New Calves, Gardens, Funerals, and Permanents

Diary – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Not every diary is a record of the monumental things that happen in our lives. Some just keep track of the every day things. But, even the simplest can be amazing windows into people in our family – whether we actually know them nor not.

Of course, not many people just hand over their diaries for others to read. Usually, we only see them after they are gone. So, we have to imagine a lot of the details and things that went on around the notes that are written in the diaries.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a short diary of my great-grandmother’s trip to California from Texas and back. That one only kept track of a few weeks of her life, but it was a great picture nonetheless.

My great-aunts Norvelle Wren and Mildred Wren Whitten both kept diaries for years and years. Sometimes, they used a desk calendar and sometimes they just made notes on the wall calendars about the events of the day. I have a few of these and my mother has many, many more. I suspect that they go back pretty far since neither Mildred nor Norvelle were ones to throw that sort of thing out.

Mildred always had a lot more to say in her’s than Norvelle did. But, they both talked about the things that mattered in their day to day lives: crops and cows, family and friends, gardens and flowers, trips to church and the beauty parlor.

Norvelle’s Diary – July 1964

Of course, the key events of the day were recorded, like my first birthday. Norvelle also recorded the comings and goings of her family and friends. On my birthday, my aunt, Jennie, headed home to South Carolina from her parents’ house.

Norvelle’s Diary – May 1964

There were lots of notes about their gardens. Both Mildred and Norvelle, who lived immediately across the street from each other, on their respective home places with pastures and fields, had a garden. And from those gardens, some of the very best vegetables ever produced came.

Norvelle’s Diary – April 1964

Their diaries kept track of all of the calves born each year. I think that they shared in which ones belonged to whom so that they could split the income. The cows had names and they knew (mostly) which calves came from which cows.

Norvelle’s Diary – Entry by Grannie (Pearl Hudson Wren) – March 1964

Once in a while, you come across a really amusing entry. Looks like Grannie (Pearl Hudson Wren) would from time to time add things to the record of the day. Like this time in March 1964 when Grannie noted that she and Norvelle drove down to Texarkana to purchase “cosmetics, foundation garments, and shoes.”

Both Mildred and Norvelle noted when friends and family (and they, themselves) were sick, in the hospital or nursing home, or home from the hospital. They marked births, marriages, funerals, and burials.

It’s fun to see how they refer to each other as Sister and both refer to my grandfather as Brother. In 1976, he went to the hospital for surgery and you can find a day by day account of his health in Mildred’s diary.

You can see through the difficult times in their lives, when they took care of each other. Mildred notes that they placed the stone on Henry, her husband’s, grave, the stone that had all but her death date already filled in. She also tells that Norvelle finally felt well enough for Mildred to sleep at her own house rather than with Norvelle. Mildred was skeptical, but Norvelle was (as you would expect if you knew her) insistent.

Norvelle’s Diary – May 1983

In spite of everything, through good times and bad, both Norvelle and Mildred are just so matter-of-fact about everything. Take a look at Norvelle’s account of May 1982. Went to church. Made tea. Got a permanent. Cloudy, rainy, colder, rainy. Taken to the hospital and had to say for four days. Came home to bees inside the house around the chimney. Could not make it to church, but Horace came to see me.

Norvelle’s Diary – November 1982

And through thick and thin, while feeling well or sick, in hot weather or cold, very little could keep them from their hair appointments. Permanents apparently were a real thing for these ladies. November 1982 clearly started out with a bang. Permanents all around – Norvelle, Mildred, and their cousin Julia all got permanents the same week. I mean, it’s one thing to keep track of your own hair, but to keep track of you cousin’s hair is real devotion.

I love the fact that we have these diaries, even if they don’t provide new “genealogical” facts. They help us to remember these people that were so special to us. They help us to see how they went through their lives, day by day, especially when we only got to see them occasionally. So, scour the house. Look in all the drawers. If there’s a little pad of paper, read through it. Don’t just assume an appointment book isn’t filled with life and love. You never know what you’re going to find or to find out.

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Five Generations of Betties

Namesake – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Seems like just last week that I was talking about old J.H. Cason and here we go again. I keep track of these stories and really do try to keep from repeating, but there are just so many times that the Casons and their kin are just exactly the right people with the best stories.

The Reverend Jeremiah H. Cason could be a tough old bird. My grandmother said that when her grandfather came to visit, the whole house was turned upside down. Everything was his way, with no discussion or dissension. He had gone to Africa as a missionary in the 1850s and to war in the 1860s and had preached his way across the south ever since then and knew how to be tough. Discipline and rules were important to who he was, to his view of the world, and to his faith. But, he also knew how to be tender and clearly had a soft side that came out from time to time.

Interestingly, he was named for his father, Jeremiah Cason, born in 1800. (We visited his grave last week.) And he has generations of men named for him, all called Jere in one form or fashion, some of whom you have already met. But that’s not the namesake I want to tell you about today.

Little Bettie Higgs was born on the 24th of November, 1903 to Lida Cason Higgs and J.W. “Will” Higgs. She was their fourth child and second daughter.

On the day that her grandfather heard of her birth, J.H. Cason, that crusty old guy, sat down and wrote a tender letter to her to welcome her to the world and to the family, to tell her about those who went before her, and to share some wishes for her future. It’s an amazingly touching letter for someone who could be so gruff and crusty.


My dear little darling, I have this morning heard of your safe arrival on Nov 26th, 1903. Upon our National Thanksgiving Day. Your coming among us makes the Thankgiving Day more sacred and fixes it upon the tablet of our hearts and fixes it upon the register of our memories. We are glad to welcome you to a share in our cares and burdens and to a place in our hearts and to the joys of our holy religion.

Then, he goes on to explain to Bettie how important her name is. He tells her about her grandmother

You may be curious to know why the name of Bettie was given to you. Your grand mother Cason was named before her marriage Elizabeth (Bettie) Cooper. The name Elizabeth (Bettie) has long been a family name in the Cooper and Cason families.

Grandpa Cason goes on, then to spend two pages mapping out her parents, grandparents, and ancestors for five or six generations! For the most part, these would have been people that Jere Cason would have known or would have well known about. What a gift! On top of that, since this was a letter to an infant, Bettie’s mother, Lida Cason Higgs, annotated the letter over the years. And she added a touching postscript:

My precious child, God was good to you in giving you these two noble people as grand parents. May you be worthy of them. Mother.

Bettie isn’t a rare or uncommon name. Certainly not in those days. But, it’s interesting that in every generation going back, Bettie Higgs had a grandmother or aunt with whom she shared a name, going back at least 150 years in both directions.

Grandpa Cason finishes his letter encouraging Bettie in her faith. He assures her that, since he is already getting old, that they may not have a chance to know each other well. But they will certainly meet again in heaven if she embraces her faith. He clearly misses and grieves for his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason, who died just two years before. The old preacher makes sure that Bettie knows not only that he loves her, but that Jesus does as well.

No precious darling, if you never see or remember your grand papa you must know that he loves you and has prayed to the Lord for you. It was easy for the Lord to take care of me seventy one years, infancy, childhood, youth, and manhood down to old age. He can take care of you, as easy as he has your grand papa. Only love Him and trust Him and you will meet all the good people where Jesus lives.

What a wonderful was to greet a baby, even though it may be years and years before they grow to appreciate it. J.H. Cason probably greeted all of his grandchildren with a letter. I have seen several and can only assume that he made a point of doing this for all of them.

But, only in this one, did he lay out the history of the infant’s name. You can feel how much he misses his Bettie and how much he hopes and prays for the future for this Bettie. I am sure that she did not disappoint him. She was something special.

Nature vs. Nurture

Nature – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

There is an age old debate about what forms a person – nature or nurture. Are there some people who are just born with a nature that leads them to be good, wholesome, helpful, virtuous citizens and others who are born to be criminal, reprobate, and generally just bad people? Or is the way a person turns out the product of their upbringing and life circumstances?

I guess all of this is a way to as who is to blame or who can take credit for someone else’s lot in life, as if you could fully do either.

I suspect that there is some middle ground in all of this. Some folks seem to have a temperament independent of any of the things that have gone on in their life and independent of the people around them. Likewise, there seem to be people who are genuinely trapped by circumstances.

Which was it for the Billington family?

As a native of the south shore of Boston, it’s not surprising that my wife has ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower. What is surprising is the people that she descends from. John Billington, his wife Elinor, and their children, John Jr. and Francis, were among the passengers on the Mayflower. I have read that William Bradford considered them more trouble than the other 98 passengers, combined!

Reading their history feels like walking into a broken down trailer park behind a run-down Walmart somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the wrong side of the tracks.

Francis, the son, apparently made the equivalent of cherry-bombs and set them off in the ship, as well as firing his father’s musket while inside the ship.

John Sr. routinely challenged the orders of Myles Standish, railed against the leaders of the party, and was implicated in a revolt against the Plymouth Church.

Elinor was sentenced to be whipped and to sit in the stocks after she was convicted of slander of another settler.

John Jr. got lost in the woods and was captured, later to be returned, by Native Americans on Cape Cod. It was also widely thought, though never proved, that John Jr. burned down several of his neighbors houses.

The ultimate, however, was when John Sr. happened upon John Newcomen, a man with whom he had a long-running feud while out hunting. John Billington took matters into his own hands and shot John Newcomen, dead. Thus happened the first murder in Plymouth Colony. As a consequence, my wife’s 11-times-great-grandfather became both the first murderer and the first person hanged in the Colonies.

You can read all about this lots of places. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society, FindAGrave, Wikipedia have great articles.

Two last curious facts I noticed about the Billingtons: First, among the families that arrived on the Mayflower, virtually no other families survived the first couple of years unscathed by deaths in the family. People died of starvation, Indian attacks, accidents, sickness, etc. But, the Billingtons prospered through the first couple of winters. John Jr. died first not long after his father’s hanging (I am not counting that one) in 1630, but they all made it through the really rough years. Bad or not, they seemed to be strong and resilient. Such is nature.

Second, if you research Mayflower families, they pretty much marry into each other’s families. There is a close association between them right from the outset. John Jr never married, even though by the age of 24 (when he died), you might have expected him to be married. Francis was 28 when he married Christian (Penn) Eaton, a widow. She had arrived later on, aboard the Anne. It wasn’t until several generations later that any of Francis’ descendants married descendants of the other Mayflower passengers. Seems like the families of the original Pilgrims continued to stay away from “those Billingtons.” I guess other folks assumed something about their nature, even generations later.

So, what was it, Nature or Nurture, that made the Billingtons just a bad bunch? Clearly, they were not among the Pilgrims who came to America for religious freedom. I wonder if they were escaping a situation in England that they had made for themselves. Were the children just bad, too? Or did they turn out that way as a consequence of how they were raised? Who knows. But, I am sure the debate will go on for years. For now, we look back and shake our heads and just wonder.

Carl Joins the Army

Military – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Carl Everett Bailey, b. 5 Jun 1896

Carl Everett Bailey was their oldest son and they were immensely proud of him. Charles and Viola Tennison Bailey had photos made of him in a time before snapping a thousand selfies was even a thing. As you might expect there were lots more pictures of Carl than of any of the later nine children. But, that’s how it goes for the eldest.

He was born in Milton, Indian Territory on the 5th of June, 1896. Charles and Viola had married just the previous September. By 1900, they had moved back across the Arkansas River into Sebastian County, Arkansas, to Hackett where Charles had grown up.

Left to Right: Charles C. Bailey (father), Donald L. Bailey, Lena Lucille Bailey, Roy Thomas Bailey, Carl Everett Bailey, Viola Tennison Bailey (mother)

By August of 1916, the world was at war. Or at least Europe was. The US was sort of, kind of trying to straddle the fence and stay out of things while still being in things in its own way. But, the US was not yet at war. Carl was twenty years old and wrote a letter to his parents that seems to have take them by surprise. I am not sure where they thought he would be, but from the letter, obviously, this was not the place!

Carl had gone up to Missouri and had joined the Army! This was something that he had wanted to do for some time. This was to be a career rather than a short term of service. He has long felt like the Army is a good profession and he’s really looking forward to it.

I get the impression that this is something that maybe his parents are not so keen on. In his letter, after he drops his bombshell, he sets out to convince then that the Army is a good life, that it’s not as hard as people make it out to be, and that he has lots of opportunity ahead of him.

Carl might have misrepresented things a bit to get into the Army. He says that the enlistment officer must have misheard him when he said his age was twenty and refused to correct his mistake for fear of losing his position. But, in 1916, a man under 21 had to have his parents’ written consent to enlist. This was changed to 18 in 1917, but in 1916, he still needed their permission. (By the way, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has a great article about this at https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2012/01/24/a-doughboys-age/)

Carl Everett Bailey, in uniform

But, in the Army, he was. And he was happy about it. He certainly looks proud and happy in his uniform.

From basic training at Jefferson Barracks, he went to Eagle Pass, Texas. His duty was as a mechanic. Eagle Pass is right along the Rio Grande River and the border between Mexico and the U.S. You might recall that there were a lot of border tensions at that time. Pancho Villa had attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916 and the mood was still tense. So, the Army patrolled the border.

One night in April 1917, Carl was returning from guard duty at the Blocker Ranch. While he was about 60 miles from Eagle Pass, the truck he was in was in an accident and he was thrown from it. His leg was run over by the heavy truck, resulting in its amputation above the knee. He also received a serious puncture wound to the groin in the accident. And so ended his military career that he had been so excited about.

Carl returned home to recuperate and rehabilitate. He spent time in Army hospitals and worked to receive a pension. It could not have hurt that his uncle, who just happened to be the presiding judge of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, wrote to advocate on his behalf. He received his pension, but still needed a way to supplement it for a living. He tried several things that would not require his having both legs. It looks like he tried sewing and watch repair and sales, both.

Just to add insult to injury, while recuperating and rehabilitating from his injuries, Carl came down with tuberculosis. He went to Ft. Bayard in New Mexico, a U.S. Army sanatorium for servicemen who contracted TB. Carl took a number of photos that captured what it was like at Ft. Bayard and the surrounding area. He even drew layouts of the interior of some of the buildings. He made friends, participated in debate, and taught Sunday School there.

Carl Bailey (right) with friends at a sanatorium.

In the end, though, Carl’s life was a short one. Based on all of the things of his that his parents saved, he continued to be a favorite of theirs. He always appears to be smiling in his photos. I am sure he had times of brooding and regret for running away to the Army. But, maybe not. He had taken the chance to do something that was important to him. And that in itself was important to him. Carl died in April 1923 at the age of twenty-six, just six years after he joined the Army.

It was just like he said it was!

At the Cemetery – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Jeremiah H. Cason is one of my most colorful and interesting ancestors. My great-great-grandfather was a missionary to Africa in 1856, a Chaplain and Captain in the Confederacy who lost an arm, and a Baptist preacher for over 60 years. Last year, I talked about his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason and at some point, I will tell more of J.H. Cason’s story. But this week, our theme is “At the Cemetery”.

I started in genealogy in the late 1980s. I remember my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, showing me the Bibles she had that belonged to her grandparents, Jere and Bettie Cason. She also had the Bible that belonged to her mother Lida Cason Higgs. When my grandmother died, all these Bibles passed to me.

In the front of her own Bible, Lida Higgs Cason added dictation of what her father was saying as he slipped from life to death. His health had declined for the better part of a year. In his last month or so, his mind had also slipped away. Lida wrote to her friend Ida that by the time she (Lida) was able to reach her father’s side, he was no longer able to recognize her. But he spoke of his childhood and Lida captured it in her Bible:

Jere talks about his family, how his ancestors had come to Middle Tennessee years before. He talked about the family farm and the family graveyard at the foot of the hill. He said:

Thomas settled the McGrady farm on Fall Creek, where the Nashville & Cainesville public road cross the creek. The old Cason grave yard is on that farm. The crossing is one mile below the old Smith Mill. … Jere Cason married Elizabeth Favor, Limestone Co, Ala, & bought the old McGrady farm. He lived & died on it & was buried there. At the foot of the hill, where he is buried, you can see the creek for a mile.

Here the years slipped away from my father. He forgot he was dictating to me and wandered again over the old place, telling me of many of its nooks & corners, his favorite places as a boy and young man, where he first took my sweet mother, to proudly show his father & mother his choice.

A few years afterward, early in my genealogical career, I was pleased to meet J. Merritt Graves, a cousin and Cason researcher who knew Wilson County well. Merritt took me to see the old Cason cemetery. It was past the end of a gravel road. Once the road gave out, you had to walk through the woods, down an old path and fence row that appears to have been a road, for about a quarter mile.

When we got to the cemetery, it was just as Jere Cason had described on his deathbed. It was tucked at the bottom of a hill, and from there, you could look back up the valley of Fall Creek for a long way. The old cemetery was surrounded by a stacked stone wall, about three feet high, with a long-rusted gate at its opening.

Most of the cemetery was grown over, but the stone stood proudly upright, like the people that they remembered. There were stones for Jere and Bettie Cason, several of their children and many members of the children’s families.

I think it’s fascinating that Bettie Faver Cason’s stone lists her name as Elizabeth Faver, wife of Jeremiah Cason. It seems like there was a lot of pride in being a Faver.

Ultimately, even though he talked about his old home place and the cemetery there, when he died in June 1915, Jeremiah H. Cason was not buried in Wilson County, Tennessee. Instead, he was buried in Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas, alongside his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason. Bettie had preceded him in death in 1901. She has a large, impressive marker in the small-ish cemetery of ordinary markers.

Lida wrote to her best friend, Ida, shortly after her father’s death. In this letter (which I suggest you read in full), she talked about how Jeremiah had already selected his monument and was prepared to cross over to the life he was certain of after his death:

Soon after Mamma’s death, Papa had his monument made just like hers. He had all the inscriptions put on it but the date of his death. It was a source of great satisfaction to him the rest of his life – that it was prepared just as he wanted it done. He had no fear of death but enjoyed life. He had many times given us minute directions about the way he was to [be] laid to rest. He had an agreement of years standing with a preacher friend, a lifelong friend, that whichever one survived the other, the other should conduct the funeral service. That also was carried out.

Graves of Jeremiah H. Cason and Bettie Cooper Cason, Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas

With a start like this to my genealogical career, with ancestors who left Bibles and letters and amazing stories, how could I not be hooked? From that time on, I was stuck on genealogy like the ticks I found on my socks in the cemetery.

Since then, there have been many trips to many cemeteries. At each one, I try to imagine what kind of people these ancestors would have been. How they would have treated the people around them. What their life was like. What the place they lived was like when they were there. Many people think of the cemetery as a place only for the dead and for the grieving. True that grieving is certainly a part of many people’s cemetery experience. But, for me, it’s a place where I try to understand the lives of those who have gone before me.