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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Rebels

Our prized family heirloom is a small leather pouch, the “wallet” that my great-grandfather, Stephen Albert Smith, carried in the Civil War.  It now holds a piece of red, white, and blue-striped ribbon that came from the wreath placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy at his funeral.  In truth, it is a Climax chewing tobacco pouch, minus the snap that once held it closed, and reinforced by stitching around the edges.

Family lore had Stephen carrying his little coin purse, with only a few “coppers” in it, through the entire war, 1861-1865, taking part in several major battles.  The truth is, at age 17 he enlisted on 11 March 1864 in the last year of the war.  He can be found as S.A. Smith on muster rolls of Company A, 33rd Alabama Infantry.   (I don’t understand the 19th century’s fascination with initials; in the 21st century they have given me no end of trouble finding my relatives!)  On Footnote (now Fold3) I found the requisition for a coat ($14.00) for S.A. Smith, Private, Company A, 33rd Alabama Infantry, on March 16, 1864.

While Union veterans applied to the federal government for pension benefits deriving from service in the Civil War, Confederate veterans applied to the state in which they lived.  The information about my great-grandfather’s Civil War service mostly comes from his application for benefits from the state of Oklahoma.  He declared that he enlisted on 11 March 1864 in Elba, Alabama; that he joined Company A of the 33rd Alabama Infantry; that his officers were “Colonel Adams, Brigadier General Lowrey, Clayborne (Cleburne), Owesson, Hardee Corps, Joe E. Johnston’s Army”; that he was a prisoner of war, paroled about the last of April 1865 from Macon, Georgia; that he was not wounded in battle.

Stephen’s brothers, Alexander Jackson and Minor Jefferson, are both listed on a muster roll dated 11 March 1862.  Alexander was 21 and Minor J. was 19.  Alexander applied for a pension in Alabama at age 74, stating that he had been wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 19-July 2, 1864).  A register of patients at Ocmulgee Hospital, Macon, Georgia, shows that Alex J. Smith was admitted on July 8, 1864, and transferred on July 22, 1864.  For “Disease,” the register shows “vul sclopet,” which means gunshot wound.  (What did we do without the Internet?)  Eliza S. Smith, widow of Jefferson Smith, Company A, 33rd Alabama, filed a claim on 14 October 1862 in Coffee County.  We think this is our Minor Jefferson.  In any case, he does not show up on censuses after 1860.

I have found no records that indicate when or where S.A. Smith was captured but as he was paroled from Macon, I suspect that he became a prisoner of war sometime during the Atlanta Campaign.  I found out when I visited Franklin, Tennessee, that the 33rd Alabama was practically wiped out there in November 1864.  I hope Alexander and Stephen were out of the fighting by then.

In 1938 when Stephen Albert Smith died in Collinsville, Oklahoma, he was one of three remaining Civil War veterans in Tulsa County.  His passing was noted in both the morning and evening newspapers in Tulsa and in The Collinsville News.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Smiths in Alabama II

The Smiths in Alabama II

Eventually, I traced Stephen Albert Smith back to Coffee County, Alabama, and found the names of his mother and siblings.  On the 22nd day of August in 1860, the Smith family was enumerated in Coffee County in the town of Elba.

            Mary E. Smith                        age 48             born SC
            Sintha A. Smith                      age 28             born AL
            Jackson Smith                        age 19             born AL
            Jefferson Smith                      age 17             born AL
            Stephen A. Smith                   age 14             born AL
            Moses C. Smith                      age 9                born AL
            Amanda L. Smith                   age 7                born AL
            Wallis P. Smith                       age 6                born AL

Miner J. Williams, age 42, and his wife Martha lived next door.

At that time, I had no idea what Mary E.’s maiden name was, but I noticed that her next-door neighbor was also born in South Carolina and was about the right age to be her brother.  As became apparent on the 1850 census, her son Jefferson’s name was actually Minor Jefferson.  These clues made me consider that Mary’s maiden name might be Williams. 

Mary E. was also the head of the household in 1850.  The family was enumerated in Coffee Co. on the 19th of November and included:

            Mary E. Smith                        age 37             born S.C.
            Synthia A. Smith                    age 18             born AL
            John                                        age 16             born AL
            Jackson A.                               age 9               born AL         
            Minor J.                                   age 7               born AL
            Stephen A.                              age 4               born AL

Next door is James King and his family.

By 1880 Stephen Albert had left Mary E.’s home to start his own family, but I found his sister Cynthia as the head of household on the 1880 census in Pike County and some of the family relationships on the 1860 census became clearer.

            Cinthia Lindsay                      age 49             Head of household
            Willis Lindsay                        age 24             Son
            Mandy King                            age 30             Daughter
            Cinthia King                           age 6               Granddaughter
            Jordan King                            age 4               Grandson
            Willis King                              age 4               Grandson
            Jane Lindsay                          age 23             Daughter-in-law
            Lizzie Lindsay                        age 4               Granddaughter
            Thomas Lindsay                    age 2               Grandson
            Malissia                                  age 2 m           Granddaughter
            Mary                                       age 70             Mother

Apparently, Mandy (Amanda) and Willis (Wallis) from the 1860 census were not Mary’s children, but children of her daughter Cynthia.  The household also included Willis’s wife Jane and their 3 children, and Mandy and her 3 children. 

The 1880 census is the first time we see the Lindsay surname for Cynthia and at least one of her children, Willis.  (Amanda used it later—see below.)  Cynthia did not use the Lindsay name for herself or her children on the 1860 census but did on the 1880.  Some have put forth the name of Jordan Lindsay as father for Cynthia’s two children.  Jordan Lindsay is listed on the 1850 and 1860 census with wife Elizabeth Rials.  One of his daughters, born in 1849, was named Cynthia. Circumstantial, but if something was going on between Cynthia Smith and Jordan Lindsay, the timing for the birth of Cynthia’s children is right.  Elizabeth Lindsay died of bilious fever in 1860.  Jordan enlisted in Company A, 18th Alabama Infantry, in the Civil War.  A muster roll posted in the USGenweb Archives shows his death date as 8 May 1862.

Two years ago in the wonderful genealogy section of the Troy Public Library, I found marriage licenses for Amanda Lindsay to Melvin King and for Cynthia to James King at age 52.  I have never been able to find a marriage license for Cynthia and anyone named Lindsay. 

Mary was still alive, age 90, living with Cynthia on the 1900 census in Pike County.  On that census Cynthia is referred to as “Smithy” King.  On the 1910 census Cynthia was living with her son Willis.  At age 92, on the 1920 census, she was living with Cynthia King who is married to Andrew Walker.

Both Mary and Cynthia are buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery outside Troy, Alabama.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Smiths in Alabama I

I started looking for the Smiths back in the Soundex, microfilm, pre-computer database days.  Knowing that my Smiths came from Waterloo, Lauderdale County, Alabama, that’s where I started.  But of course, I couldn’t start with the 1890 census, just before Stephen Albert’s family came to Oklahoma.  I finally found a family that I thought was his on the 1880 census in Lauderdale County—even though some of the names seemed unfamiliar.

            E.D. 140   Lauderdale County, AL   June 10, 1880
                        Steve Smith                age 34             born AL         
                        Francis Smith             age 30             born AL
                        Marry                          age 8               born AL
                        Eller                            age 7               born AL
                        Willice                         age 4               born FL
                        Martha                        age 2               born AL

Stephen Albert was “Steve”; Fannie was “Francis”.  Marry could be Molly, as that is often a nickname for Mary.  I’m always amused when the census taker spells what he hears, because obviously “Eller” is Ella, spoken in a Southern country accent.  Who the heck were Willice and Martha?  And did that really say that Willice was born in Florida, a locale not ever associated with my Smiths?

Next door are Lizzie Cotton and her son William Mansil.  I suspected Lizzie could be Fannie’s mother because she was the right age (69), and my grandmother had told me that Fannie’s maiden name was Cotton.  I had no idea who William Mansil was, although the census said that he was Lizzie’s son.

That was it.  I couldn’t find anything else.  Back in those days, you really needed to know a county name to find anything on microfilm, and Stephen and Fannie were just not in Lauderdale County in 1870.  That was the only place in Alabama that I knew that they ever lived.  My grandfather and grandmother had died; there was no-one to ask.  I found an old book of phone numbers that belonged to my grandmother and called a Smith cousin, daughter of Barbara, who told me that before Waterloo, the Smiths were from Pike County, around Montgomery.

Now I had somewhere to look.  No wonder I hadn’t been able to find Stephen in the 1870 Alabama census index.  Here’s what I found.

            Pike County, AL         Post Office: Orion      August 15, 1870
                        Samuel A. Smith         age 25
                        Frances Smith            age 22
                        Sarah                          age 1

Living next door are William A. Mansel, William W. Cotton and Elizabeth Cotton.  This helped determine that Samuel really was Stephen.  Just a couple of years ago I was finally able to find Stephen and Fannie’s marriage license.  They were married the 9th day of January, 1868.  Previously, their daughter Mary (Molly) had seemed to be the oldest child, but she was not born until 1872.  Apparently, they had had a child in 1869, Sarah, who did not survive to be enumerated on the 1880 census.

I had connected Fannie with her mother, if not her father, but I still had questions about her, and I knew nothing about Stephen Albert’s parents or siblings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Smiths in Oklahoma

My great-grandfather, Stephen Albert Smith, brought his family to Indian Territory from Waterloo, Alabama, in 1893. Making the trip were his wife, Fannie; daughters Molly Ann, Lou Ellen, and Barbara; and sons Owen Stephen, John Jackson, Albert Cleveland, and Turner Lee. His mother-in-law, Elizabeth Simmons Mansell Cotton, may have also made the trip, although that has been questioned.  My grandfather, Weaver Harris, the youngest of Stephen Albert and Fannie’s children, was born in Indian Territory in 1895. Ella Victoria, the second oldest daughter, stayed behind in Alabama with her husband Len Beckham.

Fannie stated her purpose in coming to Oklahoma in an 1896 affidavit for the Dawes Commission: “I left the State of Alabama and came to this Country with the avowed purpose of becoming a Citizen of the Territory and identifying myself with the Cherokees whom I know to be my people by blood.”  She was denied citizenship. In 1905 she died and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Oologah.  In 1907/1908, still living in Oologah, Stephen again made a claim of Cherokee citizenship on behalf of his minor children, and the Smith children who were by then adults applied on their own behalf.  All their claims were denied because no relationship could be proved with anyone listed on the Cherokee rolls.

Headstone -- Oak Hill Cemetery, Oologah, OK
I have never been able to find any of the Smiths on the 1900 census, and believe me, I have looked—even searching probable locations page by page.  On the 1910 census the family, still mostly intact, is living in Collinsville, probably at the boarding house pictured in my post “Beginnings and Endings,” because the census lists quite a few “boarders” living with the family. Mollie and her children, Jimmy, Alice, and Ella Scott, and Maggie Kirk; Owen, Barbara, Albert, Turner, and Weaver are all living with Stephen Albert. Lou is living with her husband Albert Barlow near Collinsville in Rogers County.

On October 11, 1927, Stephen married his daughter Lou’s mother-in-law Nancy Barlow at age 80+.  It was written up in the Tulsa World. He died July 27, 1938, in Collinsville.  Because he was one of the last Confederate veterans in Oklahoma, that was written up in the paper, too.  He is buried in Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.  All of his children, except Ella, lived and died in Oklahoma.

Stephen Albert Smith and children

Headstone -- Ridgelawn Cemetery, Collinsville, OK

I knew my Smith relatives in Oklahoma. We visited Uncle Owen and Aunt Lou in Collinsville.  Uncle Turner came by to visit us.  We saw Uncle Albert and his wife Gertrude all the time because they lived near Red Fork in Carbondale, another westside Tulsa community.  I had names and dates of birth, pictures, and funeral cards of the Smith siblings, thanks to my grandmother.  I knew that the Smiths came from Waterloo in Lauderdale County, Alabama.

But then, I found out how little I really knew. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mama: The Wheat * / Bell ** Side of the Family

Ida Belle Wheat
My mother died when I was 3.  I’ve said those words a hundred times in my life. 

She was the youngest of four children of John William Wheat and Cora Lee (Bell) Wheat, born on October 10, 1925 in Hanna, Oklahoma. Her siblings were Leona (born 1918), William Powell (born 1920), and Iona Marie (born 1922). Her father died while working at an oil camp in Seminole, Oklahoma, when she was only 2.  Here she is with her brother and sisters at the oil camp.  She's the unhappy one.

L to R (back row): Powell, Leona
L to R (front row): Ida, Marie
Even before her father’s death, her mother had moved the family home to live with her father, Thomas Jefferson Bell, in Dustin, Oklahoma. Here she is about 1937 with her sisters, Leona on the left and Marie on the right. This is one of my favorite photographs.

Ida graduated from Dustin High School in 1944.  There were only five students in her graduating class, mostly because all the boys were away fighting World War II.  In October 1944 she married a classmate, Ben Chaney. Ben was stationed in Florida, and she went there to live for a while. She and Ben divorced not long after.

Her sister Marie had visited her in Florida, where Marie met her husband, Don Kerensky, who was also in the service. Ida visited Marie in Ohio and came home to Dustin in 1951, pregnant with her first child, Noel Keith, who died the day after he was born on May 31, 1951. He is buried next to his mother in the Fairview Cemetery in Dustin. After my mother married my father, he put his last name on the little boy’s headstone, so he is buried as Noel Keith Smith, even though my dad was not his father.

My mom and dad met at a dance in downtown Tulsa. My mother was living at the YWCA. Daddy had a headache and asked her if she wanted to take a walk with him to buy some aspirin. They married on July 19, 1952, in Tulsa.

I was born in October 1953. My mother worked for a while as a secretary in the Tulsa office of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. My brother was born in November 1956.  My mother became ill and died from complications of lupus on March 17, 1957, at the age of 31. I have only one clear memory of her—hanging up sheets in our backyard while I chased a butterfly.

My brother Tim and I at my mother's grave
Fairview Cemetery, Dustin, OK

*I knew nothing about the Wheats except for the family tree my mother filled out in my baby book, and one of the entries may have been wrong.  Remember—her dad died when she was just 2, so she didn’t know much either. This has probably been the most fun (and sometimes frustrating) search in my genealogical life! Lots of connections, lots of surprises…

**The Bells have been pretty fun, too, especially the maternal lines like the Powells and the Fowlers.  However, I hit a brick wall with the Roberts family that I’m still trying to climb over.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Fictional Genealogical Mystery

My other hobby, besides genealogy, is reading mysteries.  I think there might be a connection there.  Anyway—I always thought it would be so great to create a mystery series in which the detective is a genealogist.  I’ve run a few stories through my head, but I don’t think I have the plotting skills of a mystery writer—or even the searching skills of a professional genealogist.

So I was very glad to see that someone else had had the same idea.  I just finished In the Blood: A Genealogical Crime Mystery by Steve Robinson.  It is the first book in a series about professional genealogist, Jefferson Tayte, who gets a little more than he bargained for when he is hired by an American to trace a branch of his family who returned to live in Cornwall after the defeat of the British in the American Revolution.

JT, as he is called, can’t find any trace of the family of James Fairborne after he arrives in Cornwall in 1783.  What he does find is a second family—and lots of questions.  Someone else doesn’t want him to find the answers.  With his trusty laptop and visits to records offices and churchyard cemeteries, JT pursues the mystery and receives death threats and attempts on his life.  He finds that a number of people have been murdered over the years in order to keep the secret.

Compared to other mysteries I have read, it fares pretty well.  The genealogical mystery provides the suspense.  Will JT figure it out before someone else dies?  Although the ultimate mystery—why James Fairborne’s first family disappeared—is solved by a document that has survived, hidden, over 200 years, don’t we all wish we could find something like that?

There are two more books in the series: To the Grave, in which the genealogical mystery begins in World War II, and The Last Queen of England, in which the mystery involves the royal family.  The Kindle editions of book #1 and #2 sell for $3.99; In the Blood is on sale today for $.99!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Daddy: The Smith * / Castle ** Side of the Family

Jack Francis Smith

My father was a fraternal twin.  He and his brother, Mack Weaver, were born on January 8, 1928, at the Oklahoma Osteopathic Hospital in Tulsa. Their parents were Weaver Harris Smith and Fannie (Castle) Smith.

My grandparents didn’t have names picked out and named the boys for the two ambulance drivers that brought my grandmother home from the hospital: Mack and Jack.  Uncle Mack’s middle name was Weaver for my grandfather; Daddy’s was Francis, my grandmother’s first name, although she always went by Fannie.  They must have already had their own distinctive looks, because they were definitely named for the parent they resembled.  

Jack & Mack Smith

Although they grew up during the Depression, Daddy once said that they didn’t know they were poor.  Their doting parents—they were the only children—tried to give them all they could, including Shetland ponies.  Mack’s was named Queenie, and Jack’s was named Don.

Daddy had asthma, which I suspect is why my grandmother was always so protective of him.  She said she remembered standing out at the front gate and hearing him in the house, trying to catch his breath.  In high school he ran track, which helped him finally get over his breathing problems.  He and Uncle Mack were also in the dance club, and that was an activity that he enjoyed until the very end of his life.

Daddy in group on right, facing camera, Uncle Mack to his left
Jack and Mack graduated from Daniel Webster High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1946.

Mack Weaver and Jack Francis Smith

My dad tried college for a while at the University of Tulsa but didn’t finish.  When he and my mother first married in 1952, he worked at Musick Drug at N. Denver & W. Edison, delivering prescriptions. When I was in elementary school, he worked for Cooper Supply Co., which sold plumbing supplies.  Later he was an insurance investigator, working out of a building at 7th & Houston. He worked for the Department of Human Services for many years at their offices on Houston, just west of the Civic Center.

His family was the most important thing in the world to him. After my mother died, he never remarried, so he spent more time with my brother and me than most dads. He came home for lunch when he worked for Cooper Supply; it hadn’t been long since my mother’s death, and he took me almost every day to Brownie’s Pharmacy for ice cream before he went back to work. When he did field work as an insurance investigator, he often took us with him. He attended all of my brother’s ball games and all my spelling bees and plays. He took walks with us. He was the designated driver on hundreds of family eating expeditions.

He died way too young, at age 57, on October 12, 1985.  I still miss him every day.

*One of the first research jobs I tackled was the Smiths. I still haven’t gotten much further. They came to Oklahoma from Alabama.

**On the Castle side of the family, my cousin Fred was the family genealogist. He did all the work, and I have just enjoyed being able to rest when it comes to that ¼ of my heritage. The Castles came to Oklahoma from Kentucky.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beginnings and Endings

I live about 7 miles from the cemetery where I caught the genealogy bug--closer as the crow flies. How I ended up just miles from the resting place of my paternal great-grandfather is a story in itself. But first, what was it about Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville, Oklahoma, that sparked an interest that hasn't burned out in 50 years?

I remember the day we were walking around the cemetery, looking for the graves of my great-uncle Owen and his wife Fern, when I noticed a number of graves with close to the same death dates.  I asked my grandmother, who usually had the answers, "Why did so many people die around the same time? Was there a fire or an explosion?"  "No," she replied, "it was the flu." The fact that most of them were young people, not much older than I was at the time, made it all the more poignant. Compound that with the sad story of Aunt Fern and the romantic tale of my grandparents' meeting, and you had a genealogy fanatic for life.

Fern Walker Smith
Uncle Owen Smith and my grandfather owned the Candy Kitchen in Collinsville. Grandpa was the soda jerk. Uncle Owen was married to Fern, daughter of Elizabeth Whitmore Walker. My grandmother was a first-year schoolteacher, teaching in a one-room school outside of town and boarding with Mrs. Walker. Owen introduced his mother-in-law's boarder to his brother Weaver. My grandmother kept Grandpa on a string for a couple of years; he dropped her off at the train station in Collinsville so that she could spend weekends at her parents' house in Red Fork, a small community outside of Tulsa. Her other boyfriend Gilbert dropped her off on Sunday afternoons at the train station in Red Fork. Eventually, however, Grandpa won out--partly because Gilbert told her she was number 2 in his heart after his church, and she wouldn't be number 2 at anything. Owen and Fern's story didn't have as happy an ending. Fern died young of typhoid fever and their daughter Billie was raised by her maternal relatives.

Billie and my grandmother, Fannie Castle Smith

We visited Collinsville often when I was a young girl, but after Uncle Owen and Grandpa and Grandpa's sister Aunt Lou were gone, we only visited the cemetery once in a while. Flash forward 30 years and my son marries a girl whose grandparents live outside of Collinsville. They buy a little house on Broadway, not far from where my grandpa's father, Stephen Albert Smith, ran his boarding house. Then I become a widow and move 10 minutes away so that I can see them more often. I drive by the cemetery when I leave their house and think about Grandpa Smith, Uncle Owen and Fern, Aunt Lou, Mrs. Walker, and all those young people whose lives were taken by the flu.

(L to r) Uncle Turner, ?, Uncle Albert, Grandpa,
Uncle John holding the horse

So today I begin this blog about genealogy and my family.  I want to write about events that happened long ago that might still have some relevance for today.  I’ve noticed that some things seem to cross the generations—spirituality and bravery and lost love—and I want to write about those things.  I’ll be thinking about what pushes me to keep searching—to find connections between the past and the present, to be the bridge between my ancestors and my descendants, even those yet to come.