13 December 2011


Circa 1900 : Luther Hinton Saunders, Stephen Decater Saunders, Belvadier Walker Saunders, (on her lap) John B. Carl Saunders, Clarence Steve Saunders, girls: May Etta Saunders & Berti Florence Saunders. From the Honnoll family genealogy site. 

English (especially Yorkshire) and Scottish: occupational name for a fuller, Middle Englishwalkere, Old English wealcere, an agent derivative ofwealcan ‘to walk, tread’." 

Today in family history (an ongoing series)

Today was another day of freezing fog and hidden ice patches everywhere. The landscape is closing down for winter, but it feels like winter has made it here early yet again. It’s a time to light fires and look for the first sign that the days are starting to lengthen again.

No one in the immediate line was up to much on Dec. 12, but Dec. 13 brings us to a heartbreaker.

13 Dec 1901: Belvadier Walker Saunders dies in Altus, Oklahoma, at the age of 29, 10 days after being gored by a bull. She was part of the Walker exodus from Itawamba, Mississippi, via Arkansas to Altus. This was a one-way trip with wagons—not romantic prairie schooners, but utilitarian wagons carrying whole households. Generally the people walked. And walked. The quilt I now have made this trip in one of those wagons.

Belvy was the oldest child in the family; my great-grandmother Mossie was the second child, and the infamous Clovis was the youngest. There were 7 others, a total of 9. The youngest 3 were not born in Mississippi, so the trek must have started after 1884 but before 1887. In 1884, Belvy would have been 12. In 1892, at the age of 19, not quite 20, she married Stephen Decatur Saunders in Altus and started what would become a family of 5 children.

She doesn’t look as if life was easy in any way. Altus was a frontier town then, and Oklahoma was not yet a state (that would not happen until 1907). They were homesteaders, farmers, not ranchers, and the enmity between the two groups was fierce. Belvy looks as if she could tackle anything and do everything except smile. I hope that is nothing more than an artifact of the photograph pose.

I cannot find where she is buried. She is not listed in Victory Cemetery at the geometrically straight crossroads outside Altus, as are her parents and some of her siblings. And cousins. And in-laws. There are 730 people here and I may be related to them all, as was Belvy, at least once. 

Stephen remarried, and raised 3 more children with Lillie Brisbin, whose brother Henry—keep up, now—married Belvy’s little sister Mittie Florence Walker. I am working out some complex descendancies here. It was an outpost town, with relatively few families but lots of children in those families. Mossie married Newt Brooks, and George Aster Walker married Nettie Melinda Brooks—siblings marrying siblings. Oddly, Nettie also died at the age of 29, leaving 5 children.

I don’t have any pictures of my great-grandmother at 29, but I suspect that she and Belvy faced the world with that same expression.  They could run a homestead, build a half-dugout, and carve out a living on a dry and trackless frontier. They took their Methodism straight and walked roads we would not be able to see today. In the end, the dangers of their world--livestock for one, a tornado for another--were too much. I have lit a candle for Belvy today. It's too cold without one. 

11 December 2011

Savages and Moons

Mary "Mollie" Savage Honnoll

This day in family history:

11 Dec 1678: John Savage dies in Savages Neck, Northampton, Virginia. He was born in Accomac, Virginia, in 1624, son of Thomas Savage, one of the Jamestown settlers. Accomac is in Accomack County, just so you Virginians don’t assume I don’t know how to spell. Apparently the K is negotiable. Jamestown was a marshy, swampy, hostile environment for the English settlers; never mind that "History is Fun" stuff. Thomas came over in 1608 at the age of 14 on a ship called the "John and Francis," married Hannah Tyng there at 27 and died there at 39. John Savage confounds the family migration trend by moving east from the Eastern Shore across the Chesapeake to a tiny point of land close to the end of the Delmarva Peninsula. I’ve been there, on the way to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, though with no idea of the family connection at the time, alas. John lived on the bay side of the peninsula. His son Hamilton stayed there, too. His grandson Levin struck out for the Appalachians in the next century.  I wonder if John was a waterman on the Bay. That would make me happy. Just the idea that there is a place called “Savages Neck” is great. Keep reading for more Savages.

11 Dec 1710: Keeses, as promised. I hardly know what to make of this. Among his children, John Keese may have had two sons, William and Shadrach. Or he may have just had one, William Shadrach. At least one of them died this day in Providence, Rhode Island. The records are conflicting. In some, William was born 10 years before Shadrach (26 Oct 1685 vs. 05 Nov 1695). William was 25; Shadrach was 15. Whoever, or whichever, someone died this day and did so 10 years after their father almost to the day, and 10 years before their mother. There is no other information that I can find. Some young man died far too young, that’s certain. This must have been devastating for their family. Their brother, Jonathan, lived to 1771 and married Mary Bowne. He is my 6th great-grandfather. Jonathan left Providence for New York sometime before 1719. I wonder if there was too much tragedy in Providence for him. His son was the first Elijah Keese in this line. One genealogy line insists that William (not Shadrach) married in 1743 after dying in 1710, but I don’t think my family is that talented. Always check your references.

11 Dec 1726: Stephen Moon dies in St. Peter Parish, New Kent, Virginia. St. Peter’s Parish is still in service today and is the site, among other notable history moments, of George and Martha Washington’s wedding. Stephen died five years before Martha was born, but the families undoubtedly knew each other, it being a small population at that time. He was born there in 1681 and was another one who stayed where he started. You’d think that the ancestors would stay put in such a lovely part of the world, but you would be mistaken.  His son Jacob headed west, from the coastal plain east of Richmond to the Appalachian foothills northeast of Lynchburg. My ancestors seem to have liked the Appalachians very much once they got there. The Moons are descended from Capt. John Moon, who came over in the early 17th century from Hampshire, England. The line follows from Martha Patsy Moon through the Martins to Mary Savage, descendant of John (above) and mother of Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker, the quiltmaker. See? More Savages. 

10 December 2011

England, old and New


This day (and yesterday) in family history: On a cold December day in 2011, I am mired in the cold 17th century of both old and new England. 

Dec. 9: None of my ancestors apparently admits to doing anything notable on this day. I may make it an official holiday.

Dec. 10, 1637: Judith Burrow Phippen dies in Somerset, England. Unless she didn’t. The lineage here is a bit shaky and could be wrong. There is not a lot known about Judith. She was born in 1595 and died at the age of ~42. If the lines are in fact drawn correctly, her daughter Elizabeth emigrated to the New World in before 1654 and married one of the John Adams who pepper the family tree. At the most recent OCD count, there are 13 John Adamses in the tree. On both sides of the family, no less.

Dec. 10, 1700: Mary Folland Weldon dies in Barnstable, Massachusetts. Mary is my 9th great-grandmother and the direct ancestor of (among other people) my great-grandmother Elmyra Wacaster Johnson, mother of my maternal grandfather.  Her line goes through a few Bentleys, a Bailey and a Gibbs before it runs into the Wacasters of Arkansas, a large and complex family, as future posts will show. I’m having a hard time reconciling New England ancestors and Arkie-Okie-Texas descendants, but that move south and west was an overwhelming trend across our generations. Mary died at 70 and apparently never left the Barnstable area. I wonder what she would have thought about her restless migrating descendants following the ever-retreating frontiers. Her parents were among the first to arrive in the New World in this line—maybe one ocean crossing was enough for a few generations before the wanderlust hit again. There was no way back across the Atlantic for them, either.

Dec. 10, 1700: Close by, in Rhode Island, John Keese also dies on the same day as Mary Folland Weldon. They were not related and most likely never met, but there they are, both ancestors. He is a 7th great-grandfather of mine. There are 5 John Keeses of one kind or another in the tree. This John Keese was born in Rhode Island in 1655 and died at the age of 45, leaving children with good New England names such as Patience and Shadrach. It is odd that the most die-hard Confederate line in my father’s family has such staunch New England roots. John is the ur-Keese: I have found no information on his parentage.

More on John Keese and his family tomorrow. 

08 December 2011

Gholson and Arman

Today (and yesterday) in the bulging family history file:

07 Dec 1802: Gholson Stepp (or Stapp), my 4th great-grand uncle for anyone counting, dies in Lancaster, Kentucky, at the age of 44. He was born in 1758 in Culpeper, Virginia, and so exemplifies the extended family’s insistence on restlessly moving west, south or both. He was the son of Lucy Gholson and James Stapp (or Stepp), hence the unusual first name. I see a lot of that across generations. He spelled his last name differently on various legal documents, ensuring job security for OCD genealogists, bless his heart. Gholson was the brother of Celia Stepp (who seems to have made her mind up about how to spell her name), who married Elijah Harrison Keese and is thus my 4th great-grandmother at that end of the Keese line. She named one son for her brother, Gholson Stepp Keese, who does not seem to have perpetuated those names in his descendants.

08 Dec 1875: Arman O. Jackson dies in Augusta, Arkansas. Arman married one of my Honnoll relatives, the one I give the Best Name in the Family award to, Cinderella Lucinda Honnoll, my 3rd great-grand aunt, sister of Peter the beekeeper. Oddly, she is not the only 19th-century Cinderella I am related to. Arman was born in Tennessee in 1810 and married Cinderella Lucinda in Hardeman County, Tennessee.

(Let’s pause there for a Your Family Tree May Not Fork moment. Hardeman County was named for the Hardeman family to whom my father is related via those Keeses that keep cropping up. Six Hardeman boys married six Keese girls. You try straightening that out. All my ancestors from Hardeman County, though, are on my mother’s side. End of digression. I may yet prove that I am my own cousin three times over, which many would say accounts for a lot.)

Cinderella Lucinda died at the age of 30 after bearing 4 children to Arman, including a daughter named Permelia. I am collecting Names You Never See Any More with great glee, of course. Arman remarried to Hannah Tarbutton the same year that Cinderella died, 1845, and had another family. Very common for the time. There was nothing more dangerous for a woman then than childbirth and its complications, and many men had 2, 3 or 4 families. He married Hannah in Alabama and moved back to Tennessee. They both moved to Arkansas some time after 1860, where Hannah outlived him. A lot of people seem to have moved to Arkansas after the Civil War, keeping up the east-to-west movement. These were almost always one-way trips, total breaks with the home state and the friends and families left there.

There was no way back home.

05 December 2011

William Sharp(e)

Meeting House Hill, Delaware, 2002; an early Quaker meeting house in the New World

Today in the family history project (a continuing series):
06 Dec 1525: William Sharpe dies at the age of 67 in Islington, a London neighborhood which he was also born, back in 1458, date unknown. The name of his spouse is also unknown, as are the names of his parents. William Sharp just springs up spontaneously in Islington, which is not uncommon in the older records. I'm finding that there is no such thing as pinpoint accuracy when you get past the first three or four generations as you move forward onto the past. Spellings and dates change, stories mutate over time, and hidden information comes into the light. If my information about William is correct, he is my 14th great-grandfather, and he spent his life in a neighborhood originally named Giseldone by the Saxons in 1005. His descendants spelled Sharp in a number of creative ways, which makes the genealogy work so interesting (sigh). If the chart is correct--a big if--his descendants include the Bownes, who were among the very first Quakers, the Winthrops of New England, and the Keeses--remember the Keeses?--who wound up all over Texas and Brazil. The Bowne connection is particularly meaningful to me. As the saying goes, interesting if true, and maybe proof that there are deeper connections to the past than we think. 

Ancestors in the attic

Keese House, Jefferson, TX

Today marks the start of a year-long project to share stories from our increasingly strange family genealogy project. I'm using calendar software to turn up what the relatives were up to on this day in history. This helps me decide which part of the tree to work on next in a nicely random way, which seems apropos. With any luck, it'll be entertaining....

Today in the family history project (a continuing series):
05 Dec 1884: Oliver Hazard Perry Keese dies in Junction, Texas, at the age of 58. The Keeses went in for grand patriotic masculine names and Confederate sympathies in a big way. His grandson, who was born 6 years later, was named Oliver Napoleon Keese. His father, Thomas Jefferson Keese, was born in South Carolina and died in Menard, Texas. My great-great-grandfather, Oliver H. P.’s  first cousin, was George Washington Keese. Oliver H. P. Keese was born in Lawrence, Tennessee, northeast of Memphis, and was in Texas by the age of 24, following the trend moving at that time to the southwest of the Mississippi. He served as a private in the Confederacy, in the Company of the 2nd Frontier. After that, he served as a Texas Ranger. These Keeses were cousins of the Keeses in my father’s line who went to Brazil as Confederados, but these Keeses stayed at the edge of West Texas, which was doubtless just as alien, just as removed from the aftermath of the Civil War. Interestingly, they don’t seem to have named any boy babies in ensuing generations for Confederate heroes—Oliver’s sons included yet another George Washington, yet another Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Clay Keese. The girls were not saddled with equally weighty names, fortunately. 

04 December 2011

December?! How did that happen?

House, Cottonwood, SD

If you are eagle-eyed enough to notice that these shots do not look like December light, or even November light....congratulations. Now hush. I'm trying to get this line of thought back on track after an extraordinarily hectic couple of months. Every year I conveniently forget how fast-paced the fall semester tends to be. After traveling every weekend in October, I stayed in for November with a variety of work projects that also managed to consume every available weekend.

This culminated in a Thanksgiving dinner for 25 that happily, almost magically, worked out beautifully. We are in the heart of potluck country, after all, and the students, faculty, staff and friends of the museum outdid themselves. There is a quirky saying that the only Quaker sacrament is potluck. This is a great truism that only appears to be shallow on the surface. It's the same deep connection that we make when we share food at our meetings with our Lakota friends. You have to bring and share food, but it's not about the eating, it's about the bonding.

So here it is December, and snow is blowing around, and the temperature is supposed to be a whole 4 degrees F tonight. I fail to see why we can't just hibernate.

In other breaking news, the family genealogy project just took a bizarre turn when I discovered that my parents are actually related, and not just by marriage. I've checked this over dozens of times, and that's how it comes out. In the early 1600s, a brother and sister in the Hinton family started families that would eventually culminate in their 9th-great grandchildren meeting up, marrying, and unleashing the Shelton siblings on the world. My father's mother is descended from the daughter; my mother's mother is descended from the son. I don't know what that makes me, but I do know that my parents don't react at all well to being called Aunt Mom and Uncle Dad. And there will be no banjo music...

More genealogy later if I can untangle it. Here are some ghost town and prairie architecture shots from our trip to Brookings in October, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. And more mists. Enjoy.

Abandoned church and abandoned tree, Cottonwood, SD

Sod-topped cabin, Philip, SD

Shelter barn

Classic barn with a face


Damaged barn

Ghost house, Badger, SD

Building ornamentation

Octagonal barn