Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Merry Christmas! You're Going to North Carolina

On Christmas Eve I surprised my brother with his semi-annual nostalgic gift. It was a framed photo of the farmhouse my Castle great-grandparents rented from Dr. Fred S. Clinton when they first moved to Red Fork sometime in the 1910's. Dr. Clinton was a physician and co-owner of the Sue Bland, the first well to strike oil in Tulsa County. Clinton Middle School, where my brother and I attended 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, still sits on the site of the original farmhouse. When we attended Clinton Junior High School, it was in the original school building, built in 1925.

Clinton Junior High School in 1925
From the Beryl Ford Collection/Tulsa Historical Society

I had never seen a photograph of the Clinton farmhouse, but I attended a meeting with my grandmother when a painting of the old house was presented to the school. I wasn't even sure that a photograph of the house existed. A little research uncovered the fact that a photograph of the house was available from the Tulsa Historical Society. Voila!

Clinton Farmhouse
From the Beryl Ford Collection/Tulsa Historical Society

Tim really liked the photo, and he had a surprise of his own. During the gift opening portion of the evening, he leaned over to me and said, "Your gift from us is that we are going to North Carolina this summer." On our previous trips to Kentucky and Tennessee we had talked about how so much of our family had come from North Carolina and how neither of us had ever been there. As usual, we'll try to combine the genealogical and the historical. So where are we planning to go?

1. I'm thinking that our first stop in North Carolina will be Asheville, right on I-40, which will be our route out of Oklahoma, straight through Tennessee, and on to North Carolina. We can't visit North Carolina without seeing Biltmore and exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains.

2. Our Powell ancestors came predominantly from Wake Co., NC. The narrative written by our great-great-aunt Lydia from information given to her by her father Benjamin (See "The Powells") says that the Powell ancestors came from Virginia to Halifax Co., NC, then to Wake Co. before the Revolutionary War. Dempsey Powell was the patriarch of this family, and his name can be found on the 1790 and 1800 censuses in Wake Co. Fortunately, the county seat of Wake Co. is Raleigh, which is also the capital and location of the State Archives. It's also right on I-40.

I hope that some pre-trip research will help me determine if there are any Powell-related sites to see in Wake Co. The home of Dempsey Powell (or of his son Dempsey Jr.--sources vary) still was standing in Wake Co. in the 1960's. I found references to the home of Dempsey Powell's son Jesse that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Wake Forest. I'm hoping to convince my brother to let me have half a day at the Archives. According to the catalog of the Archive holdings, there is a box that contains information about Dempsey Powell's military service in the Revolution and a folder that contains the bounty land warrant awarding Dempsey Powell his land on the Duck River in Tennessee for his service. Surely Tim will want to see that.

3. It's only 3 hours from Raleigh to Roanoke Island. I can't be that close and not visit the site of the Lost Colony that has fascinated me since I first read about it 50 years ago. We can't see North Carolina without visiting the coast.

4. Doubling back to meet up again with I-40, we can follow it to its end in Wilmington. It's only a short drive from there to the border of Brunswick and Columbus counties where our Simmons, Soles, and Mansell relatives lived before they moved to Alabama. I think the best we can hope for there is to get a flavor of the area that our ancestors left in the 1830's.

My cousins and I speculate that the family's efforts to prove Cherokee membership were fruitless because we weren't Cherokee, but Waccamaw. According to the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe website, the Waccamaw tribal homeland lies partially in Columbus County, about 35 miles from Wilmington. Hopefully, we'll have time to visit the area, particularly Lake Waccamaw and the Green Swamp Nature Preserve.

5. Traveling north to meet back up with I-40 will take us to Charlotte. We have no family connection there, but I hear it's a fun city. Maybe we can stop for lunch or dinner on our way back home.

As usual, we'll push it to make the trip in a week, but I think we can do it. If you read this and have suggestions for our trip or more information about sites connected to our ancestors, especially the Powell and Simmons families, please let us know.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Simmons or Soles or (Maybe) Mansell DNA, Part 2

I had never heard of the Mansells before I discovered my great-grandfather's Guion Miller application for Indian citizenship on behalf of his children. He made a deposition in 1908 which includes some genealogically significant information:

"I think about the time of her (his wife Fannie's) birth her father died, and then after she was born his wife married a white man...Her mother's married name at the time she was born was Mansfield or Mansel, some called her Elizabeth Mansfield. Her name was Elizabeth Sims before marriage. My wife's mother's mother was Soles. Her given name was Priscilla Soles. My wife's father was John Mansel, sometimes known as Mansfield. I do not remember her father's parents' names...My wife's mother's name was Cotton when we came to this country (Indian Territory/Oklahoma.)"

Until my brother and I found this application in the archives at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, I had always thought my grandfather's mother's name was Fannie Cotton. My source for this information was my grandmother, and I don't doubt that this was what she had heard or what she thought to be true.

Here are the facts as I know them: 1. Others have listed a birthdate of 7 June 1849 for Fannie. I don't know exactly where this information comes from, but in any case, Francis Mansfield, age 1, is enumerated on the 1850 census of Pike Co. AL with her mother Elizabeth Mansfield and brothers William, Samuel, Daniel, Simeon, Benjamin, John, and Amos. She is consistent about her age in later censuses: age 11 in 1860, age 21 in 1870, and age 31 in 1880. 2. Her mother's husband and father of the boys was John Mansell, who died around 1843/1844. 3. Her mother married William W. Cotton on 26 August 1863.

If you've been following closely, you see the discrepancy. Even though Fannie used the name Mansell on her marriage license to Stephen A. Smith, John Mansell could not have been her father as he was dead at least five years before her birth. William W. Cotton was probably not her father either. He and Elizabeth did not marry until 1863, and I haven't been able to find him on the 1850 census in Pike Co. It's possible that Fannie was the daughter of one of the Mansell sons, granddaughter to Elizabeth, but so far there's no proof of that either, and Stephen flatly states in his deposition that John Mansell was her father.

Genealogists certainly wish they could trust every piece of information they find in a written document from the actual time period, but in this case you have to take a closer look. First, the source of the information is Stephen A. Smith who is relating information about his deceased wife's family. Second, his motive is to gain Cherokee citizenship for his children. However, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. It's not crucial that he establish John Mansell as the father of these children as he is claiming Indian descent through the mother, Elizabeth Simmons.

I think he was either reporting what he had been told or he was trying to protect the reputation of his late wife whose mother apparently was not married to her father at the time of her birth. In fact, I kept hoping I would find some way that he was telling the truth, some discrepancy in the date of John Mansell's death, but I read the estate papers myself on, and they are dated from 1843 to 1848 and do not list Francis (Fannie) as an heir of John Mansell, deceased, although all the boys are listed.

Perhaps DNA will someday provide the data that will allow me to identify Fannie's father. What I was pleased to find in the list of surnames of Leo Pentney Gaines on FTDNA was the name Simmons, as this corroborated what Stephen Smith said in his deposition: that Elizabeth's maiden name was Sims (in other places, he used Simes or Simmons.) Some trees on have Elizabeth's maiden name as Monroe and Monrow, perhaps derived from the middle name of her son Daniel.

Other statements made by Stephen were either carefully worded or literally true. "I think about the time of her birth her father died"; well, give or take 5 years or so. "Her mother's married name at the time she was born was Mansfield or Mansell"; true. "My wife's mother's name was Cotton when we came to this country." I think this is further proof that Elizabeth did come to Oklahoma with the Smiths in 1894. This has been stated by some family members and disputed by others because of Elizabeth's age at the time, but in the original application for Indian rights that was filed while Fannie was still alive, Elizabeth made her statement before a notary public in Cleveland Co., Oklahoma Territory. This brings us back to the Webb family again. It was suggested to me by a Mansell cousin that perhaps Elizabeth came to Oklahoma with the Smiths and returned to Alabama with Joanna Mansell Webb's family, who traveled back to Alabama before finally settling permanently in Oklahoma.

Some of Stephen's other statements still require some proof which I hope DNA can someday provide. In a Guion Miller application filed by one of the Mansells, Elizabeth's father is identified as Benjamin Simmons. Some trees list his wife as Leannah Souls. Many Mansell researchers recognize some kind of connection between Elizabeth and Luke Russell Simmons. (She is listed as one of his creditors in his estate papers and bought several items at the auction of his assets.) The wife of Luke Russell Simmons has been identified as both Priscilla Hargette and Priscilla Soles.

Leo Pentney Gaines and I share 111 cM's on our FTDNA tests, which is not a small match. We are definitely related, probably as descendants of Elizabeth Simmons. Not only did DNA help me find this cousin, it may someday help me identify the true fathers of Fannie and Elizabeth. The obituaries of Mr. Gaines also alerted me to the fact that his mother remarried and had other children with a different last name. If they ever do DNA testing, I will be aware that they are also descendants of Mamie Webb, Joanna Mansell, and Elizabeth Simmons.

I only wish that determining my connection with some of my other DNA matches was as easy as it was with Mr. Gaines. This week I've found a dozen new cousins that all match in the same area of Chromosome 19. A dozen! Can I determine who our common ancestor is? Not that easy. That's a post for another day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Simmons or Soles or (Maybe) Mansell DNA, Part 1

Back at the end of November I got a match on Family Tree DNA with a man named Leo Pentney Gaines. I actually know how I am related to him. If you haven't jumped on the DNA bandwagon yet, you might not realize how seldom you actually know how you are related to your matches. I think some people assume that DNA testing will answer every question they have about their family trees, but unfortunately, that's just not true--at least not yet.

Out of my first page of matches on Family Tree DNA (in order by number of cM's shared), you can see how many I actually know by looking at the table below.

Match Shared cM's Suggested Relationship Do I know how we are related?
My brother 2282.00 Brother Yes
Miller 134.68 2nd-3rd Cousin No
Huff 122.26 3rd Cousin Yes
Leo Pentney Gaines 111.60 2nd-4th Cousin Yes
Castle 83.96 3rd Cousin Yes
Coy 74.33 2nd-4th Cousin No
Dexheimer 70.23 2nd-4th Cousin No
Hay 69.83 3rd Cousin Yes
Stroud 68.35 2nd-4th Cousin No
Childress 68.26 2nd-4th Cousin No

Those who have been tested have the opportunity to list family surnames and download a Gedcom (their tree) to FTDNA. Some take advantage of that opportunity, and some do not.

  • Miller is my closest match next to my brother. At a 2nd cousin level I should probably know who he is. We do not have a single surname in common, including Miller.
  • Huff is one of my Huff cousins. I happen to know that he is deceased. Neither his surnames nor his tree is posted on FTDNA. I know how I am related to him because I have made contact with a couple of hard-working Huff cousins who are finding and encouraging other cousins to test and keeping track of the matches.
  • More to come on Leo Pentney Gaines.
  • As you might have guessed, Castle is one of my Castle cousins. Our great-grandfathers were brothers.
  • Coy has not posted surnames or a tree. I've investigated a little but have been unable to determine how we are connected.
  • According to her posted tree, Dexheimer and I have a couple of locations in common: Russell Co., VA, and Morgan Co., KY. I haven't determined exactly how we are connected, but I have a number of ancestors who migrated from Russell Co. to Morgan Co., so I hope to eventually find our common ancestor.
  • Hay and I share Huff and Roberts ancestors.
  • Stroud posted both surnames and a tree. We have some surnames in common, but I have not been able to determine the exact connection.
  • Childress did not post surnames or a tree.
Out of my second page of 10 matches, I only know how I am connected to one match. (As the number of shared cM's gets smaller, the common ancestor gets farther away and harder to trace.) So you can imagine how excited I was to be able to figure out my connection to Mr. Gaines.

I don't want to discourage anyone from DNA testing because it will only get better as time goes on and more people are tested. I do want to encourage those who test to take advantage of all the tools you have at your disposal. If you can't download a tree, at least list your surnames and reply to email queries from your matches. It is easy to go into your profile on FTDNA and add surnames and locations. In fact, adding locations to my surnames is a goal I have added to my genealogy "to-do" list.

If you do have some information to work with, you can sometimes figure out your connection to a match, as I did with Leo Pentney Gaines. It actually was pretty easy, and I was equally as excited that an existing paper trail on my Smith side has now been validated by DNA.

First, I searched for Leo Pentney Gaines on Even though I didn't know a birthdate or location, I thought I would try because he had a fairly uncommon name. Depending upon the age of the person tested, it might be possible for you to find one of your matches on the 1930 or 1940 census. Sadly, the first result I got in my search for Mr. Gaines was his obituary. He died in October. His home was in Texas, but he was buried in Oklahoma. If I had Googled his name, I would have gotten the same result, and if you don't subscribe to, that is an option.

A second result was the 1930 census for L.P. Gaines, which included the names of his parents, Harry Leo and Mamie Gaines. They were living in Fitzhugh, Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, which is where, according to the obituary, Mr. Gaines was buried. So I still had the right family, and living with them in 1930 was Mamie's mother, Joanna Webb. Here was a name I recognized. Her father was Daniel Monroe Mansell, the half-brother of my great-grandmother Fannie. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Smith Family ABC's

We have a gift-giving tradition in my family. Every couple of years or so, I try to give my brother something for Christmas that will make him cry.

It started with a picture of my dad, riding his Shetland pony. That year I gave my brother a shadowbox that included the picture and one of the set of spurs that came with Daddy's Western outfit.

Another year I found three photos of my brother and me with Santa and framed them. Once I had a plate made for him by our art teacher at school that pictured all the important places and events in his life. I'm not a very creative person, so I can't come up with these ideas every year. Tim never knows when he'll get one of these nostalgic presents, so if it looks suspicious he asks, "Is this going to make me cry?"

A couple of years ago my friend and I had been on a trip to Colorado and New Mexico. On the way home we started talking about all the ABC books that have become so popular recently. We started brainstorming about a family ABC book and what all the letters would stand for. When I got home, I wrote down the ones I could remember and determined that I would make my brother an ABC book for Christmas.

Here's the title page of the ABC book I made for my brother's Christmas present two years ago.

Here's the Table of Contents. Try it, and see if you can think of the ABC's of your family!

(By the way, I'm not telling what I made my brother for Christmas this year. It's related to our family history, but I don't think it will make him cry.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cranberry Traditions

Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without my grandmother's cranberry salad. Most old recipes for cranberry salad have apples or oranges in addition to the cranberries, but not my grandmother's. It was also made in a particular way that was hard to duplicate. First, you had to crush the fresh cranberries in a food grinder. We had an old cast iron one that you attached to the counter top with a big thumbscrew. It fit on the counter top at 3319 W. 38th St. perfectly.

Jason preparing the cranberries his first Thanksgiving

Mom's Recipe (as it appeared in the Park School 75th Anniversary Cookbook)
1 pt. fresh cranberries
1 15-oz. can crushed pineapple
1 3-oz. cherry Jello
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup pecans
Put cranberries through food grinder. Add 3/4 cup sugar. Dissolve Jello in 1 cup boiling water. Add pineapple, Jello, and nuts to cranberries. Stir. Allow 24 hours to set. Refrigerate.

Eventually after my grandmother's death, that grinder was lost or broken, and for years we had to make do with a layered strawberry salad that was good, but just not the same. I even tried to prepare the cranberries with a food processor, but it didn't crush the berries and release all that wonderful juice.

I was delighted when I found a grinder just like our old one in an antique store. However, the house where I was living didn't have a lip on the counter top to attach the screw mechanism to. I managed to crush the cranberries by attaching the grinder to an old desk and made a huge juicy, purply mess. Back to the strawberry salad.

Then I found a recipe for Southern-style cranberry salad that substituted 1 can of whole berry cranberry sauce for the fresh cranberries. Why didn't I ever think of that? I had to modify it a little because it had, to us, unnecessarily added mandarin oranges. Here's that modified recipe.

Southern Cranberry Salad
1 pkg. (3 oz.) cherry Jello
1 cup boiling water
1 can (16 oz.) whole berry cranberry sauce
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped pecans
Place the gelatin in a large heatproof glass bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Stir the gelatin with a fork until it has dissolved. Add the cranberry sauce, pineapple, and pecans, and stir until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap or lid. Place the salad in the refrigerator and let it chill at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Having not had the real thing in many years, some family members had to be introduced again to my grandmother's wonderful cranberry salad, and others tried it for the first time. Now everybody loves it, especially my daughter-in-law, and it's guaranteed to be the thing I'm requested to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, I have to make some tonight to take to her grandparents' house for dinner tomorrow. Thank goodness I don't have to use the food grinder!

Happy Thanksgiving!

My grandmother, Aunt Georgia, Aunt Jessie, Big Mom

Monday, November 25, 2013

3319 West 38th Street

I can't talk about Big Mom without talking about her house. I have vivid memories of visiting her there when I was little, and then of course, I lived there myself for over 25 years. The house still sits right across the street from Park Elementary School, which was the original site of Red Fork High School, and I still visit it in my dreams.

House in the 1960's
The first census in which the Castles are living there is 1930. In addition to George T. and Florida Castle, the other residents of the home were son Goldman, son Warner, daughter Jessie, son Tommie, and widowed daughter Georgia with her daughter, Marilou. During the 1930's when Grandpa was on strike from the refinery, he and my grandmother and the twins lived in Big Mom's house. On the 1940 census Uncle Harry (Goldman), Aunt Betty, and their son John were living with Big Mom. 

House about 1928
Modifications were made to the house at different times to accommodate the family members living with Big Mom. She added a second front door and a side entrance. The two upstairs bedrooms were wallpapered with planes and cowboys for Daddy and Uncle Mack. All the family were welcome to live there when they had need, and someone always seemed to.

House showing added back bedroom
My family would move there in 1962 when our house at 2717 W. 42nd St. had to be demolished to make room for the Red Fork Expressway, but before that we were often at the house on 38th St. What I remember from that time was the front porch--almost always the place we sat to visit; Big Mom's scratchy horsehair sofa, tabletop radio, and red-letter Bible; the curtain that hung on a rod between the living and dining room; and the narrow, creepy, boxed-in stairs that led to two bedrooms with sloping walls because they were under the eaves of the house.

After one of our visits, when my brother was about 2, Big Mom called in a panic to say that she had found an empty container of aspirin in the bedroom where Tim had been playing. We were ready to rush him to the emergency room when somebody thought to unzip his snowsuit, and the pills came rolling out!

Big Mom died in 1962, and soon, by chance, my family was looking for a place to live. After looking at several houses, my grandmother decided that we would just move into the house on 38th St. We made our own modifications to the house, including the addition of a mantel and gas stove in the living room, shelving in the doorway between the living and dining room, closets and doors, opening and widening the stairs to the upper floor, and modernization of the kitchen and bathroom.

Mantel we brought from the house on 42nd St. and shelving in the doorway
According to the History of the State of Oklahoma, written by Luther B. Hill in 1909, John I. Yargee was a prominent Creek Indian whose land adjoined the community of Red Fork. He was married to Nannie Porter, who was the sister of Pleasant Porter. (See my post, "Pleasant Porter Elementary School.") He was particularly known for the quality of his land and his livestock, and the land was platted as a residential addition in 1907. The legal description of Big Mom's homestead was Lots 9, 10, 11, and 12 of Block 1 of the Yargee Addition to the Town of Red Fork.

The property backed up to Red Fork Hill, and a large area at the back of the lots was fenced for the Castles' livestock. Big Mom raised cattle and chickens there, and later my brother would raise bantam chickens, pigeons, and a particularly rambunctious goat named Sugar.

When I remember the house on 38th St., I am as apt to remember the yard as I am the house. Trumpet vines and honeysuckle grew over the chain-link fence and the stump of an old tree near the front porch. (I wrote an especially syrupy poem about the stump when I was in junior high.) We had room to play softball, designating various trees and bushes as the bases, and I remember knocking a pitch from Aunt Jessie right into one of the living room windows. We had a playhouse in the back yard that had originally been the office at one of Uncle George Beebe's parking lots in downtown Tulsa.

My grandmother and the stump
Me and the stump

But what made a bigger impression on me than the yard or the house was the hill. There was no fear in those days for kids playing outdoors, and I often climbed the hill by myself and enjoyed the woods. After I read Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, I planted flowers on the hill in a not-very-successful attempt to recreate the sanctuary that Freckles built in the woods.

The hill was also the scene of the most terrifying experience in my life as a mother. When my son was about 4, we were living in a house in Carbondale and came over to visit my grandmother one Saturday. Jason mentioned the hill as we drove up to the house, but I told him to stay in the yard while I went in to tell my grandmother we were there. Four hours later we found Jason a mile up the hill, sleeping in a dry creek bed with my dad's dogs. In his interview with Channel 8 News, he explained, "I was jus' chasin' the dogs." And taking ten years off his mother's life.

After that brief excursion into independent living, I moved back home with my grandmother and dad, and Jason went through 5th grade at Park Elementary School--sent every morning and welcomed home in the afternoon by my grandmother. After she moved into a nursing home in 1990, it got harder and harder to maintain the old house. My brother and I finally sold it. I drive by now and then, but it's just not the same.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gimme That Ol' Time (New Age) Religion

On my mother's side of the family the predominant religious denomination was Primitive Baptist. For years I considered it out of the mainstream, until I found out how numerous Primitive Baptist churches are in Appalachia and the South. The Primitive Baptists believe in predestination, but at least they don't handle snakes or drink poison.

My dad's family were mainly Methodist and Christian (Disciples of Christ), with a few Catholics thrown in for good measure. I myself have belonged to both Southern Baptist and Methodist churches. All these are common and numerous where we live. So how in the world did the Day sisters, Emma, Florida, and Retta Lee, come to be members of a weirdly New Age religious movement called the I Am Activity?

I blame Retta Lee, the youngest of the Day sisters, although I don't really know if she was the first to convert. I suspect her because she lived most of her life in Mt. Shasta, California, where the I Am movement began. Mount Shasta is a sacred place to many groups, and it was there in the early 1930s that a man named Guy Ballard claimed to have met the Count de St. Germain, an alchemist (and probable con man himself) who, incidentally, died in 1784.

Guy Ballard was a student of Theosophy as it developed in the late 1800s under the leadership of Madame Blavatsky who synthesized Western and Eastern religious ideas and originated the idea of Ascended Masters, ordinary human beings who have achieved God-like status through reincarnation. Guy Ballard furthered these ideas, identifying many Ascended Masters (including St. Germain and Jesus), and claimed that they spoke through him and that he himself would experience ascension at the time of his death. Because they recognize Jesus as an Ascended Master, many members of the I Am movement consider themselves to be Christian.

Madame Blavatsky
Guy Ballard

I could go on and on about the history and beliefs of this group, but you can research that for yourself if you are interested. What I want to understand is how the Day sisters fell under the sway of this (what else can you call it?) cult. I wish I knew when they joined so I could identify the historical or family context. Was it in the 1930s when the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl made the future seem a scary prospect? Was it after the death of their beloved father? 

Sisters Ida, Florida, Zedda, Emma, Margaret, Minta, and Retta Lee
Grandma and Grandpa Day
I know they all attended meetings in the 1960s. Were they new converts or had they been members for years?

I know that their mother, Grandma Day, was highly religious. It's possible that Emma and Retta Lee felt that their mother's religion was too constraining and prided themselves on their free thinking. I found this reference in a letter Aunt Emma wrote to my grandmother in 1968, not long after the death of her sister, Ida Day Norman. Emma wrote, "She (Ida) was so sincere in her religious convictions & wanting all to believe like her. So did my mother. I say let all be free. No one could believe any religion more than I believe the Ascended Masters' teachings of the Great 'I Am' God. The Bible says: 'He that Christ made free, is free indeed.'"

In Big Mom's case, I suspect that the appeal for her lay in having some control over her circumstances. Her little I Am book gives evidence for this. The Violet Flame on the cover of the book is the movement's symbol of the healing power of positive thinking--that by repeatedly reciting the affirmations in the book, one could make desired change happen. She has written in the margins: "Read over & over," "Read 9 times," "Accept." 

What they all passed along to my grandmother was this belief in positive thinking. My grandmother was a great adherent of this principle--but hers was more the Norman Vincent Peale variety. In a letter from Retta Lee, written in 1970, it is obvious that my grandmother had been tactful and careful in her comments about "the Ascended Masters' teachings." Retta Lee had written, "Glad you enjoyed reading the things I sent you, and your remark 'thought-provoking' is applicable, for when we begin to think outside of ourselves at the Great Universe and Its Laws it does require an expansion of consciousness from the monotony of routine thinking."

I do admire these women for their ability to think outside the conventions of their day. I just wish they had believed in something that was a little more, well, believable. I'll remember that the next time I watch the weekend marathon of "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I was "on the hunt" this weekend, as my grandmother used to call it. As a kid, my family was always looking for a piece of paper, a piece of clothing, somebody's car keys. This weekend it was something I knew I had had in my hand within the past couple of years, but there were several places I could have put it. The object was a small paperback book, almost a pamphlet, of responsive readings from the I AM meetings that my great-grandmother used to attend. (See my last post, "Big Mom.") I had planned to write a post about the I AM movement, and I really needed that little book. However, now I'm going to hold off on that for a bit, while I describe some of the other treasures I found this weekend.

Keepsakes are like mitochondrial DNA, passed down from mother to daughter. In my grandmother's case, she inherited her mother's keepsakes, collected a mighty number of them herself, and kindly preserved a few of my mother's. When, in her last few years she began a project to create scrapbooks for her sisters, her remaining brother, nieces and nephews, and her grandchildren, I remember being confused about why I was angry with her over this magnanimous gesture. I still don't know if I was mad that she was giving our family history away or if I knew that she was disposing of an excess of memorabilia because she was nearing the end of her life. I shouldn't have worried about all the stuff she gave away. Lord knows there were plenty of photos, clippings, and keepsakes to go around, with plenty left over for me. In fact, they have been in two big storage bins that I have lugged around with me to the 7 or 8 houses I have lived in since my grandmother died in 1992.

I kept thinking I would go through them, but I just never got around to it. This weekend was it. It started out as a hunt for Big Mom's little I AM book, but it became a whole afternoon of laughter and tears. 

I found:

  • The original clipping from the Tulsa World that declared my dad and his brother as the first twins born in Tulsa in 1928
  • My grandmother's original application for teacher's retirement when it went into effect in 1942. It listed every teaching job she had had up until then, including how much she was paid. Her first teaching job in 1915-16 was in Owasso, and she was paid $250 for 5 months of work.
  • A short sketch she had written, describing what she and grandpa wore at their wedding and what their first years together were like.
  • Newspaper and magazine articles about her innovative teaching techniques, including having her class measure 1 acre on the school grounds and re-enact the Land Run
  • A map she had drawn from memory of West Liberty, KY, and the surrounding area, including the names of residents that she remembered from her childhood. On a few sheets of old stationery she had listed all the residents of Red Fork that she could remember from the years when the Castle family first lived there.
  • Postcards, letters, and greeting cards from as far back as the 1930s. Letters from her aunts Emma and Retta Lee in California backed up what I thought to be true--that they were the original I AM members and had encouraged their sister Florida to join the group.
  • A list of my grandfather's kind gestures and funny sayings that my grandmother had written down after he passed away. I had forgotten that he was always looking for his "goood hat."
  • The tag from my brother's hospital crib that read "Smith boy"
  • A note that my mother wrote to her mother when she was still in the hospital after giving birth to me. I don't know why my dad's mother had this little note, but it meant a lot to me to get this glimpse of my early days with my mother. I was breast feeding just fine, thank you very much, and was gaining weight every day. Story of my life.
I could go on and on. It was amazing how much I found that would have enhanced the blog posts I've written this year, not to mention my vacation to West Liberty. I knew there was a clipping from the paper about the twins' birth but I hadn't seen it in years. When my brother worked at the Tulsa Public Schools' Service Center, I asked him to look up Mom's teaching records but they don't keep them. In my own garage I had the information I was looking for, and I didn't know it. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote that I didn't know what my grandmother wore at her wedding, and I possessed a description of her dress in her own handwriting! It just goes to show that the suggestion from veteran genealogists about searching for records in your own home is true. I don't think I found any new genealogical information, but if I didn't know anything, these two bins of memorabilia would be a gold mine. 

The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a keepsake as "something that you keep to help you remember a person, place, or event." My grandmother's keepsakes certainly were meant to do that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Big Mom

Today is the birthday of my great-grandmother, Sarah "Florida" Day Castle, born in 1878 in White Oak, Magoffin County, Kentucky.  "Big Mom" was my paternal grandmother's mother and the center of my family's life when I was a child.  She lived in a 1-1/2 story house in Red Fork, a community that was annexed to Tulsa in 1927.  After her death in 1962, my grandparents, my dad, my brother and I moved into her house at 3319 W. 38th St.  

That house was as much a part of my life as Big Mom was, and it still shows up often in my dreams. Big Mom and her dad built the house themselves, modeling it on another house in Red Fork.  She was working on the roof when family members came by to tell her that her first grandchild, Aunt Georgia's Marilou, had been born.

She had come to Oklahoma from Kentucky in 1907 with her husband, George Turner Castle, and her six oldest children.  They settled first on a farm between Davenport and Chandler, where her youngest two, Jessie and Tommie, were born in 1909 and 1914. Their first home in Red Fork was a farmhouse rented from Dr. Fred S. Clinton on the site of the future Clinton Middle School.

Sarah Florida Day, known as Florida (or more commonly, Flordy) was the second oldest of seven daughters of James Thomas and Nancy Emily (Reed) Day.  The other sisters were Ida, Zedda, Emma, Margaret, Minta, and Retta Lee.  Their only brother, Cassa, died at the age of 4.  Florida married George Castle in January 1896 after the death of his first wife, Frances Nickell, in childbirth. She was 17 and he was 32.

George T. Castle had been a leader of the community in Kentucky--a postmaster and county court clerk--but became increasingly handicapped with arthritis. Florida worked hard to support the family, working as postmistress of the Red Fork post office and making salads at the Mayo Hotel kitchen.  She also started the first Methodist Sunday school in Red Fork and was president of the Park Elementary School PTA.

Her newly built house on 38th St. backed up to Red Fork Hill and the family kept livestock and chickens in the lot behind the house. Her older sons, who were in their teens and 20s, pretty much came and went as they pleased, which was a trial to Florida.  Sometimes she would wait until they were asleep and then switch them before they were awake enough to defend themselves.  One night as some of the boys stumbled in, they found their mother in the kitchen plucking and cooking a number of chickens.  She had discovered robbers stealing them and had run them off with a shotgun. Upon discovering that the chickens' necks had already been wrung, she proceeded to pluck and cook them in the middle of the night.

The Big Mom I remember was a big-boned woman with lots of wispy white hair twisted into a knot on the top of her head and held with tortoiseshell combs.  By the time I knew her she was blind with cataracts, practically deaf, and still an indomitable presence in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  I remember her sitting with quiet dignity on the front porch of the house on 38th St., head held high, looking into a distance she could not see. Blind and deaf, she lived all by herself in the house on 38th St.

Although she became a Methodist again at the end of her life, when I was a very young girl Big Mom was a member of the I AM Church. The I AM Church was very "New Age" for the time, using crystals for healing, and perhaps she felt the need to be healed from the disabilities of old age.  I remember going with the family in the car to take Big Mom to I AM meetings downtown and waiting for her in the car until the meeting was over. 

She developed what was probably cancer in her 80s, refused to go to the hospital, and announced her intention to die at home. Somebody from the family was always keeping vigil at her bedside, and I remember being there a lot, taking our turn. She is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, next to her husband and surrounded by many of her children and grandchildren, as she was in life.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dressing Up

My grandmother influenced many of my interests--genealogy, history, poetry. I just realized that she probably also influenced my love of clothes. I wish I had written down the details of all the dresses she described to me.  All I remember are the names of the fabrics: shantung, georgette, tulle, voile. I guess since the advent of ready-to-wear clothing and synthetic materials, the lovely names of fabrics have become obscure to us.  I don't even see the wedding announcements anymore. Remember?  The ones that used to say, "The bride wore a gown of ivory peau de soie with an overlay of Chantilly lace."

I don't remember what my grandmother wore at her wedding.  I know she told me, but I just don't remember.  I remember that my grandfather wore a blue serge suit, whatever serge is.  ("A twilled cloth of worsted or worsted and wool, often used for suits" says the Free Online Dictionary.)

I know what colors my aunts are wearing in this great old black-and-white photo taken just about 100 years ago.  My grandmother is wearing dark blue, my Aunt Georgia is wearing red, my great-grandmother is wearing dark green with black velvet facings, and Aunt Jessie, the baby, is wearing dotted Swiss, another great old fabric.  (My prom dress was mint green dotted Swiss.)

Clockwise, from top: my grandmother, Fannie Castle;
her mother, Florida Day Castle; her baby sister, Jessie Castle;
her sister, Georgia Castle

You don't even hear the names of fabrics from my growing-up years anymore. In the 1960s there was madras.  That was a great fad.  It was this plaid fabric from India, worn by both girls and boys.  If you had the real thing, it bled in the wash.  Why this was cool I don't know, but it was.  There was seersucker--a great spring and summer fabric that even men wore in suits.  There was chambray. Everybody had a chambray shirt to wear with their jeans.  I embroidered matching ones for me and my boyfriend.

Embroidery was my thing, because it sure wasn't sewing.  If I had had one bit of talent in art or clothing construction, I probably could have been a fashion designer. I had all these outfits in my head.  Instead I took Home Economics in 7th grade, and I'm pretty sure I drove my teacher to despair.  I guess it's a good thing we don't have to make our own clothes anymore, or I would have to stay home a lot.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


In about a week I will celebrate my 60th birthday.  It puts me in mind of birthdays, my own and others', that I have celebrated in 60 years of living.

I was almost my mother's birthday present.  Her birthday was October 10, and my birth came four days later on the 14th.  My dad, followed by his parents, got my mother to the hospital at 7:00 p.m.  He checked her in, went downstairs to tell my grandparents, walked back up to the maternity ward, and the nurses introduced me to him.  It was 7:30.  In my baby book my mother wrote, "Close shave!"

Birthday parties in elementary school were always a big deal and required dressing up, hanging crepe paper, playing games, opening presents, and eating cake.  In later elementary and junior high school the party sometimes took place at the Glider Roller Rink.  One of my friends had a birthday near mine and always included me in the special birthday skate and the extra-large Hershey bar that the Glider gave as a present.  My best friend threw me a surprise party for my 16th birthday that included lots of record playing and Limbo dancing.

My birthday party, age 11, 1964

Surprise party, age 16, 1969

Ten years ago (wow, has it been that long?) I had two wonderful birthday parties for my 50th birthday.  One I gave to myself.  I thought I might as well celebrate instead of mourn.  At the time I was an enthusiastic country dancer, so I threw my party at the Caravan Cattle Company and bought my own "boot-scootin'"-themed cake.  Then one of my best friends took me out to eat at the Olive Garden, where she had assembled all my family and friends for a surprise party.  I was really surprised.

My grandmother was really surprised on January 8, 1928, when she gave birth to twin boys. Through the chloroform haze, she was extremely irritated to hear the nurse say, "Are we going to need a basket?" like my dad and his brother were the first two in a litter of puppies. The boys were written up in the Tulsa World as the first twins born in Tulsa in 1928. 

My dad always liked the idea that he shared a birthday with Elvis, who was born on January 8, 1935, and was also a twin. Daddy would be thrilled to know that our Smith family may have a connection with Elvis's family through the Mansells. My great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Simmons was married to John Mansell. They lived in Pike County, AL, and my Mansell cousins theorize that our Mansells may have visited Elvis's ancestors in Marion County, AL, when they moved to Lauderdale County, AL, in the 1870s. 

I think there might be a little resemblance--at least in the hair.

My grandmother's twin brothers, Warner and Wardy Castle, were also born in January in 1900. It was always easy to remember how old they were because they were the same age as the year.

I was pretty surprised myself to give birth to my son on February 29, 1976, since his due date was March 10.  He has taken in stride the fact that he only has a birthday every 4 years.  My middle school students have always been fascinated by the idea that there are some people who don't have a "real" birthday every year.

If my son had been born in a non-Leap year, he would have been born on my grandmother's birthday.  Fannie Castle was born on March 1, 1897, in Morgan County, Kentucky.  In 1946 she applied for a "Special Certificate of Birth" from the Commonwealth of Kentucky since birth certificates were not issued in Kentucky until 1911.  The certificate contains a wealth of information, including names and birth information for her parents, and the verifying signature of J.D. Haney, father of Geneva Haney, a lifelong friend of the Castles whose family also moved from Morgan Co. to Oklahoma.  In 1987 on my grandmother's 90th birthday, we threw a surprise party for her at a restaurant in Tulsa.  All the Castle relatives were there, and she was really surprised.

After my son's birthday in February and his wife's birthday in March, there isn't much to celebrate until July, when my niece celebrates her birthday.  When she was adopted, we were delighted to discover that her birth took place on the same date as our mother and dad's wedding.

August brings to mind my Aunt Georgia Castle's birthday on August 4th. One of my best memories of childhood (and of our house at 2717 W. 42nd St.) was the time my grandmother sent me to Crystal City Shopping Center--a very short walk across the railroad tracks from our house--to buy lunch ingredients at Safeway and a cake at Marilou's Bakery for Aunt Georgia's birthday.  I was also tasked with buying Aunt Georgia's present--which turned out to be a big plaster squirrel for her patio.  We moved from 42nd St. the summer before I turned 10, so I couldn't have been more than 9 when my grandmother trusted me with this birthday expedition.

The last quarter of the year brings several family birthdays: mine in October and my brother's in November.  My other Castle aunt, Aunt Jessie, had a November birthday which was usually so close to Thanksgiving that we always celebrated it then.  I was practically grown before I realized that the date of Thanksgiving didn't always fall on Aunt Jessie's birthday!  My Grandpa Smith's birthday was in December, as is my cousin Debbie's.  My Aunt Marie, my mother's sister, and my sister-in-law Tracy shared the same birthday, December 26.

So...happy birthday to all.  Celebrate your special day.  Dress up, do the Limbo, eat some cake, enjoy the surprises that life brings!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Questions and More Questions

My brother and I--about 1960
My brother and I don’t look anything alike. I certainly didn't inherit his athletic body type. According to Family Tree DNA, however, we are full siblings, not that I had any doubt. It has been most interesting to compare our matches with cousins from different branches of our family. I had even wondered how productive it would be to have him take the Family Finder test, because I assumed our results would be pretty much the same. Not so. While we match many cousins to the same extent, we have found that his matches with some are much greater than mine.

At Family Tree DNA you find out right away how many total centi-Morgans (units of distance along a chromosome) you have in common with your match, how long your longest stretch of identical DNA is, and their estimation of how many generations away the two of you share a common ancestor (MRCA—Most Recent Common Ancestor.) You can then upload your results to Gedmatch and compare with cousins who tested at other testing companies, such as or 23 or Me.

For both my brother and me, one of our very closest matches is to a Castle cousin. But while I have a total of 83.33 cM’s in common with her, my brother has a whopping 127.71. My brother’s longest strand with her is 51.61; mine is 55.03. I’m finding out that’s a large strand. FTDNA and Gedmatch identify longest strands down to 7 cM’s as being from probable relatives. The fact that we have such large identical strands with our Castle cousin shows that we are pretty closely related. In fact, I know that we are 3rd cousins. Our great-grandfathers were brothers.

It hasn’t always been so easy to figure out how I am related to my FTDNA matches. I have even shared emails with a couple of my matches, and we finally gave up when we couldn’t figure out where our families link. My largest match at 129.91, estimated to be a 2nd cousin, is Herbert Archie Miller. I have absolutely no idea who he is, and at a 2nd cousin level, I really should know him. Not only is his name not familiar, but I also do not recognize a single surname in his list. Another of my largest matches at 118.34 is a Huff cousin. My brother does not match him to this extent, but he matches another Huff cousin at 103.21 total cM’s, and a longest strand of 39.25. Interestingly, my match with this cousin does not even show up on FTDNA because nowhere do I match him at more than 7 cM’s.

With the very hard work of my Huff cousin, Barbara Joiner, we have been able to use our FTDNA and Gedmatch results to test some family relationships. For example, we know that our great-great-grandmothers, both probably raised in the home of William and Susannah Huff and identified as sisters on many trees, are not. How do we know this? Because Barbara, great-great-granddaughter of Ellender Huff, has a mtDNA haplotype of J; my mtDNA haplotype, inherited from my great-great-grandmother Elzina, is T.

I also know that somehow I have Pharris DNA that Barbara does not have, because I match several Pharris cousins from Jackson County on FTDNA and Is this because Elzina’s mother was a Pharris, perhaps an earlier wife of Sam Huff whose marriage to Lucinda Hardcastle occurred when he was 38? Or was Elzina’s mother a Huff who was never married to the Pharris man who became Elzina’s father? The answers in DNA only lead to more questions.

It’s amazing how many Huff cousins have tested their DNA—probably because, like me, they have come to a brick wall with the Huffs of Jackson County. Barbara has made a chart, which now includes at least 30 cousins, and compares everyone’s total cM’s, longest strand, and MRCA. Most of us have a MRCA of 6 generations back, so we think we may all have common ancestors in Leonard Huff, born 1721, and his wife Elizabeth Stout.

Both FTDNA and Gedmatch will let you compare your DNA with your cousin’s, chromosome by chromosome. The task now is to chart all these matches. Eventually, with enough cousins from different branches, including the families that married into the Huffs, and enough work, we should be able to identify exactly which stretches of DNA on which chromosomes are Huff DNA, or Pharris, or Roberts.

That’s why I’ve been especially excited that I have discovered two new cousins that descend from Caleb Roberts and his wife Sally Huff. You can easily see that they are related to my brother and me on both the Huff and Roberts sides because it looks like our MRCA is closer than it really is. (A little factoid I learned from my more DNA-educated Huff cousins.) The task now is to chart our matches from Chromosome 1 to Chromosome 22 in an effort to find areas where we all (my brother, me, and our two new cousins) match, but areas that do not match Barbara and the other purely Huff cousins. Maybe we can then say that this is Roberts DNA.