Granddad Gus’ Birth Certificate Arrives Forty-Four Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

The Official Record

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

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

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

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Happy Backtracking,

Gary

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Gus Roberts: Aftermath

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

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

My Grandfather Gus

The death of my great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts in 1901 would deprive my grandfather Gus of ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­the guidance of a father, the nurture of a mother and the knowledge of a heritage.  The seeds of disaster were in the ground.  Our family needed a crop failure!

Gus Roberts as a child in about 1905 or 1906The sudden and violent death of three-year-old Gus Roberts’ father would prevent him from working beside his father in the field, riding with him in the wagon, hunting with him in the woods and sitting with him at the table.  He would miss the stories of his father’s youth in Williamson County, Tennessee and his family’s migration to Calloway County, Kentucky.  He would never know of the Roberts of Virginia or be able to claim their heritage his heritage.  The later decision of a jury to convict his mother of murder for her part in his father’s death would deprive Gus of the comfort and encouragement of a mother, the steady hand of someone who believes in you.  What would happen to this little boy “orphaned” by the death of his father and the conviction of his mother? Continue reading “My Grandfather Gus”

Paying Attention to Details in Your Family Research

“God is in the detail” or “The devil is in the details”.  Both expressions infer the same thing.  Details are important and those attentive to them are rewarded.  The details of our family history research are a rich source of information and clues to find additional gold. Continue reading “Paying Attention to Details in Your Family Research”

Burton Lee Roberts – Runaway

My father ran away from home in 1935.

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

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

Barber strap 2
Barber strap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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