52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Cause of Death

koeze-mortality-31Last week, we looked at conflicts that we find in our family tree.   These might be things that  we, ourselves, have experienced.  They might be stories with recent memory.  Or they might be far in the past.  But one thing that they all point out to us is that the people we are researching are real people.  They had real lives – real joys, real sorrows, real hardships, real experiences.  Sometimes in our haste to find our next ancestor, we treat the people in our tree as anonymous names and collections of facts to be discovered rather than the members of our family that they are.

Perhaps this becomes most clear as we look at causes of death, the theme for this week.  Every time we look at a tombstone or stand at a grave, it’s a reminder that someone’s life ended.  That person was born, lived, and then died.  Someone took the time to bury them.  Most of the time, there is a monument or tombstone to remember the person.  Were there a lot of people gathered there for the burial and funeral?  Or was it an anonymous burial in a potter’s field with no one in attendance?

How did the person live, we wonder?  What kind of person were they?  Were they joyful and fun to be around?  Or were they the one to freeze the joy out of a room and regard everyone with a stern and disapproving look?  Were they surrounded by people who loved them during their last days and hours, or did they die alone?  What caused their death?  Did they die at a young age from some disease we would regard as highly treatable today?  Or did they die from something that still kills many today?

cemetery-Arkansas-Vinita-0043-f-v01

The tombstone and the grave probably don’t tell us a lot about this.  I have seen a stone in Mississippi County, Arkansas that claims what a loving father a man was, when I know for a fact that that wasn’t quite true.  Maybe when he was sober, but not when he drank.  When he was sober, he looked after folks.  For fun, he would teach me big words.  But, when he drank, which was more and more frequently late in life, he was mean.  He even tried to shoot his wife one Christmas.  But that’s another story for another time.

Texas Death Certificate - Grace Clowdis HiggsSo, we look at death certificates.  They probably give us immediate and contributing causes of death.  This is good as we try to build a health history, to see if certain diseases run in our family.  But, there’s still a lot more to the story, and to the person and their experiences than we see in that little box on the form.

This week, we are going to meet two different people who had fairly similar paths near the end of their lives.  In the last months, we have seen several high profile celebrities who chose to end their own lives.  Notably, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both committed suicide this year.  There have been others in the media, but these two particularly shook a lot of people.   When one person I know heard about Anthony Bourdain, they talked about what a shock it was since everything seemed to be going well for him – he had a great career on TV and writing, he had a family that he loved and that loved him, he was sober for a number of years from the drugs that he battled in the past.  But something was really wrong for him.  Depression made him believe that there was no way out.  So, he ended his life.

And I think that’s the thread that joins the lives of Bill Bailey and Cecil Dickson.  Both of these men, in desperate times, saw no way out for themselves.

Cecil Noyle Dickson was born 20 Aug 1876 in Mississippi, probably in Tate County.  He was the eldest child of John H. Dickson and Martha A. Taylor and the older brother to my great-grandfather, Robert Harrison Dickson, Sr.   The family was a family of farmers, as much of my family in those days was.  They moved from Mississippi to Prairie County, Arkansas by the time of the 1880 census.  Eventually, John H. Dickson died and Martha remarried to Jack A. Jones.  By then, the family was living in Crawford County, Arkansas, north of Fort Smith, in a small town called Rudy.  The family story was that Jack Jones was mean to his step-children so Cecil and his brother Robert left home while still young.

Apparently, Cecil didn’t go far because in August of 1895, Cecil married his step-sister (by Jack Jones first wife) Elzenia Mildred “Zenia” Jones.  They had at least ten children, though I think they lost at least one along the way.  The 1900 census shows him as a laborer.  In 1910, he is a farmer on rented land.  In 1920, he is a farmer, but he owns his own farm.  Likewise in 1930.  Of course, by then Great Depression had begun and I am sure that things began to get tough. And for some, it got very tough, indeed.

According to some Dickson cousins,

Cecil was a kind man, who worried a lot. Apparently, Cecil had mortgaged the farm at Citizen Bank. Due to the depression at the time (1931) and possibly a crop failure, he could not make the payment on the mortgage. This upset Cecil very much. One morning, he went into Rudy and some men there were razzing him about the bank taking the farm. This upset him very much. Cecil went back home and ate dinner. Then he got his 22 rifle to go squirrel hunting. Along in the late afternoon when he had not returned, Zenia decided to send the boys to look for him. When they returned without finding him, she thought for a little while and told one of the boys “I know where he is. Go look in the old house.” This old house was to the left and up on the hill from the house they lived in. They went there and looked in the window. There sat Cecil against the wall, with the gun braced on a stick of wood. He had shot himself, the 10th of November 1931 and he died. He was buried in the Mt. McCurry Cemetery which was not very far from his home. The farm that Cecil mortgaged was known at the time as the old Jones place. It had apparently belonged to Zenia’s family. The next generation called it the old Dickson place. It is a pretty valley.  The banker who repossessed the farm allowed Zenia and the children to continue to live there.  Joe was still at home and he ran the farm. They still had their chickens, cows, pigs, and horses, as these were not mortgaged. Their family did pretty well and did not go hungry. They were as prosperous as the other families in that area at the time. I do not know Cecil’s parents names.  Cecil’s occupation was apparently farmer, but the family also picked cotton as did all the other families in the fall.  It was extra money for all.

This happened far too often during the Great Depression.  The perfect storm of a personal depression and financial failure and an inability to provide for his family was more than he could endure.

I think things might not have been so different for Bill Bailey.  James William “Bill” Bailey was born 23 Sep 1875 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  His parents were Hume Field Bailey and Sarah Louise Council Brewer BaileyWe’ve met some of that family and their farm previously.  It was a hardscrabble life on that farm along the Oklahoma border.

In 1908, Bill married Loda Scott.  Bill was working as a clerk in a grocery store in Sebastian County.  In 1920, he owned his own home and was the Top Boss at the coal mine.  In 1930, both Bill and Loda were working in the grocery store again, Bill as the manager and Loda as a sales clerk.   Now, they rent their house rather than own it.

My grandmother said that Bill was always a cut-up.  He loved novelty photos.  She had some where he was shaking his own hand, or was the both the bride and the groom in a wedding photo.  Seems like a happy person.

bailey-docs-0091-f3-v02Loda and Bill moved to California during the Great Depression.  With no children, it was just the two of them.  I guess that they went there in search of jobs and escape from the business and farm failures in Arkansas and search for a better life.

bailey-0142-f-v01

He worked in a grocery and a service station with his brother-in-law, Loda’s brother.  But apparently, they were having no success in that business either.  Financial failures combined with failing health were more than he could take.  On Christmas evening in 1933, Bill took his own life.

So, what to take away from all of this?  I guess a couple of things.

First, remember that our ancestors were real people with real lives.  We honor them by looking beyond the dates and places and facts on a family group sheet.  We honor them by remembering their lives, their joys, and their struggles.

Second, and more importantly, as we look at the causes of death we find for our ancestors, we have to look at ourselves, our friends, and our families.  Suicide is real.  Too many people are overwhelmed by a sense of failure, a sense of uselessness, a sense of hopelessness.  Take the time to listen, to be aware of the people around you.  Listen to your loved ones when they talk to you.  If they are having a hard time, talk to them and then listen.  Be there for them.  It’s such a hard thing to get our minds around, wanting to end your own life.  I don’t understand it.  But, I can do my best to listen and empathize and ask those that are hurting how I can help.

Advertisements

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Conflict

One of the hardest, but certainly the most satisfying, aspects of this disease called genealogy is trying to find the people behind the documents.  All of the facts that we collect show us when someone is born, when and who they marry, whether or not they have children, have a home, work for a living, and ultimately when they die and are buried.  In between the facts are the real people.

Instead of just looking at the facts, we try to figure out who the people involved in the facts really were.  Most of the time this is a job for the imagination.  We have to think about how we would react to a similar situation.  Sometimes the documents give us a brief glimpse behind the veil to understand more about how people interacted,

Sometimes we see hints of love and devotion between friends and family  members. And sometimes we see examples of conflict.

dickson-0390-f-v00I suppose every family has some kind of conflict in it.  There are those that would call the afternoon when I locked my little brother in the dog house (with a really large spider, he says) an example of family conflict.  But if that’s as bad as it gets, things are pretty good.

I think that as I look at the various branches of my family, I don’t see a lot of family rifts, of branches of the family isolating themselves from other parts of the family.  At least, I have not found them.  But, when you keep looking, you can find things that must have been great sources of conflict within a family.

Faver Cason
Faver Cason – Courtesy of Merritt Graves

Meet Faver Cason.  You have already met his brother, Jeremiah H. Cason, and heard a little bit about him.  Faver and Jere were two of the sons of Jeremiah Cason (b. 19 Sep 1800, Abbeville Co., South Carolina, d. 22 Jul 1866, Simmons Bluff, Wilson County, Tennessee) and Elizabeth “Bettie” Faver (b. 29 Mar 1795, Culpepper Co., Virginia, d. 24 Mar 1867, Simmons Bluff, Wilson County, Tennessee).

Faver was Jere and Bettie’s first child, born 19 December 1826, in Limestone County, Alabama.  Shortly after his birth, the family moved into Wilson County, Tennessee.  Faver’s older sister, Fanny, was born in Wilson County in June 1828.

As a young man, Faver enlisted in the U.S. Army and was a part of the Mexican War.  On 8 May 1846, he mustered into Co. B, 1st Tennessee Mounted Infantry of the U.S. Army and was bound for Mexico.  His unit was primarily guarding wagon trains and participating in guerilla skirmishes while in Mexico.  On 10 November 1846, he was accidentally shot with a shotgun by members of his own company.  He received a glancing shot to the face and neck.  In his pension file at the National Archives in Washington, DC, there are notes that express some doubt about whether the men in camp were screwing around when he got shot.  Maybe so.  In any case, later in life, he reported that parts of the shot were still in the left side of his face and that he had pain from this from time to time.  At the end of May 1847, Faver mustered out of the Army in New Orleans, his term of service having expired.

Once he was out of the Army, Faver headed back to Tennessee, living in Rutherford and Wilson Counties.  Faver married Mary Helen Tharp on 23 Mar 1848 in Cainsville, Wilson County, Tennessee.  In 1850, we find Faver and Mary in Wilson County farming, with five slaves.  In 1860, they are still in Wilson County, their economic lot having improved.  Now they owned eleven slaves.

By mid-1863, the war Civil War had reached Middle Tennessee.  I suppose Faver saw the writing on the wall and decided to side with who he thought would be the winners.  In September 1863, Faver re-enlisted in the 5th Regiment Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, a unit of the U.S. Army – the Yankees.  He entered service as a Captain and was promoted to Major in June 1865 as he was leaving the service.  The 5th Regiment was a part of action throughout Middle Tennessee.  Interestingly, this unit lost 175 men to disease and 68 to the battle itself during its history.

Faver was injured again during his service.  He was thrown from a horse and injured in his back and legs.  He was carried to hospital and treated.  He also felt like he developed an asthma-like problem while in the Army, living in the field.

What kind of internal conflict went on with Faver as he decided to re-enlist?  Was he committed to the cause of the Union?  Seems odd as a slaveholder, and the son and grandson of a slaveholder.  Or was it loyalty to the United States that led him to enlist both the first time and the second?  I am sure he heard stories from his mother’s father, John Favor, a Revolutionary War veteran who served in Virginia.  Was he conflicted over this choice?  Did he decide that he had to enlist to evade local raiders?  I have other ancestors in Arkansas who appear to have done this.  Or was it a cynical move to position himself better for the future?

How did this go over with his family?  Remember Jeremiah H. Cason, his brother?  Well, J. H. Cason was passionate in his own right.  Not having so much property as his older brother, he was still committed to the cause of the South.  He enlisted as a chaplain (being a Baptist preacher) early in the war.  Shortly, he resigned and re-enlisted as a fighting soldier.  He quickly rose to the rank of Captain in the 41st Alabama Infantry.  And in December of 1863, while Faver was with his unit in Middle Tennessee, J.H. Cason was at the Battle of Bean’s Station in East Tennessee, where he lost his left arm.

What kind of Thanksgiving dinners went on in their family after the war?  Two officers, each serving on a different side.  One, suffering a serious, life-threatening injury but finding himself on the losing side.  The other, a slave-holder and Southern property owner who served with the North.  His wounds were superficial and possibly the result of carelessness.  But, since he was on the winning side, he was receiving a pension as he aged.

After the war, Faver was able to parlay his wartime service into a seat in the Tennessee legislature as both a State Representative and a State Senator.  He was a Radical Republican and reconstructionist.  Certainly this caused additional conflict through the latter part of the 19th century.  This is the land where Nathan Bedford Forrest established the Ku Klux Klan, after all.  I wonder how he was regarded by his family, his neighbors, and his constituents.

By the 1890s, he applied for an invalid pension due to his wartime injuries and his inability to work.  Several times, he applied for increases in his pension.  In December 1909, a private bill (H.R. 10288) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to grant an increase in pension to Faver Cason; this bill was referred to the Committee on War Claims by the Committee on Invalid Pensions.   One conflict, he avoided.  In some of his pension depositions, he states that he waited to claim a pension from his Mexican War service because his father felt it was unseemly for him to claim a pension when he was not actually in need.  Instead, he waited until his father had died to apply for his pension.  He makes the case that he is in desperate need, his only asset being a small farm that he rents out since he is unable to farm it, due to his war wounds.

So, who knows what goes on in families.  And who knows what’s behind all of the records that we find.  As genealogists, we have to follow what the records say and what they prove for us.  But, we also have to try to figure out what’s lying between the lines and the letters to tell us who these people really were. After all, they are our ancestors.  We owe it to them and to ourselves to make them to be real people.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Sport

Sport?!  Those who know me know that I have not got a single sport gene in my body.  I tried playing baseball, football, and soccer as a kid.  When it came time for basketball season, I figured out that I could score the games and they wouldn’t make me play on the school team. (It was a very small school.)  So, I was a bit at a loss looking at this topic.

I’ve never really thought a lot about my ancestors and sports.  However, I know that my grandfather, Hudson Wren, was a football letterman at the University of Arkansas in the 1920s.  So, let’s meet him and his career there.

wren-0549-f-v00-HudsonWren-Football

Some of you may recall meeting Hudson Wren in previous posts (here, and here).  He was born in 1906 in Nevada County, Arkansas.  He attended Prescott High School, where he played football for the Prescott Curly Wolves.

After graduation, Hudson went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to study Agriculture, having been raised on a farm.  He arrived in Fayetteville in 1925 as a freshman and joined the freshman football squad.  The Arkansas Razorback annual tracks his career during his years in Fayetteville.  It sounds like his freshman year was successful, since he earned his number for the varsity squad that year.

After his freshman year, Hudson met a cute young transfer student from Southern Methodist University, Mary Higgs (always called Mary Jim by almost everyone).  She was active in athletics, to a degree, herself.  She participated in the Women’s Athletic Association, both at SMU and at Arkansas.  The W.A.A. promoted intramural sports activities among the women at the university.  A whole host of sports were represented, including women’s football.  I have not been able to find out which sports she played, though.  As you might expect, the 1920s were not a time when women’s sports got the same billing as the men’s teams.

I am not sure why Mary Jim (Nannie) transferred from SMU to Arkansas.  Her mother and she lived in Dallas at the time.  Her mother may have moved with her brother around that time (have to check further) so she was going to move somewhere.  Why Arkansas?  Don’t know.  I had heard that she sat out for a time from SMU after a diving accident, but I could have made that up, too.

In the both the 1927-1928 and 1928-1929 seasons, Hudson lettered in football.  He played tackle, predominantly.  Remember this was in the days when the men played both sides of the ball – offense and defense.  The squad wasn’t that large and the starters, especially on the line, just kept playing.  It was also the days of leather helmets and far less protective gear than we see today.  I remember Papaw saying that often by half-time, he would barely know where he was.

In addition to playing football, Hudson was active as a part of both the Arkansas Booster Club and the Varsity Club, promoting interest in athletics and other student activities.  He was in the Press Club, different fraternities both on and off campus, and lead the Agri Days at the University.

After graduation with degrees in agriculture and home economics respectively, Hudson and Mary married and set out on careers.  They started as teachers in the Portland High School in Portland Arkansas.  Take a look at these previous posts  (here, and here) to see more about Hudson’s career in agriculture.  And visit the site of Wilson, Arkansas, to see more about the town birthed by the farm that he helped lead for many years.

For as long as they lived, Hudson and Mary Jim remained staunch supporters of Arkansas football.  They contributed generously to the program and maintained really good season ticket seats at mid-field in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock (one of two homes of the Razorbacks).

I guess I never heard Papaw let go with a hog call, but something tells me he could get a pretty good” Woooooooo Pig Sooiee!  Razorbacks!” going when he wanted to.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Ten

 

Ten.  For October.  But, when I think of Ten, I can only think of one thing – my beautiful, wonderful wife of twenty-one years, Kathleen Boyle Dickson.  She’s the only Ten in my life!  I am so proud of her and so proud and pleased to be her husband.

ReceptionWe were married in 25 January 1997.  We met several years earlier when I was working at Penn State and she was in graduate school for her Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering.  I moved to Harrisburg, PA and she moved to Reston, VA.  When we got engaged, neither of us wanted to go where the other was, so we moved to Atlanta.  As soon as we got here, we set a date for the wedding.  The only date the church was available anytime in the upcoming year was Super Bowl weekend.  Since neither of us are football fans, we took it.  So, we were married the day before Super Bowl XXXI.

Kathleen is so smart.  She teaches cooking classes and helps people to become more confident in the kitchen.  Toss her a bag of random (vegan) ingredients and you will soon have an amazing meal.  And you will never have exactly the same thing twice.  She is always trying different sorts of spices or mixtures so that she can understand how the different tastes and ingredients fit together.

But at the same time, when we had a waterline break in the yard, I sent my engineer wife out to figure out the problem.  I ask her about the difference between retention and detention ponds.  We both laugh at math jokes and talk about how little we remember differential equations, but remember that we both aces the classes.

She’s such an asset to the community. She leads the food pantry at her church and she coordinates drivers collecting food from stores and restaurants for our (much larger) community food pantry.  She has grown the volume of food collected for distribution every year and she has added pet food and pet supplies to what the food pantry collects and distributes. She’s always looking for a way to help those in need.

Since this is a genealogy blog, I’ll touch on that as well.  Kathleen comes from the Boston area.  A few years back, when it got hard to make headway on my own lines, I took a look at her family.  She’s got a lot different background than I do.  Mine is all Old South, all arriving prior to the Revolutionary War.  Two of her grandparents have very Irish backgrounds, arriving in Massachusetts during the Irish Potato Famine and working in the factories (mostly shoes and boots) around Boston for many years.  One of her grandfathers comes from French-Canadian ancestry, coming to the Boston area from Prince Edward Island around the turn of the 20th century.  And her paternal grandmother was a true New England native.

Through her father’s mother, Kathleen has multiple Mayflower lines as well as several more that arrived during the Great Migration.  I find it funny that in the last 400 years, that part of the family has moved about 20 miles from Plymouth to Hanover, Massachusetts.  Even funnier is the story of her Mayflower ancestors, John and Elinor Billington.  The short story of it is that William Bradford wrote that this family of four caused more trouble on the Mayflower’s voyage than the rest of the passengers combined.  Elinor was convicted of slander and put in the public stocks.  One of the sons shot his father’s gun while on the Mayflower and may have burned down several neighbors houses.  Ultimately, John Billington became the first murderer in New England and the first person executed in New England.  Thankfully, things got better for the family over the years!

So, she comes from a family of adventurers, with adventurers in every generation.  We’ve still got many more adventures ahead of us!  And I know that Kathleen will always be my Ten.