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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grandparent #4: Cora Lee Bell Wheat Altstatt

Cora Lee Bell
Cora Lee Bell was born on 13 August 1896 in Indian Territory, the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Cornelia (Roberts) Bell.  She was listed on the 1900 census in Township 2 South, Range 5 East, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, with her father shown as Jefferson Bell, age 27, born in Mississippi, and her mother as Cornelia, age 35, born in Tennessee.  Her parents stated they had been married 7 years.  Cora was 3, and her siblings were Clara E., age 5, and James A., age 1.

1900 Indian Territory Census
Thomas Jefferson Bell & family 

In 1910 the Bells were living in Johnson County, Texas, probably in the home of Thomas’s Aunt Lydia Powell Ray, who was living with her sister Bennie in Briscoe County, Texas. Cora is 13, James is 11, and another sister has been born—Cornelia M., age 6.  Living in the same household is sister Clara E., age 15, and her husband, John A. (Angus) Guest, and their son, Stanley (transcribed as Uriel E.), age 8 months.

1910 Johnson County, TX Census
Thomas Jefferson Bell & family
On 28 January 1917 Cora Bell, age 20, who resided in Dustin, Oklahoma, married John W. Wheat, age 37, in Carson, Hughes County, Oklahoma.  In September 1918 they were living in Oklahoma City, according to John’s World War I draft registration.  In 1920 the Wheats were living back in Dustin with their first child, Leona, age 2.  Son William Powell was born in 1920, followed by daughter Iona Marie in 1922 and daughter Ida Belle in 1925.  John Wheat died in 1927 and on the 1930 census Cora and her children are living with her father, Thomas J. Bell, in Dustin.

Bell-Wheat marriage license

Cora married Henry Paul Alstatt, a widower, on 18 June 1938 in Dustin.  On the 1940 census the blended family included Henry’s children Bonnie, Jack, and Betty Joe, and Cora’s children, Powell, Marie, and Ida Belle.

Granny and Henry
Cora Altstatt was Granny to me, and Henry was Papa Henry.  My dad and paternal grandparents took my brother and me to Dustin to see Granny often when we were kids.  I think my grandmother Smith must have felt she had something to prove to Granny about how she was taking care of us; I remember that within a few miles of Dustin, Tim and I climbed in the back seat and changed clothes so we’d be fresh and presentable when we got to Granny’s house. Dustin was so different than our home in Tulsa.  Granny had a big garden, and raised hogs and chickens, and we walked a dirt road down to visit Aunt Clara.   

My two grandmothers and me

Aunt Clara and Granny in Granny's front yard

Granny was a good cook and a wonderful seamstress, and she was scared to death of storms.  I can’t say that I know much more about her; for one, of course, we didn’t live with her, but for another, she was very quiet and always seemed unhappy to me. Even before Henry’s death in 1970, Granny went to a nursing home in Wetumka where she was basically unresponsive for years before she died in 1981.  Later, when I was old enough to understand, I wondered if losing her two girls, Leona and my mother, so young, was just too much for her to bear.  Now that I know more about her mother, I also think she must have had a difficult childhood, and she probably had a difficult marriage with John Wheat.  I found this picture of her recently and realized, among all the other photos I have of her, this is the only one in which she is smiling.

Granny and me

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Roberts and Huff Families of Jackson County, Tennessee, Part 2

So, who are the parents of Stephen Roberts, you ask?  Beats me.  The families in Jackson County, Tennessee, are the most convoluted, same-named, intermarried bunch I have ever seen.  (Just take a look at the court records on the Jackson County genweb site; they are a hoot.)  There are Roberts researchers who have spent their lives trying to figure it all out.   I’m pretty sure it has been documented that Stephen had a brother named Caleb, and that the two brothers married sisters, Elzina and Sarah “Sally” Huff.  I tend to give this credence because Sally and Caleb had a son named James Polk Roberts who lived in Oklahoma and is buried in Hughes Co., and Aunt Marie actually remembered her family talking about “Polk Roberts.”  

Polk Roberts, son of Caleb and
Sally Roberts, 1860 Jackson Co. TN census

James K. "Polk" Roberts headstone
Holdenville Cemetery, Hughes County, OK

Some members have listed Reuben Roberts and Mary “Millie” Asher as the parents of Caleb and Stephen, but nothing is documented.  It could be possible, as they were from North Carolina, and Stephen stated on the 1870 census that his parents were from North Carolina, but I’m not convinced.  Reuben and Mary didn’t ever live in Jackson County; they lived and died in Warren County.  There are lots of Roberts families in Jackson County in the early 1800s but none of them have sons of the right age to be Stephen and Caleb.  There was a Stephen Roberts who was 70-79 on the 1830 Jackson County census, and a Stephen Roberts who bought and sold land in Jackson County in the early 1800s.  Could this be my Stephen’s father?    

Stephen Roberts land record, Jackson County, TN, 1817
Who are Elzina’s parents?  Still not sure.  Elzina was already married by the time of the 1850 census and was listed with her husband Stephen Roberts, so it is hard to connect her with the correct Huff family in Jackson County.  William Nathan Huff and Susannah “Sookie” Toney have been suggested, but some Huff cousins I have met on the Internet doubt that either one of them was the parent of Elzina.  The death date they have for William Huff precludes him from being the father, and they think that Sookie was too old to be the mother of Elzina or her brother Nathan.  However, Elzina and Nathan may be Sookie’s grandchildren or niece and nephew.  A number of Huff cousins have had DNA testing done, and we are all hoping that my test results will solve the mystery of Elzina’s parentage, at least.

Last week Family Tree DNA was promoting a sale on their Family Finder test.  I’ve been waiting for the next sale, so I signed up.  I’m hoping to have the results by the time of the big Jackson County genealogy festival the first weekend in July.  A lot of Huff cousins will be there, including me.  There will be surname booths and cemetery tours and speakers.  I’m hoping that DNA and cousin power will help me find my Roberts and Huff ancestors. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Roberts and Huff Families of Jackson County, Tennessee--Part 1

I’ve been sitting here staring at this blank screen for a couple of days, and I don’t even know where to start.  This is my stumbling block, my brick wall.  The Smiths are frustrating, too, but at least I find out something new every once in a while.  I have probably been researching the Roberts and Huff families for 20 years, and I hardly know any more than when I started.  I’ve been revisiting some old emails that have even called what I think I know into question.

I’m pretty sure I’ve known these two surnames for 20 years, and I didn’t come up with them on my own.  Aunt Marie took me to visit the cemetery in Lamar where my great-grandmother Cornelia’s brother, Nathan Roberts, is buried.  I think either she or my cousin told me that Cornelia’s mother was a Huff, even though at the time I didn’t even know how it was spelled. I’ve been looking at census records on these two families since the days when you looked up heads of households in large books of census records by year and state.  I think that’s actually where I started—trying to find a Roberts and Huff family in the same county.  I’m not even sure how I knew it was Tennessee.  I eventually found a Huff couple—George and Mariah—living with a Roberts family in Jackson County in 1870.  It was a big clue.

Lamar Cemetery, Hughes County, OK
However, the discrepancies in those same census records still cause me to be insecure about the conclusions I’ve reached.  In 1870 in Granville, Jackson County, TN, the family of Stefen Roberts, age 50, included wife Eliza, age 45, and children Nancy, 20; Henry, 18; Ellis, 16; Permelia, 14; Thomas, 11; Caleb (transcribed Colet), 7; and Nathan, 2.  Also living with the family are George Huff, 26, and wife Mariah, 19.  Permelia could be my Cornelia; maybe the census enumerator misheard the name.  Except Cornelia should have been only 5 years old in 1870, according to her headstone and other records.

In 1880 I think I’ve found the same family, except the head of household is Elmira, age 54, (divorced and born in Tennessee), and her children are Nancy, 24; James H. (Henry?), 18; Thomas J., 14; Cornelia, 13; and Nathan J., 12.  Oh, and they are living in Harmony, Caldwell County, Kentucky.  Eventually I found Stephen Roberts (transcribed Rolenes), living with his nephew Nathan Roberts back in Jackson County, claiming to be a widower.  Oh, and by the way, on the 1850 Jackson Co. census Stephen is married to Elsy, and on the 1860 Jackson Co. census Stephen is married to Elcena.  Well, at least the “El-” part is consistent.

1870 Caldwell County, Kentucky, census
At some point I was in touch with a Roberts cousin who said, “Do you have a copy of the divorce papers?”  He copied and sent me the papers that he had originally discovered in the Jackson County courthouse.  The 7-page handwritten document, recorded 140 years ago, is very interesting in its depiction of spousal obligations, property, and the legal system in the 1870s.  Elzina Roberts, the complainant, stated that her husband had abandoned her and her children “without any provisions to subsist on whatever,” and she hadn’t seen him for two years.  She claimed that she was a “kind loving & virtuous wife to the defendant from the time of their marriage,” and that her husband, Stephen Roberts, “was a habitual drunk when he could get whiskey.”  She requested a divorce and possession of their property that included: “one horse one yoke of oxen two cows and calves ten head of hogs two beds and furniture one log chain two hoes two plows and plenty of cooking utensils and some baking 6 chairs one chopping ax Auger hand saw and draw knife twenty bushels of wheat about twenty acres of corn.”

Elzina & Stephen Roberts divorce, pg. 5
What’s really crucial, however, is the genealogical information contained in the complaint.  The document, dated 1874, states that Stephen and Elzina married in Jackson County, Tennessee, and had lived together on Martins Creek for 35 or 36 years.  It further states that Stephen abandoned the following minor children when he left in May 1872: John E. Roberts, Thomas J. Roberts, Cornelia Roberts, Caleb (spelled Calip) Roberts, and Nathan Roberts.  The complaint also states that the two oldest children of Stephen and Elzina were Nancy and Henry Roberts who were of age in 1872, and that two of the children, John and Caleb, had died since their father left two years before.  Elzina also mentions several times that she is, and always has been, a resident of Jackson County.  (This was before the apparent move to Kentucky by her and her remaining children sometime in the 1870s.)  So even though there are many alternative spellings and discrepancies in dates, I think that the divorce papers pretty much back up the information in the 1870 Jackson Co. census and the 1880 Caldwell Co. census, and that they all refer to the same family.

Elzina & Stephen Roberts divorce, pg. 3
Then in 2010, I got an email from an researcher, asking where I had gotten my information about the Roberts family.  His wife’s ancestor, Thomas J. Roberts, had died in Trigg County, Kentucky—the next county over from Caldwell—in 1936. His obituary stated that he had been born in Tennessee and brought to Kentucky by his mother as a “young lad.”  “One brother, Nathan Roberts, of Lamar, Oklahoma, and one sister, also of Oklahoma, survive.” So far, so good.  The man who wrote to me, however, had relied on information in the death certificate upon which to base his genealogy of Thomas J. Roberts.  And I think the death certificate is wrong.  It stated that T.J. Roberts was born in Trigg Co. (which contradicts the obituary), that his father was Tom Roberts, who was born in Trigg Co., and that his mother was Elvina Roberts, who was born in Trigg Co.  I can’t deny that Thomas J. Roberts was my great-grandmother’s brother (unless there’s another Nathan Roberts from Lamar, OK, who had a surviving sister, also living in Oklahoma), but looking back over all the information I’ve collected, I still believe that Cornelia, Thomas, and Nathan were all the children of Stephen and Elzina Roberts.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Fowlers

The Fowlers joined my family tree with the marriage of Eliza Helen Fowler to Benjamin Powell on 22 December 1828 in Henry County, Tennessee, at the home of the bride’s father.  Eliza Helen’s parents were William and Mourning (Crudup) Fowler.  William was born 8 February 1779, and Mourning was born 4 February 1781; they married on 22 April 1800.  Her parents were Josiah and Elizabeth (Battle) Crudup of North Carolina.  You will see the names Mourning, Crudup, and Battle again and again in the names of their children and their children’s children.

Eliza Helen was one of twelve children, five sons and seven daughters of William and Mourning Fowler.  Their names were: Joseph, Piety Hester, Crudup Battle, Martha Henderson, Mason T. (a girl), Eliza Helen, Harriet E.C., Roina Broadus, William John, James Elisha (for whose wife and sister-in-law Lydia was named), Mary Jane, and Calvin Crocker.  All the children were born in North Carolina before William Fowler came to Henry County, Tennessee, near Paris, in 1826.  The only child who stayed in North Carolina to raise his own family was the eldest, Joseph. 

Family of William and Mourning (Crudup) Fowler
from Annals of the Fowler Family
According to *Annals of the Fowler Family, John Fowler came to Virginia from England and patented land in Virginia in 1673 north of the Appomattox River near Petersburg.  By court records we know that John Fowler was dead by 1683.   By 1691 his son Godfrey was of age, and his two brothers being dead, he inherited the estate of his father.  By 1695 he had married Susannah Archer.  Godfrey the First (to differentiate him from his grandson) imported colonists and bought land, greatly adding to that owned by his father John, and died by May 1747.  According to his will, his son Joseph had already received his apportionment of land and had probably already moved to North Carolina.

Map of Fowler lands in Virginia from
Annals of the Fowler Family 
We know that Joseph Fowler was in North Carolina by 1772 and may have been there as early as 1743, when his father’s will was written.  Joseph’s wife was Nancy, and they had twelve children:  Bullard, William Anderson, Susannah, Mary, Godfrey Sr. (my ancestor), Wilmoth, Joseph, Elizabeth, Nancy, Martha, Sally, and Burwell.  Godfrey Sr. married Rahab Cooper, and they had six sons and two daughters:  Nancy, David, Joseph, John, Godfrey Jr., Bullard, William, and Elizabeth.  William, my ancestor, married Mourning Crudup, and his brother Bullard married her sister, Bathsheba. 

I’ve always wondered what possessed the Crudups to give their daughters names so widely differing in propriety: Mourning being such a nice Puritan name and Bathsheba—really?—after the temptress of King David.  As it turns out, Mourning is a family name.  Mourning Crudup was the daughter of Josiah Crudup and his wife Elizabeth Battle.  Josiah’s parents were John and Mourning (Dixon) Crudup.  The name Mourning travels through my family from Mourning Dixon to her granddaughter, Mourning Crudup, to her granddaughter, Mary Mourning Powell, to her granddaughter, who was Cornelia Morning Bell, my grandmother’s sister.  I’ve always wondered if T.J. Bell knew how far back in his family this custom went, or if he was merely naming his daughter Cornelia after his mother.

Besides Crudup, Battle, Archer, Dixon, and Cooper, other surnames associated with the Fowler branch of the family are: Tucker, Wilder, Jackson, Howell, Hunter, Sumner, and Blanchard.  All of these families lived almost exclusively in Virginia and North Carolina, stretching back into the 1600s.

*Annals of the Fowler Family can be read online in its entirety at 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aunt Lydia Powell

Great-great Aunt Lydia, who passed down her “Genealogy of the Powells” to future generations, is a kind of role model for me.  When you’re spending all your spare time surfing and tracking down cemeteries and blogging not knowing if anyone is reading, you sometimes wonder if what you leave behind will mean anything to anybody.  Aunt Lydia, who wrote something that helped me in my search 135 years later, gives me hope that what I’m doing will mean something to future generations.

Lydia Caroline was born 16 January 1849 in Tennessee, the next-to-youngest child of Benjamin and Eliza Helen (Fowler) Powell.  In Lydia’s own words, “I was named for the wife of my uncle James E. Fowler of near Paris, Tenn.; she was Caroline Harris, a sister of the late Senator Isham G. Harris of Tennessee.  Lydia is for his sister-in-law, Mrs. Lydia Harris.” 

1860 Shelby County, TN census
Lydia is listed as Martha L.C. Powell 
Lydia didn’t marry until she was 33—to a 57-year-old man, Elisha Ray, who had been widowed twice.  She apparently used her spinsterhood to good advantage, traveling and writing stories about her adventures for the hometown newspaper.  She carried her writing implements, silver inkwell, and paper in a shagreen (sharkskin) box with gilt trim.  She visited a spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she took an oxypathor treatment that she claimed made her look 10 years younger.  (Google it; it’s really interesting.)  She visited a home in Florida that she described as “decorated like a Turkish bashaw’s.”  She visited Wales, where she bought a washstand, highboy, wardrobe, and bed made of mahogany with carved roses and angels, that she left to Aunt Clara in her will.  (Uncle Angus refused to take possession of them, as it would have required that he hire a wagon to fetch them.)   My cousin owns two pictures that Lydia painted—one of a swamp in Florida and one of sheep in Wales. In 1910 Lydia was living in Briscoe County, Texas, with her sister Bennie (Powell) Keeble.  The 1910 census shows her occupation as “Teacher (art.)”

Lydia married Elisha Boykin Ray on 10 May 1882.  He had been married previously to Mary Susan Lake, who died in 1864, and Ann Rebecca Wright, who died in 1872.  Years ago, my cousin showed me a photograph of Elisha Ray with Lydia (she thought) and his two young children.  She seemed to remember that Elisha had a boy and a girl from his previous marriage, and that the boy had died young.  I posted the photo on and then received a message from a Wright researcher who found the photo through a search for Elijah Ray, who had married her great-grandfather’s sister, Ann Rebecca Wright.  According to her, Elisha had at least five children with his first wife; he and Rebecca never had children, but she helped him raise the children from his first marriage.  His children, the youngest of whom was born in 1862, would have been grown when he and Lydia married in 1882.  The woman I corresponded with feels that the following photograph depicts Elijah with her ancestor, Rebecca Wright, and two of his young children.  I hold out the hope that it is somehow Lydia, since I have no other picture of her. 

After I had begun to research the Powells and the Fowlers, I found a book in the library of the Oklahoma Historical Society called Annals of the Fowler Family (more about it in the next post.)  It was published in 1901, and the author, Glenn Dora Arthur, had corresponded with many of her Fowler cousins, trying to document as many Fowler descendants as she could.  Two of her correspondents were Lydia and Eliza Helen, Lydia’s mother.  Lydia really comes to life in the long and chatty letter that she sent to Mrs. Arthur. 

She addresses Mrs. Arthur as “My Dear Relative,” and then goes on to relate interesting stories of Fowler relatives during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, such as this one about Rahab Cooper, wife of Godfrey Fowler, my 5th great-grandmother:

She and her children were in the kitchen and she was spinning, when, just as she was drawing out a thread, she glanced up the road and saw the British coming; she hastily raised the trapdoor and bade all the children enter the cellar and keep wonderfully quiet; she then took her babe—my grandfather—and went up in the attic.  The English soldiers entered the home and she could hear them laughing about chasing all the women and children away.  They remained only long enough to eat up a lot of roasted potatoes and drink all the brandy in the house. They then left without discovering either hiding place,”

and this poignant anecdote, maybe not as historically significant, but just as revealing of the times:

There is a sad romance about the eldest daughter of great-uncle Bullard Fowler; her name was Tillitha.  She never married, although she was engaged three times, but all three terminated disastrously.  In the first instance her intended was thrown by his horse and killed while he was on his way to wed her; the next one sickened and died near the wedding-day; the third went to Holly Springs on business just prior to his marriage, and he died there among strangers. She had suitors afterwards , but she never promised to marry anyone again.”

Mrs. Arthur makes this very Victorian response to Lydia’s letter:

“Some women have a decided fondness for family reminiscences, and I judge that Mrs. Ray has inherited this interesting trait from her very interesting mother, whose letter set me on my quest for ‘our ancestors.’ Women, as a rule, have more time for remembering traits and incidents of different members of the related families. They talk them over as they mingle in the home work; and on rainy days and winter nights something of the dear past is suggested by the snatch of a song, the odor of a flower, or the similarity of the weather, when one begins,--‘It was just such a night as then when’—and immediately everyone listens.”

I would greatly admire Mrs. Arthur as well for her helpful contribution to Fowler history were it not for her occasional cattiness.  I can’t quite forgive her for the unnecessary comment she made about Lydia’s explanation of the origin of her name:

“If there are any discrepancies in these facts I am unable to correct them, as I give them just as they have been given to me.  As a rule women are more prone than men to draw on their imagination when their stock of facts is exhausted, but I have requested facts only in every instance.”

As a genealogist, I can certainly appreciate Mrs. Arthur’s devotion to the facts, but unless our ancestors come to life for us, what is the point of names and dates?  Lydia may have had imagination, but I’m so glad she did, or I would never have heard such interesting stories about my Powell and Fowler ancestors.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Powells

A lot of what I know about the Bells and related families comes from one of my Bell cousins.  Her grandmother, Clara Bell Guest, was the older sister of my grandmother, Cora Bell Wheat.  As keeper of the Bell family treasures, my cousin gave me a genealogical jump start by sharing family photographs, Primitive Baptist church minutes, and a dog-eared handwritten history of the Bell and Powell families written in the 1880s by our great-great-aunt Lydia Powell Ray.

Page 1 of the "Genealogy of the Powells"
by Benjamin Powell, as told to his
daughter, Lydia
The tears and mends make it very hard to read, and I only have a photocopy of Aunt Lydia’s “Genealogy of the Powells.”  However, I was able to decipher enough to set me on the way to identifying my Powell ancestors.  The usual way to do genealogical research, from the present back through each generation to the earliest ancestor, worked the other way around in this situation.  I ended up working down from the earliest ancestor listed in Lydia’s genealogy until I got to Benjamin Powell, who was the father of the most recent Powell in my family tree—Mary Mourning “Polly” Powell who married James W. Bell.

Although written by Lydia, she was recording the words of her father, Benjamin Powell, who said, “The ancestors came from Wales and settled in Virginia and moved [from] to Halifax Co., N.C.  Had two sons one of them (my great grandfather) Dempsy Powell married a Miss Benton [indecipherable] moved from there to Wake Co., N.C. before the Revolution War.  Raised up a family of five daughters and four sons.”  They go on to record the names of Dempsey’s sons and daughters, daughters’ married names, their children, and where they lived.  For example, one readable part of the document says, “The other three daughters of my great grandfather Dempsy Powell married Sims Streeter and Temple and moved to Middle Tenn and settled on Duck River near Shelbyville.  They were all very wealthy and their children married so far as we know, men of affluence.” (I love the Victorians!)  While much information is there, it’s sometimes hard to untangle and frustrating because so much is missing due to the age of the document itself.

Map of Tennessee showing location of Duck River
It’s been almost 20 years since I received this document from my cousin and did the initial research.  So much is now available on and from other sources that corroborates these facts or calls them into question.  For example, Lydia does not mention Dempsey’s purported first wife, Nancy Dempsey, at all.  According to comments I have read online, the name Nancy Dempsey first shows up in early DAR applications and Powell researchers have not been able to find a source for it.  Lydia’s genealogy seems to support the fact that Dempsey only had one wife, a “Miss Benton,” given name Pleasant, according to a court record that lists her as the mother of Caswell and Jesse Powell.  

I remember how exciting it was as I did find sources that mostly supported the facts that Lydia and her father had recorded.  For example, Dempsey Powell’s home was in Wake County, North Carolina, near the present town of Wake Forest.  I recently found a transcript online of minutes from the 1792 meeting of Commissioners in Wake County who were viewing lands in the county for a site for the State Capital, “establishing a place for holding the future meetings of the General Assembly and the place of Residence of the Chief Officers of the State.”  They viewed the “Land of Dempsey Powell on the south side of Neuse at Powell Bridge Seven miles from Isaac Hunters” and others. 

Wake County map showing Neuse River
Another piece of information from Lydia’s document has proved to be correct.  Dempsey received a grant of 1,977 acres located on the Duck River in Tennessee for his service in the North Carolina state militia.  (When he was one his way to have the land surveyed, he was shot through the heel by an Indian at Nashville, whereupon he turned around, went back home, and hired someone else to survey the land for him.)  Upon his death three of his daughters, Charlotte who married John Sims, Mildred who married John Streeter, and Elizabeth who married Robert Temple, settled on their father’s grant lands on the Duck River in Tennessee.

Lydia’s 3-page document ends with these words: “This was written by myself Lydia C. Powell as given to me by my father Benj. Powell son of Caswell Powell who was son of Dempsy Powell (senior.)  She adds: “My father died near Potts Camp, Miss. in 1889 age 78 years 0 months.  My mother’s maiden name was Eliza Fowler daughter of Wm. Fowler of Paris, Tenn.”

Benjamin Powell married Eliza Helen Fowler on 22 December 1828 in Henry County, Tennessee.  They had ten children:  William Dempsey, Joseph Devereaux, Thomas A., Benja Ann Helen (Bennie), Georgiana Isabella, John Calvin, Mary Mourning, Lydia Caroline, and Eliza Jane (Jimmie.)  Of the siblings, only two remained in Tennessee.  The others went to Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.  Eliza Helen was visiting her daughters in Johnson County, Texas, when she died on 22 December 1882 on the 54th anniversary of her marriage.  She is buried at Bethesda Cemetery, Burleson, Texas.

Eliza H. Powell headstone
Bethesda Cemetery, Burleson, Texas
James W. Bell died in 1883, and in 1894 or 1895 Mary M. Bell married George Akers and moved to Woodford, Indian Territory.  George Akers died in 1896.  On the 1900 census Mary was living in Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, with her adult children, William, 32; Russell, 30; Kitty, 22; and Joseph, 20.  William, Russell, and Joseph were working as miners.  Mary apparently died before 1910 as she does not appear on the 1910 census.  She is supposedly buried in McAlester, Pittsburg Co., OK, but I have not been able to find her grave.  Her granddaughter Cora, my grandmother, named her only son William Powell, and he went by the name Powell all his life.

1900 Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory census

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gimme That Old Time Religion

Since the Primitive Baptist church figures prominently in the lives of many of my ancestors, and since many readers may not know much about their beliefs, I would like to attempt to explain what I know about them.  I ask forgiveness if I don’t explain something just right, because I wasn’t raised in that tradition.  My mother was raised Primitive Baptist, but she enrolled me in the Cradle Roll Sunday School class at Red Fork (Southern) Baptist Church as a baby.  I’m assuming she did so because there wasn’t a PB church around, but the result is that I know a lot more about the Southern Baptists than the Primitive Baptists.  But since the PB church seems to have arisen as a reaction to Southern Baptist actions that they thought were erroneous, I can at least make a comparison between the two doctrines.  So here goes—

“Primitive” in this context means “original.”  The practice of Primitive Baptists is based on the worship practices of the early Christian church described in the 1611 King James Bible.  For that reason, Primitive Baptists do not use musical instruments in their worship services because descriptions of early Christian services do not mention them.  Ministers are exclusively male, called Elders, and are self-trained, as were the leaders of the early Christian church.  The concept of “Sunday School” as church training for children is one of the Southern Baptist innovations that Primitive Baptists reject, especially since women often teach Sunday School.  Primitive Baptists do not consider themselves Protestants, since they model their worship on the original church, not on the Protestant tradition. 

The Primitive Baptist doctrine of predestination, however, is perhaps its most distinguishing belief.  Only a certain number of people, the “elect,” have been chosen by God and will be saved.  The final break with other Baptists came over the establishment of mission boards (the agencies that send missionaries.)  Primitive Baptists reject the idea that missionaries bring the means of salvation to the unsaved; salvation comes only from God through Christ’s sacrifice.  If you come to God, it is because he has selected you for salvation, so it cannot be because you heard the Gospel from missionaries, or showed repentance, or even had faith.  Since God chose you, you can never lose your salvation—what is often called “once saved, always saved.”  The two ordinances of the PB church are baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper (communion), which often includes the practice of feet washing. 

The break with other Baptists was announced in the Black Rock address of 1832 in Black Rock, Maryland.  Those that became known as Primitive, Hard Shell, or Old School Baptists disagreed with other Baptists who were beginning to establish mission boards and Bible tract societies.  According to the Wikipedia article on Primitive Baptists, the churches “arose in the mountainous regions of the southeastern United States, where they are found in their greatest numbers.”  Perhaps that is why I have so many Primitive Baptists in my family background—since my ancestors are almost exclusively Southern.

Another characteristic of Primitive Baptists is that they form Associations of churches and meet together annually.  The migration of Primitive Baptists through the southeastern United States to Texas and Oklahoma is something I need to research.  It might help explain how my Wheats, Mings, and Bells became so intermingled.  They may have attended church together, or met at Association meetings, which led to marriages and migration together.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Grandpa and Grandma Bell

Okay—last branch of my family tree, my mother’s mother’s family.  This research has been some of the most rewarding and interesting of all the genealogical searching I have done.  And while much has been learned, many questions still remain—and a couple of brick walls that I’m still working at breaking down.

Thomas J. & Cornelia Bell
Cora and Clara
My maternal grandmother’s parents were Thomas Jefferson Bell and Cornelia Dee (or Orange??) Roberts.  T.J. Bell was born in 1871 in Mississippi, probably in Early Grove, Marshall County, where he was living on the 1880 census. Sometime before 1893 he moved to Woodford, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, where he married Mrs. Cornelia (Roberts) Spurlock on 15 October 1893.  I have never found the marriage recorded, but my cousin gave me a copy of the original marriage license, which she possesses. 

Marriage license of Thomas J.
Bell & Mrs. Cornelia Spurlock 

Thomas J. Bell’s father and mother were James W. Bell and Mary Mourning Powell.  They married on 4 December 1866 in Marshall County, Mississippi.  Apparently, the Powells moved to Mississippi from Tennessee not long after the 1860 census was taken, taking for clues the marriage dates and places of Mary M. Powell and her siblings.

James W. Bell (1841-1883) was the son of Thomas Bell and his wife Elizabeth.  Thomas was born in 1806 in North Carolina, married Elizabeth about 1830, lived in Marshall County, Mississippi, and his occupation was listed as Mill Wright on the 1860 census.  That’s really all I know about him.  James was the youngest child and the only boy; his sisters were Catharine F. (married Swan), Mary J.R. (married Baldwin), Elizabeth G., Martha, and Winifred (married Losee).    

In 1883 James W. Bell died, and by 1894 or 1895, Polly remarried.  In 1900 she was widowed again and living in Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, along with Thomas’s siblings, William, Russell, Joseph, and Kitty (Elizabeth.) In 1900 Thomas’s remaining brother, Benjamin Franklin Bell, was living in Chickasaw Nation with his wife, Martha E. (Mattie) Ming.  (Yes, my Ming family.  Another convoluted relationship. Mattie is sister to Cynthia Ming, my Wheat great-grandmother.)  In 1880 the family of James and Polly Bell was in Mississippi, and by 1900 they were all in Oklahoma.

Cornelia Roberts was born on 4 February 1865 in Granville, Jackson County, Tennessee.  I have seen her middle name recorded as Dee in several places, including the baby book filled out by my mother.  Some descendants have recorded her middle name as Orange, which I would think ridiculous except that her headstone reads “Cornelia O. Bell.”  Her parents were Stephen and Elzina (Huff) Roberts. 
On the 1870 Jackson County census her siblings were listed as Nancy, Henry, Ellis, Thomas, Caleb, and Nathan.  In 1874 her mother filed for divorce from Stephen Roberts by reason of abandonment.  On the 1880 census the family, consisting of mother Elzina (enumerated as Elmira), Nancy, James H. (Henry), Thomas J., Cornelia, and Nathan J., were living in Harmony, Caldwell County, Kentucky.  I have never found a reason for the move to this area, over 200 miles north of Granville.  Another puzzling thing about these two census entries is that Cornelia is listed as “Permelia,” age 14 on the 1870 census, and as Cornelia, age 13, on the 1880 census. 

Roberts family on 1880 census of
Caldwell County, Kentucky
Apparently, Cornelia married someone named Spurlock sometime before she married T.J. Bell in 1893.  Whether that marriage ended in death or divorce, I have never been able to determine.  There were several Spurlock families in Jackson County, Tennessee, but I have never been able to figure out who Cornelia married.  The Spurlock men of the right age in 1880 appear to still be living in Tennessee in 1900, so how did Cornelia get to Indian Territory?  I did find a grave recorded in Woodford, Indian Territory, for Maggie L.V. Spurlock, born 14 February 1887, died 7 December 1892.  The 1900 census showed that Cornelia had borne 4 children, but only 3 were living.  I have always wondered if Maggie was the child of Cornelia and her Spurlock husband, and whether the child’s death might have caused divorce or abandonment by Mr. Spurlock. 

Maggie L. V. Spurlock headstone
Woodford Cemetery, Carter County, OK
By 1900 Thomas and Cornelia had three children: Clara Elizabeth, age 5; Cora Lee, age 3; and James Alfred, age 1.  Their fourth child, Cornelia Morning, was born in 1903.  According to cousins descended from Cornelia Morning Bell, T.J. Bell owned a store and post office in Mill Creek, Indian Territory.  Oh, my gosh!! Decided to check this out, since I now know where to go to find postmaster appointments on  Add another name to the list of postmasters in my family—Thomas J. Bell was appointed postmaster of Lester (near Mill Creek) Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, on 15 September 1899. 

Appointment of T. J. Bell as postmaster
Lester, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory 
In 1904 T.J. Bell became a Primitive Baptist minister.  In 1906 the Bell family moved to New Mexico Territory to homestead but a snowstorm forced them to move back home.  In 1908 they moved to Egan, Texas, to live with Thomas’s aunt Lydia Powell Ray, but then moved to Carson, OK, in 1910 to live in a log cabin owned by Cornelia’s brother Nathan.  They built a new house on Middle Creek (Pleasant View) and lived there until 1922.

By all accounts, Thomas J. Bell was the kindest man alive, and Cornelia Bell was the meanest woman.  To be fair, she can’t have had an easy early life, since her father was a drinker that abandoned his family, according to the divorce papers filed by her mother.  Certainly, if Cornelia lost a child at a young age, that had to have taken an emotional toll.  But just look at her photograph as a young girl—she doesn’t look happy even then.  Here’s the story I love to tell:  One of her husband’s Primitive Baptist minister friends came to visit, and she chased them out of the house with a buggy whip!

Cornelia Roberts
In 1922 Thomas filed for divorce from Cornelia, stating that she had ordered him to leave their home, criticized him because of his religious belief, that she was “of a nervous, high-strung temperament, easy to find fault with the plaintiff; continually fault-finding, many times quarreling with him and abusing him and making their home life miserable and making it absolutely impossible for them to maintain a peaceable home.”  They both moved into the nearby town of Dustin, where they lived on the same street.  T.J. owned the Dustin Harness and Shoe Shop and a chicken hatchery.  Until his death in April 1937 he walked by Cornelia’s house every day to check on her.  She died the same year in December, and they are buried next to each other in the Fairview Cemetery in Dustin.    

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grandparent #3: John William Wheat

John William Wheat is the only one of my grandparents that I didn’t know and the one I know the least about.  Practically everything I know about him has been pieced together from documents.  The only person I ever talked to that did know him was my mother’s sister, Iona “Marie” Wheat Kerensky, and the main thing she remembered about him was his body arriving at the train station in Dustin, Oklahoma for burial.  He died when my mother was only 2.

According to his 1906 Army enlistment papers, John William Wheat was born on 24 January 1880 in Grayson County, Texas.  He was 5 months old on the 1880 census, living with his parents J. and Sinthe Wheat, and his brother A.B., age 2, in Precinct 3, Collin County, Texas.  They are family #478 living in residence #444 with family #477, Cynthia’s parents and siblings.  Cynthia Ming was the daughter of William Frederick Ming and his wife and first cousin, Susanna Wheat.  I believe J. Wheat was Joseph Wheat, son of Caroline (Farris) and Henry Clay Wheat.  I have not been able to find John William on the 1900 census.

J.W. Wheat, age 5 months, on 1880 Collin County census 
On 5 March 1906, at age 26, John W. Wheat enlisted in the U.S. Army at Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory.  He listed his place of residence as Blackburn, Oklahoma Territory.  He stated that his brother, T.J. Wheat, was his next of kin.  T.J.’s place of residence was Mill Creek, Indian Territory.  John W., 5’7” in height, was described as having blue eyes, dark brown hair, and a fair complexion.  His marital status was Single.  John was trained at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri; assigned to the 11th Company Coast Artillery at Key West Barracks, Florida; and was discharged from the Army at Ft. Schuyler, New York, in April 1909.

John W. Wheat, enlistment ledger, 1906
Since I don’t know much about John William’s life, it’s tempting to try to put together a story based on the details in his enlistment papers.  Blackburn is not a locale associated with any other family members and is much farther north in Oklahoma than any other place that John ever lived--about 175 miles north of where his brother was living in Mill Creek.  It was a farm community with a nearby oil camp, so my guess is that John was there for a job as a farm hand or oil worker. The town experienced a drought in the early 1900s, and many farms were abandoned, so perhaps the loss of a farm job or the closing of the oil camp caused him to join the Army. 

John listed his brother as his next-of-kin, confirming my supposition that their father was dead by this time and that their mother had also died or had lost contact with her sons because of her remarriage in 1890.  It’s also possible that John ended up in Blackburn because of a woman, because on the 1910 census he stated that he was widowed.  I’ve never been able to find any record of John William’s first wife, but she could have died before 1906, when he listed his brother as next-of-kin.  (He also could have married her in another state while in the Army, that being the reason that I’ve never been able to find a record of the marriage.)  In 1910 John was living with Thomas in Cottle County, Texas.  Both brothers had moved to Oklahoma and back to Texas.  Thomas was married in Oklahoma and in 1910 had two daughters, both born in Oklahoma.

1910 Cottle County, Texas, census
John W. living with his brother Thomas's family
John W. Wheat, age 37, was living in Pauls Valley, Garvin County, Oklahoma, when he applied for a license to marry Cora Lee Bell, age 20, of Dustin, Hughes County.  They were married on 28 January, 1917, at Carson, Hughes County.  In September 1918 John William Wheat registered for the World War I draft at age 37 while living at 327 W. Washington, Oklahoma City.  He listed his occupation as Deliveryman and his wife as Cora Lee Wheat of the same address.

John William Wheat WWI draft registration 
On the 1920 census John W. Wheat and his family--wife Cora L., age 24, and daughter Leona, age 2--are living in Dustin, Hughes County.  John and Cora had son William Powell in 1921, daughter Iona Marie in 1923, and daughter Ida Belle in 1925.  John was working in the oil fields in Seminole, Oklahoma, when he died of heart failure induced by pneumonia on 9 November, 1927, at age 47.  John’s body was shipped home by train to be buried at Carson Cemetery.

John W. Wheat at Seminole Oil Camp, about 1927
My grandfather is in this picture somewhere
According to my cousin, whose grandmother was my grandmother’s sister, she was once told that John’s death was the result of a beating by a group of men led by my grandmother’s brother Jim Bell, because John Wheat was not taking care of his family.  I guess this is completely plausible, as my grandmother and the four Wheat children were living with her father, T.J. Bell, in Dustin, 40 miles away from Seminole where her husband was living.  Who knows if any of his paycheck was making it home to her?  I have looked for newspaper articles and will continue to look, hoping that I will find some proof of this incident.  No matter what I find, I think it’s sad that he died so young and my mother grew up without her father.

John W. Wheat's headstone
Carson Cemetery, Hughes County, Oklahoma