Friday, January 30, 2009

Heritage Photo of the Week

This was a cold week in Central Texas. Just north of us folks experienced ice and snow, but we were spared any of the nasty weather. We aren't in the clear yet - I've seen snow and ice the first part of February - but it looks like there's a good chance the school kids won't have to make up any ice days this year.

I think this picture must have been my first experience with snow. It was taken in the side yard of the old Manchaca Baptist Church about 1956-57. I was somewhere between 2 and 3 years old when Daddy and I posed in the snow. I don't believe this old church building is still standing. At the time we lived in Manchaca, it was several miles from Austin and was a small rural community. Manchaca has since been swallowed up by Austin and the Baptist Church has a grown into a large congregation.

I had no way of knowing that the strange, cold, fluffy white stuff would be something I would experience only a few times in my life.


Thursday, January 29, 2009


In case you wonder where I went and don't read my primary blog, I am in temporary suspension of blogging, pending recovery from a nasty head cold. I'm getting better but still having stuffy nose issues which is hindering my ability to think coherently.

But in the midst of trial comes some rewards. Yesterday I received a big, fat and not very expensive book from the Coweta County (Georgia) Genealogical Society. I have at least two inches worth of cemetery information at my instant disposal now. I've perused this book many times when in Salt Lake and various other research libraries, but it's rare to find it. It's not so rare to find new people connected to my Mobley, Morgan and Dunkin lines in Coweta County. Until now I had no reference to check for burials when new folks came into my records.

I am six months into my new resolve to add to my personal reference library as frequently as I can, and where I can afford to do so. It gives me immense satisfaction to see these new additions take their places on the shelf.

My New Year's resolution was to join any and all historical and genealogical societies in the areas where I am researching. So far I am a member of:

The Illiana Historical Society (Vermillion County, Indiana, and Vermilion County, Illinois, home of the Wilcoxen, Hughes, Beauchamp, Niccum and Dunivan lines)
The Coweta County Genealogical Society (Coweta County, Georgia, home of the Mobley and Morgan lines)
The Limestone County Genealogical Society (Limestone County, Alabama, home of the Lentz line)
The Pike County Historical Society (Pike County, Indiana, home of the Mason line)
The Crittenden County Historical Society (Crittenden County, Kentucky, home of the Hodge line)

and in Texas:
The Bastrop County Historical Society
The Elgin Historical Society
The Austin Genealogical Society
The Caldwell County Historical Society

My mailbox runneth over with newsletters. It's a good genealogical thing.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mary Ann Reese Hodge

It's funny how you can go years thinking one thing about your ancestors and then suddenly be brought up short when you find records that give a totally different viewpoint. It's happened a few times over the 30-odd years I've been doing genealogy. A record turned up last year that has led me down one of these unexpected paths.

Mary Ann Reese was my great-great-great grandmother. She was the fourth child of Elisha and Frances (Burks) Reese and married rather late in life, in her mid-thirties, to John A. Hodge, a farmer and Baptist minister in western Kentucky. About a year after their marriage, their first child James Elisha was born. James was mentally deficient; it is unclear from the records found thus far how severely he was affected, but he remained at home with his parents until he was well into his thirties.

Mary's and John's next child, Robert, was born in 1845 and lived barely six months. Their third child, John, lived less than three months. Their last child, Henry born in 1848, was the only child to mature into a functional adult, marry and produce a line of descent. (John would have additional children with his second wife, but Mary's only descendants are through Henry.)

When Henry was about 5 years old, his parents legally separated but continued to live under the same roof. The terms of their separation are found in the Deed Records of Crittenden County, Kentucky. Mary had property of her own from her father's estate, managed her rents and crops and kept her business separate and apart from that of her husband.

John filed for divorce in May of 1854, and the first indication is given of the animosity that existed between the two of them. They had at that time been married 12 years and John claimed she had been tyrannical and overbearing during most of the period and had threatened to kill him and had abandoned his bed. The suit was dismissed a few months later and the two continued to share living quarters but not their lives.

The record is quiet for some years, but a glimmer of the continuing hostility is gleaned from a lawsuit filed against John and son Henry by G. R. Brown in 1870. Brown had purchased some land from John and Henry and Mary had refused to sign a document releasing her dower interest in the property. Brown relates her position that he could deal separately with her and as far as she was concerned if he occupied the land he would be obligated to pay her rent. It would be two years later before Mary finally released her dower rights.

In October of 1875, John again filed for divorce. The case file contains testimony that the year before an inquest of lunacy had determined Mary to be a lunatic and the court had ordered Mary confined in the Lunatic Asylum. This time there were multiple depositions included in the case file with neighbors attesting to the fact that Mary had long held an aversion and hatred toward her husband and had refused to live with him as a wife.

Again, the petition for divorce was dismissed.

A year later, in August of 1876, John again filed a petition for divorce. This time the file includes many depositions from neighbors and relatives describing the intense hatred Mary held for her husband, being not only verbally abusive but also physically attacking him. All agreed that she had always been hostile toward him, but that her mental state had deteriorated in the last years of their marriage. She no longer took proper care of their "idiot" son and regularly cursed her husband. In this case file we learn that the inquest of lunacy held in 1874 had also included her son James and that both of them had been adjudged to be lunatics and ordered confined to the Lunatic Asylum. A copy of the inquest was included in the case file as supporting evidence:

Inquest of Lunacy held for the trial of Polly Hodge and James E. Hodge before the Judge of the Crittenden County Court on the 11th day of April 1874, from the evidence we find that Jas. E. Hodge is an Idiot from his birth, age 32 years, has no Estate, also find Polly Hodge to be a lunatic, her age is 68 years. Her mind became impaired when quite young & has been growing worse ever since. She has a tract of land containing 75 acres, valued at $10 per acre, both have resided in the State from infancy. Polly Hodge is the mother of Jas. E. Hodge, his father is living. Neither one of them is capable of laboring for support in whole or in part....

Ordered that Poly Hodge be confined in the Lunatic Asylum at Hopkinsville for treatment and it appearing to the Court that James E. Hodge though an idiot cannot be safely kept by a committee within the county it is therefore further order that the said James E. Hodge be conveyed to the Lunatic Asylum at Hopkinsville and therein confined for treatment. It is further ordered that J. M. Gilbert be appointed a committee for the purpose of conveying said Poly & James E. Hodge to the Asylum at Hopkinsville and he may take such guard with him as is necessary for their safe conveyance to the asylum.

John was granted a divorce on his third try, went on to remarry and father several more children.

One of the witnesses states that her temperament had always been volatile and that her family had tried to warn John prior to their marriage. Many of the neighbors testified that they had had business dealings with her and had received advice from her through the years and considered her to be as normal as anyone else - except for the obvious dislike for her husband. One mentioned her extensive Bible knowledge, considering her even more knowledgeable than her preacher husband. She gave one man who had lost his wife advice he found valuable for the rearing of his children. (All of them agreed, however, that in the year or two prior to the lunacy inquest her mental state was deteriorating. She was beginning to fret about soldiers coming into her house and would ramble from subject to subject, not to mention the intensifying of her hostility toward John.)

I can't help but feel a little sorry for Mary. She may have been of a fragile mind to begin with. She may have been sexually inhibited and repulsed by the physical aspects of marriage and then her first son is born mentally retarded and her next two sons do not live more than a few months. If she was hyper-religious, which the extensive Bible knowledge may indicate, she may have come to believe that she was being punished for the sins of the flesh or that she had married an evil man and the loss of her children was his fault. Who knows what may have caused her to begin to slip over the edge of sanity.

As if things weren't bad enough, along comes the War Between the States and she is living in a border state, fearing the possible invasion of armies from both sides. If she had not already been a nervous wreck, now she had to worry about what might happen when the soldiers arrived.

I feel sorry for John, as well. Living with such hostility could not have been easy and he had lost two sons, too. The only "normal" son stayed away more than he was home. He was caught in a house with two mentally ill people who had to have made his life a living hell. One can't really blame him if he instigated the inquest of lunacy.

But then consider what a hell that Mary was placed in. Mental health institutions of the 19th century were hellish places to spend one's remaining years. Mary was about 68 years old when she was committed to the Western State Lunatic Asylum in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. In 1880 she is still living, enumerated in the census as an inmate of the asylum.

We know from another court case that James died at the Asylum in approximately 1879. Mary appears to have lived a few more years. We've not yet discovered the date of her death.

Poor Mary. Her life was one of misery and suffering. May she rest in peace.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Heirlooms of the Week

We are getting to the end of the Mason relics. Now we have items that belonged to my great-grandmother Nettie McAfee Mason.

The square honey dish is antique pressed glass. The pattern was revived in later years by the Indiana Glass Company, who issued reproductions of the design in a rainbow of colors, still with the splayed feet. Ultimately the fragile splayed feet were replaced by functional, blunt feet by Tiara, who issued another set of colors which were sold at Home Interior parties several years back. Now, all versions are highly collectible. But I have the real thing. (I also have a large collection of the reproductions in light blue, cobalt blue, white, black, green, pink, amberina, amber, and frosted, along with two other honey dishes in a different pattern. Another collection that I didn't really intend to have. And I still need the red...)

The little honey dish was designed to hold a quarter comb of honey. All around are embossed images of bees and beehives. The Masons actually raised honey bees for a time, as evidenced by my grandmother Lucy Hodge's memoirs:

"We had about fifty stands of bees. Every fall was time to rob the bees and extract the honey from the cone. I was about 9 years old when I started helping with the bees. I worked the smoker for Dad. The smoker was a little box like thing that you put some wool rags in. If you had some wool it made the best smoke because it burned slow. Or just any kind of rags. It had a sort of spout on the front side and a back that was hinged on. The sides were something flexible. I don’t know what, but it didn’t burn. You would squeeze the back and the smoke came out the spout. When you went up to a hive you just raised the lid a tiny bit and blew the smoke in. (The hives were all two story.) You only took honey from the top story. You left the bottom for the bees to eat through the winter. Also the bottom half was where the baby bees were.

To start the hive you had this box about 2½ feet square, 1 foot high. You placed frames in it. They were made to fit about 1 inch apart to give room for the bees to build cone. They would always have one queen bee to the hive. As soon as they got cone built she would deposit one egg in each cell of a frame and the workers would seal it over. That is where the baby bees would hatch and eat their way out of the cell. The top story was the same size, bottomless box that set on top of the other box. The smoke would drive the bees down into the bottom half. Then Dad would lift out the frames from the hive and lay them in a wash tub and take them to the house. We had a long L-shaped back porch. That is where we extracted the honey. The extractor was a can shaped thing with a door on one side to put the frames in, 2 at a time. One fit on each side of a center piece that turned round and round when you turned a crank. That would sling all the honey out of the cone and you put the cone back in the hive for the bees to fill again.

There was a spigot on the side near the bottom of the can. We kept lard cans to catch the honey. In a good year when the mesquites bloomed good we would usually have about 50 gal. of honey to sell. But before it was ready to sell it had to be put in qt. jars. Just before Christmas, maybe in November, it was time to go to Austin to buy groceries for the winter. So late in the afternoon they would load the honey in front of the wagon on some hay. Had to take hay and corn along to feed the mules. Then the sacks of wool went on the back because he always got the wool sold first before he went up town to sell honey. Sold all the honey and bought all the groceries up and down Congress. "

The little honey dish had a lively life. Nettie Mason had promised the little dish to her namesake, my mother. After her death, Nettie's oldest daughter Ellen, who took charge of disposing of Nettie's effects and knowing full well that the honey dish was supposed to have gone to my mother, gave it instead to her own sister Annie Mae. (Aunt Ellen was something else. It may have been to spite her sister, my grandmother, and it may have just been that she felt mean that day.) It remained in Aunt Annie Mae's possession for 20-30 years. I can remember going to visit Aunt Annie Mae and Uncle Jim when I was probably about 12. They had moved to Rusk and we seldom saw them. On this occasion, I'm sure we made the slight detour to Rusk on our way to or from Gladewater to visit my paternal grandparents.

While we were there, Aunt Annie Mae brought out the little honey dish and gave it to Mother. She, too, had known her mother's wishes in the matter and the honey dish finally came into the possesion of the one for whom it had been intended. It was still in perfect condition, little splayed feet still intact.

The ring in the picture was Nettie Mason's wedding ring. My grandmother passed it to me when I began showing interest in family history. It is a paper-thin circle of gold, worn down from 40 plus years of wear. It resides in the little blue box inside the honey dish, alongside the leather pouch with the silver dollar discussed in an earlier post.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Heirloom of the Week

I bet by this time you are wondering if my house is just a pile of assorted historical clutter.

Yes, it is. I like it that way. It's a sickness. I don't want to be cured.

Another Mason heirloom takes center stage this week. These leather leg protectors belonged to great-grandfather Burl Wilkes Mason.

I bet they saw a lot of action while he went about his work as foreman of the Trigg Ranch. At one time my grandmother also had his chaps, but those hung in the old barn and eventually either disintegrated or were disposed of when the barn was torn down.

I have in mind one of these days to turn my guest room into a showcase for the pieces that have come into my possession and that not only remind me of my ancestors, but also of the history of Texas.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wagons Ho!

For our Heritage Photos of the Week, here are some photos that show various of my kinfolks using horse-drawn wagons (and one buggy). Wonder how many miles to the hay-troughs they got?

This is Henry Thomas "Jack" Mason, my grandmother Lucy's half-brother. She mentions him in her memoirs:

"Just before Christmas, maybe in November, it was time to go to Austin to buy groceries for the winter. So late in the afternoon they would load the honey in front of the wagon on some hay. Had to take hay and corn along to feed the mules. Then the sacks of wool went on the back because he always got the wool sold first before he went up town to sell honey. Sold all the honey and bought all the groceries up and down Congress.

My oldest brother would drive the wagon. He would leave before day light. Then Mother, Dad and me and one sister would go up in the buggy. It took the first day to sell honey and wool. Dad and brother would spend the night in the wagon yard. It was down near the river. Mother and girls would spend the night in a “boarding house”. Early next morning they would buy groceries and maybe a few clothes and the Christmas shopping. It took most of the day but we would start for home. The buggy was not as slow as the wagon and sometimes it would be next morning before the wagon got home. 22 miles.

Next we have Robert Frankum, driving a smart buggy. Robert was the brother of my great-great-grandfather James Jefferson Frankum.

This was a scene at the cotton gin in Brady, Texas, taken about 1908. Some of these wagons are being driven by Frankum men and their in-laws. I can't tell you who is who, but among those pictured are Robert Frankum (the same as in the previous photo), James Jefferson Frankum (my gg-grandfather), Charlie, Jim and Jack Frankum (three of Jeff's sons), John Peterson (Robert's son-in-law), Tom Qualls (an inlaw of Robert's) and Adolph Hefner (who I have no idea how he fits into the family group and is probably just a friend).

This final photo was found in the collection I acquired from my Aunt Fay Hodge's estate. I am guessing this is one of the Mobley sons.

Fabulous pictures that I feel lucky to have in my possession.