Wordless Wednesday

Wedding Reception – 1962 – Pearl Hudson Wren, Bettie Higgs Finney, Lida Higgs Lee, Julia Woodul Gann, Mildred Wren Whitten, Norvelle Wren, John Gann

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!

A Terrorist in the Family – Or Not

In the Papers – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

I was all set to tell you all about my great-grandfather, John William “Will” Higgs, and his years running a host of newspapers across Arkansas and Oklahoma in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was going to tell you about my theory of how he and his bride might have met, and how I found that idea in the paper.

But, instead, I was taking a new look at my step-dad’s family and was reminded of a story that is way too good not to share. It’s a huge mystery to me, still. So, I’ll just tell you what I know.

Jacob (or Jakob, or maybe Jakub) Reglin was born in about 1848. Maybe he was born in Switzerland. Maybe even around Lugano. Maybe that’s bogus. I think it’s likely to be true. The little bit I have tried to do with Swiss research has only frustrated me in finding access to records online. I’ve not yet written away for the records, but should. Of course, since this is in the part of Switzerland that speaks Italian, I have been advised to write in Italian rather than even English. Luckily, I have a good friend who is fluent.

He came to America about 1867, though we are still trying to decide whether the passenger records we have seen are for him or for someone else. He landed in New York and settled in Newark, New Jersey. On 9 Sep 1872, he married Franciska Siehe, the daughter of Frederick Carl Seihe and Louise Christiane Herboth. Frederick and Louise were both from Prussia and Franciska had been born in Manhattan in 1854. Jacob and Franciska had four children together, though only one, Frederick, born in 1879, lived beyond the age of five.

Apparently, things went well in their marriage. For a while. And then, they didn’t. According to the annual report of the City Attorney, in the “Message of Hon. Joseph E. Haynes, Mayor, together with the Reports of City Officers of the City of Newark, N.J. for the Year 1886”, there was trouble in paradise. In April 1886, Franciska brought suit against Jacob for refusal of support. John McLorinan, Overseer of the Poor, had Jacob arrested on 27 Sep 1886. He plead not-guily and bonded out of jail on May 1.

Report of the City Attorney in Report of City Officers of the City of Newark, NJ, 1886, page 458

On 27 Jun 1886, the case went to trial, with no verdict from the jury. It was tried again on 20 July 1886 and Jacob lost. He was forced to pay $5 per week. He appealed and on 23 Sept 1886, the case was heard by the Quarter Sessions Court with no jury. Jacob was found not-guilty this time. (By the way, there’s no record in the city attorney reports for ten years either side of this of any other actions. But, I expect looking at the court proceedings might show a different story.)

But, whatever had led up to this was apparently still a problem in their relationship.

Meanwhile, half a world away, there was turmoil in England as Irish Republicans were carrying out a campaign of dynamite and other attacks as a part of their quest for Irish Independence. In the midst of this, there were Irish secret societies in America, primarily made up of immigrants to the U.S. from Northern Ireland. Some of the battle played out on this side of the Atlantic.

And there was collusion from across the Atlantic. It seems that there was a group in the Philadelphia area, made up of immigrants, who after receiving U.S. citizenship, made their way back to England to fight for Irish independence. One of their number, maybe known as Joseph Cohen, or maybe Brown, died of disease while in England and the connection to Philadelphia was discovered.

(Note, all of these newspaper articles about the dynamiter are large. Click on the page, then use the link in the lower right corner to view full-size. For the Irish Times and The Standard, the story is in column 3. In the Times of Philadelphia, it is at the top of column 6.)

October 1887 is about a year after Jacob was found not-guily of refusing to support his wife. But, she must have still be angry and their relationship deteriorating on both parts. In the midst of all of the press about the dynamite attacks and the questions about Cohen’s actual identity, we find an article in the New York Evening World on 24 November 1887:

Franciska and her father went to the police and reported that Jacob was the mad bomber! They said that he and Franciska had been married for about twelve years, but in the last two, he had been withholding his pay from his wife (remember her previous charges?) and becoming more and more disagreeable. Finally, she said that he had left the country for Europe in July and she had heard nothing more from him. Hold Everything! Stop the Presses! Get this in the evening edition.

Another local paper, the New York World, must have also reported this, though they took the time to look into it more deeply. On the next day, they reported about further developments:

The New York Tribune sent a reporter over to talk to Jacob’s employer who immediately said that the picture from Scotland Yard was not Jacob. Moreover, they said that they had received a letter from him from Chicago recently. Strange, then, that Franciska, her father, and the local street commissioner for their neighborhood all said the photo was Jacob.

I’ve not found anything more in the newspaper on either side of the Atlantic to clear this up. But, eventually Jacob comes back. By 1900, he is back in Newark, living alone, a few blocks from Franciska. He died in Newark in 1906 and was buried there.

You would think this would be the end of the story. But wait! There’s more! The Evening World said he worked for Darsch & Co. as a mechanic. The Tribune said Dorah & Sons, a shoe manufacturer was his employer and had received a letter from Chicago. Where was Jacob between 1887 and 1900? Chicago? Europe? Newark? Somewhere else?

So, on 5 Nov 1888, there’s an article in the Inter Ocean newspaper of Chicago about a shoemaker named Jacob Reglin, of about the right age, naturalized citizen of the U.S., originally from Switzerland, who apparently had a bad temper. He went into a butcher shop with his dog (who had a big rat in its mouth at the time). The wife of the owner shooed them out. He got mad, so the butcher tossed him out. Jacob came back and shot at the butcher with his pistol and then ran, since this alerted the police. The police gave chase. Jacob shot at one of the officers and hit him in the hand. The officer’s partner shot Jacob in the abdomen. He was taken into custody and then to the hospital.

The article says Jacob is a married man with four children. It also says he “bears a hard reputation in police circles.”

So, is this the same Jacob? I don’t think so. We can find New Jersey Jacob in Newark consistently until his troubles with Franciska. There’s not enough time for him to have gone to Chicago, had a family of four children and create a “hard reputation” in less than a year. And there is a shoemaker Jacob in the 1880 Census and other Chicago records.

But, is there a connection between the two Jacobs? Could they be related? Who knows. That’s one of the mysteries that has vexed us for a long time.

But, between these newspaper stories, we get an idea that there’s a lot more to this story than just some census records, marriage, baptism, and death certificates. The newspapers really pique your curiosity and make you want to find out more about just exactly what sort of people there were in the family.

Twelve – as in 1812

“12” – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

When Amy Johnson Crow gave this week’s hint as “12”, I have to admit I was a bit befuddled. Last week, we did a big family, so 12 kids seemed right out. I pondered and pondered without anything really coming to mind. Sort of frustrating, since I next week was a slam dunk as soon as I saw it.

I was thinking about the folks in my tree that served in the War of 1812, looking to see who all there was and to see if I had collected their pension records. The War of 1812 is one of those forgotten conflicts. It doesn’t occupy the place in our national memory that the Revolutionary War or the Civil War or World War II does, but it was every bit a fight for our young nation’s survival. Hmmm. War of 18-12! There’s my twelve.

When I look in my family, I can identify quite a few Revolutionary War soldiers and supporters. I can find dozens and dozens of who fought in the Civil War. But, so far, only a handful of men who served in the War of 1812.

  • Col. Uriah Allison – Veteran of the War of 1812 and the Creek War. He served in the 8th U.S. Infantry. His sister, Susan M. Allison, was my 4th-great-grandmother.
  • Francis Baker Bailey – Served in Captain Burchett’s company of Virginia Militia. He was my 4th-great-grandfather.
  • Abner Dickson – A Private in Captain Williams’ company of Tennessee Volunteers, serving under General Jackson in the Campaign for Pensacola and New Orleans. More about him later.
  • Aylesbury Shehee – Served in Freeman’s squadron of cavalry in the Georgia Militia. He was another 4th-great-grandfather.

I am pretty sure that there are some others in there that I have not yet researched.

I’ve said before that my Dicksons have always been a mystery to me. Once I finally climbed over the brick wall of John H. Dickson’s parents, things have become easier. I just have not yet had the time to dig into this section as much as I would like. There is a really good, well researched, and well footnoted history of the Descendants of Simon Dickson, compiled by Claire Jean Potter Ferguson Sullivan, Ph.D. It has, so far, reliably pointed me in the way of my Dicksons.

So, twelve. I started poking around, looking again at my 1812 veterans and discovered that Abner was a very interesting story. As far as I can tell, Abner Dickson was born somewhere around 1786-1790 in Duplin County, North Carolina. His parents were Joseph Dickson, Sr. and Jane Moulton. (I wonder if that means we are kin to Sarah Moulton from FoodTV? Kathleen says she thinks she is from the Boston area, so not likely.) His brother, Joseph Dickson, Jr., is my 4th-great-grandfather.

My Relationship to Abner Dickson

Joseph Sr. came to Dickson County, Tennessee shortly after Tennessee statehood (1796). He died in Dickson County in 1803, so he wasn’t there very long. The family’s coming to Dickson county was hardly a coincidence of naming. The county was named for Joseph’s cousin, William Dickson, Jr., who was a good friend of Andrew Jackson. But that’s a story for another day.

When the war with England broke out, volunteers were raised in Tennessee to fight for our new nation. Abner answered the call. It looks like at least five of his brothers also served, including my ancestor, Joseph Jr. I just need to research this more. Abner enlisted as a private in the 1st Reg’t Mounted Gunmen (Dyer’s), Tennessee Volunteers. He served under Captain Williams, in General Coffee’s brigade. They were part of the Campaign for Pensacola.

Ultimately, Abner and his unit ended up with General Andrew Jackson in New Orleans for the famous Battle of New Orleans. New Orleans and southern Louisiana was even swampier then than it is now. Apparently Abner came down with some sort of a spinal infection while in the swamps. He was rendered completely unable to walk and had to be carried back home on a litter. As a consequence, he very quickly was awarded a life pension of $8 per month as an invalid.

Just this week, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, had a post called “Down the legal rabbit holes”, all about private laws. Turns out this was a great and timely post. When I read Abner’s pension file, I discovered that there was actually a private law passed by Congress to increase his pension from $8 to $16 per month. What an awesome coincidence! (By the way, the 12th Congress was during the War of 1812. Just saying….) This act doesn’t have nearly as much genealogical information in the Act itself as some, but the depositions and comments in the pension file supporting it are interesting and helpful.

Abner applied through his Congressman for this bill to be sponsored. It was read in committee, voted on, approved in committee, and passed by Congress. I am still trying to figure out exactly when this happened. The text of the act says 1836, but it appears to have been passed in 1856, retroactive to 1836. The pension account has a note that the increase occurred in 1836 and was paid in full in 1856.

His increased pension didn’t last for long. Abner died 11 Sept 1857 in Franklin County, Alabama. At the end of his life, he was living with his sister-in-law, Hannah, the widow of his brother Hugh. He never had a home of his own and appears to have always lived with family. He never married, being disabled and unable to take care of himself. But, there are a number of deeds and land warrants that he appears to be party to. That’s another area to research.

So, with a mystery topic like “Twelve”, we look at a sort of mysterious and unknown part of our history, the War of 1812. We find the secrets of private laws. And we continue to be amazed at the records that can be found today, 200 years after the fact, that can illuminate the lives of those who have gone before us.