Seeking to Serve

At Worship – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

As I look back into my family, the influence of worship and my ancestors’ Christian faith is unmistakable. Sometimes (well, actually, pretty frequently), I might take issue with some of their methods of sharing their faith or some of the things that they believed. But, in no way can I doubt their devotion to the central mystery of faith – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

I find many, many ancestors who were pastors, or were active lay people and Christian educators. Some lines were staunchly Baptist and others just as staunchly Methodist. Kathleen’s family even has Puritans and Pilgrims.

This is a short story about the Reverend John Walker Deshazo. J.W. Deshazo was born 11 Nov 1837 (or 1835) in Alabama to Larkin Deshazo and Lecy Lewis Deshazo. His parents had moved to Alabama by 1832, when they married, he from South Carolina and she from Tennessee. By 1850, the family had moved on to Choctaw County, Mississippi.

Rev. John W. Deshazo, 1837-1918

There has been some debate about John’s middle name. He signed things J.W. or John W. Deshazo. Some folks have claimed that the W was for Wesley since he (and the family) were Methodists. This was a pretty common thing. Others say Walker, since so many of his descendants have a middle name of Walker. The documents tend toward Walker when they say anything at all.

In 1855, John married Mary Phelps, the first of his three wives and my third-great-grandmother. He and Mary had at least seven children, including Mary Susan Druscilla Deshazo, my great-great-grandmother.

Mary Phelps Deshazo died by 1872, when John W. married Mary V. Redden, his second wife. They had no children that I know of. Mary died in 1889.

In 1890, John married Fannie Cole, his third wife. He and Fannie had another four children.

Side note: Here’s a point of research I need to pursue. In the 1910 Census, Fannie is listed as his second wife, not his third. Moreover, there is a J.W. Deshazo married to a Mary in Tennessee in the 1880 census that looks suspiciously like I may have a spurious marriage here. It makes sense for there to be a longer period between Mary and Fanny since John was an itinerant preacher during those years. Most circuit riders were not married, due to their being on the road pretty much continuously. I think I will dig into this and see what’s the truth.

John entered the ministry during the Civil War. He had enlisted in Company G of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry in March 1862. Toward the end of the war, having heard the call to ministry, he was detailed as the chaplain at the Watts Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. Not a lot can be found about this hospital. It appears to have been a tent, field hospital.

I’ve always been fascinated that he appears to have heard the call to ministry during the War. According to his service records, he was, himself, in and out of the hospital throughout the war, the last time, with blood poisoning in August 1864.

After the war, he entered the itinerant ministry of the Methodist Protestant church. The Methodist Protestant church had split in 1830 from the Methodist Episcopal church, primarily over the role of the laity in the governance of the church, the election of bishops, and of the presiding Elders (District Superintendents as the rest of Methodism called them).

Letter from John W. Deshazo to his children in 1880

John’s preaching took him across Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. He spent five years as the Presiding Elder over the state of Mississippi. Ultimately, late in life, he “located” and left the itinerant ministry. Basically, that means that he retired. He set up a small farm, but it appears that this was hard. I get the impression that his health was poor and that made both the itinerancy and locating and farming really hard on him.

Letter from J.W. Deshazo lobbying for position as Chaplain of the Legislature

By 1900, they are living in Crawford County, Arkansas and times appear to be difficult. I am not certain exactly when this letter was written. Apparently, in an effort to continue his ministry and to ensure a position for himself, J.W. Deshazo lobbied members of the Arkansas legislature to appoint him as the Chaplain to the Lower House of the Legislature. He got many of the notable men of Crawford County to vouch for him in hopes of securing this position. There’s no evidence that this succeeded. It seems that he and Fannie ended up moving back to Tennessee to be with their children. There, he and she both died and were buried.

What do I learn from J.W. Deshazo? I think the big thing is that he found his call and his moments of worship in the midst of terrible things. Both on the battlefield and in the field hospitals, he would have seen things that caused many men to lose their faith. Instead, he found his call to reach out to his fellow soldiers and to take care of those who were sick and wounded. I think that there, he found his true worship.

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In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

Out of Place – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

It’s funny how this thing about discovering and sharing our family stories goes. I so much appreciate the prompting that Amy Johnson Crow gives us each week with a topic to write about. Sometimes, it grabs me right away and I immediately know who or what to write about. Other times, life gets in the way and there’s not an immediate connection, or there’s not a time to write, so I linger.

This week was more the latter than the former. Too much business travel and no real idea about who was “Out of Place” made me procrastinate. Until this morning. I realized that there are lots of ways to be out of place. And one of those was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s just exactly what happened to Ira Thomas Higgs.

Ira Thomas Higgs was the brother of my great-grandfather, John William “Will” Higgs. These last several weeks, I have talked about his parents, Thomas M. Higgs and Mary J. Sartain and what brick walls they have been, and how DNA has helped make a little progress in this family. But even in this family, Ira has been a bit of a mystery.

Ira most likely was born in Alabama, Tuscumbia by most reports, in 1865, shortly before the family headed to southwest Arkansas. By 1870, he and his family are living in Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas. Thomas is working as a shoemaker there. By 1880, Thomas (Ira’s father) has died and left Will and Ira to make their way. At 15, in the 1880 census, Ira is working as a printer with his older brother who has gotten into the printing and newspaper business.

Ira must have been a real up-and-comer in his early twenties. When he and Hattie Nash married in Texarkana, Arkansas in February 1888 (the newspaper misprinted this. It was actually reported in the Feb 9, 1888 edition), it made the front page of the Daily Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, Arkansas

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, 9 Feb 1888

Sticking to the western part of the state, Ira and Hattie moved at least a couple of times – Mineral Springs, Texarkana, Hot Springs, and Alma. Sometimes this put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like in September 1891 when Ira got mugged while visiting nearby Fort Smith. Interestingly, that was first reported in the Weekly Argus published by Ira’s brother, Will.

Fort Smith Daily Herald and Elevator, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 25 Sep 1913

By 1902, Ira and Hattie had settled in Van Buren, Crawford County, Arkansas. In addition to his business dealings, Ira became the county coroner in 1902.

The Arkansas Democrat, Little Rock, Arkansas, 19 Nov 1902

It appears that sometimes his temper got away from him, like in this account of a fist-fight in 1903. Sounds like this had an affect on his business, whether from lost business, lost reputation, or lost money from fines. Don’t know the cause of the fight, but someone must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fort Smith Times, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 22 Apr 1903

Ultimately, Ira’s life ended in a case of being out of place, in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the 18th of March, 1914, Ira had come over to Fort Smith from Van Buren. The two cities are only separated by the Arkansas River, so there’s a lot of business back and forth between the two.

Apparently, he headed out to catch a street car home in the evening. He saw that the car that was coming wasn’t the one he wanted and headed back. But for some reason, he turned around quickly and headed back across the street and was hit by the street car. His leg was severed and his head was seriously injured. He died some hours later in a local hospital.

Perhaps due to the severity of his head injury or perhaps due to his being out of his regular element, Ira was not immediately identified as the coroner in the next county, just across the river, until after his death.

Ira’s death was covered across the state, not just in the large newspapers, but also in small papers in areas where he had connection – Washington, the town of his childhood, and Nashville, where he had lived, in particular.

I’ve always wondered what really happened here. How did he step in front of the street car he just chose not to board? Was someone calling to him? Was someone warning him not to step in front of something else? Was he, maybe, somewhere he should not have been and wasn’t fully in control of his faculties? (That’s a nice way to ask whether he had been drinking?) Who knows. But, lying in the street and then in the hospital as a John Doe is certainly out of place.

Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1914-03-20
Washington Telegraph, Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas, p.1, 36 Mar 1914

Interestingly, the newspaper in Nashville, Arkansas reinforced the DNA connection we found last week. It says that Bob Dennison is a cousin of Ira Higgs. Bob Dennison is a descendant of Susannah Sartain, sister of Ira’s mother.

Nashville News, Nashville, Howard County, Arkansas, p. 1, 23 Mar 1914

After his death, Ira found his way back across the river and home. His burial was reported in the Fort Smith Daily Herald and Elevator. It seems like there were a number of noted citizens present for his service.

Fort Smith Daily Herald and Elevator, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 26 Mar 1914

So, maybe even though he was out of place on that fateful day in March 1914, and even though a funeral for a forty-eight year old father and husband in the prime of his life is out of place, perhaps Ira had been living actually right where he was supposed to be .

DNA – Discover New Ancestors (maybe)

DNA – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Let me start off by saying that I am a technology guy. I am not always a first adopter for every technology. Instead, I embrace technology where it looks like it will help and wait to adopt it in areas where it’s not yet ready.

Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P Series II

I have been a computer guy since the late 1970s. I learned to program on my friend’s Commodore PET and on the school district’s NCR minicomputer. I bought my first computer in 1979 – an Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P Series II system with the fastest Motorola 6502 processor on the market. It’s still in our attic (but it has a special connector for the video output, so I can’t run it anymore).

I am an IT guy. I do IT for a living. E-mail and texting have been my regular ways of communicating since about 1982.

From the very start of my genealogical journey, starting in the late 1980s, I used a genealogy database to keep track of my tree. First PAF. Then The Master Genealogist. Back to PAF for Windows once TMG went belly-up. And now, I have been a firm devotee of RootsMagic for years. I use scanners, clouds, on-line tools like Evernote and Dropbox.

But, I also rely on good, old microfilm, and dusty books in archives, and vertical files, and file cabinets full of paper, and lots of old family photos. So, technology is great, in its place. It augments rather than replaces good methodology and proven tools and techniques.

Last week, when I told you the story of one of my brick walls, I said that DNA was a key part of what helped me to accept family stories and take a new direction on my searching for the family of Mary J. Sartain.

I tested with FamilyTreeDNA when it was too expensive. I added and upgraded tests as they got cheaper. That was in the days of Y-DNA as the primary test.

I’ve done autosomal tests with FamilyTreeDNA, Ancestry, and 23-and-Me. And I’ve uploaded that data to GedMatch for even wider coverage. I’ve encouraged my parents, my step-dad, my in-laws, and others to test.

But, if I am absolutely honest about things, DNA has not yet been the huge boon for me that it has been for other people.

I attribute this to lots of things. First, I have not yet completely immersed myself into squeezing all of the information out of my DNA testing. I have only dipped my toes into the myriad of tools and techniques offered by DNA. There’s no doubt that this can be a daunting area. I think I am taking an approach of having a cursory understanding so that when I hit a situation where I feel like it will apply, I can then find out what I need and begin to use the tools. This is pretty much how I have approached most of the new tools I’ve encountered.

Second, after thirty years of traditional research, I don’t have that may gaps within seven-ish generations, pretty much the limits of direct application of a lot of the DNA tests. After that, there is more work in terms of triangulation between people, using DNA and other research together, etc. But, since I’ve been just grabbing the apples hanging low on the family tree (with respect to DNA), I’ve not found a good opportunity yet.

All of that being said, I have high hopes for DNA not just in genealogy in general, but in my and my family’s research in specific.

It’s funny, but when I look at my step-dad’s matches, so far of the hundreds of matches he had, only about 3 are on his father’s side of the tree. And those are on the part of the tree that we understand. But, one day, that descendant of the Reglin dynamiter will test and the mystery will crack open.

And for my mother-in-law and father-in-law, I am confident that all of the matches to their Irish ancestors will be invaluable in finding their real lines in the tangled web of Irish trees.

So, lacking any real break-throughs with DNA, this has turned into a bit of my philosophy of using DNA. Short version: I’m for it, but haven’t jumped in with both feet yet, lacking a target that really requires it to move forward. But, I will. And I will find lots of new cousins and new ancestors.

Watch for sales, especially from Ancestry. Get your results. Even if all you look at is the ethnicity. Post a short tree. Explore your matches and look at ThruLines. (Short side-note: When I look at my mother-in-law’s results, they are the only ones I have seen that are so definitive. 84% Ireland / Scotland and 16% France. No fractions, no tiny pieces of other places. Just those two. And in the Irish section, it actually does pretty well in targeting the counties that her ancestors came from.)

Don’t forget, DNA stands for Discovery New Ancestors. Take advantage of what it can provide. But don’t assume it’s a magic potion made of spit. You still have to put in the effort and solid research to get what it can give.

Bricks, Bricks, All the Way Down

Brick Wall – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Sometimes, it feels like the brick walls just keep going and going and going and we’ll never get over, around, or through them. After thirty years of researching my family, it feels like all I have left are brick walls.

My Mom won’t even help me research her family. She says that I’ve found all the easy stuff, leaving just the really hard things to find. She’s right, of course, but my step-dad’s family is no picnic, either. All of her brick walls are written in old German script and are stored overseas. At least all of my records that I need that don’t actually exist were lost on this side of the ocean!

When we run into something that we can’t seem to figure out, we call it a brick wall. We search all the regular sorts of records. We try everything we can on-line. We try to reach out for records from other sources, like the courthouses. We visit archives and libraries and cemeteries and dusty basements. We lament burned courthouses and preachers who never returned marriage licenses and census takers who seem to have missed whole towns.

But, I think the bruises on our foreheads from beating our heads on the wall may be our own fault. How often, when in the middle of trying to solve a problem and get around a brick wall do we follow a rabbit down a hole and get lost in a whole different line of research?

Or, do we fail to make a plan and wander around aimlessly as we try to follow the bricks and get to the corners or the end of the wall?

But eventually, our tree may grow over the wall. Or the roots of our tree may break through the wall. And we can get to the other side. And we can find out more about our families and move on to the next mystery.

close up root of old giant tree growing at vintage brick wall

So, if you’ve made it this far, you might have guessed that I don’t have a strong story for this week. I am in the middle of a brick wall exercise right now. I thought I was making progress, but then yesterday, it fell apart again.

Mary J. Sartain married Thomas M. Higgs on Christmas Day, 1857. I think you’ve met these two before. They are my great-great-grandparents. Mary was, supposedly, born in Decatur, Morgan County, Alabama, in 1834. In all of my research, I have yet to find any families that look like they could be hers in that area. I’ve been at a loss.

Another researcher (Page), years ago, told me that she felt sure that her ancestor, Susannah Sartain, was the sister to my Mary. I failed to follow up very well on this at that point. But, with Ancestry’s new ThruLines tool, what does it suggest, but that Susannah Sartain was the sister to my Mary. So, I contacted my research partner again and we began to talk.

Yes, in fact, she heard stories from her family for years about my great-aunt Lida and about her brother Jere Will. She understood that Mary and Thomas even helped raise Susannah’s daughter for a period. So, that’s a pretty good family connection. Maybe we need to pursue this again.

I took to the census. Long ago, I (and my research partner and others) had identified a candidate family for Mary and Susannah. Alfred Sartain and Susannah Sarah Ramage were living in Northport, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama in 1850 and had daughters named Mary J. and Susannah who were exactly the right ages. Looks pretty positive, so far.

Just to add to mix, there was another Mary J. Sartain, also born in 1835, in Tuscaloosa County. What are the odds? I can’t find Sartains anywhere, but all of a sudden, I have three Mary J. Sartains born within 18 months of each other! A little quick research here found a marriage record for this Mary to a Benjamin Sexton which clearly stated that she was the daughter of Jacob Sartain Jr.

This starts to help piece the steps of the ladder over the wall. Jacob Sartain Jr and Alfred Sartain appear to be sons of Jacob Sartain, Sr, who came to Tuscaloosa from Spartanburg, South Carolina before Alabama statehood.

Now, what about the rest of Alfred’s family? You know the FAN club ought to be investigated. I really want to find something that can connect my Mary to Page’s Susannah to Alfred, and ultimately Jacob Sr.

It seems like this Sartain family stuck together. In 1870, Alfred’s married children were all within a house or two of his on the Census. It really seems like this family stuck to Northport, Tuscaloosa County. (I was unable to ever find any of these families or any of their 1850 or 1870 neighbors in the 1860 census. It seems like this whole community may be lost in the census.) Mary doesn’t appear in the 1870 census in Alfred’s house, but that’s what we expect – she should have been married to Thomas and moved to Arkansas by then. Alfred’s son, Jesse, married Sarah Ann Sexton and then died in the Civil War. Alfred’s daughter Sarah Ann married Horace H. Sexton. She died in 1876, at which point Horace married her sister Susannah.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound right. Page’s ancestor, Susannah Sartain, married James C. Hicks in Florence, Lauderdale County, Alabama on 10 Oct 1850. What’s this being single in 1870 in her parents’ house but also being married in 1850?

I pretty much think that as busting this line of attack. It makes it clear that Alfred and Susannah Ramage Sartain are not the parents of either Mary J. Sartain who married Thomas M. Higgs or Susannah Sartain who married James C. Hicks. Nor is Jacob Sartain Jr. the father of my Mary J. Sartain.

So, being methodical and following the research through to a clear conclusion at least allowed me to avoid spending any more time on this line. It also made it clear that this candidate, which initially looked very strong, was not at all strong.

But, what to do next? I think a geographic search may be the right approach. Lauderdale, Morgan, and Limestone counties, where the events we know about happened, are all in northern Alabama, near or bordering Tennessee. I think the next step is to look for some new openings in the wall in northern Alabama. It may well be that we reconnect to Jacob Sartain Sr. back in South Carolina. But who knows!