Summer Fun and Tips for Your Genealogy

What kind of grandfather drags his grandchildren to multiple cemeteries and calls it fun?  What kind of family historian allows the fear of a little traffic congestion keep him from a genealogical gold mine?  What kind of person never stops interviewing his aged mother and gets rewarded with a story he has never heard?  That would be me, guilty on all counts and hoping you benefit from my experiences. Continue reading “Summer Fun and Tips for Your Genealogy”

Gus Roberts: Aftermath

I wish to write of grace – a common grace which is shown to all and a specific grace expressed in the limb of one family.

Gus Roberts (2)Gus Roberts was the last chance to carry on his father’s line.  What chance did he have?  His father died violently in his bed when Gus was only three.  The story says he was in the room when the deed was done.  His mother was convicted of complicity in his murder and went to prison.  Gus went to an orphan’s home.  What chance did he have?  What would happen to Gus? Continue reading “Gus Roberts: Aftermath”

The Tragic End to the Life of John Anderson Roberts: Final Chapter

And now the end has come.

John Anderson RobertsJohn Anderson’s downward spiral began with the tragic death of his wife Lavina.  He eventually dies in his own bed, but it wasn’t a pleasant passing.  Some claim it was suicide.  Twelve of his neighbors decide it’s murder and assess blame.  A judge determines the penalty.   Lives are forever changed.  So horrific was the tale, one journalist remembers and writes about it over thirty years later.  Family members still speak of it in hushed tones. Continue reading “The Tragic End to the Life of John Anderson Roberts: Final Chapter”

My Cousin Richard Calhoun Byrd 1805-1854, the Governor of Arkansas

Did you know one of my cousins was once the governor of Arkansas?

Arkansas State SealOk, Ok, he’s not much of a cousin and he was only a temporary governor, so maybe not much of a governor either.   But hey, it’s too late to change it.  It’s a fact.  No take-backs.  We have a new fun family fact!  The genie’s out of the bottle.  Celebrate!

Continue reading “My Cousin Richard Calhoun Byrd 1805-1854, the Governor of Arkansas”

The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts

John Anderson Roberts from ca 1890 to 1895

John Anderson Roberts was my great-grandfather.  I never knew him.

I stood beside his grave on a warm Texas summer day and wondered, would he have done anything differently?  I don’t know.  Maybe?  Probably.  After all, he was dead and his much younger wife was accused of murder!  His life was over.  It remains for me to tell his story. Continue reading “The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts”

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.


Burton Lee Roberts – Runaway

My father ran away from home in 1935.

A young Burton Lee RobertsMany of us consider running away from home.  We struggle against the milieu of adolescence while facing the hard headwinds of coming adulthood.  Some of us just want to run away.  Some of us think about it.  Some of us plan to do it.  Not Dad.  He did it!  Burton Lee Roberts “ran away from home”!  Aided and abetted by his mother he bolted at the age of sixteen.

Here’s the story I “pestered” out of him back when I was just a teenager myself.

Barber strap 2
Barber strap

My dad thought his father, Gus Roberts, was a hard, stern, difficult man.  He told me he never got along with his father.  He used to discipline Dad with an old leather strap like the ones used by barbers to hone their razors.  His sister Elizabeth shared the same sentiments in my presence on a couple of occasions.  She once told my mother their father beat them with sticks.  Now, I considered both my dad and aunt to be strong-willed, stubborn people.  I understood why they might clash with their father but I could never excuse Grandad’s harshness.

It happened one Sunday.  The family returned from church and were small Mulesitting at the lunch table-No, I shouldn’t write that-What happened had been building for a long time.  On this day it erupted like a volcano.  Grandad Gus told Daddy to finish his lunch and go hitch-up the mule to the plow.  He was to plow their field in preparation for planting a fall crop.  This was apparently a departure from what my grandparents would normally allow to be done on a Sunday.  Perhaps Dad was being disciplined.  But my dad and some older teenage boys had made plans at church to enjoy the cool waters of the swimming hole after lunch.

Now few places in America are hotter than North Texas in August.  This change in plans brought a strong response from Dad.  He told his father he had already made plans and did not want to take a Sunday afternoon, a day of rest, to go plow.  They disagreed.  It got heated and included the “if a boy is going to put his feet under my table then he’s going to do as I say” speech.  The threat of a “whipping like he’d never seen” got my dad out the door and into the field.  But he was furious.  He took it out on the mule.  He pushed that old black mule under the blazing sun at breakneck speed.  He was going to show his dad.  He would finish the plowing AND go swimming, if it killed him.

Finishing the field with a couple of good hours of daylight remaining, Dad unhitched the mule, put him in the pen, stored the harness gear and rushed by the house on his way to the creek.  He was no doubt pleased with himself.  But his dad wasn’t.  He had watched him and was not happy with his behavior.  His voice stopped Dad in this tracks.  “Did you water that mule?” Grandad asked.  The volcano began to rise once again as Dad made his way to the water well.  Back then he would not be able to turn a valve and run water in a trough.  He would have to drop a wooden bucket into their deep, cold water well, draw it up, carry it to the lot, and hand fill the trough.  It would take several trips to do it right.  But of course Dad was in no frame of mind to “do it right”.  As he reached the trough the old hard-working mule was waiting in anticipation.  In that moment Dad took out his anger toward his father on the poor old mule once again.  He told me he took the bucket of water and poured it over the mule’s head.  The mule fell dead!  Heat exhaustion and a bucket of cold water finished him off.  Well, what can I say, that’s the way my dad told the story.

Dad took off and hid from a sure beating.  Grandmother negotiated a “peace treaty”.  But it was done.  Dad said he pulled his feet out from under Gus Roberts’ table and never put them back again.  (He exaggerated that last part but that’s another story for another day.)  He “ran away” from home at sixteen, aided and abetted by his mother.

Uncle Sam Army Recruiting posterMy dad continues the story in this fashion.  His mother took him to the army recruiter in Fort Worth where he planned to lie about his age and sign up.  She would be complicit.  The recruiter, anxious to fill his quota, asked Daddy how much he weighed.  When he told him his guess (because Daddy had no idea), the recruiter looked concerned.  He told Daddy to do exactly what he told him.  These were his instructions.  Go find a half gallon of buttermilk and a handful of bananas.  Eat those bananas and drink that buttermilk in rapid succession.  Finish them off as you enter back through the door of this recruiting office.  Dad did exactly as he was told.  As he cleared the office door threshold the recruiter directed him to the scales.  Climbing on the scales, Dad held his breath.  He was so full he couldn’t catch his breath any way.  He made it, with an ounce or two to spare!  He was in!

I probably should add more context to Dad’s story.  The U.S. Armed Forces were not in very good shape as the year began in 1935.  The decision had been made not to provide military training to the thousands of young men working in the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).  They would remain civilian.  So, their presence and availability would not add to the country’s military readiness.  Meanwhile, many of the enlisted men and officers had begun to cycle out of the military before 1935.  Numbers were down when they needed to be going up.   By August of 1935 the U.S. Congress accepted the recommendation of General Douglas MacArthur and appropriated much larger amounts of resources to build up the military, especially the air and naval defensive strength.  Mom and I talked about this story over the holidays and she added additional context.  She said the older dairy boys, older than Dad, also went and signed up for the Army at the same time.  Apparently all the boys had been discussing a way off of the farm and “into some money” and independence.  The Army’s stepped up recruitment provided them their opportunity.  A dead mule lit the fuse!  Mom said the dairy boys’ parents were not happy and were eventually able to buy their military obligation off and bring their sons home.  Dad was in for the duration.

My dad’s story reminds me of a joke I first heard over twenty-five years ago.  There was an eighteen-year-old young man exasperated by his parents.  He told them he was leaving.  When asked why, he told them he was tired of being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  He wanted his freedom.  He felt he was old enough to make his own decisions.  He was leaving.  They asked him what he was planning to do.  He responded, “I’m thinking about joining the Marines”!

Burton Lee Roberts Army
An “extra” young “18” year old Burton Lee

Burton Lee Roberts “ran away” from home when his was sixteen.  It was 1935.  He was in the Army now!



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