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.
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.
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.
A few words for Wordless Wednesday. I’m going to start posting some pictures on Wordless Wednesday. These are great pictures that stand on their own. I will caption the pictures, but won’t stay anything else about them, at least not in that post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last 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?
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.
So, 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 Bailey. We’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.
Loda 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.
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.