Week #4 — Closest to My Birthday, Homer Kuykendall Shanks, #4

While my dad’s birthday is closer to mine, I felt I *had* to write about Papa, my dad’s dad.  His birthday is about 3 weeks after mine, he died the day before my 13th birthday, and I just discovered this photo of him as an infant yesterday.  (OMG!)

photo (24)

Papa was born on October 25, 1910, in Clyde, Texas.  He was the first of five children born to William Homer Shanks & Josie Ellen Kuykendall.  Papa’s father’s grandparents moved to Central Texas from Alabama in the early 1870s.  His mother’s grandparents arrived in Northeast Texas from Arkansas and Tennessee in the late 1840s.  The couple met in Clyde, Texas, where they both taught school.

I choose to lay much of the blame for my own genealogy habit at his feet because he was “into it”, himself.  He didn’t do any of the data collection or courthouse digging or cemetery tromping . . . that was his sister Chera’s gig . . . Papa was the bard.  He was a storyteller.  I do not have memories of him telling stories.  He died when I was still young, and we didn’t visit him near as often as we could have.  What I do have are the stories he wrote and the stories he inspired.

He attended school in Clyde, just east of Abilene, Texas, through the late 1920s.  We know gobs of things about life as a child in Clyde during that time because he wrote about it while in his early 70s.  My copy of the manuscript is over one inch thick, double-spaced, one-sided.  A incomparable and irreplaceable jewel, right?!  Wouldn’t it be fabulous if each of our ancestors had been so kind as to do our work for us?  Also while taking a class on creative writing at a local community college, he wrote a handful of short autobiographical pieces, one of which discusses the time he lived with my family following his heart attack shortly after Grammy died.

Then at an annual Shanks family reunion on Thanksgiving — yes, we actually called it Shanks-giving — he and a handful of his first cousins discussed a) each of their parents had died by then, b) they each had wonderful family stories, and c) they, themselves, weren’t getting any younger . . . “We really should write these stories down, don’t you think?”  The journalist among them, Ann Shanks, spearheaded the project, did much (if not all) of the genealogical work, compiled and edited the submissions, and oversaw the publishing.  The result, a couple of years later, was a wonderful book entitled Lots of Laughter, Lots of Love that covers quite a bit of material.

  • Their common grandparents, John Fletcher Shanks & Maggie Darden:  their known ancestors and their parents’ migrations from Alabama to Texas,
  • John & Maggie’s 8 children.    The cousins each wrote about their Shanks parent, one of the 8 children.  Some were biographical.  Some were anecdotal.  Every one of them was perfect.

While all three of Papa’s sisters submitted papers on their father, William Homer Shanks, Papa did not, possibly because of declining health.  The book was published in 1984, and Papa died on October 1st of that same year.  I’m certain he’d be more than happy to geek out with me over my own genealogical & family writing work.

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The Brightest Shiniest Object of the Year

I walked through my front door last Saturday evening — the first time since Tuesday morning — at the end of my trip to the 2015 National Genealogical Society conference in Missouri, and my husband told me, “Open the box!”

“Uh, what box, babe?”

Grammy, my paternal grandmother, died in 1980, and Papa died in 1984 . . . the day before my 13th birthday.  Awesome, right?!  Anyway, they’ve been gone a long time.  The week after Papa passed away, his five children, along with their spouses and children, converged on the family home for the funeral and to get the business end of things started.  The eldest had been named executor, and he was well suited, but Papa & Grammy left behind a *lot* of stuff to be handled.  What I suspect, when it came to the family cache of photos, is that they divvied them up according to who was in the photo.  That make sense . . . Billy gets the photos that Billy is in.   But it also left each of the children with a skewed fraction of the family’s photographic story.  The oldest would’ve received a disproportionate number of photos from the early years of the marriage while the youngest would have no photos of the early years and a large number of photos from after the oldest had moved out.

Billy, my dad, is the 4th of the 5, and that is exactly what happened.  Knowing that I geek out over things like this, he gave me his portion of the family photos around 2006.  Regrettably, however, they had been damaged when San Antonio was hit by flood waters in late 1998 and were in poor condition . . . I had to toss over half of them.  I sent a plea to my four pairs of aunts and uncles:  Send me your photos.  I’ll scan and return them.


Then about 2013, the baby of the 5 brought me hers!  Woohoo!  She had copies of photos that I could tell were identical to some of my dad’s portion, only hers were pristine.  She even had what we suspect are engagement photos of their parents from 1935.  But that was almost the only photos she had prior to about 1948, when she was born.  Having married somewhat late in life, Papa & Grammy were already middle-aged by the time my aunt was born.

Last year, an uncle sent me a box of family photos, and it held many gems.  This uncle is married to my oldest aunt, and as I suspected, she had a bazillion photos from their early years, pre-WWII, that my dad and his baby sister did not.  She had two fabulous individual portraits of them, almost similar to the Glamour Shots of the 1990s.  She also had an album (one of those with black construction paper pages) of photos exclusively of Grammy’s family . . . these were the first photos I had *ever* seen of Grammy’s family.

This year’s box, sent to me from the same uncle, came in the mail Thursday while I was at the NGS conference.  Earlier this year, this particular uncle make the difficult decision to move my aunt into a home specializing in the care of those with Alzheimer’s and moved himself to a new town that’s closer to their only child . . . and he’s cleaning house.  Apparently, my family had been pacing, drooling and hand-wringing since then, in eager anticipation of its contents.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

I sliced open the tape, lifted the flaps and saw . . . photos.  Old photos.  Lots of old photos.  I lifted a layer to find . . . even more old photos.  Under those were morrrrre old photos.  They are dusty and faded and curled, but they. are. photos.

This box, while only about 1/2 a cubic foot, is waaaay larger and waaaay fabulouser (don’t argue with me, I’m an English teacher!) than the other portions.  Sorting the photos into chronological order and categories consumed an entire Saturday and the entire living room floor!  It contained:

  • Papa in infancy in 1911,
  • a glamorous and happy Grammy at age 19 in 1929,
  • 1935 engagement photos,
  • #1 child in infancy + newspaper birth announcement + four generation photo with #1, Papa, and Papa’s mother and grandparents,
  • #1’s first birthday,
  • family photo of Grammy’s mother with all 9 of her children in 1937,
  • #2 in infancy in 1938,
  • Papa’s Dec 1941 application, test scores and acceptance letter to Civil Service (he worked on bomb sight technology in San Antonio during WWII, and now I’ve got the paperwork that led him there from Abilene),
  • pay stubs covering 9 years,
  • misc membership cards covering 6 years,
  • 1952 poll tax receipts ($1.75 each, btw),
  • #3’s Cub Scout advancement cards,
  • almost 2/3 of the school photos of #2 and #4 (my dad, some of which I’ve never seen) + misc photos during those years,
  • #1 in Texas A&M Corps of Cadets,
  • #2’s 1960 graduation from UMHB,
  • #4’s Naval Air Reserve enlistment announcement in paper,
  • #1’s #1’s 1966 birth announcement
  • 1968 letters from #4’s new bride (my mom), and
  • #5’s 1969 wedding invitation.

1937 Madora Belle Smith Huges and her childrenI don’t know when I’ll get around to scanning them all.  Just sorting was a Herculean task.  But I am soooo grateful for the opportunity.

Oh, as an afterthought, I am haunted by the fact that I deliberately avoided the NGS conference sessions on topics such as photo preservation and curating artifacts in “Grandma’s Attic” because, after all, I’ve already gone through everything.  Hadn’t I?  Little did I know that an uncle had gone through his attic and some of those attic treasures were sitting on my kitchen table while I was skipping those sessions.

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Daniel Boone was an “Assee”!

She said what?!

Judy G. Russell didn’t stutter.  Daniel Boone, frontiersman extraordinaire, was an “assee”.  Frankly, I didn’t see what the fuss was about — frontiersmen weren’t known for minding their Ps and Qs.  But then she showed us the legal document that read (more or less) plainly:  “assee”.   Supposedly [rolls eyes], this was an abbreviation of “assignee”.  Um, okay.  That clears it up.

Judy at 2015 NGSEarlier today, at the 2015 NGS conference, I attended a session on legal lingo with the incomparable Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist.  I was able to wrap my non-legal (illegal?) mind around maybe half of what she said.  Legal and property research are weaknesses of mine, and I’m sure it will take many more such sessions before I see any improvement.

Judy provided a number of resources that we can use when bumfuzzled by legal balderdash.

  • Jacob, Giles.  A New Law Dictionary: containing the Interpretation and Definition of Words and terms Used in the Law; . . ., Published to this Time.  London, England: p.p., 1729.  Available in digital format through several online outlets.
  • Bouvier, John.  A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union.  2 volumes.  Philadelphia:  Johnson Law Booksellers, 1839.  Subsequent editions through 2012.  Available in digital format through several online outlets.
  • Black, Henry Campbell.  A Dictionary of Law: Containing Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern.  1st edition.  St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1891.  The 1910 edition is available online, including through an app of The Law Dictionary.  The 1968 edition — the last modern edition recommended because subsequent editions omit the obsolete terms that genealogist need most — is available in print form but not yet digitized.

According to FamilyTreeDNA, we’re cousins.  She, apparently, received the legal genes.

Perhaps I should just hit the road and follow Judy around the country to attend each of her seminars.  That’s not creepy at all, is it?

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The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri

On our approach to the St. Louis airport, we passed by the Gateway Arch . . . and I changed my mind.

Getting me out of the house takes a logistical miracle.  I have two teenagers with multiple disabilities, and I care for my sister’s infant while she works full-time.  It took my husband, sister and grown son taking turns with days off to cover my four weekdays out of town —  my trip accounted for four days of lost pay.  So when I read that NGS offered tours on Tuesday, my travel day, I laughed.  I’m already paying for the conference, the trip, the hotel and my restaurant food . . . the last thing I’m going to do is cough up another $75 for a trip to Daniel Boone’s cabin.

So I made frugal, responsible plans to visit the St. Louis County Library genealogical collection on Lindbergh Blvd.  I even had the local bus route figured out.  I’d take advantage of a collection I’d probably never access again.  Attagirl.

St. Louis's Old Courthouse

Until we passed the Arch.

As if I was supposed to hop off the plane, jump on a bus and spend my day at a library after that sight.

Did I mention it was a beautiful day?

I rode the metro down to the Old Courthouse and unexpectedly found myself on the site where Dred Scott and his wife (Did you know there was a wife?  Its always “the Dred Scott Decision”, right?) sued for their freedom.  They won their suit in St. Louis, but the case was appealed and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

From there, it was a pleasant walk  down to the Gateway Arch, which perfectly frames the courthouse.


I love the Arch’s magnificent simplicity and elegance.  Its like an inverted pearl necklace.

Arch 2015

Yes, I did go to the top.  I rode up with 3 Fifth. Grade. Boys. + their field trip chaperone.

Did I mention I don’t do smells?

The five of us were in a pod approximately the size of a hamster exercise ball.

Did I mention I don’t do small spaces?

I kept my eyes closed the entire time up and spent a whopping five minutes up there.  Maybe three.

Did I mention I don’t do heights?

When I finally arrived at my hotel that evening, I calculated my expenses from the first day of the trip.  Once I combined the metro ticket, Arch admission, local restaurant lunch and cab fare into St. Charles (the metro is only within St. Louis proper), I had spent about as much as I would have spent on the NGS’s Daniel Boone homestead tour.  Sooooo, maybe those pre-conference tours aren’t such a bad deal after all.

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Week 3 — Tough Woman, Effie Cordelia Thomas (#15)

The topic “tough woman” doesn’t narrow the field for me.  After all, I’m a 5th generation native-born Texan . . . apparently, we like it tough, but one of the toughest I know is my great-grandmother Effie.

Effie was born in rural Carroll County, Mississippi, in 1886, the 2nd of six children to W.A. Thomas and Mary Jane McCain Thomas, and shortly after baby #6 was born, her mother died.  Life on a farm in the rural South was hard enough in the late nineteenth century, but growing up without a mother must have been tough.  But help came in the way of Mary Jane’s widowed mother, Martha Brunt McCain, who moved in with her widowed son-in-law and his orphans.  According to Alma Petty Broach, Effie’s youngest daughter, “Grandma McCain” was blind, but that didn’t keep her from training ten-year-old Effie in the essentials of household management.  Alma says Grandma McCain would sit on a stool in the center of the house and verbally instruct Effie in how to cook, clean and sew.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall, watching the dynamic of that tough blind grandma instructing her tough little granddaughter on running a farming family of six children.

She married Palmer Petty around 1906 and soon had children.  The banner photo of this blog features Effie and Palmer seated with the first two of their children, surrounded by Effie’s father and brothers in Carroll County.  Like everyone else in their family, they were poor and farmed cotton on someone else’s land.  The timing of their young family could not have been worse:  the boll weevil hit Mississippi in 1909, and the first five years after arrival were the worst.

About 1915, Effie had the uneviable task of moving her entire family from Carroll County, Mississippi, to Cherokee County, Texas — a trip of over 400 miles — with four children under age 10.  At least three households made the move:  Effie and Palmer Petty, Effie’s father and stepmother, and Effie’s sister, Mattie, who had married Palmer’s brother George Petty.

Effie and Palmer Petty never moved again.  She had a total of eight children with one known stillborn child, although the 5 and 7 years gaps between Claude & Mary and Mary & Susie suggest additional heartbreak.  They raised cotton, tomatoes, watermelon and every kind of pea imaginable, all in homes with neither indoor plumbing nor electricity.   They continued to live in rural Cherokee County, Texas, until they died in 1973 and 1962.

Pictured below is Effie with my mother’s sister, Iris Broach, in the now unpopulated Barsola, Texas.  Its certainly not the best photo of my great-grandmother, but I love it.  I love it because it shows her in context, but I also love it because everything about the way she stands is exactly the way her daughter — my grandmother who raised me after my own mother died young — carried herself.

Mama Petty with Iris

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Citizen Archivist

In December 2013, I had the pleasure of working with archivists of the National Archives at Fort Worth on their project of transcribing inbound ships’ slaves manifests from the Port of New Orleans.  I was allowed to personally handle the actual documents as I transcribed the 19th handwriting on 19th paper in 19th century ink.  Please, try not to be jealous.  😉  To view the digital images, go to New Orleans, Louisiana, Slave Manifests, 1807-1860 at Ancestry.com.

Aside from getting my geek on, the entire experience was incredibly informational.  These records were generated as a result of the 1807 Congressional law prohibiting future international slave trade — since the domestic slave trade was still legal, the manifests were designed to prove that any incoming slaves had come from another US port.  Providing name, gender, age and sometimes additional identifying characteristics, the slave manifests are one of a very few set of documents in which we can find detailed information about African-Americans before the 1870 US Census.  NARA has Fif. Teen. Feet. of these manifests.

If you’re interested in doing something like this from the comfort of your own laptop, jump over to The Legal Genealogist for this week’s opportunity from the head of the U.S. Archives.

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Week 2: King, Alfred Joseph Carr (#46)

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke those words, I’m sure he had something other than migration in mind, but this week’s theme is “king”, and this is the best connection I can find.  Alfred Joseph Carr was born about 1816 in South Carolina to unknown parents.  We’ll probably never know what pushed him away from South Carolina, nor what pulled him to the road.  Whatever the case, he continued to feel that pull for the rest of his life.

1816 — birth, South Carolina

1835 — marriage, Habersham County, Georgia  (63 miles)

1840 — US census, Cass (now Bartow) County, Georgia (124 miles)

1850 — US census, Randolph County, Alabama (107 miles)

1860 — US census, Randolph County, Alabama

1870 — US census, Pontotoc County, Mississippi (255 miles)

1875 — birth of granddaughter, Madora Belle Smith, Coryell County, Texas (672 miles)

1880 — US census, Jones County, Texas (182 miles)

In his lifetime, he had lived in 5 states and migrated a total of 1400 miles away from his birthplace.  Along the way, he married, had 12 children, married off daughters, sent sons-in-law off to war in Confederate uniforms and welcomed grand-children.  Its highly probable that the only reason he didn’t pack up and leave Jones County, Texas, was simply that he had gotten old.  He arrived in what would become Jones County just in time to participate in the election, along with his grown sons and sons-in-law, to form the county.  He was even voted in as the county’s first tax assessor.  He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Anson, Jones County’s seat, in 1887.Jones County Officials 1880

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