I've been doing family history research since the late 1980s. Almost all of my family came into the southern colonies and worked there way across the South. Lately, I've started to look at my wife's New England, Irish, and French Canadian ancestry.
My tree is online at http://wrenacres.com/genealogy.
My grandfather, Hudson Wren, had two sisters, Mildred and Norvelle. Norvelle never married and Mildred and her husband, Henry Whitten, never had any children. The two of them lived across the street from each other from the time that Mildred and Henry were married in 1920. No doubt there will be much written about these folks as time goes on. They were pretty special, all of them.
After Mildred died, her furniture and things were put into storage. She had a beautiful, small cedar chest that I thought would look nice in my apartment. Mom said that if it was okay with Norvelle, I could have it, but that she wanted the quilts that were in it.
So, the next time I was in Prescott (Nevada County, Arkansas), Norvelle and I set about cleaning out the cedar chest. There were some beautiful quilts in it that I think I eventually ended up with, anyway. But, we set them aside that day for Mom.
At the bottom of the chest, we found an envelope with a little note that said “Merry Christmas, 1921” from Henry’s mother (Mildred’s mother-in-law), Christine Holston Whitten. In the envelope, we found this 1881 $5 gold piece!
Norvelle looked at me and said “That doesn’t look like a quilt to me. Put it in your pocket.” So, I did. And I still have it!
I’m on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle and then on to Anchorage for a few days of customer visits. I got to wondering if I could see the Northern Lights while I am there. Maybe. If I get up in the middle of the night and it’s clear, the forecast is good for this week.
That reminded me of the time that Aunt Bettie told me about seeing Halley’s Comet. Bettie Higgs Finney was born in 1903 in DeQueen, Sevier County, Arkansas. She was my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren’s, older sister. Aunt Bettie was one of the most cheerful people I have ever met. No matter what her circumstance, and they were not always happy times, she would quote from Psalm 103:2. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. After losing her husband, after losing her son, after having a stroke, still Bless the Lord, O my soul.
The picture at the top of this post is Bettie. I never would have known when I found this picture who it was, if not for the fact that Aunt Bettie told me about having her picture made as a little girl in a pretty new dress, holding it out to the side.
One time, she and we were all at my grandmother’s house in Wilson, Arkansas (the one at on the banner of this blog). It was in 1986, when Halley’s Comet was passing near the earth. After supper, we were sitting around the table in the dining room, like we always did and the topic of the comet came up. Aunt Bettie told me about the when she saw Halley’s Comet for the first time when it came by in 1910 with her father.
Bettie and Mary, along with their parents Will and Nan Higgs, their sister Lida, and brothers Morton and Jere Will, lived in DeQueen, Arkansas. Like I said, Bettie was born there, as was Mary. The other kids were born around Arkansas as their father Will moved from newspaper to newspaper. He worked at and ran a number of newspapers around Arkansas and then Oklahoma. More about the newspaper business and the rest of the family another day.
Halley came closest and was most visible in April 1910. Just a few weeks after standing outside in the starlit night, watching the comet with Bettie, Will took a job with a newspaper in Idabel, Oklahoma. He started work there in May 1910 but the rest of the family didn’t move there until September 1913. During that time, they commuted back and forth the 40 miles between the two to visit. Either Nannie or Aunt Bettie told me that he felt like Idabel was just a little to rough around the edges for three young girls in 1910, Oklahoma only having become a state a few years previous.
I wonder if Will knew he was about to be separated from his family when he stood out in the night air with Bettie.
Anyway, years later, Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song called When Halley Came to Jackson (you can find it here on YouTube). Every time I hear that song, it takes me back to the dining room, sitting around the table with Aunt Bettie and Nannie in Wilson that night. In the song, a father holds his little daughter and watches the comet in 1910. He makes a wish that night that she will see Halley again. And “in 1986 that wish came round.” Just like Bettie and Will on that DeQueen night.
I wrote a letter to MCC to tell her the story of Aunt Bettie. Only time I’ve ever written to a performer. And you know what? I got a really nice, handwritten letter in reply. A special story about a special lady.
My grandfather, Henry Hudson Wren (everyone always called him Hudson, or Mr. Wren), found this penny on his family farm when he was young. As devoted to his children and grandchildren as he was, Mom tells me that this was a thing he kept for himself and never offered to give to any of them. After he died, Mom gave it to me.
I am sure that I will spend a lot of time on my grandfather here, but here are the basics. Hudson was born in 1906 and grew up in Prescott, Nevada County, Arkansas. He played football for the Prescott Curly Wolves in high school and lettered for three years at the University of Arkansas in the 1920s. He studied agriculture and went on to be a very successful farmer and leader in northeast Arkansas.
The family farm was on the site of the Battle of Prairie DeAnn, also called the Battle of Moscow Church. Since the family moved there in around a little before 1920, there were still plenty of artifacts of the skirmish to be found. My brother has a cannon shell. My mother has a cannon ball. And I have a sword that was plowed up on the farm.
Papaw found this penny there when he was a teenager. It’s not a valuable coin. It’s beat-up from being in a battle and then in the ground for sixty years. It’s worn smooth from years in a pocket. You can’t even tell what year it was minted. But, it was a special thing to Hudson and he kept it his whole life. Now, I have it in the little box that he kept it in, wrapped in a little piece of one of his handkerchiefs that he used for it. And that’s special.
This is my great-grandmother Viola Tennison Bailey‘s butter paddle. Rather than use a churn, she made butter in a big, wooden bowl. I’m not sure where the bowl is. I never had it. Perhaps Dad does. In any case, using this, Great-grandmother would turn and turn and turn and whip and whip and whip the cream until the butter came together and rose to the top. Sounds like a lot of work to me!
My grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, told me that there were some approved alternate uses for the butter paddle as well and that it got pretty regular use across the family.
Susan was the youngest of ten children born to Viola and Charles Council Bailey. Viola and Charles were married in 1895 and lived most of their lives in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas. They had their first son, Carl Everett Bailey, in 1896. I’ll talk more about them and him in later blogs; there’s lots to tell there. By the time Susan was born in 1919, Viola had been raising children for twenty-five years – eight boys and two girls. Her oldest had already gone off to war, come back, and died. Two more sons had died as children or infants. Not too long after Susan was born, her older sister started having kids of her own. Some of those kids where quite the characters and I am sure got into all kinds of trouble.
That’s where the butter paddle comes in.
Grandmother told me that her mom used it not only to make the family butter but also used it on some family butts! She said that this was one of her preferred discipline tools. Now, seeing this angelic child, can you ever imagine her being in any sort of mischief or needing to be disciplined in any way at all? Hard to imagine!
This is one of the classic pictures of my grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, along with her cow, Blossom. It’s not often that you see a dirtier child than this. But out of that dirt grew one of the finest women I have ever met. She and Granddad were married for sixty-six years and every bit as smitten with each other when they died as when they met. But, that’s a story for another day.
Kathleen’s grandmother, Alma Ross Boyle was quite the character. I never knew her really well since she died not too long after we married, but I always enjoyed being around her. Alma was born Alma Beatrice Ross in 1905 in Brockton, Mass. She had two older sisters, Edna and Rotha. I get the impression that the three of them were all full of spunk. I’ll go into their genealogy another day. But I wanted to share these two pictures today.
One thing I remember about Alma is that she loved to bowl. She would drive to the bowling alley and play candlepins every week. After she could no longer drive, she tried to walk to the bowling alley for a few weeks before the folks in her apartment building made her use the shuttle. Alma died in 2001 at 96 years old, after fainting at the bowling alley. Of course.
But, what I really laugh at is the picture of Alma, Edna, Rotha, and all of their friends in their bloomers and underclothes and “unmentionables” out behind the school. What in the world are they up to! This would have been maybe 1920. The era of the flapper and all, I guess. I have never figured it out. And who took the picture? Did their parents find out about it? What did they think? I am sure that we will never know. Alma, Rotha, and Edna are all gone and I am pretty sure that they never told their kids about that afternoon behind the school house. Shame.
Sometimes the things you inherit from your ancestors are not only photos and letters and documents. Sometimes you get pieces of them!
Charles Council Bailey, my great-grandfather, was born in 1868 in Hackett, Sebastian County, Arkansas, on a farm his grandparents had purchased in 1840 (more about that another time).
Charlie Bailey worked the farm, worked as a carpenter framing houses, and in his spare time wrote and collected songs by the dozens. I have stacks and stacks of songs that he wrote out on notebook paper. I’m still working to figure out which ones he copied and which ones he wrote.
In September, 1895, he married Viola Tennison in Le Flore County, Indian Territories (now Oklahoma). Charlie and Viola had ten children, starting with Carl Everett Bailey in 1896 and ending my with my grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey in 1919.
Along the way, Charlie must have had some dental issues and got a tooth fitted. After he died, and after Viola died, his small trunk with many of his prized possessions ended up with my cousin, Michael Bailey, who gave it to me. In addition to photos, songs, and the like, in it were several pairs of glasses and this – the tooth. I can only assume that it belonged to him and not someone else.
Charles died in 1935 and was buried in the Vinita Cemetery in Hackett, on land that his family had donated may years before for that purpose.
So now, on my shelf with my grandparents watches and great-grandparents clock and photos and the like is a tooth. But, without this story, who would know that it was an ancestor’s story and not just some weird collection on my shelf!
He never really thought it would come to this. His oldest daughter (one had died as a young child, so now she was his oldest) was leaving home. Not just leaving home, leaving her comfortable home in middle Tennessee, but really leaving! Going to Africa, maybe never to come home. And as a father, he was worried and a bit scared. So, as she left, he wrote her a letter.
Micajah Thomas Cooper was born in 1806 in Rowan County, North Carolina. His family moved to first Cannon County, then Rutherford County, Tennessee by about 1810. They settled in the Woodbury area and then moved south into Rutherford County. In 1829, Micajah married Sarah A. “Sallie” Vincent in Rutherford County. They had twelve children together and lost at least three of the twelve as children. Micajah was a fairly successful farmer. He bought land in Rutherford County, in the Bell Buckle area and grew to have a farm valued at $8000 in 1860, with personal property valued at $15000.
Micajah and Sallie’s daughter, Elizabeth “Bettie” Cooper, was born in 1834. By the fall of 1855 and spring of 1856, she had become quite attached to student at the Union College in nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He was studying to be a preacher, a Baptist preacher. He wanted to share the Gospel not only to the people of middle Tennessee, but across the globe. This student, Jeremiah H. Cason, wanted to be a missionary in the foreign service. And Bettie wanted to serve with him, wherever that service would take him.
Micajah and Sallie raised Bettie to be a devout Christian, but this was never what they saw as her future! The wife of a preacher? A missionary? And Africa? What kind of dangers would she face there? Was this anywhere for a nice Tennessee girl to be?
Bettie and Jere married in July 1856 and by September that year, they boarded a sailing ship for the Yoruba County of Africa (today’s Nigeria). Not knowing whether he would ever see his daughter again, Micajah took pen to paper and wrote them a letter, hoping it would find them before they sailed. In it, he sent them on their way with his blessing, but with more than a little sadness and trepidation.
At Home Aug 10th 1856
My heart was very much gladdened on the reception of your short letter from Augusta and again by a similar one from Richmond. I hasten to write you a few lines which will have to be consise[sic] – first I would say we have tryed[sic] to submit to your departure with all the fortitude we are capable and am happy to say your mother has bore it better than I could have expected – but not a day has passed that she has not alluded to you – but I busy her up the best I can and mention the importance of your mission and the consciousness you feel – that you are discharging a duty to that God who willeth not that any should perish but that all should have eternal life. This reflection is gratifying but you know how human nature is such that it is hard for us to be willing to be separated from children who would afford us so many pleasures along the journey of life – but enough on this subject – we are all in good health and attending the Garrison Camp Meeting.
Bettie and Jere stayed in Yoruba for about a year, but that’s a story for a different day.
Micajah and Sallie died. She in 1864 and he in 1874 during a visit to a daughter in Kentucky. Both are buried right in front of the New Hope Baptist Church, in Fairfield, Bedford County, Tennessee.