Her reply affirmed that we are Smith cousins and 2nd cousins, sure enough. Her mother was Billie Virginia Smith Byars, and her grandparents were Owen and Fern (Walker) Smith. Her grandfather, Owen, and my grandfather, Weaver, were the oldest and youngest sons of Stephen Albert Smith and his wife Frances (Fannie).
To me, our connection is more than just biological, more than just the fact that our grandfathers were brothers. In fact, if it weren't for her grandparents, I wouldn't be here today. In our correspondence with each other Maryo told me that she only knew "bits and pieces," that her sister--who passed away earlier this year--was the one that knew the family history. She wanted to know more about her grandfather Owen and her grandmother Fern. I had a great story to tell her, but I wanted to see if I could find out more before we talked.
Here is the story I already knew. Fannie Castle, my grandmother, got her first teaching job in a one-room school between Owasso and Collinsville, Oklahoma, during World War I. Since her family lived 30 miles away in Red Fork, she boarded with Mrs. Elizabeth Walker in Collinsville during the school week. Mrs. Walker's daughter, Fern, was married to Owen Smith, who ran a soda shop called the Candy Kitchen with his brother, Weaver. My grandmother, the teacher, was introduced to my grandfather, the soda jerk, and they were married in 1918. If my grandmother had gotten a job closer to home, if Fern hadn't married Owen, if my grandparents had never been introduced, I truly wouldn't be here.
|Fern Walker Smith|
Fern passed away when her daughter Billie was still very young, and my grandmother and grandfather often spent time with her. Through the years my grandmother kept up with Billie and her son, Roy "Bud" Byars, and many years later I became friends with Bud's wife, Metzie, who was an avid genealogist until her death in 2012. It was at her brother Bud's funeral that I think Maryo and I were introduced.
We had agreed to talk on Sunday. With a two-hour time difference I was going to call mid-day, which would be mid-morning for her. I stayed up late Saturday night, using marriage and census records on Ancestry to find out more about Owen and Fern and Mr. and Mrs. Walker. If you go all the way back to my very first post on Becky's Bridge to the Past, you will find that this family story was the inspiration for the blog, but that I didn't know much more than the facts I have already given here. I knew that Mrs. Walker's maiden name was Whitmore. I knew that Fern had a brother named Pearcy. I knew that there was someone named Amanda, but I couldn't remember if she was their sister or Pearcy's wife.
So last Saturday night I did a little researching. I found some new facts and was reminded of some I had forgotten. I documented the marriage of Fern and Owen on 16 January 1912 in Collinsville, and of Elizabeth Whitmore and James N. Walker on 31 December 1879 in Benton, Arkansas. By 1900 James and "Lizzie" were living in Valley Center, Sedgwick County, Kansas, with four children: Alonzo, Daisy, Fern, and Pearcy; next door was Oscar Walker, age 32, with wife and daughter. In 1910 J.N. and Lizzie were in Rogers County, Oklahoma. Only Fern and Pearcy were still living at home. Next door was O.U. Walker, about the same age as James; a brother named Oscar?
I got stuck following Elizabeth back to her parents, because I couldn't find her on the 1870 census. James was hard, too, with such a common name, so I tried following his brother Oscar. By using census and Findagrave entries for Oscar, I thought it likely that their parents were William and Virginia Walker of Elm Springs, Arkansas.
I couldn't find the right Alonzo Walker after 1900. I thought Mr. Walker died about 1910, because he never showed up in the census again with Mrs. Walker. However, he remained a rather hazy figure for me; if he died before 1915, my grandmother never knew him, and yet I thought I remembered her speaking of him in a not very complimentary way. I remembered that Metzie had found something out about Daisy, but I couldn't remember what it was. Pearcy died at age 22 in 1916, and I still wasn't sure if Amanda was his sister or his wife. Fern died the same year, leaving Billie who was not quite 4 years old. Billie appeared with Mrs. Walker on the 1920 census, and then Mrs. Walker died in 1926. I couldn't find Billie on the 1930 census.
I was as ready as I was going to be for my conversation with Maryo.
Maryo had some questions, and I had a few answers. Some of the answers led to more questions. She had a piece of information that proved to be crucial to further research.
We talked about her grandparents, Owen and Fern. She was unaware that Owen had been married several times. She only knew about Fern and Rhoda, Owen's last wife, whom we both remembered. I know my grandmother told me he had been married 5 or 6 times (!), but it must have been between censuses, because I couldn't find any other wives' names. However, on the 1910 census (before he married Fern), he was living at the Smith boarding house in Collinsville and was designated as Divorced. As he was 29 at his marriage to Fern, he had had plenty of time to get married and divorced. I told her that the Walkers blamed Owen for Fern's death, and that he had very little contact with Billie as she grew up. Maryo wondered about the date of their marriage and Billie's birth--both in 1912. Was Owen bitter because he had been forced to marry Fern? I could answer that one. Apparently not, as they were married in January and Billie was born in November.
I told her about a photo that Metzie had, showing Owen participating in a wild west show, a popular entertainment of the early 1900's. I have a photocopy that Metzie made for me, and I promised to send it to her.
|Owen in Wild West Show (unfortunately, I don't know|
which one is Owen)
She wondered who Fannie was. That was a name she had heard and also seen--on the back of a locket that Billie wore. I told her that it could be my grandmother, but it could also be referring to Owen's mother. As his mother died in 1905, she felt sure the Fannie she had heard about was my grandmother. I told her that my grandparents spent a lot of time with Billie when she was young. She wondered how they got together after my grandparents moved to Red Fork. I couldn't answer that question, but my grandmother did. (See below)
|Billie Smith and Fannie Castle|
She wondered what I knew about Tom and Ella Arnold, who raised Billie after the death of Mrs. Walker. I didn't know anything. I think that Metzie must have mentioned them to me, but it was one of those things that didn't stick. So, after our conversation it was back to Ancestry to follow up on some leads and tie up some loose ends.
The name Ella Arnold eventually led me to the 1930 census of Stroud, Oklahoma, where Ella was designated "sister" to the head of household, Andrew J. Whitmore. The other members of the household were Andrew's wife Edith and (guess who?) Billie, age 18, designated as "roomer." So apparently Andrew was Mrs. Walker's brother, Ella was Mrs. Walker's sister, and Tom, Ella's husband, had died. With the names Andrew, Elizabeth, and Ella Whitmore, I was able to find them on the 1870 census in Lincoln, Andrew County, Missouri, with parents William and Ann Eliza Whitmore, and a slew of other siblings. (No wonder I had so much trouble finding them as their last name was spelled "Whittemore.") I wasn't positive I had found the right family until I found Ann Eliza on the 1895 Kansas State Census in Wichita, Sedgwick County, living with T.E. (Tom) and Ella Arnold. This seemed to confirm Maryo's recollection of the Arnolds' home in Wichita, which relatives had described as a "mansion."
I tried to find the final resting place of James N. Walker. There is a James N., born in the same year as our Mr. Walker, buried in Tontitown, Arkansas. Google Maps says that is 2 minutes away from Elm Springs, where he grew up. But this James N. died in 1922. If he is Mrs. Walker's husband, where was he on the 1910 and 1920 censuses? Did he abandon the family, which was the hazy recollection I had from decades-old conversations with my grandmother?
If I haven't said this before, and I'm sure I have, my grandmother was amazing. I guess because she didn't make family trees and keep meticulous records, I didn't think of her as a genealogist, but she was, and I'm sure she's the reason that I have always been so interested in genealogy myself. In her 80's and 90's when she was home by herself most of the day, she made scrapbooks for her nieces and nephews and wrote about her life in Kentucky around 1900 and her life in Oklahoma in the 1910's and 20's. That is why I shouldn't have been surprised when I found a document answering many of Maryo's questions.
It was in my Smith file, along with a photocopy of Uncle Owen in his Wild West show. I'm the one who put it in the file, but at the time I guess I didn't need all the information it provided. How did my grandmother know that in 2019 I would need to know all about Mr. and Mrs. Walker and their families? Here is the transcription of the 5-page document that she wrote in her beautiful Spencerian script.
|Mom's memories of the Walkers|
in her handwriting
"In loving memory of a dear fine lady, Lizzie Whitmore Walker. She had 2 brothers, 1 sister: Andrew Whitmore, Frank Whitmore, Ella Whitmore Arnold.
She was married to Jimmie Walker in the 1890's [actually 1879]. They had 2 sons and 2 daughters: Daisy Walker ____?, 'Red' Walker, Fern Walker Smith, Pearcy Walker.
Fern married Owen Smith about 1914 or 15 [actually 1912]. They had 1 daughter, Billie Smith Byars.
In the autumn of 1915 I went to Owasso Okla. to teach in a one room school. The Walkers lived about a mile east of the school. I boarded with the Pearcy Walker family (wife Mandy & small son 'Pete'). They were making preparation to move north of Collinsville. They told me their in-laws might keep me, so after an interview and looking me over they took me in and made me feel 'at home.' I spent 3 happy years with them.
During that time I came to know Fern and her baby girl Billie. She told me of her wonderful brother-in-law Weaver Smith-- He proved to be a "super guy"; after a long courtship we were married June 29, 1918. We spent 52 years together before he died. He proved to be all and more than Fern recommended.
While I was living at the Walkers', Fern died of typhoid fever. Billie came to live with Grandma Walker. She was a dear little girl with brown curly hair. I grew to be very fond of her. She spent many Sunday afternoons riding in a buggy with her Uncle Weaver Smith and his girlfriend, 'Miss Castle.'
Weaver Smith and Fannie Castle were married and established a home in Red Fork, then a suburb of Tulsa. Billie spent many vacation trips with us. Mrs. Walker would come down on the Santa Fe R.R. to Tulsa and I would meet them and we would eat at Bishop's on South Main (It was then Tulsa's Best) and see all the movies at the Ritz, Majestic & Rialto. We had many happy times together. In 1916-1917 we saw all the 'old movies' that came to Collinsville. We had a horse & buggy at our disposal and Saturday saw us in Collinsville for lunch and ready for the 'Perils of Pauline' at the 1 o'clock show.
Mrs. Walker was an excellent cook. She taught me how to make Lemon Meringue Pie that is unexcelled. I shall never forget her flaky hot biscuits and homemade strawberry jam and homemade butter.
Lizzie Whitmore Walker and Granddaughter Billie hold a big place in my memory.
The Jimmie Walker family lived around Cave Springs Ark. Jimmie Walker was Billie Smith Byars' grandfather. He had 2 brothers and 1 sister -- Oscar and Alex Walker were her uncles. The Walkers were the Drug Store owners at Cave Springs for many generations. Jimmie Walker is buried in this area. He died December 4, 1918." [She might have the date confused with Pearcy's death date, which was December 4, 1916.]Facts my grandmother corroborated or got almost right:
- Mrs. Walker had a brother named Andrew and a sister named Ella.
- She was married to James (Jimmie) Walker and had four children: Daisy, "Red" (who must be Alonzo), Fern, and Pearcy.
- She boarded with Pearcy and his wife, Mandy. (Years later, I was discouraged from naming my unborn child--who turned out to be a boy--Amanda. My grandmother said all she could think of was Amanda Walker, who was a big-boned, country girl, and she didn't want that for her granddaughter's name.) Pearcy and Mandy's marriage license shows her maiden name to be Birdsell, and I found the Birdsells living next door to the Walkers in Rogers County, OK, in 1910. I don't know what happened to Mandy and Pete after Pearcy's death.
- She got marriage dates wrong. The Walkers married in 1879, not the 1890's. Owen and Fern married in 1912, not 1914 or 15.
- The Walkers lived in Elm Springs, not Cave Springs. However, Mr. and Mrs. Walker did marry in Benton County, Arkansas, the same county where Cave Springs is located. There was a brother named Oscar.
- If I were a betting woman, I would say that the James N. Walker buried in Tontitown with a death date of 1922 is our guy. I think it's significant that he isn't buried with Mrs. Walker, Fern, and Pearcy, who are buried in Collinsville. My grandmother also mentioned the fact that he was buried somewhere else; she just got the place and date wrong.
My grandmother used to tease me about my need to follow the rules; in this case, making sure all the dates and places are correct and documented. She was more in the school of "close enough is good enough." You also have to remember that she was writing down these "facts" at least 60 years after they happened, and she didn't have Ancestry.com, where all the names, dates, and places are at your fingertips. But isn't it great to imagine all of them driving down the brick streets of Collinsville in a horse and buggy to go to the "picture show"?
To genealogists reading this post: While you're filling out your family tree and keeping meticulous records, remember to add some "fun facts" about yourself and the ancestors you remember. To family members--maybe yet to come--those stories will mean more than all the names and dates in the world.