Thursday, December 25, 2008

James Coleman Watson, 100 years old, buried on Christmas Day 1949

Every Christmas, I find myself thinking of one of the major events in my mother’s family history. My great-great grandfather, James Coleman Watson, died on December 23, 1949 at the age of 100 years and 28 days. He was buried on Christmas Day at Shield Cemetery in Coleman County, Texas. This photo was taken on his 95th birthday on November 25, 1944. He had a remarkable lifespan, from the Civil War to the aftermath of World War II. He died in a nursing home in Brady, Texas but had only lived there five months. Prior to that, he lived with Uncle Booker and Aunt Lottie Watson. Although becoming very frail, he never lost his mental faculties. His death certificate lists the cause of death as “Cerebro-Vascular Accident due to Genealogical Senility”. Here’s his obituary from the Coleman, Texas newspaper, which is liberally embellished with a few old family stories:

100 Year Old County Resident Buried Christmas Day in Shield Cemetery

Mr. James Coleman Watson, 100 years and 28 days old was buried in the Shield Cemetery, Sunday, December 25. Dan Fogarty, minister of the Church of Christ in Coleman, officiated. Funeral services were held from the Shield Church of Christ.

James Coleman Watson was born in Bowie County, Texas November 25, 1849. When he was one year old, his parents moved to Grayson County, where he remained until 1903, when he came to Coleman County. He has been a resident of Coleman County since that time. He was married to Elizabeth Hale in Grayson County in 1869. To this union eleven children, six boys and five girls, were born. Mrs. Watson preceded him in death in 1924. Mr. Watson was laid to rest beside his wife in the Shield Cemetery. Two daughters also preceded him in death.

Mr. Watson’s father was a big plantation owner at the end of the Civil War when all the slaves were freed. He could tell a lot of interesting experiences of the olden days. His father fought in the Texas and Mexican War and was present at the Battle of San Jacinto, when General Santa Anna was captured with an army of 1600 Mexicans. Mr. Watson’s mother was a first cousin of Ben Milam.

Mr. J. C. Watson was believed to be the county’s oldest resident. He observed his 100th birthday anniversary in Brady on November 25, with a large number of his family and their families visiting with him. He was a member of the Church of Christ for 65 years.

Survivors are six sons: William B. (Booker) Watson, Rockwood; A. L. Watson, Portales, New Mexico; Carey Watson, Shield; J. C. Watson, Pittsburg, Texas; E. N. Watson, Sherman; O. D. Watson, Edinburg; three daughters: Mrs. Jennie Carter, Colbert, Oklahoma; Mrs. Mary Lawhon, Sweetwater; and Mrs. Lee Powers, Sweetwater. Sixty-seven grandchildren, 193 great-grandchildren, 105 great-great grandchildren, and a sixth generation child also survive.

Pallbearers, all grandsons, were Wayne L. Watson, Sherman; Darwin Watson, Santa Anna; Nap Watson, Santa Anna; Elmer Watson, Santa Anna; Willie Auten, Odessa; and James Auten, Odessa.

Flower bearers, all granddaughters and granddaughters-in-law, were Billie Mae Schrader, Lonettia Watson, Edith Guffey, Claudia Davis, Melba Auten, Ruby Auten, and Mary Tom Watson. Thelma Watson and Thelma Stewardson were flower managers.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Working at the LDS Family History Center

I’m really fortunate that there’s a Family History Center (FHC) only ten minutes from my home, and just blocks from my office. I never really had the opportunity to tap into the LDS resources until this year, and boy are they great! What an opportunity – records from all over the country (and the world) are at my fingertips for only $5.50 per microfilm roll. So far, I’ve been focusing on deed and probate records from various counties in Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

+ Working with microfilm can be a little tedious. I’ve developed forms that I take along to make it easier to record my findings. I have a form for transcribing entries from deed indexes and another form for extracting deeds. I created them in Word with lots of space to write and customized chart headings (for example, grantor, grantee, book and page, number of acres, dates, etc.) so I only have to concentrate on recording the data.

+ The copier at my FHC is time-consuming to work with and most of the large pages have to be copied in sections. Even though it’s only 10 cents per page, I rarely use it. After I know exactly what I want, I order the records from the county clerk. I’ve found that most counties will be happy to work with you if you know your indexing information when you order records.

+ It can take from 2 to 6 weeks to get microfilms in. I usually keep several on order all the time, so I always have work to do. In the beginning, I made the mistake of ordering 15 films, which pressed me to get them all read and when I was done I had nothing else to do until the next order came in.

+ I find it easier to search for films I want to order at home and print the information directly from the site. That way I don’t have to spend time at the FHC going over the catalog and deciding what to order.

+ I recently learned not to depend on the FHC to call when my films arrive. I had four films that arrived and were sent back, and they forgot to call me. The library staff was really nice and re-ordered them for free, but it was still a big inconvenience, as I was anxious to read those films!

When you work full-time, it’s not always possible to take genealogy trips with regularity. I find the FHC is a godsend and working with the records there is almost as exciting as being at the courthouse. One of the main advantages has been that I can re-order the films as many times as I need if new information comes up. It’s always frustrating to come back from a courthouse trip and learn about more records that you could have looked up while you were there, if only you’d known.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Aunt Cattie Hopper Davenport

Back in the late 1920’s, my grandma, Clara Hopper, hired a couple of friends to drive her and my great-grandparents up into the Jane, Missouri area to visit the Hopper connections. Clara was interested at an early age in kinfolks and wanted to see all the old homeplaces and visit family. (She passed her interest and information on down to me.) My great-grandfather’s oldest sister, Catherine (Hopper) Davenport (she was known as Cattie) was getting on up in years at that time, and I understand they spent a couple of days at her house. This snapshot was taken during that trip. It shows my great-grandmother, Ora (Evans) Hopper on the left, my great-grandfather, Meredith Hopper, and Aunt Cattie. I have a number of other pictures taken on this trip, including one of Clara with Aunt Cattie’s spinning wheel. My grandma said that Aunt Cattie continued her spinning during most of the time they visited, and she was almost blind. I have another picture my grandma took of her grandson, Bluford Davenport, who lived nearby.

This post is for my newly-found distant cousin, Carol, who was also the first follower on this blog. Thanks, Carol, and I hope you enjoy seeing this picture.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Monday, September 29, 2008

Small Town Connection: Rising Star, Texas

Below is a brief history of Rising Star from The Handbook of Texas Online. My great-grandparents, Oran Datus and Martha Viola (Lawhon) Watson, farmed a rented place out in the country near Rising Star in 1907-1908. Their second son, Oran Delbert Watson who was born in 1908, had his baby photographs taken in a Rising Star studio. If you haven’t been through Rising Star, you really should go. It’s a beautiful, classic Texas town. This photo is an old real photo postcard from about 1908 showing The Star Trading Company in Rising Star that was in business at the time my great-grandparents lived nearby.

RISING STAR, TEXAS. Rising Star, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 183 and State Highway 36, fifty-six miles southeast of Abilene in southwestern Eastland County, had its beginnings in 1876 when six families moved west from Gregg County and settled on the site. When the post office opened in 1878 with Hendrick H. Osburn as postmaster, the settlement was called Copperas Creek. In 1879 Tom Anderson bought a tract of land from one of the original settlers, and in 1880, after the old post office had been closed, he opened a post office and general store in his home. D. D. McConnell of Eastland suggested a new name for the town when he said that the area must be a "rising star country" because it produced crops when other areas were barren. In 1889 Rising Star had five businesses and three doctors and by 1904 had added a bank, a hotel, a school, five churches, two newspapers, and dry goods and drug stores. The economy of the area was based on agriculture, primarily the cultivation of corn, cotton, oats, and fruit. The town's prospects were enhanced in 1911 when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad built through from Cross Plains to De Leon. The town's first newspaper was the Rising Star Record, later renamed the Rising Star News and still later the Rising Star X-Ray. The Rising Star Signal was another early newspaper.

Although the first oil found in Eastland County was discovered near Rising Star in 1909, it was not until 1920, close to the end of the Eastland County boom, that a major strike attracted attention to Rising Star. In an attempt to prevent the town from becoming a tent and shanty town, officials issued strict building regulations, but speculators and oilfield workers circumvented them by hastily building a town five miles to the west. In just over a year that town was gone and the boom finished. By the 1960s some oil was still being produced near Rising Star, and pecans and peanuts had replaced cotton as the main crops. The 1980 census found 1,204 people living in Rising Star. The town was incorporated and had a bank, a post office, and twenty-seven businesses. In 1990 the population was 859. The population was 835 in 2000.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oran Datus Watson of Washington and Milam Counties, Texas

Oran Datus Watson (the name Oran was pronounced as “Iron” in the family) was born about 1814 - 1816 in South Carolina and was the son of James and Rhoda Watson. He accompanied his family to Bowie County, Republic of Texas in December 1836 and was awarded a second class land grant. Since he was an unmarried man, he received 640 acres. This land was located near the Bowie-Cass County line, adjoining his father’s 1280-acre grant. In 1853, he sold his land grant to his brother-in-law Azariah Moss, who married Christiana J. Watson.

Oran Watson left Bowie County in the late 1840’s and moved to Washington County, where his sister and brother-in-law, James and Mary (Watson) Holt lived. On March 3, 1850 in Washington County, Texas, he married Mrs. Minerva Margaret (Nunn) Gambill, widow of George W. Gambill, who died in 1849. She was the mother of three children: John T. Gambill, Hannah Eliza Jane Gambill, and Green P. H. Gambill. There were no children were born to Oran and Minerva Watson.

Oran Watson and his wife are recorded on the 1850, 1860, and 1870 censuses of Washington County, Texas and the 1880 census of Milam County, Texas. All of these census records show that Oran was “deaf and dumb.” He was probably born with this disability or perhaps acquired it as the result of childhood illness. Oran could not speak, read, or write, except to write his name. According to documents relating to the lawsuit described below, he communicated with others by “making signs with his hands.”

Land transactions in both Washington and Milam counties show that Oran and Minerva Watson purchased a number of tracts during the years 1854 - 1883, all of which were later sold at a profit. Many of these tracts were rented, bringing in regular income over the years. It appears that Oran and Minerva had a profitable partnership during their thirty-eight year marriage, in spite of the obstacles related to his deafness that they no doubt faced.

After Minerva Watson died intestate in October 1888, her children and minor heirs filed suit against Oran Watson in Milam County District Court. The suit was filed one month after her death and alleged that Oran refused to provide the Gambill heirs with their mother’s estate, both real and personal. Oran died sometime between January and April 1891, while the suit was still pending; his place of burial is not known. Prior to his death, he engaged his brothers, Cary and Rodger Watson, to act on his behalf in defense of the lawsuit and conveyed all his property to them. When the suit was finally settled in November 1891, one-half of Oran’s lands were awarded to his wife’s heirs and one-half to his brothers, Cary and Rodger Watson.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Touching Account of the Death of Anna McKinney Sloan 1834

This is a wonderful old letter addressed from James Sloan to his father and mother-in-law, Collin and Betsy McKinney. Collin McKinney was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence; the city of McKinney and county of Collin were named for him.

James Sloan’s wife, Anna (McKinney) Sloan was a first cousin to my great-great-great grandmother, Emily (Watson) Watson. At the time this was written, James was 41 years old and had several small children at home, some of them by his first wife who also died young. James and Anna had four children; the youngest was a daughter, Mary Ann, who was born September 13, 1834 and whose birth is described in this letter. James remarried after Anna’s death and had four children by his third wife.

Anna was only 25 when she died.

I found this letter while searching in the Milam-McKinney Family Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Texas at Arlington.

Addressed to Collin McKinney, Lafayette County, Lost Prairie Post Office, A. T. (Arkansas Territory)

Clark County, A. T.
October the 9th 1834

Dear Father and Mother
I take my pen in hand to direct a few lines to you to let you know something of our distressed situation - Anna is no more – she is gone to return to us no more – she was taken with a chill and fever and the most racking pains imaginable on the seventh of September and was in that way daily until the morning of the thirteenth of the same month – she then was delivered of her child and appeared like as if she was a going to do well although very low and weak but in a short time was taken worse again and continued a wasting away until she departed which was the thirtieth day of September. Six days before she departed I was setting by her she appeared to be a dozing but all at once she cried out glory to her god and continued shouting and praising of god for some hours – she told us often that she felt happy - said she I never felt such peace and happiness before that from that time it appeared to me like as if her mind was entirely _____ on her god – she took up the most part of her time in exorting her friends who stood around her to serve god and to try to meet her in glory. Not more than five minutes before she drew her last breath I could hear her distinctly say glory. She is gone and there is no doubt in my mind but what she is gone to glory where we may if we prove faithful meet with her where parting is no more.

We have had a good deal of sickness in the family this season but they all appear to be doing tolerable well at this time. The little baby keeps well. I feel very anxious to see you and I feel in hopes you will come to see us as I cannot leave the children at this time to go to see you. I hope I will have the opportunity of seeing you in a short [time] – so nothing more at present I remain your most affectionate son

James Sloan

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Oran Datus Watson Sr. 1789 Burke County, Georgia

Thanks to Crumpton Plats (see post below), I now have additional proof on Oran Datus Watson, Sr., son of Jacob Watson, and grandson of John Watson, all of Edgefield County, SC. Oran was shown as the chain carrier on three plats in Burke County, Georgia in 1789-1790. His name is shown as Aaron Watson, Oron Watson, and Orrindatus Watson. Assuming he was at least 20 years old at the time, these records would date his birth by at least 1769-1770. In the 1820 Pulaski County GA census, he was in the "age 45 and upwards" column. I still have a lot to learn about this man, including exactly how he was related to my ancestor, James Watson, who died in Bowie County, Republic of Texas, in 1842.

I am currently searching Pulaski County GA deeds and probate records, using microfilm at my local LDS branch library, for this Watson family. Will post an update soon on the results.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Crumpton Plats Online - Georgia, South Carolina

Here's a great new resource I found, thanks to Cyndi's List. Crumpton Plats is digitizing thousands of old plat records out of Georgia and South Carolina. They are available for a reasonable price (about $7 each); you pay online and immediately download the files to your computer and then print.

Be sure to read up on the abbreviations, as the search database returns all names contained within a plat. If the return shows AL, that means the person is named as an adjoining landowner. If it shows CC or CB, it means the person is named as a chain carrier (chain bearer). If the return shows PLAT, the person named was the landowner.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Monday, September 15, 2008

Did Cary Watson fight the Battle of San Jacinto?

Most of Cary Watson's descendants are raised from birth to know that Cary Watson served at the Battle of San Jacinto and I am certainly no exception. My grandpa Cully Watson taught all of his grandchildren this at an early age. However, Texas records do not bear out this tradition. There are several important considerations when studying this family story.

Most important, Cary Watson was not in Texas in April 1836 (when San Jacinto was fought). At that time Cary was only 15 years old. He came to Texas with his parents and family in December 1836. This is well-established, as his father, James Watson received a second class land grant from the Republic of Texas. Had James arrived in the Republic of Texas earlier, he would have been eligible to receive a significantly larger amount of land through a first class grant. A later affidavit of Susan (Watson) Wright also confirms a post-April 1836 arrival date.

There is no record of Cary’s service in the Texas State Archives or at the San Jacinto Battleground and Monument. Texas soldiers of the Revolution are well-documented, as they later received pensions and additional land (known as bounty grants) for service at San Jacinto. Cary Watson never applied for these benefits, even though San Jacinto soldiers were awarded upwards of 4,400 acres of land for their service, and I firmly believe that if he was eligible for this amount of land, he would have claimed it.

Cary did however, serve in the Mexican War of 1848, and he claimed and received a pension from the US government for that service. His wife Emily continued receiving the pension after his death. Cary also received a small bounty grant of land for serving in 1848.

It appears that, over time, the family story “grew” … from the Mexican War of 1848 to the Battle of San Jacinto. While the 1848 war is not as indelibly impressed in the minds of Texans as the Battle of San Jacinto, it was an important war in terms of establishing the boundaries of Texas and several western states, and it ended hostilities with Mexico over the Texas colonies. Cary was recognized by his country for this service and his descendants should be justly proud.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Our Haile Family of Jackson County, Tennessee

My great-great grandmother, Missouri Elizabeth Haile (she was known as Lizzie) was born in Jackson County, Tennessee in 1843. She came to Grayson County, Texas in 1867 and married James Coleman Watson (son of Cary and Emily Watson) in 1869. She was the third of twelve children born into a close-knit family of Southern Confederates. The Haile family (some branches spell it Hale, and many of the old records show that spelling) were settled in the community of Flynn’s Lick in Jackson County, Tennessee by the 1830s. Lizzie Watson’s father was Thomas Haile, who married Nancy Elizabeth Gibson of Kentucky.

Grandpa Haile, who was born in 1816, was a little old to serve in the army, but he was a leading Confederate sympathizer and organizer in his area. He did go on the military rolls, but I understand he played more of an administrative role. Several of his sons were also in the Confederate army, including Joshua, Elvis, and Thomas. He and his son Thomas were taken prisoners of war and ended up at Camp Chase, Ohio, an infamous Northern POW camp for Confederate soldiers. His son, Thomas, survived the ordeal and later migrated to Eastland County, Texas where he was a prominent citizen. Grandpa Haile died at Camp Chase and is buried there. According to family legend, Thomas was with him when he died and carved the inscription on his coffin. His grave is marked. Here’s an interesting link with lots of information about Camp Chase:

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Sunday, August 31, 2008

W.J.M. and Hester Smith of Barren County, Kentucky

I wish I had these pictures years ago and were able to show them to my grandmother Mamie and her sisters. This is their grandparents, Billy and Hester (Young) Smith. They had eleven children, one of whom was Ella Elnora (Smith) Pitcock, who married Franklin Pedigo Pitcock.

As you can tell, these old photos are fragile, crumbling, stained, water-damaged, and broken. They are oil renderings made about 1894 in Glasgow, Kentucky. These photographs belonged to Aunt Quallie (Smith) Jobe and were given to me by her great-granddaughter, Jo Ann Steinhauser of Lubbock, Texas, in 2003. I knew from another distant cousin that Jo Ann owned them, and asked her years ago if I could borrow them to make copies. She couldn’t find them, and thought she had given them away or misplaced them. I finally gave up on having copies made. One day out of the blue, Jo Ann e-mailed me and said she found the pictures tucked in an envelope with her children’s baby photos. I called her immediately - she laughed and said she knew she’d be hearing from me!

I asked Jo Ann if she’d let me have them if I had copies made for her. She agreed, knowing how much I cared about these old photos. I’m honored to own these, even in their current condition, as not many people have original photographs of their great-great-grandparents that were made more than 110 years ago.

Grandpa Smith’s name was William James Madison Smith (he was known as Bill or Billy) and he was born in 1834 in Fentress County, Tennessee. He married Hester Jane Young in 1853; she was born in 1839 in Clinton County, Kentucky and died in 1903 in Glasgow, Kentucky. Grandpa Smith died in April 1920 in the New Lynn Community, which is out in the country near Tahoka, Texas. He’s buried at the Tahoka Cemetery. After Grandma Smith died, he lived with his children and spent a couple of years (about 1908-1910) living with the Pitcocks before they moved to Wheeler County. Grandpa and Grandma Smith were both wonderful people and I will do another post soon with some stories about their lives.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

UPDATE on Mrs. Jane Pitcock Coming to Life at her Funeral

Sandi Goren, a well-known South Central Kentucky historian wrote that “This story was a joke started by the editor of a Monroe Co newspaper. Mrs. Pitcock was deceased the first time. She was reported to have been extremely arthritic and it was difficult placing the remains in the coffin. The coffin lid was tacked shut but no one told the pastor. When he had the lid opened, the body sprang upward. This information from current day citizens whose parents were at the funeral.”

I found another account of the event from the Glasgow Times: "One of the oldest ladies of the Gamaliel section died Jan. 24th 1911. Monroe County. After funeral sermon, the undertaker removed lid from coffin to allow her many friends to take a last look before placing her in tomb. The old lady raised both hands above her head and sat up in the coffin. In just two minutes the house was empty. She was taken home and again reported dead on Friday. At last reports she has not been buried." I’ve also learned that this story was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers across the country. I now have copies of the article from 10 different newspapers. Two accounts are pictured above, from the Portsmouth NH Herald and the Washington Post. (I also love the cut-off headline "Girl Loses Her Scalp" - Good Lord - and people think depressing articles in the media are something new?) The story seems to have been embellished a little along the way, as one account has her "murmuring of wonderful visions". Also, there seems to be confusion as to whether her funeral was being held at home or in a church.

I suppose we have to accept Ms. Goren’s explanation, as newspaper editors frequently did not check facts and it was common for them to “play jokes” on their readers back in this era. It does seem strange, though, that the pastor was not informed of the situation, especially with the casket being “tacked shut” but then opened, presumably by him or under his direction. And if it was tacked shut, wouldn't it be a little difficult to open? It does occur to me that the explanation could be a way to account for an event that appeared inexplicable - especially an event that spooked a lot of good, solid, no-nonsense Kentucky folks.

I also understand that there are documented cases of people being taken for dead and “coming to life” days later, sometimes above ground and (shudder) sometimes below. In fact, the fear of being buried alive was widespread in the 1800s and various “tests” for death were performed to prevent it, such as pricking the toe deeply with a needle or holding a mirror to the nose as a means to detect respiration. It just so happens that I have a church cookbook - and it’s not all that old either, it's from about 1950 - that has a page called Tests of Death with a lot of these old methods in it, right next to the part that gives tips on polishing silver and whitening linens. Can you believe that? I’ll look that up and post it, now that I think of it.

Anyway, I’m still not sure how Mrs. Jane Pitcock fits into the family tree – I’m awaiting a response from a fellow Pitcock researcher in Indiana who will surely know.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Mamie Pitcock, 1928

This is Mamie Pitcock, my Grandma Watson, taken shortly before her marriage. Since she’s standing in the Shamrock, Texas Cemetery, I asked her once if she’d been to a funeral that day. She said, no, one Sunday after church her gang of friends decided to take pictures of each other since they were all dressed up. So, they went to the cemetery!

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Clara and Cleo Hopper in the 1920s

This snapshot is Clara Beatrice Hopper taken about 1926 at Sapulpa, Oklahoma. She's showing off both her skirt and her legs. Clara was my Grandma Mills. At this time, she was a young single woman with many admirers. She worked as a telephone operator in Sapulpa for a number of years until she married my Grandpa in 1933. She sent most of her earnings home to help her parents provide for their younger children. During her time in Sapulpa, which was then a boomtown, she lived with her aunt, Mrs. Jimmie (Evans) Thompson. This happy shot is taken from one of Clara’s old photo albums, which is filled with images documenting her flapper days in Sapulpa.

The other shot is Clara, taken with her younger sister, Cleo (on the left), just a couple of years later, about 1928. Cleo also worked at the phone company in Sapulpa. My Grandma Clara passed away August 13, 1979, only 36 days after my Grandpa died, and is buried at Memory Gardens Cemetery in my hometown of Pampa, Texas. Aunt Cleo died in 1989 and is buried at the Archer City, Texas Cemetery.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mrs. Jane Pitcock Comes to Life in Coffin 1911

I just live for stories like this - can you imagine the excitement if you'd been there? I found this account recently while searching the archives of the Dallas Morning-News. The story was so sensational that it was carried from our ancestral home in small-town Tompkinsville, Monroe County, Kentucky, all the way to Dallas. (Gamaliel is a small community near Tompkinsville.) It was published in the Dallas Morning-News on February 2, 1911. I have not yet consulted my files to determine exactly how she is related to us, but as all Pitcock researchers know, all the Monroe County Pitcocks are ours. I'll update this post soon.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

American Revolutionary War Ancestors

What a privilege to be a direct descendant of several men who served during the War for American Independence! Here's my list of the direct Revolutionary ancestors I've identified to date:
  • Evan Thomas Watson (1759-1834) served from Albemarle County, Virginia, moved to Madison County, Kentucky, and died in what is now Bowie County, Texas (he's the ancestor of my Grandpa Cully Watson).
  • Samuel Coleman (c1750-1824) served from Albemarle County, Virginia and died in Todd County, Kentucky. According to his pension papers and service record from the National Archives, Samuel Coleman wintered at Valley Forge under the command of George Washington during the terrible winter of 1777. (He's the ancestor of my Grandpa Cully Watson.)
  • Martin Davenport served from North Carolina and died in Tennessee (he's the ancestor of my Grandma Clara Hopper Mills).
  • Arden Evans served from Bedford County, Virginia and died in Roane County, Tennessee (he's the ancestor of my Grandma Clara Hopper Mills).
  • Capt. John Narramore served from Kershaw District, South Carolina and died in Bledsoe County, Tennessee (he's the ancestor of my Grandma Mamie Pitcock Watson).

So many more of my remote uncles, cousins, and other relatives served in the 1776 struggle that I would be all day listing their names and information, although I have meticulously collected it in my files. We're so lucky that the documentation on these soldiers still survives in our National Archives and the archives of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington (as well as other repositories).

These men fought for ideas that were ahead of their time - many of the ideas were nebulous, with an uncertain outcome, as the U. S. Constitution had not even been written at the time of the war. This war was truly a turning point in the history of mankind, resulting in the representative democracy we know today. The government they created would, of course, be imperfect and require additional strife and struggle in later years. It remains imperfect today, but is still the world's best hope for liberty.

I hope you all share my pride in our ancestors and their sacrifices, as well as their commitment to the ideas for which they fought: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" (excerpt from the Declaration of Independence).

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Small Town Connection: Twitty, Texas

Here's a brief article from The Handbook of Texas Online about a little ol' place in Wheeler County, up in the northern Panhandle. My great-grandparents, Frank and Elnora (Smith) Pitcock, moved to a farm near Twitty in 1913 and lived in the Twitty/Kelton/Shamrock vicinity for many years. My grandparents, Cully and Mamie (Pitcock) Watson were married at Twitty on April 13, 1929 and the ceremony was conducted by his grandfather, Rev. John M. Lawhon. There's not much left of Twitty now - it's just a wide place in the road, as they say - but it holds lots of memories for Pitcock and Watson family descendants.

This is a photo of my grandparents, Cully and Mamie Watson, taken shortly after their 1929 marriage. Don't they look happy? This picture belonged to my great-aunt, Mrs. Vivian (Watson) Vaughan - her granddaughter, Anna, gave it to me after her death.

TWITTY, TEXAS. Twitty is on U.S. Highway 83 six miles north of Shamrock in Wheeler County. It was named for Asa Twitty, an early settler and store owner. A post office was opened in 1912, and by 1925 two stores and a cotton gin had been established, and oil had been discovered. The population was then estimated at twenty-five. In 1930 the town had a population of 100, the gin, three stores, a church, and a rural school. Since the 1930s high school students have been bused to Shamrock. Although Twitty reported only one business in 1980, its population had remained fairly stable with an estimate of 116. In 1990 the population was sixty. The population dropped to twelve in 2000.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Texas Death Certificates Now Online

This is one of the most significant advances in Texas genealogy ever! Images of Texas death certificates from 1903-1976 are now online and free. In the past, a researcher had to pay $20 for each certificate through the Vital Statistics Unit, Texas Department of State Health Services. I've already printed off about $2000 worth of certificates. This has been a godsend, as the clues I've found have been remarkable. This will be a great resource for Texas researchers - and many thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for making these records available. Enjoy!

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Marlin and Pauline Mills

This sweet old snapshot is my Grandpa Marlin Mills and his sister, Pauline. It was made on the front porch of their home near Kiefer, Creek County, Oklahoma, probably in the spring of 1918.

This happy time preceded significant turmoil in their young lives, as their younger brother, Jack, would soon die at the age of 18 months. In the emotional aftermath of his death, their mother, Nellie (Shoultz) Mills insisted that the family should return to their home and kinfolk in Gibson County, Indiana. They did so, and are recorded there in the 1920 census. Great-grandfather Roy Mills knew it was a bad move, as he could never make as good of a living there as he could working in the Oklahoma oilfields.

The family moved back to the Kiefer/Mounds area in 1921 and he resumed his job with Texaco (then known as the Texas Company). Nellie's father, Marshall Allen Shoultz, cried after they left Indiana, telling his wife and children that they would never see Nellie again. He was right, as less than a year later, in February of 1922, Nellie died of tuberculosis at the age of 28. She left behind three children under the age of 10.

My Grandpa, Marlin Mills, who was known for years as Barney, died in 1979 and is buried at the Memory Gardens Cemetery in my hometown of Pampa, Texas. My great-aunt, Pauline (Mills) Gattis, is 94 years old at this writing and living in Springfield, Illinois. Their brother Jack died in 1918 and is buried at the Mounds, Oklahoma Cemetery, alongside his parents. Their other brother, Leonard Dale Mills, never married and was killed in Italy during World War II. He was only 25.

This old photo, which originally belonged to my great-great grandparents Marshall and Eva Shoultz, was sent to me in 1979 by my great-grandmother's sister, Mrs. Ruby Shoultz Hartup, of Princeton, Indiana. She also shared her memory of Roy and Nellie and the children stopping by their house to say goodbye as they left Indiana in 1921, and her father's emotional reaction to their departure.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Cary and Emily Watson Gravestones

Here's a couple of photos taken at the Pioneer Cemetery, Ranger, Eastland County, Texas of the monuments of my great-great-great grandparents, Cary and Emily Watson. I love the iconography on these old monuments - note that Emily's features the veil at the top, symbolizing the finality of death and her departure to a new life behind the closed curtain. The inscription on her stone reads "Emily E., wife of Cary Watson Born Nov. 9, 1825 Died Dec. 26, 1908 Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord".

Cary's monument reads "Cary Watson Born Oct. 13, 1820 Died Dec. 13, 1904". It's a Woodmen of the World stone in the shape of a rough-hewn log, with a scroll, floral decoration, and the Masonic emblem.

Emily Elizabeth (Watson) Watson came to what is now Bowie County, Texas in the fall of 1833 at the age of 8. The area at that time was under Mexican rule. She was the daughter of Coleman Watson and his wife Lucy (Coleman) Watson, who were first cousins. Emily was a descendant of several early and prominent Virginia families, including the Colemans, Leakes, and Coffeys.

Cary Watson's family arrived in Texas somewhat later, in 1837, and also settled in Bowie County at a time that it was part of Red River County, Republic of Texas. He was the son of James and Rhoda Watson. His ancestry has proven to be one of my biggest research challenges over the years, and one that I expect to post about frequently.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Welcome to my new blog

Hello and thanks for visiting my new genealogy and family history blog. The focus of my new little corner of cyberspace will be to update my fellow researchers and relatives on my current research activities, share tips and ideas, exchange information with commenters, and share family stories and photographs. I'm proud of the materials and information I've compiled over the last 33 years. I'm also excited about the persistent brick walls I've managed to chip away at recently, and I hope to continue my progress in answering so many of the questions that have plagued me over the years.

For those who don't know, I began this wonderful journey in genealogy and history in June 1975, just prior to my 12th birthday. At that time, I was lucky to have all four grandparents, two great-grandparents, and scores of great and great-great aunts and uncles living, not to mention all the cousins of various degrees. The downside was my inexperience caused me to neglect asking many important questions, as well as failing to meticulously record and catalog my findings. In those early years, my research, analysis, and writing skills were also undeveloped. It amuses (and mildly annoys) me when I see material posted on Ancestry and elsewhere on the web that I know originated from me, years ago, because who can best recognize their own errors but the one who erred? Much of my information, complete with errors and unfounded assumptions, that was compiled in the mid-1980's has found its way literally around the world since then.

This is a great time to be involved in historical, local, and genealogical research. I will post regularly and I hope you will visit often.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills