a tree-rific journey into family history

Archive for the category “Research and Methods”

Matthew Hawkins: homesteading in Springfield, Arkansas

I recently dropped a little money and ordered an ancestor’s land patent file from the National Archives and Record Administration in Washington, DC. The Homestead Acts provided acreage to heads-of-house who were willing to settle and improve  federally held land. A few of my wife’s ancestors, including her great-grandfather Matthew Hawkins, received such land grants in the 1890s to settle Conway County, Arkansas. The National Archives told me to expect my order in 60-90 days, but I was surprised to find his 32-page file in my mailbox in less than two weeks.

The Homestead file provides a unique glimpse into the lives of the settlers. I know now that Matthew Hawkins moved to Springfield, Arkansas on January 12, 1883 to work his 160 acres. I have descriptions (see below) of the crops he raised each year before receiving the grant in 1890.  The documents describe in detail the structures Matthew Hawkins built on the property, including even the furniture (see below). The file also includes signed testimonies from two neighbors describing his land and their relationship to him. One of these neighbors was Randal Tyus (see below), a brother-in-law and fellow transplant from Haywood County, Tennessee. The account records how Matthew Hawkins cleared 30 acres for farming and that the remaining land was timber. Perhaps only a photograph could give me a better impression of stepping onto an ancestor’s 1890 farmland. Unfortunately (but not uncommonly), Matthew Hawkins would mortgage much of the land some 30 years later and ultimately lose it.

An example of the questions Matthew Hawkins answered on his land grant paperwork.

An example of the questions Matthew Hawkins answered on his land grant paperwork.

Details regarding the crops he planted while qualifying for his land.

Details regarding the crops Matthew Hawkins planted while qualifying for his land.

Randal Tyus (1848-1910) served as a witness on his brother-in-law's final application, and the paperwork reveals that he was also one of three men who helped Matthew Hawkins (1858-1922) build a home on the property.

Randal Tyus (1848-1910) served as a witness on his brother-in-law’s final application, and the paperwork reveals that he was also one of three men who helped Matthew Hawkins (1858-1922) build a home on the property.


Wiley Thomas Childers: a confusing Confederate

Wiley Thomas Childers

One of my two pictures of Wiley Thomas Childers. This photo was uploaded to by user ChadWalker67, who also has some awesome family Bible photos of the Childers family.

Like many Americans, I had ancestors fighting on both sides of the Civil War (and Revolutionary War, but that’s another story). One of my Confederates was Wiley Thomas Childers (1847-1901). My great-great-great grandfather appears in Alabama on US census records in Talladega, Marshall, Clay, and Morgan counties between 1850 and 1900. He and his second wife, Nancy Susan Windsor (1857-1939), left Morgan County and moved to Texas in December 1900. lists a WT Children who served in Hardie’s Reserve Calvary, a unit which saw action in Georgia and Alabama (including Talladega) from 1864-1865. So I assumed this was my ancestor’s war record… until I saw the Widow’s Application for Confederate Pension that Nancy filled out!

Pension records are great sources of information!

Pension records are great sources of information!

“He enlisted as a Private in Company H, 53rd, Regiment Georgia Infantry May 5, 1862 at Zebulon, Ga. Was taken prison Dec 3, 1863 Near Knoxville Tenn, imprisoned at Rock Island Baracks, Rock Island Ill. Released June 17, 1865.”

53rd Regiment of Georgia Infantry?? Prisoner at Rock Island from 1863-1865?? My ancestors are awesome, but they cannot be in two places at once. There must be some bad information somewhere. This new guy sounds more exciting, and I would hope his  own widow would know the correct information when she applied. The most logical explanation would be two guys with the same name serving in the war. I found a new Wiley T. Childers who lived in Pike County, Georgia (where the 53rd was formed). It appears that either my ancestor just happened to enroll 120 miles from home where another Wiley T. Childers lived, or my ancestor’s wife unintentionally(?) used the Confederate service record for the wrong Wiley Thomas Childers when she applied in 1932. Either way, I have some more research to do!

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!

IMG_1344 IMG_1387 IMG_1350



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Hayespics_0003 Hayespics_0094

Hayespics_0001 Hayespics_0032 Hayespics_0039 Hayespics_0044 Hayespics_0070 Hayespics_0102

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.

Deadend: stuck on Mamie Rice

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

Mamie Rice Hawkins Hammons, my wife’s great grandmother, was born in South Carolina in 1876 and died in Conway County, Arkansas in 1947.

I’m stuck. I can’t get past my wife’s great grandmother. Consider this blog post a cry for help or for a fresh set of eyes. Some dead ends in genealogy are understandable. Once we go back far enough or into a different language and country, we expect locating records to become more difficult. In researching my wife’s heritage, I have become stuck on a more recent branch- her great grandmother, Mamie Rice.


Mamie’s hand-written grave is more than either of her husbands received.

There is much that I do know about Mamie Rice. In a previous post, Matthew Hawkins: the man, the multitude, the mystery, I discussed her husband and twelve children. The puzzle for me is Mamie’s parents and childhood.   The earliest record I have for her is the February 25, 1893 marriage to Rev. Matthew Hawkins in Conway County, Arkansas. Her residence is listed as Center Ridge, Arkansas. The family should appear in the same county in the Birdtown/Springfield community in the 1900 census, but they seem to have been missed. Mamie does appear in the 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses. I also have a marriage record with her second husband, Elford Hammons, in 1924. Mamie died in 1947, and I have a grave and an Arkansas death certificate to back this up. I even have a note from Pence Funeral Home that her casket came from Pine Bluff, but where did she come from?

The oldest record for Mamie is her marriage at age 18.

The earliest record for Mamie is her marriage at age 18.

Mamie consistently lists South Carolina as her birthplace. Her youngest son filled out her death certificate, and he listed unknown for parents’ names. That speaks volumes. Did she not know their names? Or was he simply uninformed? I am confident her maiden name is Rice. She used it on the marriage record, and her kids used it later for delayed birth certificates.  She was born in December of 1876, but I cannot find her on the 1880 census. There is a Mamie Rice around the right age in South Carolina living with Robert and Sarah Rice, but she remains in the area into the 1900s. The 1890 census no longer exists so my next step in 1900. Are there in Rices in Conway County she could be related to? There is a set of African-American Rices in Plumerville, but they are from Tennessee. The only Rice in Lick Mountain Township (Center Ridge, her reported residence at marriage) during this time is Daisy Rice. Born in Arkansas, Daisy lives with her aunt Sophia Rome (a South Carolina native).  Daisy ultimately marries Wade Shell and moves to the Blackwell community. I have done some research on Sophia (1867-1932) and Daisy (born about 1888), but I have not yet found anything tying them back to Mamie Rice. My next step may be to order a death certificate for Sophia and hope her parents’ names will lead me back to some Rices. What say you, seasoned researchers? Anything I may be overlooking? Could her husband have simply created her in 1893 to be his wife?

It takes 4-6 weeks to receive a death certificate from the Arkansas Department of Health. Imagine my disappointment...

It takes 4-6 weeks to receive a death certificate from the Arkansas Department of Health. Imagine my disappointment…

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 Savory Branch in Plymouth Colony Court Records: drunk under an hedge in an uncivil and beastly manner

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I recently did some work on a branch of my tree which settled at Plymouth Colony. Thomas Savory (1617-1676) arrived from Wiltshire, England during The Great Migration and married Ann. She may have been an Eddy or a Rogers, depending on whose account you are reading. When researching ancestors in the last century or two, there is usually a decent amount of records available. When I find myself in the 1500s or 1600s, I am at the mercy of many semi-sourced accounts. Fortunately, this ancestor came from an English-speaking nation with many records and settled into a heavily-documented region. Not all branches are so easy. I can trace colonial American branches with some confidence by relying on local histories, court records, and church records from their original country. The courts had a lot to say about my 10x great-grandparents, Thomas and Ann Savory! Although I did not travel to Massachusetts to read these summaries of court records, I found several excerpts online. For now, I must assume their authenticity. In addition to land transactions and a will, I also found the following juicy stories:

The court records included Thomas and Ann Savory legally giving two of their young children to other couples to educate and train them. At first, I assumed this was an indication of poverty, but a little reading online indicated that this was actually common at Plymouth. This ensured the child literacy, job skills, and religious education. Today, I would have difficulty turning my five year old son over to a local carpenter, but this was a different world.

In 1652, the court appointed Thomas Savory to serve as undermarshall. He held the post until 1670 when he was terminated for “having been found several times unfaithful in the performance of his said office.” He was reinstated a month later. Thomas Savory was arrested more than once for drunkenness, and the jury recommended a whipping in one incident. Ann Savory was once fined for being drunk on the Sabbath instead of attending church. She was even with a man named Thomas Lucas. A commentator wrote that he was essentially the town drunk, and that the wording here does not suggest adultery. I’ll let you decide:

“Ann, the wife of Thomas Savory, was presented before the Court to answer for being at home on the Lord’s day with Thomas Lucas at unreasonable time, viz:, in the time of public exercise in the worship of God, and for being found drunk at the same time under an hedge, in uncivil and beastly manner, was sentenced by the Court as followeth, viz: for her accompanying of the said Lucas at an unreasonable time as aforesaid, she was sentenced to sit in the stocks during the pleasure of the Court, which accordingly was performed and executed; and for her being found drunk as aforesaid, fined five shillings; and for prophaning the Lord’s day, fined ten shillings, according to the laws in such cases provided.”

Drunk under an hedge in an uncivil and beastly manner? Sit in the stocks? Apparently the Puritans were not as pure and stuffy as I first thought…

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!


Rosie Morris: starting over in Conway County, Arkansas

Rosa Ann Morris, my wife’s great-great grandmother, was born in Georgia in the 1860s to Boston Morris (1832-1895) and Huldey Annie Sloan Morris (1842-1914). I use the phrase “in the 1860s” because her birth year is difficult to pin down. This is typical for ancestors born in times before birth certificates and Social Security records, but Grandma Rosie is especially troublesome.  The following sources suggest various birthdays and illustrate why so many family histories simply give someone’s birth as “about” or “around.”

1862 1930 census
1863 1870 census
Oct 1863 1900 census
1864 1880 census
1865 1910 census
1866 2nd marriage
1867 1920 census
1868 1940 census
Feb 1868 tombstone

Rosie Ann Morris married Ned Freeman on May 13, 1884. He is the father of her firstborn son and possibly her first two daughters. When Rosie Morris chose to join her parents and many of her siblings (Ella Morris Dooley, Francis E. Morris Morris, John B. Morris, Arenda P. Morris Dooley, and Robert Wheeler Morris) in settling at Center Ridge, Arkansas, oral tradition suggests Ned Freeman refused to leave Georgia. Forsaking her husband (possibly while pregnant with her third child), Rosie blazed a trail to Conway County, Arkansas. The families named their new home Morris Mountain. I initially was troubled that her sister, Francis Morris, had married a man named Robert Morris from the same small county in Georgia, but I later realized that these two sets of Morris families who intermarried and founded Morris Mountain both likely took their surname from the same slave-holding family.

Once in Arkansas, Rosa Ann Morris gave birth to her third child and later married Steward Clinkscale on May 15, 1896. Steward already had eight children from his first wife, and within a few years, their brood totaled 14 combined children. Unlike her parents and husband, Rosie was able to read and write. She and Steward were among the early members of Mt. Zion Methodist Church at the foot of Morris Mountain where she served as a stewardess. Rosie lived about 95 years and saw the birth of 20 known grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. She died January 21, 1958 and is interred at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church with three of her children. One can only imagine how different things would have been had she stayed in Georgia with Ned Freeman.

Below are pictures of Rose Anna Morris Clinkscale’s six children. I am still searching for one of Grandma Rosie herself!

Carrie B. Morris (1883-1954) married Thomas Andrew “Swilin” Dooley (1880-1978). Her name is pronounced “car,” not “care.”

James Paul Morris (1886-1965) married Alice Hawkins (1896-1988) and fathered four known children.

Myrtis Morris (1892-1926) married Dock Lee Clinkscale (1882-1931) and is my wife’s great-grandmother. She had six children and died from childbirth complications.

Classia Clinkscale (1898-1974) married Burnish B. Brockman (1895-1949) and had six children.

William Boston Clinkscale (1900-1980) married Ora Dean Gilreath-Dunbar (1907-1990).  Uncle Boss had four children.

Theodore Roosevelt Clinkscale (1902-1985) married Isabella Payne Johnson (1905-1997).

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