Backtracking John Rivers Roberts

Some of us are drawn to cemeteries.  I can’t explain it.  Finding the final resting place of our ancestors becomes a quest.  It completes a picture for me.  I want to know where they were born, walk the land they walked and visit the place they were buried.  Strange.  I can’t explain it.  But somehow it connects me.

I’ve “met”, corresponded and visited by phone with a number of Roberts cousins over the past few weeks.  One of the newest ones is Charles Roberts of Calloway County, Kentucky.  He is the 2 x great grandson of Newton T. Roberts, the brother of my 2 x great grandfather John Rivers Roberts.  Charles asked me if I could “shed some light” on where my great great grandfather John Rivers Roberts and his wife Rebecca Ann Giles are buried.  I believe I can (or at least I have an opinion).  Here’s the story.

I grew up knowing little or nothing about the Roberts family except the names of my grandparents Gus and Emma Lee Roberts.  I peppered my dad Burton Lee Roberts with questions as a teenager.  He either couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me what he knew.  I believe he knew little or nothing.  About 30 years ago in the middle of my own growing family and ministry work a couple of college professors, amateur genealogist, shared with me the name and burial place of my great grandfather John A. Roberts.  I did nothing significant with this information until 2012.  Perhaps it was age or opportunity but I’ve always been curious and had to know some answers.

I backtracked the John A. Roberts family to Calloway, Kentucky.  I placed a small ad in the personals section of the Murray Ledger and Times and ran it from Wednesday through Sunday hoping to reach the people who buy the paper for the Thursday ads or Sunday morning paper.  My email address was included in the ad.  On Thursday I received an email from Deborah Outland of Lexington, KY the 3 x great granddaughter of John Rivers Roberts and his first wife Sarah B. Smithson.  Her longtime friend Shirley Parrish had called her and told her about the ad.  Shirley and her husband L.B. Parrish live in Murray.  L.B. had recently had eye surgery and was looking for some small print to test out his “new” eyes.  He read my ad to Shirley and she called Deborah.  We arranged a phone visit (one of several over the past 3 years and she has been so generous with her family knowledge).  Deborah put me in contact with Rudy Holland back in Calloway County.  He’s also the 3 x great grandchild of John Rivers Roberts and Sarah B. Smithson.  Rudy owns his grandfather’s old farm place which I believe sits next to the John Rivers Roberts’ original farm in Calloway.  I believe it was Rudy who shared over the phone with me the name John Rivers Roberts and “sent” me to Williamson County, Tennessee.  In other words, you can’t do good genealogy without a lot of wonderful people’s help!  (Note added 7/30/2015, My “newly discovered” cousin Charles Roberts points out that Rudy Holland was also the 2 x great grandson of Newton Roberts on the Holland side.)

I’ve learned much about the Roberts family since “striking” the trail in 2012.  By 2013 I thought we (my faithful wife and research assistant Dee Ann) had enough information to make a trip to Tennessee and Kentucky.  We picked up the trail in Tennessee a few days after Thanksgiving and enjoyed the end of a weekend of celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.  The Carnton Plantation is well worth the visit.

On Monday morning we were in the Williamson County Archives as soon as the considerate and helpful staff opened the doors.  If you’re doing genealogy research for Williamson County ancestors, this is a must visit.  It’s a library, research center and courthouse all rolled into one.  We took pages and pages of document copies away from the center at very reasonable prices.  They have a computer database from which you can search, access and print records.  They have an excellent collection of genealogical volumes for research only purposes.  They have books and collections for purchase.  They have old maps.  And did I mentioned they have informed and helpful staff and volunteers?

I continue to mine the gold and assay the value of the nuggets we unearthed in our visit.  The story of my Roberts family continues to unfold in bits and pieces.  As we assemble the pieces of the puzzle, the picture becomes brighter and more certain.  I’m very interested in any piece you may have to add to the puzzle.

John Rivers Roberts was born October 14, 1800 in probably Lunenburg County, Virginia.  (We hope to pick up the trail there someday soon.)  Family lore says he was named after his father (John) and his mother’s maiden name “Rivers”.  I can’t confirm this.  In fact, I find evidence to the contrary.  However, I never discount family lore until I can completely discredit it.  Even if it’s not true, it often has an element of fact in it.  There is a possibility that our family lore is off by one generation and that it was his grandfather who was married to a Rivers and not his father.  We have yet to confirm the first name of John Rivers’ grandfather but believe we know where to pick up his trail.

Here’s a quick side note for those researching this family.  Pay close attention to allied families and neighbors in both Williamson, TN and Lunenburg, VA.  You will see many of the same names and find where the Roberts children obtain their mates.  Keep in mind that Lunenburg County changes configuration at least 3 times and maybe more during this Roberts family tenure there.  Look at the Roberts and their neighbors on Juniper Creek off of the north branch of the Meherrin River in Lunenburg.  This appears to be the beginning area of our specific Roberts family branch’s multiplication in America.  My candidates for John Rivers’ grandfather include William, Thomas and James.  My leading contender is James, the same name as John Rivers’ older brother who was born in 1798.  Keep in mind as you research that there appears to be two James Roberts on Juniper, Senior and Junior.  It’s possible that one of these is John Rivers father’s dad and the other his brother.  It’s possible that one is his father and the other is his grandfather.  It’s possible this is not the name of John Rivers’ grandfather at all!

We pick up John Rivers Roberts’ trail back in Williamson.  He and his family can be documented by tax records in the county as early as 1805.  Land and legal documents continue to build the picture through the late 1850s.  It appears they had land on the Harpeth River first and then settled for good on the headwaters of McCrory Creek which feeds into the Harpeth south of Franklin.  Besides James (1798), I have been able to identify two more brothers and one sister.  Frances “Fannie” Roberts was born in 1802.  Anderson G. Roberts was born in 1808.  I suspect he is the origin of my great grandfather John Anderson Roberts’ middle name.  Newton T. Roberts was born in 1811.  Some say there was also a Joseph but I haven’t been unable to document this person.  John Roberts Sr. (John Rivers’ father, I call him “My John Roberts”) may have had other brothers migrate to Williamson.  This makes unraveling the Roberts crew in Williamson that much more challenging.  (Hidden away in the woods off Roberts Rd. in Arrington, TN there is a “lost” cemetery known by old timers to be the Benjamin Roberts cemetery.  You find his son John D. in Williamson County documents.  Finding and visiting this cemetery is another story for another time.)

John R. (the name I usually use to identify John Rivers Roberts) married Sarah B. “Sally” Smithson in 1821.  Family lore says she was an exceptionally beautiful young lady.  She came from a large family with a large presence in Lunenburg, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties of Virginia.  They also had a big presence in Williamson County through the 1800s.  They settled on Rutherford and Flat Creeks in the southern part of the county.  Brothers John R. and Newton would eventually buy land on these same creeks and begin their own families.

John R. and Sally Smithson Roberts welcomed their first child Clement Smithson Roberts in 1822.  He appears to be named after his maternal grandfather Clement S. Smithson.  Their second child was a son as well, they named James in 1825.  Was this in honor of my John Roberts Senior’s father?  I don’t know but it could be a clue.  Sadly, I have reason to believe the arrival of this son coincided with Sally’s death.  John R. now had two young sons to raise on his own.

John R. married his second wife, Rebecca Ann Giles, in January of 1827.  She too came from a large and significant family who lived south of today’s Bethesda, TN.  They obtained their marriage license from Maury County just to the south and east of this location and after marriage settled on Rutherford Creek.  Their children included William Claiborne, 1827, in honor of Rebecca’s father William C. Giles, Sarah “Sally” (1828) in honor of John R’s first wife (*See note below.), John Anderson (1830), Thomas Paschal (1832), and Lucy Jane (1833).  John R’s brother Newton would marry Rebecca Ann’s sister Sarah Jane Giles in 1838.  The brothers buy at least one piece of land together in 1838 on the waters of Rutherford and Flat Creeks.  Newton will eventually sell back his part to this land to John R. in 1849.  I have suspected this was in order to migrate to Calloway County, Kentucky.  But one or more of the cousins points out that Newton “drops off the radar” for 20 years and reappears in Calloway in 1870.  Wow!  Does anyone know where he went?  The year sounds like gold fields in California.  These dates also include the Civil War.  Can we document something?  Is there any family lore on the Newton family side? (*See note below.)

John R and Annie’s boys will all eventually migrate to Calloway.  Most will stay.  My great grandfather John Anderson will be the exception.   He migrates to Texas with his son-in-law J.B. Lassiter and family in about 1875.  John R. is the last of the Roberts from Williamson to arrive in Kentucky.  I suspect because his mother did not die until about 1857 in Williamson.  I failed to mention earlier that his father, John Roberts, died all the way back in November of 1823.  His wife, John R.’s mother, never remarried and lived on the McCrory Creek property until her death.  (Her name was Rebecca Sammons which may come as a surprise to most family tree owners with John Rivers Roberts in their trees.  But this is another story for another day.)  In the 1850 census she’s living on this property with her daughter Fannie (That’s Francis “Fannie” Roberts) and Fannie’s husband Alfred Tatum and their children.  The Tatum family also migrated from Lunenburg, VA and vicinity.  At one point we find Fannie and her family living next door to Anderson G. Roberts in Hickman County, TN in 1840.  He was her younger brother.  He married Alfred Tatum’s sister Celia in 1831.  So brother and sister married brother and sister. The Anderson G. family is back in Williamson County in the 1880 census perhaps living on the original Roberts place after a time in Marshall County, KY.  (Note:  This is where William Penn Roberts once commented he had lost track of them.  I’ll talk more about Penn when I write about Rebecca Sammons)

Now, what was that question?  Oh yeah, can you shed any light on where John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts are buried?  Back on the trail…

Dee and I left Williamson County headed for Calloway in early December.  We had pre-scheduled visits to the courthouse in Murray and the Pogue Special Collections Library on the campus of Murray State University.  We had also arranged to meet with Rudy Roberts Holland and tour the Liberty/Shiloh area.  Only our visit with Nancy Roberts Thurman did not go as planned because of an illness in her family.

Rudy Holland is everything you would expect to find in a Kentucky gentleman.  He was warm and gracious, informed and helpful.  He shared family group sheets and a copy of his GEDCOM file he had on disc.  He allowed me to copy (I photographed) his Roberts family binder.  A few years ago Rudy had an old log cabin he was told John R. had built over 150 years ago moved up behind his farmhouse.  Rudy built a cedar exterior around it to protect it from the elements.  What a wonderful experience!  What a wonderful Roberts’ family treasure!  Then we were off to the cemeteries where we visited my great-grand-aunts and uncles’ final resting places.  There were plenty of cousins as well.  But what about John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts place of rest?

I first read about this mythical cemetery on internet inquiry sites.  I saw mention of it in the Pogue Library.  It was called Roberts Cemetery #2.  Some of my cousins had heard of it and thought they might know where it was but had only visited as small children or had it pointed out to them at a distance.  Based on some of this information, I had previously found a map on the website Podunk and then used Google Earth software to locate what I thought was a contender.  I was wrong.  It turned out that I was looking at the Clement Smithson Roberts Cemetery.  Now, that was a fascinating visit in itself!  But…

Where was John R. and Rebecca Roberts?

John R. and Rebecca bought a farm in the Shiloh community Calloway prior to 1860.  They’re working the farm with a young John Childers whose family they knew in the area.  The farms adjacent to theirs are owned by the Hollands, Roberts (W.C. and T.P.) and Ivies.  By the 1880 census Rebecca is deceased and John R. has married his neighbor Malinda Holland.  Her maiden name was Miller.  She married Josiah Holland in January of 1843 and he died in 1862.  By 1880 she and their youngest son Henry B. Holland are living in the John R. Roberts household.  Without an 1870 census for this same Roberts household I can’t be any more accurate on death dates (at least not yet).  Rebecca died sometime after 1860 and John R. died sometime after 1880.  I’m hoping someone has more information than this.  Who knows, I may have it buried in a document I possess and have overlooked it.

The burial place.JRR 3

I asked Rudy if he knew where they were buried.  I understood him to say that he had never seen the graves but his father or grandfather had pointed out a place to him.  I asked him if we could go and take a look at this place.  On old Hwy 94 just south of Crabtree Rd. there is a small modern home.  It is believed to be the original home site of the John R. Roberts farm.  Rudy believed the graves might be located under a single tree to the left of this home as you face it from the road.  We made our way to the tree and saw nothing.  It sits in a spot that has been tilled in the past but on a cold day in December we saw only matted grass, flat matted grass.  Pulling back the grass we uncovered stones, several stones.  They were lying flat and in soil under the matted grass.  Some of the stones had writing.  Some were large, flat field stones with scrapes from what appeared to be tractor implements.  One recognizable name on an engraved monument stone was Mary J. Martin.  The birth date appears to be 1839 and the death date appears to be 1862.  The birth date may be 1849.  Sarah Ann “Sally” Roberts, John R. and Rebecca’s daughter, was born in 1828 and married Ivason Brooks Martin in 1847 in Williamson County, TN.  The dates don’t match her.  If the birth date was supposed to be 1849 she could be their child.  So, who is Sally J. Martin and why was she buried on the Roberts farm?

JRR1JRR 11JRR6JRR9

There were other flat field stones here.  Stones like you would use to mark graves.  Stones like we saw in Arrington, TN.  Kneeling beside these stones I felt connected.  I believe this to be the final resting place of John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts.  For this reason alone, it will be a special place for me.

JRR12

Work needs to be done on this site and I encourage my Calloway cousins to consider if there are options to research, recover and mark this location.  (See map coordinates below.)

I want to express my appreciation to all who have assisted and added to my research.  Little gets done without people like you.  My online tree has a small part of my research and can be found on Ancestry.  My DNA results are on Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.  Follow my Roberts/Ingram/Byrd/Burns stories at:  https://backtrackingthecommon.com/

2015 GPS coordinates for John R and Rebecca Ann Roberts’ burial site

9446-9804 Kentucky 94

Murray, KY 42071

36.688823, -88.182096

Google Maps 2015

This property sits approximately 300 yards south of the intersection of Crabtree Rd. (1551) and Kentucky Hwy 94 in Calloway County.  Once you park in the drive way, look slightly to your left and there is a lone tree (2013) in the field that comes near the house place.  The gravestones are underneath that tree.  When I was there in December of 2013 they were covered over in matted grass.  This should mean this is the site of John Rivers Roberts’ old home place.

*Since publishing this post I have been able to document there are no missing years for this Newton Roberts family.

*I now believe John R. and Rebacca Ann Roberts first child Sarah “Sally” was named after John R’s grandmother who lived in Williamson County until her death.  Her name was Sarah Sammons but she went by Sally.

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.

 

 

What Do You See In this 1860 Census Image?

How’s your eyesight?  What name is given for the the head of this household in the 1860 Federal Census in District 1, Williamson County, Tennessee? (The Image mirrors the quality of the original.)
1860 Roberts, Anderson G. Federal Census for Williamson County, TN

Source Citation

Year: 1860; Census Place: District 1, Williamson, Tennessee; Roll: M653_1279; Page: 170; Image: 346; Family History Library Film: 805279

Source Information

Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

Here’s what the indexer saw.

Name: Anderson F Roberts
Age in 1860: 53
Birth Year: abt 1807
Birthplace: Tennessee
Home in 1860: District 1, Williamson, Tennessee
Gender: Male
Post Office: Franklin
Value of real estate: View image

Did the indexer see it correctly?  Is it what they “saw” or could it have been “what they typed”?  Look at your keyboard next to the “F” key.  What do you see to the right?  Yes. That’s what I think this indexer did.  They made a typographical error.  They typed an “F” rather than a “G”.  They also failed to separate the Roberts family from the previous family in the column even though the original record clearly separates them.

What do we learn?

  • View the original when you can.  Don’t just take my word or the word of any other well-meaning person.  You are ultimately responsible for what you put on your tree.  Our lack of caution may confuse other online friends trying to “fill in their blanks”.  I found this relative in several other trees as Anderson F. Roberts when he is clearly Anderson G. Roberts here and in other documents.
  • Recognize your fallibility and the fallibility of others.  We all make mistakes.  Try to catch as many as you can.  Be open to correction.  We just want to get it right.
  • Take the time to put alternate information into the record when given the opportunity.  Remember, only put in what you see in the original document, not what you think or know it should be based on other research.

Can you Help!  Anderson G. Roberts is my 2 x great grand uncle.  Do you know anything about the Roberts or Tatums from Williamson County, Tennessee?  I would like to hear from you.  We may be cousins!  Also, if you enjoy this post or other posts on my blog, please share this blog with others.  You may also sign up to receive notice when new blogs are posted.  Use the “Follow” button on the Home Page.

Thanks for your help!

The Family Addiction We ALWAYS Talk About

The sun is shining again.  The birds are singing.  Hope springs eternal.  Baseball is back!

Grown men are playing a child’s game and loving ever minute on the field.  Baseball is the greatest game and sport ever contrived.  It’s a “thinking man’s game” and you have to be mentored into the intricacies of it, but when you are, when you know, it’s magical.

Our family enjoys baseball.  No, let’s be honest.  Our family loves baseball!  Some of the Gary Astros headshotgirls love it more than the boys.  (And know it better too)  The opening of Major League baseball is bigger than New Years and the Fourth of July rolled together.  It’s cause for celebration and we celebrate!

In the interest of family’s history, I thought I would take a few minutes to trace the origins of this fanaticism.  It’s time I take responsibility for the “mess” I’ve made and explain the origin of the disease.

I honestly can’t remember which came first.  Was it watching Saturday baseball with my big brother on Television? Or, was it looking at the baseball cards he got out of bubble gum packages?  Or, was it watching him play little league baseball while I chased foul balls to be traded for free snow cones at the concession stand?  Hey, come to think of it, I’ve found a new scapegoat for my addiction.  David did it!

By the time I was 7 I was fully hooked.  I listened to the St. Louis Cardinals on clear channel KMOX radio.  Only they were not always so clear in North Texas.  In 1965 the Houston Colt 45s changed their name to the Astros and moved into the Astrodome.  They also signed a new radio contract that brought them to KDNT in Denton, Texas.  I was in business!

Now I could hear the entire game without interruptions.  Except for my mom, who was telling me to go to bed.  That’s when my first transistor radio became my favorite all-time gift.  The little beauty had an ear piece.  I could plug it in, turn on the Astros’ game and appear to be sleeping.  I really was in business!  (Don’t tell my mom.)

And so the disease was well established at an early age.  The more I learned the game, the more I loved it.  I even played the game for a few years and had wonderful coaches and teammates.  But I must have been born to love the game because I was certainly not born to play it!  And so I talked it, taught it, watched it, took my kids to it and exposed them all to this wonderful game of baseball.  All of them caught the bug.  Some are in remission but most are still as ill as their father and infecting their kids.

The Astros played their way into the World Series in 2005.  It was their first and only time in their now 52 years they made it to the biggest of baseball stages.  I had tickets to game 4 of the Series!   But they were high up and a great distance from the field.  I managed to trade them in for box seats for game 5!  Only the game never happened.  The Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in 4 games.

Hope springs eternal.  The Astros are going to the World Series this year!  (Ok, that’s a little too hopeful and I know the game a little too well to be that hopeful, but they will be more competitive and they will return to the baseball biggest stage soon.)  They opened the season last night by beating last year’s Cy Young Award winner and the Cleveland Indians 2 – 0.  Hey, this could be their year!

The New Book on My Coffee Table

My new coffee Table bookDavid Lee Roberts did something many of us talk about – but most of us never get around to doing.  He wrote his life story.  He put it all down in a book.  And, he has a PDF version on disc.  (Available for my children)

David is a decorated Navy veteran.  He served 27 years active duty and 3 years reserve for a total of 30 years service to the United States.  He has now “retired” to serve as a patrol officer at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.  He and his wife Cheryl live in Keller, Texas and have three grown children with growing families of their own.  Daughter Amy and her husband Matt serve overseas in Dubai.   Son Bryan, now retired from the Air Force, is launching a second “tour of duty” in the ministry.  He and his wife Lori are presently in seminary in the St. Louis area.  Son Matthew also serves as a DFW patrol officer.  He, his wife Mandy and their children live in Keller, Texas.  David and Cheryl’s children and their children’s children will enjoy this book for generations to come.  It will be a family treasure.

David’s my older brother of whom I am rightfully proud.  God has been good to both of us and given us wives “way above our pay grades”.  I remember wondering when David went off to basic training in 1971 (Uncle Sam would finish raising him) what would happen to him.  He seemed so lost and adrift on life’s sea.  Well, God and Cheryl are what happened to him and I know for a fact he’s grateful.  He writes about it in his book!

Kingsville Air Station
Gary, Bob and David Roberts in David’s Kingsville Air Statiion quarters

David’s first duty station out of air traffic control school was the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas.  My dad and I visited him there on my 16th birthday.  I enjoyed watching him work and hone his tower skills.  It wasn’t my first time in a control tower.  Our uncle Ralph Reed retired from the FAA.  He used to allow us in the control towers when we were just little squirts.  Watching David work in the same environment, I began to think of him as a “traffic cop” for pilots.  Much later in his career as Senior Chief on base at Meridian Air Station in Mississippi, he would serve as the traffic judge for the entire base.  I tell him now he’s just a cop.

The book is large.  270 8 ½ x 11 pages.  Lots of pictures.   A good look and a good read.  A PDF version is available.My Journey book cover

Thanks David for the treasure you have given our family.

Recognizing one of our own: Congratulations Shelly Grace Williford!

I’m one of the world’s worst when it comes to bragging on my children.  I do it a lot, and I’m especially grateful when they make it easy.Shelly headshot

Four of our seven children work for the third largest property management company in America.  Lincoln Property Company manages residential,  commercial and international properties around the world.  The website Rainmaker describes the company.

Lincoln Property Company was founded in 1965 for the purpose of building and operating quality residential communities. Consistently listed as one of the largest apartment developers in the United States, Lincoln has developed more than 182,000 multifamily residential units. Lincoln is currently ranked, in terms of size, as the third largest property manager in the U.S., with more than 140,000 apartment units under management. In addition, approximately 70% of Lincoln’s apartment management portfolio is comprised of fee management accounts for third-party investors.”

All of our children working for Lincoln have won multiple performance awards.  Our youngest daughter Shelly Grace Roberts Williford becomes the second to win the Gold Medallion Award.  She follows her oldest sister Shannon in winning this prestigious award.  You can only win it once in a career and all of our children know it’s a big deal.  Congratulations Shelly!

I want to express to the middle and upper management of The Lincoln Property Company the appreciation of a grateful parent.  You invited four of our children to join your team.  You trained them and allowed them to advance at their own pace.  You recognize their achievements.  You pay them well.  Thanks!  To those in the company who have had the most “hands on” influence in our children’s professional development, you are the real champions here.  What they have achieved has been done on the shoulders of their managers and supervisors.  They could not have accomplished what they did without your unselfish contributions.  Thanks!

Here’s a copy of the letter read last Friday at the annual award ceremony.  It was held this year in San Antonio, Texas.  (Click on the link below the photo to read the actual letter.  If you know Shelly, you’ll enjoy the read!)

God Medallion Letter

Gold Medallion Letter

 

 

Chasing Ghosts in North Texas

One reward for the family historian is discovering and walking the ground of their ancestors.  I did this last week with my best friend.  My wife is an incredible person.   I’ve spent the last 40 plus years getting to know her.  In the past three years she’s revealed her hidden talents as a research assistant and photographer.  Dee’s my best help when chasing family “ghosts”.Gary and Dee in Terminal E

Below is a recap of what we did and how we accomplished so much in a limited time, valuable tips for genealogists everywhere.

In five days we traversed five counties.  (The other three days were spent visiting family, porch sitting with Debbie and Jim and antiquing with David and Cheryl.  Family should be fun!)  Here are some of our unearthed treasures:

  • Located in Collin County and took my mother to visit the grave of her two x great grandfather. Before last week, she didn’t know his name. (William Brumley Price)
  • Located in Wise County and visited the grove of trees where my great grandfather pastored a Methodist church for 16 years. (Pleasant Grove) In the adjacent cemetery we visited the graves of my great grand aunt and her family. (Narcissus Byrd Curtner)
  • Located in Wise County and visited the graves of my two time great grandmother’s family. (Elizabeth Norman Ashlock Byrd)
  • Took Dee to see the grave of my great grandparents Pleasant Wesley and Rachel Marinda Byrd, in Wise County.
  • Located in Collin County and visited the graves of my great grand aunt Malissa Jane Byrd Spradley, her husband James Reed Spradley and her first husband Charles H. Gough.
  • Narrowed the date of my great grandfather John Anderson Roberts’ arrival in Texas by the use of microfilmed tax records from Red River County.
  • Located and visited the grave of my great grand uncle Samuel Zedock Byrd and his second wife Martha Josephine Vicars in Collin County.
  • Located in Hunt County and visited the grave of Samuel Z. Byrd’s first wife my great grand aunt Sina Canzada Burke Byrd. (Does anyone know the origin of “Sina” and if it is short for something else?  Her marker reads “S. C. Wife of Samuel Z. Byrd”.  No help here.)  This also gave me previously unknown birth and death dates!
  • Located in Lamar County and visited the grave of my 3 x great grandfather Wiley Laningham. I only learned his name doing research last month!  (We also enjoyed lunch with my cousin Glen Gambill and his precious wife Sarah!  I’ll write more about Glen in a later post or two,)
  • Documented my great grandfather John Charles Wesley Ingram’s first land purchases in Kerr County further confirming the errors on several historical markers and online historical accounts of Ingram, Texas.
  • Further documented the correct arrival date of my 3 x great grandfather Jeremiah Horn to Texas and when he and others actually began the Swayback Methodist Church and school in western Collin County.
  • Documented my 2 x great grand Uncle John Horn’s 1846 Collin County enlistment to fight in the Mexican – American War. (We had located and visited his grave in Stillwell, Oklahoma this past December.  While looking for his grave we also met and visited with his g-great grandson!)
  • Meeting Genealogy Librarian Cheryl Smith of the Haggard Library in Plano, Texas. (I’ll write more about this wonderful resource in a later post.)
  • Finding the surprise resource of the genealogy room in the Walworth Harrison Library in Greenville, Texas.

While this is only part of what we learned, I think it’s the best part!

My post has run a little longer than I intended.  Let’s finish it later.  Come back for those tips on getting more genealogy done in a short amount of time.

Consider pressing the Follow button and registering to be contacted by email when we post here.  Happy ghost hunting!

The Reluctant Genealogist Writes Again

I didn’t just jump into genealogy.  Perhaps you can identify with my struggle.

In my first post I shared how a wonderful couple, virtual strangers to me, introduced my family to my dad’s deceased grandfather whom we had never met.  Lawrence and Juanita Uhl of Jacksonville, Texas did their work the old fashion way.  They got in their car, drove to a courthouse, a library, a newspaper, a cemetery, made some calls and dug out the information, documented their research, made copies on bad copy machines and took Polaroid pictures.  After all, it was 1985.

What they did was to spark my interest and provide the foundation on which I now build my family’s history.  What they began continues through this blog and other efforts in the works to assist beginning genealogist and family historians.  I would not be writing this today if it were not for their efforts.

So, what took so long?  Their work on my behalf ended thirty years ago this fall.  Why has it taken me so long to shake that genealogical tree?  Well, that’s why I call myself the reluctant genealogist.

In 1985 my wife and I were 11 years into raising a large family.  We would eventually enjoy 7 children.  We were part of a growing church in a great community.  I was the lead pastor.  We were busy.  We were forward looking.  The only past I paid much attention to was biblical past and cultural past.  I wanted to bridge that past with the present and move into the future.  In most ways I still feel that way.  But not when it comes to family history.  My mortality was showing.  My family’s past was still clouded in the mist of the unknown.  No one could pass this on to my children and grandchildren like I could…and no one else should.

I began slowly, as time allowed, to collect facts, photos and do more and more research.  Dee and I began to use our away time to travel in and out of state to research the Roberts and the Ingram side of my family.  We shifted our focus this past year to the Byrds, Horns, Riggs, and allied families while my mother could enjoy our discoveries.  The Burns, mom’s mother’s family, is on our radar as well.  For three Christmases our large and growing family has played a game using PowerPoint slides.  We bring our family history to the present in a competitive format.  We spiced it up this past season with a few Riddles, Harrisons, Burges and Jordans (Dee’s family).   We call it Family Feud!

We’ve only scratched the surface in our research.  I hope to continue for many years to come.  I expect my children and grandchildren to read every post on this blog (Are you paying attention Roberts, Armstrongs, Collins and Willifords?).  I expect them to invite their friends to read it.  (Ok, maybe just their old friends).  I expect them to join the coming Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.  I…oh well, that’s enough dreaming.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  I hope you’ll come back often, join the conversation, share how you research your family history and then share it with others.  I’ll talk about my family and in the process hope to help others research theirs.  Welcome.

The Reluctant Genealogist

I guess you could call me a reluctant genealogist.  The craft/hobby/obsession has been trying to draw me in for half my life. I finally capitulated these past two years.

Here’s how it all started thirty years ago this fall.  I had just finished conducting a graveside service outside of Fairfield, Texas when I was approached by a couple who appeared to be in their late forties or early fifties.  They introduced themselves as Lawrence and Juanita Uhl.  They thanked me for the service and my kind words and then asked me a question I had never been asked before or since at a funeral service.  “What do you know about your father’s family?”   That’s where it all began.  I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.

The truth was, in spite of my insatiable curiosity about most things, I knew nearly nothing about my father’s family.   It wasn’t because I didn’t want to know.  It wasn’t because I hadn’t asked.  I think I can sum it up in two ways.  First, my dad and his dad knew nothing about their family and its roots.  Second, unlike a good genealogist, I took their “No” for an answer.  They had nothing to tell me and I accepted their lack of information as the final say on the matter.  I lived with this false reality until the fall of 1985.

The Uhls were professors at a small college in East Texas and they both had been bitten by the genealogy bug.  They were passionate amateur sleuths, using most of their free time in the hobby (read obsession) but had hit a roadblock in following Lawrence’s father’s line.   They lost the trail in Virginia.  They later confessed to me they hoped by helping a minister that God would help them get past their brick wall and pick up the trail.

I told them only a few things at the cemetery that day.  This was all I knew.  My dad was raised in the Ft. Worth, Texas area by Gus Roberts.  While badgering my dad one day for information about his family he blurted out that all he knew about his dad’s family was that they were from a small community outside of Paris, Texas.  That’s not much to go on.

Lawrence and Juanita Uhl took those crumbs and went to work.  Two weeks later I received a call.  The Uhls asked permission to drive to our home in Nacogdoches and share what they had found.  In a few days they arrived with a notebook and large envelope in hand.  They weren’t sure how I would take the news they had to share and thought it would be better delivered in person.

Here’s what I heard and saw that day.  My grandfather, the man I knew as “Papoo”, was the offspring of his father’s second marriage.  Great granddad John A. Roberts had a nice farm in Lamar County and he worked it with his son and son-in-law from his first marriage.  His wife had been deceased for a few years when he married one of his farm workers.  She was about 29 and he was 66.  My granddad arrived in 1898.  In 1901 my great grandmother Mary Laningham Thompson Roberts and one of the hired hands named John Killian were accused and convicted of murdering my great grandfather.  They were sent to the Texas Penitentiary.  Witnesses claimed my grandfather Gus, then only three years old, was in the room when the deed was done.  He would be raised by the Masonic Home in Ft. Worth until he graduated their school at the age of eighteen.

In a flash I saw it.  I knew why my grandfather was the way he was.  I was moved with compassion for him and my dad.  My father had once described his dad as a “mean old bitter SOB”.   Dad would not escape the malaise.  He left home at 16 to wrestle with his own demons the rest of his life.  Now I understood.

My great-grandmother was convicted of murdering my great-grandfather in 1902.  Was this bad news?  Sure.  Was it sad news?  Yes.  A jury of 12 men said it was a fact.  They said it was the truth.  (I’ll have more to say about this on another day.  Hint:  They were both pardoned by two different governors!)  For now, all we had to work with was the decision of that jury.  Knowing the story allowed me to share with my father about a man he never met (his grandfather) and a man he never really knew (his father).  I saw a light in his eyes that day and an emotional expulsion from his chest.  He would live with these liberating facts for less than three years.  They were good years.

I think often of a pair of dedicated amateur genealogical detectives who made this possible in our family.  I never really properly thanked them.  I’m just now, after thirty years, understanding the impact of what they did for my family.  Thanks Lawrence and Juanita Uhl wherever you are!  May your tribe increase!  I dedicate this blog to you, your memory and people like you who are committed to the facts and will follow them wherever they lead.  I hope we all break down our brick walls together and continue to backtrack the common until we meet in a place where there is no sorrow.

Gary Roberts

March 2015