Family Reunion Time

Reunion – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Wren Reunion, 1969

Summertime seems to be the time for family reunions. For every family that has a reunion, there’s a different look and a different set of traditions. Some are gatherings of a group of siblings and their families for a cookout or a vacation. Others are grand productions of many generations that have been going on for many, many years.

I usually attend a reunion of the Almand family each September. It’s held in Conyers, Georgia and represents the descendants of Thomas and Nancy David Almand. I’m already seven generations separated from them, but it’s a good time. However, over the twenty years I have been attending, so many of the elders have passed on, many of the younger generations have moved or haven’t stuck around, and there’s not as much to keep things going. We’ve dwindled from well over a hundred folks being there and a day-long affair to around thirty and a nice lunch, home before supper.

Likewise for a Hollis reunion I used to attend. I’m even more distant from that line and it was dwindling when I started.

When reunions fade, it makes me sad. Sad that there’s no one to pick things up and keep it going. Sad that those who used to do it either are no longer able or are no longer around.

But there are still lots of reunions that are going strong or are trying to get off the ground.

My Wren family (my mother’s family) first started its reunion in 1949. The descendants of Dr. Alonzo D. Wren and George Lovick Pierce Wren are a great example. These two brothers were sons of George Washington Wren and Sarah Bridges Wren. They were for the most part based in southwest Arkansas (Dr. Wren) or around Minden, Louisiana (GLP Wren).

Starting in 1949, these families began to meet each summer. There was a pretty typical pattern to the reunions. Everyone brings food. People take pictures. There’s lots of visiting going on. People get reacquainted with their cousins. Little kids run around. Teenagers whine about having to come. Everyone goes home at the end of the day so full that they can’t move. And they all look forward to the next time they can get together.

But, there’s more. Whether you realize it or not, at a reunion, there’s a strengthening of the family connections. Stories are shared not only of who’s had babies and who is getting married, but of who is sick and could no longer attend, and who has died since the last time they gathered. People pass around pictures, both of close family and the historical family. For a genealogist, this is a great time to talk to the older folks in the family.

Usually, the head of each family introduces their family. Those who are the oldest and youngest and those who traveled the greatest distance are all recognized.

The folks who have been coming the longest seem to be the ones who have the strongest connection. It’s so nice to be able to sit down together and reconnect and see how the family has grown and grown up.

Wren Reunions have alternated between Minden, Louisiana or Nevada County, Arkansas. Truthfully, living so far away, and never having lived near the rest of this part of the family, I am not even certain that the reunion continues. If you know, please let me know! Last I heard, it was more or less every two years and had gotten a breath of fresh air from some of the younger generations. I hope so.

Reunions are a great time to remember the family history and to recognize the eldest members of the family. When the reunion started in 1949, there were five children (out of 19) children of Dr. A.D. Wren and G.L.P. Wren alive and in attendance. Now, I’m not even sure that there are any grandchildren of those patriarchs still with us.

If you are researching a family, look for newspaper articles about reunions. Even now, these might appear in local newspapers. Often, there will be a list of all of the attendees and maybe even where they came from.

And if you have a chance to attend a reunion, even of a family where you are just a distant cousin, go. Make the family connections. And if your family doesn’t have a reunion, think hard about trying to start one. Start with a Facebook group. Share pictures and stories there. You’ll find some folks who might be your partners in crime to start thinking about getting together. Pick a place and a date. Give people plenty of leadtime, especially if travel is required. It’s not unreasonable to schedule a year out. And then start getting folks excited. You’ll probably start small. Be sure to include both young and old.

Don’t be the one who lets the family connections die out.

New Calves, Gardens, Funerals, and Permanents

Diary – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Not every diary is a record of the monumental things that happen in our lives. Some just keep track of the every day things. But, even the simplest can be amazing windows into people in our family – whether we actually know them nor not.

Of course, not many people just hand over their diaries for others to read. Usually, we only see them after they are gone. So, we have to imagine a lot of the details and things that went on around the notes that are written in the diaries.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a short diary of my great-grandmother’s trip to California from Texas and back. That one only kept track of a few weeks of her life, but it was a great picture nonetheless.

My great-aunts Norvelle Wren and Mildred Wren Whitten both kept diaries for years and years. Sometimes, they used a desk calendar and sometimes they just made notes on the wall calendars about the events of the day. I have a few of these and my mother has many, many more. I suspect that they go back pretty far since neither Mildred nor Norvelle were ones to throw that sort of thing out.

Mildred always had a lot more to say in her’s than Norvelle did. But, they both talked about the things that mattered in their day to day lives: crops and cows, family and friends, gardens and flowers, trips to church and the beauty parlor.

Norvelle’s Diary – July 1964

Of course, the key events of the day were recorded, like my first birthday. Norvelle also recorded the comings and goings of her family and friends. On my birthday, my aunt, Jennie, headed home to South Carolina from her parents’ house.

Norvelle’s Diary – May 1964

There were lots of notes about their gardens. Both Mildred and Norvelle, who lived immediately across the street from each other, on their respective home places with pastures and fields, had a garden. And from those gardens, some of the very best vegetables ever produced came.

Norvelle’s Diary – April 1964

Their diaries kept track of all of the calves born each year. I think that they shared in which ones belonged to whom so that they could split the income. The cows had names and they knew (mostly) which calves came from which cows.

Norvelle’s Diary – Entry by Grannie (Pearl Hudson Wren) – March 1964

Once in a while, you come across a really amusing entry. Looks like Grannie (Pearl Hudson Wren) would from time to time add things to the record of the day. Like this time in March 1964 when Grannie noted that she and Norvelle drove down to Texarkana to purchase “cosmetics, foundation garments, and shoes.”

Both Mildred and Norvelle noted when friends and family (and they, themselves) were sick, in the hospital or nursing home, or home from the hospital. They marked births, marriages, funerals, and burials.

It’s fun to see how they refer to each other as Sister and both refer to my grandfather as Brother. In 1976, he went to the hospital for surgery and you can find a day by day account of his health in Mildred’s diary.

You can see through the difficult times in their lives, when they took care of each other. Mildred notes that they placed the stone on Henry, her husband’s, grave, the stone that had all but her death date already filled in. She also tells that Norvelle finally felt well enough for Mildred to sleep at her own house rather than with Norvelle. Mildred was skeptical, but Norvelle was (as you would expect if you knew her) insistent.

Norvelle’s Diary – May 1983

In spite of everything, through good times and bad, both Norvelle and Mildred are just so matter-of-fact about everything. Take a look at Norvelle’s account of May 1982. Went to church. Made tea. Got a permanent. Cloudy, rainy, colder, rainy. Taken to the hospital and had to say for four days. Came home to bees inside the house around the chimney. Could not make it to church, but Horace came to see me.

Norvelle’s Diary – November 1982

And through thick and thin, while feeling well or sick, in hot weather or cold, very little could keep them from their hair appointments. Permanents apparently were a real thing for these ladies. November 1982 clearly started out with a bang. Permanents all around – Norvelle, Mildred, and their cousin Julia all got permanents the same week. I mean, it’s one thing to keep track of your own hair, but to keep track of you cousin’s hair is real devotion.

I love the fact that we have these diaries, even if they don’t provide new “genealogical” facts. They help us to remember these people that were so special to us. They help us to see how they went through their lives, day by day, especially when we only got to see them occasionally. So, scour the house. Look in all the drawers. If there’s a little pad of paper, read through it. Don’t just assume an appointment book isn’t filled with life and love. You never know what you’re going to find or to find out.

Thankful – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

As I write this, tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2018 here in the United States and Amy Johnson Crow has suggested Thankful as our them for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

When I started thinking about this, I found so many different directions that I wanted to go.  At first, I thought about one of my very favorite Thanksgiving Dinners that I celebrated with my grandfather Robert H. Dickson, Jr.  I talked about that some time back and you can see it here.

Then, I thought about pointing out that My ancestors were actually here for the First Thanksgiving in the Colonies, while Kathleen’s Mayflower ancestors were Johnny-Come-Latelys for the second one, even though they get all the credit.  Folks forget that the first commemoration of Thanksgiving took place in the Virginia Colony took place at the Berkeley Plantation in 1619.  My ancestor, Cicely Reynolds, was living very near to the plantation at that time and may well have been at that celebration of thanksgiving.  Kathleen, on the other hand, has a number of Mayflower ancestors (John, Elinor, and Francis Billington, John Howland, Francis Eaton, Henry Samson, Degory Priest), so of course there is a Thanksgiving connection there, too.

But this last Sunday, I was preparing my Sunday School lesson and hit on what I really wanted to talk about.  I am not the sort of genealogist who believes that my identity is defined or my future determined specifically by the lives of my ancestors or by my DNA.  But, I do know that important values are passed down from generation to generation.  I know that the experiences for good or for bad of one generation affect several to come.  And for the lessons and experience of those before me, I am thankful.

One of my favorite things is to teach adult Sunday School.  I am a guest speaker in a number of different classes at our church.  This past Sunday and this coming Sunday, I am visiting with one of my favorite groups.  This is a class where there may be members still in their seventies, but the vast majority are members of the Greatest Generation and are firmly in their mid- to late-eighties and nineties.  What could I possibly have to teach them?  But they are always gracious and welcome me and invite me back.

When I thought about it, I realized that I have a number of ancestors who were pastors and preachers.  But I also have a lot of members of my family who have taken the more informal route of teaching and leading adult Sunday School.  Mom is currently the president of her class.  My brother and his wife lead classes at their church.  My step-mother teaches Sunday School at her church as well as leading worship from time to time at the local county jail with my Dad.  (He helps; he isn’t a resident.)

And back through the generations, many of my ancestors shared their faith and their understanding by teaching Sunday School.  My maternal grandfather, Hudson Wren, led his Sunday School at the Wilson United Methodist Church in Wilson, Arkansas class for nearly 40 years.  I remember every Saturday evening, when we were at his house, he would retreat into his den, close the door, and work on his lesson.  We all knew not to disturb Papaw while he was working on his lesson because it was important to him.  Even though he saved his notes for years, not long before his death, he cleaned out his files and destroyed years of lessons.  I am thrilled to have some of the the ones that escaped.  I still refer to them for my own lessons.  Of course, they are often tied to the Adult Bible Study quarterlies from years and years ago and I don’t have those.  But I can still guess at the direction from the notes.  It’s fun to see his way of taking notes and writing and to hear his voice in them.

Hudson Wren’s Sunday School Lesson on Christian Maturity, 13 July 1975

We recently met my great-grandfather, Charles Council Bailey.  He also was called on to lead Sunday School from time to time.  I’ve got a few of the talks that he gave at different times, including one done for Sunday School.  I suspect that this is from the 1890s, though I don’t find a date on it.  That means it was probably when they lived in Milton or Stigler in the Indian Territory.  I have to say that I can identify with his comments as I lead classes full of folks who have all had long and full lives.  This is part of a talk he gave to and about the Sunday School and why it is important.

Charles Council Bailey talk on Sunday School

In this he says “… if I should attempt to offer a word of advice or define for older and better [men] the interest we should take in this work, that they will deal lightly with me when passing upon my presumption, and with careful hands winnow the chaff from the grain, if any grain there be in what I may offer.”  Sounds about right when standing in front of a group of folks who have seen far more of life than I have.

My maternal grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, often led the devotions for the Women’s society in her church.  I have a few of these and love them, too.  She’s quick and to the point in what she has to say.  That’s the point of these devotions that open the meetings.  Here’s one of hers.  I don’t know the date, but it was from late in her life.

Hey! Do You Know Who You Are?

Matthew 12:50 – Whoever does what my Father in Heaven wants him to do is my brother, my sister, and my mother.

Kirk Douglas: “Once, while I was driving to Palm Springs, CA, I picked up a hitchhiking sailor.  He got into the car, took a look at me and said “Hey! Do you know who you are?”  That’s a very good question.  A question we all have to ask our selves.” (From The Ragman’s Son: An Autobiography)

We live in a day when it is fashionable to lament that we need to find out who we are.  This was never a problem to me.  As the youngest of a large family and almost the only girl, I knew I was Somebody’s Little Sister or I was Charlie & Viola’s little girl.  I’ve known people who resented this identification with their family members.  I never did.  I do not resent one of my brothers introducing me as his “baby Sister”.  The knowledge that I was an integral, indeed an important, part of this closely knit family was a security that many people have not known.

If a brother caught me misbehaving, he would draw me aside and tell me to stop it.  If I argued that the other kids were doing it, they would reply “Yes, but you now better.”

Our meals were an unhurried time of sharing.  We told our small triumphs or defeats, as the case may be.

It was in [Sunday School] that I learned “Jesus Loves Me”. Also God is the loving Father of us all.  This did not seem strange to me for I had not yet learned that not all fathers are loving.  Later in [Sunday School], Mrs Clark taught me that I was a part of the church family and that expanded to the Family of God.

As I grew up my family kept expanding.  There was school and later I went to college.  Then I married and we were another family unit within the larger family of mankind.  I was a wife. Then a mother.  many years later I became a grandmother.  Then I was a teacher.

I am many things.  I am still a wearer of many hats.  Most important, I am a child of God – a sister of Jesus and of all who are children of the Father.  This, I think is the foremost “who” that I am.

As some of you may know, I sang in one choir or another most of my life.  One of my favorite anthems is an old one that is an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need and ends with “Not as a stranger or a guest but as a child at home.”

I do not always do all the things that the Father would have me to do and, like Paul, I sometimes do what He would not have me do.  With much prayer and effort, I strive to live so that I can say I am a true child of the Father.

Hey! Do you know who you are?

Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, “Hey! Do You Know Who You Are?”

So, back to Thankful.  I am so thankful that in my family, I can find examples of people that I have known and loved and that I can discover and admire who help me to see who I am. Not that they determine me, but that their influence and experience on and in each successive generation is undeniable – both for good and for bad.  I am thankful that by finding my family and reflecting on who they were and are, I am able to answer Grandmother’s question more each day.  Hey!  Do you know who you are?

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Bearded

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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.

wren-0462-f-v00-AD-CivilWar

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.

wren-0461-f-v00-AD-and-GeorgiaWren

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.

wren-docs-0233-f-v00-nm-060-DrADWren-obit-1916

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.