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.

California or Bust!

Road Trip! – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Jere Will Higgs was on the move again. This time, he was moving from Texas to California for a job. It wasn’t going to be a forever move. Just about six months. But too long to leave his son behind this time. So, the whole family was going to take an adventure and make a roadtrip.

Will Higgs, Jere Will Higgs, Lida Cason Higgs

Jere Will had moved before. A number of times. He was born in 1893 in Alma, Crawford County, Arkansas to John William “Will” Higgs and Eliza Johnson “Lida” Cason. From there, his family moved to Van Buren, Arkansas and then to DeQueen, Arkansas. By the time the family was moving to Idabel, McCurtain County, Oklahoma, Jere Will had enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Arkansas. He graduated (I think) in 1914 with a degree in Civil Engineering, one of several engineers that this family produced.

Lt. Jere Will Higgs, 334 Field Artillery, U.S. Army

Jere Will took a job with the Kansas City & Southern Railroad in 1914. This certainly put him on the move. When the Great War broke out and the US became engaged, he enlisted in the Field Artillery and went to France. In 1919, he as discharged and returned home to Idabel, Oklahoma.

In 1926, Jere Will married Grace Clowdis. They had a son, Jere Will Higgs, Jr. (called Jere) in August of 1927. Grace died just days afterward, leaving Jere Will with a baby and a job on the road. His mom, Lida Cason Higgs, and his sister, Mary Higgs, pitched in to help. Lida even moved to Dallas to help take care of her grandson.

I am sure that Jere Will felt fortunate to have a steady job as a professional person during the height of the depression. So, when his job was to take him out west visiting some of his company’s plants and then staying in California for a time, I have no reason to believe that he hesitated. But, what about Jere? Well, what if Grandma came, too? And so she did.

Lida Higgs Travel Journal

On April 12, 1933, Jere Will Higgs, his mother Lida Higgs, his son Jere, and Jere’s dog Bob piled into a car pulling a trailer in Dallas, Texas and headed west. Their destination was Bodie, Mono County, California. That’s the middle of mining country. I think Jere Will worked as an engineer in mining and mineral exploration. His brother Morton certainly did. And his cousin Griff C. Lee was world renown as a petroleum engineer.

I can see Lida opening up her little notebook as they got ready to pull out of the driveway and make her first notes in her diary of the trip. She recorded her observations of the trip as they headed out on the road, where they stopped, what kind of places they stayed. That little notebook came down to my mother from her mother, who got it from Jere Will’s (her brother) wife Florence after he had died.

After a good start, things went south pretty quickly:

Apr 12, 1933

Left Dallas 11 A.M. Blow out in trainer 10 miles west of Ft. Worth.  Jere & I stayed with trailer 2 hrs while Jere Will went to Ft. Worth for tires.Good lunch at Ft. Worth.3 miles E of Strawn, trailer came uncoupled.  A complete wreck. Sold new tires & all for $12.00.
Wrecker carried what was not broken of our effects to a tourist camp in Strawn. Repacked to fullest capacity big good box & shipped it.
With great difficulty put rest of suitcases &c in car.  Had to raise
back seat & filled the back of car & made a bed for Jere & Bob on top.  Jere Will much more philosophical than I would have expected.
He had taken great pride in traveling in an empty car.

How frustrating! Many of their possessions destroyed on the first day on the road. Sounds like The Grapes of Wrath from the outset. And as a family historian, I can only selfishly wonder what was lost when the trailer overturned.

Jere Higgs and his dog, Bob

Lida, for the most part, just kept a record of the progress of their travels – where they stopped, what they spent, what sort of places they stayed. But it wasn’t all ledger-faire. I know I might be reluctant to jump into the car with a young boy and his dog for a long trip like this, but …

This first day out Bob proved himself a good traveler. Took the pillow from Jere Will at every chance, barked when he needed to get out a minute and was just as little trouble as a dog could be, but was lots of company for Jere.

And she talked about the people that they met along the way.

Visited Kiser home.  Very interesting collection of mounted animals, birds, &c collected in their hunts. A very happy couple though she looked not more than 25 and he about 70.

And she talked about the fun that they had along the road.

But such a wonderful day – of mountain scenery, gorges, also vast stretches of desert lands.Great variety of cacti  -wonderful roads – stopped at Coolidge Dam, a marvelous structure

Apr 19
Gila Bend to Los Angeles by San Diego, Long Beach mountains & valleys & snow. Wonderful scenery. First view of ocean at San Diego.  Saw part of U.S. Pacific Fleet.  Earthquake ruins at Long Beach very evident.

April 20
Jere Will wanted to take us on world famous cruise to Catalina Island.    Just had time to catch train to Wilmington where we embarked on the Catalina.  A most wonderful day for him & me. First time on ship – town beautiful & picturesque.  Lunch looking at ocean – seafood. Trip around island to see herd of seals. Never to be forgotten.

To round out day in a wildly extravagant way he could not afford, Jere Will took us to dinner at ______ . Everything suggested fishing occupation.  Nets on wall, little light houses for light fixtures – clam chowder served in shells for bowls. Oars for wall decorations, wonderful service.  Women in evening dress.  Wonderful aquarium display at door. Jere could hardly be persuaded to leave.  His Daddy had explored & explained every inch of vessel open to public. U.S. Navy ship in harbor also many others & a day never to be forgotten by Jere & me.

After ten days on the road, Jere Will, Lida, Jere, and Bob reached their destination: Bodie, California. They had stayed in Strawn, Texas, Pecos, Texas, Demming, New Mexico, Geronimo, Arizona, Gila Bend, Arizona, Los Angeles, California, and ultimately arrived in Bodie.

Route from Dallas, TX to Bodie, CA. 12 Apr 1933 – 22 Apr 1933

For six months, Jere Will worked in Bodie. And in September, they turned around and headed back home. This time, by a more northern route. In her ledger this time, Lida spent more time describing their lodging, whether they had water and a stove for her to prepare meals, how far they traveled, and how much it cost.

This time, their travels took them through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, and finally into Oklahoma to visit a bit on the way home. Lida’s daughter, Bettie, was living in Idabel, Oklahoma with her family

Route home from Bodie, CA to Dallas, TX. 25 Sep 1933 – 11 Oct 1933

It was clearly with a sigh of relief that they pulled into Bettie’s driveway that Monday evening, 2 October 1933.

Reached Idabel about 5:30. Words can hardly tell the luxurious felling of seeing & using again the usual utilities & conveniences of life which we take for granted.

And after visiting for a couple of weeks, Jere Will came back up to Idabel from Dallas, collected his mom and his son (and his dog) and headed for home in Dallas.

A six month adventure had come to an end. And as Lida said, it was “never to be forgotten.”


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.

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!