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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 ge·ne·al·o·gy

a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we tell our family’s story?

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

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

Four suggestions for writing your family stories:

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

Some practical ways to involve our families in their history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy backtracking!

Gary Roberts 

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

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

Burton Lee Roberts: A Tip of the Cap

My dad was born in the small Texas Hill Country town named after his grandfather, a grandfather he never knew.  He knew neither of his grandfathers.  His father knew neither of his grandfathers.  His grandfather John Anderson Roberts knew only one of his grandfathers, his mother’s father.  I assume he knew him because they lived in the same part of Williamson County, Tennessee for the first fourteen years of my great-grandfather’s life and the last fourteen years of my 3 x great grandfather William Giles’ life.  He died in 1844.  There weren’t many models for parenting and grand parenting in our Roberts line.

Burton Lee Roberts was born in Ingram, Texas on February 24, 1919.  It was a Monday.  I doubt Dad ever knew that.  I wonder if it surprised Dad to discover he wasn’t given a name on the day he was born?  My grandfather had to apply for the following amended certificate in 1977.  My Dad’s original name?  — Roberts.  No given name.

B.L. Roberts ammended birth certificate

That’s one reason I’ve titled these most recent posts using Dad’s full given name.  His

Burton and BG Chessman
Burton and BG Chessman

name was Burton Lee Roberts.  He was, to the best of my detective work, named after his mother’s sister BG Chessman’s husband and his mother Emma Lee Ingram Roberts.  I suspect his naming was delayed because my grandfather Gus was not in attendance at Dad’s birth and probably not even in town.

Ingram is a small town in western Kerr County located about 83 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas.  My great-grandfather J.C.W. Ingram located his store and post office on the original wagon road from San Antonio to San Angelo in 1883.  The historical markers all say he bought the land from the Morriss family in 1879 but the recorded deed is clear, it was 1883.  The six acres were part of the original Francisco Trevino land grant.  The Ingrams could not have been there in 1879 because they didn’t leave California for Texas until December of 1881.  I’ve documented and written more about that in an earlier post.

In the times in which Dad was born, it was common for expectant mothers to temporarily move in with or very near their mother or other female relative who would assist with the birth and/or after-care.  My widowed great-grandmother’s name was Sarah Alice “Sally” Ingram.   She was the offspring of a Nichols/Neely union from Williamson County before their families migrated to Texas.   She would later accompany her pharmacist/preacher husband to Carrizo Springs, Texas where my grandmother Emma was born in 1898.  She returned to her home in Kerr County after J.C.W.’s death.  Great Grandmother Sally’s presence was no doubt the reason Grandmother Emma Lee was in Ingram the day my dad arrived.  So, where was his father Gus?  I suspect he was 83 miles away, a two or three-day journey, in San Antonio, Texas.  It’s all supposition on my part.  Gus Roberts registered for the World War I draft in September of 1918.1918 Gus Roberts WWI Draft Reg. side 1 only  The war would end two months later and another two months later my dad arrived.  Gus and Emma were newlyweds living in San Antonio according to his registration.  They lived at 2118 Nebraska St.  He worked for Otis Elevator Company and was probably at work the Monday morning his firstborn child arrived – OR, he joined the service and was away.  There are some unknowns here I have yet to uncover – a matter of an early photo of a young granddad Gus in a military looking uniform.  (???) I love a good mystery!

My Dad answered to several names.  According to Veteran Affairs records (Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011) he was Burton Roberts.  According to the Social Security Administration record “Nov 1938: Name listed as BURTON LEE ROBERTS; 11 Mar 1988: Name listed as BURTON L ROBERTS”.  (Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.)  Thus the S.S. Death Index list him as Burton L. Roberts.  (Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.)  He often signed his name B.L. Roberts.  Therefore, when I wrote or spoke of him through the years I’ve referred to him as “B.L.” or “Old B.L.”  His friends and family of his generation called him “Bob”.  My children call him “PawPaw”.  These were some of the names of Burton Lee Roberts.

My dad had one more name I’ll mention.  It was a name few called him.  In fact, I’m the only one I remember ever calling him by this name.  In my precocious teen years, I began calling my dad “Pop”.  I doubt many even noticed, but he did.  We talked about in one day.  I brought it up.  I asked him if it was okay with him.  His response, “I don’t care what you call me.”  But I think he liked it.  I know I did.

"Charlie and Lee Chan"
“Charlie and Lee Chan”

The idea came from the old Charlie Chan mystery movies.  Actor Keye Luke played Lee Chan in the majority of those old black and whites.  He was the oldest son of the main character, detective Charlie Chan.  In the series he called his father “Pop”.  He was the first one I remember using the term and the only one of the Chan children (ten or eleven I believe) who called their father by this name.  It could have been seen as insolent in their culture (or mine for that matter); but it felt endearing to me.  It must have felt that way to the writers of the series because Charlie never corrects his son.  Dad never corrected me.

Grandparents don’t always have a say in what their grandchildren eventually call them – but they generally try.  The fact is most of us are stuck with the name our first grandchild can pronounce.  When my wife Dee (MeMaw) and I were discussing what we wanted our first grandchild to call us, I said I wanted to be called “Pop”.  It stuck.  It’s my tip of the cap to “Old B.L.”.

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!

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…

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/

J.C.W. Ingram

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

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

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

Source:  Google Books online as of August 17, 2015

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

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

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

Unwrapping Family

When it comes to present day family, we’re generally pulled in one of two directions.

  1. The family I grew up in was near perfect and that’s the way family should be.
  2. The family I grew up in was a mess and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

These are not correct but they’re the directions in which most of us are pulled.

Our twenty-four year old neighbor ran up to Dee and me while we were standing in our front yard last week.  We’ve known him since he was in the 3rd grade.  He blurted out something like, Mr. Gary, Miss Dee I’ve just got to know, do you ever argue?  Do you ever have disagreements?  I’ve known you most of my life and I’ve never seen you fight or disagree with one another.  LOL!  We assured him we have had many “lively discussions” through our married life.  We intentionally left our children and others out of these by having them in private.  We may have made a mistake.  For example, our friend was relieved to know we “fought”.  The idea of an ideal family is a myth.

Family dynamics can be a strange animal.  What is right to some can feel wrong to others.  What is normal to us is very abnormal to others.  Does that make us right?  I don’t think so.

These thoughts began to churn in my mind after visiting with a distant cousin and fellow family history enthusiast.  I “met” her after putting an ad in the Murray County, KY newspaper two years ago.  I was looking for Roberts’ family connections and knew next to nothing about them.  My cousin’s friend’s husband saw the ad and brought it to his wife’s attention.  His wife passed the information on to my cousin in another city.  She contacted me and the rest is as they say, family history!

She and I visited on the phone again last week and she shared an insightful nugget.  She said the Roberts family she knew could be cliquish.  They tended to stay to themselves and rarely had high regard for their mates’ families.  I thought about the family in which I grew up.  We knew so little about either side of our family and rarely saw or interacted with them, especially my mom’s.  I’m not sure of all the reasons for this.  I know Dad and his father, who had been raised as an orphan, rarely agreed.  He left home at 16, lied about his age and joined the military.  I’m not sure if it was always this way, but it seems that if you disagreed with dad or made him mad (not very difficult) he could just do without you.  He didn’t invite you to visit and he didn’t make an effort to visit you.  We rarely saw family.  My brother once correctly pointed out to me that if dad had not left his Veteran’s check coming to his parents address in Fort Worth we would have seen them even less.  I can’t remember ever meeting my mom’s father.  I thought I had a faint memory of meeting him once but after a conversation with her, I now realize it was actually my Grandfather Burns.  My memories are rare and cherished.

Is this the way our family is today?  No.  Not really.  I have some similar traits but we’re different in many ways.  I have tendencies but Dee helps me fight them.

Here is one way I’m very much like my dad.  If you can’t come see me or don’t want to come see me, I’m entirely okay with it.  I want you to do what you need to do.  I want you to do what you want to do.

Our ministry obligations early in marriage kept us from seeing our family as often as we would have liked.  I was no doubt primed and ready for this by my upbringing.  My parents understood this and were really great with it.  I never felt any pressure to visit them or perform in any way to meet their expectations.  They had a wonderful “come when you can” and “you’re always welcome” attitude, but don’t put yourself out.  I absolutely love this about mom and dad and believe it gave me the freedom to spend more time with my children.  Did I mention I love my mom and dad?

I’ve “given daughters away” and encouraged my sons to “leave their father and mother and cleave unto their wives”.  I often feel misunderstood and rarely ever (maybe never) asked to clarify my thinking.  I’ve told my grown children I’ll stay out of their lives unless they choose to invite me in.  (I know this doesn’t sound much like community.)  I want them to know they’re always welcome but never obligated.

Dee and I saw the conflict in families when you have hard fast traditions your children are expected to follow.  We chose not to have any.  We did holidays different, never doing them the same two years in a row.  Our grown and married children feel no obligation to be with us on the actual holidays and rarely ever are.  They’re usually off with their in-laws.  Good.  We took our kids on “nuclear family” vacations so we could have time away just to ourselves.  Was this good?  I don’t know.  We had regular meals and family discussions.  Was this good?  I think so.

We did things the way we did them.  Were they all right?  No.  Would we do some things different?  Yes.  Should you do things the way we did them?  No?  Should you consider doing some things differently?  Yes.

What part is nature and what part is nurture?  The good genealogist is always willing to consider both.

 

 

A Peek at My DNA Results

I sent my DNA samples off to Ancestry and Family Tree for autosomal testing in January.  While waiting for my results I hastily built a “cousin catching” online tree at Ancestry.  I received my results in March and enjoy the benefits to this day!

I plan to write a couple of full posts on DNA in the near future.  For now I want to highlight one benefit.

Autosomal DNA testing is a “family connections” type of testing.  That’s one way I think of it.  I’m told it allows you to find accurate connections to a maximum of 5 to 6 generations.  It allows you to connect on both your male and female sides.  The larger the test pool (total number of DNA contributors in any database), the more accurate the results.  I chose the two services with the largest and fastest growing databases.

My results give me a range or approximate amount of DNA compared to the known samples.  Both companies’ results were similar as you would hope they would be.  Here’s a broad overview.

I’m 99% European.  It breaks down with these approximate ranges:

  • Great Britain – Range 33% – 95% estimated at 65%
  • Scandinavia – Range 0% – 37% estimated at 16%
  • Ireland – Range 0% – 21% estimated at 9%
  • Europe West – Range 0% – 19% estimated at 6%
  • Italy/Greece – Range 0% – 4% estimated at 1%
  • Europe East – Range 0% – 5% estimated at 1%
  • European Jewish – Range 0% – 2% estimated at less than 1%
  • Caucasus Region – Range 0% – 3% estimated at less than 1%

Meaning

There’s nothing exciting here.  I’m about as white and European as you can get.  For generations now my ancestors have found and married others with genetic links to the same general part of the world.  Boring?  Those are the DNA facts and as you know in genealogy facts are good.

My DNA test results answers questions.

  • Who was my grandfather’s father?
  • Do I have Native American blood?
  • Am I related to a particular group of families?

My DNA test results help me make connections.

Some of the best fun and most productive genealogical results from DNA testing has been “meeting” so many wonderful new cousins.  They continue to add to my tree and my life.

One thing I would do different.

If I were doing it over, I would build a “cousin catching” tree on Family Tree like I did on Ancestry.  I encourage you to build a tree online and then order your DNA test.

A pleasant surprise

I wondered where my western European DNA originated and I think I found it!  I knew by the “paper trail” I’m related to the Nichols of Williamson County, Tennessee and Kerr County, Texas.   My Grandmother Emma Lee Ingram Roberts’ mother was a Nichols by birth.   I did not know until last week that through them I’m kin to the Schaffer family of South Carolina.  I found my newest and so far only sets of 5th generation great grandparents!  The paper trail clearly leads to:

Frederick Schaffer (1720 – 1786) and Maria E. Schaffer (1734 – 1787)

Johan G. Eichelberger (1729 – 1805) and Elizabeth C. Eichelberger 1740 – 1784)

The pleasant surprise?  All four were born in Germany.  Why is this pleasant to me?  Dee and I have two wonderful daughter-in-laws with clear and close German heritages (Katie and Katy).  In August we’ll add our third (Elizabeth)!  Well ladies, your husbands have always had the DNA in them.  And, by the way, 5 x great grandmother Eichelberger’s full name was Elizabeth Catherine Eichelberger!  I’m a proud great grandson and a proud father-in-law.

Thinking about DNA testing?  Build that simple pedigree tree.  Research your options.  Stay tuned.  Consider following this blog and signing up for updates.  I’ll post more on DNA in the future.

Happy hunting.

Dealing with Death Certificates

I love death certificates.  I sort of collect death certificates, well, at least for family history purposes.  They’re a wealth of information – and some of it is good!

Like all documents, the information contained on a death certificate is only as good as the informant. If the informant knows the correct dates, names or spellings, the document MAY be correct IF the document transcriber records it correctly.  As I wrote in an earlier post, good genealogists are good skeptics.

What can we learn about our ancestors from their death certificates?  What is the most valuable information found in these documents?  How should we approach them?  What cautions should we consider?

Consider the certificates of three brothers, three of my great grand uncles.

William F. Ashlock died 12 October 1922 in Wise County, Texas.  These facts and the cause of death are the most reliable facts on a death certificate.  Why?  Because they are the facts provided by an attending physician who is aware of the date, time and place of this event.  This information is found on the right side of the three samples we see here. We look here at only the left side of these samples.

1922 Ashlock, William F. Death Certificate

  • Place of death:  Decatur, Wise County, Texas
  • Name:  William F. Ashlock
  • Sex:  Male
  • Race:  White
  • Marital Status:  Widower
  • Date of birth:  March 18, 1837
  • Age:  85 yrs. 7 mo. 25 days
  • Occupation:  Farmer
  • Birthplace:  Illinois
  • Name of Father:  Joe Ashlock
  • Father’s birthplace:  Kentucky
  • Name of Mother:  Miss Elizabeth Norman
  • Mother’s birthplace:  Kentucky
  • Informant:  W. H. Ashlock
  • Address:  Decatur, Texas
  • File date and official who filed it:  November 6, 1922 by Carla Faith

Joshua Middleton Ashlock died 17 March 1923 in Wizard Wells, Jack County, Texas.

  • 1923 Ashlock, Joshua M. Death CertificatePlace of death:  Wizard Wells, Jack County, Texas.
  • Sex:  Male
  • Race:  White
  • Marital Status:  Married
  • Birth date:  March 27, 1848
  • Age at death:  74 yrs 11 mo 19 days
  • Occupation:  Farmer and Carpenter
  • Place of birth:  Dallas County, Texas
  • Father’s name:  Josiah Ashlock
  • Father’s birthplace:  Illinois
  • Mother’s name:  Elizabeth Nobles
  • Mother’s birthplace:  Illinois
  • Informant:  Mrs. Dora Crabb of Jean, Texas
  • Information recorded by Hattie E. Worley (I think.) on March 28, 1923

James Wesley Ashlock died July 23, 1936 in Wise County, Texas.

  • 1936 Ashlock, J Wesley death certificatePlace of death:  Wise County, Texas
  • Sex:  Male
  • Race:  White
  • Marital Status:  Married
  • Date of birth:  July 31, 1850
  • Age at death:  85 yrs 11 mo 22 days
  • Occupation:  Farmer, Retired
  • Date he last worked:  Dec. 1926
  • Years he worked at this occupation:  50
  • Birthplace:  Dallas, Texas
  • Father’s name:  Josiah Ashlock
  • Father’s birthplace:  Unknown
  • Mother’s name:  Elizabeth Norman
  • Mother’s birthplace:  Unknown
  • Informant:  G. C. Ashlock
  • Burial place and date:  Anneville Cemetery on July 24, 1936
  • Undertaker:  O.L. Christian of Decatur, Texas.
  • Filed July 28, 1936 by J.A. Chandler

Josiah Ashlock was born in 1814 in Anderson County, Tennessee.  He married my great, great grandmother Elizabeth Norman in Greene County Illinois in 1833.  She was born in Kentucky.  They began their family in 1834 with the birth of their daughter Nancy.  Their oldest son William F. arrived in 1837 followed by two daughters and a son. They arrived in Texas in about 1844 as part of the Peters Colony and settled on land along both sides of the Denton and Dallas County lines.  The original grant would be mostly north of the President George Bush Freeway east of where it intersects with with Stemmons Freeway (I – 35).  Joshua Middleton was the first of this Ashlock family to be born in Texas in 1849.  His younger brother James Wesley was born in July of 1850 also in Dallas County.  Josiah would die around 1852.  Elizabeth Norman Ashlock married my great, great grandfather Stephen Riggs.  He also had Peters Colony land surveyed in southeastern Denton County.  His first wife had died sometime before 1850.  My great grandmother Rachel Marinda Riggs would be born in Denton County in 1855.

So how did our three death certificate informants do at the death of these three Ashlock brothers?

The informant for William F. Ashlock was W. H. Ashlock.  I’m not sure who he was.  He may be a son or a grandson.  He knows his family.  He gets William’s birth date, birthplace, mother’s name and birthplace all correct.  He names William’s dad as “Joe” Ashlock.  While I can understand the 1820’s use of this name, I doubt I’ll ever find it in any official documents related to Josiah Ashlock.  He missed the place of William’s father’s birth.  All-in-all it’s not a bad performance.

The informant for Joshua M. Ashlock was Dora Crabb.  I’m not sure who she was. She gets Joshua’s name, place of birth, and father’s name correct.  She misses by one year the correct birth date.  She is also incorrect about Joshua’s father and mother’s birthplaces.  She also gives the wrong maiden name for Elizabeth.  This might confuse a well intended family historian.

The informant  for James Wesley was his son G.C. Ashlock (That’s Grover Cleveland).  He’s right about his father’s birth date, birthplace and name.  He gets his mother’s name correct.  He doesn’t know his father or his mother’s birthplace and he doesn’t guess.  He doesn’t know everything but he won’t confuse you with what he doesn’t know.

What do we learn from these death certificate examples and how we can use death certificates in our genealogy research?

  1. Death certificates are very reliable for the date and cause of death.  I will take this date of death over what is on a headstone or in a family bible.  Why?  Think about it.  Use the comment section.
  2. If the date on a death index is different from a death certificate, I’ll give more weight to the certificate.
  3. The information on any document is only as good as the informant and as reliable as the transcriber.  I like the information from an attending physician and treat everything else with less weight.
  4. What do we do with the other information on a death certificate?  Use it to corroborate other information you have.  Use it as clues on where to research next.

I love death certificates and what they provide family researchers!  I’m just a little skeptical and you should be as well.

Happy Hunting!

Something for my grandchildren and a reminder for my fellow family historians

It happened on April 23, 1973.  Forty two years ago today Dee and I had our first date.  We refer to it as “the deal”.  We’ve had many dates since that day but never another one just like the first one.  I’ll explain in a minute.100_6530

I thought about that first date Tuesday night.  We had tickets to attend a classical piano concert at the Bob Bullock State History Museum in beautiful uptown Austin, Texas near the University of Texas campus.  The concert was part of the Texas Art and Culture Series.  Renowned Texas pianist and director of the Round Top Festival Institute James Dick performed.  Dick is a graduate of the University, winner of the Texas Medal of Arts, the Chevalier des Arts et Letters, and an Honorary Associate of London’s Royal Academy of Music.  He played several classical pieces from French composers in honor of the Museum’s new La Belle exhibit.  Dee and I particularly enjoyed the pieces composed by Claude Debussy.

Earlier in the evening we took advantage of our museum membership, parked in the parking garage and walked to dinner.  El Mercado provided the perfect fix for a couple who had a taste for Tex-Mex.  After dinner we strolled by beautiful old homes and gardens in the early cool of the evening.  We eventually found ourselves seated under the giant Star of Texas in front of the museum, talking while waiting to go inside.  I think she mentioned the approaching anniversary of our first date and it raised a question in my mind.  How many times had I taken her to a classical music concert?  She said this would be the first.  Surprised, I asked if she were sure.  (I think our memories are a little faulty these days.)  But I agreed it could have been me and the girls at those Stephen F. Austin concerts.  (No, wait a minute, I’m sure our whole family went to at least once.)  Well, it’s a good thing her favorite music’s not classical!

I thought about how much I enjoyed our conversation and how much I always do.  We spend more time together now than we ever have and would not want it any other way.   We enjoy being together and never have to force ourselves to find something about which to talk.  I’m glad.

Now about that first date.

I was a senior in high school in Denton, Texas.  Dee was a freshman at Texas Women’s University.  We met through friends at church.  I never really gave her much thought because she was “so much” older than me.  But one night she pulled me aside at the

Yes, those are the same two people.
Yes, those are the same two people.

Christian Student Center and asked if she could ask my advice.  That conversation, hearing her heart, opened my heart to hers that night and boy did I take notice!  About two weeks later, while working on a class project, I decided to use it as an excuse to ask her out.  I told her I would make a deal with her.  Help me on my project and I’ll take you out for pizza.  I’ve been asking her ever since and she’s been saying, “Yes”.  But, I’ve never asked her to help me on a high school project.  That was a one of a kind date.

We saw each other almost every day for four months and then I was off to school.  We would spend very little time together the next two years.  We were both very busy.  We “dated” long distance which I think helped my grades but wasn’t nearly as much fun.

Less than a week after my 20th birthday and at a time of the year when we were the same age, we were married.  It hasn’t always been easy or fun but it’s been a lot more fun than it’s been uneasy.  I think we would start it all over again today.  Who knows, with a little bit of experience, it could be even better.

Now, you’re wondering, why this story?  Why all the detail?  Well it’s like this.  As a family historian I’m sure some of you have regretted not asking you grandparents more questions or listening to their long-winded details?  My hope is that when one of my grandchildren ask the questions, I wonder where Pop and Memaw met or I wonder what they did on their first date, they will find this firsthand account.  What I would give for some firsthand accounts.  How about you?