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, May 28, 2013

Teaching Genealogy

The end of school every year puts me in mind of former students, meaningful lessons, and funny stories from the past 36 years.  Two of my best teacher stories have to do with genealogy.

I’ve been teaching genealogy to students for 20 years.  The first time was a 2-week unit with gifted students back in the pre-Internet days.  The kids did research mostly through interviews with their parents and grandparents.  I taught them how to fill out pedigree charts and how to search indexes with Soundex code.  We made one field trip to the genealogy library in Tulsa where they put to use what they had learned.

On the last day of the unit the students were to bring some items from home that they considered to be family treasures.  I had brought some of my own treasures to give them the idea: the pouch my great-grandpa carried in the Civil War, my dad’s baby shoe, a book of my mother’s favorite poems in her own handwriting.  I told them to be sure they had permission to bring their family’s items, and that I would be glad to keep them in my office until the class met during the last hour of the day.

At the beginning of the day Andrea brought in a plain white box and asked if she could leave it in my office.  I told her to set it on the floor, and she left it while she went to class.  At some time during the day I needed to move the box, and I tried, but it was really heavy so I left it where it was.  7th hour came, and the students began to make their presentations.  They had brought charm bracelets, yearbooks, and newspaper articles about their family members.  Finally, it was Andrea’s turn.  She got the heavy box from my office, set it on the table in front of her, and declared, “For my presentation I brought…my grandfather.”  Yes, the plain white box contained the ashes of her very dead grandfather!

The second story comes from a genealogy class I taught a couple of years ago.  One of the history teachers at school is also into genealogy, and she thought that researching family trees would make history more personal for her students.  We decided to collaborate on a genealogy unit, and her students came to do their research on our library’s computers.

As I was walking around, I noticed that one student was looking at an Internet article about William Whitley.  I said, “Is William Whitley your ancestor?”  He said, “Yes, I’ve been to his house in Kentucky.”  I said, “I have too! He’s also my ancestor, and that means we’re cousins!”  Amazing coincidence, considering that our connection is 6 generations and 3 states away. 

Then last year I decided to go on a tour of Ireland, Wales, England, and France with a group from our high school.  At the first meeting we all introduced ourselves, and our leader told us who we would be rooming with.  It took me a minute to make the connection, but when one mom and her daughter were introduced, I said, “Are you Caleb’s mom?”  It turns out she was, and my roommate in Europe was my Whitley cousin!

I’ve always enjoyed the genealogy units I’ve helped to teach.  I can think of many times that students found out something about an ancestor that excited them.  One of the big things in education right now is doing research with primary documents.  What better way to understand a historical period than to examine a photograph, a letter, or military records of your own ancestors?  What better way to get kids excited about history?  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pleasant Porter Elementary School

The first school I attended was Porter Elementary School.  I started kindergarten there, at the age of 4, in 1958.  In those days the cutoff for enrollment in kindergarten was November 1, so I barely made it since my birthday was in October.  Consequently, I was nearly the youngest student in my class all the way through high school.

My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Mary Gold.  Nearly 40 years later I met her granddaughter Jill who became, and still is, one of my best friends.  She never attended Porter, but we think she once visited her grandmother’s classroom when I was a student there.  I remember a big room with lots of light from tall windows, radiators along the outside wall, and easels set up for painting.  I remember little else from that year, except once I spilled paint on my dress.  Mrs. Gold dressed me in a paint smock, washed out my dress, and dried it on the radiator.

She might not have done that for just any student.  My grandmother, her friend, taught 6th grade at the other end of the building.  My grandmother taught 6th grade at Porter for 30 years, all in the same room, I think.  She must have begun teaching there in 1929, the year Porter opened for the first time.  She was her twin sons’ 6th grade teacher.  She quit in March of 1960 when she reached 62 and could retire.  She didn’t want to, but she had the responsibility of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old after my mother died, and my dad moved us home with her and Grandpa.  For more about my grandmother’s teaching career, see my post, “Teachers and Postmen.”

My grandmother, Fannie C. Smith, monitoring
the hall at Porter Elementary

In first grade my teacher was Mrs. Smith.  Three things stick out in my mind about that year.  Mrs. Smith was teaching reading and used my name, “Rebecca,” to teach the schwa sound.  The mother of one of my classmates, Patty Post, made everyone in the class a stocking for Christmas, with felt cutouts and sequins and our names at the top.  I still have mine and put it up every Christmas.  Mrs. Smith’s favorite expression was “Pretty is as pretty does,” and she held up Patty Post, who always smiled, as a role model to the rest of the class.

Second grade was a bad year for me.  Looking back on it now, I must have been having some abandonment issues, and there were just too many changes that year for me to adjust to.  My grandmother had retired the year before and was no longer in the building.  Mrs. Lucille Swyden, my teacher, caught mumps or measles or some other childhood disease.  As an adult, of course, these diseases were much more serious, and she was out for an extended time.  Our substitute was a nice lady, but this was all just too much for a 7-year-old whose mother had died just a few years earlier.  I freaked. 

My grandmother had to come and sit in the back of the room, stamping books and grading papers, so that I would stay in class.  (Once she thought I might be getting over it and quietly got up to go home.  I found her outside before she ever made it to her car.)  My grandmother’s best friend, Mrs. Hostetter, told her later that the other teachers criticized her methods, but Mrs. Hostetter just said, “Fannie will handle it.” 

My grandmother and her friend, Roberta Hostetter 
And she did, or else I might not be a teacher myself.  I finally got over it, and 3rd and 4th grade proceeded normally, although I don’t remember much about those two years.  My 3rd grade teacher was Edra Beall, and my 4th grade teacher was Helga Bailey.  I remember loving poetry around that time but don’t remember which of those teachers helped inspire that love in me.  Fourth grade was my last year at Porter.  Our house at 2717 W. 42nd St. was being demolished to make way for the Red Fork Expressway.  About that time, my great-grandmother died, and we moved into her house, just across the street from Park Elementary where I completed 5th and 6th grades.

Porter was a beautiful building, inside and out.  It had two wings that stretched on either side from a columned front porch.  It sat in a grove of trees adjacent to wooded Reed Park.  There were large grassy areas on the east and south sides of the building for recess.  I remember playing Red Rover on the southeast side of the building, and seeing the older boys playing marbles just outside the north entrance near the music room.

Pleasant Porter Elementary School
This is what I remember about the inside of the building.  (Corrections and comments greatly appreciated; it’s been 50 years, after all.)  Just inside the front door on the left was the principal’s office.  Since my grandmother taught there, I felt comfortable in the office and liked both of her principals, Mr. Lee Arnold and Mr. Ben Wiehe, but especially Mr. Arnold. 

Straight in from the front door was the combination gymnasium/auditorium and stage.  On the wing to the right was my grandmother’s room, the library, and at the far end, the music room.  I loved the library and the librarian.  I remember reading a number of biographies and a series of books about twins from different countries of the world.  Mrs. Roberta Hostetter was the librarian and, of all things, gym teacher!  I remember her wearing black dresses, sturdy shoes, and a whistle around her neck.  Mrs. Phelps was the very elegant music teacher who wore her hair in a French twist.  

Just next to the entrance to the gymnasium was a door that led downstairs to the cafeteria.  Lord, the food was good in those days!  My favorites were macaroni and cheese and bean chowder.  I remember making Pilgrim collars and cuffs and wearing them for the Thanksgiving meal.  Down the left wing were, I think, the 3rd and 4th grade rooms, and at the end was the kindergarten room.  Then you made another right to the 1st and 2nd grade rooms.

Pleasant Porter opened in 1929 and closed as a regular elementary school in 1980.  It was named for the last elected chief of the Creeks who had been very involved in education for the Creek Nation. Pleasant Porter died in 1907 and is buried near Leonard in Tulsa County.  I remember visiting his grave once with my grandmother and some of her students. 

Photos from

Since closing in 1980, Porter has been used as offices for Head Start and the Native American Coalition and has recently been remodeled as additional classrooms for 4-year-olds in the Tulsa Public Schools.  One of my goals this summer is to get over there for a tour and see if anything looks the same as it did in 1963, the last time I was inside the building.  It’s kindof neat to know that 4-year-olds again occupy the building where I started my education as a 4-year-old!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stacy Fork School

Here in Oklahoma, school is almost over for the year.  Our last day is Wednesday, May 22.  The kids are excited, and so are the teachers!  I thought I'd post a few school-related memories in the next couple of weeks, and I'm starting with this picture of Stacy Fork School in Morgan County, Kentucky.  The picture was taken about 1902, just based on the ages of my grandmother and her brother.  Someone sent this picture to my grandmother years ago, with the names of the students faintly written on the back in pencil.  I have transcribed the names the best I can.  I hope someone sees an ancestor here!

Stacy Fork School, about 1902

1st row: left to right
Johnny Lewis
Hayden Ratliff
Jake Ratliff
Edgar Haney
Lizzie Ratliff
Sela Lewis
Fannie Castle (my grandmother)
Forrest Castle (my grandmother's brother)
May Lewis
Noah Lewis
Tony Lewis

2nd row:
Chester Lewis
Edgar Lewis
Kaner Williams
Sam Haney
Liza Ratliff
Emma Easterling
Fanny Lewis
Sylvia Combs
Ada Wills
Manda Wills

3rd row:
Hagar Wheeler
Wheeler Ratliff
Haden Lykins
Mort Easterling
Lizzie Haney
Martha Williams
Luella Combs
Malvira Williams
Bertha Lewis
Hendrix Lykins

4th row:
Henry Baze (teacher)
Emmett Haney
Boone Wills
Hezekiah Gullett
Wes Wheeler
? Easterling
Ida Haney

Top row:
Cora Castle (my grandmother's half-sister)
Lizzie Wheeler
Lizzie ?
Peone Weible
Myrtle Whitaker
Ada Whitaker

Where there are questions, please share names if you know them.  If there are corrections in names or spelling, please let me know.  And tell us about these ancestors and what happened to them after their school days!