Thursday, July 29, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: From Baba's Hands

Baba, my father's mother, crocheted.  She was a good cook, a gardener in her younger days.  But above all she crocheted.  Her house was full of doilies, placemats and table runners she crocheted.  She made vestments and altar cloths for her church and laundered them each week.  Her children's baby bonnets, baptismal robes and her own clothes were decorated with her lace.  When her vision faded enough so that she could no longer crochet lace she made afghans.

She was a small woman, just over five feet tall in her youth and far shorter late in life.  When she met my husband, then boyfriend, at my sister's wedding she was too frail to stand much.  He was just shy of 6'6".   She must have thought she was looking at a tree.  Later Baba asked my father if we were serious and he told her we were.  She returned home and began the afghan that was her wedding present to us a year later.  It was well over eleven feet long before it was blocked.  It's still almost eight feet long and the only snuggly thing we've ever had that covered either my husband or son head to toe.  They adore it. 

This is part of a piece she made to hang in a doorway.  I was able to have it framed by wrapping it around an acid free mat.

Anna Pereksta, Framed needlework, date unknown. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 2007.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: My Kind of Party

The writing on the back of this photograph reads "Aunt Boss's birthday".  Aunt Boss was Sarah Elizabeth Conway Dawson (1867-1957) and if this was at her home, the party would would have been in Cocke County, TN.  I believe the woman pictured is Aunt Boss's niece, Selma Sawyer.  This probably was a milestone birthday, leading me to think this was taken in 1947 (too many sweets for 1942 and WW II rationing). 

East Tennessee birthday party, Photograph, date unknown. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 1997.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Engagement Announced

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch for providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

I couldn't resist this bit of fluff.  This engagement announcement for my grandparents was in a box of assorted papers taken from a great-aunt's house in the mid 1990s.   I hadn't looked at it in years, but my son's approaching wedding sent me looking to see how earlier generations celebrated marriages.  It does reinforce my belief that my grandmother and I grew up on different planets - completely different planets.  I must have looked like a Martian to her.

The announcement most likely appeared in a Johnson City, Tennessee newspaper during late summer or early fall in 1925.  Bob and Iva were married October 1, 1925 in Portland, Oregon.

Miss Williams' Engagement to Mr. Sawyer Announced.

The engagement and approaching marriage of Miss Iva Williams to Mr. Robert Sawyer, of Portland, Oregon, was announced Friday at a brilliant party given by Miss Mary McLeod.

A profusion of early autumn flowers were effectively employed in decoration. Dahlias, vari-hued asters, marigolds, golden-rod and roses were artistically arranged in baskets and placed throughout the spacious reception suite.

The early afternoon hours were spent in the playing of bridge. Five progressions were made, at the end of which Mrs. Paul Shamhart was awarded a handsome pair of silk hose for holding top score. Miss Anita Haun was given a dainty silver vanity for consolation. Miss Margaret Hutchens, a popular bride-elect, was presented with beautiful candles.

At the close of the afternoon the hostess, assisted by Mrs. E. L. McLeod and Mrs. Argil Williams, served a delicious course, consisting of chicken salad, sandwiches, potato chips, pickles, iced tea, mints, nuts and pineapple ice. Each table was covered with handsome luncheon cloths, and bud vases, filled with Columbia roses, were used for table decorations.

Immediately following the serving of the ice course, Master Argil Williams, clad in white, appeared carrying a large paper bag. Approaching the hostess he announced that he was about to let the cat out of the sack. The cat was released and caught by Miss McLeod. In a bow of ribbon, tied around the cat's neck, the following verse was discovered:
You may have suspected what this note contains,

And now you are ready for the news that it brings.

For Iva and Bob, in a far-away state,

Wedding bells ring at an early date.

The first of October's the chosen time,

The place - Portland, Oregon - thus ends my rhyme.
Those present on this occasion were: Misses Iva Williams, Margaret Hutchens, Nelle Hannah, Louise Hannah, Mildred Crouch, Viola Mathes, Anita Haun, Ada Evans, Edith Lyle, Della Spencer, Cora Mae Crockett, Mary McLeod, Mrs. C. R. Smathers, Mrs. J. Hubert Johnson, Mrs. Cleveland B. Coe, Mrs. Paul Shamhart, Mrs. J. O. Susong, Mrs. Maynard Sample, Mrs. Earl Doss, Mrs. Argil Williams, Mrs. Minnie Bearden of Chattanoga, Mrs. R. J. Williams and Mrs. E. L. McLeod.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Follow Friday: Virginia Road Orders

I was doing some housekeeping, cleaning up source citations I wrote early in my research, and noticed again how useful the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) series of 18th c. county road orders had been.  I downloaded half a dozen of the reports in PDF form years ago and hadn't checked their site recently.  

The VTRC website lists eighteen reports derived from county court records that cover time frames ranging from very brief (1763-1764 for Culpepper County) to half a century (1750-1800 for Orange County).  All are in PDF form, indexed, searchable and can be saved.  There are also reports available on early roads and road markers.  

None of the reports provided definitive evidence for the families I was researching, but in conjunction with other records they helped place families or individuals in a specific spot at a specific time.  For migrating families this has been especially helpful.  This entry, for example, from the Spotsylvania County report, was one of the earliest dates I found for John Mulkey in Virginia.  
7 July 1724 O.S., Page 80  
Ordered that John Mulkey be overseer of that [missing] of the road that goes to William Eddins below the orchard of white Oaks, from thence down to the fall landing  
If you are researching 19th c. Virginians it might be worth a look.

Source:  Pawlett, Nathanial Mason, Spotsylvania County Road Orders, 1722-1734 (Charlottesville, VA: Virginia Highway & Transportation Research Council, 1985, revised 2004), 9; digital images, VTRC ( : accessed 18 Jul 2010).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Granville Williams

Granville Williams Funeral Card

Granville H. Williams, Funeral Card, 23 Jul 1888. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 1999.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: R. J. Williams Obituary

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch for providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

An undated, clipped newspaper obituary of R. J. Williams was found in Iva Williams Sawyer's papers in 1993.  R. J., or Reese Jackson, was Iva's father.  He died July 28, 1940. The obituary most likely appeared in a Johnson City, Tennessee newspaper July 29th or 30th, 1940.


R.J. Williams

Funeral services for R. J. Williams, 78, one of Johnson City's pioneer residents, who died at 9:10 p. m., Sunday at his home, 415 West Maple street, will be conducted at 4 p. m., today in Central Baptist church in charge of the pastor, Dr. William R. Rigell, assisted by the Rev. E. A. Cox of Elizabethton.  Burial will be in Oak Hill cemetery.

Active pallbearers:  G. W. Conner, Bernie Britton, R. H. Burkhart, C. W. Dickey, D. C. Long, J. J. Herren, Bryan Meredith and H. C. Hoss.

Honorary pallbearers: H. B. Miller, J. A. Daniels, J. W. Johnson, J. L. Gilbert, S. A. Brown, J. A. Allison, J. B. Holcombe, D. E. Miller, E. S. McCorkle, M. S. Akers, Alex Masengill, J. K. Poteat, J. Lee Taylor, John W. Sanders, W. M. Belton, R. H. Hickey, Hubert Shipley, F. M. McNees, B. D. Akard, Roy M. Clark, E. L. McCloud, R. E. Harmon, Clyde Walker, Hugh Webb, C. L. DeBord and members of the Baracca class.

Honorary pallbearers are reqeusted to be at the church at 3:30 p. m.

Mr. Williams, who had lived in Johnson City for 56 years, suffered a paralytic stroke last Wednesday.

Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Flora Williams of Johnson City; two sons, Argil Williams of Erwin and Guy Williams of Glendale, Calif., a daughter, Mrs. Robert Sawyer of Morristown; a sister, Mrs. O. L. James of Abingdon; a brother, G. M. Williams of Comers Rock, Va.; two half-brothers, Charles S. Williams of Johnson City and Robert Williams of Columbus, Ohio; two half-sisters, Mrs. Robert Lusk of Johnson City and Mrs. Minnie James of Virginia; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Not So Long Ago or Far Away: Six Degrees to Slavery

I read a fun (and thought provoking) post last week.  Dionne at Finding Josephine wrote about finding relationships amongst the slave owners of her ancestors and relations and ended with a Six Degrees challenge concerning President Obama.

Growing up in New England I rarely thought about slavery.  It didn't escape me that life was more difficult for the African-Americans I knew (all two families in my New York suburban existence), but as long as I behaved as I believed I should that was enough for me.  I was even a little smug, believing that my 20th century immigrant and Union soldier southern ancestors shielded me from any "guilt".   Now, original sin notwithstanding, I don't believe in inherited guilt.   I am not responsible for the actions of my ancestors in war or peace.

But as I've considered how much some of their decisions have affected me, it's impossible not consider that slavery has too.  I'm grateful my grandparents came to America.  I'm grateful my ancestors stayed rooted in East Tennessee for centuries giving me a sense of home when my own life has involved so much movement.  And I'm grateful everyday for the man I married (ok, almost everyday).  Smartest move I ever made.

So am I also grateful my grandparents were white and could come here?  That my family stayed in Tennessee because some of them owned slaves who helped keep their standard of living at a level that allowed them to stay and afforded their children a leg up?  Am I grateful for the legacy of my husband's family of devout faith, Catholic education and oodles of southern charm that rested on a foundation of slave run plantations?  I am.

Hard not to feel shame there.  I may not be responsible, but I have surely benefited.

I can't change any of the past.  But I do want to see it clearly.  Slave owning isn't close to the whole story, but it's part of it.  So - Six Degrees to Slave Owning?  Unfortunately, I don't need anywhere near six.  In fact I can do six without much digging.

  • My mother (b. TN) knew her grandmother Flora McAdams (b. 1867, IL) who knew her grandparents Thomas & Cynthia Stephenson McAdams (b. 1806 & 1817, TN) who were slave owners.  Three degrees.
  • My mother (b. TN) knew her grandmother  Catherine Conway (b. 1865, TN) who knew her father Porter Conway (b. 1828, TN) who knew his father James Conway (b. 1802, TN) who was a slave owner.  Four degrees
  • My mother (b. TN) knew her grandfather R.J. Williams (b. 1862, VA) who knew his father Granville Williams (b. 1820, VA) who was a slave owner.  Three degrees.  
  • My mother-in-law (b. MD) knew her grandmother Mariah Lee Palmer (b. 1844, VA) who was a slave owner.  Two degrees.
I was startled to see that even the westward expansion side of the family can participate.  
  • My father-in-law (b. WY) knew his grandfather Frank Clark (b. 1873, IA) who knew his father Andrew Clark (b. 1842, IL) who knew his grandfather Stephen Shelton (b. about 1799, NC or VA) who was a slave owner. Four degrees.
  • My father-in-law (b. WY) knew his grandmother Eva Bonnell (b. 1869, KS) who knew her mother Mary Catherine Shouse (b. 1842, KY) who knew her father Benjamin Shouse (b. 1811, KY) who was a slave owner. Four degrees.  
What I find interesting is that my children, born much more than a century after Emancipation and decades after the Civil Rights Act passed are just as close as I am.  They know or knew everyone of my first degree connections. It's just not that long ago or far away.  

Friday, July 16, 2010

Follow Friday: My Top Ten Genealogy Websites

Randy Seaver has a survey going (based on a NEHGS survey) to rank 8 popular genealogy websites. I ranked them, but realized they are not the most important sites to my research.  

So here's an entirely personal top 10, with four reappearing from Randy's survey -

  1. - I can't live with out it.  Worth every penny.
  2. Google's search engines - especially for Books and Scholar.  I am finding that I'm using and a lot more frequently.  
  3. Library of Virginia Digital Archives - My gold standard for state archives.  I would adopt Virginia ancestors to research if I didn't have a bunch of my own just for the joy of using the site.  Chancery records, land records, WPA surveys, it's endless and wonderful.  
  4. Steve Morse's One Step search engine at - I would never have found some of my immigrant relatives without his work.  I bless him.  
  5. Bill Tarkulich's Slovakia & Environs Genealogy Research Strategies  - Constantly updated and maintained and full of wonderful information and advice.  I just wish he'd venture across the border into Ukraine and unlock some doors there.  
  6. - I'm a latecomer, but once they posted Slovakian church records I was hooked.
  7. Illinois State Archives databases  - The first state archives database I used and still enormously useful.  It's been surpassed by Virginia in the amount of material accessible, due no doubt to the circus-like state government (I have a ringside seat), but they still have one of the best sites out there.
  8. The Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University - Early Washington County Court records and much, much more.  They keep improving their website (so links keep breaking), but it's been worth staying up to date with them.
  9. USGenWeb  - I still find wonderful information and records here, but it's hard.  I know it's volunteer and I'm all admiration for them, but the broken links and limited updates are frustrating.  Still, when it works it's a wonder.  My blue ribbon goes to the Kansas site run by the Kansas State Library.  It's terrific and their Blue Skyways - Heritage site is even better.  
  10. Maryland State Archives - Terrific material, but has been difficult to navigate for me.  Just not as user friendly as Virginia's or Illinois' sites.  Still, their land records are marvelous and worth the effort.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Isaac Mulkey

Isaac Martin Mulkey
1834 - 10 September 1885

Isaac Mulkey, Photograph, date unknown. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE].

Monday, July 12, 2010

Madness Monday: If I Die....

Several years ago I was talking to my father who is usually considered a bright and observant human being.  I've no idea what the topic of conversation was, but I will never forget him beginning a sentence, "If I die..." I was too caught up in the concept that he might NOT die to notice what followed.  I responded, "What if, Kimosabe?"  He maintains he was just being optimistic (and probably checking to see if I was still there).  I do love that man, but I'm not such an optimist.

I sit surrounded by the research materials of two great-aunts, a grandmother, mother and aunt who all died.  I expect I'll follow suit.  My parents entered their family trees into a software program but I spent over a decade validating research, adding sources or making corrections as needed.  I've even managed to add a few names to the trees myself.  That is real progress and if I die we will have contributed something to our family's knowledge.

But how to share that knowledge?  This blog is a first step toward getting the stories, the pictures and the genealogy out of my living room and into the world where it can be found by others researching the same families.

It's the next step that is proving challenging.  I am not going to write a book.  It would take a series and still not present the information I want to present.  For my purposes I prefer the web model.  I've been looking at some family history websites.  Two I particularly like are An American Adventure and Linda McCauley's McCauley, Lanier, Hankins, Hopkins & Taylor Families.  Linda writes Documenting the Details and has been generous in sharing her thoughts on her design decisions.

My concern is, despite archives and viral media, websites are not permanent.  That's one enormous advantage books have.  How can I assure that the information I put on the web will survive me?  A paid website would require my heirs to maintain it which seems burdensome.   Free web hosting services limit design options, are free only because they run ads and offer no guarantee they will survive.  Just ask anyone who used AOL's Hometown service.

A web search proved I am far from alone in thinking about this.  There was a Digital Death Day in California in May.  The Digital Beyond examines multiple aspects of a digital afterlife.  A recent article in Ars Technica reassured me that Google will leave this blog up unless one of my heirs chooses to shut it down (NOT a good idea, kids, unless you want to be haunted for the rest of your days).  Google is probably about as permanent a digital repository as there is today.

So what are your thoughts?  I'd love to know how others are addressing the issue.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

(A Digital) Treasure Chest Thursday: Texting Home

Another one of my digital treasures from the Tennessee Documentary History, 1796-1850 site is a chatty letter to Thomas McAdams in Washington County, Tennessee from his sister-in-law Mary Stephenson, who was visiting in Kingston, southwest of Knoxville in Roane County, Tennessee.  The letter, dated April 4th, 1838, is replying to McAdams' letter to her - a letter full, apparently, of news of the goings on back in Washington County.  Stephenson's letter is transcribed in full on the website.

She responded in kind, sharing her reactions to his news, teasing her sisters about some matchmaking attempts and adding bits of news from her end.  She was probably visiting her paternal aunt, Elizabeth Stephenson McEwen, whose late husband John McEwen had been a merchant in Kingston.

Stephenson to McAdams letter, 4 April 1838, p. 1

Her reference to "cousin Sam" tantalized me very briefly.  I had hopes she was referring to Gen. Sam Houston, her second cousin once removed, for he was close to the McEwens, having reportedly spent time recouping there after injuries suffered during the War of 1812 (see Houston bio posted on the Roane County Heritage Commission website).  But he was established in Texas by this point, serving as President during its brief Republic, and not likely to have been travelling through Tennessee.  It was surely another cousin (there are plenty of candidates, Sam being a most popular name in the extended family) stopping over for a quick visit before continuing his journey.  

There's nothing especially wise or articulate in the letter, no commentary on any events beyond her immediate friends and family, nothing to link her to a larger story.  But is is warm and loving, a little scattered and, as she says, "writen in haste as I am expecting the preachers for supper...".  It could be one of the phone calls or text messages we exchange in our family today, keeping each other abreast of our goings on. 

Stephenson to McAdams letter, 4 April 1838, p. 2
This work is the property of the Special Collections Library, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching, and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. For all other use contact the Special Collections Librarian, Hoskins Library, University of Tennessee, 1401 Cumberland Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37996. (865) 974-4480.  Published with permission.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Thomas Lee Land Division

Survey of Thomas Lee Land Division,  Lancaster County, Virginia  1834
From the Library of Virginia.  Digital image is available at

Monday, July 5, 2010

Madness Monday: ADDing Roots

Anyone looking at my desk, closet or basement could discern that I'm wildly disorganized. But I have a diagnosis to prove it. When my daughter, along with thousands of her peers, was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) with a few learning disabilities tossed in for good measure we enrolled in a research study focusing on genetic links. To no one's surprise I made the grade, as did my mother. Some families are musical, some athletic. We flit - at least our brains and conversations do - and getting facts into our long term memory is harder than getting into Fort Knox. That hyperactivity thing passed us by.

Soon after the diagnoses we toured a gallery of samplers at Williamsburg. My daughter clutched her American Girl Felicity doll as we, who could barely form letters with a pencil, gawked at the idea of stitching those same letters. Then we saw it. One sampler, each letter perfect until the bottom, where she signed her name. I wish I could remember the name. What I do remember are the backwards letters - d's and n's reversed. She had evidently had a pattern for all but her signature. It was a revelation. That was the sampler we would have stitched.

I thought about this again while sorting through boxes from my grandmother's house. She kept report cards. Shockingly, my mother's (guess who had the boxes before me?) are missing, but her sisters' are there, and a few of her brother's. These wonderful adults struggled in school. There were enough comments about poor penmanship, absentmindedness and wildly divergent grades to suggest at least one, if not all could be diagnosed today.

Figuring out which ancestors would or wouldn't qualify for an ADD award has become a game. There are code words - high-spirited, dreamy, impatient - that I listen for. Were they smokers? Coffee drinkers? Both nicotine and caffeine are stimulants with some of the qualities of Ritalin. School records are wonderful. There are A, B & C students, and there are those whose grades resemble a musical scale. You can scratch my father's family. There's not a hint in any of the stories, much less the school reports, of anything close. My grandmother's family seem unlikely candidates. But my grandfather's family - a bonanza!

I asked his sister for directions once. Her right hand bobbed up and down as she answered. Every time she needed to decide between right or left she checked to see which hand she wrote with. At 80, it was automatic. She maintained they all did that in her family. It's a brilliant strategy - if you can remember whether you're right- or left-handed. Their school reports were consistently inconsistent. They consumed pots and pots of coffee morning, noon and night with no decaf to be found. Theirs is the only kitchen I've seen where the 30 cup party coffee maker was never put away. Her mother leashed the younger children to a sewing machine or a kitchen cupboard while she worked. Whether it was to prevent them from wandering off, to protect them from their rambunctious older siblings, or because she knew she couldn't keep track of them and work isn't clear. But it worked.

All ten children made it to adulthood despite high jinks that terrify me to this day (think roofs, farm tools, cars). They were teachers, merchants, farmers and public officials, adored one another and lived full lives. That's useful knowledge and a reassuring legacy for those down the line struggling with labels and narrow expectations of what is normal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

(A Digital) Treasure Chest Thursday: Tennessee Abolitionists

If I write that the best job I ever had actually paid me to sift through documents at the University of Michigan Archives (my heart still pounds at the memory), or that my favorite site to see in Chicago is the Newberry Library you will have some inkling of what a library rat I am.  Genealogy is really just an excuse to dig into those stacks.

One of the glories of the internet is that I can do some of that digging at home.  More and more universities, state archives and historical societies are scanning and posting some of their documents online.  I've mentioned before that the Library of Virginia's Chancery records have been enormously valuable in my research.  Another site that has yielded some wonderful finds is the University of Tennessee's website Tennessee Document History 1796-1850 which includes transcriptions and images of 2,000 documents.  There I found a 19th c. petition to abolish slavery from residents of Washington County signed by three of my great-grandfathers (one 4x and two 5x) as well as several other distant cousins and in-laws (shown below).  Several of the signers were slave owners themselves.

19th c. petition to abolish slavery, page 1

My great-grandfathers' signatures are on the second page (below), in the bottom half of the right column - Jos Duncan Sen, Isaac Mulkey and Jonathan Mulkey. I'd claim the James Duncan in the first column as another great-grand, but there were at least two James Duncans in the area at the time. I got a chill when I first saw this - something about seeing their actual handwriting. The petition is undated and while the website dates it as about 1800, it was probably written a few years later. Isaac Mulkey was born in 1788. It's unlikely he signed this when he was 12 years old.

It's not quite the same as being able to handle the documents themselves, but far more convenient.  Seeing these images, reading these documents puts my great-grands into an historical context that is far richer to me than birth or death dates. Finding that context is my greatest joy as a researcher.

page 2
This work is the property of the Special Collections Library, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching, and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.  Published with permission.