Charlie Bailey was a song collector
This week, Amy Johnson Crow, the organizer of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks has given us a Bingo Free Space with Random Fact. To me, that means some random thing about someone in my tree.
Well, Charlie Bailey was a song collector. That’s pretty random. And it’s something you would not find in any kind of a record that you would find.
Birth, death, marriage, property, tax records. None of those sorts of record tell you much about the person. And that’s why it’s so important to get to know the family stories and to look more at your ancestors to get to know them.
Charles Council Bailey was my great-grandfather. His youngest daughter, Susan Louise Bailey, was my grandmother. Charles was born 26 July 1868 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas. He was the first child of Hume Field Bailey and Sarah Louise Council (each of them had children from a previous marriage).
Charles worked on his family farm, ultimately inheriting it. He also worked as a clerk in a grocery in Hackett and as a carpenter, framing houses. So, he was working to get by. In 1895, across the Arkansas River, in Indian Territory, Charles and Viola Tennison married. I wish I knew the story behind that. I am not sure whether they had moved there and met or whether they went across the river to marry and settle down, or what. It’s only about 30 miles from Hackett to Milton. The first of their children, Carl Everett Bailey, was born in Milton.
From there, they moved another 30 miles west, to Stigler, Indian Territory. There four more children were born. But, by 1910, they had moved back to Hackett. I suspect he moved home to run the family farm and help his mother. (Once Oklahoma gained statehood, they came back to Arkansas. Just the opposite from my ancestors in another line who moved to Oklahoma once it had gained statehood. More about that another day.)
It was a tough life on that small farm, way out in the country. It’s hard to put ourselves into that time and place and imagine what each day would be like. Not just how hard people worked, but what else filled out their lives.
I was fortunate enough to get Charles Council Bailey’s trunk from my cousin Michael Bailey and to get a lot of his other papers that my grandmother had saved. These folks were serious pack-rats. I have tax receipts going way back. I have other receipts going back to the 1840s for loans and for sale of property. All of that along with lots of letters and pictures.
But in the midst of all of that paper were about 60 poems written out, or so I thought. When I started Googling around for the verses, all of them ended up being old, old folk songs. Charlie was a song collector! These must have been some of his favorites.
Almost all of the songs have the date and the place that they were copied. Seems like a lot of them came from November of 1895, just a couple of months after Charles and Viola got married. Some where collected while the family lived in Milton in the Indian Territory. Others were done while in Hackett. There are a few that were copied by other people and say that they were done for Charles. A few, Charles notes that he copied for Viola.
There are several that appear to have come from a ledger. I don’t know whether he just used pages from the ledger, or these are just a small part of a huge collection. The pages are numbered in the 600s. If there were 600 more pages of these songs, I think we would have heard of this.
I wish I could ask my grandmother and her sister, Lucille, as well as their brothers, more about this. Did their dad play and sing at home, for fun? Did they all participate? Seems like I recall there being an old fiddle that belonged to him. Did I imagine a banjo as well? Or was that someone else? (It could have been Kathleen’s family.) Was he someone who loved to listen to others? Was it the lyrics or the tunes that really resonated with him?
Here’s the thing: don’t let this sort of thing get lost. Don’t just record the “facts” about your family. Make sure you get a good idea of the people. Remember them. When the last person who actually knows another person dies, a lot of the memories of that person are inevitably lost and they fade a bit more into the past. But, our family is our family and they are complete people, not just lists of facts.
Who knows! Maybe some of these random facts, like Charles’ love of music are passed down through the generations. I’ll close with a second random fact. C. Michael Bailey, Charles grandson, has clearly inherited that love of music. He’s a senior contributor and music critic for All About Jazz, an online community of jazz aficionados. So, I think this random bit is still shaking through the tree.