a tree-rific journey into family history

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Add White: on a collision course with destiny

If my ancestor had not been killed by another driver, then I probably would not be here today to write this great blog!

Add White, my great-grandfather, was born around 1901 in Morgan County, Alabama. He was the youngest child born to the union of Henry P. White (1867-1944) and Virginia Black White (1865-1902). His mother died shortly after his birth, and his father then married Hulday F. Gullion Whisenant. On one census, Add’s name is given as Adner White. He married Martha Ann Brown, and they had eight children. Working as a sharecropper, Add and his family spent several years in Louisiana before making their way to Jefferson County, Arkansas in the early 1940s.

The inclusion of a Bible in this picture may indicate the importance of their Christian faith to my great-grandparents, Add and Mattie Brown White. They were part of the Pentecostal movement, and a trip to church would lead to Add White’s death in 1942.

On his way to a Sunday evening church service on November 1, 1942, Add White’s wagon was struck by a truck in Sherrill, Arkansas. He and two mules were killed, and three other persons were injured. I often joke that he was behind the times still driving a wagon when others were in trucks, but I imagine many poorer folks did not have automobiles in 1942 rural Arkansas. Oral tradition suggests the truck’s driver, Walter Coggins, was intoxicated although this has not been verified. (He would not be my only ancestor to be supposedly killed by a drunk driver. My great-great grandfather, Cassius M. Omans (1869-1924) was hit by a reportedly-intoxicated driver while building a road in New York. The driver was indicted for manslaughter, but the jury was not convinced.)  I have also heard that Add reportedly threw his youngest son off the wagon to save his life. I suppose the rest of the family walked to church that evening. Add White is buried in an unknown grave at Mulberry Cemetery in England, Arkansas.

The local paper gave a detailed account. Click to enlarge.

As so often it is with family history, the tragedy shaped future events in a way that otherwise would not have occurred. Left alone to care for the family, my great-grandmother married William Oliver Martin (1888-1980) and eventually the family moved to California. Once there, my grandmother met my grandfather, and this led to my father and ultimately to me. So if it were not for the unfortunate demise of Add White, I almost certainly would not exist.

This picture sums up Sherrill, Arkansas. I imagine the landscape hasn’t changed much since my ancestor died on their street 70 years ago.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Corder. I found his site by searching for Sherrill, Arkansas images, and he has some great Arkansas pictures.)


Matthew Hawkins: the man, the mystery, the multitude

Rev. Matthew Hawkins (1858-1922)

Rev. Matthew Hawkins, my wife’s great-grandfather, was born a slave around 1858 in Tennessee. In 1878, he married Henrietta Dosie Tyus in Haywood County, Tennessee. Oral tradition suggests he married two Tyus women (an aunt and niece). I travelled to Brownsville and stood in the courthouse searching through old, dusty marriage records, but I have only found records for Henrietta Dosie. It is possible I missed the other marriage or that it was not recorded. Matthew Hawkins had 5 children with his first wife (or first two). He moved to Arkansas in the late 1880s where he received a federal land grant for 160 acres south of Center Ridge, Arkansas. In 1893, he married my wife’s ancestor, Mamie Rice (1876-1947), and this union produced 12 more children. In addition to farming, Matthew Hawkins was an active Baptist minister and pastor in the community. He was instrumental in the founding of the Cypress Creek Church District in 1891 and ministered at several local congregations including the Bethlehem, Holly Springs, Hopewell, New Prospect, and Sweet Home churches. Rev. Hawkins died in July of 1922. Mamie later married her daughter’s father-in-law, Elford Hammons until his death.

Mamie Rice Hawkins Hammons was born in South Carolina in 1876 and died in Conway County, Arkansas in 1947.

Although we know a lot about Matthew Hawkins in Arkansas, we do not have much information on his early life. I have seen no records for his parents, but census records sometimes list his ethnicity as mulatto. I ordered a copy of his Arkansas death certificate from the state office, but they were unable to locate it despite having him in their index. I know nothing of his siblings beyond a piece of oral tradition that he came from Tennessee with a brother who got separated and went a different direction. I do know he traveled to Conway County around the same time as a brother-in-law, Randal Tyus, but they were hardly separated. Their land grants were across the highway from each other. Another mystery surrounding Matthew Hawkins is his 1891 marriage to Mary Jenkins. The certificate was filled out but never executed. There are many possible explanations, but we may never know exactly what happened. Another intriguing question about Matthew Hawkins is his unknown grave site. My wife’s grandfather (before his 2001 death) suspected he may be buried at the Bethlehem or even one of the abandoned African-American burial sites in the Center Ridge/Springfield area. Like many people in his era in rural Conway County, Rev. Hawkins does not have a tombstone inscription. Despite being involved in the community and having a large family, he apparently has only a fieldstone to mark his grave.

Despite dying 90 years ago, Rev. Matthew Hawkins left a large legacy behind. Many of the churches he pastored are still in existence. He had 17 known children and around 70 grandchildren. Many of them still feel pride in the Hawkins name and the rich heritage he provided them.

Below is some information on his children:

1)      Rosina Hawkins (1880-1936) married two ministers: Thomas S. Payne (1870-1909) and Keifer F. Stevenson (born 1884). She had five known children and four step-children.

2)      Dosie Hawkins (1881- abt. 1921) married Edward D. Jenkins (1878-1946). I know of only one son, Luther, who died at age two.

3)      Jackson Hawkins (born 1884) married Amanda Jordan (1887-1988) and had at least four children.

4)      Minnie Hawkins (1887- abt 1918) married John B. Bennett (born 1886) and had four known children.

5)      Tiller Hawkins (1889-1920) married Dennis S. Abrams (born 1884) and had four known children.

6)      James H. Hawkins (1894-1936) married Lucy Clinkscale (1891-1936) and had eight known children and one step-daughter. They lived in Birdtown, Arkansas before he died of pneumonia in his early 40s. He is buried with his wife in Bethlehem Cemetery.

James and Lucy Hawkins both died young leaving behind several children. James had pneumonia, and Lucy “was never quite the same” after having a tooth pulled.

7)      Alice Hawkins (1896-1988) married James Paul Morris (1886-1965). They had four children and are interred at Friendship Cemetery atop Morris Mountain in Center Ridge, Arkansas.

James Paul Morris and Alice Hawkins Morris. My wife is actually related to both of them from two different sides. Yes, family tree stuff is complicated.

8)      Dalice Hawkins (1897-1969) married Thomas Pierce Dooley (1897-1977). She had three children and died in Kansas City, Kansas.

9)      Birda Elizabeth Hawkins (1900-1968) married William Peters and had 2 known children before her death in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

10)   William C. Hawkins (1902-1975) married Ethel Morris (1904-1926) and had one son. He later married Mirrie Clinkscale (1907-1998). He is interred at Bethlehem Cemetery.

11)   Texana Hawkins (1904-1986) married Pierce Hammons (born 1901) and had four children.

12)   Matthew Hawkins (1906-1938) was very popular with the ladies, and this may have led to his untimely death.

13)   Roy Hawkins (1908-1992) married Mayme Morris (born 1908) and later Mollie Ann Smith (1915-1991). He had six children and is interred at the Zion Grove Cemetery in Faulkner County, Arkansas. He was well-known for his gardening and farming as pictured below.

That’s a huge melon! Can that little man eat all of that?

14)   Nathan Hawkins (1910-1985) married Q.T. Garrett and had one known child. He died in Kansas City, Missouri.

15)   Naomi Hawkins (1912-1987) married Roy Jenkins (born 1892). She raised four step-children. Aunt Daily is buried at Holly Springs Cemetery.

16)   Ruth Hawkins (1914-1997) married John T. Maxfield (1913-1971) and had six children. She is interred at Bethlehem Cemetery.

(left to right) Alice, Roy, Ruth, TB, Naomi

TB, Ruth, Roy, Naomi dressed to the nines

17)   Tolly Bishop Hawkins (1917-2001) married Classie O. Clinkscale and had 11 children. He operated a dairy farm in Center Ridge and is interred at the Sweet Home Cemetery.

T. Bishop Hawkins and Classie Clinkscale were married for about 65 years.

Yes, this entry was long. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment!

Are There Any Real Benefits to Genealogy or Family History?

There is an expression that happiness is best when shared. The same can be said of family history and genealogy. Once you know the unique stories and experiences of your ancestors, you will probably want to pass them on to other members of your kinship. Your family is not likely to gather around you for story time or show and tell, but there are subtle ways to share your shared legacy and heritage.  Not everyone will particularly care about and understand all of the names and dates, but most family members appreciate hearing where they have come from and how their ancestors fit into a greater historical narrative. There is an intangible value to knowing your story and how pieces of it are shared with your cousins, siblings, etc.

Are there any practical reasons to study family history? Here are a few:

Medical histories– Many medical conditions are passed down (at least in part) through our genes. Knowing about your parents and grandparents could help you understand potential risks in your own body. If great-great-great grandfather had a heart attack, that may not be cause for concern. After all, his condition was probably not well documented and you also have 31 other great-great-great grandparents floating around in your DNA.

Incest avoidance– Believe it or not, many people marry and produce offspring with their first, second, or third cousins. The medical risks are incest are reduced in more distant kinship, but there is still a strong social stigma attached to marrying your family members. So learn your tree, and do not forget it when you are hunting for a mate!

Property disputes– Census records and family histories are sometimes used in land disputes.

Religious or spiritual customs– The biggest proponent of family tree research in the United States is the Church of Latter-Day Saints. A major part of this reason is their practice of performing rituals in proxy of their deceased ancestors. For these believers, there is a very real and important benefit to learning the identity of their ancestors.

Family Folklore– Researching your history is a great way to solve some of those old family legends. You may be surprised!

I think the main advantage to learning your own history is the perspective it gives you and your relatives. Can you think of any other advantages?

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Here are some of our male direct-ancestors. If you can name them all, you get $1!

What’s in a Name? the genealogy name game

Names can be both fascinating and confusing aspects of genealogy. Most of my experience is with the United States, but any country or culture will have their own distinct naming patterns. Names are typically what you will use to find records. The stranger the name, the easier the hunt should be (assuming the census recorder can understand it). One of the best things a name can do is to help give you information about where it came from. Traditionally, people often named their children after other family members. Recognizing these patterns can be helpful in knowing if you found the right individual or in beginning to find other ancestral surnames. For example, one of my great-great-great grandfathers was named Daniel Wilson Holman (1832-1885). Daniel is also his great-grandfather’s name, and Wilson comes from his maternal grandmother.  These similarities help me know I am probably going down the right path.

The above-mentioned Daniel Wilson Holman (1832-1885) fought in the Civil War and was considered mortally wounded. He recovered, “though still quite lame,” and rode back into the field to replace the man who dared to take his place. He was promoted shortly thereafter. I probably would’ve just gone home.

Names also present a variety of challenges in locating and matching records. People change them, or use various parts of them throughout their lifetimes. Some people even went by names that were not really their names at all. I have a 4x great-grandfather who, after reportedly surviving a shootout related to some counterfeiting, moved to Alabama and changed his name to James Brown (1810-1905). He obviously did not consider that such a common name would be difficult for his offspring to research 170 years later or that we might like to know his original name. Most people switch names under less unusual circumstances. Here are a few things to watch for in what I like to call the Genealogy Name Game:

Shortened names: Many people go by shortened versions of their names. My name is Matthew, but on many records, I am Matt. Even more confusingly, many relatives (especially in past centuries when the world was a smaller place) will just use their initials on documents. My great-grandmother (who dropped her own first name) had a brother named L.D. Aitkens (1905-1981). On the family Bible’s birth page, he is just L.D. The same goes for the 1910, 1930, and 1940 censuses as well as his social security death record and tombstone. If L.D. stood for something, he obviously did not want me to find out. This link has some great hints on shortened names and nicknames.

Nicknames: At least shortened names and initials give you a hint at what the original name is, but a nickname is just a made up phrase applied to someone. Most people in the tree called Bud, Bubba, Junior, or Sissy have a real name. Good luck finding it! My wife’s great-grandmother had a brother-in-law named Thomas Andrew Dooley (1880-1978). On various records, he is T.A. Dooley, Tom Dooley, Thomas Dooley, or Thomas A. Dooley. If you go interview some of the old-timers who remember him in the community, they have no idea who Thomas Dooley is. They knew him as Swilin. Family tree research is hard…

Middle names: Many people go by their middle names, and you never know it until you see their obituary or begin researching their tree. Men who grow up with their father’s name often go by the middle name.

Surname changes: Married women often change their names, and this makes finding their parents much more difficult. Children may change their surnames to that of a specific parent or step parent. Some people alter the spelling of their surname to distinguish themselves from other family members or because they do not know better. My wife’s grandmother was a Newsom, but she had brothers who went by Newsome and Newson.

Enough reading. Time for pictures!

See the older man seated to the left? That’s my wife’s great-grandfather’s brother, Rev. Phillip Ola Clinkscale. He is named after his paternal grandfather. Some records also have him as Phillip L., P.L., or P.S. Everybody just called him Uncle Bud.

My great-grandmother was born Francis Martha Aitkens (1913-2002) according to her family Bible and Arkansas delayed-birth certificate. At some point, she decided she’d rather be Martha Irene. She married a Holman, and by the time I knew her, she called herself Martha Francis Irene Aitkens Holman. That’s a mouth full!

My wife’s great-grandfather, Lenon Hersey Newsom (1897-1970). Some records say Leonard, some say Lenon, and he apparently had two very different birth dates, but one thing is certain from this picture: he was a cool dude.

Graveyards in Genealogy: unearthing your roots

Cemeteries are important resources in family history research. The purpose of a cemetery is to memorialize and honor those in the community who have passed on. For some people, the idea of a graveyard conjures up feeling of fear or morbidity, but there’s no denying the valuable information cemeteries provide. A typical gravestone can include a full name, maiden name, birth date, marriage date, death date, relationships, birthplace, organizational affiliation, military service, or even occupation. The location of the grave in the cemetery and even the history of the cemetery itself can provide insight into class, religion, and kinship. The information may not always be correct, but it is still very useful and unique. For example, my great-great-great grandmother Caledonia Jones Brown’s stone in Old New Canaan Cemetery in Morgan County, Alabama lists her death as 1915, but her husband is widowed in the 1900 census. Isn’t genealogy fun?

My great-great-great grandfather, Daniel Wilson Holman, is interred at Rose Hill in Fayetteville, Tennessee with a bit of an ostentatious grave. His father (my 4x great) is behind to the left.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day. People went out and tended to cemeteries to help preserve the memory of loved ones. In addition to boating and grilling, many people still use this special day to clean-up cemeteries and reflect on their past. This Memorial Day, I visited five local cemeteries where my wife has ancestors buried. (My kinfolks are farther away.) While placing flowers, I actually met distant cousins of my wife in two cemeteries and was invited to a cookout. The experience was much better than the time I lost my keys in a rural cemetery at nightfall…

I attended a few sessions of a conference last month put on by the Preservation of African-American Cemeteries (PAAC) organization here in Arkansas. They shared some great information about cemetery preservation and restoration. If you’re lucky, all of your ancestors will be buried in cemeteries maintained by a city, perpetual care agreement, or active church. They grass will always be mowed, and the stones will be polished. Unfortunately, many cemeteries I’ve encountered are in desperate need of attention. Here are a few problems in cemeteries:

  • Abandoned Cemeteries– Once the church closes or the community moves away, it only takes a couple of generations for a cemetery to fall into despair. The smaller the cemetery, the less people there will be with a compelling reason to keep it up. I am amazed by the number of rural landowners who have graves out in the woods behind their house that no one seems to remember. I have seen cemeteries completely overgrown with broken and buried stones. We’ve lost whatever information they provided.

Mary McDaniel died in 1909 at age 80 and was interred at the Old Prospect Cemetery in Cleveland, Arkansas. A few years later, the church moved a few miles down the road and started a new cemetery. Mary’s grave now rests abandoned in the woods on private property with no entrance surrounded by ticks.

  • Unmarked/Unknown Graves– Many of the older cemeteries in my county have field stones with no writing that mark burial spots. Over time, the people who know the identity of these rocks die off, and the markers themselves are moved. My wife and I both have ancestors who are buried in unknown graves. I have seen some cemeteries with as many as 200 rocks for nameless burials. Of course, more recent burials will at least have a funeral home marker which is only as good as the person driving the lawnmower.

My wife’s great-great-great grandmother, Mamie Rice Hawkins Hammons (1876-1947) may have only a handwritten stone at Bethlehem Cemetery in Springfield, Arkansas, but that’s more than either of her husbands have to memorialize them.

  • Faded Glory– Stones don’t last forever, and over time, the writing may fade or disappear.
  • Wildlife– If your cemetery is not cared for, other creatures will move in. I have bumped into snakes, ticks, wasps, bees, and howling dogs in our local graveyards. Those can be much worse than a ghost!

If you’re interested in cemetery preservation or how cemeteries play a huge role in genealogy, check out Silent Storytellers. This is a great documentary by the Arkansas Educational Televison Network.

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