Winter – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

I was surprised that a blog post on winter was as hard to come by as it ended up being.  I am certain that I remember a set of photos from the late 1940s when my father and his family traveled to Niagara Falls.  The pictures show the falls frozen and lots of snow.  But, I can’t find them anywhere.  Maybe Dad will know where they are.

But I found some pictures that were just as interesting and tell a story of a “big snow”, at least for Fort Smith, Arkansas.  I have talked about my granddad, Robert H. Dickson, Jr., previously.  Granddad took a lot of photos with his old camera (I think Dad still has that camera).  And Granddad did his own developing back in the day.  I guess he didn’t have an enlarger, or maybe only had a small one, because so many of his photos are 2″ x 2″ and maybe a bit grainy.  But, they are great fun to see, since so many of them are really candid and completely unstaged.

So, I found a few pictures that Grandmother (Susan Louise Bailey Dickson) had captioned “Robert H. Dickson Jr. in that big snow of 1940”  Digging around in climatology history web sites, it looks like there was a snowstorm that dropped 9.4 inches of snow on Fort Smith, Arkansas in January of 1940.  Looks like Granddad and, I guess, Grandmother took the opportunity to go out in the snow.  I am betting that Grandmother took these photos.

Robert H. Dickson Jr. in the snow of January 1940

It doesn’t look like 9.4 inches in this picture, but it does look like Granddad needs a jacket!  I am only guessing that Grandmother took these photos.  Robert and Susan met in June 1938 and been dating for a year and a half by this point.  They got married just a month later on 23 Feb 1940.  It’s fun to see Granddad so young.  He looks so skinny.  And the paralysis on his face sort of gives him a scowl.  Kathleen thought that he looked mean in these pictures.

But, how could you think of him as mean when you see him out in the snow in his bare feet!  His pants are up around his knees and he’s barefoot in the snow here.

Robert H. Dickson, barefoot in the 1940 snow

The last of the pictures that I found was a fun one of the house that Granddad grew up in.  I find my great-grandparents, Robert H. Dickson, Sr., and Ethel Garner Dickson, in their house at 2230 N. 14th St., Fort Smith, Arkansas by 1925.  They lived there until Robert Sr’s death.  After that Grandmother Dickson lived there for at least a couple of years before moving.  I have never heard the reason that Fort Smith decided to renumber their streets.  North 14th St. became North 29th St., but the family didn’t move.  Grandmother notes that that’s her future father-in-law, Robert Sr., on the front porch.

Robert H. Dickson, Sr. on his porch at 2230 N. 14th St., 1940

So, even back in the day, wintertime could be a good time for our ancestors.  They could be excited by unusual snows.  They could go out to play in the snow.  And they could do goofy things in the cold, just because.  That’s the kind of thing that makes sure we remember that our ancestors were all real people just like we are.


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Next to Last – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

I am glad to find that I am not alone in having a hard time figuring out what or who to write about for this week with the prompt “Next to Last”.  Jamie Gates over at Applegate Genealogy talked about having a little bit of a writer’s block with this topic as well. 

“Next to Last” is a funny thing.  Often, you don’t know until considerably after something has happened that it even was the Next to Last.  You don’t know that a child is the next to last until it’s completely clear that there are no more children coming to the family.  You often don’t know that something is the next to last time that you do something or that you see someone until much later.  And usually that means that it wasn’t planned as the next to last.

On the other hand, next to last can be wrapped in anticipation or at least a sense of waiting for something.  Remember the next to last final exam at college.  Or the next to last day before you were married.  We use this as a marker to move toward something.

None of that has anything to do with my topic this week.  I was looking at a pedigree chart and wondered how far back my maternal line went.  Well, I didn’t have to click far to get that answer.  I have only found my maternal ancestors (my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, and so forth) back about six generations.  So, I decided to introduce you to my next to last ancestor on my maternal line.  Hopefully I will be able to make this post incorrect before too long and take things back another generation.

Sarah Vincent, often called Sallie, was my great-great-great grandmother on my maternal line.  I can only get one more generation beyond her on the maternal line.  Seems to me that that’s not terribly far back.  Tracking the women is unfortunately difficult, and doing it in the frontier country of western North Carolina and east and middle Tennessee is an added difficulty.  But, here’s my line as I know it:

  • My grandmother – Mary “Mary Jim” Higgs, b. 1906, DeQueen, Arkansas, d. 1988, Memphis, Tennessee
    • My great-grandmother – Eliza Johnson “Lida” Cason, b. 1868, Carrollton, Pickens County, Alabama, d. 1941, Dallas, Texas
      • My great-great-grandmother – Elizabeth “Bettie” Cooper, b. 1834, Bedford County, Tennessee, d. 1901, Van Buren, Crawford County, Arkansas
        • My great-great-great-grandmother – Sarah A. “Sallie” Vincent, b. 1809, Rutherford County (?), Tennessee, d. 1864, Bedford County, Tennessee
          • My great-great-great-great-grandmother – Elizabeth Adcock, b. 1789, Granville County, North Carolina, d. 1848, Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, Tennessee

It seems so strange to me that some folks get so caught up in their name line – their paternal line.  The family tree is a huge thing with many ancestors.  To focus so pointedly on the left edge of the tree ignores so much.  If you have found your paternal line eight generations back , to your 6th-great-grandfather, you have 510 ancestors in your tree.  Of those, 502 of them are not your paternal grandfathers.  (By the way, the same thing holds for following the strictly maternal line, too.)  There’s so much in the middle of the tree that’s exciting to research.

But, that’s a bit off-topic.  Sallie Vincent was born in 1809 in Tennessee.  While I have not found a record of exactly where she was born, her father had purchased land in Rutherford County, Tennessee by 1820 and appeared in the 1810 Rutherford County census.  So, I think she was probably born in Rutherford County, or nearby. 

Her parents were Henry Vincent (b. 1781, Granville County, North Carolina, d. 1841, Rutherford County, Tennessee) and Elizabeth Adcock (b. abt 1789, Granville County, North Carolina, d. before 1837, Rutherford County, Tennessee).  Henry and Elizabeth married 30 Sep 1805 in Granville County.  So, they moved to Tennessee as a young family.  Admittedly, I have not researched this family very thoroughly, but they appear to have had at least five children and at least one was already born before the move to Tennessee.  While Granville County, North Carolina was not a big city, they moved into the Tennessee frontier, barely ten years after statehood.

It does not appear that Sallie grew up on a “plantation” by any means.  Her father purchased land in Rutherford County and appears to have been a farmer.  In the 1820 census, he appears to have one slave.  In the 1830 census he is enumerated as having two slaves.  I need to search the tax lists to get a better idea of how much land they had.

When she was twenty years old, Sallie married Micajah Thomas Cooper in Rutherford County on 31 March 1829.  Micajah was from Rowan County, North Carolina, born there in 1806.  He was the son of Henry L. Cooper and Rebecca Hollis.  It appears that the family moved to Tennessee somewhere around 1808-1815.  Micajah’s grandfather, John Hollis, was already in Rutherford County in time to be enumerated in the 1810 Rutherford County census.

Through the years, Sallie & Micajah moved around Middle Tennessee, from Rutherford County to Coffee County to Bedford County.  They ultimately settled around Wartrace in Bedford County by 1834.  There, 10 of their 12 children were born (including Bettie, who went to Africa as a missionary in 1856.)

While Sallie was still in her thirties, she lost her mother and her father remarried.  She lost her father not many years after that.  She saw several of her children die young. 

Ultimately, Sallie, herself, died on 22 May 1864 in Wartrace.  She was buried at the New Hope Baptist Church in Fairfield, Tennessee.  She shares a grave plot with Micajah and some of her children.  It’s located immediately in front of the church, right on the driveway, so it’s hard to miss.

So, there you have it.  At least for now, Sarah Vincent is the next-to-last in my known maternal line.  Hopefully, this won’t be the case forever.  I hope to find out more about her and her ancestors.  I encourage all of my fellow researchers to take the extra effort to meet and get to know their female ancestor as well as their ancestors from difficult places (like the Carolinas).

Until next time,
–SCott

Thankful – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

As I write this, tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2018 here in the United States and Amy Johnson Crow has suggested Thankful as our them for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

When I started thinking about this, I found so many different directions that I wanted to go.  At first, I thought about one of my very favorite Thanksgiving Dinners that I celebrated with my grandfather Robert H. Dickson, Jr.  I talked about that some time back and you can see it here.

Then, I thought about pointing out that My ancestors were actually here for the First Thanksgiving in the Colonies, while Kathleen’s Mayflower ancestors were Johnny-Come-Latelys for the second one, even though they get all the credit.  Folks forget that the first commemoration of Thanksgiving took place in the Virginia Colony took place at the Berkeley Plantation in 1619.  My ancestor, Cicely Reynolds, was living very near to the plantation at that time and may well have been at that celebration of thanksgiving.  Kathleen, on the other hand, has a number of Mayflower ancestors (John, Elinor, and Francis Billington, John Howland, Francis Eaton, Henry Samson, Degory Priest), so of course there is a Thanksgiving connection there, too.

But this last Sunday, I was preparing my Sunday School lesson and hit on what I really wanted to talk about.  I am not the sort of genealogist who believes that my identity is defined or my future determined specifically by the lives of my ancestors or by my DNA.  But, I do know that important values are passed down from generation to generation.  I know that the experiences for good or for bad of one generation affect several to come.  And for the lessons and experience of those before me, I am thankful.

One of my favorite things is to teach adult Sunday School.  I am a guest speaker in a number of different classes at our church.  This past Sunday and this coming Sunday, I am visiting with one of my favorite groups.  This is a class where there may be members still in their seventies, but the vast majority are members of the Greatest Generation and are firmly in their mid- to late-eighties and nineties.  What could I possibly have to teach them?  But they are always gracious and welcome me and invite me back.

When I thought about it, I realized that I have a number of ancestors who were pastors and preachers.  But I also have a lot of members of my family who have taken the more informal route of teaching and leading adult Sunday School.  Mom is currently the president of her class.  My brother and his wife lead classes at their church.  My step-mother teaches Sunday School at her church as well as leading worship from time to time at the local county jail with my Dad.  (He helps; he isn’t a resident.)

And back through the generations, many of my ancestors shared their faith and their understanding by teaching Sunday School.  My maternal grandfather, Hudson Wren, led his Sunday School at the Wilson United Methodist Church in Wilson, Arkansas class for nearly 40 years.  I remember every Saturday evening, when we were at his house, he would retreat into his den, close the door, and work on his lesson.  We all knew not to disturb Papaw while he was working on his lesson because it was important to him.  Even though he saved his notes for years, not long before his death, he cleaned out his files and destroyed years of lessons.  I am thrilled to have some of the the ones that escaped.  I still refer to them for my own lessons.  Of course, they are often tied to the Adult Bible Study quarterlies from years and years ago and I don’t have those.  But I can still guess at the direction from the notes.  It’s fun to see his way of taking notes and writing and to hear his voice in them.

Hudson Wren’s Sunday School Lesson on Christian Maturity, 13 July 1975

We recently met my great-grandfather, Charles Council Bailey.  He also was called on to lead Sunday School from time to time.  I’ve got a few of the talks that he gave at different times, including one done for Sunday School.  I suspect that this is from the 1890s, though I don’t find a date on it.  That means it was probably when they lived in Milton or Stigler in the Indian Territory.  I have to say that I can identify with his comments as I lead classes full of folks who have all had long and full lives.  This is part of a talk he gave to and about the Sunday School and why it is important.

Charles Council Bailey talk on Sunday School

In this he says “… if I should attempt to offer a word of advice or define for older and better [men] the interest we should take in this work, that they will deal lightly with me when passing upon my presumption, and with careful hands winnow the chaff from the grain, if any grain there be in what I may offer.”  Sounds about right when standing in front of a group of folks who have seen far more of life than I have.

My maternal grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, often led the devotions for the Women’s society in her church.  I have a few of these and love them, too.  She’s quick and to the point in what she has to say.  That’s the point of these devotions that open the meetings.  Here’s one of hers.  I don’t know the date, but it was from late in her life.

Hey! Do You Know Who You Are?

Matthew 12:50 – Whoever does what my Father in Heaven wants him to do is my brother, my sister, and my mother.

Kirk Douglas: “Once, while I was driving to Palm Springs, CA, I picked up a hitchhiking sailor.  He got into the car, took a look at me and said “Hey! Do you know who you are?”  That’s a very good question.  A question we all have to ask our selves.” (From The Ragman’s Son: An Autobiography)

We live in a day when it is fashionable to lament that we need to find out who we are.  This was never a problem to me.  As the youngest of a large family and almost the only girl, I knew I was Somebody’s Little Sister or I was Charlie & Viola’s little girl.  I’ve known people who resented this identification with their family members.  I never did.  I do not resent one of my brothers introducing me as his “baby Sister”.  The knowledge that I was an integral, indeed an important, part of this closely knit family was a security that many people have not known.

If a brother caught me misbehaving, he would draw me aside and tell me to stop it.  If I argued that the other kids were doing it, they would reply “Yes, but you now better.”

Our meals were an unhurried time of sharing.  We told our small triumphs or defeats, as the case may be.

It was in [Sunday School] that I learned “Jesus Loves Me”. Also God is the loving Father of us all.  This did not seem strange to me for I had not yet learned that not all fathers are loving.  Later in [Sunday School], Mrs Clark taught me that I was a part of the church family and that expanded to the Family of God.

As I grew up my family kept expanding.  There was school and later I went to college.  Then I married and we were another family unit within the larger family of mankind.  I was a wife. Then a mother.  many years later I became a grandmother.  Then I was a teacher.

I am many things.  I am still a wearer of many hats.  Most important, I am a child of God – a sister of Jesus and of all who are children of the Father.  This, I think is the foremost “who” that I am.

As some of you may know, I sang in one choir or another most of my life.  One of my favorite anthems is an old one that is an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need and ends with “Not as a stranger or a guest but as a child at home.”

I do not always do all the things that the Father would have me to do and, like Paul, I sometimes do what He would not have me do.  With much prayer and effort, I strive to live so that I can say I am a true child of the Father.

Hey! Do you know who you are?

Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, “Hey! Do You Know Who You Are?”

So, back to Thankful.  I am so thankful that in my family, I can find examples of people that I have known and loved and that I can discover and admire who help me to see who I am. Not that they determine me, but that their influence and experience on and in each successive generation is undeniable – both for good and for bad.  I am thankful that by finding my family and reflecting on who they were and are, I am able to answer Grandmother’s question more each day.  Hey!  Do you know who you are?

Random Fact – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

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.

Charles Council Bailey

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.

Charles Council Bailey

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.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Bearded

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The beards are back.  Well, at least the beards were back.  I suggested to Kathleen that I ought to grow one and she strongly encouraged me to reconsider that idea.  I thought I could do a pretty fair impression of Uncle Si, since I already carry around a big glass of iced tea.

When I saw that the theme for this week was Bearded, I immediately thought of my great-great-grandfather, Dr. Alonzo Dossey Wren.  He could definitely have been at home with the guys of Duck Dynasty.  He even lived near their home for many years.

Alonzo Dossey Wren was born 9 August 1841 in Putnam County, Georgia.  He was the sixth of George Washington Wren and Sarah Bridges Wren’s  children. You may recall George Washington Wren from a previous story about him and a Bible Dictionary he owned.

In 1850, the family appears in the census of Putnam County, but they did not remain there much longer.  By 1851, the family had moved to Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

For many years, there has been confusion over this family.  In the 1850 Census of Putnam County, Georgia, in the household of Geo. W. and Sarah Wren, there is a 9-year-old boy enumerated as Wm. A.D. Wren.  There is also an 8-year-old boy named Monroe.  No other record has been found for Monroe.  And Alonzo Dossey Wren never appears as William Alonzo Dossey Wren.  So, there is a mystery.  Is William A.D. Wren really A.D. Wren?  Maybe.  But W.A.D. Wren has a tombstone (placed much later) that says he died in 1867.  And the IGI lists William Alonzo Dossey Wren.  So, who is whom?  Really don’t know.  I’ve heard lots of theories.  Like William A.D. Wren was somehow handicapped and the family used the name again.  That seems unlikely.  Or that A.D. Wren was born Monroe and took the name A.D. Wren after his brother died.  But, that doesn’t hold water either since by 1867 (William’s reputed death), A.D. Wren had already served in the Civil War and had married and started to make his own records.  The only actual records I have seen that include William and Monroe are the census records for 1850 Putnam County, Georgia.  And I am inclined to lean toward a sloppy census taker.

wren-0462-f-v00-AD-CivilWar

In any case, we don’t find the family in the 1860 census.  G.W. Wren (A.D. Wren’s father) had purchased several tracts of land in Bienville Parish and the family was clearly residing there.  And the 1860 census for Bienville Parish is missing.

Minden, in Bienville Parish, is only about an hour and a half drive (at most) from West Monroe, Louisiana, the home of Duck Dynasty.  So, perhaps the seeds of the beard started here.

When the War came, A.D. Wren enlisted in the Claiborne Grays – Company D, 19th Regiment of Louisiana Infantry in December 1861.  He and his unit served under General Joseph Johnson.  They fought at Shiloh, Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Resacca, and Atlanta.  The unit was disbanded in May 1865 in Meridian, Mississippi.

In this picture, you can see A.D. Wren with his “Arkansas Toothpick”, the long, thin knife in his belt.  The original of this photo is owned by my cousin, John Gann, of England, Arkansas.  He has an amazing collection of artifacts not just from the family, but also from his time flying over Europe during WWII.

But, there’s no beard!  As a young man, he’s not wearing is signature whiskers.

After the War, A.D. Wren moved a bit north into southwest Arkansas.  In 1866, he married Frances Georgia “Georgia” Vickers, the daughter of James Jackson Vickers and Savannah Georgia Shehee.  The Vickers family were early settlers in Florida.  Georgia’s mother was born in Leon County, Florida in 1823, more than 20 years prior to statehood.  By 1840, the family had moved north into south Georgia, Thomas County.  And by 1850, they had moved into Bienville Parish.  And by 1860, they had moved into Hempstead County, Arkansas.

Alonzo went to New Orleans to study medicine at the University of Louisiana, receiving a certificate for attending lectures there in 1871 and 1872.  The University of Louisiana ultimately became Tulane University in New Orleans.  This is a picture of him during his studies, taken at the studio of Petty & Quinn at 151 Canal Street in New Orleans.  Very dapper looking, with a nicely trimmed beard this time.

I’ve not been able to find records yet of his time in New Orleans.  By the time of this certificate, at least three children would have been born to the family.  The eldest, a little girl named Savannah, died as an infant.  I wonder if that helped shape Alonzo’s desire to study medicine.

In any case, he worked as a physician, while still working his own farm, for the rest of life, until his death in 1915.  I wish I had asked my grandfather about him.  But that wasn’t even something I thought about as a 10-12 year old boy.

I have a clock that he and Georgia gave to my great-grandparents as a wedding gift in 1899.  My little brother has a pocket watch that Dr. Wren received as payment from a patient at some point.

As it turns out, Dr. Wren came by his beard legitimately.  On the left, below, is is father, George Washington Wren.  That’s one stern looking dude with a serious beard, I would say.

On the right is George Lovich Pierce Wren, Dr. Wren’s older brother.  His is much more neatly trimmed.  But, then, he was in the Louisiana legislature and had to clean up a bit, I suppose.  Maybe we will talk about his experience in a later entry.  His diary that he kept during his time at Emory University and during his service in the Civil War is kept in the Special Collections Room of the Emory University Library.

Here’s another of Dr. Wren as a young man.  The photo on the left is a large format tintype.  I believe it must date from about the time he was studying in New Orleans as well.  The beard is still neat and short.

But, on the right, the beard is starting to take on a life of its own.  This is the look that I have seen in so many photos.  The very full beard shows up in all of the pictures of Dr. Wren until the end of his life.

wren-0461-f-v00-AD-and-GeorgiaWren

This is one of my favorites.  Dr. A.D. Wren and his wife Georgia, taken 26 December 1900 in Prescott, Arkansas, where the family lived for generations.

wren-docs-0233-f-v00-nm-060-DrADWren-obit-1916

On 18 January 1916, Dr. Wren died at his daughter, Carrie Camillia Wren Woodul’s home.  He and Georgia had moved into town to live with their daughter just thta year on account of their health.  Georgia lived until 1941, and Carrie, Mrs. J.C. Woodul, lived until 1977.

The descendants of the beards — the descendants of Dr. A.D. Wren and George Lovich Pierce (GLP) Wren — have held family reunions since at least the 1940s.  So, while neither the men, nor the women, of the Wren family have as extravagant beards as their ancestors, their memory lives on.  Not just the memory of the beards, but the memory of the ancestors and their lives and stories.  And that’s even better.

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Frightening

What makes us frightened?  For some, it’s a good scary movie. (Personally, I have never liked them!)  I think a lot of times, we get frightened when we are placed into a situation that we don’t understand, without any context to understand what is going on and what’s going to happen next.  We see people in situations that we don’t understand, that might not look like us, and that don’t behave like we expect them to behave and we get frightened.

Little kids live in a world where lots of things frighten them, or at least make them uneasy.  There’s so much that is unknown and they are so much not in control of their life and their surroundings.  They have to learn that many of the things that initially are frightening are really not so bad, and might even be really good.  Were you scared the first time you went down a slide?  What about the first time you drove on the freeway?  You learn that these things are really not bad at all!

Sometimes, it’s meeting someone that is frightening.

I have only the vaguest of memories of my great-grandmother, Viola Tennison Bailey.  I know lots and lots of stories about her and have dozens of photos.  But memories that are actually my own are few.  Viola was born 19 July  1875 in Winona, Choctaw County (now Montgomery County), Mississippi.  She was the first child born to John William Biggers Tennyson and his wife Mary Susan Druscilla Deshazo.  By 1880, the family had moved to Pike County, Arkansas.  In 1885, when Viola was just nine years old, Bill Tennyson was killed in an accident at the sawmill he ran with his brother, Zenas.  Mary remarried to J. Frank Phillips in 1888.  By then, Mary and her family were living in Sebastian County.

Viola married Charles Council Bailey on 1 Sep 1895 in Milton, Indian Territory.  She and Charles had ten children, starting with Carl Everett in 1896 and ending with my grandmother, Susan Louise , in 1919.

Viola died 19 August 1970 in Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas.  The picture, above, was taken just a year before Viola’s death, along with her daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and great-great-granddaughter.  What a wonderful picture to have!

I was just seven years old when she died  It was during the summer after first grade.  She was the first family member that I remember dying.  I think I only met Great-Grandmother a few times.  By the time I came around, she had health problems and was no longer able to live on her own.  She lived in a nursing home, which was a frightening place on its own.  To a five-year-old (or even younger) child, the smells and sights of a nursing home, especially in those days, were utterly foreign.  I can’t remember much about Great-Grandmother.  Just that she was very, very old and didn’t seem to interact that much.  It’s almost lost in the mist of memory.  But I remember that it was sort of frightening to be there and to be around the nursing home and all of the very old people.

Of course, that was hardly a fair picture of the character I have heard about the rest of my life.  I have heard nothing but stories of spunk and strength and good humor on the part of my great-grandmother.  I wish I had had more of an opportunity to get to know her either earlier in her life or later in my own.

Even though, when I knew her, she was very old and not able to do much for herself, that  certainly was not always the case.  She lived on the edge of the Indian Territory, sometimes the inside edge and sometimes the outside edge.  In any case, she lived in a frontier area and raised her family on a hardscrabble farm.  She was married for nearly forty years and then lived alone in her widowhood for another thirty-five years.

I have heard all sorts of stories about Viola.  I heard one where she was living alone, in the house (above) when an animal got into the hen house and she effectively and efficiently dispatched it with her shotgun.  She had her sons make sure they told folks about how handy she was with that shotgun so she wouldn’t have any trouble, being an elderly widow living alone.

I have Great-Grandmother’s butter paddle.  She used it to make butter in a big bowl rather than in a churn.  My grandmother assured me that her mother used the paddle to paddle more than just butter!

Once, after Viola was in the nursing home, my grandmother got a call that two men in suits where visiting Viola and the nursing home was concerned about who they were.  One man was very old, himself, and the other appeared to be an attorney.  Turns out it was an old man of the neighborhood who needed identification and Viola was the only one still alive who could attest to his actual birth.

I am sure that my Dad and all my Bailey cousins could fill the hours with stories of Great-Grandmother Bailey.  The moral is that things and people that are frightening are often filled with love and joy and have a whole world to share with us if we have the opportunity and take the time to embrace them and hear what they have to say.

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Viola Tennison Bailey, 1875-1970

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?

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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.

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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.