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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Daughter of the American Revolution

As I have mentioned, I am descended from three sisters: Cynthia, Susannah, and Esther Stephenson (sometimes spelled Stinson), who were the daughters of Elizabeth Whitley and Robert Stephenson.  Elizabeth was the eldest of the 11 children of William Whitley and his wife Esther Gill Fullen.

William Whitley portrait

William Whitley was born in 1749 in what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia, the son of Scots-Irish immigrants, Solomon and Elizabeth (Barnett) Whitley.  William married Esther in 1771 and soon began talking about moving west.  Like my other ancestor, Jacob Castle, William Whitley explored Kentucky as a longhunter.  As related in the Draper manuscripts, William returned from one of these trips and told Esther, “…we could get our living there with less hard work than we have here.”  The intrepid Esther answered, “Then Billy, if I were you I’d go and see.”  In November of 1775 they headed for the land that William had staked in Kentucky.  Esther rode a horse with her 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth tied to her back and her 1-year-old daughter Isabella riding in her lap.

Longhunter's camp at Fort Boonesborough

Many of the early years in Kentucky were spent fighting Indians.  In fact, the Whitley family spent much of that time living within stockades and forts with other settlers. In the late 1770s William fought with George Rogers Clark’s forces against Indians in the Northwest Territories.  According to some reports, a scalping he saw in these early years incited a sense of outrage against Indian brutality in Whitley that remained for the rest of his life. 

Reconstructed Fort Boonesborough

Esther also did her part to defend her family and friends against the natives.  She is mentioned several times in the Draper manuscripts regarding the siege of Logan’s Fort by Shawnees in 1777.  She and another woman, Jane Menifee, took their turns with the men shooting from the stockade wall.  On another day, caught outside the fort by attackers, Esther calmly stopped to pick up her hat before hightailing it back to safety.  In August 1777, after attacks had begun to wane, the men of the fort were having a friendly shooting match.  William encouraged Esther to take her shot—which was dead center—and the men continued to compete well after dark, trying to best her effort. (Which they did not.) 

Stockade at Fort Boonesborough

In the 1780s the Whitleys finally began to build their home in Kentucky that would become known as the “Guardian of the Wilderness Road.”  It was the first brick home built in Kentucky and included William’s initials (WW) and Esther’s initials (EW) built into the brickwork on the front and back of the house.  The estate was called “Sportsman’s Hill,” and included a circular clay horseracing track.  In opposition to the British racing rules, races at Sportsman’s Hill were run counterclockwise.  Sportsman’s Hill became a centerpiece of Kentucky society; for example, the Whitleys hosted a celebration on the 4th of July in 1812 that fed and entertained 1000 visitors. While not a fort, as such, the house was definitely secure against attack and included a secret hiding place in the upper story.  The house still stands near Crab Orchard, Kentucky, as the William Whitley House State Historic Site.  I have visited the house twice, and upon one occasion was shown William Whitley’s famous longrifle that will figure into…the rest of the story.  A wonderful video of the house’s interior is available for viewing at the Pioneer Times USA website.

William Whitley House

In 1813, when he was 63 years old, William volunteered for the War of 1812 with the Kentucky Mounted Infantry.  When I read this for the first time, my thought was, “Boy, I bet his wife was mad when her 63-year-old husband ran off to fight Indians!”  That was before I knew Esther.  Not only did she encourage William to join up, she sent him with a special long-barreled rifle that she had commissioned to be built for him, carved with both of their initials.  William carried that rifle into the Battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada, against forces led by the famous Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.  When the smoke cleared, both Whitley and Tecumseh were dead.  Credit for killing Tecumseh was given to Richard Johnson, who later became Vice President of the U.S., but others gave the kill to William Whitley (and some to his rifle, wielded by another.)  The rifle and William’s powder horn were returned to Esther. 

Depiction of the Battle of the Thames
from the collection of the Library of Congress  
Membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution has been given the descendants of William Whitley, including myself, based on his service under Benjamin Logan at Logan’s Fort.  Here’s the great thing, though:  Female descendants of the Whitleys may also enter the DAR based on the service of Esther Whitley!  Esther’s contribution to the fight for independence was “molding bullets.”  Not many females have been accepted as patriot ancestors for membership in the DAR; I would love to one day have matching certificates on my wall, the one for William that I now have and another for Esther.

Quilt celebrating famous women of Kentucky
at the Kentucky Historical Society Museum
Frankfort, KY
One can’t help but have feelings about one’s ancestors, even when those ancestors were never known personally.  I have mixed feelings about William Whitley.  Of course, I grew up in Oklahoma, where most of us are sympathetic to the plight of native Americans--pushed off the land that was coveted by the settlers.  I’m an admirer of Tecumseh.  By all accounts, he was a brave and intelligent man who saw the great advantage of the tribes working together to repel the invaders of their homelands.  I like William, too.  In a time when women were often treated as inferior to men, William Whitley considered his wife an equal, and she obviously loved and admired him.

What I really think is interesting is the comparison between my two ancestors, one on my father’s and one on my mother’s side of the family:  Jacob Castle and William Whitley.  (See my post, “Jacob Castle the Longhunter.”)  Both of the men were explorers who loved the virgin land of Kentucky.  For Jacob that included an admiration for the ways of the native Americans, and a love of Cherokee and Shawnee maidens.  In fact, some have even said that Jacob’s first wife, Sowege or Gliding Swan, was a Shawnee of the same clan as Tecumseh.  You couldn’t make this stuff up!     

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Ming Dynasty

Okay, I couldn’t resist the title of this post.  And no, my Ming ancestors were not Chinese, but I can’t really tell you what they were.  The tradition is that the family came from Wales, but Ming is not a known Welsh surname.  As far as I can tell, even the die-hard Ming researchers are stumped as to the origin of our Mings, although DNA results point generally to the British Isles.  All I know is that it’s the one surname in my family tree that has been pretty easy to search—at least within the United States--because it’s so unusual.

The Mings came into my family tree with Cynthia Ming, daughter of William Frederick Ming and Susanna Wheat, who married Joseph Wheat in 1877.  According to The Peters Colony of Texas by Seymour V. Connor, William F. Ming came from Alabama to Texas as a 24-year-old single man before 1848. The Peters Colony was a business venture in which a group of men, headed by William S. Peters, contracted with the Republic of Texas to bring 600 families to inhabit land in north Texas. In 1850 William was living in Dallas County with his wife Frances J.  In 1855 he sold his land in Johnson County to Elisha Rhodes, his neighbor.  In 1890 after the death of Joseph Wheat, his daughter Cynthia married Thomas L. Rhodes, son of Elisha, in Weatherford, Parker County.

Extent of Peters Colony

By 1860 William’s wife Frances had apparently died, and he had remarried to his first cousin, Susanna Wheat, 11 years his junior.  On that census they had three children: Helen, 6; Thomas, 3; and (Cynthia) Francis, 1.   It has always been my opinion (or maybe just a hunch) that the oldest child on the 1860 census, Helen, was the daughter of Frances, and not of Susanna.  I mostly based this on the fact that on the 1900 census, Helen said her mother was born in Tennessee, and Susanna was born in Arkansas.  However, Helen was remarkably inconsistent in naming the birthplaces of both of her parents.  In any case, I have this instinctive dislike of William F. Ming—maybe deserved, maybe not—and one of the reasons is that he named his second daughter Cynthia Frances, in honor of his first wife.  If I had been Susanna, I would not have been pleased, although she went on to have several more children with William: George A., Jefferson Davis, William Alfred, John, James N., Martha Emily, and Josephine.  In 1880 they were living in Collin County and shared their home with daughter Cynthia, her husband Joseph Wheat, and their two children, one of whom was my grandfather.

Mings and Wheats on 1880 census in Collin County, Texas
Another thing that makes me think that Helen was the daughter of William’s first wife is that William was living with Helen and her husband Isaac Tompkins in Greer County, Oklahoma, from at least 1900 until he died in 1911.  You may ask, “What is wrong with that?”  Nothing, except that William was claiming to be a widower, and his wife Susanna was living with another daughter, Martha (Mattie) and husband Benjamin Bell, on the other side of the state.  Susanna is buried in Carson, Oklahoma, while William rests 200 miles away in Granite. 

William F. Ming with Tompkins family in Greer County, OK--1900
I’ve been to William’s grave.  It’s kindof a funny story.  I visited Granite with a friend whose mother had recently remarried to a man from there.  He happened to know the cemetery where William was buried and offered to take me there.  I never would have found it myself.  After we walked out in a pasture and through knee-high grass to find the graves of William and members of the Tompkins family, Teresa’s stepdad said, in a slow and rather understated way, I thought, “You know, I probably should have warned you about the snakes.”  After all that, I had forgotten to bring my camera, and I thought I would never have another opportunity to photograph William's grave.  I'm very appreciative of Desiree Strong, who posted this picture of his headstone on

William F. Ming headstone
Quartz Cemetery, Granite, Greer Co., OK 
On the 1860 census William is living next door to his father, Thomas N., and mother, Susanna (Stephenson) Ming, for whom his wife was namesake and niece.  Thomas, born in 1796 in Chowan County, North Carolina, listed his occupation as carpenter.  William was listed as a cooper.  Pictures I have seen of Thomas N. Ming on show him holding his carpenter's square.  Thomas died in 1887 and is buried in Burnet County, Texas.

William F. and Thomas N. Ming families
1860 Grayson County census

Thomas N. Ming

I hesitate to trace the Mings back any further, as I have not done the research myself, but most researchers on seem to agree on the following.  Thomas’s father, James Ming, was born in Chowan, N.C. in 1868 and died in Limestone County, Alabama.  His wife was Ann Beasley.  James’s father was Thomas and his wife was named Delilah.  Thomas’s father was Joseph Ming(e) who was married to Rachel Ward.  Joseph’s father, Joseph, died in 1707, and was married to Sarah.  Some researchers list his father as David Ming and his mother as Elizabeth Carter.  Most of these ancestors lived and/or died in Chowan County, N.C. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

First Families of the Twin Territories

To become a member of the First Families of the Twin Territories you have to prove your descent from an ancestor who lived in Oklahoma—in Indian Territory or Oklahoma Territory--before the day Oklahoma became a state, November 16, 1907.  All four of my grandparents lived in Oklahoma before statehood, and my goal is to submit qualifying membership applications for all four.

In 2007 I became a member by proving my descent from my grandmother Cora Bell Wheat Altstatt, who was born in Indian Territory and was living with her parents, Thomas J. and Cornelia Bell, in Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, on the 1900 census.  In fact, my great-grandparents were living in Chickasaw Nation as early as 1893 when they got married in Woodford, Pickens County, Indian Territory, so I could have become a member based on their residence, but I decided that qualifying on each of my grandparents was a do-able goal that I wanted to pursue.

Bell family on the 1900 census, Chickasaw Nation,
Indian Territory
The problem was—even though each of my grandparents was here before statehood, it was going to be hard to prove for the other three.  I really wasn’t sure when my grandfather Wheat came to Oklahoma; in fact, on the 1910 census he was living in Cottle County, Texas.  However, fairly recently I found out that he spent a 3-year enlistment in the U.S. Army starting in 1906.  And he enlisted in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, on 5 March 1906, stating that he lived in Blackburn, O.T.  I submitted that information along with proof of my descent from him and received my second membership certificate from FFTT yesterday!

My next goal is to apply for my grandpa, Weaver Harris Smith, who was born in 1895 in Catoosa, Indian Territory, but of course, long before required birth certificates.  The biggest problem is that I have never been able to find the Smiths on the 1900 census.  My grandpa’s mother Francis died in 1905 and is buried in Oologah, but I’m not sure that a headstone by itself proves anything. The family did make application for membership in the Cherokee tribe after they moved to Indian Territory, and my grandfather is listed in that document, so I am hoping that the OGS will accept it as proof of his residence in Indian Territory.

Application for Guion-Miller Roll 
Ironically, the one grandparent that I might not be able to prove is the one that actually remembered the day that Oklahoma became a state.  The Castle family had moved to Davenport in Oklahoma Territory the summer before statehood, and my grandmother remembered hearing the bells ring on that November day.  Since they had moved to Oklahoma so recently, I don’t know what document would ever prove they were here.  All I can do is keep looking and hope that something will turn up—a newspaper article, maybe?

By the way, if you’re not from Oklahoma (or even if you are), you might assume that if your ancestor was in Indian Territory before statehood, he or she was able to prove Native American ancestry.  Or, on the other hand, that they were in Oklahoma Territory because they had participated in a Land Run.  I can tell you that neither of those things was true for any of my four grandparents.

I would encourage anyone that thinks they might qualify to check out the application process at  If you’re thinking about joining the DAR or some other organization that requires proof of ancestry, the FFTT application is a fairly stress-free way to get acquainted with the proof that is required for membership.  Just don’t expect to get your certificate right away.  The OGS members that read the applications are volunteers.  My first certificate came fairly quickly, but the second one took about four months.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Mystery of J. Wheat

On the 1880 Collin County, Texas, census my grandfather’s father is listed as J. Wheat, born in 1859 in Texas; according to the census, his father was born in Arkansas and his mother was born in Mississippi. Since my mother had written in my baby book that my great-grandfather was John William Wheat, I spent years looking for a Wheat from Arkansas that had a son John that was of the correct age.  I searched censuses in Texas for a John Wheat born around 1859 and corresponded with Wheat researchers who had documented every Wheat that ever lived in Arkansas—no luck.  My Wheats in Texas, intermarried with the Mings, were from Alabama, not Arkansas.

My baby book--showing great-grandfather as John William Wheat
1880 Collin County Texas census 
Finally, through a Family History Center at a LDS Church in Tulsa, I found the marriage license of J.A. Wheat and Cynthia Ming on 21 January 1877 in Grayson County, Texas.  Yes, that’s right—still no name.  Just initials.  Not only that, but the license says “J.A. Wheat” and the minister’s return says “J.W. Wheat.”  At least I knew that J. and Cynthia were originally from Grayson County.

Marriage license of J.A. Wheat and Cynthia Ming
I began to collect more and more information but still nothing that would give me the identity of J. Wheat.  I found out that my grandfather John had a brother named Thomas, born in 1884.  I found out that Mrs. Cynthia F. Ming married Thomas L. Rhodes in Weatherford, Parker County, Texas, on 17 November 1890, so presumably J. Wheat was deceased before 1890. I considered that my Aunt Marie might have mistakenly attributed a death of a father and son by wagon accident to her Roberts grandfather when it really happened to J. Wheat and his oldest son A.B.—since A.B. also disappeared after the 1880 census.  I sent off to the National Archives and Records Administration for John William Wheat’s Army service records and found that although he was living in Collin County at age 5 months, he was born in Grayson County.

Marriage license of Thomas L. Rhodes & Cynthia F. Wheat
I decided to record every Wheat family living in Grayson and Collin counties on the 1870 and 1880 censuses.  Most of them were related to the Wheats I already knew from the Ming side of the family.  In 1870 the families listed in Grayson County were those of: William Whitley Wheat, son of Samuel & Cynthia Stephenson Wheat; James R. Wheat, son of William Whitley Wheat; Robert S. Wheat, son of William Wheat and Esther Stephenson (William is Samuel Wheat’s brother and Esther is another Stephenson sister); Samuel Wheat, son of William, with whom his mother Esther, age 86, was living.  The only J. Wheat even close to the right age is James H., son of Samuel, who is not married and still living with his parents on the 1880 census.

There is only one other Wheat family in Collin County in 1870 and 1880, seemingly unrelated to my Wheats.  They have a son James, but he is still young and living at home on the 1880 census.

Obviously in June 1880 my J. Wheat was living in Collin County, so he wasn’t living in Grayson County.  However, since the family was living in Grayson County in January 1880 when my grandfather John William was born, I thought I would see who was in Grayson County at the time of the 1880 census.  Most of the families were those previously living in Grayson County or sons of Robert S. or William Whitley Wheat who were now living on their own. One Wheat family from Georgia had a head of household too young to be J.’s father. 

But—living in Grayson County in 1880 is a father named Henry Wheat with his daughters Lucy, Mollie, and Emma.  Henry was the son of William and Esther Wheat, and his wife Caroline Farris, born in Mississippi, had died in 1874. In 1870 Henry lived in Davis County, Texas, with Caroline, daughters Lucy, Elizabeth, Henrietta, and Mary, and son Joseph, age 13.  The name Joseph Wheat does not appear in Texas on the 1880 census—unless he is my J. Wheat.  Circumstantial evidence, I know, but I was having a pretty good feeling about it. 

Henry Wheat on 1870 Davis Co. TX census, page 26
Henry Wheat family on 1870 Davis Co. TX census, page 27 
I hadn’t had any luck finding the name of my great-grandfather on any of John William Wheat’s documents.  The information on his death certificate was given by his father-in-law, Thomas J. Bell, who apparently didn’t know, as the father and mother are marked as Unknown.  But maybe with Thomas, his brother, I would have better luck.  I requested Thomas’s death certificate from the State of Oklahoma.  When I received it in the mail, I was more than excited to see that Thomas’s mother’s name was Cynthia Ming and his father was Joe Wheat!  Even then, the death certificate didn’t say who had given the information for the death certificate, so I was still uncertain.

Then, I found out that with Thomas’s social security number I could request his original Social Security application, so I did.  I waited impatiently for a month and finally received a copy of the application just a few weeks ago.  Even though it is hard to read, it also says Joe Wheat.  Only a few little details don’t match up: on the 1860 census when the family was living in Titus County, Joseph was listed as “J.F.” and was age 5, making his birth year 1855; his father Henry Wheat was born in Alabama, not Arkansas.  However, I have proven ancestors who have birthdates and names that differ by that much. I think I’ve probably found all the confirmation I will ever have, so I am declaring the mystery solved.   

This means that on the Wheat side of my family I am descended from three sisters: Cynthia Stephenson, wife of Samuel Wheat and mother of Susanna Wheat Ming; Susannah Stephenson, wife of Thomas Ming and mother of William Frederick Ming; and Esther Stephenson, wife of William Wheat, mother of Henry Wheat, and grandmother of Joseph Wheat.  Whew!

Whitley family tree at William Whitley House
Elizabeth Whitley Stevenson is mother of Cynthia, Susannah, and Esther

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Wheats in Texas

You know that Jeff Foxworthy joke: “You know you’re a redneck if…your family tree doesn’t branch”?  That would be me, at least on the Wheat side of the family.

My first clue was a headstone at the Carson Cemetery in Hughes County, Oklahoma.  It read “Susanna Wheat Ming – 1836-1916.”  My grandparents, John William Wheat and Cora Bell, are buried beside this woman.  She is not John William’s mother, Cynthia Ming--nobody knows where she is buried.  She is John’s grandmother, but on the Ming side not the Wheat side. 

Susanna Wheat Ming headstone
Carson Cemetery, Hughes County, OK
As I began to research the Mings and the Wheats, I found out that Cynthia’s parents, William Frederick Ming and Susanna Wheat, were first cousins.  Their mothers were sisters.  Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, W.F. and Susanna’s daughter Cynthia turned around and married J. Wheat.  (Who his parents and grandparents were has been a mystery only recently solved--I think--and a post for another day.)  Susanna Wheat Ming’s parents were Samuel Wheat and Cynthia Stephenson.  W.F. Ming’s parents were Thomas N. Ming and Susannah Stephenson.

Thomas N. Ming headstone
Marble Falls, Burnet County, TX
Cynthia and Susannah Stephenson were daughters of Robert Stephenson (sometimes spelled Stinson) and his wife Elizabeth Whitley.  Elizabeth was the daughter of William and Esther Whitley.  I remember how excited I was when I googled “William Whitley” for the first time and found out that he was a famous Kentucky pioneer and that his home still stood as a state park site in Kentucky. (More about that later, too.)

Susannah Stephenson Ming's portrait at
William Whitley House in Kentucky

Samuel Wheat was born in Virginia in 1787; married Cynthia Stephenson in Madison County, Mississippi Territory in 1814; was enumerated on the 1830 and 1840 censuses in Arkansas; and then helped organize the Pilot Grove Church in Grayson County, Texas, in 1847.  His now-broken tombstone in the Hall Cemetery near Howe, Grayson County, Texas, once read:  “In memory of Elder Samuel Wheat, who departed this life 23 Nov 1866, aged 79 years and 1 day. Elder Wheat had been an old-school Baptist from his youth and a Minister of the Cross for 50 years. Standing firm amidst the siftings and schisms among the Churches, the fearless advocate of Virginia immigrated to Alabama, then to Tennessee, then to Arkansas, then to Texas in 1847, making his first discourse to Pilot Grove Church in Grayson County to which he made his last a few days before his death.” 

Samuel Wheat headstone
Hall Cemetery, Grayson County, TX

Samuel’s wife Cynthia is presumably buried in Milam County, Texas, where she was last found on a census in 1850.  Thomas N. Ming is buried in Fairland Cemetery near Marble Falls, Texas.  Susannah Stephenson Ming died in Grayson County, Texas.
Obviously, it was a time of great migration within the young United States. Grayson County, Texas was the final destination for a number of Wheats, although mine traveled on to nearby Collin County, and then eventually to Oklahoma.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Wheats in Oklahoma

John William Wheat married Cora Lee Bell on 28 January 1917 in Carson, Hughes County, Oklahoma.  She was 20 and he had just turned 37.  Together they had four children: Leona, born 1918; William Powell, born 1920; Iona Marie, born 1922; and the youngest, my mother, Ida Belle, born 1925. Less than 10 years later on 9 November 1927, John William died in Seminole, Oklahoma, where he was working at an oil field.  My mother was only 2 years old when he died.

Wheat kids at Seminole oil camp, about 1926
Powell, Ida, Marie, Leona 
I started out knowing very little about the Wheat side of my family.  The only facts I had came from my baby book, where my mother had filled out a family tree with the names of her parents and grandparents—my grands and greats.  She wrote that her father was John William Wheat, and his parents were John William Wheat and Cynthia Ming.  The Ming name was very helpful, of course, because it was so unusual.  The elder “John William Wheat” led me on a wild goose chase for years.

The Wheats in Oklahoma is a story that starts out in Texas.  The first piece of information I found was the 1880 Collin County, Texas, census, enumerated on the 30th day of June.  J. and Synthe Wheat, both 21, are listed as family #478 with two children:  A.B., son, age 2; and J.W., son, age 5 months, born in January.  All four of them were born in Texas.  Family #479 was W.F. and Susanna Ming and their 7 children, ages 18 to 3 months. For years I thought that the Wheats were living next door to Cynthia’s parents and siblings, until I looked closely at the original census and realized that, although they were enumerated as separate families, they were all living together in the same residence—a total of 4 adults and 9 children.

1880 Collin County TX census
The next obvious place to look was the 1900 census, since the 1890 was practically non-existent.  No John Wheat, no Cynthia Wheat, no A.B. Wheat, no J.W. Wheat.  No W.F. or Susanna Ming, although I did find them on the 1910 census.  W.F. was living with the daughter of his first marriage in Greer County, Oklahoma, claiming to be a widower. Susanna, alive and well, was living with her daughter Martha and her family in Garvin County, Oklahoma. And in 1910, John W. Wheat, age 30, is living with a heretofore unknown brother, Thomas J., age 26, and his family in Cottle County, Texas.

1910 Cottle County TX census
In 1903 Thomas had married Lou Hattie Loper in Ada, Pontotoc County, Indian Territory. In 1906 John had enlisted in the Army at Guthrie, Logan County, Oklahoma Territory.  Apparently the brothers moved from Texas to Oklahoma and back again, possibly following job opportunities or other relatives. By 1918 (when they both filled out draft registrations for World War I) the brothers had apparently permanently settled in Oklahoma—John was in Oklahoma City and Thomas in Garvin County—because all remaining documents I have found show them living in Oklahoma somewhere.

John William Wheat's WWI draft registration
On the 1920 census Thomas was living in Whitebead, Garvin County, with his wife Lou and children, Beulah, Cynthia, John, and Thomas.  John was in Dustin, Hughes County, with wife Cora and daughter Leona.  By 1930 John had died; Thomas was living in Pocasset, Grady County with his daughter Beulah.  In 1940 Thomas was living in Dustin with the family of Benton Bell, who was the son of his mother’s sister Martha and also related by marriage to John Wheat.  While the 1910 Texas census has Thomas’s occupation as farmer, working on his “own account,” on all the Oklahoma censuses he was working as a farm laborer for others.  Thomas died in 1962 and is buried in Chickasha, Grady County, near his daughter Beulah.

Thomas J. Wheat headstone
Fairlawn Cemetery, Chickasha, OK
Thomas, who was not even born on the 1880 census, has turned out to be the key in helping me to unlock the identity of “J.” Wheat, the father listed on the 1880 census as the husband of Cynthia and father of John William.    

Friday, March 8, 2013

Teachers and Postmen

It’s interesting to me that out of the wide range of occupations available to us in the modern world many of us choose the occupation of our parents or grandparents.  I guess it’s what you grow up knowing and what captures your imagination when you are young. 

I knew from about 3rd grade that I wanted to be a teacher.  I suspect it had something to do with visiting my grandmother’s room at Pleasant Porter Elementary School or meeting her many former students who would stop us in the grocery store to say, “Your grandmother was the best teacher I ever had.”  My grandmother retired in 1962 but just the other day I saw a posting on Facebook reminiscing about Pleasant Porter Elementary to which one of her former students had replied, “Mrs. Smith was my favorite teacher at Porter.” 

Pleasant Porter Elementary School
My grandmother taught her twin sons and several of her brothers.  She transmitted her love of poetry to her students; my dad’s favorite when he was in her 6th grade class was “Horatio at the Bridge.”  She had beautiful penmanship (which she called Spencerian script) that was admired by anyone who saw it.  She helped direct the annual operettas and once said, “Give me a package of Denison crepe paper and I can make anything!”  She taught the concept of an acre by having her students lay one out on the school grounds.  She was written up in the Tulsa Public Schools newsletter for re-creating the Oklahoma Land Run with her students. Every year her 6th grade girls were chosen to wind the Maypole at the front of the school.  That was my biggest disappointment in moving from Porter to Park Elementary just before 5th grade; I wanted to wind that Maypole as a Porter 6th grader!

My grandmother monitoring the hall at Porter 
My grandmother became a teacher because her Aunt Emma was a teacher.  On the 1910 census in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, she is enumerated with her husband, Mr. Allen (William, but my grandmother always called him “Mr. Allen”) who was 31 years older than she, and her son Willie.  Her husband was listed as a farmer, and she was listed as a teacher at a “common school.”  She also taught at Paul Revere Elementary in Tulsa, which is no longer there but was located close to 51st & Lewis.

Aunt Emma Allen--Teacher on 1910 census 
My grandmother started out teaching at a one-room school near Collinsville, Oklahoma.  She taught at Dawson and at Lynn Lane.  She taught at McBirney Elementary in Garden City, on the west side of Tulsa.  She got her first job in the Red Fork schools by walking out in a field to ask Mr. Brooks, the school board president, for a position. He said that any teacher that would walk out in a field for an interview could handle a classroom and gave her the job. She taught for 30 years at Porter, mostly 6th grade, and ended up retiring with 43 years of teaching experience.

Now, my ambition of becoming a teacher never wavered, but as I traveled through the grades, sometimes the specific goal changed.  For example, in 4th grade I wanted to be a 4th grade teacher, in 5th grade I wanted to be a 5th grade teacher, in junior high I flirted with being a librarian, in high school I decided on speech and drama (with a side order of English.)  After 5 years teaching speech, drama, and English, I went back to school and got a librarian’s certificate, and that is where I have been ever since—36 years total.

Teachers from the Castle family include: my grandmother, me, and my cousin Cathy, granddaughter of Jessie Castle.  Cathy’s mother Ann is a retired librarian, and her sister Jayne is a school librarian.  My grandmother’s brother Warner was married to Ona Brooks, an elementary teacher and daughter of that school board president that gave my grandmother a job. Their daughter Linda retired from a career as an elementary and middle school teacher.

Postal jobs also run in our family.  Goldman Davidson Castle was the postmaster of Castle, Kentucky.  My grandmother remembered seeing the post office at the end of the long porch outside her grandparents’ home in Kentucky.  Later, G.D. Castle turned the postmaster position over to his son, George Turner Castle. 

When the family moved to Red Fork, my grandmother took the Civil Service exam and was named Postmistress.  At the time she was teaching near Collinsville and turned the post office over to her mother.  Florida Castle is listed in the 1919 Tulsa city directory as the clerk of the Red Fork post office; Fannie Castle is listed as postmistress.

Appointment of Fannie Castle as Red Fork Postmistress

1919 Tulsa City Directory showing
Fannie Castle as Red Fork postmistress and
Florida Castle as postal clerk 
My brother retired from 25 years as a postal carrier.  While working for the post office, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma.  He now works for the Tulsa Public Schools!  His daughter is doing her student teaching in the fall.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Castle In-Laws and Their In-Laws

Before I leave the Castles, I would like to summarize what I know about their in-laws, the Days, and their in-laws, the Reeds, Oneys, Patricks, Lewises, etc. 

My great-grandmother, Sarah Florida Day, was the daughter of James Thomas Day and his wife, Nancy Emily Reed.  She was born in White Oak, Magoffin County, Kentucky, and a couple of generations of family members are buried there. The counties of Morgan and Magoffin border each other, and in fact, if you just keep driving out of West Liberty on Hwy. 460, you will reach White Oak in about 10 minutes.

The parents of James Thomas Day were Andrew Jackson Day (1836-1921) and Sarah Oney (1840-1862).  They were married on 25 September 1855 in Morgan County. The marriage registration shows that “Jackson” Day, age 19, lived in Caney, Morgan County, and was born there. Sarah “Owney” was born in Tazewell County, Virginia, and was living in White Oak at the time of her marriage at age 15.  Sarah died in 1862, and Andrew J. Day remarried to Catherine (Jane) Reed. 

Marriage record of Jackson Day & Sarah Oney

Andrew Jackson Day & 2nd wife
Sarah Oney’s parents were William Oney and Susanna Coburn who were both born about 1807 in Kentucky. They were still living and listed on the 1870 census in Floyd County. Most researchers on list William’s father as Benjamin Oney with a trail leading back to Tazewell County, Virginia. William’s death record on 9 Mar 1878 lists his father as Samuel Oney from Pike County. That’s a question to be answered on another day.

William Oney, died 9 March 1878, father Samuel Oney 
Andrew Jackson Day’s father was Thomas P. Day. He was born in 1804 in Virginia and died before 1880 in Kentucky. On the 1840 census he is in Tazewell County, Virginia; on the 1850 and 1860 he is in Morgan County; and on the 1870 he is in Magoffin County.  His wife was Margaret “Nancy” McGrady, who was born in 1812 in Grayson County, Virginia.

Thomas’s father was Joseph Day who married Rhoda Cock, daughter of Andrew Cock, on 10 August 1796.  Rhoda died 16 August 1827 at age 49, after having given birth to at least 10 children.  Joseph remarried to Rebecca Dunn in 1830, and his second wife had 7 children!  At the age of 80, just a few months before his death, he wrote his will and listed his youngest son as age 8.  Joseph lived in Grayson and Carroll counties in Virginia.  Joseph and Rhoda are both buried in Carroll County, VA.

Nancy Emily Reed’s parents were Lewis Reed and Sarah Patrick. They married 3 May 1849 and were living in Morgan County at the time of the 1850 census. On the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses they are living in Magoffin County in Salyersville and Johnsons Fork. Lewis died on 9 December 1895 in Elsie, Magoffin County.  Sarah Patrick, daughter of Robert Patrick and Elizabeth McMullen, was born 5 January 1830 and died 15 March 1892 in Elsie. Robert Patrick was from Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia.  He was born in 1779 and died in 1859 in Madison County, Arkansas.  His headstone reads “KY Militia, War of 1812.”  His parents were Hugh Patrick and Susanna Harris.

Patrick Cemetery, Madison County, Arkansas
The parents of Lewis Reed were Daniel Reed and Martha “Patsy” Lewis.  Daniel was born 3 April 1806 in Virginia.  Daniel and Patsy were enumerated on the 1830-1870 censuses in either Morgan or Magoffin counties. They were living near the mouth of Cow Creek when Daniel died on 8 February 1878. Patsy died on 18 April 1880 in Magoffin County of pneumonia.   

Patsy’s father was John Lewis. He was born in North Carolina in 1782 but was living in Kentucky by 1820 and in Morgan County by 1830. His parents were James Lewis and Winnie Henson.  According to Lewis family researchers, James came from Wales to America with his father Nathaniel in 1740. They settled first in Virginia. James died in 1825 at Cutshin Creek, Perry County, Kentucky, and is buried in the J.C. Lewis Cemetery in Wooton.  He served in the North Carolina Militia during the Revolutionary War. There is a sign in the cemetery listing his children and commemorating his service. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Grandparent #2: Frances (Fannie) Lou Castle

On this date in 1897 my grandmother was born to George T. and Florida (Day) Castle in Morgan County, Kentucky.  She was named for her father’s first wife, Frances Nickell, who had died in childbirth in 1893.  George married Florida, 15 years his junior, in 1896.  Fannie was the oldest of their 8 children.

When she was just a toddler, an incident happened that affected my grandmother all of her life.  Her young mother needed to leave their cabin and go to the spring for fresh water. She tied my grandmother into her high chair, but on her way back to the cabin she saw an awful sight:  Fannie standing on the front porch of the cabin with burning embers in her hair.  She had managed to get free from the chair and fall headfirst into the fireplace.  The burning left scars that she would hide for the rest of her life with bangs and hairpieces.  This disfigurement was much more obvious to Fannie than it was to anyone else, and she hid it well.  I never even realized she had scars until she was in her 90s.

Stacy Fork School--about 1902
Fannie is in the front row, 7th from left
Her brother Forrest is next to her, 4th from right
Half-sister Cora is standing next to the teacher on the left
She clearly remembered her early school days in Kentucky.  The one-room schoolhouse had two exit doors in the back, one for the boys and one for the girls.  If a book was placed in the door on the girls’ side, it meant that a girl was occupying the outhouse; if the book was in the boys’ side, it meant a boy was in the privy.  
This photo of the old schoolhouse taken
by Aunt Georgia Beebe on a trip back to Kentucky
After the family moved to Oklahoma in 1907, Fannie continued her education and graduated from Chandler High School.  After taking the teacher’s exam at age 17, she began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Collinsville.  She later completed college at Northeastern State Teachers’ College (now Northeastern State University) in Tahlequah.

She married in 1919 and gave birth to twin boys in 1928.  She taught at Park Elementary and for 30 years at Pleasant Porter Elementary, both in Red Fork.  At age 62 she wasn’t ready to retire, but she did so that she could stay home with me and my brother after our mother died. 

Until I got close to age 60 myself, I hadn’t quite imagined what it would have been like to take on a 3-year-old and a 4-month old at that stage of my life.  It would have been easy for me to miss having a mother, but she filled that role so well that I never really did. She supported everything I wanted to do—including hemming up my miniskirts and attending all my school events.  She was a Cub Scout den mother and climbed up in the bleachers in her 70s to watch my brother play basketball. I remember a couple of summers when she decided I needed to learn how things were done in the old days, so we strung peppers and made grape jam and soap from scratch.     

She wasn’t through raising children.  When I went to work as a teacher in 1977, she took care of my son.  Later, she sent him across the street to school at Park Elementary and took care of him after school until I got home.

She wasn’t always easy because she had high standards and would criticize me if I couldn’t do something with the “Castle lick,” the perfect way in which something should be done—from sweeping the floor to ironing a shirt.  When I rolled out of bed in the morning, she had a list ready of all the things she had done while I was sleeping: breakfast dishes, two loads of laundry, ironing ten of Daddy’s shirts, etc.  She often criticized what I wanted to wear, which she called my “garb.”  She was terribly hard of hearing and drove us all crazy trying to make her understand what we were saying. Once she misunderstood something one of us had said and questioned, “Snow’s on the roof?” (It was summer.)  After that, it was our favorite saying when she didn’t understand something.  After several attempts at making her understand, we’d all yell, “Snow’s on the roof!”  She had absolutely no sense of humor, so we all thought it was pretty funny when she bought a plaque that said “I’m not deaf; I’m just ignoring you” and hung it on the living room wall.

She was still going strong when she turned 90, and we had a big surprise birthday party for her.  As the oldest of George and Florida’s children, she was everybody’s Aunt Fannie, and I even called her Aunty for years before I finally figured out she was the only mother I was ever going to have and started calling her Mom.  I always knew she was a big influence on me, but I don’t think I had realized that so much of what I’m interested in is because of her. Being a teacher, of course. But I also share her love of poetry* (in her 80s she could recite long narrative poems she had learned in 4th grade!), genealogy (she’s the one who wrote down all the brothers and sisters of my ex-husband’s great-grandmother), history and culture (my fascination with Indian mounds, cemeteries, pioneer times, and the settling of Oklahoma.)  Family was always the most important thing in the world to her, and she would love knowing that I’m making connections with the descendants of her kinfolks in Kentucky.

*On any occasion when we were all together (birthdays, Christmas), we would beg her to recite her poems.  I have searched in vain to find copies of them.  My favorite was about a father chopping wood when his little boy falls underneath the axe.  (It begins, “What are ye askin’, stranger, about a lock of hair?” and ends with an affirmation of the Biblical saying, “’the hairs of your head are numbered,’ and sir, I believe it’s so.”) Another was about a little girl and her mother traveling on an immigrant train at Christmas time. The little girl worries that Santa won’t be able to find them, and a man (was he Santa?) gets off the train at one of the stops and buys her presents. Another was about a little boy who steals a watermelon and gets in trouble from his mother because the one he stole wasn’t ripe! I also liked the one about an older sister who "is flustered the whole of the day/And gives the silliest answers to what we may say" because "her beau is coming to see her on Saturday night." All of these poems gave us a glimpse into what life was like when my grandmother was growing up.

Fannie Castle Smith (or Fannie C. Smith, as she signed herself) was a beloved teacher, mother, aunt, and grandmother.  She died on 12 December 1992 and is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.