Sunday, April 28, 2013

Albert McAfee, Soldier

On April 27, 2013, a memorial service was held at the Upper Cedar Creek Cemetery in Cedar Creek, Texas, to honor the memory of Confederate Army veterans buried in both the Upper and Lower Cemeteries.  The following is a biography of my great-great grandfather Albert McAfee, who is buried there and which I delivered as part of the memorial service.

The family members who have received my Family Reunion newsletter over the years may recognize this biography as taken from a longer article that appeared in the Summer 2000 issue.  

    When I think of the pioneers in my ancestry, one of the first names that comes to mind is Albert McAfee, my great-great grandfather, buried just over there.  His journey to this place of rest was a long and exciting one.  My grandmother could remember snatches of his stories involving Indian fighting and blizzards survived and tragedy endured, but as it turns out, she only knew the tip of the iceberg.  No one thought to record his stories  - after all the little grandchildren at his knee thought he was an old man living in the past.  So the clues were scarce as I began researching my McAfee lineage, and it proved exceedingly difficult to make a connection between the fragmented stories and the local history books. 

     But, when I finally turned the correct rock over and uncovered the story of Albert McAfee, I realized that this man had traveled far and seen much on his way to Bastrop County, Texas.

     I think it would be safe to say that it was a cold day in Linn County, Iowa, on December 11, 1849, when Albert was born to parents Jacob and Lavina McAfee.  He joined 3 older brothers William, Charles, and James.  Ultimately there would arrive four additional younger brothers:  Henry Clay, Jacob, Eugene and George.  Seven brothers in all.

    Sometime around 1860, the family pushed a bit further west and settled in Livingston County, Missouri, just before the outbreak of the War.  Shortly after the move, mother Lavina died of unknown causes (possibly childbirth) in July 1861.

    Local sentiment regarding the war was widely divided in Livingston County.  The Secessionists were in the majority and were the aggressive faction.  The Unionists were passive, but watchful of their opportunity to move.  In June of 1861, control of Livingston County was taken by Federal troops who realized the importance of protecting the railroad.  The southern troops, having received notice that the Federal troops were approaching, made their exit just in time.  By the fall, Livingston County men were being organized into official Federal regiments.  Father Jacob enlisted as a Union private in Company F of the 18th Missouri Volunteer Infantry on September 25, 1861.  Jacob was not to see any real time in service to his country, however, as he died a month after enlistment from measles.

   The McAfee brothers were now orphans, ranging in age from 16 to toddler.  Albert was 11.  And War was kicking into high gear.  I guess it was inevitable that the older boys of the family would elect to join the fighting.  Brother Charles chose to enlist as a Union soldier, joining their father’s unit.  The next eldest, James, became part of the Livingston County Home Guard, taking the Union side as well.

     But Albert decided to enlist in service to the Confederacy, signing up July 3, 1861, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  What was Albert doing so far away from his family and serving for the opposite side?  His granddaughter/my grandmother remembered a story about he and (an unidentified) “Uncle Jack” making several attempts to enlist but being turned down for their size.  Perhaps they just kept on moving down the road making try after try until Albert finally hit upon the idea of eating bananas and drinking water to bring his weight up to an acceptable level and “Uncle Jack”, whoever he was, overcame a height requirement by stuffing papers into over-sized boots.  I guess their determination finally overcame the obstacles and at the tender age of 11, Albert became a teamster in the Pointe Coupee Artillery.

    The younger McAfee brothers ended up being relocated to the homes of various relatives and neighbors in and near Livingston County and lived their lives out in Missouri.  Most of them died young.  Charles, James and Albert all survived the War and returned to northern Missouri when the War ended.  Charles and James would eventually migrate to northern California and live long, productive lives.

   But Albert again took a different path.  How Albert spent his time immediately following the end of the war is up for conjecture, but on October 17, 1868, he was in Iola, Kansas, where he signed up for a 6-month term of service with the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, a locally recruited unit raised by Kansas Governor Crawford to assist in the control of the Indians along the western borders of Kansas and Oklahoma.  Albert was 19 years old when he enlisted with the Kansas Volunteers. He is described as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with dark hair, fair skin and light blue eyes.  (By the way, the minimum age requirement was 21.  Albert seems to have pulled a fast one on the recruiters yet again.)  

     The 19th Kansas consisted of 1200 men, mustered into service in Topeka in October 1868.  They departed Topeka on November 5th, headed for Indian County, specifically to aid Gen. George Armstrong Custer who was engaged in fighting the Indians along the Washita River  in Oklahoma.

     Hostilities between the whites and Indians in Kansas had intensified in the post-civil war period leading up to 1868.  In 1864, Col. Chivington led an attack at Sand Creek, Colorado, resulting in the indiscriminate slaughter of Indian braves, women and children.  In return, the Cheyenne, Arapahoe ,Kiowa and some Pawnees and Omahas, committed many atrocities against the white settlers, including murder, rape and property destruction.  Governor Crawford, having made several pleas for help from the federal government, finally received authorization from Lt. General W. T. Sherman to call up a regiment of State volunteers to help protect the settlers.

     The 19th Kansas Volunteers headed south to join Custer, Albert as a member of Company C, and ran full-tilt into freezing cold and snowy conditions that made progress difficult.  Many of the men were on foot and marching through snow that at times was 20 inches deep.  Unable to find their way to Camp Supply on schedule, they missed out on Custer’s infamous raid at the Washita on November 27th.  The volunteers would return with Custer to the battlefield a few days later to search for a missing Capt.  Elliott and some of his men, whose bodies would be recovered along with the bodies of a white woman and child.   The bodies of the federal soldiers were enough to inspire the men of the 19th to thirst for a good fight with the Indians to avenge the deaths of their comrades.

     However, the men of the 19th never saw any real Indian fighting, try as they did to find some.  There were opportunities to observe Indians who were gathered up in prepara-tion of moving them to reservations, but no opportunity ever arose for the men to get their revenge.  There was, however, a lot of time spent marching in pursuit of Indians who for the most part managed to stay ahead of them.

      In addition to cold weather, the men of the 19th also endured bouts of hunger, at times bordering on starvation.  Sometimes there would be fresh venison or other wildlife available, but there was also the occasional need to resort to eating the horses who fell by the way side .

     The men of the 19th did get the opportunity for one major drive against the Indians.  Word had come that two white women were being held by a group of Indians that the troops were trailing.  When the Indian encampment was in sight, the men were ordered to stand and wait while Custer negotiated for the release of the women. The men stood their ground for several days, desperately hoping the orders would be issued to fight the Indians, but the orders never came.  Custer finally obtained the release of the two women by threatening to execute the Indian chiefs with whom he had been negotiating.   The 19th at least had the satisfaction of rescuing two of their own kind, though by much more peaceful means than they had hoped.

     The men were mustered out in Kansas City a couple of weeks after the rescue.  For all the cold, deprivation and starvation suffered for six months, not to mention never having the satisfaction of engaging the enemy, each man received about $100.

     I would love to know what Albert was up to during the next few years.  My vivid imagination conjures up visions of gold prospecting in California or silver mining in Colorado.  At this point, I have a hard time visualizing a young Albert content with life on the farm.  However, he seemed to be ready to settle down by 1878, when he obtained a homestead in Prairie County, Arkansas, and married Johnnie Elizabeth Underwood on July 25th.  Albert and Johnnie Elizabeth had one daughter, my great-grandmother Nettie.  When Nettie was 9 months old, Johnnie Elizabeth suffered a miscarriage.  Albert went for help, but Johnnie Elizabeth began hemorrhaging and died before he returned.     Albert is said to have gone away for awhile, leaving Nettie in the care of neighbors.  When he returned, he married Mary Brock, the young lady who had taken care of Nettie in his absence.  Mary’s sister Angelina was married to a Confederate veteran, Jacob Alexander Beck, and in 1882, the two couples pulled up stakes and moved to Travis County, Texas.  Jacob Beck would open a butcher shop close to downtown Austin and Albert worked there for a time.  Daughter Nettie would tell her children about watching the construction of the State Capitol building close by as she stood outside the butcher shop.

    Albert and Mary had 5 children together:  daughters Cora, Lillie and Pearl and sons Albert and Jesse.  For a time they lived in Del Valle.  Then in 1902, daughter Nettie was a young widow and married Burl Mason, himself a widower, and moved to Cedar Creek where Burl was foreman of the Trigg Ranch.  It must have been shortly after that when Albert and Mary followed them to Bastrop County and there they remained for the rest of their lives.  Mary McAfee died in Cedar Creek on February 3, 1917, and is buried next to Albert.  Son Jessie would go to Europe and fight in World War I, returning safely but succumbing to typhoid fever shortly after his return.  He is buried next to his parents, just over there.  Albert would begin splitting his time among his children, staying in their homes and regaling those grandchildren with the stories of his youthful adventures.  He always brought with him his trunk full of his belongings.  I would give my eye teeth to know what happened to that trunk, but no one seems to know where it went.

     At the time of his death, Albert was living in Cedar Creek, probably staying with daughter Nettie as he had done on several occasions.  (He did not enjoy living with Nettie, as she disapproved of his gambling habits and made sure to latch onto his pension payment when it arrived before he had a chance to lose it.)

     The official death certificate indicates the cause of death on October 17, 1926, to be old age and influenza.   A brief obituary was printed in the Bastrop Advertiser, short and to the point and totally omitting any details that would indicate what a full, adventurous life Albert had lived or how far he had traveled before he became a quiet farmer of Bastrop County.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Remembering our Southern Veterans

(Apologies to my Frankum/Lentz kinfolk who may see parts of this post appear in the upcoming Reunion newsletter.)

When I decided a few years ago that it was time to put my genealogy where my mouth is and join selected lineage societies, I started with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) because I figured if I could meet the requirements to join their ranks, the other societies would be a cake walk.  I became a DAR member in October of 2009 by virtue of my ancestor John Henry Lentz, who served as an American soldier from the state of North Carolina.

My next target was the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).  As it turns out, it is much more difficult to pry your way into the DRT, but thanks again to my Lentz line who must have had nerve and adventure running in their veins, I was able to become an official member of the DRT in May 2010 by virtue of ancestors Jacob G. Lentz and his daughter Amanda Horton Lentz who were settlers of Texas under Stephen F. Austin.

Next on the list was the Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).  I had left this group until last because I had mixed feelings.  With all the flap over the Confederate Battle Flag and the attempts of some to have Confederate monuments removed from the Courthouse lawns where they have stood for decades, it isn't exactly the politically correct thing to do to join a society that venerates the South and the men who fought and died for its Cause.

In fact, as I was mulling over whether or not I wanted to join, I was challenged by one of the local historians to explain why I would want to become a member.  I knew the answer immediately, even though I had not really tried to put it into words.

I descend from a number of men who fought for the South and I descend from a few who fought for the North.  I am proud to be a descendant of every one of them.  Whatever one thinks about the reasons behind the War, these men stood up to defend their homeland and their way of life. From their viewpoint, they were justified in the choice they made and they paid a great price, both in lives and property lost.  The sacrifices made by these men and their families, particularly those from the South where most of the war was waged, were horrific.  I made the decision to join UDC to honor those people who gave up so much during that terrible war and became an official member in December 2011 by virtue of my ancestor William W. Frankum.  (I had considered joining through my Lentz line, but the Frankums are not well represented in the lineage societies, so I decided to get them on the books.)

The UDC actively works to be sure that our Confederate Veterans are not forgotten or their valiant efforts buried in the name of political correctness.  One of the yearly activities is hold a Confederate Memorial Day.  Today our chapter joined with a chapter from Austin to hold this year's Confederate Memorial Day at the Old Red Rock Cemetery where I have numerous Lentz and Frankum relatives buried.  Several of us met at the cemetery the evening before to place the official Confederate flag (not the battle flag) as well as an American flag at the graves of 25 Confederate veterans who rest there.  The fluttering flags sprinkled all over the cemetery were a beautiful sight when we arrived for the memorial service today.  We were blessed with a cloudy sky and perfect temperature.

We were also blessed with a wonderful turnout for the service.  Many members of the Old Red Rock Cemetery Association were in attendance as well as a number of members from both sponsoring chapters and a few members from other nearby UDC chapters.

One of the ladies in our L. A. Turner Chapter from Bastrop brought a cake for the refreshment table that might not have been politically correct, but she did a gorgeous job and it tasted wonderful!

One of the benefits of having joined the DAR, DRT and UDC is that I have acquired a number of distant cousins who have become good friends.  Two of my Mobley cousins are shown in the front row here, Cathy Smith on the far left and her sister Melba Schneider on the far right.  The three of us attend all three monthly meetings and have a great time visiting with each other and trading photos and family data.

On my Lentz side, there were several cousins in attendance.  Cousin Chris Lentz is the fellow in the white hat and rust-colored shirt, facing to the right.  He is descended from the brother of my Amanda Horton Lentz.  He is talking to cousin Micky Turner, who descends from the brother of my Gabriel Lentz.  (The fellow in the front row in the gimme cap reading the program, is Gordon Smith, Cathy's husband.

After the service, I cajoled Cathy into taking my photo at Gabriel Lentz's grave.

While we were there to honor our Confederate soldiers, I knew my Grandmother would like me to pay tribute to my Frankum kinfolk who are buried there.  Next to Gabriel is Louis Frankum, Grandma's baby brother who died in infancy from what she described as "brain fever".

Across the cemetery are a cluster of three Frankum graves.  My great-grandfather William Henry Frankum's little sister Martha also died in infancy.

Their older brother Lee is buried next to Martha.  I've never been able to find the cause of Lee's death, but he was a young man of 24 when he died.

Finally, the grave of Allen Frankum, "Uncle Fatty", is close to those of Lee and Martha.  You can find more information on Allen in a previous post.

The memorial service was lovely and very moving.   The opportunity to reconnect with distant relatives is always enjoyable.   I am so glad to have been a part of this opportunity to pay tribute to our Southern veterans.

And I'm glad I was born in the land of cotton.  Look away, Dixieland!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Heirloom of the Week - the Victrola

Not too long ago I was in an antique store eavesdropping on the conversation between a father and his little girl who were shopping nearby. The father had been flipping through a bin of old LP records and his daughter wanted to know what they were. He explained that in the "old days" you listened to music on the large vinyl discs before the invention of CDs and iPods.

Well, I was immediately reduced to elderly status. I have several boxes of those antiques in the back of my closet and they were prized possessions back in my teen years. The look of complete incomprehension on her face was comical. I wondered what she would have thought about the old 78s that were just going out of style when I was her age.

We had quite a pile of 78s when I was about 3-4 years old. They were old then and a lot of them bit the dust when my parents made popcorn bowls out of them for a church social by heating them until they could be shaped into bowls. I think the few that remained must have been in the box of records that got lost during the move from Smiley.

But one made it and I have it still. More about that in a minute.

One of the items that my grandmother Hodge passed along to me was a portable 78-rpm Brunswick victrola. You wind it with a crank and then release the turntable to spin until the mechanism runs down. One winding would last a record or two. In a little compartment at the front edge you kept extra needles handy, because they wore down quickly. I don't really know where the little phonograph came from, but I remember that my aunt Linda and I would get it out every so often and play a few 78s with their scratchy, old-fashioned sound.

By the time I acquired the phonograph, there were no 78 records in the storage area under the top lid. I scrounged an old Hank Williams 78 in an antique store so I would have one to display with my heirloom Victrola.

It was later that I remembered there was one 78 record that escaped the popcorn bowl craft project. For years it had been stored in Mother's Lane cedar chest to protect it from harm and later it had been displayed for awhile in the china closet. I relocated the old record and now it, too, resides in the storage area inside the Victrola.

What made this old record special enough to escape the craft project is the autograph of the singer that is faintly scratched into the label. It is really hard to see now, but if you hold it under the light just right, you can see the words "Sincerely, Jimmie Rodgers". I'm not sure who it was who saw Jimmie Rodgers in person, but the record has been around for as long as I can remember.

At one time Mother wrote to the Country Music Hall of Fame to inquire if the record had any value. Today I came across the letter she received in return, which prompted this little stroll down memory lane. Basically they told her that the record had no real intrinsic value except to a collector who just wanted an autographed Jimmie Rodgers 78, but the letter ended with a hint that items like this could always be donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Mother was not inclined to make such a donation.

The old 78 records run about $2-$10 in antique stores these days. The autograph is so faint it probably would not be that desirable to a collector, so I doubt this particular heirloom has much value. But somewhere in the past one of my relatives stood in a line to get an autographed copy of "Blue Yodel No. 6" by the Singing Brakeman, and that makes it special to me.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Frankum Family Portrait 1991

For over a year I have pondered the purchase of a portable scanner called the Flip-Pal. When you are a genealogist in motion, you quite frequently run into an unexpected photo or document in the hands of a distant cousin and that you would give your eye teeth to get a copy of into your personal collection. You hate to ask to borrow a precious item and you can see they hate to be asked, so you settle for taking a photo of the item with your camera. That is a hit or miss solution that disappoints more often than not.

At one point I purchased a full sized scanner that was fairly lightweight and lugged it along to family gatherings. That required lugging along my laptop and setting the whole mess up somewhere out of the way and missing the opportunity to visit because I was off in a corner slowly scanning the day away. And, a full size scanner was out of the question for airplane trips.

Some years ago I had tried a wand scanner and been severely disappointed with the thing. It was even more hit or miss than the camera, you could not check the scans until you downloaded them into a computer, and likely as not you would find out you had a collection of fragments rather than whole photos or documents.

The Flip-Pal came on the market about a year ago and seemed to be the answer to my problems. It is completely self-contained, runs on AA batteries, is lightweight, small enough to fit in my purse and has a display window that allows you to check your scans. In addition, it comes with software that allows you to stitch together multiple scans of objects too large for its scanning window. A year later the positive reviews much outweighed the mediocre and negative reviews and I decided the time was right. It was waiting on my doorstep when I got home Friday afternoon.

I decided to test it out with a group photo taken at my grandmother Ivy Wilcoxen's 90th birthday. Until now it was one of the few photos I had not preserved digitally because it was too big to be processed with even my large scanner. I set about breaking the 10-inch by 20-inch photo into 6 separate scans and then held my breath when I instructed the program to stitch the 6 pieces back together.

I was floored when the program produced an almost perfect composite of the 6 scans. The only flaw was a small area on the far right which was probably my fault when I scanned that area. I am very pleased with the first major test and I look forward to carting my little toy along when I have the slightest expectation that I will run into some photo or item I need to add to my collection.

Frankums, Wilcoxens and Friends
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church fellowship hall
Austin, Texas, 1991

And now, I ask my kinfolks to assist me in identifying all the people to be found in this photo treasure. While I know most of the dear people, I am unable to identify some of the children and friends who are included here. I also sometimes confuse names and faces, for which I apologize in advance if I've done so here.

Please email me or leave a comment below if you find an error or blank in my identification efforts.

1 - Edward Frankum
2 - Donna Frankum
3 - Keith Harrington
4 - Grace Johnston Harrington
5 - Joan Bownds Frankum
6 - Jim Butcher
7 - James Owens
8 - Peggy Frankum Murff
9 - Ruby Frankum Johnston
10 - Kenneth Frankum
11 - Barbara Green Frankum
12 - Vivian Kirkpatrick Frankum
13 - Jo Ann Smith Wilcoxen
14 - Rene Frankum Giles
15 - Dean Frankum
16 - Buddy Wilcoxen
17 - Faye McVay Butcher
18 - Janie McVay Thaman
19 - Mark McBrayer
20 - Marla Harrington McBrayer
21 - Markie McBrayer
22 - Chelsea Ibbeken Wall
23 - Kim Linder Schmidt

24 - David Wilcoxen
25 - Ann McVay Owens
26 - Ruth Wilcoxen Wilks
27 - Karen LeFevre
28 - Wanda Keith Frankum
29 - Ivy Frankum Wilcoxen
30 - James Karnes
31 - Bobby Frankum
32 - Laura Wilks Karnes
33 - Carol McVay
34 - Ora Frankum Lamb
35 - Earl McVay
36 - Virgie Frankum McVay Tiner
37 - Daniel Melton
38 - Nancy Warner Lamb
39 - Cindy Wilcoxen

40 - Erin Linder
41 - Casey Ibbeken
42 - Rachel Murff Fuller
43 - Lindsey Shipman

44 - Glynda Johnston Wester
45 - Dwight Lamb
46 - Mary Shutte(?)
47 - Donnie Wilks
48 - Norman Frankum
49 - Evelyn Shutte Smith
50 - Niki McVay (?)
51 - Neta Keith Frankum
52 - Mrs. Vivian McClanahan
53 - Erleen McVay
54 - Denise Melton Jechow
55 - John Thaman
56 - Clodie Nell Reeves Wyatt
57 - Lela Nuse
58 - Leroy McVay
59 - Calvin Wyatt
60 - Mrs. Eberhart(?)
61 - Cody McVay(?)
62 - Ross Shutte
63 - Oliver Tiner
64 - Craig Frankum
65 - Cassidy Shipman

What a quality group of folks gathered there that day to honor my grandmother. I was privileged to be there with them.


Update 7/11/2011 - Thanks to cousin Karen Frankum Ryman, we've almost got everybody identified.
Update 7/12/2011 - Thanks to cousin Glynda Johnston Wester we now have a name for every face.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Heirlooms of the Week - The Bibles

I have an abnormal amount of Bibles in my possession. A few are mine, acquired down through the years. The rest of them once belonged to (mostly) relatives. As word got out that I was standing ready, willing and able to take on the caretaking of whatever family papers and objects that relatives, near and far, would like to pass into my care, the stack of Bibles began to grow. I would guess that I have 25 or 30 of them at this point.

Looking through a newly acquired Bible is always an adventure. You find all sorts of things tucked inside: obituaries of friends and relatives, old church bulletins, poetry cut out of magazines, birthday and Mother's day cards, pictures and the odd gum wrapper. I regret that in the early days I was not so good about keeping the Bibles in their original condition, removing the items inside and placing them in my family notebooks. Nowadays I scan what I find and put the original material back where I found it. That way, when I take a sudden notion to flip through one of the old Bibles, I am pleasantly surprised to feel the presence of the original owner, as if they are standing over my shoulder watching.

The two Bibles in the next photo were once used by my Hodge grandparents (the black one on the left) and my great aunt Fay Hodge Branton (the blue one on the right).

The next two Bibles belonged to my Wilcoxen grandparents. The tattered black one was my Grandpa's. The one lying open behind it belonged to Grandma and had a special treasure awaiting inside. Grandma had taken the time to fill out marriage dates, birth dates, death dates and military service data, as well as a capsule of her own family history. While it can't be used as an "official" source, it is wonderful to have all of this information in her own handwriting.

One day my grandmother Lucy Hodge gave me a very large Bible in horrible condition, missing both covers and the necessary page with the publication date that would have made this an official Family Bible. It had belonged to my great-grandmother Mary Caroline Morgan Sewell Mobley. In Mary Caroline's handwriting are a handful of dates, including the only record I have ever found giving the date of her marriage to Joseph Mobley and the only record I have ever seen concerning the child she had with her first husband G. W. Sewell, a little girl who died in infancy. It is bulky and tattered, but a treasure in my family archives.

The small Bible on the right, the cover spotted with some kind of decay, belonged to my great-grandmother Cora Mobley Hodge, Mary Caroline's youngest daughter.

I have the Bible my mother carried to church every Sunday (the black one in the middle of the photo below) as well as several of my father's Bibles. He wore them out quickly. The ragged black Bible on the left was given to him by Pleasant Hill Baptist Church when he was just starting out in the ministry. He carried his ordination papers inside until he gave them to me. The large Bible lying open behind has been literally read to pieces. It is held together by Scotch and duct tape and heavily annotated by my father in every shade of ink. The little book at upper right is not a Bible, but a Minister's handbook. I was pleasantly surprised to find it among his belongings after he died. Inside on the end papers, both front and back, is a meticulous record of funerals he conducted or assisted with over a period of more than 20 years. He began the record before we moved to Smiley and kept it for a number of years after we moved to Bastrop. The list includes many, many relatives.

The last little Bible on the far right was another of those unexpected surprises. My grandmother Hodge gave it to me along with several other Bibles and I don't recall her saying anything special about it. It is small, in pieces, and missing the back cover. I didn't immediately realize what I had. But one day I gave it a closer inspection and discovered that it had belonged to my great-grandmother Nettie McAfee Mason and on the loose pages at the end she had recorded the birth dates and death dates and marriage dates for herself, both husbands, and all of her children.

They are not the prettiest items in my collection, but they are treasures nonetheless. Not only do they come with odds and ends of items that can cause a genealogist to go giddy, they are imprinted with the personalities of those who carried them on many a Sunday and studied them for understanding or for comfort in bad times.

"The Bible is a good book that's even better when it's the worse for wear."


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Adopted Heirlooms

There are three heirlooms in my home that did not come down through family channels, but are treasured keepsakes nonetheless. They were given to us by church members while we were living in Smiley.

My father was not only pastor of the Smiley First Baptist Church; he also served as pastor of the small, neighboring Baptist congregation in Westhoff, a tiny community twelve miles east of Smiley. The Westhoff Baptist Church was a fascinating old building that I visited often, whether at services where I sometimes filled in as the pianist, or whether I practiced piano there while my mother was having her hair done by a lady who lived a few doors away.

There was a dear lady who was a member of that tiny congregation. When we first met her, she was Mrs. Winslet, a sweet little widow. During my father's tenure there as pastor, she married a Mr. Cordes, also a member of the church, and we frequently visited in their home after services. My mother and Mrs. Cordes would talk antiques on some of those social visits and she gave two items in her collection to my mother.

A pressed glass bread tray had been rescued by Mrs. Cordes from a neighbor's chicken pen. The family had been using it to hold water or feed for their chickens and somehow, miraculously, it had survived the elements and the chickens without a chip. I believe she traded the neighbor a more appropriate container and the bread tray survived to be given to my mother. It is old enough that it was carefully stored in the china cabinet for years and never used. Several years ago I ran across a twin of the bread tray in a local antiques store for a ridiculously low price and could not resist bringing it home with me, so I now have a matched set. More recently I spotted a third one at the Round Top Antiques Fair, but it was not so reasonably priced and I had to pass it by.

When I brought home the antique oak vanity a couple of Antiques Fairs ago, I began searching for a tray to hold my cosmetics and was unhappy with the cheap, gaudy trays available. I went rooting around in the china closet and rediscovered the bread trays. I decided it was time that I enjoyed some of the glass that has stayed hidden in the closet all these years and chose one of the trays to sit on my vanity. I have not regretted the decision and have thoroughly enjoyed having it out where I can see and admire it daily.

On another occasion, Mrs. Cordes gave my mother a lamp that I assume dates back to the Art Deco period. It was a murky color, missing a finial and came with a battered green oval lampshade, but it had lovely lines and a pretty green glass accent. Mother sprayed the lamp white and, unfortunately, discarded the lampshade. (I've not been able to find an appropriate lampshade anywhere. How I wish she had hung onto the frame so that I could have recovered it.) Mother chose to use candle bulbs and leave it shadeless. Not too long ago, I decided to add two small shades and a glass finial and I love the effect. I've always been rather fond of this lamp and Mother officially gave it to me one Christmas.

Not too long ago I was poking around the Elgin Antique Mall and stumbled across a lamp that is in original condition.

Now I know that my version of the lamp is closer to the original design. Now I have a mission to locate a set of original glass shades and the original finial that echoes the arms of the lamp. I would have happily added the second lamp to my collection, but, alas, it was way out of my price range. I continue to check on it, hoping that it will go on sale at some point. At least now I know what my lamp originally looked like.

The third adopted heirloom came from inside a chicken house in Smiley. I do not remember the details of how it came that the church member knew Mother would be interested in a parlor stove. It had been stored in the chicken house for years, but it had beauty that shone out from the years of grime and dirt it had accumulated. Mother cleaned it up, painted it, and it has been sitting in a corner of the living room for a good 40 or more years.

I have to confess that I was never all that enamored of this particular acquisition and seriously contemplated putting it up for sale in order to recapture a bit of space. Then I got to checking various online auction sites and began to realize that these old parlor stoves are quite collectible in certain circles. About the same time, a repairman I had called out for some air conditioning troubles caught sight of it and had to take a few minutes out to examine it from all angles. I decided I should back up and rethink my attitude. I started to do some research to see just what I had.

It turns out this stove dates to the early 1900s. In the October 5, 1905, edition of the Earlington, Kentucky, Bee, my stove is advertised by a furniture company out of Evansville, Indiana.

According to the advertisement, these stoves were sold for between $5 and $25 dollars, depending on size. That would be comparable to $120 to $598 dollars now, a modest investment for a home improvement. The folks who brought home my parlor stove in the early 1900s were probably just as proud of it as I am of my new washing machine.

For now, the stove is staying right where it is. I've learned a new respect for it.

All of these adopted heirlooms have been with me since the mid 1960s. Maybe they did not come down through my own family, but they have become valued friends over the years. They give me pleasure for their beauty and also for their association with Smiley and Westhoff, two places that are dear in my memory. Mrs. Cordes has been gone for many years, but every time I see the lamp or the bread tray, I think about her. Mr. Robinson is gone now, too, but I remember him whenever I pass by the old stove.

I'm not sure whether the items themselves or the memories they evoke are the real heirlooms in this instance.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Heirloom of the Week

Once upon a time this little camel-backed trunk was the property of my great-grandmother Cora Amanda Mobley Hodge. It sat for many years in my grandparents' house, full of assorted odds and ends. Sometime in the 1970s my mother brought it home and turned it into an art project. Covering objects with gold foil was popular at the time and she proceeded to convert the rusty brown trunk into a golden trunk. Only the hinges, wooden trim pieces and lock were left un-foiled.

The foiling has not held up all that well over time and refurbishing furniture is not my thing, so when we moved, it ended up sitting in the garage for awhile. My mother had used it to store her sewing patterns and piece goods intended for future sewing projects. When I finally got around to emptying the trunk, the patterns were in tatters and the cloth was brittle. For awhile the trunk sat empty and I debated whether to put it in the pile of things to go to the thrift store or to just junk it. The hinges had been broken for as long as I could remember and the lid just sits loosely on top of the base. The state of disrepair, not to mention the application of gold foil, has rendered its value pretty much nil as an antique.

But I could not bring myself to dispose of it. I'm a real sucker for hanging on to the items that give me a tangible link to my ancestors. So not long ago I hauled it back into the house and decided to use it to store other pieces of family history that are in my custody.

In the top tray you will find my mother's and my brother's baby shoes, my great-great-grandmother Mary Caroline Mobley's and my grandmother Lucy Hodge's purses, my great-grandfather Elmo Hodge's toothbrushes, photograph albums and a box of newspaper clippings that belonged to my great Aunt Fay Hodge Branton.

In the large lower section are my father's sermons, my great-great-grandmother Mobley's Bible, my baby book, the registry book from my great-grandmother Nettie Mason's funeral, the guest book from my parents' wedding, various diplomas earned by my parents and myself, cards that were sent to my grandmother after my grandfather Horace Hodge's death, various scrapbooks from my school years, notebooks and scraps of paper filled with my father's poetry, the black funeral notice that hung on the family door when my great-great-grandfather Joseph Mobley died, and other bits and pieces of family memorabilia that have been placed in my care.

It is not a thing of beauty on its own. It is just an old, beaten up trunk that has seen better days. But it sits in my study, holding things I value because they link me with the past. If I ever have to evacuate, the first 5 things I will grab are the cats and dogs. The 6th thing I will grab is the little hard drive that holds a back up of all the genealogy files and family photos. After that I will grab the little gold-foiled trunk. It holds a pile of family treasures.