Family Photo – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

More than I had ever wished for

I try to post an interesting family photo each Wednesday for #WordlessWednesday, but these new ones require a few words.

I was recently talking to my cousin, Bob Lee, asking him whether his father had any old family pictures. His dad was Griff Calicutt Lee, Jr, a very well-regarded engineer and a generally good guy. I only met him a couple of times, at my grandparents’ funerals, but was always impressed by him. He recently died, himself, leaving behind his wife Eugenia.

Years ago, when I was first starting in my genealogy, I would correspond with Griff, but never got a chance to visit at his home in New Orleans. It was just too far and out of my budget. But, it always seemed like he had access to a lot of old family papers. His mother was the eldest daughter and the sort of person who had a particular interest and pride in “her people”. So, I always suspected that he might have things I had not seen.

Well, Bob told me he was going to visit his mom and would take a look at what his dad had left behind. When I started getting a stream of pictures on Facebook Messenger the other evening, I was surprised beyond words! A number of the pictures that Bob sent me were things I either have copies of or have seen. But, there were these three.

First, there is a picture of the Will Higgs family. Lida Cason Higgs is seated with four of her five children. This was taken in 1904 before her 5th child, my grandmother was born. The children are (clockwise starting with Lida) Morton Thomas Higgs, Jere Will Higgs, Lida Higgs, and Bettie Higgs. I had never seen a baby picture of Bettie before, or a young picture of Lida, or a young picture of Morton & Jere. What an amazing family group! I wonder why Will isn’t in the picture. Maybe he was working out of town for an extended period. As a newspaper editor, he sometimes did that.

Second, there is a picture of the Reverend Jeremiah H. Cason as younger man. The only other photos I have of him are much older. I can’t tell whether this would be before the Civil War, before he lost his left arm. The left arm in the photo looks like it’s full, but it’s hard to tell. J.H. Cason was Lida’s father. He was a Baptist preacher for over 50 years, a missionary to Africa in the 1850s, and a Captain in the 41st Alabama Infantry.

Lastly, there is a picture I had never even hoped to imagine. Thomas Morton Higgs and Mary Sartain Higgs. Thomas and Mary are Will Higgs parents. Will Higgs is Lida’s husband. Thomas and Mary are probably my longest standing brick wall. I never expected that I would find a picture of them! I can’t even find them in a census; how could I ever find a picture!

I started trying to learn about my family thirty years ago. I was lucky enough to get copies of notes that Lida Higgs (the young Lida, not the mother Lida) had written about her family. She noted that Thomas and Mary married in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama on Christmas Day 1857. True enough. Limestone has a really nice archives and I’ve visited it several times. I’ve gone through every old volume they have, along with every other record of surrounding counties that I can find. The original marriage record for Thomas and Mary is easy to find. But, I can find no other mention of them. Nor can I find any Higgs or Sartain families anywhere around! So, they have always been my mystery. Maybe I can find more hints in Griff’s records.

This is why family photos are so exciting. They are a way we can connect not only to our ancestors, but to each other as we share what we have and what we know. I am so excited about this that now I want to go visit Eugenia and I want to go spend more time with my cousins. Time to get the calendar out and make it happen!

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Love – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

A Different Kind of Love

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air and on the minds of people around the world. I could tell you about love by talking about my wonderful wife, Kathleen, with whom I’ve just celebrated our twenty-second anniversary. Or I could tell you about the sweet, steadfast love that you could find in my grandparents, Robert H. Dickson Jr. and Susan Louise Bailey Dickson.

Instead, I want to tell you about the kind of love that both literally and figuratively gives of yourself, giving life and hope to people in hopeless situations.

Ralph & Bob Dickson

Let me tell you about my uncle Ralph. Daryl Ralph Dickson was born 9 Feb 1944 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the second son of Robert and Susan Dickson. My dad, Bob, was his older brother by three years. Ralph and Bob grew up in a house full of love. Like all brothers, they had their moments and squabbles, but as different as they were, it was always apparent that they loved each other dearly. Even as they drove each other crazy, sometimes.


Bob, Ralph, Scott, & Robert Dickson

Bob married and became a father. Ralph was single for most of his life, marrying only later, in his forties. But, Ralph was a fun uncle. I remember riding around with him in rural northeast Arkansas in his big station wagon. He had a fancy air horn in it. We would cruise around quiet neighborhoods looking for people and cats by the side of the road. He would let the air horns go and watch to see how high the cat would jump. He would never hurt any animals, but he like to surprise them! We would ride for burgers at the “Ptomaine Castle.” He loved to tell stories about things that happened to him, though you were never completely sure of the veracity of all of the details.

Ralph went to the University of Arkansas, got two degrees in English, and became a high school teacher, following in his mother’s footsteps. He actually taught in the same school where his mother began her career in Lavacca, Arkansas. He moved to Osceola, Arkansas and to Houston, Texas, and finally back to Fort Smith, Arkansas as a teacher. In each school where he taught, Ralph gave his all to his students. He was class sponsor, or led the student newspaper, or engaged with the students beyond the classroom in so many other ways. As a result, he was as loved by his students as he loved them. I think that, like his mother, he had high expectations of his students, but helped them meet those expectations.

Like his parents, Ralph was a helper. He was always pitching in to help people who needed something – a ride, a hand moving something, help building something or repairing something, whatever was needed. He was active in his church, singing in the choir and playing the handbells.

But, Ralph always had some health issues. Kidney problems ran in his family. His grandmother only ever had one that worked and eventually his were giving out. As his illness was progressing, Bob one time told him that if he ever needed a new kidney, Bob knew where he could find one. Eventually things came to that and Ralph needed a new kidney.

After going through all of the preliminary examinations and testing, Bob was found to be a good match and offered to give Ralph one of his kidneys as a transplant. The kidney problems that Ralph and Grandmother Bailey had did not carry into Bob. The love of brothers one again was coming through.

Bob Dickson in the hospital to donate a kidney to his brother

Ralph came to Pittsburgh, where Bob lived and where there were world famous transplant centers and they prepared for the surgery. Ralph and Bob shared a room before and after the surgery. I have heard that even though they were sometimes driving each other crazy (depending on who told it, the blame might have been more on one side or the other!), there was never any doubt that the room was filled with love and commitment to each other. And with that, Bob became a living organ donor to his brother, Ralph.

I wish I could say that Ralph lived for years and years after that, and that his young marriage became a long one. But ultimately, even though the kidney transplant was successful, Ralph’s other heath issues were too much and he died 6 Feb 1992, just a few days shy of his 48th birthday and only having been married for a year and a half. He was buried back in Arkansas, in the Vinita Cemetery in Hackett, Sebastian County, along with generations of his ancestors. His students turned out for the funeral. He was the much beloved class sponsor and the love was very much mutual.

Let me tell you how the love continued. Scott Lang was Bob’s stepson. He and Scott’s mother, Mary Ellen, had married in 1989. Scott was basketball coach at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh, PA. LaRoche is a small Division III school and even though Scott had had offers to move into Division II and Divison I schools, he cherished the atmosphere of the small school. At LaRoche, he could, as he put it, coach his players to not just be basketball players, but could coach them to become genuinely good men. That’s another kind of special love.

Half-way through a fairy-tale season, one where Scott’s team was clearly a special group and was on its way toward great things, tragedy struck. One Friday evening during practice, Scott had a heart attack and died on the basketball court, surrounded by his players. It was a huge shock to the team, the school, and certainly his family. He was only 41 years old.

The outpouring of love for him was overwhelming. The school had tributes for him and his death was covered on local TV and newspapers. His storybook team went on to win the conference championship for the first time and then to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history. They said they were “Winning for Coach”. His story was featured in Guideposts Magazine. (You really ought to read it.) The team’s story was the subject of a tribute aired on ESPN during the Division I championship that year. There was no doubt about the love Scott had for his players and his school.

Scott Lang Tribute from ESPN

Upon Scott’s death, Bob and Mary Ellen knew that Scott wanted to continue to share of himself, something that they were already familiar with. Scott had long been signed up as an organ donor himself and his parents made sure that this was known at the hospital. Scott’s tissues – all sorts of things from skin to tendons and ligaments to corneas – were used for transplants to a number of other people. So, his love continued to other people that he never even knew.

Center for Organ Recovery & Education billboard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bob Dickson is in the center.

And that love that gives of oneself – both figuratively and literally – continues. Bob and Mary Ellen are active in recruiting and promoting organ donation with CORE, the Center for Organ Recover and Education. They help to answer peoples’ questions and calm any sorts of fears and qualms about organ donation. (Hint: It’s not like what you might have seen in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life!)

Love. That’s our topic. And you see that it comes in lots of flavors -from the love of brothers to the love of a marriage in one’s middle years to the love of helping young men grow and mature to the love of brothers and parents to give, literally, a part of themselves to save the life of another.

Let’s celebrate that love and look for ways that we can take it forward in our own lives.

Consider becoming an organ donor yourself.

Stay blessed!
–SCott

Surprise – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Hey Mom! Guess Where I’m Going?

There’s lots of kinds of surprise that we find in our families. Sometimes, we find a surprise ancestor as we are looking for someone else. Sometimes, in these days of DNA, we find “surprises” of a completely different sort. What was that song? “Your daddy’s not your daddy, but your daddy doesn’t know”? Luckily, I’ve not any any NPEs (non-paternity events) in my research.

Bettie Cooper Cason

Sometimes, our ancestors do surprising things. We can document some of these, but others are stories of legend. I’ve got one of each of those this week. Elizabeth Cooper, “Bettie”, was born 10 Sept 1834 in Bedford County, Tennessee to Micajah Thomas Cooper and his wife Sarah “Sally” Vincent. The family lived near Bell Buckle, Tennessee, which is a very cute little town today with a couple of nice shops and restaurants, and Wartrace, Tennessee. This is the heart of the Tennessee horse country. The Coopers were fairly well to do, not wealthy, but certainly comfortable and above average for their area. So, Bettie grew up in a safe and comfortable world.

Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason, Baptist missionary and preacher, Captain, 41st Alabama Infantry, CSA

In 1855, she met a young preacher, a student at the local college (Union University), Jeremiah H. Cason. Everyone called him Jere (pronounced Jerry). He must have been a convincing and dashing person in person. I have a number of the letters that he wrote to her while they were courting and they were more like sermons than love letters. My wife said that had I courted her with that sort of letter, we would not have just had our 22nd anniversary! But, in person, I am sure he was something special because in June 1856, they were married.

(You’ve met Bettie and Jere before here and here.)

I guess that’s surprise number one – this daughter of a comfortable family marries a preacher, guaranteeing a life of moving from town to town and of certainly a lower standard of living than the one she grew up with. But, it was a role that must have filled her soul. From her letters, she seemed as in tune with his call as he was.

The big surprise for the family was that not only was Jere a preacher, but he was planning to go to the foreign mission field. And he was planning to take Bettie with him! At the outset, there wasn’t a certainty of where they would go. The Baptist Foreign Missions Board would choose where they needed them the most. So, Bettie, from a little town in Middle Tennessee was going to pick up stakes and go somewhere exotic with this young preacher. Maybe China. Maybe Africa. Maybe somewhere else.

The call came shortly after their wedding for them to go to Africa, to the Yoruba Country, in what is today Nigeria. This prospect was both a surprise and a fear for their parents. I wrote in an early blog about a letter I have from Micajah Cooper to Jere and Bettie as they were on their way that talks about how scary this whole prospect was for both of her parents. You can see the letter and read a transcript here.

Yoruba Country of Africa

In August 1856, the boarded a train for New York and in early September, a ship bound for Africa. They landed in Lagos, in Yoruba, in early January 1857 after working their way up the coast of Africa trading in various ports. I am sure that every single day was filled with a million surprises. The places that they served, the four cities of Lagos, Abeokuta, Ijaye, and Ogbomosho, were all large cities, larger than any others in the South. Some of these had over 100,000 people!

Baptist Missions in Yoruba, 1850s

The next surprise was a baby girl, born on the first of May, 1857. Tragically, the next surprise was her death on 12 May 1857. They called her Sally Vincent Cason. And the next surprise was likewise difficult. After the birth and death of Sally, Bettie’s health failed resulting in an abrupt and surprising return to America after just a year in Africa.

Do you see what she’s doing?

After their return to America, Bettie and Jere settled in, serving churches in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. With the Civil War, Jere went off to serve first as a Chaplain and then as a soldier, losing his arm in East Tennessee. After the war, they moved west, serving churches in Arkansas and then across Texas. You can see a map of some of the churches that they served.

Churches served by Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason

Some of these surprising stories are hard to verify. The things we’ve talked about before all have documents to back them up. We have lots of letters and census and official records to show where the family was and when. We have published accounts of their ministry. But the best stories come down in the family.

Both my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, and her sister, Bettie Higgs Finney, told me a story of their grandmother, Bettie Cooper Cason. Neither of them actually knew Bettie. But they both knew Jere. So, the story must have come from him or from their mother, Lida Cason Higgs.

Apparently late in the 1800s, while Jere and Bettie were serving a church in west Texas, the circus came to town. Along with the circus came the side show. And this side show had a group of “Savages from Darkest Africa” that the local townsfolk could go an gawk at.

Well, apparently Bettie caused a tremendous stir in that little west Texas town, in the days of segregation, Jim Crow, a very active Klan, and all sorts of discrimination. She went over to the Savages from Darkest Africa and talked to them! Not only did she talk to them, but she talked to them in THEIR OWN LANGUAGE! I am sure that a lot of the old biddies in the town were wagging their tongues for weeks after that. I mean, the scandal of it all. And how in the world did she know the language of the savages, anyway?

But all those years earlier, her surprise marriage led her to a surprise call on her life that led her to a surprise encounter with people from a place in a her past and a chance to not only surprise, but SHOCK her neighbors.

I think I would have liked to know Bettie and Jere. They must have been powerful characters.

Until next time,
–SCott

At the Library – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

It’s already Saturday and I still haven’t shared a story about “At the Library” for this week. I’ll make the excuse that I was traveling again, but that doesn’t go very far.

Actually, I have had a hard time figuring out what to write about.

So, I think I am going to recap a story I have told before and then point to “the rest of the story.”

Long ago, about 30 years ago, I got started in this game we call genealogy. I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas visiting my grandparents and went to the library there to do my very first day of genealogical research. I was so excited! I found my grandfather’s grandfather in the census. Granddad had not known his name, so he was happy, too.

Then, for about the next 27 years, through many many many trips to the library, and many libraries at that, I found no more solid documentary evidence about my Dickson family. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. I had a couple of theories and some circumstantial evidence about a family I thought was a likely connection, but nothing hard.

Finally, then, I was going back through some old photos and found the connection I was looking for. And that has sent me back to the library for more real data on the Dicksons.

Rather than detail the whole story, take a look at my previous posts where I break down this brick wall in detail;

Next week is back on the road, so another convenient excuse. But I’ll try to do better.

I’d Like to Meet – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Sometimes, I have to think for a while until I get a good idea for this 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog – which ancestor I would like to talk about for the theme of the week. Sometimes, as soon as I see the topic, I just know who I will write about. (You see, I am trying not to reuse the same set of ancestors that I already know about. I want to find out more about others each week.)

And then, there are times when, regardless of what you had planned on writing, someone else forces their way to the front of the line and demands to be written about. This week is that week.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. It’s a day off work for many, but since I have early morning meetings in Washington, DC, I had to travel. I was looking over my Facebook feed on the plane and saw that a cousin had posted a quote by MLK. Since his father was very active politically in the 1960s, I asked whether or not he had ever met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then it struck me that I needed to write about him this week as the ancestor I would like to meet.

Thomas Dunn Finney, Jr. was born 20 Jun 1925 in Idabel, McCurtain County, Oklahoma to Thomas Dunn Finney and Bettie Higgs Finney. Bettie’s family had come to Idabel in 1911. I am not sure when Tom, Sr.’s family first arrived in the area. It must have been after Aunt Bettie’s family, since his WWI draft card was filed while he still lived in Tennessee in1918.

Tom Jr. was Tom Sr. and Bettie’s only child. In fact, among Bettie’s siblings, there were not a lot of children. Her sister, Lida, had a single son in 1926. Her brother, Jere Will, had just one son in 1927. And her sister Mary had just two daughters, considerably later than the three boys. I have a number of pictures of the boys together as little guys, playing around their grandmother’s home in Idabel.

Tom Finney, Sr. was a prominent trial attorney in Oklahoma. He served for a period in the state legislature, as well. Tom Finney, Jr. served as an officer in the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II. After that, he attended the University of Oklahoma and went to work as an attorney in his father’s firm.

From 1952 to 1955, Tom served with the Central Intelligence Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1957, he moved to Washington, DC as the administrative assistant to Senator A.S. Mike Monroney (D. Oklahoma). In 1963, he joined the law firm of Clifford, Glass, McIlwain, & Finney in Washington. He practiced law as a partner there until near his death in 1978.

During his time in Washington, Tom was both a witness to and an influencer of history. He was a person that many household names of American politics went to for counsel and advice – Presidents John F. Kennedy & Lyndon B. Johnson, Senators Adalai Stevenson, Edmund Muskie, Eugene McCarthy are only a few. He counted among his circle of contacts people like Walter Mondale (future Vice President), his law partner Clark Clifford (Secretary of Defense), and Eleanor Roosevelt.

(I was going to put an image here, but it’s a stock image from ShutterStock. So, if you want to see a picture of Tom Finney, Jr and Curtis Gans working on Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign, click here. Tom’s son also has a really nice photo of Tom with President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson.)

Tom was very involved in a number of presidential campaigns, serving in different capacities. If you search for him at the JFK Library, you will find many of the big names of the day talking about how he was very influential behind the scenes. You’ll even find some sort of dirty tricks that Walter Mondale played on him to defeat his candidate in one Democratic convention.

Tom Finney was an advisor to President Kennedy for the Trade Expansion Act, for Foreign Policy and Foreign Trade Policy. In 1964, President Johnson asked Tom to go to Mississippi to investigate the murders of the civil Rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney and to monitor the registration of black voters. He was one of the key people to work out the agreement that seated the Mississippi delegation to the 1964 Democratic Convention.

This is all a pretty amazing resume for someone that you have probably never heard of! When he died in February 1978, Senator Edmund Muskie provided a wonderful tribute to Tom Finney for the Congressional Record. It included tributes from Senator Adali E. Stevenson, Clark Clifford, and W. Devier Pierson. This is preserved as a part of Senator Muskie’s papers at Bates College. Obituaries for Tom appeared in both the New York Times and the Washington Post that recounted his career.

And just to prove that Tom made it to the big leagues, I even found him mentioned on some sites discussing conspiracy theories on the assassination of John F. Kennedy! (I’m not linking to them so as not to encourage that kind of thing!)

Tom Finney, Jr. married Sally Van Horn and raised a family. I knew Tom’s parents. Well, I knew his mom, my Aunt Bettie whom you met in previous posts. Uncle Tom Finney, Sr. died when I was not quite five years old, so my memory of him is pretty dim. I know Tom and Sally’s children, his two living daughters and his son. I get the impression that they carry on his deep concern about people and their interest in politics as a way to help people and help our common situation.

But, I never met Tom Finney. I would love to hear what he would have to say about how our nation has progressed since the 1970s. I would love to hear what he thinks about the current state of deadlock in our nation and around the world. I would love to talk to him his work for civil rights and about the changes in attitude from those his grandfather expressed in his newspaper, or those of his great-grandfather who owned slaves.

And I wonder if his reputation of being a person who could find a way for people who were not only at odds, but at each others’ throats, to find a way to move forward. I wonder if we would be in the same place now that we find, ourselves if death had not claimed him far too soon.

So, Susie, Deedie, and Todd, that’s why your dad is the ancestor I would like to meet and get to know.

Unusual Name – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

In these days where so many people have made-up names, I wonder what really constitutes an unusual name anymore. We live in a really ethnically mixed world and deal with folks with names that don’t necessarily roll off our tongues. I know, growing up in Tennessee, I never expected to meet the Polish and Slavic names I found when we moved to Pittsburgh. Now, I work with people from around the world and encounter lots of “unusual” names.

I talked before about one of the more unusual names in my line – Otway Lycipious Bailey and Zenas Ignatious Tennison. Never have quite figured out where those came from.

In my family, you can find all of those good Old Testament and New Testament names. Along with Aaron, Abel, and Abraham, you find Ebenezer, Eunice, Hephzibah, Vashti, and Micajah. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the parents actually read the Scripture, or whether they just figured it was a good Bible name.

There are several folks with Puritan-style virtue names – Charity, Experience, Patience, Constant, Honore, Hope, and Mercy for some. These seem to have gotten a start in the Great Migration, but they carry on for generations.

There are folks named after famous people – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even Marcus D. Lafayette.(Marquis de Lafayette – for real! And they have no name to go with the D. and they were called Marcus!) There’s a Fernando Cortes (in Arkansas) and a Christopher Columbus (called Lum).

I have a number of folks named after places – Tennessee, Texanna, Virginia, Carolina (and even Virginia Carolina!). There’s an Augustine Florida and an Augusta Carolina, a Georgia Augusta, and a Savannah Georgia. Seems like the women are more frequently named after places than the men in my family.

One man in my family had not so much an unusual name as an unusual coincidence of names. Benjamin Franklin Pierce Hudson was born 22 Dec 1854 in Fulton County, Georgia to Wesley Hudson and Elizabeth Landers. He was the 10th of their 13 children. I’ve spent years working on trying to find the families of Wesley and Betsy with no real luck. And among their children, I’ve really spent most of my time on their son John Wesley Hudson, my great-great-grandfather, who moved from Georgia to Arkansas after the Civil War.

I thought that maybe there was another Benjamin Franklin Pierce for whom Dock Hudson was named. I suspect that if there were, he was a family friend. He had brother named Silas Norton Hudson, named I suppose for the neighbor and associate Silas Norton who lived nearby. But, I’ve not found one yet. I guess I might look a little harder. Maybe he was named for President Franklin Pierce, who became president in 1853, just a year before B.F.P. Hudson was born.

Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce

Benjamin Franklin Pierce Hudson often went by the nickname “Dock”. That’s pretty coincidental, since his namesake, years later, was a famous doctor of sorts. Do you remember watching M.A.S.H. during the 1970’s? What was Hawkeye’s real name? Dr. Benjamin Franklin Pierce! I thought this was a funny coincidence as I was reviewing my family groups.

Dock Hudson, like I said, was born in 1854 in what would now be called Midtown Atlanta. Wesley and Betsy owned over 350 acres there before the Civil War. When the war broke out, they moved west to Dallas in Paulding County and lived along Pumpkinvine Creek. If they were trying to escape the war, they didn’t do very well. Pumpkinvine Creek was the scene of some major fighting during the battle for Atlanta in 1864.

Dock married Salina Laura Adair on 11 Dec 1873 in Paulding County, Georgia. She was the daughter of William Levi Adair and Adaline Gann. For any of my Arkansas Hudson family, you will recognize the Gann name. The Hudsons and the Ganns were thick even back in Georgia. John Wesley Hudson and John William Gann were best of friends in Georgia and in Arkansas. The two families have cemeteries less than a quarter mile from each other, on Gann Cemetery Rd and Lane Cemetery Rd, near the Pumpkinvine Baptist Church outside Dallas, Georgia.

Dock was a prominent businessman in Dallas. He as elected to the Ordinary Court in 1896. The 1910 Census shows him as bookkeeper for the court. He died in 1925 and Laura died in 1939. Both of them are buried, along with several of their children, in the Dallas City Cemetery, right on the main avenue as you pull into the cemetery. A place of prominence.

Laura and Dock Hudson, Dallas City Cemetery, Dallas, Paulding County, Georgia

He and Laura had seven children, six of whom lived to adulthood. The last of his children died in 1994. I wonder if Ethel Hudson saw the coincidence that the main character in one of the most popular television shows of the 1970s shared a name with her father, “Doc” Benjamin Franklin Pierce Hudson.

Challenge – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

It’s sort of ironic that the theme for this week is Challenge. My biggest challenge lately is finding time to sit down and think about this blog. I spent this week in Toronto. I have not been home for a whole week since Thanksgiving and won’t be home for more than a weekend at least until mid-February. I guess for all of us, time is always the biggest challenge.

Genealogically speaking, however, here’s one of my current challenges. I hope one of you can offer some ideas as to how I can break through this one.

Thomas Morton Higgs was born 11 Jul 1837 in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama, at least according to his granddaughter. On Christmas Day 1857, he married Mary J. Sartain in Athens. She was supposedly from Decatur, Morgan County, Alabama, born 27 Jun 1834.

I have been to the county Archives in both Limestone and Morgan counties and scoured all of their original records. I copied the marriage record straight from the book where it’s recorded. But that’s the first record I can find of either of them.

Now, normally, to find their families, I would think that the 1850 U.S. Census would be a good place to start. I cannot find any Higgs anywhere around, except for the well-documented family of a Charles Higgs, the local sheriff in Limestone County. Likewise, Sartains / Sartins / Certains / etc. are non-existent in northern Alabama. I do found one family that is a potential one for Mary – Alfred Sartain in Tuscaloosa. But, I cannot find any indication that they came north at all.

I’ve searched tax records, land records, estray records, court records, census records – everything that I could find in northern Alabama and the southern counties of Tennessee.

The marriage record says that they were married in the home of William H. Oglesby. Well, I can find him in Athens. Both he and his son, Fountain, are wagon makers. In 1850, William is 43 years old and Fountain is 19. Both are wagon makers. Now, Thomas ends up as a shoe and boot maker, so I don’t know that there is a connection there. I have not found any connection between the Oglesbys and either Higgs or Sartain.

By 1860, Mary and Thomas have moved to Iuka, Tishomingo County, Mississippi where they are found in the home of John Waldrup. Waldrup is also a shoe maker. My hypothesis is that they were in business together, either as partners or one as an apprentice to the other (Thomas to John since John appears the more established one.) But again, I can find no other sort of connection between the Waldrup family and either the Sartain or Higgs families. It seems like it’s just business.

When the Civil War broke out, like so many in the South, Thomas enlisted. He joined Co. E of the 17th Mississippi Infantry. He mustered in on 27 May 1861 at Corinth, Mississippi and signed on for a period of twelve months. He rose to the rank of 4th Sergeant before being discharged on 10 Jan 1862 due to his health. His early discharge was due to “general disability due to pneumonia and erysipelas”, though other records record “pneumonia, rheumatism, etc.”

My grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, and her sister Lida Higgs Lee, both said that their grandfather had lost his sight during the war, but I have never found any record that would indicate this.

Thomas and Mary’s first child, John William “Will” Higgs, was born 7 April 1859 in Magnolia, Columbia County, Arkansas. How did that happen? Seems like perhaps they had moved to Arkansas and then came back to Mississippi when Thomas decided to enlist. If that were the case, then I would expect to find some sort of family connection in the area for Mary. But, I don’t. On the 1860, William, age 1, is clearly listed as born in Arkansas, as well as in all future records.

By the 1870 census, Thomas and Mary and their two sons (Will and Ira Thomas Higgs) were now in Hempstead County, Arkansas. They were living in the home of a physician, M.C. Boyce, and his wife Nancy. Dr. and Mrs. Boyce and four of their children were all from Alabama, but I’ve not found a connection there. It would appear that they were in Arkansas by 1857. In the home, there appear to be a number of children, as well as perhaps a previously married daughter and her children. The oldest child born in Arkansas was M.R, aged 13. All before that were from Alabama.

The family Bible records that Thomas died on 4 Feb 1875 in Hempstead County, Arkansas at the age of 37. Mary stayed in Hempstead County for a while, but eventually moved to Texarkana, Miller County, Arkansas, where she died 29 Oct 1887. According to my grandmother and my aunt, they were buried in the old cemetery in Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas. They both remembered visiting the graves many years ago. When we tried to find them again, we found that the highway had been moved. They thought that the road perhaps had been relocated through the old section of the cemetery, where the stones may have been just stones. So the graves are also lost.

In the end the challenge is this: how can I find anything to connect Thomas and Mary to their families? I think that the Higgs folks probably came to northern Alabama from east Tennessee, above Knoxville. But, how would I connect Thomas as a child to one family or another. Likewise for Mary. I find a candidate family in the 1850 census, but I haven’t been able to find any connection between any of the people in that family and any Higgs folks.

There you have it. Is anyone up to this challenge and can help me find these mystery ancestors?