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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Family Research + Found Cousins = Fun!

Research and Cousins

I love “new” cousins!  I especially love new cousins pursuing their family’s genealogy/history.  They’re like gold to me – and should be to you as well.

Gary with Bill Wright
Gary with Bill Wright

Last week my friend Bill Wright and I were in middle Tennessee attending a non-genealogical conference.  This small detail didn’t keep me from sneaking into Williamson County after the conference and spending last Saturday doing family research.  I planned half a day in the archives and half a day with cousins.  Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Plan Your Work

  • What do you need to further your research? Are any of these records available?
  • What records are housed in the county and where? Are they available on the day(s) you will be there?
  • What time will the records be available to view?
  • Does the repository have an online index? Search capabilities?
  • Are you allowed to take photos? Make copies?  What’s the cost?
  • Once you’ve decided to go, ask yourself IF you want to spend time with “new” cousins. If yes, contact them to check their availability and arrange times and places.
  • Pack your “research bag” with all your tools and don’t forget to take it!

The Williamson County, Tennessee Archives are a tremendous resource for families researching middle Tennessee ancestors.  It’s located in Franklin.  This was my second visit.  When my wife and I visited in 2013 I was only aware of my Roberts and Giles lines in the county.  I’ve since discovered my Neelly (Neely), Nichols, Sammons, Smithsons, Tatum, and possibly Rivers lines in the county.  Using the Archives online search capabilities, I was able to locate around ninety documents available on microfilm of interest to me.  There’s no way I would be able to view or collect them all in half a day.  I prioritized them, printed out a list and put it in my bag.

I contacted two of my cousins from two different family lines and asked about their availability to meet Saturday afternoon and evening.  These are two very busy women and of course they both had plans for the day.   But due to circumstances and their sheer determination, they graciously made a way for us to meet for the first time and share some family research.  The bonus?  I also met some of their wonderful family members and visited three family history sites!

Work Your Plan

Bill and I were at the Archives in Franklin when it opened at 8 am Saturday morning.  He began to enjoy the museum housed in the building and I headed for the microfilm files.   Bill would later slip away to visit the many Civil War sites in the city while I would stay focused on my list and pulling the microfilmed documents I wanted.

I was able to collect just over one-third of the documents on my list.  This would include over 150 printed pages and three pages of hand written notes primarily from tax documents.  I specifically targeted wills and specific deeds first.  Then moved on to tax records.  I didn’t spend time viewing and trying to analyze them.  I only viewed them long enough to know I had the right one – hit print – and kept moving.  Like long-lost friends, we’d spend time together in the days to come.

Family  

Gary with Pam and Gary Fisher
Gary with Pam and Gary Fisher

I packed up my bag as the noon hour approached and made a restroom stop.  As I came back into the main hall of the building I was approached by a soft-spoken southern lady and asked if I was Gary.  My cousin Pam Fisher and I were meeting in person for the first time in person.  She’s lived in Williamson County all her life.  I joke that she’s related to most of the families in the county.  If you have family from Williamson County, you may be kin to Pam.  We share 3rd great-grandparents William Cleaton and Lucy Standley Giles and met online through a DNA match in November of 2015.  She’s also related to my 2nd great-grandfather Roberts by his first wife who died as a young mother.  Pam introduced me to her husband Gary and over lunch we discovered that he and I also share a family surname.  Small world.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have family in the county of my ancestors.  I look forward to collaborating with them for the rest of our lives!  Imagine how fun it was to share a meal with Gary and Pam and a waitress they’ve known for over twenty years!  Now that’s what I call service – and great food.  Thanks guys for including me in your lives.

Gary and Pam lead tours to Israel.  If you’re interested in booking a tour, let me know and I’ll connect you with them.

John Ian Neely Home
John Ian Neely Home

The Fishers dropped me back at the Archives just in time to meet – again for the first time – my cousin Janice Mills.  She and some of her family had just wrapped up a yard/garage sale to clear out space for a classic car.  We met the rest of them at a wonderful New York style Italian eatery.  I really enjoyed meeting husband Denny, daughter Kelly and Kelly’s friend David.   Janice soon had me back in the car and headed south to see the house of our 5th great-grandfather John Ian Neely and his wife Suzanne Griffith Evans.  They built the Federal style home in 1813 on the Columbia Pike between Franklin and Columbia, TN.  I’ve blogged about it in the past.  It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Janice took a picture back then and sent it to me before I wrote about it, but this would be our first time to walk the property.  We were particularly interested in the rumor of a cemetery surrounded by a rock wall that no longer stood.  The owners were welcoming and informative.  They’d lived on property for forty-four years!  They were not aware of any cemetery surrounded by a rock wall but told us about a cemetery on the original property less than a mile from the house.  We found the cemetery (A funny story for another day).  We found grave stones with the family surnames of others who had lived in the Neely house but no stones with the name Neely clearly etched on them.  Janice plans to do further research to confirm if this is the original Neely cemetery.

I always enjoy walking the land of an ancestor.  Our footsteps meet for a moment in time with the hope we’ll spend eternity together someday.  Thank you Janice for taking time to carry me to this special place in Williamson County.

Gary between the headstones of Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell in Franklin, TN
Gary between the headstones of Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell in Franklin, TN

Like a flash Janice whisked me away to a subdivision near where she lives.  I had heard about this place and seen pictures of it online but this was my first visit.  Here among ranch-style houses on nice sized lots we parked in a driveway.  We weren’t here to visit the owner or his neighbors.  We were here to visit the cemetery in their back yards!  Tucked up under a tree in the back right corner was the final resting place of our 4th great-grandparents Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell. The Blackwell’s son William, said to be one of the first physicians in Williamson County, is also buried here along with a few other family members and according to the property owner/caretaker about five beloved pets.  This land also once felt the fall of ancestors’ footsteps.  What a privilege for me to walk it as well.

Gary with the Mills
Gary with the Mills
Dennis Mills classic car and trophy from previous weekend.
Dennis Mills classic car and trophy from the previous weekend.

Janice and I actually met online this past March through Find a Grave.  She wasn’t raised in the county and isn’t kin to as many people as Pam, but I think she knows most of the people.  She met many of them serving for years as a school board member.  We share a rich heritage in the county through our Neely, Blackwell and Gibson families.  Now that Janice is retired, she has more time for genealogy.  She’s full of life and lives it to the fullest.  She and her family were fun and funny.  I enjoyed their hospitality.  I can’t wait to go back.

Genealogy Trip Tip   

When my wife Dee and I visited the Williamson County Archives in 2013, I found a deed abstract for some land on McCrory Creek between my 3rd great-grandfather John Roberts and Jesse Weathers in the year 1811.  Names were mentioned but like many genealogical abstracts, specific points and measurements were not given.  When I searched for a copy of the original I was disappointed to find it missing from the records.  I learned through others that this land was part of a land grant given to James Moore.  He was a Major General in the Revolutionary War and granted for his service 12,000 acres of land in today’s Williamson County.  That’s a lot of land in which to find my ancestors small parcel.  Why was it so important to me?  I believe this is the most likely burial site for my 3 x great-grandparents John and Rebecca Sammons Roberts.

While in the Archives last week I located and obtained a copy of an original deed which until then I had only had an abstract.  This was one of my top “targets” for this most recent trip to the Archives.  It was a deed gift from John Roberts Sr. to his son John Roberts Jr. in 1823.  It was made not long before Senior died.  He also gave a deed gift to his daughter Frances “Fanny” Roberts who would marry Alfred G. Tatum in 1824 within three months following her father’s death.  Based on later records, I believe these two children would assume the principle care of their mother and the original property.  These two deeds together described the property owned by John and Rebecca Roberts on the “headwaters of McCrory Creek”.  I found more records of James Moore, while living in Washington County, TN, assigning land to many people in Williamson County.  One of those men was Samuel Jackson, a distant cousin of General Andrew Jackson.  The cousins would later have a dispute over land and Andrew would run Samuel through with a cane sword.  (Another story for another time) I was then able to find a copy of an original deed between Samuel Jackson and Jesse Weathers from 1806.  Does that name sound familiar?  Based on the physical description of the land from the two gift deeds to the Roberts children and the description of the 1806 deed between Jackson and Weathers, I believe these two properties are the same property.  I do love it when a plan comes together.

I’m prepared now to work my way forward through the deed records with the hopes of finding the exact location of this parcel of land in today’s records.

A Small Sample                 

These few deeds represent a small sampling of the documents I collected from my half day in the Archives.  I left feeling thoroughly blessed.  Plan your work.  Work your plan.

This post represents a very small expression of my appreciation for “new” cousins and the fun I had with the Fishers and Mills.  I’ve told you only a small part of it.  Some because of time and space and some because my cousin Janice said, “Remember Gary, what happens in Franklin stays in Franklin!”  I can’t wait to get back.

Janice Mills and Denny's other ride.
Janice Mills with Denny’s other classic.

Family Traditions: Fact or Fiction?

The family historian and family storyteller are not always the same person.  Family traditions are not always family fact.  Traditions are not always historical and family stories are not always factual.  Does it matter?  Only if you’re claiming or implying yourself a historian, a reporter of historical facts.  Then it matters.

If we claim to be writing or telling history, never be surprised nor offended when our statements are challenged.  Most people will not care if we tell our tales as tales, but more than a few may object if we rewrite history.

The genealogical proof standards are exacting for a reason.

Consider this quote from a 1913 Roberts family genealogy book available from the Internet Archive website.[i]

“Three brothers by the name of Roberts came to America from Wales in the year 1700.  One brother settled in New York.  One went south.  The third brother, Robert Roberts, bought considerable land in Gloucester County, New Jersey, two miles from Swedesboro, on Oldmans Creek and Coons Creek.

His wife was from Holland.  He was an Episcopalian.  He lived to be over eighty years old.”[ii]

Now, consider another quote from one of my prized possessions, another self-published Roberts family genealogy.

“Three brothers, John, James, (George?) came to this country, United States, from Wales about the year 1600 and settled in Virginia.  Best I can gather one of the brothers went to the North and others stayed in the South.  The Roberts family is of Welch Baptist Stock, Primitive faith.  Great Great Grandfather John Roberts, moved from Virginia to Williamson County Tennessee when Great Grandfather John Rivers Roberts was three years old, 1803.  They later moved to Calloway County Kentucky near Murray.”[iii]

The document credits these words to William Penn Roberts, my second cousin once removed.  My cousin Deborah Outland assures me her aunt Verna played no small part in the research of this Calloway County, KY Roberts goldmine.  We’ve since confirmed the document I have is only part of a collaborative work between Penn and Verna which was over twice the size of the work I possessed.  Verna focused on the Owen family and Penn on the Roberts.

What do you observe in these two quotes?  Do they contain facts?  Yes.  Are these facts historically demonstrated or documented?  No.  Do these quotes contain family traditions?  Yes.  Does this mean they’re not historical events?  No.  Our family traditions may contain historical facts.  As family historians we take our family traditions and document the facts and distinguish for our readers between fact and fiction.

“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;
  • anda soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.”[iv]

I’m related to John Rivers Roberts and his second wife Rebecca Ann Giles.  Penn Roberts was related to John Rivers Roberts and his first wife Sarah B. Smithson.  On a page with the heading “Facts of the Roberts Family” he repeats this tradition – or perhaps, begins it.

“The Smithsonian Institute of Washington D.C. was founded by one of our forebears according to best information we have.”

Well, we needed better information.

James Smithson portrait image from the Smithsonian Institute website. See it and others at https://www.si.edu/
James Smithson portrait image from the Smithsonian Institute website. See it and others at https://www.si.edu/

According to the Smithsonian Institute’s website[v] James Lewis Smithson (c. 1765-1829) was “the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, the first Duke of Northumberland, and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie, a wealthy widow who was a cousin of the Duchess of Northumberland.”  He used the name James Lewis Macie until his parents’ deaths and in 1801 had it changed to Smithson.  He never actually visited America.  He never married.  He never, to our knowledge, had children.  He could not be one of ours or anyone’s “forbears”.

When Penn Roberts wrote his family tradition (perhaps the 1950s) he did not have the internet and its research capabilities.  It’s truly amazing, a glut of information at the click of a mouse.  This may be a good time to remind ourselves.  Everything reported on the internet is not necessarily true or accurate.  “I saw it on the internet” doesn’t make it so.  Like the print media which preceded it, it may disseminate lies and misinformation or truth equally well.  And as we also know, just because something is written in a book doesn’t make it so.  Our information is only as good as the source of that information.   It must all be weighed, tested and documented to be confirmed.

This is where I add to our family tradition and show you a portrait of James Smithson from the Smithsonian website.[vi]   It’s reported to be a 1786 portrait done at Oxford upon his graduation by the English portrait artist James Roberts.  We must be related!  (I write with tongue firmly in cheek.)

James Smithson portrait image from the Smithsonian Institute website. See it and others at https://www.si.edu/
James Smithson portrait image from the Smithsonian Institute website. See it and others at https://www.si.edu/

Family traditions do not begin with a “reasonably exhaustive research”.  This is, however, the beginning of the genealogical proof standard.  We have much information at our fingertips today, but it’s common in genealogy or writing family history to do “reasonably exhaustive research” away from our computers.  We may need to exhaust ourselves in courthouses, libraries and research centers to begin the process of writing a “a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion”.

Here’s another family story shared by Penn Roberts.

“One of my father’s sisters, Amanda Jane, married Dr. Felix Winters, a Dentist.  She took up the practice of Dentistry and it is my understanding that she was the first woman Dentist in the whole Country.  Medical Journals had write-ups concerning her as a first woman Dentist.”

In his “Facts of the Roberts Family” Penn reports Amanda Jane Roberts’ birth date as March 22, 1861.  According to Elizabeth Neber King’s 1945 article entitled “Women in Dentistry”[vii] and printed in the Washington University Dental Journal, the first female to practice dentistry in America was born a Roberts.  Her name was Emeline Roberts Jones.  She assisted her husband prior to taking up the practice of dentistry in Connecticut in 1855, six years before Amanda Jane Roberts was born.  Ms. King also reports the first female to actually graduate (You have to be accepted before you can graduate.) from a dental school in America was Lucy Hobbs Taylor in 1866.

I celebrate the accomplishments of these women in dentistry, especially my relative Amanda Jane.  In spite of the difficulty of getting into universities and professions in the past, I suspect women have been finding ways to soothe men’s toothaches and other ailments long before the 1850s.

Family traditions become a problem for family historians when they’re stated as proven facts when in fact, they are not.  I never easily dismiss family traditions.  They often contain a germ of truth which must be explored and confirmed or disproven.  I never want to dismiss a family member’s claims without an examination.  I encourage this behavior for all family historians.  I thought several stories my Dad told me were “just stories”.  I’ve been able to confirm the factualness of some of them.  You may discover the same in your research.

Enjoy your family traditions.  Explore your family traditions.  Before your write them up as history, examine them.  Use the genealogical proof standard to separate your family’s facts from fiction.

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_____________________________________________________________________

[i] https://ia902606.us.archive.org/14/items/genealogyofrober00cowa/genealogyofrober00cowa.pdf

[ii] This genealogy of the Roberts family appears to be a self-published work dated 1913 in Chicago.  “Genealogy of the Robert Roberts Family in America”, compiled by Maude Roberts Cowan and printed by Joseph Samuel Roberts.

[iii] This quote is taken from a copy of a document entitled “The Roberts Family History”.  The top of the third page includes these words, “Compiled by Wm. Penn Roberts”.  I received my copy from Rudy Roberts Holland in 2013 while visiting him in Murray, KY.  He is my 3rd cousin once removed.  I suspect he received his copy from Nancy Roberts Thurman whom he referred to as the “expert” on our Roberts family.  There are copious corrections in this work and I suspect they were done by Nancy or perhaps Penn’s wife Virginia “Verna” Roberts.

[iv] http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html

[v] https://www.si.edu/About/History

[vi] http://siarchives.si.edu/history/james-smithson

[vii] http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/mowihsp/health/womenindentistry.htm

A Genealogy Gold Mine in North Texas

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

Let’s answer that second question. Continue reading “A Genealogy Gold Mine in North Texas”

When does the common become uncommon?

When does the common become uncommon?

It’s unlikely you’ve ever hear of John Baker Dickson or his brother-in-law Lemuel W. Lassiter.  I doubt very many ever have or ever will.  Is it because they were too common?  Is it because we’re inattentive, uninformed or disinterested?  I fear it is the latter rather than the former.

I came across Dickson and Lassiter while working on my John Anderson Roberts research.  I’m going to write a short blog here on these men in case this lead proves helpful to another researcher one day.

John Anderson and Lavina Jane Roberts’ daughter Cornelia Ann married J.B. Lassiter in Calloway County, KY in 1870.  John Baker Dickson and his wife Emily Jane Lassiter Dickson were J.B. Lassiter’s aunt and uncle.  They were in Red River County, Texas well ahead of the Roberts.  Were they the Roberts family connection and encouragement to come to Texas?  (This and of course land) Lemuel Lassiter would arrive later across the Red River.

Clues to follow Lemuel Washington Lassiter    

Mary Bigelow added a photo to Find a Grave in 2012.  The picture is of a headstone in the Bogota Cemetery in Red River County, Texas.  Thanks Mary.

Photo credit: Mary Bigelow on Find a Grave
Photo credit: Mary Bigelow on Find a Grave

Lemuel Lassiter appears in the 1920 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 73-year-old merchant/druggist born in about 1847 in Kentucky.  He’s married to Willie Lassiter and they appear to have six children living in their household.  His father’s birthplace is recorded as Virginian and his mother’s as England.

Lew Lassiter appears in the 1910 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 63-year-old male retail merchant owning a grocery store in Bogota, Texas.  He was born in about 1847 in Kentucky.  His father and mother were born in Kentucky.  He is married to Willie Lassiter and they appear to have six children living at home.

Lemuel Lassiter appears in the 1900 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 54-year-old male born in Kentucky about 1847.  His father and mother were born in North Carolina.  He is married to Willie M. Lassiter and they appear to have three children living at home.

L.W. Lassiter appears in the 1880 Federal Census in Precinct 2, Red River.  He is a single age male of about 34 years of age teaching school.  His father and mother were born in North Carolina.

I do not find a clue for Lemuel Lassiter in the 1870 census nor can I locate the John Anderson Roberts family in the 1870 census.  Curious?

L.W. Lassiter, age about 14, appears in the 1860 Federal Census for Murray, Calloway County, KY in 1860.  He is living in the household of Parmelia Elliott, age 39.  There are Elliotts age 19 and 14 and another Lassiter age 18.  There is also a Jno. B. Crabtree.

L.W. Lassiter, age about 4, appears in the 1850 Federal Census living in District 2 of Calloway County, KY.  He is living in the home of a farmer named Little B. Lassiter, age about 25, whose father was born in North Carolina.  There are three other Lassiters living in this household including Emily Lassiter, age 15.  She and the other Lassiters in the household other than Little B. say their father was born in Kentucky.  There appears to be no father or mother in this home.

It appears, from what little time I’ve looked, L.W. Lassiter became an orphan with the death of his father in 1849.  Before his 16th birthday he’ll enlist in Company C of the Tennessee 33rd Infantry Regiment in Haywood County, TN.  He rose to the rank of 1st Sergeant.  His wife Willie Lassiter would file for and receive a pension for his service.

I share one more clue to uncover the life of L.W. Lassiter.  His daughter (I believe her name is Ida Lassiter Hooker.) may have published her life memories in a book form.  This could be a rich source of information though I’m not sure even she would have been able to uncover the fullness of this life.

Clues to follow John Baker Dickson

John Dickson was born in about 1827 in Tennessee.  I wonder if he was related to any of the Dicksons in Williamson County, TN?  He marries Emily Jane Lassiter in Stewart County, Tennessee in 1851.  Stewart County is just across the Tennessee River from Calloway County where Emily was living in 1850 with Little B. Lassiter (see above).  John and Emily Dickson will appear in the Red River County, Texas Federal Censuses for 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900.  He believes his father was born in North Carolina.  There is a rich and full story needing to be told but I’ll leave you with one more clue.

One of several records for John Dickson available on Fold 3 in May 2016
One of several records for John Dickson available on Fold 3 in May 2016

In March of 1862 John rode out of Clarksville, Texas into history. He was a member of the 27th Texas Calvary for the Confederate States of America.  He left his family behind.  He enlisted for twelve months and they would be memorable.  His service began with battles and skirmishes across Mississippi including Corinth and Jackson.  Nearing the end of his enlistment he was thrown into the battle of Thompson Station in Williamson County, TN on March 5, 1863 within miles of John Anderson Roberts’ birthplace and within 5 days of the end of his enlistment.  He would witness over 3,000 combined casualties that one day.  I’m not sure how close he came to dying that day, dismounted and fighting from the heights overlooking the Pike, but I know he saw much death and destruction.  By now John had received two promotions to the rank of 3rd Sergeant.  Sgt. Dickson’s unit fought into the summer including the battle and siege at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.  When the battle ended with the surrender of the Confederate forces on July 4, 1863, John was now four months overdue to go home.

The document on the left reports he was absent without leave in July and August.  A note added later says he deserted on July 22, 1863.

There were other Dicksons (George, Joseph, William) who rode and marched out of Clarksville, Texas in 1861 and 1862.  There may have been more than one John Dickson fighting out of Texas.  Were they related?  How?  What became of them?

So little known.  So little told.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  Okay, I have one more clue.

Photo Credit: Lyn Dobson from Find a Grave
Photo Credit: Lyn Dobson from Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Dickson&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=46&GScnty=2713&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=71728178&df=all&

More Connections: Roberts, Smithson, Giles and Nichols

While researching my files for a series of posts on J.A. Roberts, I came across this in his father’s file. In 1838 John R. Roberts and his younger brother Newton bought a tract of land on Rutherford Creek in Williamson County, Tennessee.1838 Roberts, John and Newton land deed from William Tignor (2) W.O. Smithson and Paschal Giles serve as the the two witnesses to this transaction. Giles was the brother of John R. Roberts’ wife Rebecca Anne Giles. Smithson was the brother of John R.’s first wife Sarah B. Smithson (She died perhaps giving birth to their second child). William Overton Smithson was born, as was John R. in Lunenburg County, Virginia. Now, here’s the interesting connection. (I know, you thought I had already shared it.) W.O. Smithson had a son named W.O. Smithson. He was born in Williamson County in 1831 and died in Montague County, Texas in 1900. The surprise: He married Mary Jane Nichols, the sister of my 2 x great-grandfather Frederick Shaffer Nichols.  Both were born in Williamson County. And this reminder from a previous post, My father’s father Gus Roberts, grandson of John R. Roberts, married the granddaughter of Frederick S. Nichols and Sarah Elizabeth Neely. Her name was Emma Lee Ingram and they had to meet in a Children’s Home in Fort Worth to make it happen! I’m certain my grandparents Gus and Emma knew nothing of these earlier relationships in Lunenburg, Williamson or Montague Counties, but now we do!

Gary stands beside grave of W.O. Smithson in Starkey Cemetery in Montague County, Texas (September 2015)
Gary stands beside grave of W.O. Smithson in Starkey Cemetery in Montague County, Texas (September 2015)

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 – 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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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…?