Burton Lee Roberts and The Ghost of Christmas Past

“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Scrooge.

“I am!”

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if, instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

“Who and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“Long Past?” inquired Scrooge; observant of its dwarfish stature.

“No. Your past.”

Perhaps Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

“What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow?”

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having willfully “bonneted” the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:

“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.

“Rise! and walk with me!”

(Quote from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

 

Skecth from The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Skecth from The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Some people seek to extinguish the light of their past, when in fact, that light is the beginning of our reclamation.  Let us rise and walk.  Let us raise our past as a means to enter our future.

Photo from early 1960s Christmas card
Photo from early 1960s Christmas card

Everything about my dad’s behavior suggested he loved Christmas.  He became as giddy as a school child, something I think he missed growing up.  His involvement and participation in family activities virtually went “through the roof” at Christmas.  He secured the tree and set it up.  It was Mom’s and our job to decorate it.  He collaborated

Dad oversees the excitement.
Dad oversees the excitement.

with Mom to buy the gifts and selected many all on his own.  He really knew what a little boy wanted!  I think my mother did most of the wrapping but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dad helped.  He posed for Christmas picture postcards one year (See above).  He bought the long play Christmas albums that filled our house with seasonal cheer.  He was the last one to bed on the eve and the first one up on The Day.  Long before light he made sure no one else could sleep by pounding up and down the hall on those old wooden floors in our seventy-year-old pier-and-beam house.  One year he was so excited about an unknown

The Christmas watch stand
The Christmas watch stand

gift from our neighbor Colonel Garrison that he instituted, for the one and only time mind you, an “open one gift on Christmas Eve” policy.  His was a gold pocket watch stand.  It was meant to hold an old Elgin railroad watch he bought from me for $3.00 back in the 4th grade!  (That’s another story for another day.)  The watch and stand set on my desk for many years and now occupies the top of a foldout desk positioned behind my work area.  With the exception of one year, Christmas was my favorite time to be alive and belong to the Bob Roberts’ household.

My dad had ghosts from his Christmases past.  My older brother David observes the strain in his memoirs, “…I know that Dad and Grandpa didn’t get along very well and I never saw Dad show any affection toward Nanny…” [1][i](That’s Dad’s mother, our grandmother).  David makes this statement even though most of people thought of Dad as a “hugger”.  There was clearly some “history” in those relationships.

I was the middle child and the second child of the same sex in our little family.  I had all the symptoms.  I was a pest and had an insatiable curiosity (nothing to do with being a middle child).  I constantly peppered Dad with questions.  On the very rare occasion he allowed me to peak into his pain, it was hard for me to understand.  I remember pestering him one day about his dad.  I had spent so little time with Papoo and he was so reserved, I knew almost nothing more than what I observed.  So, I kept peppering Daddy, “What was your dad like?”   “What was Papoo like?”   Finally frustrated, he blurted out, “He was a mean, old, bitter, blankety blank!”  But he didn’t say blankety blank!  I backed off that day and later thought as I crawled toward adulthood, how much those very words could be used to describe Dad.  He had become what he perceived his father to be.  We both needed some understanding, some healing.

Dad’s “ghosts” from his past chased him into his future – and “haunted” him.  He had “demons” he allowed to control him.  He had an addictive personality.  He was angry and often depressed.  He was a binge alcoholic.  Once he started drinking he couldn’t stop.  He was one of those who had to stay completely away from alcohol.  If he chose to drink, it would eventually lead to the loss of a job and income for his family.  He joined Alcoholics Anonymous for a while and had modest success.  But the “ghosts” of his past drove him to the darkness rather than the light.  One year it would be on Christmas.  No season was immune from the “ghosts”.

Unlike his parents, Dad and Mom were not religious.  I’ve often joked that the only time I heard God mentioned in our home growing up was when it had a “damn” attached to it.  They allowed us to go to church but I can’t remember seeing them in a church service more than once or twice.  Dad had little time for religion or religious people.  Yet he was instrumental in my own salvation.  Here’s how.  (1) Dad taught me to respect and respond to authority.  He was a strict disciplinarian.  (2) I didn’t want to become like my dad.  So, when the Supreme Authority of the universe invited me into His grace through Jesus Christ, I responded in the affirmative.  Dad had taught me to respect and respond to authority.  Six years later I entered the ministry.  I eventually developed into a very religious person and I don’t mean this in a good way.

One week while attending a Christian conference the Lord helped me understand the principle and the power of a negative focus.  I had been so focused on not becoming like Dad that I became “just like” him.  Oh, I didn’t smoke, drink or cuss.  I didn’t have all of the same addictions.  But, I was proud, boastful, opinionated, angry, controlling and at times controlled by my own “ghosts”.  I had become like my dad.  I needed to be forgiven and to forgive.  And to top off the week, God impressed me to go home to Dad; not to confront him about the failures of his past but to ask his forgiveness! Honestly, I had already forgiven him for any real or imagined mistreatment in my past.  It was time for me to ask his forgiveness.  Here’s why.  For many years, through my relationship with Jesus, I had the power to respond correctly to my dad and any perceived wrongs.  I had not availed myself of His strength.  I too was angry and bitter.  I needed Dad to forgive me for my wrong responses.  So I made a trip home to see him.  It would be our third and final significant spiritual conversation.  He forgave me.

A few years before Dad’s death I learned something I believe eased some of his pain.  I’ve written about it previously.  I learned Dad’s grandmother had been convicted of participating in the murder of his grandfather.  Dad’s dad never really knew his father and was raised as an orphan.  Maybe this knowledge helped him understand Gus Roberts, his dad, a little better.  Maybe he knew that even though it did’nt excuse his dad’s misdeeds, it did help us to potentially understand them.  Maybe.

For the last eight years of Dad’s life, he was as “sober as a judge”.  In fact, he was a judge!  I think Dad enjoyed those years and I know Mom did.  He was eventually named Citizen of the Year in Krum, Texas and buried with honors in 1988.

Rest in Peace Dad.  Your story will be told.

I share this because I can only share Dad’s story from my perspective.  I need the reader to understand what this perspective is.  I have the historical record.  I have my memories.  I have the relationship we shared.  I don’t have the final say.  I’m not the final judge.  I’m someone who believes in bringing the past into the light to propel us into a better future.  And dear grandchildren, never forget, I am the “teller of tales”.

______________________________________

“What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole train of years to wear it low upon my brow?”

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having willfully “bonneted” the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.

(Charles Dickens from A Christmas Carol)

 

[i] My Journey:  The Autobiography and Family History of David L. Roberts by David Lee Roberts.  January 2015.

Merry Christmas to my gracious readers of this simple blog.  I’m grateful and thankful for you!

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.

 

Genealogy Tip #9: Writing Family Stories and the Genealogical Proof Standards

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”?[i]

Writing Our Family StoriesMany family storytellers aren’t interested in genealogical proof standards.  They’re simply telling stories to entertain.  That’s their goal.  I applaud the storyteller.  I love a good story.  But, the family historian can’t afford to adopt this attitude.  Their goal must first be accuracy and then entertainment.  Otherwise, it’s not history and they’re not a family historian.  So, let’s be clear, this post is not about family stories vs. genealogical proof standards.  It’s about family stories and genealogical proof standards.  It’s about how we take well researched family facts and use them to tell accurately entertaining stories – and if we can’t, we should make it clear we’re only repeating a family tale.

I visited a “family history” website this past week that illustrates the clash.  The writer warned me in the first few lines not to trust all of the things written about their family on the internet (Sites and trees other than theirs is what they had in mind.).  One page later they inform us their ancestors welcomed Davy Crockett into their home in Tennessee as he made his way to the Alamo.  They further claim their ancestors were neighbors to another Republic of Texas history legend, Edward Burleson.[ii]  This is done without any reference to one scintilla of evidence supporting such claims.  Is this a problem? Yes? No? Maybe?  Tell the story.  It’s not a “crime”.  It’s not the problem.  To repeat it as historical fact or as if it were historically accurate IS a problem.

Family stories are told in many forms all over the world.  This isn’t a problem.  If you’re telling family stories, you’re not in trouble – even if they’re speculative and knowingly or unknowingly inaccurate.  However, if you tell these unsubstantiated stories as if they’re historical facts and you expect other family trees to reflect your “notion of the truth”, this is a problem.  And if you’re reading and repeating these stories as “gospel truth”, you’re participating in and propagating a problem.

Family stories and genealogical proof standards are not incongruous.  You need not decide one or the other.  You can choose both.  Here are some suggestions.

First, Understand the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Genealogical Standards book cover“Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as “proved.” Acceptable conclusions, therefore, meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:

  • reasonably exhaustive research;
  • complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item;
  • tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence;
  • resolution of conflicts among evidence items; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

Each element contributes to a conclusion’s credibility in a different way, described in the table below, but all the elements are necessary to establish proof.

Element of the GPS Contribution to Credibility
Reasonably exhaustive research
  • Assumes examination of a wide range of high quality sources
  • Minimizes the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion
Complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item
  • Demonstrates the extent of the search and the quality of the sources
  • Allows others to replicate the steps taken to reach the conclusion. (Inability to replicate the research casts doubt on the conclusion.)
Tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence
  • Facilitates sound interpretation of the data contributed by each source
  • Ensures that the conclusion reflects all the evidence
Resolution of conflicts among evidence items
  • Substantiates the conclusion’s credibility. (If conflicting evidence is not resolved, a credible conclusion is not possible.)
Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
  • Eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence
  • Explains how the evidence led to the conclusion “

(The previous quote is taken from the Board for Certification of Genealogist blog[iii])

This should be the standard for our family history research.

Need more information?  Consider these excellent resources:

Next, Understand the Purpose(s) of Our Stories

Why do we tell our family stories?

  1. Inform and Encourage. Knowing our family’s history helps us find “our place”.  We gain a sense of belonging and find value in our family members’ accomplishments and place in history.
  2. Inspire. We tell our family stories to inspire family members and others to greatness.  “Common people” accomplishing uncommon things inspires us to rise to a greater finish.
  3. Warn. We share our family’s stories as a warning to ourselves and others.  We all have “black sheep” in our families.  (They’re some of my favorites.)  Telling their stories in our “tales” warns us about our present path or our possible future.  Someone will tell our story one day.  Will it inspire or warn off a future generation?
  4. Entertain. Our stories may inform, encourage, inspire or even warn.  They should also entertain.  Think about it.  If our goal is to inform and inspire, aren’t we more likely to accomplish this if we’re also entertaining?

What makes our stories entertaining? 

I would be the last person to tell you how to write.  I’m woefully inadequate.  I do, however, have a fair ability to recognize a good story and a good storyteller.  They can articulate or at least know intuitively their story needs three parts.  (Don’t think beginning, middle and end.)  Think instead of your favorite stories/movies.  What do they have in common?  Every good story has three ingredients:

  • Origination. The listener/reader needs to be drawn in and at the same time oriented to the main character and crisis in the story.  It grabs, excites, introduces, informs and compels the reader/listener forward into the story.  The first part of a good origination could be a sentence, paragraphs or chapters in length.  For example, “James Williams was short in stature but he was guaranteed another inch or two from the hangman’s noose.”  Conflict (inner or outer) in one form or another is always introduced in this first part.  To have a story, something has to go wrong.
  • The conflict escalates. Things may get better, but they eventually get worse.  There may be a series of improvements but if there is, things continue to get worse after each one.  It’s a roller-coaster of emotions as you learn more and care more about the main character and feel stronger angst toward his combatants.  Impending doom is approaching.  “…James’ attorney had located his third potential witness to alibi his client and save him from the gallows, but like the previous two, he too disappeared.”  The tension builds.
  • Resolution.  The story is brought to a conclusion when the initial conflict is brought to a resolution.  In the fictional stories I used to tell my children, the hero always won.  But, that’s not always possible when telling historically accurate stories.  Sometimes James Williams is hung.

There is a wealth of information on “what makes a good story”.  Google it.  Read a book about it.  Take a course.  Practice. Practice.  Practice.  But never stop learning or trying to make your stories entertaining.  Our improving ability to tell our stories will increase the likelihood our family histories will be known, cherished and repeated.

Use the comment section to share any “what makes a good story” material you know of to help family history writers.

Now, Combine the two disciplines.

Here’s how we transform our family research into entertaining, historical, uncompromised family stories.

  1. Use the Genealogical Proof Standards as a guideline in your family research. Have a story to tell based on historical facts demonstrated by historical, genealogical evidence.  Catalog and save your documentation.  Use endnotes to share your sources.
  2. Write or tell your story based on the facts you’ve uncovered and documented. Write your story using the guidelines on what makes a good story.  It will take time and practice but you can do it.  Make it a good story.  Make it a true story.  Use accurate, documented facts.
  3. If you feel you must tell your relative’s tall tale (or short tale) about your ancestor, or you just want to tell it, clearly identify it as a historically unsubstantiated tale.

Writing our family’s history is fun and entertaining.  To be history, it needs to be accurate.  We’re not creating fictional families.  We’re family historians.  We’re uncovering history.  We tell the rich story of our ancestors.  Knowing their true stories adds richness to our lives.  Telling their stories well adds richness to the lives of others.

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Now, let’s go write those entertaining stories!

[i] According to Barry Popik this phrase or a form of it is often credited to Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie but it appeared in print as early as 1882 or six years before Dobie was born.

[ii] The website mentioned in this example is real but being withheld in order to…well, protect my possible cousin!

[iii] Board for Certification of Genealogist.

[iv] Available at Amazon.

[v] Available at Amazon.

[vi] Available at Amazon.

Genealogy Tip #8: Power Researching!

Here’s the situation.  You’re researching multiple family lines.  You have an opportunity to visit an excellent genealogical library or research facility miles or even days away from where you live.  You’ll have limited time, a day or two, to be in the facility.  How do you maximize your time and carry home the most amount of information?  Try what I call power researching.

Here’s what you need:

  • A small camera or phone camera with plenty of photo file storage capability and/or scanning capability. It must be able to capture excellent images without a flash and have a removable battery that can be easily changed.  I use a Cannon Power Shot A4000 IS.  You’ll waste valuable time if you have to stop to charge your phone or tablet.
  • Photo software with editing capability on your computer, laptop or tablet.
  • An extra battery for your photo/scanning device
  • A charger to recharge your spent battery while you continue to work with your fresh battery.
  • You may want to use a tripod or other device for you photo work. They just slow me down.
  • Pen and paper
  • A flash drive.
  • The research guide you’ve prepared. (Explained below)

Here’s what you do before you go:

  • Prepare a simple research guide. What surnames are you researching, in which locations and for what date ranges.  Know the counties’ histories and boundary changes and remember, your ancestors often registered documents in adjacent counties because it was more convenient.  For example, my Horn or Horne relatives arrived in what I believe is current day Wilson County, Tennessee sometime after 1791 (Wilson county did not exist in 1791) and had, to my knowledge, moved on by about 1836.  I would need to research no fewer than seven counties:  Sumner, Davidson, Wilson, Smith, Rutherford, Warren and Cannon for those early date ranges!  So I would write down the main target surnames, their known allied surnames, the county names in which I may find a record of their presence and the date range I may expect to find them there.  Don’t forget alternate spellings.
  • Go online and search the target library or research center’s catalog. Prioritize the order of your search by the roadblock you are trying to remove or most coveted surnames.  Put in the search query.  For example, I would put in Wilson County, Tennessee and look for deed books, will books, histories, tax lists, etc. all in the appropriate date range.  I would copy and paste the catalog information, especially the call numbers, into a document in my word processor.  I would then repeat the process for each potential county.  Remember to prioritize.  You’re preparing the guide you will use when you visit the facility.  You need your list to be progressing from most important in your research to least.  Only you can determine this order.  If I’m visiting a good facility for the first time, it’s not unusual for me to have eight to ten pages in my guide.
  • Print out the guide you’ve built. Then write the appropriate surnames beside each document title on your list.  This will be critical in getting the most out of your time.
  • Charge your camera battery and your spare battery. Have an extra data storage disk.  Pack your charger!  When you change a battery out, put the used one in the charger.
  • Make certain you know the location and times the facility will be open. Don’t trust the times you find on a website!  Call the week before you go and confirm with a person their times and policies concerning non-flash photography (By the way, if your camera has a “silent” mode, please use it.)
  • Take a flash drive with you. (sometimes called a thumb drive or memory stick).  If you find data on a facility computer/microfilm reader, you may be able to simple plug in your flash drive and download the information to take home with you.  This saves you the time and expense of copying.
  • Plan your meals. I usually pack a lunch (or dinner depending on the hours the facility is open).  I want to control and limit my time away from gathering “gold”.

Here’s what you do when you arrive:

  • Be at the facility when it opens.Gary power researching in San Antonio 2015
  • Proceed through any check-in process necessary for the facility, get oriented, select a research table nearest your work and head to the stacks with the research guide you prepared.
  • Find and collect the first five or six books and/or documents from the top of your list and return to your table.
  • On a sheet of paper, you brought with you, write down the title and author of the first book. Under this write the surnames appropriate to this book down the left side of your paper allowing room between each surname and alternate spelling.  I try to do this in alphabetical order to hasten the later process.
  • Search the index of the first book. (If your document does not have an index, you’ll need to determine if you should take the time to research it the “old fashioned way”, photo or copy the entire document now or take time to search it or copy it later in the day.)  Now, use the names you wrote on your paper.  These will be your family surnames and allied families from the appropriate county and times.  Beside each name found in the index, write the page numbers where these names appear in the book.  You are preparing your “photo guide”.  Do this for each name on your paper for this specific book.
  • Begin photographing. I do it in this sequence.  Photograph the outside cover of the book, then the title and copyright pages.  If you like, photograph the forward or introduction.  Photograph any explanations of abbreviations, etc.  which may later assist you.  Photograph the hand written page you have just prepared.  Now, begin photographing each page number beside the names you have written down.  Save time and trouble by photographing both pages facing you.  Don’t peak at the information.  It’ll slow you down.  (OK, I confess.  If it’s a brick wall subject, I always peak.)  Continue this process through each of the names and pages on your list.  Photograph maps or diagrams you stumble across in the volume.  Then repeat the process for each book on the table preparing and photographing a page for each one.
  • When you’re finished with the first five or six books, place them on the return carts (do not re-shelve them) and find the next five or six books on your list. Repeat the process as before until you finish your entire list or have to go home.

When you arrive home:

  • Download all of your images. Hopefully your photo editing software collects your download/upload dump into one file.  (I believe the most I’ve collected from one facility is 996 over two full days.)
  • I name this one file with the name of the city, facility and date of the visit.
  • I create sub-folders within this one main folder. The sub-folders are named according to the titles of the books from which I gathered the images.  These images should be numbered in sequential order by your camera and/or photo software.  Keep those image designations.  Do Not Change Them.  Do not rename them.  Now, simply collect the proper images for each titled folder (the title of a book or document) and deposit them in the folder.  I now possess the images pertinent to my research in the proper folders for each book I photographed.
  • NOW the work begins! I must, at my own pace, go through each page and mine out the “gold” for my research while carefully documenting my sources.  Then I can analyze the data and better tell my family’s story.
  • Backup! Backup! Backup!  Backup all data using multiple resources.
  • Finally, I prepare a hard copy file folder for the trip and place the research guide and name pages I prepared for each book or document in this file.

I’m fortunate to live “down the street” from some excellent genealogical research resources.  But, they don’t have everything I need and I can’t get everything I need online – not even barely.  If I’m going to go through the time and expense to travel to a research facility, I want to gather as much “gold” as I can.  I’m sure you feel the same way.  This is just one idea how you might do it.

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Happy backtracking!

A Genealogical Thanksgiving

I’m thinking of a Genealogical Thanksgiving and wondering why I’m only now, today, thinking of it.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17 NIV Bible

 

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—

1 Timothy 2:1 NIV Bible

 

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV Bible

Sarah Hale wrote to five presidents seeking to have a day of Thanksgiving recognized by all citizens of all states of the United States on the same day.  Here is part of her letter.

“You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”[i]

Abraham Lincoln received her letter in the middle of a war threatening to tear the union apart.  He established our tradition of a national holiday for giving thanks in 1863.  (The Confederate States waited until 1870 to join the fun!)  We’ve been, since then, celebrating the fourth Thursday of November as this singular national day of giving thanks in America.

I wonder why we feel the need to choose one day or why we feel we have to “order” proper behavior.  But, that’s another discussion for another day.

The fact is, it is more consistent with the teachings of the Bible and healthier to be thankful every day.  And genealogists and family historians have much to be thankful for every day.  Here are a few reminders, some things for which I am thankful as a family historian.

  1. A rich and varied family history with which I never bore. I’m about to begin my 4th year of research in my family history.  (I know; it seems like forever for some of my poor living family members.)  I’ve discovered the men and women in both of our family lines were all here before the Revolution.  All of my ancestral lines where in America 100 years before Lincoln “ordered” thankfulness — and some earlier.   Their stories illustrate the very fiber of this nation and are revealed one fact at a time.  Simple, common things fire my imagination.  I found my great-great-grandfather Riggs in the 1860 Federal Census from Denton County, Texas.  His occupation is “Master Cabinet Maker”.  His immediate neighbor’s occupation is given as “Cabinet Maker” and no doubt was my relative’s apprentice.  Stephen Riggs’ name appears in a recent book on early influential Texas furniture makers.  I know it’s crazy but uncovering these simple details still excites me and for such a rich family history, I am thankful.
  2. Family research facilities. There are sections of libraries and a growing number of stand-alone facilities for researching family history.  These include national, state and local centers.  Billions of clues and facts about families can’t be found online.  They are more available and accessible now than ever.  I am thankful.
  3. Friendly staff in county courthouses. If you’re going to research your family, you’ll need to be in county courthouses.  I always appreciate it when I meet courteous and helpful clerks.  I’ve met a bunch of them over the past three years, but the best example so for are the ladies in the county clerks’ office in Lamar County, Texas.  When I meet people like these folks, I am thankful.
  4. The Internet. You can’t do all of your research online but you can do more now than ever.  And you can do it in your pajamas!  (Only if you’re at home.  Don’t do it when you’re using the computers in a library or research facility.)  Family Search, Ancestry and a growing number of business minded companies are offering services to family researchers that can be accessed from home.  Add to this the Internet Archives and the millions of pages of others’ research now available online and you see why I’m thankful.
  5. Genealogical Proof Standards. The practice of these standards by family researchers is what keeps the sanity in the genealogical universe.  It also helps me know I’m on the right “trail” as I backtrack the common.  I am thankful.
  6. Helpful fellow researchers. They’re everywhere in the genealogical community.  Their clues are invaluable and their information is sometimes right!  I am thankful.
  7. DNA testing is available and cheap. The use of DNA for genealogical purposes is exploding.  The testing is simple.  The results and the software to help you understand and keep track of your results are improving.  You can now find cousins without doing the hard work of building an accurate family tree.  I don’t recommend it.  You’ll get much more out of your DNA results if you’ll build a five generation deep pedigree chart and then have your DNA tested.  I am thankful.
  8. I am thankful for all of the new cousins I’ve found through research and DNA. If you’re one of them, I want you to know I’m thankful!
  9. I’m thankful for my wife Dee who supports and assists me in my research.  We’ve been traveling together now for over 40 years and I am thankful.

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody!

[i] Sarah Hale’s original letter to President Lincoln is in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

I’ve Been Nominated!

Leibster AwardI’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award.  Don’t worry Mom, it’s better than it sounds.  In fact, it’s something quite wonderful.  The Liebster (from the German word for dear, beloved or sweetheart) Award is an award given to bloggers by bloggers.  It’s a pay-it-forward-way to encourage fellow writers to keep writing.  Given to bloggers with less than 200 followers (Boy can I meet that threshold!) the award’s origins are clouded in mystery.  To receive the award you must answer your nominator’s questions on your blog and then nominate three bloggers to receive the award.

Thank you Melissa from Finlay Family. org for my nomination!  Here are my answers to her questions:

1. Why did you decide to start your blog, and what is the emphasis of your blog?

Two reasons:  I wanted to use my blog to encourage me to write about my family research, to put my research in a form my family and others could enjoy.  Secondly, I was so new to genealogy and making so many mistakes that I hope to write some research tips to save other new family historians some time, trouble and money.  I focus on the four main lines of my parents’ parents and all the offshoots of these four people.  I also throw in tips for other family historians.

2. What is your favorite post that you have written? (include a link, please!)

The one I’m writing NOW about my great-grandfather’s death.  I hope to post the first installment in a few of days.  This is actually a hard question because I get excited about most things I decide to write.  I suppose “Happy Trails” was as enjoyable to me as anything I’ve written to date.

3. What goals do you have for your blog in the next year?

Like most bloggers, I would like more consistancy.  I want to research better and write better.  I want to publish at least twice each week.  I want to know my blog is helpful and entertaining.

4. How long have you been interested in your family history?

I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity, which at time has gotten me into trouble.  I’ve also enjoyed history and love the large nuclear family God gave us.  I suppose all of this comes together to “create” a family historian.  But honestly, it’s only been a little more than three years that I’ve taken a real interest in documenting our family’s past.  I think my age may have something to do with that!  I wish I had started earlier.  I wish I had asked more questions, sooner.  I’m happy I can do it now.

5. What do you enjoy most about blogging/writing?

Two things: it forces me to put into words and on “paper” the things I’m learning.  And, it allows me to leave behind something for my children and grandchildren.

6. List a few of your favorite blogs.

Here are three of my favorite genealogical blogs:

7. If you could choose any vacation destination, where would you go, and why?

When I find the origin the first Roberts in my family line to imigrate to America, I would like to go there.  And/or any place my wife wants to go is fine with me!  Good answer!

My nominations for the Liebster Award Are….

Each of these nominees easily exceeds anything I have accomplished and are worthy of your consideration.

  1. Jake Fletcher at Travelogues of a Genealogist
  2. Michelle Ganus Taggart at A Southern Sleuth
  3. Larry and Gayle at Family Roots and Branches

Should they choose to accept my nomination, they will need to post their answers to the following questions and nominate three other bloggers for the award.

  1. What are your top two motivations for blogging?
  2. Describe your early attempts at blogging?
  3. Describe your immediate family and share how, if in any way, they influence your blogging?
  4. What is the favorite blog you’ve written and please share a link to it?
  5. Describe how your research and blogging influence each other.
  6. If you had only one thing to say to your readers, what would it be?

I look forward to reading my nominees’ responses.  Congratulations!

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…?

Methodists Among the Cherokee

Jeremiah Horn was a Methodist or should I write, “a methodist”.  In the beginning he was not a Methodist by denomination, but by conversion.  He was a methodist by personal experience.  Those who followed the Wesley brothers methods of holiness and devotion, and who brought the gospel into the American wilds, made an impact on his life.  Some of these men were part of other groups but all were “methodists” in their practices.  He named one of his sons Charles Wesley Horn after the famous preacher. He named another son after the influential Methodist minister mentioned below, James J. Trott.  Jeremiah became driven by his own call to preach Christ and did so vigorously.  To our knowledge he had little formal education.  He worked with his hands to provide for himself and family and preached when he wasn’t working (and sometimes when he was!)

Jeremiah Horn ministered in Cherokee Nation East as early as 1818.  He voluntarily moved to Indian Territory in the west  in 1834 as part of the early removal of the Cherokee.  He would be named in that year by the Methodist Conference (now you can read “denomination”) as their missionary to the Cherokee.  By 1846 he was in Collin County, Texas as part of the Peters Colony.  He went on to establish churches and “ride the circuit” while running a farm, blacksmithing and hauling freight with his sons.  He died in 1867.

Below is a quote concerning Methodist missions among the Cherokee people in the early days.

Methodist Missions

With their uneducated but caring circuit riders and their “four-day” or protracted camp meetings that resembled Cherokee all-night dances and extended camping, Methodists converted more Cherokees than all the other denominations combined. Their Arminian approach minimized atonement and the recognition of saints. Salvation was an open door, and sinners had free wills. In 1823 the first circuit riders were appointed in Tennessee near the site of John Ross‘s home, south of Chattanooga. Their emphasis was not on model farms and boarding schools but rather on itinerant and emotional ministry.
However, the Methodists, yielding to Cherokee wishes, did open six-month day schools at Oothcaloga and Pinelog, along with semipermanent churches: barely literate but enthusiastic, the main ministers were Richard Neely, Nicholas D. Scales, Dickson C. McLeod, and James J. Trott, all of whom married Cherokee women. Within four years Methodists accepted Cherokees as licensed preachers and traveling exhorters, among whom were Young Wolf, Turtle Fields, John Spears, William McIntosh, and John Fletcher Boot. In 1829 Methodism achieved a milestone when the church admitted the Ross brothers, John and Lewis, as members; the former had a home at New Echota. By 1830 Methodists had claimed more than 1,000 members.

(From New Georgia Encyclopedia Online)

Jeremiah Horn would have known all of the men mentioned in this article.  He may have been related by marriage to more than one of them.  Keep following the clues…

Burton Lee Roberts ca 1938

Burton Lee Roberts ca 1938 near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  Dad joined the Army Air Corp in 1935.  He served as a DI for the 26th General Hospital Group's military training in 1941.  He then joined the unit and trained with them in their hospital/medical training eventually serving in North Africa and Italy during WWII.
Burton Lee Roberts ca 1938 near Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Dad joined the Army Air Corp in 1935. He served as a DI for the 26th General Hospital Group’s military training in 1941. He then joined the unit and trained with them in their hospital/medical training eventually serving in North Africa and Italy during WWII.

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/