a tree-rific journey into family history

Archive for the category “General Genealogy”

Rebels and Relics: a southern genealogist ponders Confederate monuments

If you’ve been anywhere near a television or internet connection lately, you’ve likely heard the debate regarding the removal of Confederate monuments.

Many see these tributes as a reminder or even a celebration of our nation’s long and lingering history of racism. Others argue that destroying these statues or even moving them to museums is historical erasure and dishonors the legacy of the men those statues represent. The loud and violent presence of white supremacists hasn’t helped the cause. Somewhere in the banter is a disconnect between those who see this as just a small part of daily, systemic American racism and those who assume racial injustice died out around 1863, 1954, or 2008.

Let me say up front: I am sensitive to the issues of historical erasure and accuracy. Holding a degree in history and political science – from a southern university, to boot – and spending countless hours and unspeakable dollars researching my own family history, I am a firm believer in learning about and sharing stories from our past. Like any good scholar, I frequently bemoan the inattention given to vetting and citing sources in the Information/Fake News/Meme Age. And whether it’s statues, buildings, or people, I just generally like old stuff. So, I had some initial apprehension about removing these historical landmarks.

Early into my digging, I quickly discovered that the majority of these monuments did not go up in the generation of the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee, the recipient of many such memorials, was himself against such celebration and its detriment to the country. Basically, he wanted everyone to move on. It was a generation or two later, during Jim Crow segregation and violence, that many people – especially in the South – began erecting memorials to the Confederacy.

The Lost Cause revision of history romanticized the antebellum South and its rebellion while painting its participants as sympathetic, tragic figures. This focus gave white southerners a sense of identity, closure for their forefathers’ actions, and validation for their heirloom prejudices. It was decades after the war, during the propagating of this new Confederate sentimentalism and the legalization of Jim Crow in the South, that many of the memorials in question were built.

Of course, the Confederate monuments go beyond statues and include state holidays and names of cities and counties, public streets, and public schools. (My own state only split up a joint holiday between Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. in early 2017.) Unfortunately, this spinning of the American Civil War and insistence of glorifying the Confederate rebels led to generations of misinformation. In fact, one can easily find people today who genuinely believe the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, and no amount of sharing secession speeches or soldier letters seems to change their minds.

While there were many complex factors leading the the Civil War, each essentially tied back into slavery. Which brings us back to the issue of whether removing tributes to the Confederacy is retelling or reinterpreting history. If anything, it appears to challenge the previous revision. The wish of those who want monuments removed and streets renamed does not seem to be to erase Confederate history but rather to tell an accurate and inclusive story. Whatever educational value these statues possess will still exist if they are moved to a museum, and people would be better served learning history from a variety of sources (such as books and primary artifacts) rather than statues built decades later to impress or intimidate.

But what of the desire to publicly celebrate and honor our ancestors? Like anyone else, my own ancestors have their stories woven into the story of their nation. My heritage includes people on both sides of the American Revolution, multiple Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, an entire branch who didn’t come to the U.S. until fifty years after the Civil War, and an old white lady who taught summer school at the segregated, black school because she believed everyone deserved an education (and she needed the money).

My wife’s family history includes people who were taken from their homeland and enslaved for generations. One literally fought for freedom as a soldier for the Union. Another was lynched in my wife’s hometown. They attended segregated and unequal schools. They endured harassment from fellow citizens and from the police.

As a genealogy enthusiast and family historian, I am convinced there is value in knowing the stories of our ancestors, but most genealogists I know will readily admit they don’t agree with or approve of everything their great-great-grandparents did and thought. How could we? Often, the rascals in our lineage have the most interesting stories in their dossiers. But I will not celebrate their bad deeds.

In my tree, I have killers and adulterers. The pictures of our ancestors that adorn the walls in our home include a Confederate colonel and a Klansman, both of whom I directly descend from. I’m celebrating my Confederate ancestor as one of my forefathers; I’m not celebrating the fact that he took up arms against his country – my country – to defend the South’s right to own other human beings who they considered inferior.

This is quite different than a statue in a park, courtyard, or city square dedicated to someone whose notoriety is based solely on his fighting against the United States in order to maintain the privilege of owning other people. I wouldn’t want my kids attending Robert E. Lee Elementary School any more than I’d want them to attend Dylann Roof Middle School or Joseph Goebbels High School. I suppose private citizens can honor Osama Bin Laden or Jack the Ripper in their own homes, but I do not think the government should endorse such characters.

My passion for history implores me to know and tell the stories of the past. But my knowledge of both the past and present prevents me from celebrating someone based on their willingness to take up arms against our country to preserve their ownership and assumed superiority of another race.

If only this sudden fervor for history included preserving endangered cemeteries and sacred sites for indigenous peoples, investing in historical and cultural programs, and increasing exposure to inclusive and accurate information.

Confederate Memorial, Haywood County, Tennessee

This 1909 memorial outside the Brownsville, Tennessee courthouse honors locals who died fighting for the Confederacy. My wife’s great-grandfather was born into slavery in this county. There is no mention of the Union soldier who enlisted from the area. (Credit:




Strange Fruit: the killing of Jackson Rice

(The title of this post comes from the 1939 Billie Holiday song)

I have spent the last several months serving on a reunion planning committee for a branch of my wife’s family. To aid with my work on the family history, a cousin loaned me a tape of a deceased relative in 1998 discussing our heritage. The interview was full of great oral history and details about my wife’s lineage. Toward the end, the lady on the tape mentions hearing that my wife’s great-great grandfather, Jackson Rice, was hung in my wife’s hometown for talking to or whistling at a white woman. I had been studying this family for several years and had never heard this. In fact, I was not even certain this ancestor had made it to Arkansas from South Carolina. My wife was not familiar with the account either. I did find some older relatives who confirmed hearing the same story (one even claiming to know the spot where he was hung from a bale of cotton), but they were understandably unsure of the details (when? why? who? how?). The story sounded almost too cliché to be real, but I knew such a lynching in that time was a very real possibility. (For more information on the racial tension, political conspiracy, and general disregard for human life in Conway County during the second half of the 19th century, read Who Killed John Clayton: Political Violence and the Emergence of the New South, 1861-1893 by Kenneth Barnes)

The definition of lynching varies a bit, but it usually includes killing someone illegally as a punishment. A group or mob without any legal authority executes someone for a transgression. America has a long history of lynching, and this form of “justice” was popular in the Old West and in the South. Most records of lynching from the Civil War until the 20th century involve African-Americans in the South. Thousands of blacks were killed to enforce the disenfranchisement and intimidation brought on by Jim Crow laws. These events may seem like sudden, angry mob outbursts, but this terrorism was often pre-planned, advertised, well-attended, and photographed. In fact, lynching postcards and photographs were popularly circulated items in the early twentieth century. As a genealogist or family historian, one is at a disadvantage when researching older lynchings.  These crimes rarely involved anyone being brought to justice. Death certificates were not widely utilized in Arkansas until 1914. In much of the South, black deaths and their names did not regularly appear in white newspapers. Corroborating this story was going to be a bit of work.

Jackson Rice, the grandfather of my wife’s grandfather, was born (presumably into slavery) in South Carolina around 1835. Like many African-Americans in the South, few (if any) records exist of him before the Civil War. After emancipation, he can be found in Laurens County in the 1870 and 1880 censuses with his wife Rose Etta Fuller and their ten children. Unfortunately, the 1890 census was destroyed, and neither Jackson Rice nor his wife appears in the Arkansas or South Carolina in the 1900 census. Three of their daughters appear in Conway County, Arkansas  records in the early 1890s, but I was not yet certain if the parents had made the trip. Because his teenage daughters all married between 1890-1893, I decided my best bet would be to search local newspapers from that period. Lynchings were a popular activity, and there was a chance one would be recorded. The Arkansas History Commission in Little Rock holds the Morrilton Pilot on microfilm from that time, but with no index available, I had to search manually through years of pages. When I was just about to quit and go home, I came across the headline: A Negro Hung. After describing in detail the condition of the body, the writer adds almost as an afterthought “The negroe’s name was Rrice.” Sure enough, it was our ancestor.

Rice daughters

Jackson and Rose Etta Rice’s youngest daughters were teens when their father was killed and hung from a tree in rural Conway County, Arkansas. (l-r) Mamie Rice Hawkins Hammons (1876-1947), Gussie Minnie Rice Garlington (1873-1953), and Savannah Rice Gaines Luie Alexander (1874-1976)

Much of the attraction to genealogy and family history is seeing your own family woven into the greater historical narrative. Jackson Rice lived through 30 years of slavery, and around age 50, he moved west seeking a better life in Arkansas with his family. Instead, he was met with the same prejudice and violence. This sort of treatment is one factor that led many African-Americans out of the South in the early 20th century (see: The Great Migration) Two of his daughters pictured above moved away from the area their father was killed in; one landed in Milwaukee and the other in Kansas City. At least one child remained, and thus my wife grew up in the same small community her ancestor was murdered in (perhaps living amongst descendants of his killers). Researchers enjoy connecting our families to important times and events in history, and no family story is without its own tragedy and suffering. What makes lynching give us pause is the reminder that just a few generations ago in our country, African-Americans were second-class citizens who could be killed without any real cause or consequence. While the exact circumstances and details of his death cannot be known, there seems little doubt that his race was a key factor in the crime and its lack of justice. While injustice in the legal system and ugly prejudices still exist, I hope that we have found that better life people like Jackson Rice sought after. Let us not forget the struggles and sacrifices our ancestors endured to create the world in which we now live.

Rice Newspaper1

The Pilot (Morrilton, AR) November 18, 1891

The Importance of Oral Histories in Genealogy and Family History: give grandma a call

One of the most enjoyable and important aspects of family history is collecting stories from family members. For many, these stories are what initially interested us in family history.  Genealogies tend to focus on names and dates, but oral traditions add flesh to the skeleton. Parts of the stories can be verified or disproved with thorough research. Even the unconfirmed aspects can still make awesome writing.

I have heard a few genealogists use the quotation: “Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.” In other words, there is a vast amount of unique and important information in each old person (and even young ones). For example, my wife’s grandmother will be 94 years old this year and has been in the same community her entire life. She can recall people and events that possibly no other living person can. We should get everything we can from these sources.

Of course, the actual interviewing is not always easy. I suggest doing your homework first, and if possible, give the person some time to prepare for your conversation. Still, some of the best recollections come in casual, impromptu chatting. Sometimes a natural, unforced conversation is more productive. Try to guide the discussion without leading it too much. Or just shut up and listen. The key is not being afraid to ask questions. Write letters. Ask for pictures. Call distant relatives. E-mail other researchers. You’ll never find this stuff is you do not seek it.

When my grandmother was young, her grandmother (my great-great grandmother pictured below) told her a story about her own grandfather (my 4x great pictured below). Since my grandmother shared this story with me last year, the story has now spanned seven generations in only two conversations. James Goodloe Woods (1823-1895) was a Primitive Baptist minister who practiced and preached abstinence from alcohol consumption. When Elder Woods became very ill, he was forced to consume alcohol to medicate his pain (the story does not mention it, but they actually lived near the Jack Daniels Distillery). Rather than live in hypocrisy or alter his beliefs, Elder Woods resigned from the ministry until he recovered from the illness (at which time I assume he traded the bottle back in for a Bible). I doubt any historical record exists that could have provided these details. This interesting, amusing, and revealing story survives today because people listened to their grandmothers.

He practiced what he preached, and when he did not practice it, he did not preach.

He practiced what he preached, and when he did not practice it, he did not preach.

Other stories about my great-great grandmother, Pearle F. Woods Holman (1879-1975) include her bragging about never washing a single dish and also one where her steering wheel disconnected. She just pretended to keep driving rather than admit the error. I don't think cars went very fast then anyway...

Other stories about my great-great grandmother, Pearle F. Woods Holman (1879-1975), include her bragging about never washing a single dish in her entire life and also one where her steering wheel disconnected. She just pretended to keep driving rather than admit the error. I don’t think cars went very fast back then anyway…

The Agony and Mystique of Unknown Photographs: awesome old pictures included!

Pictures are one of the most exciting and sentimental parts of family history.  An old photograph or sketch of an ancestor can bring to life their time period and their humanity. Unfortunately, many of these treasured documents fail to tell us who we are looking at. Although I appreciate the mysteriousness of an unknown or unidentified picture, I would much rather know how I am connected to the subject. The most obvious hint comes from the photo’s source. You can gather some clues about the potential identity if you know who the photo once belonged to. In older photos, the names of the photographers and their city may be printed on the back. You may even think you recognize features that relate to known images. Unfortunately, none of these are absolute or anything more than educated guesses. In genealogy, we try to base our conclusions on more than just good guesses.

Below are samples from two batches of unknown photos. The first batch came from my great-great grandmother, Pearle Feeney Woods Holman (1879-1975). When she passed at 95 years of age, she left behind about 60 wonderful old family photos. The newest pictures appear to be the 1930s. The older items went back to the old daguerreotype prints of the 1800s. The only labels were for her father and for the family dog. Within a few years of her death, her only child and her remaining sisters passed away. By the time I began doing family tree research, there was no one left to identify these relatives. A couple of photos involving young girls were printed in Seattle which suggests they are of her sister’s family. The rest are a mystery. I assume the unknown pictures belong to either her family or her husband’s. Based on their parents’ names, these pictures are likely from the Feeney, Holman, Landess, and Woods families of Lincoln County, Tennessee. I sent copies to a genealogy society in the area, but no one was able to identify my people.

The second group of photographs recently came to me from my wife’s third cousin via his daughter in law on Simply put, this man’s great grandmother and my wife’s great grandfather were siblings. Unfortunately, their branch left rural Conway County, Arkansas for the bright lights of Kansas City some 70 or so years ago. The twenty or so unidentified pictures came down through his mother, Cora Lee Govan Hayes (1926-1986). He seems certain the pictures are from his mother’s Arkansas roots. Her grandparents belonged to the Brockman, Clinkscale, Govan, and Tyus families of Center Ridge, Arkansas. Although there are some older people left in the community who remember Cora Govan’s parents and grandparents, their eyes and minds are not what they used to be. What a great reminder of the importance of labeling old photographs…

Maybe someday we will know the identities of these family members!

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Local Genealogy Societies Are Still Useful in Internet Age: my experiences at the Conway County Genealogical Society

Long before the World Wide Web, family historians developed genealogy societies to network and collaborate with other local researchers and hobbyists. Like the actual resources, these groups often formed based on county and state boundaries. The organizations collected data, published books, operated research libraries, distributed newsletters, and sharpened the skills of their members. The local genealogy clubs were experts on family histories in their area.

As technology advanced, family history records became widely available online. Social networking sites and genealogy sites made connecting, learning, and strategizing more accessible than ever before. Local genealogy organizations may seem antiquated, but they are as important as ever in the Internet Age. As more and more people seek out their roots, these local experts are vital in gathering and distributing information.

When I first began my family tree research, I discovered both sides of my wife’s family had lived in Conway County, Arkansas for 130 years. Although we do not live there, I soon found myself spending time at the local courthouse and their genealogy library. The Conway County Genealogy Library is operated by volunteers from the Conway County Genealogical Society (CCGS) and is part of a local museum in the downtown train depot. The Depot Museum is operated by the Conway County Historical Preservation Association (CCHPA). After one meeting, I became a member of the Conway County Genealogical Society, and later served as secretary and now president for 2013.

The Conway County Genealogical Society has our library and meetings in the Depot Museum. This picture is from our website (, but if you visit the website, please remember we are all volunteers.

The Conway County Genealogical Society has our library and meetings in the Depot Museum. This picture is from our website (, but if you visit the website, please remember we are all volunteers.

The CCGS holds monthly meetings, and each meeting features a program. Program topics often include guest speakers, research methods, local history, and the popular show-and-tell. There is also an annual potluck. Our organization publishes books on local cemeteries, Civil War veterans, and various research topics.  We also produce a monthly newsletter with the CCHPA. In August, the CCGS hosts an annual Ancestor Fair where local researchers help people get started on their family trees. The Ancestor Fair also includes book sales, door prizes, and various exhibits.

Sometimes local researchers have access to information that you just won't find online.

Sometimes local researchers have access to information that you just won’t find online.

In addition to opportunities to work on local projects, the organization provides a chance for like-minded genealogists to come together and amuse one another with endless family history banter. That’s probably the best part.

The Woods Family Bible: a rare glimpse into the longings of the long-gone

As my dry skin and chilly toes remind me, we are well into the winter months now. I enjoy the uniqueness of each season, but my mind is already anticipating a romanticized version of springtime. According to a drawing in an old Bible, I’m not the first person in my family tree to daydream of a little cabin by a river in the woods.

Woods Bible

The Woods Family Bible

An old family Bible can be a family historian’s dream come true. I know other researchers have hit the genealogy jackpot with loads of family history recorded on the old brown pages of such an heirloom. I suspect the Woods family Bible comes from the late 1870s so you can imagine my excitement when I first opened its pages.


Notice the Bible is engraved for Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Woods. This is the mister.

Unfortunately my 3x great grandparents, William Ed Woods (1851-1889) and Belle Feeney Woods (1854-1943), of Lincoln County, Tennessee did not take the time to record their history therein. Someone included several old pictures in the back without any labels. William Ed Woods’s father, James Goodloe Woods, was a minister in the Primitive Baptist Church.  Their daughter, Pearle Feeney Woods Holman (1875-1975), held the Bible for years but also failed to label the pictures or record any data about our heritage. Although I was impressed by the photographs and name engraving on the cover, I found the best artifact folded up inside the crumbling pages.

I wonder if it still exists. Or if it ever did...

Drawings were a bit different before computers…

The writing below the sketch reads “Spring House, River + Bridge from Up Riverside.” I can’t make out the initials and have no idea if this spring home even existed, but a chilly night like tonight has me longing to cross that little wooden bridge to my springtime cabin in the woods…

Watch Night: reflections on 150 years of freedom

Tomorrow night, December 31, 2012, marks 150 years since Freedom’s Eve was celebrated throughout the American South. Although the last night of 1862 was not the first time someone held a church service until midnight, that particular New Year’s Eve marked a special moment for some 3 million slaves. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect January 1, 1863 and free the enslaved black families of the rebelling Confederate states. Many African-American churches hold Watch Night Services on the last night of the year to worship God and commemorate the New Year’s Eve night their ancestors waited up to see if freedom would come. Although it would be a couple of years until all American slaves were free and more than a century until the black American realized true equality (particularly in the South), January 1, 1863 still stands as perhaps the single most notable day in the African descendants’ struggle for liberty.

As a genealogy hobbyist, I study the records our ancestors left in order to learn their story. For the American slave, few documents exist prior to emancipation. My wife’s relatives – the ancestors of my future children and grandchildren – were held as slaves in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Some may have attended Watch Night services similar to those still held in our community today. As I reflect on 150 years of freedom for African-Americans, I try to envision those families on Freedom’s Eve. On a long night of great uncertainty and anticipation, these men and women turned to their faith for strength and hope. As with all of our ancestors, I am grateful for the obstacles they endured to provide us with the opportunities of today. I find comfort in hoping that the life we will live in 2013 is the answer to those prayers 150 years ago.

Death and the Family Tree: vital records for irreplaceable people

Genealogy research is usually framed around facts from basic life events such as birth, marriage, childbirth, migration, death, burial, and such.  Lately, I have updated my tree with the worst kind of information: recent death dates. Today, my wife and I attended the funeral service of one of her maternal uncles. A couple of weeks ago, we unexpectedly lost a 22-year-old first cousin to a brain aneurysm  Death is a common theme in genealogy. Our family histories hold numerous soldiers taken in war, women lost in childbearing, and children wiped out by epidemics. Like all deaths, these events drastically affected the lives of those involved and shaped the narrative of our story. Your ancestors died, and as someone supposedly remarked at President Lincoln’s death, they “now belong to the ages.” There is much speculation and discussion regarding what exactly happens after death. For family historians, one thing is certain about death: you need to update your tree.

The good news is that death creates a great paper trail. For example, obituaries are valuable sources for research. They usually list parents, maiden names, children, occupation, religious beliefs, and specific dates in the life of the deceased. Funeral programs serve the same purpose. Death certificates are also great sources for research. A significant part of my work involves Arkansas, which did not begin keeping death certificates until 1914. Although an index is available to the public, the actual certificates are $10 and must be obtained through the Department of Vital Records. Death certificates are usually filled out by someone acquainted with the deceased and include information such as parents, birthplace, birth date, residence, occupation, cause of death, and burial. These answers are subject to the witness’s account but still make a great resource. Social Security Administration also has some detailed records for the deceased.  If an ancestor was a remarkable member of the community or died in some intriguing manner, newspaper accounts will provide valuable information. As I have mentioned before, cemeteries are also rich in history.

After the deaths of kings in the Old Testament, it was often written that he “slept with his fathers.” We will all go the way of our forefathers and mothers some day. Until then, let us learn their stories and share them with future generations.

Lucy Clinkscale Death Certificate

My wife’s first-cousin, twice removed, Lucy Clinkscale, died of consumption (tuberculosis). She was 14 years old and working as a house servant in 1920. She is buried in an unmarked grave in Friendship Cemetery atop Morris Mountain. Without her death certificate, none of this information would be available.

Feeney Death

This card in remembrance of my 4x-great grandfather, Robert Feeney (1812-1895), may have been from his funeral.

The Growing Popularity of Genealogy: why it’s a good thing

I read an article today that confirms what many of us have now suspected for a few years: genealogy has become a mainstream hobby. According to the author, family history is now a billion-dollar industry that is America’s second favorite pastime (behind gardening). I imagine people have always been interested in their heritage, but technology has made this information well within reach. People want to know where they come from and how they got here. This mass interest in family history is good news, right? It depends who you ask.

I’ve heard the cynical mutterings from experienced researchers: “Nowadays, everyone’s a genealogy expert.” The commercials make it seem so simple. Just click a few leaves, and you’re a genealogist. I am taken aback sometimes by the user trees I find where the researcher has little or no sources and seems to have just blindly copied things they found. I am a bit suspicious when someone traces their lineage all the way back to Noah’s Ark in one afternoon. Skilled researchers, please rest assured that your abilities are needed as much as ever before. Here are a few reasons why this new-found popularity is good news for those of us already deeply entrenched in genealogy.

1)      Networking opportunities are at an all-time high. While local genealogical societies and workshops are still useful, mass communication has made sharing your family’s story a global endeavor.  As more and more family historians set up blogs, Twitter accounts, and newsletters, we are able to connect as never before. This can enhance our skill set and give us an appreciative audience.

2)      Professional researchers (and amateurs who don’t mind a little extra cash on the side) should view this as good for business. Growing interest in your field of expertise may bring competition, but it also means more potential clients. Even if people can find some of their story on their own, most will recognize their own limitations.

3)      The more people who contribute to the conversation, the more media and documents become available. The commercial success of genealogy means more records will be digitized and made available. And that random guy who starts a family tree with no analytical skills or understanding of sources may be the same guy who has your great-great-great grandmother’s portrait in a family Bible in his attic. So use caution, but embrace the popularity!

I found these pictures in my great-grandmother’s stuff. The more popular genealogy becomes, the better my chances are of finding out who they are!


Unhappy Endings: researching your tree may require tissues

Family history is often uplifting, motivating, and inspiring. We tend to view our ancestors’ stories as triumphant, rags-to-riches, beating the odds success stories. We are impressed with their ability to seemingly overcome all sorts of harsh adversity to pave the way for us. Unfortunately, not every story in the tree has a happy ending. Some are just downright depressing.

While I am sure most of our ancestors led reasonably happy lives, I am always taken aback at the poverty, infant-mortality rates, short life spans, abuse, and tragic deaths that seem commonplace just a few generations ago. The hardships that the average person endured were very different than the world I live in. While their lives were simpler (my 5x great-grandmother did not have to memorize twenty log-in passwords or worry about her caloric intake), these predecessors dealt with hard realities. Knowing their plight helps us understand the remarkable triumphs in our tree and helps us appreciate some parts of modern life. Here are a few stories:

1) Myrtle Woods, my first cousin 4x removed, was born in 1892 in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Her grandfather, James Goodloe Woods, is my 4x great-grandfather. Myrtle’s mother, Mattie Nevels Woods, died shortly after Myrtle’s birth. Myrtle married Matthew Rowzee when she was fifteen years old. Her only child, Margaret, was born in 1909. Myrtle died at age 18 of tuberculosis, and her daughter died the following year around her second birthday.

Tennessee death record for Myrtle Woods Rowzee

2) Tabitha C. Hill is the sister of the 4x great grandmother of my wife’s double 1st cousin once removed. A daughter of Milton and Mariah Hill, she married A.F. Inman around age 13 on September 18, 1890 in Perry County, Arkansas. Ten years later, in the 1900 census, she is a widow working as a servant in someone’s house. She is 22 years old and has lost a husband and four children. The trail runs cold after 1900. In a nearby county, a Tabitha Hill (not Inman) marries in 1904. The groom is widowed by 1910.

3) Benjamin Cohee (1843-1903) of Clinton County, Indiana is my first cousin 5x removed. His father and my 4x great-grandmother were half-siblings. He served in the Civil War and fathered nine children with his first wife, Elma Hoover (1850-1898). He later married Lizzie Hurst and committed suicide a few months later. I imagine his war service, the loss of his wife, and his own infirmity led to his decision to end his life. Although suicide is not an indicator of a tragic life, it does suggest an unhappy finish. The Frankfort Banner ran a lengthy article on his death.

PLANNED HIS OWN DEATH: BENJAMIN F. COHEE SOUGHT RELIEF FROM PHYSICAL SUFFERING. Appalling Early Morning Discovery By Members of His Family-Tragic Close of a Well Spent Life.

The self-inflicted death of Benjamin F. Cohee, the splendid citizen and prosperous dry goods merchant, which occurred Sunday morning, was a crushing blow to his family and a decided shock to the entire community in which he has been so long and favorably known. Although he planned the taking of his life with a deliberation and caution such as a sane person would be expected to make use of, the fact that he had been in ill health for a considerable time, suffering from a malady that affected his brain, working disastrously upon his nerves and causing him to suffer the horrors of insomnia, it is but reasonable to suppose that the rash resolve was taken and executed at a period of acute mental derangement, or to end the sufferings which would not yield to treatment.

He arose about 7 o’clock Sunday morning and despite the fact he had not rested well during the night seemed to be in fairly good spirits. Mrs. Cohee, who is suffering from an affection of the ear, and who also had a wakeful night, was advised by Mr. Cohee to remain abed a few hours longer in the hope that she might get much needed sleep, he remarking that he would replenish the fire and get the house warmed up before calling other members of the family. The indications go to show that he very soon afterwards formed and carried out the resolve to put an end to his life.

Being unable to sleep, Mrs. Cohee arose shortly after the conversation had with her husband and in the course of time noted his absence from the house. She looked into all the rooms where he might likely be and inspected the out premises, but could discover no trace of him. Thinking that perhaps he might have gone to the home of one of his sons she telephoned to Bret Cohee and learned that he had not been there. The son seemed intuitively divine that all was not well with his father and hastened to the Main street homestead. He also made a through search of the house and grounds with no better success, until his attention was attracted to a door in an addition on the northwest corner of the house and which he found to be fastened, apparently from the inside. There are two apartments in this addition, one used as a store room, the other for a wood house. It was the door leading to the latter that was secured. After repeated efforts Mr. Cohee succeeded in forcing this door open to be met with the appalling sight of his father’s body suspended by a cord from an overhead beam. A step ladder which was resting against the wall told too plainly the means employed for carrying out the dreadful design. A cord such as used for suspending window weights, had been tied around the beam and the distance properly measured to prevent his feet from touching the ground. The door had been fastened by a stake which was securely driven into the ground.

When discovered the body was still warm, and hoping that there might be a spark of life remaining Mr. Cohee with assistance released his unfortunate father and carried him into the house and summoned a physician. Every effort was made to resuscitate him, but without avail. The cruel cord had done its work effectually. It was about 9 o’clock when the discovery was made, indicating that considerable time had elapsed between the performance of the deed and the hour that Mr. Cohee arose. Corner Brown came about ten o’clock and viewed the body, being in the county attending a patient when first summoned, and gave permission for its preparation for burial.

Mr. Cohee had been an invalid for several weeks and during the early stages of his illness was in a critical condition for several days. He suffered terribly from some ailment of the nerves and muscles of the back and neck which affected the brain. Superinduced by this affliction, he was a slave to that dread foe of health, insomnia. It had been noted, however, that he seemed much improved during recent days and the family had urged him to take a trip south, which he was considering, it being thought that a change of climate and relaxation from business cares would prove beneficial. Saturday he was quite cheerful and complained less than usual which was taken to be an encouraging sign and the family was wholly unprepared for the crushing sorrow which fell upon the hitherto happy household Sunday morning. The funeral was held from the residence, 358 South Main street, Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock. The services will be conducted by Presiding Elder C. A. Brooke and Rev. H. G. Ogden, pastor of the Methodist church. Internment at Bunnell cemetery.

Benjamin F. Cohee was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathon Cohee and was born in Rush county, Indiana, Sept. 28, 1843. He grew to manhood on a farm and when the call was made for soldiers to suppress the rebellion he enlisted as a private in Co. D, 68th Ind. Vol. Inft., serving three years. At the close of the war, his father having located in Frankfort, Mr. Cohee came here and took a clerkship in the store then operated by his father and Wilson Cohee, an uncle of the deceased. In 1867 his uncle retired and the deceased became a partner in the business which then as now was situated on the southwest corner of the square. After the death of his father he was in partnership with his brother, W. H. Cohee, for a time, later acquiring full ownership of the prosperous business. As his sons grew to manhood they were admitted to partnership in the business and for many years the firm has been styled B. F. Cohee & Sons. He was one of the most familiar men of the county and the store which he helped to establish has grown to metropolitan proportions and is a monument to his thrift, enterprise and sterling character as a citizen and business man. On Sept. 20, 1868 occurred his marriage to Miss Elma Hoover, whose death occurred about six years ago. Nine children were born to this union, two dying in infancy, a third, Katie Cohee, passing away after the death of her mother. The surviving children are Albert B., Edgar M., Walter B., Rolland F., Edith and Velma. He is also survived by two sisters and one brother, Mrs. John W. Newhouse, Mrs. James F. Hoath and W. H. Cohee. Sept. 17, 1902, he was married to Mrs. Lizzie A. Hurst, at Elwood, Ind., who survives.

He was for a number of years a member of the city council and since the operation of the new reform law had been a member of the county council, having been re-elected at the last election. Mr. Cohee was not a member of any secret fraternity but belonged to the Methodist church and contributed liberally of his means to the support of that denomination. He was a man of spotless character, honest and just in his relations to his fellow man and true to his obligations as a citizen. It was in his home life, however, that his character shone in its brightest splendor. No man loved his home more than he and his thoughts were always for his children. In return for his parental regard they gave measure for measure in filial respect and esteem, loving their own firesides but never losing their love for the hearthstone of the family homestead.


The list of unhappy endings could go on and on. For information on one particularly ill-fated branch, read A Cougar and Her Cubs: the children of Martha Altic Aitkens.  I hope this post has not been too depressing!

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