic and annoying not having one.  This is evidenced by the rapidity with which he obtained one when it became legally possible.

The Texas law, HB 197, passed and signed by Governor Coke R. Stevenson in March of 1943  allowed grandfather to take his case to a county court, prove who he was and obtain an official birth certificate and have that record registered with the State Health Department.  He obtained his legal hearing and his “official existence” in a Lamar County courthouse on the same day, Saturday, June 12, 1943.

This official Texas birth record contains a number of facts related to my grandfather.  Some of them are more certain than others and some are certainly incorrect.  Let’s look at the record and compare it to what we know or suspect.  You may click on the image to enlarge it.

The Official Record

  • His name – The full name of the child is “Gus Roberts” I believe this is correct and I’ll have more to say about it in a future post.
  • He was a male.  His birth was legitimate and occurred on August 24, 1898. – Due to some testimony around his father’s death, there was a question concerning his paternity.  His father and mother married two years before his birth in 1896.  And though my great-grandfather was over twice my great-grandmother’s age, I’m related to both of them by the wonder of DNA.  Legitimate.
  • His father’s full name is given as Jack A. Roberts.  This most certainly is incorrect.  I don’t mean he wasn’t called by this name or a variant of it and I don’t mean his son, who was only three when he died, didn’t know him through others as Jack A Roberts.  What do I mean?  There is a large body of evidence my great-grandfather’s name was John Anderson Roberts.  John Anderson’s father, my great-great grandfather’s name was John Rivers Roberts and there’s evidence he went by Johnny, John Rivers or John R.  This may have been to distinguish himself from his father who was also named John Roberts.  Perhaps John Anderson was known as “Jack” from his childhood.  I don’t know.  I do know his neighbors in Lamar County knew him as “Jack”, “Jack A.”, “Jackie” and/or“Uncle Jackie”.
  • His father is described as a white male, age 70 years at the time of Gus’ birth.  This is only half right.  He was white.  He was not 70.  He was born in March of 1830 in Williamson County, TN.  He would have been 68 years at the time of his son’s birth.  Impressive.
  • His mother’s full maiden name is given as Mary Lanningham.  When she married John Anderson in 1896, the name on the marriage license was Mrs. Mary Thompson.  I have been unable to uncover the details of Mary’s previous marriage.  I do know there were a number of Thompson men as candidates on or near the Emberson Prairie of Lamar County.  Based on my research, I believe her family name was originally Van Landingham.  Her Texas family spelled their surname without the double “n”, as in Laningham by the time her son Gus was born.  And though I do not know what the “L” represents, I believe her name could be more fully rendered Mary L. Laningham based on a census record from 1880.
  • Gus’ mother is described as white and age 35 years at the time of his birth.  I suspect this again is only half right.  Yes, she was white.  No, I don’t know how old she was for certain but suspect she was born in 1871 and would have therefore been closer to age 27.  I plan to do a post explaining my conclusion in the future.
  • The number of children born to this mother including this birth and the number of children living at the time of this birth is one.  If this is correct, it would mean Gus was Mary’s only child prior to her time in prison.

I’m not concluded my “reasonably exhaustive research”.  Before I can assess the reliability of this testimony, I need to research the probate records for this hearing and learn who testified or provided affidavits in 1943.   Sounds like another trip to the Lamar County courthouse.!

Thanks for reading the blog and feel free to share your “birth certificate stories”.

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Happy Backtracking,

Gary

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Too Busy to Read Blogs and Newsletters? Please Think Again…

time-saverI’m too busy NOT to read blogs and newsletters.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Taking time to read the writings of others saves me both time and money in my genealogy/family history research.  You too will benefit from this fun discipline.  Here’s how.

“Time is money”, the saying goes.  Most genealogists and family researchers have significant limits of both.  How we spend our limited time and money will often determine the measure of our success.  Our success in family research is measured by uncovering our family’s story and documenting it for future generations.  If we’re going to spend the time and money discovering our family’s past, we need to spend the time to do it right.

Books, genealogy site subscriptions, seminars, conferences, research guides, genealogy software, supplies, etc. all cost us money and time.  How does reading free blogs and newsletters save us on both?

question-marks

What Can Blogs and Newsletters Do for You?

  • Provide you with time and money saving tips and tricks – for free!
  • Instruct you in a specific area of your genealogical research.
  • Inform you of other great places to find time and money saving help.
  • Connect you with others researching your family lines.
  • Show you the best use of technology in your research.
  • Alert you to upcoming events in your areas of interests.
  • Bring to your attention money saving discounts.
  • Introduce you to someone with whom you can converse about genealogy.
  • Provide genealogical case studies and models in writing family history.
  • Entertain you. That’s right, relax and enjoy the stories and foibles of others.  Laugh a little.

How to Find the Right Blogs and Newsletters

With hundreds of genealogical blogs and newsletters, how do you decide which ones to follow for their updates?

  • Think free! My paid ancestry research sites and software often come with a blog included.  I use them, but I don’t consider them free.  There are many good free sites.  They often offer products or services but you need not purchase them.
  • Use the Google search terms “genealogy blog” in your search engine. You’ll find all you need to get started.  Don’t overdo it.  Take your time, over time.  Be willing to “upgrade” and “kick one to curb” if you find others who do a better job providing you with your research needs or interests.
  • Listen for a blog in your voice. All blogs are not equal for many different reasons.  One characteristic seldom mentioned is “voice”.  Certain writers “speak” to me.  They write in a way I can “see, hear and understand”.  These aren’t the only blogs ending up in my inbox but they’re the primary ones.
  • Select blog writers who encourage you to use “best use” genealogical practices.
  • Once you find a blog that meets your criteria, see if they recommend other blogs and check those out.
  • Your favorite blogs list will always be in flux. Never be afraid to discard one blog for another that better meets your needs.

Blogs and newsletters arrive in my inbox throughout the week.  I’ve selected these for all of the reasons previously listed.  I always “peek” at these before I discard them for the day.  I want to see what they contain but I don’t always read them or all their content.  Part of my research time is set aside to determine if these particular blogs or newsletters will help make me successful.  Will they save me time or money?  The ones that make it into my inbox, by my invitation, will more often than not do both.

Be choosy.  Yes.  Save yourself some time and money.  Select the right blogs and newsletters for you.

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Burton Lee Roberts: Murder, mystery, mayhem and Burton Lee

Burton Lee Roberts in North Africa in 1943 (Standing back row right)
Burton Lee Roberts in North Africa in 1943 (Standing back row right)

Our lives are shaped by what happens before us, to us and through us – and, by our responses to these events.  Burton Lee Roberts’ life would be no different.  He would not escape.  Opinionated and politically incorrect, chased by his own personal demons, keeper of secrets, he was a mystery.  It’s left to me to backtrack the truth, unravel the tale and record the most complete explanation of his life.  He was my father.

I loved him.  I hated him.  I learned him.  I understood him (somewhat).  I love him.  And now I share him.  I share his story with my children and grandchildren.  I share his story with many other children who want to understand their own fathers, who long to make sense of their lives or at least, not to hate.  Some of you want to understand.  Like me, you struggle.  Most of you never met my dad.  Those of you who knew him knew little about his inner turmoil.  In sharing his life, I share me, because our lives are inseparable.  My responses to him shaped me.  I doubt you can fully understand me without knowing him.

Our DNA trickles to us from thousands of sources.   These millions of droplets collect and gush into our lives through only two — our mother and father.  Eyes, hair, facial features, size, muscle structure, feet, fingers, etc. passed down to us by our parents, a mix of what was passed down to them.  I sometimes debate with myself what is DNA and what is learned behavior.  After all, I not only look like my dad but I have some of the same facial expressions, stand and walk like him.  Like the father in the story of the prodigal who easily recognized his son’s gait from a considerable distance, if you knew my father, you can see him reflected in me.

My dad missed the reported murder of his grandfather but his father didn’t.  Only three years old at the time, dad’s father, my grandfather, was said to have been in the room when the deed was done.  My dad missed his grandfather’s murder (Was it really a murder?) but not the fallout.  Dad’s father was raised without a father or mother.  He never knew his grandfather.  His adolescence was lived through The Great Depression.  He experienced and participated in the mayhem of a world at war.  He would be shaped by it all and so would we.

I got into genealogy because I love history and a good mystery.  My family has both.  Once I discovered so many tales to be told, so many lives to be restored, so many dots to be connected, I knew it was my responsibility to be the “teller of tales”, to backtrack the truth.  But, where to begin?  I’ve been very “hit and miss” so far in my blog, Backtracking the Common.  My posts have been things that interested or challenged me.  I work better with structure.  I need a plan.  I want something more sequential.  My intent was to save dad’s story for last, less complicated, less painful that way, but I can’t.  His story is only explained by his father’s story.  His father’s story is explained by his father’s story, etc.  So we’ll begin to unravel their collective stories, unlock some mysteries, and tell their tales.  We begin with the life of Burton Lee Roberts and the murder, mystery and mayhem that shaped it – and me.

 

Is DNA a genealogical miracle?

DNA imageIs DNA a genealogical miracle?  Is DNA the answer to all your genealogical problems?  No. And no.  So, why send your DNA sample off and pay someone to work-up your profile?  Because DNA is solid science and fast becoming an invaluable option in the genealogist/family historian’s toolbox.

I sent my DNA samples off last January.  I did some research first.  I decided on an autosomal test and chose two companies.  One sample went to Ancestry.com.  The other went to Family Tree DNA.  The results reached my inbox about eight weeks later within a few days of one another.  Here are some benefits I experienced in the first week of having the results:

  • Confirmed the family identity of the male DNA contributor to my grandfather and therefore confirmed my suspicion of who did not contribute DNA to him.
  • Confirmed we have yet to identify a family surname in another line of our pedigree chart. (Some researchers think they know but the DNA says it isn’t so.)
  • Confronted (and for me settled) the family lore of having Cherokee descendants in our specific family lines.
  • Confirmed my connections to cousins I met in “the old fashion way” of doing genealogy AND connected me to new cousins across America.

Sound like a miracle?  Maybe, but it’s not.

Here are some things DNA cannot do for you.

  • Build a family tree. (At least not yet!)  If you’re hoping to use DNA to breakdown your genealogical brick walls, you had better get to work on your tree!  Your DNA results may tell you you’re related by DNA to another contributor but good luck on knowing who, how, when and where without doing the hard work of genealogy.  I’m amazed at the number of people I match and they have no tree uploaded.  I can see some applications of DNA which would not need a tree but not if you’re doing genealogical/family history work.
  • Go to the library, research center or courthouse for you. Your DNA results can’t travel on your behalf and make the connections that help tell your story.  Where did the people with my DNA live?  Who were their neighbors?  When and where did these DNAs “marry”?  How did somebody with my DNA get where I am geographically?
  • Fill in the gaps and make your family history rich. Your DNA results cannot interview family members.  They cannot take you to a home place and fire your imagination.  They cannot show you a picture to put a face on that contributor.  They can’t tell you the stories of a 95-year-old great-aunt.
  • They can’t do the footwork of emailing, messaging or calling the other matches to compare notes. And if the two of you don’t have well-built trees, you may not accomplish much when you do visit.
  • They can’t interpret themselves. You or somebody else must interpret your results if you’re going to get the most out of them.  For me, this has been a steep learning curve.  I’m in my 8th month and some days feel as if I haven’t learned a thing!  DNA results 100.  Gary 0.  I like learning new things.  I like a challenge. But, honestly, I’ve got my hands full with this one.

And so you ask, would I do it all over again?  Would I spend about $100 per sample to have my DNA tested?  Absolutely!  As I write this post, I can’t wait for my sister’s mtDNA test results to come back!  It’ll be a wonderful addition to our research.  I just have to do the hard work of understanding and using the depth of knowledge and insight it provides to better tell our family’s full and fascinating story.

Here are some steps you can take if you are serious about using DNA.

  • Go online and do a search using the terms “Genealogy” AND “DNA”. Do it just like I typed it with the quotation marks.
  • Go to the YouTube site and plug in the same terms. Watch a couple of videos on the basics.  (BTW, if you’re not using YouTube in your genealogy “how to” learning, you’re missing a great tool.)
  • Now, spend some time. Do some research.  Don’t be discouraged by the complexity.  Visit with someone who loves the science and technology of it.
  • Find and read blogs specific to the subject of DNA testing. Most of the people on my Blogroll (to your right probably) have written on this subject.  Go to their blog and plug the letters “DNA” into their site search box.

Once you get your tree built, gedcom file ready to upload and DNA results available, use these two other wonderful free online tools:  Gedmatch and Genome Mate Pro.  The future is here.

Here’s how I could use your help.

  • If you have family with the surname “Roberts” who’s ancestors have lived in Lunenburg, Charlotte or Mecklenburg Counties, Virginia since the 1760s please put us in contact with one another. I’m laughing as I write this.  It sounds so crazy and presumptuous!
  • If you know a family with the surnames “Wray”, “Ray”, “Rhea”, “Whitson” or “Eagan” and they had relatives in or around Wilson County, Tennessee ca 1799 – 1840, please put us in contact with one another. (Use the comment section.)
  • And, if you have old family photos, please do not destroy them before some family member can identify them and get them up on the internet to bring joy and context to some future researcher. You may possess the only “bread crumbs” leading to your family’s past.  Treat them as treasure.

Happy Hunting!

Now, where is that Genome Mate Pro instructional video…?

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/

Tip #6: Decide to find the facts and not just fill in the blanks.

The internet enables incredible research and collaboration with others on your family’s history.  It’s also fraught with potential traps and misdirection.  A research mistake by you or others is multiplied.  In the past, a person took a blank family tree chart or family group sheet and filled in the blanks on paper as they researched their family.  It was a simple way to keep track of the “facts” they uncovered in their research.  If they were wrong, if they made a mistake in their research, very few people knew or were affected.  That’s not true today.

Family history is not a competition.  We may use games to teach our family history but the research we do is not a game.  When we fail in our due diligence and rush to fill in as many blanks as possible on an online family tree, we confuse and potentially misdirect others.  We may leave behind lies rather than facts for our families to follow.

This is NOT a call to abandon or stop posting online family trees.  I would never do that.  The collaborative aspect is much too valuable.  I’m appealing for accuracy in our research before we post and when we’re not sure about our conclusion to be very clear about our uncertainty.  And there lies the problem with family trees.  They are made up of names, dates and lines connecting those names and dates.  They create blanks for us to fill in and discourage uncertainty.  Family trees are not theses or dissertations.  They’re a simplified expression of that kind of research and thought.

It’s OK to leave blanks on family trees when we’re not reasonably certain what should go in those blanks.  It’s OK for others to question what we have put in our blanks.  We should welcome this.  It’s OK to change the information in our blanks.  It’s OK to use “abt” or “ca” or “unknown”.  Doing so may be better for you and others.

Here’s the bottom line.  You have to decide.  As the genealogist/family historian are you going to focus on finding the facts or filling in the blanks as fast as you can?  Will it be a competition or competent research?  If it’s competent research, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with confidence.