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?

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Nice – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Nice. Some people are just naturally nice – optimistic, caring, considerate, polite, and full of an inner joy. Others know how to make their way through, doing and saying the right things. But it’s just not the same. I think the key to “nice” is the inner glow and sense of caring that you can feel from a nice person.

Bettie Higgs Finney (b. 24 Nov 1903, Arkansas, d. 2000, Oklahoma) – Be sure to zoom on that cute face.

When you think about your ancestors, “nice” is likely lost a lot sooner than “naughty”. We just don’t spend as much time passing down the stories of the person who, day in and day out, cared about folks in very ordinary ways. But, the naughty ancestor? There are *always* stories about them that come down the years.

Maybe we need to do a better job of telling the stories of the nice people in our families.

One of my nicest ancestors is my great-aunt Bettie. Bettie Higgs was born 24 Nov 1903 in Dequeen, Sevier County, Arkansas. In 1911, her family moved the 50 or so miles to Idabel in the new state of Oklahoma where her father was editor of a newspaper. And there, she stayed.

Bettie married Thomas Dunn Finney on 15 Mar 1924 in Idabel. Uncle Tom was an attorney in Idabel. He served for a time as the assistant Attorney General for state of Oklahoma in the 1930s. And in the 1940s, he served for several years as a state senator in Oklahoma. And then, they came back to Idabel.

Aunt Bettie and Uncle Tom had a single son, Tom Jr., who followed in his father’s footsteps and became an attorney, active on the national stage. They had four grandchildren, three of whom are still living.

Of course, my experience of Aunt Bettie came later in her life. I barely remember Uncle Tom. He died in 1968, while Aunt Bettie lived another 32 years. She died in 2000. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long.

But, Aunt Bettie was always cheerful and nice when I was around her. “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul! And forget not all His benefits” was something I heard her say over and over. That and “Oh, foot” as her multi-purpose punctuation mark saying.

Aunt Bettie lost her father when she was a teenager. Her mother worked as a teacher and things were not very easy for them in those days. Living in southeastern Oklahoma wasn’t easy for anyone, especially not then, and especially not for a widowed mother with five children. But Aunt Bettie, by my experience, always had an inner joy about her that allowed her to persevere.

Bettie Higgs Finney, 1989

Aunt Bettie lost her father when she was a teenager. Her mother worked as a teacher and things were not very easy for them in those days. Living in southeastern Oklahoma wasn’t easy for anyone, especially not then, and especially not for a widowed mother with five children. But Aunt Bettie, by my experience, always had an inner joy about her that allowed her to persevere.

In the 1980s, Bettie had a stroke while visiting her sister, Mary. She worked hard to regain all of her mobility. She would carry her cane around and forget it places since she really didn’t need it.

I remember driving Aunt Bettie from Idabel, Oklahoma down to Plano, Texas to visit my mother. As we crossed over the Red River in to Texas, Aunt Bettie exclaimed, “There’s old Red!” and said that that was what they always said in her family as they got to the river and crossed over. She told me stories along the way of being a young person in that part of the country years ago. Very cool day.

It’s funny, though. When we think about how someone is, and our experience of someone, everybody knows a person in different ways. Last January (I think), I was in New York City and was able to have dinner with Deedie, one of Aunt Bettie’s grandchildren and my second cousin. After dinner, Jenny, Deedie’s spouse of thirty years, met us for dessert. Jenny asked what memories of Aunt Bettie we had in our side of the family that might be different than the experience of their part of the family. I said how she was so nice and positive. Both Jenny and Deedie laughed a bit at that, I guess Aunt Bettie had a bit of fire in her, too. The niceness only would go so far! That’s certainly the case with her younger sister, Mary, my grandmother, too.

Aunt Bettie had a great letter that her grandfather sent her the day she was born, but more about that another day. I think that this is a good place to stop. Part of being nice is not overstaying your welcome! I hope we can all remember to share our stories of Nice ancestors instead of just the naughty ones.

Until next time, Merry Christmas!
–SCott

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Sport

Sport?!  Those who know me know that I have not got a single sport gene in my body.  I tried playing baseball, football, and soccer as a kid.  When it came time for basketball season, I figured out that I could score the games and they wouldn’t make me play on the school team. (It was a very small school.)  So, I was a bit at a loss looking at this topic.

I’ve never really thought a lot about my ancestors and sports.  However, I know that my grandfather, Hudson Wren, was a football letterman at the University of Arkansas in the 1920s.  So, let’s meet him and his career there.

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Some of you may recall meeting Hudson Wren in previous posts (here, and here).  He was born in 1906 in Nevada County, Arkansas.  He attended Prescott High School, where he played football for the Prescott Curly Wolves.

After graduation, Hudson went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to study Agriculture, having been raised on a farm.  He arrived in Fayetteville in 1925 as a freshman and joined the freshman football squad.  The Arkansas Razorback annual tracks his career during his years in Fayetteville.  It sounds like his freshman year was successful, since he earned his number for the varsity squad that year.

After his freshman year, Hudson met a cute young transfer student from Southern Methodist University, Mary Higgs (always called Mary Jim by almost everyone).  She was active in athletics, to a degree, herself.  She participated in the Women’s Athletic Association, both at SMU and at Arkansas.  The W.A.A. promoted intramural sports activities among the women at the university.  A whole host of sports were represented, including women’s football.  I have not been able to find out which sports she played, though.  As you might expect, the 1920s were not a time when women’s sports got the same billing as the men’s teams.

I am not sure why Mary Jim (Nannie) transferred from SMU to Arkansas.  Her mother and she lived in Dallas at the time.  Her mother may have moved with her brother around that time (have to check further) so she was going to move somewhere.  Why Arkansas?  Don’t know.  I had heard that she sat out for a time from SMU after a diving accident, but I could have made that up, too.

In the both the 1927-1928 and 1928-1929 seasons, Hudson lettered in football.  He played tackle, predominantly.  Remember this was in the days when the men played both sides of the ball – offense and defense.  The squad wasn’t that large and the starters, especially on the line, just kept playing.  It was also the days of leather helmets and far less protective gear than we see today.  I remember Papaw saying that often by half-time, he would barely know where he was.

In addition to playing football, Hudson was active as a part of both the Arkansas Booster Club and the Varsity Club, promoting interest in athletics and other student activities.  He was in the Press Club, different fraternities both on and off campus, and lead the Agri Days at the University.

After graduation with degrees in agriculture and home economics respectively, Hudson and Mary married and set out on careers.  They started as teachers in the Portland High School in Portland Arkansas.  Take a look at these previous posts  (here, and here) to see more about Hudson’s career in agriculture.  And visit the site of Wilson, Arkansas, to see more about the town birthed by the farm that he helped lead for many years.

For as long as they lived, Hudson and Mary Jim remained staunch supporters of Arkansas football.  They contributed generously to the program and maintained really good season ticket seats at mid-field in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock (one of two homes of the Razorbacks).

I guess I never heard Papaw let go with a hog call, but something tells me he could get a pretty good” Woooooooo Pig Sooiee!  Razorbacks!” going when he wanted to.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Family Legend

It’s Week 33 and the theme is Family Legend.

Every family has at least one legend, one story that has been passed down without any sort of substantiation.  Folks just take them for granted and accept them as the gospel truth.

For example, nearly every family has three brothers who immigrated to the Colonies together. One went south, one went west, and one stayed along the east coast.  Almost never true.  Nearly every family has an “Indian Princess” in there somewhere (we certainly do, a couple of times).   There’s even less likelihood for there to be even a germ of truth or drop of native blood in that one.

But, here’s one that I actually tried to figure out whether or not it could be true.

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Lida Cason Higgs and Will Higgs – Wedding Photo

Meet Lida Cason Higgs.  This is her wedding photo, taken with her new husband, John William “Will” Higgs.  They were married in 1889 in Arkadelphia, Clark County, Arkansas.

Lida was a strong, strong woman.  But she came from a strong, strong family.  Her parents had gone to Africa as missionaries in 1856.  Her father served as a Chaplain and then a Captain of Infantry in the Civil War.  Her mother kept the family while her husband was away at war and while they moved across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas serving churches and working to evangelize the Native Americans in west and central Texas.

Lida and Will and their children moved to southeast Oklahoma shortly after statehood, where Will worked in the newspaper business.  When he died at a relatively early age, leaving young children at home, Lida picked up and did what she needed to.  She taught school and continued the work at the newspaper.  When her son’s wife died shortly after the birth of her first child, Lida stepped in to help raise that little boy and to travel west with her son as he pursued work.  She just kept on through lots of difficult circumstances.

But what of the legend.  First, you need to know that Lida’s actual given name was Eliza Johnson Cason.  Where in the world did that come from?  No one in the family was named Johnson, much less Eliza.  In fact, this part of the family has had a long tradition of Betties.  Well, in Lida’s father’s Bible, there was a notation that Lida was named for the woman who nursed her father back to health after he lost his arm in the Battle of Bean’s Station in the Civil War.

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

That sounds like it needs a little background.  Lida Cason Higgs’ father was Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason.  J.H. Cason was born in 1832 in Wilson County, Tennessee.  He answered the call to preach when he was just nineteen years old.  He and his wife Bettie Cooper Cason were part of the first supply of missionaries that the Baptist church sent to the Yoruba Country in Africa.

After his return, he served churches in Tennessee and Mississippi.  When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a Chaplain.  After a short time, he resigned and then reenlisted in the Infantry, quickly rising to become Captain of Co. C, 41st Alabama Infantry, a part of Gracie’s Brigade.

In December, 1863, J.H. Cason was indeed a part of the Battle of Bean’s Station in east Tennessee.  And he lost his arm in this battle due to a bullet wound.  His left arm was amputated above the elbow, but he survived and lived another fifty years.  Jere Cason died in 1915 in Royse City, Texas.

So, if the notes in the Bible detailing how and where Jere lost his arm were right, could there be some truth to the idea that Eliza Johnson nursed Jere back to health?  I am not sure how certain we can be, but here’s what I have found.

The Battle of Bean’s Station took place near the town of Bean’s Station in Grainger County, Tennessee on 14 December 1863.   On a hunch, I took a look in the census for that area in 1860, as close as we can get to the date of the battle.

Sure enough, according to the Census, Larkin Johnson lives near the site of the battle and he has an unmarried 26-year-old woman, presumably his daughter, named Eliza, living in his household.  Looking backward, we find the same family in place in 1850 as well.

By looking at the estate records for Grainger County, we find that Larkin died in 1865.  In 1870, we find Eliza, still unmarried living in the household of a William Johnson who is a few years her junior.  The 1860 Census lists a William (presumably a younger brother) in the house then, too.  So it looks like Eliza is living with her younger brother and his family.  Both she and he show up on the Agricultural Schedule of the 1870 census as farm owners, presumably from the (missing) distribution of their father’s property.

In 1880, we again find Eliza, still unmarried, listed as sister-in-law to John G. Brown.  His wife is Elizabeth and there is an Elizabeth Johnson in the family in 1860.

What does all of this tell us?  Well, it can tell us that this family really is a family.  It can tell us that Eliza Johnson really lived, lived adjacent to the battlefield at the right time.  Can it tell us that she served as a battlefield nurse?  No.  Can it tell us that she tended J.H. Cason after he was wounded?  No.  Can it give us circumstantial evidence that this legend could be true?  Absolutely!  The story talks about a person that we likely have found.  And one thing I have found to be true.  When Jeremiah H. Cason wrote something down or said something, it was by-golly the gospel truth.  So, in true Mythbusters style, I would call this family legend proved “Probably True”.

Now, if I can only find those three brothers and where they went….

When Halley Came to DeQueen

I’m on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle and then on to Anchorage for a few days of customer visits.  I got to wondering if I could see the Northern Lights while I am there.  Maybe.  If I get up in the middle of the night and it’s clear, the forecast is good for this week.

That reminded me of the time that Aunt Bettie told me about seeing Halley’s Comet.  Bettie Higgs Finney was born in 1903 in DeQueen, Sevier County, Arkansas.  She was my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren’s, older sister.  Aunt Bettie was one of the most cheerful people I have ever met.  No matter what her circumstance, and they were not always happy times, she would quote from Psalm 103:2.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.  After losing her husband, after losing her son, after having a stroke, still Bless the Lord, O my soul.

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Bettie Higgs Finney, 1989

The picture at the top of this post is Bettie.  I never would have known when I found this picture who it was, if not for the fact that Aunt Bettie told me about having her picture made as a little girl in a pretty new dress, holding it out to the side.

One time, she and we were all at my grandmother’s house in Wilson, Arkansas (the one at on the banner of this blog).  It was in 1986, when Halley’s Comet was passing near the earth. After supper, we were sitting around the table in the dining room, like we always did and the topic of the comet came up. Aunt Bettie told me about the when she saw Halley’s Comet for the first time when it came by in 1910 with her father.

Bettie and Mary, along with their parents Will and Nan Higgs, their sister Lida, and brothers Morton and Jere Will, lived in DeQueen, Arkansas.  Like I said, Bettie was born there, as was Mary.  The other kids were born around Arkansas as their father Will moved from newspaper to newspaper.  He worked at and ran a number of newspapers around Arkansas and then Oklahoma.  More about the newspaper business and the rest of the family another day.

Halley came closest and was most visible in April 1910.  Just a few weeks after standing outside in the starlit night, watching the comet with Bettie, Will took a job with a   newspaper in Idabel, Oklahoma.  He started work there in May 1910 but the rest of the family didn’t move there until September 1913.  During that time, they commuted back and forth the 40 miles between the two to visit.  Either Nannie or Aunt Bettie told me that he felt like Idabel was just a little to rough around the edges for three young girls in 1910, Oklahoma only having become a state a few years previous.

I wonder if Will knew he was about to be separated from his family when he stood out in the night air with Bettie.

Anyway, years later, Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song called When Halley Came to Jackson (you can find it here on YouTube).  Every time I hear that song, it takes me back to the dining room, sitting around the table with Aunt Bettie and Nannie in Wilson that night.  In the song, a father holds his little daughter and watches the comet in 1910.  He makes a wish that night that she will see Halley again.  And “in 1986 that wish came round.” Just like Bettie and Will on that DeQueen night.

I wrote  a letter to MCC to tell her the story of Aunt Bettie.  Only time I’ve ever written to a performer.  And you know what?  I got a really nice, handwritten letter in reply.  A special story about a special lady.