Five Generations of Betties

Namesake – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Seems like just last week that I was talking about old J.H. Cason and here we go again. I keep track of these stories and really do try to keep from repeating, but there are just so many times that the Casons and their kin are just exactly the right people with the best stories.

The Reverend Jeremiah H. Cason could be a tough old bird. My grandmother said that when her grandfather came to visit, the whole house was turned upside down. Everything was his way, with no discussion or dissension. He had gone to Africa as a missionary in the 1850s and to war in the 1860s and had preached his way across the south ever since then and knew how to be tough. Discipline and rules were important to who he was, to his view of the world, and to his faith. But, he also knew how to be tender and clearly had a soft side that came out from time to time.

Interestingly, he was named for his father, Jeremiah Cason, born in 1800. (We visited his grave last week.) And he has generations of men named for him, all called Jere in one form or fashion, some of whom you have already met. But that’s not the namesake I want to tell you about today.

Little Bettie Higgs was born on the 24th of November, 1903 to Lida Cason Higgs and J.W. “Will” Higgs. She was their fourth child and second daughter.

On the day that her grandfather heard of her birth, J.H. Cason, that crusty old guy, sat down and wrote a tender letter to her to welcome her to the world and to the family, to tell her about those who went before her, and to share some wishes for her future. It’s an amazingly touching letter for someone who could be so gruff and crusty.


My dear little darling, I have this morning heard of your safe arrival on Nov 26th, 1903. Upon our National Thanksgiving Day. Your coming among us makes the Thankgiving Day more sacred and fixes it upon the tablet of our hearts and fixes it upon the register of our memories. We are glad to welcome you to a share in our cares and burdens and to a place in our hearts and to the joys of our holy religion.

Then, he goes on to explain to Bettie how important her name is. He tells her about her grandmother

You may be curious to know why the name of Bettie was given to you. Your grand mother Cason was named before her marriage Elizabeth (Bettie) Cooper. The name Elizabeth (Bettie) has long been a family name in the Cooper and Cason families.

Grandpa Cason goes on, then to spend two pages mapping out her parents, grandparents, and ancestors for five or six generations! For the most part, these would have been people that Jere Cason would have known or would have well known about. What a gift! On top of that, since this was a letter to an infant, Bettie’s mother, Lida Cason Higgs, annotated the letter over the years. And she added a touching postscript:

My precious child, God was good to you in giving you these two noble people as grand parents. May you be worthy of them. Mother.

Bettie isn’t a rare or uncommon name. Certainly not in those days. But, it’s interesting that in every generation going back, Bettie Higgs had a grandmother or aunt with whom she shared a name, going back at least 150 years in both directions.

Grandpa Cason finishes his letter encouraging Bettie in her faith. He assures her that, since he is already getting old, that they may not have a chance to know each other well. But they will certainly meet again in heaven if she embraces her faith. He clearly misses and grieves for his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason, who died just two years before. The old preacher makes sure that Bettie knows not only that he loves her, but that Jesus does as well.

No precious darling, if you never see or remember your grand papa you must know that he loves you and has prayed to the Lord for you. It was easy for the Lord to take care of me seventy one years, infancy, childhood, youth, and manhood down to old age. He can take care of you, as easy as he has your grand papa. Only love Him and trust Him and you will meet all the good people where Jesus lives.

What a wonderful was to greet a baby, even though it may be years and years before they grow to appreciate it. J.H. Cason probably greeted all of his grandchildren with a letter. I have seen several and can only assume that he made a point of doing this for all of them.

But, only in this one, did he lay out the history of the infant’s name. You can feel how much he misses his Bettie and how much he hopes and prays for the future for this Bettie. I am sure that she did not disappoint him. She was something special.

It was just like he said it was!

At the Cemetery – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Jeremiah H. Cason is one of my most colorful and interesting ancestors. My great-great-grandfather was a missionary to Africa in 1856, a Chaplain and Captain in the Confederacy who lost an arm, and a Baptist preacher for over 60 years. Last year, I talked about his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason and at some point, I will tell more of J.H. Cason’s story. But this week, our theme is “At the Cemetery”.

I started in genealogy in the late 1980s. I remember my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, showing me the Bibles she had that belonged to her grandparents, Jere and Bettie Cason. She also had the Bible that belonged to her mother Lida Cason Higgs. When my grandmother died, all these Bibles passed to me.

In the front of her own Bible, Lida Higgs Cason added dictation of what her father was saying as he slipped from life to death. His health had declined for the better part of a year. In his last month or so, his mind had also slipped away. Lida wrote to her friend Ida that by the time she (Lida) was able to reach her father’s side, he was no longer able to recognize her. But he spoke of his childhood and Lida captured it in her Bible:

Jere talks about his family, how his ancestors had come to Middle Tennessee years before. He talked about the family farm and the family graveyard at the foot of the hill. He said:

Thomas settled the McGrady farm on Fall Creek, where the Nashville & Cainesville public road cross the creek. The old Cason grave yard is on that farm. The crossing is one mile below the old Smith Mill. … Jere Cason married Elizabeth Favor, Limestone Co, Ala, & bought the old McGrady farm. He lived & died on it & was buried there. At the foot of the hill, where he is buried, you can see the creek for a mile.

Here the years slipped away from my father. He forgot he was dictating to me and wandered again over the old place, telling me of many of its nooks & corners, his favorite places as a boy and young man, where he first took my sweet mother, to proudly show his father & mother his choice.

A few years afterward, early in my genealogical career, I was pleased to meet J. Merritt Graves, a cousin and Cason researcher who knew Wilson County well. Merritt took me to see the old Cason cemetery. It was past the end of a gravel road. Once the road gave out, you had to walk through the woods, down an old path and fence row that appears to have been a road, for about a quarter mile.

When we got to the cemetery, it was just as Jere Cason had described on his deathbed. It was tucked at the bottom of a hill, and from there, you could look back up the valley of Fall Creek for a long way. The old cemetery was surrounded by a stacked stone wall, about three feet high, with a long-rusted gate at its opening.

Most of the cemetery was grown over, but the stone stood proudly upright, like the people that they remembered. There were stones for Jere and Bettie Cason, several of their children and many members of the children’s families.

I think it’s fascinating that Bettie Faver Cason’s stone lists her name as Elizabeth Faver, wife of Jeremiah Cason. It seems like there was a lot of pride in being a Faver.

Ultimately, even though he talked about his old home place and the cemetery there, when he died in June 1915, Jeremiah H. Cason was not buried in Wilson County, Tennessee. Instead, he was buried in Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas, alongside his wife, Bettie Cooper Cason. Bettie had preceded him in death in 1901. She has a large, impressive marker in the small-ish cemetery of ordinary markers.

Lida wrote to her best friend, Ida, shortly after her father’s death. In this letter (which I suggest you read in full), she talked about how Jeremiah had already selected his monument and was prepared to cross over to the life he was certain of after his death:

Soon after Mamma’s death, Papa had his monument made just like hers. He had all the inscriptions put on it but the date of his death. It was a source of great satisfaction to him the rest of his life – that it was prepared just as he wanted it done. He had no fear of death but enjoyed life. He had many times given us minute directions about the way he was to [be] laid to rest. He had an agreement of years standing with a preacher friend, a lifelong friend, that whichever one survived the other, the other should conduct the funeral service. That also was carried out.

Graves of Jeremiah H. Cason and Bettie Cooper Cason, Royce City, Rockwall County, Texas

With a start like this to my genealogical career, with ancestors who left Bibles and letters and amazing stories, how could I not be hooked? From that time on, I was stuck on genealogy like the ticks I found on my socks in the cemetery.

Since then, there have been many trips to many cemeteries. At each one, I try to imagine what kind of people these ancestors would have been. How they would have treated the people around them. What their life was like. What the place they lived was like when they were there. Many people think of the cemetery as a place only for the dead and for the grieving. True that grieving is certainly a part of many people’s cemetery experience. But, for me, it’s a place where I try to understand the lives of those who have gone before me.

California or Bust!

Road Trip! – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

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

Will Higgs, Jere Will Higgs, Lida Cason Higgs

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

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

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

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

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

Lida Higgs Travel Journal

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

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

After a good start, things went south pretty quickly:

Apr 12, 1933

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

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

Jere Higgs and his dog, Bob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 .

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!

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.