a tree-rific journey into family history

Archive for the category “Wife’s Heritage”

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.

Boston Morris: asleep in Jessus

It reads: "Boston Moris Born  Feb 1 1832 Died  Jan 1 1895 Asleep In Jessus  From Which Man Never Wakes To Weep" This photograph cuts off the finger pointing upward. The grave is beneath a pine tree as suggested by the pine needles on the ground.

It reads:
“Boston Moris
Feb 1 1832
Jan 1 1895
Asleep In Jessus
From Which Man
Never Wakes To
This photograph cuts off the image of a finger pointing upward. The grave is beneath a pine tree as suggested by the pine needles on the ground.

Boston Morris (1832-1895), my wife’s great-great-great grandfather, lies beneath the oldest remaining grave marker at the Mt. Zion Cemetery. Mt. Zion Methodist Church sits on the foot of Morris Mountain in Center Ridge, Arkansas. The mountain was primarily settled by the interconnected descendants of Boston Morris and Henry Morris (1843-1918). The Friendship Baptist Church atop the mountain was founded by Henry’s family while Boston was an early member down the hill at Mt. Zion. These African-American families came to Conway County, Arkansas from Franklin County, Georgia in the 1880s.

Boston Morris is the son of Hannah Dumas. On the 1880 census for Carnesville, Georgia, she is listed as 100 years old and her occupation is “spins on wheel.” So much for retirement! Boston Morris married Huldey Annie Sloan (1838-1915?) while in Georgia, and they raised nine known children: Ella Morris Dooley, James Morris, Mary Morris, Rosa Ann Morris Freeman Clinkscale, Francis E. “Fannie” Morris Morris, Peter Morris, John B. “Big Bud” Morris, Arenda P. Morris Dooley, and Robert Wheeler “Little Bud” Morris. No known pictures exist of Boston or Huldey Annie Sloan Morris, but I have included two of their children.

Some early ladies of Friendship Church. Francis E. Morris Morris, Boston's daughter, is pictured in the middle of the back row. Fannie (born 1864) married Robert Fulton Morris, a son of the Henry Morris (1863-1910) mentioned in the post.

Some early ladies of Friendship Church. Francis E. Morris Morris, Boston’s daughter, is pictured in the middle of the back row. Fannie (born 1864) married Robert Fulton Morris, a son of the Henry Morris (1863-1910) mentioned in the post.

John "Big Bud" Morris (1870-1929?) married Cora Lee Tyus (pictured here, born 1876) in 1892 and had six known children. After her death, he married Bertha Pearl McCoy (born 1891) in 1909, and the couple had eight children together before his death.

John “Big Bud” Morris (1870-1929?) married Cora Lee Tyus (pictured here, born 1876) in 1892 and had six known children. After her death, he married Bertha Pearl McCoy (born 1891) in 1909, and the couple had eight children together before his death.

Related posts:

A Short History of the African-American Settlers at Center Ridge, Arkansas

Rosie Morris: starting over in Conway County, Arkansas

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



IMG_1397 IMG_1410


Hayespics_0003 Hayespics_0094

Hayespics_0001 Hayespics_0032 Hayespics_0039 Hayespics_0044 Hayespics_0070 Hayespics_0102

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.

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…

Henry Strickland Jr. and Pauline Hardiman: tracing the tracks of a railroad family

Henry Strickland, my wife’s great-grandfather, was born in Arkansas around 1900 to Henry Strickland Sr. and Ora Leverett Strickland. The Stricklands came from Gwinnett County, Georgia, and the Leveretts were from Anderson County, South Carolina. Ora Strickland died when Henry Jr. was a teenager. Henry Sr. worked for the railroad until pneumonia took his life in 1929.  Like many people in Conway County, Henry Jr. tried his hand at farming before he ultimately went to work for the railroad.

Henry Strickland, Jr. and his oldest daughter, Elizabeth “Aunt Sister” Thurman.

Pauline Hardiman was born October 27, 1907 in Plumerville, Arkansas to Rev. Sampson Henry Hardiman and Pauline McFall Hardiman. Her father’s family came from Tate County, Mississippi, and her mother’s family from Greenville County, South Carolina. Pauline Hardiman was born as Pasalogna or Partholona but later took her mother’s name. Most people remember her simply as Grandma Pauz. When Pauline was 13, her mother died, and she married Henry Strickland Jr. a few months later on April 23, 1921. The Conway County marriage record lists her as 18 instead of 13.

Pauline Hardiman Strickland AKA Grandma Pauz

Together, Henry Strickland Jr. and Pauline Hardiman Strickland had seven children: Ollie Bell Strickland (1922-1990), Henry Strickland III (1924-1924), Elizabeth K. Strickland Thurman (1925-2005), Laberta Strickland Jackson (1928-2007), Willie Hamp Strickland (1929-1992), Walter Strickland (abt 1930-abt 1930),  and Earl Strickland (born 1931). Henry’s job with the Missouri Pacific Railroad caused the family to move around. Pauline Strickland later remarked to her grandchildren that they “lived like gypsies.” The family spent significant time in Van Buren, Arkansas before settling in Coffeyville, Kansas in the 1930s. At only 43 years of age, Henry Jr. died of a heat stroke and is interred at Edmonson Cemetery in Plumerville.  Despite being only 35 and having children at home, Grandma Pauz never remarried. I like to imagine she was a strong, independent woman, and that Henry Jr. was simply irreplaceable. City directories show Pauline working as a motel cook a few years following Henry’s death. Some of Henry’s sons would follow in their father and grandfather’s footsteps by working for the railroad.  Pauline Hardiman Strickland died on November 7, 1989 and is interred at Fairview Cemetery in Coffeyville, Kansas.

Henry Jr. and Pauline’s five children who survived infancy: (back row) Earl, Elizabeth, Ollie Bell
(front row) Laberta, Willie Hamp

City Directory for Coffeyville, Kansas in Montgomery County, 1939 (click to enlarge)

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!

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).

Reading Illegible Records: can you help me?

Many of the best family history records are handwritten. Old census records, marriage licenses, death certificates, letters, and names on pictures can be scribbled in such a way that will cause confusion even if you know what you are looking for. Usually, by the time you get to the documents, they have faded, burned, flooded, and smudged. Even if you can make out the letters, you also have to account for misspelling. Most online databases have been sorted by indexers who tried their best to decipher your ancestors’ records, but they often make understandable mistakes in transcription. I recommend always looking at a copy of the original record if one is available. Speaking of original handwriting, can you help me make sense of these three names?

My great-great grandmother, Pearle F. Woods Holman (1879-1975) left behind a large collection of photographs. Only a few had any identification (such as a family dog), and this one is t0o difficult for me to read. Click to enlarge and give me a guess on the first name. I am assuming Woods for the surname.

Owens Cemetery is south of Plumerville, Arkansas and contains many of my wife’s paternal ancestors. One branch, the White Family, is interred in a large plot about halfway up the hill. Can you find a first name or a date?

My wife’s great-grandmother Myrtis Morris (1892-1926) appears to have been born between her mother’s initial marriage to Ned Freeman in Franklin County, Georgia and her later Conway County, Arkansas marriage to Steward Clinkscale. Since Myrtis used her mother’s maiden name, the best chance I have at finding the father’s name is her death certificate. After paying $10 through the Arkansas Department of Vital Records, this is what I received. The informant is her mother’s husband so I assume he would know the name of his step-daughter’s father. Ben James? Benjamin? I cannot find either of those guys.

Thanks for your help, detectives!

A Short History on African-American Settlers and Communities at Center Ridge, Arkansas

The Sweet Home Church and the Mt. Zion Church, two historically African-American churches in the rural town of Center Ridge, Arkansas, will hold a community homecoming September 1-2. I have been asked to present a history of the Sweet Home and Mt. Zion communities at the Sunday morning service.  Please keep in mind this is still a draft and is ultimately meant to be shared orally at the homecoming.

The Friendship School atop Morris Mountain boasted a large number of pupils in the circa 1905 photograph.

A History of African-American Settlers and Communities at Center Ridge, Arkansas

(prepared for the Sweet Home and Mt. Zion Community Homecoming September 2012)

White settlers arrived in the Lick Mountain Township (a few miles west of Center Ridge) in the late 1830s. Many of these families were staunch supporters of the Union during the Civil War which put them at odds with Confederate rebels in other parts of the county. The city of Center Ridge, Arkansas was founded in 1878. Twelve years later, Center Ridge boasted 250 residents, four general stores, two hotels, a drugstore, a school a mill, and a cotton gin. Most of the African-American settlers made their homes in rural communities outside town.

In the 1870 census, taken a few years after the Civil War, no African-Americans are recorded in the Lick Mountain Township (which included what would soon be Center Ridge). The following decade (1870-1880), the population of African-Americans in Conway County increased over 400%. This mass migration of African-Americans came from many former slave states such as the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The following decade (1880-1890), the number of black citizens again doubled. Many of these pioneers were former slaves and their children who sought a better life in and around Center Ridge, Arkansas. They established communities in rural Conway County that thrived for decades. The vast majority of these pioneers were farmers but some also worked as blacksmiths, carpenters, preachers, and teachers. Some received federal homestead grants, and these settlers built schools, churches, and homes around Morris Mountain, Cypress Creek, and Hogan’s Creek.

Churches became the social and spiritual focal point of the communities. Most churches had a large bell to announce special events and deaths in the area. Churches often included cemeteries to recognize those who had passed on. Many early churches services included an Amen Corner and a Moaners Bench. The Mt. Zion Methodist Church was founded in 1879 and is the oldest surviving African-American church in Center Ridge. Early families include the Morris family from Georgia, the Brockman, Clinkscale, Dunbar, Gaylord, Govan, Gilreath, Mayfield, Oates, Roseburrow, and Vaughan families from South Carolina, the Tyus family from Tennessee, and the Foster family.

A picture of an older edition of the Mt. Zion church as taken from their 1979 Centennial Anniversary booklet.

In early September 1891, eleven Regular Baptist churches in rural Conway County formed the Cypress Creek Church District. This new association included five churches from the Center Ridge area: Cypress Creek Church, Friendship, Hopewell, Mt. Abel, and New Hope. South of Center Ridge, the Cypress Creek Church included the Stevenson family from Georgia, and the Garlington and Payne families from South Carolina. On top of Morris Mountain, Friendship church’s early membership included the Crymes, Dooley, Flood, Kemp, Knox, and Morris families from Georgia, the Green family of North Carolina, and the Govan, Langston, McCrary, and Smith families from South Carolina. Between Center Ridge and the Van Buren County line, the Hopewell community included the McFarland family from Georgia, the McDaniel family from South Carolina, and the Green and McCoy families from Tennessee. South of Center Ridge, Mt. Abel (pronounced A-bell) included the McDaniels from South Carolina and the Brown family. New Hope in Center Ridge included the Stokes family from South Carolina. By the writing of the Cypress Creek District History in the 1950s, Cypress Creek church, Mt. Abel, and New Hope were extinct and Hopewell would follow a short time later. The only original Cypress Creek district church from Center Ridge surviving today is Friendship which holds its own homecoming every other year.

The Sweet Home Baptist Church was established in 1897 and early families included the Cain, Knox, and Stevenson families from Georgia, the Hawkins the family from Tennessee, and the Dials, Hemphill, and Rhodes families from South Carolina. The Sweet Home church bell was borrowed years ago by unknown persons, and the church still awaits its return. A Church of God in Christ was later founded in the community. The COGIC organization boasts over seven million members with churches in over 60 nations, and their founder, Bishop C.H. Mason, actually spent some of his childhood in Conway County at the Mt. Olive community.

In addition to, and often as a part of these early churches, these pioneers set up schools for their children. Friendship School sat atop Morris Mountain, Hopewell School in the Formosa area, and Union Special near current day Hemphill and Sweet Home roads. After some of these early schools closed, African-American students in the area were bused over twenty miles away to school in Menifee. Eventually the county schools were desegregated, and the first black student graduated from Nemo Vista High School in Center Ridge in 1968.

The Sweet Home and Mt. Zion communities shared a school called Union Special.

These early families worked, studied, and worshipped in their new communities throughout Northeast Conway County. Their relationships with one another strengthened through marriages and childbirth. The 1920s, 30s, and 40s sent many of these early pioneer families’ children and grandchildren away to seek jobs in urban areas such as Denver, Kansas City, Omaha, and Los Angeles. Whereas in 1890 African-Americans represented around 40% of Conway County’s population, today, they account for only 13%. Though many of these groups are now gone from here, their descendants remain to carry on their legacy.


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