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