Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I'm Attending FGS + RootsTech 2015

I'm excited to be attending the genealogical conference event of 2015.

If you haven't heard (where have you been?!), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and RootsTech are joining forces to host a joint conference in Salt Lake City, February 11-14, 2015. This is big, folks. Huge!

Why am I going? Three key reasons:
  1. Professional Development: As a newbie to the field of genealogy, I'm keen on growing my nascent genealogy skills. This first of its kind joint event will play host to a slew of skills-building sessions facilitated by the field's rock star experts. Don't take my word for it. See for yourself! Check out the schedule of sessions for FGS and RootsTech.

  2. Networking: I'm eager to connect with attendees who share my passion for family history. Likely to be among the largest-attended genealogy conferences, I look forward to the opportunity to meet and learn from folks from across the country...heck, the world! Who knows, perhaps I'll meet a few distant cousins with similar research interests who want to tear down brick walls.

  3. Genealogy's Capital City: Salt.Lake.City. Need I say more? The conference is hosted in family history's capital city. I'm on a pilgrimage to the land of all things genealogy, and hope to log an hour or two (I joke, more like a day or two) in the Family History Library.
Those are my reasons, and I think they might be compelling for a few of you, too. If they are, register for the conference online. I hope to meet you there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sadness in Those Homes

On this Veterans Day, I recall and honor the service that many of my ancestors gave to their country.

It's also a time to remember those service member's families who sacrificed when their loved ones were overseas.

I recently came across a poignant note from my own family. A cousin - who I met through Ancestry.com, shared with me a June 1918 letter to the editor that my 3rd great-grandmother Amanda Miller (Johnston) Hawks wrote to the "Journal-Advance" about the impact of World War I on the home front. An excerpt from her letter succinctly illustrates the war's toll.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tweet & Tell: Oral History Surfaces

Did you know Family Sleuther is on Twitter? Social media has been a tremendous asset in my genealogy research. Twitter is particularly helpful because it can serve as an educational clearinghouse providing loads of information and resources focused on family history. Sometimes, though, you really hit the jackpot.

Trawling through a slew of Tweets the other night, I landed on one posted by Ancestry.com that caught my eye. They had just updated their Oklahoma records to include oral histories about early Indian and Pioneer life in the state.


Having just wrapped up a family history road trip through Oklahoma, I thought it was worth plugging my Oklahoma family surnames into the database to see what would pop up. To my great surprise, a June 1937 oral history interview with my great-grandfather James Thomas Upton surfaced.

I know very little about him outside of what census records tell me in black and white. When asked to describe his father, my grandfather shrugged and succinctly surmised that James was just "some old man."

According to this oral history, James says he was born in Aurora, Arkansas. I knew he was born in Arkansas, but the city is new information. Furthermore, he sheds new light on the path his parents took to Oklahoma. James says his family came "by covered wagon to Webbers Falls, Indian Territory in 1877" and "that his parents farmed there one year." He continues by tracing the family's move to Kansas and back to Indian Territory.

James says that, "In 1880, they moved with horse teams and covered wagons back to the Indian Territory and settled in the Creek Nation some four miles north of Muskogee."

Aside from family movements, I learned more about James' life in Indian Territory. The interviewer surmised that, "Mr. Upton knows a great deal of old pioneer days pertaining to...the life and customs of the whites and Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes."

According to the interviewer, James Upton was an "agent" who was tasked with overseeing assimilation of members of the Osage and Blackfoot tribes into western society. While James shares a nuanced description of their cultural dress and burial practices, the interview paints a picture of a man not entirely sensitive to tribal culture. He describes one tribe as "savage, lazy and shiftless." It's quite clear James expects them to cease their nomadic lifestyle and settle into lives aligned with early pioneer settlers.

The oral history covers seven pages. Early in the text, the interviewer notes that James' experiences and recollections are similar to others already presented in the historical compilation. As a result, James' every detail would not be recalled for the reader. That's my loss, and I'm left particularly curious about the interviewer's final comments.

James "is a real pioneer and has suffered many adversities but is a true, loyal Oklahoman." What adversities does he allude to? I know James' first wife passed away, but is there something more? After highlighting that some of his children received an education, the interviewer concludes, "Mr. Upton himself is uneducated having only attended a three-month subscription school which cost his parents $1.50 for the three months."

This is genealogy gold. These are the details that make the fabric of a life, and put flesh on the bones. For better or worse, I have a clearer understanding of who my great-grandfather was and about his place in history. All of this, I owe to a Tweet.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Family History on the Road - Day Five & Homeward Bound

After an evening in Muskogee catching up with family, we woke early on day five and headed to Greenhill Cemetery.

My maternal grandfather is buried on the grounds, along with his parents and paternal grandparents. These older Upton family graves are below a cluster of evergreen trees, casting shadows on the monuments below.


This was my first visit to the cemetery since my grandfather passed away in 1993. Although they had divorced in 1959, it felt important and appropriate that we visited his grave on the same trip we buried my grandmother. It felt as though there was a certain element of closure.

From Muskogee, we drove to Tulsa to spend the evening with my grandfather's youngest sister. She generously hosted us in her home, and, to my great delight, pulled out family photos that had been in the collection of my great-grandmother Mary Pauline (Wagnon) Upton. Fortunately, I was prepared for such a situation. Like any genealogist worth his salt, I had brought my scanner along and was able to make digital copies of dozens of images.

Many of the pictures were old black and white cabinet cards. Some were labeled and featured my 2nd great-grandmother Annie Charles (Winkler) Wagnon. Sadly, many of the pictures, including a small handful of tintypes, were not labeled. I've added these photos to the collection of Unknowns with the hope that someone will chance upon a picture and be able to help identify the subject.

Among the old family photographs, was a small bible that belonged to Annie Wagnon. It was a copy of the New Testament, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand and bound in faded red fabric. The bible was wrapped in an old hankie that belonged to Annie. Inside, on several blank pages, she had inscribed the birth dates for her children, herself and her husband Wilburn Wagnon.


The following morning, it was back to Kansas and then on to Colorado. In total, we traveled nearly 2,200 miles, ventured into five states, and paid our respects at the graves of 36 direct ancestors. Throughout the journey, we celebrated the life of my maternal grandmother. She revered her family, and she instilled that love and respect in me. In a way, this blog is a direct result of her passion.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Family History on the Road - Day Four

Yesterday's rainstorms subsided and gave way to a beautiful morning. We were ambitious for day four of our family history journey with lots of ground to cover on the agenda.

Our first stop was Hester Cemetery near Baldwin, Arkansas on the outskirts of Fayetteville. There's a small sign alongside a two-lane county highway pointing down a gravel road. Keep your eyes peeled, or you'll miss it!

Wheel ruts have been carved deep into the dirt path. The tires of my rental car sank into these canyons while the molded lump of earth between the ruts dragged along the underneath of the car's frame. I worried that we would tear loose the vehicle's undercarriage. (Take note, family history road warriors, rent an SUV!) After a short distance, the road opened up into a small grassy parking lot in front of a gated cemetery that's well maintained.

Hester cemetery is where my 2nd great-grandparents Wilburn Malley and Annie Charles (Winkler) Wagnon are buried. The Wagnons were dealt a traumatic blow when they lost their 15-year-old son Wayne in 1937. According to a newspaper account, Wayne was run over by a "loaded truck" at his parents' home when he tried to board it. "He lost his footing and fell under the machine, which was loaded with rock, with a wheel passing over his body."

A homemade stone marker sits on his grave with his name scrawled into the monument's skyward-facing surface. Later in the road trip, an aunt shared with me a haunting photo of Annie visiting the grave of her son, laying flowers at the base of his headstone. Clearly, the heartache and loss was something she carried with her the rest of her life.

Today, the stone's inscription is difficult to read. On either side of Wayne's grave are two small square-sized numeric markers embedded in the grass. To the left of Wayne is a stone marked 47 and to the right is one marked 49. These are the graves of Annie and Wilburn. Unfortunately, I don't currently know who is buried in which plot.


Our next scheduled stop was Neal Cemetery in Madison County, Arkansas. It's an old cemetery with the last burial more than 70 years ago. My 4th great-grandmother Elizabeth (Powell) Reeves was buried here in 1884. She was the wife of Jeremiah Turner Reeves, the War of 1812 ancestor whose grave we visited on day three. For unknown reasons they were buried in different cemeteries.

Following directions from FindAGrave and ArkansasGraveStones.org, we searched for an unnamed dirt drive that turned off Highway 74. There were several. The GPS kept conking out as the cell signal was lost deep in the Arkansas hills. One of the drives was sealed with a gate. Another shot upward at an insurmountable incline for the rental car. A third drive led to a private residence with no cemetery in sight.

Back on Highway 74, I pulled off the pavement alongside a lush green pasture populated with a dozen calves. I stepped out of the car to see if I could catch a cell signal. The cows paused their grazing and cocked their heads left and then right, curiously eyeing me as I walked with my iPhone futilely trying to reactivate my GPS. Although we knew we were close, we were at a loss and our day didn't have time enough to accommodate continued search efforts. We decided that Great-Grandma Reeves would be the reason we would come back. And hopefully with better instructions!

We left the hills behind us, and pulled into Strain Cemetery - the final resting place for my 3rd great-grandparents John and Mary Jane (Calfee) Wagnon (parents of the above-mentioned Wilburn). When Mary Jane pre-deceased John in 1914, he erected for her a modest-sized monument. Although there's no inscription on the stone or separate marker for John, his 1923 death certificate confirms that he was also buried in Strain. I believe he's buried beside his wife.

Headstone for Mary Jane (Calfee) Wagnon

The journey continued to Baptist Ford Cemetery in Greenland, Arkansas where my 3rd great-grandparents John Wesley and Martha (Bowen) Upton are buried. During the Civil War, John Upton served with Union forces, and readers of this blog will recall that I recently learned from his pension file that he was inoculated with "poison vaccine."

Upton Burial
It was difficult to locate their marker because the inscription was very faint. We discovered that someone had taken an abrasive tool to the surface of the stone to remove the obstructing moss. In the course of their efforts, they inadvertently scraped away portions of the inscription. I'm sure they meant well, but it's disheartening to see irreparable damage to stonework that's over a century old.

I couldn't travel all of this way and not make the extra 60 miles south to Fort Smith National Historic Site. It was at Fort Smith that John W. Upton enlisted with the Union army on October 1, 1863 - more than 150 years ago. Although the soldiers' barracks from the Civil War era no longer exist, I wanted to set foot on the ground where John enlisted and where he received his tainted vaccination. It was a tremendous experience to wander an American historic site with an articulated link to my family's own history.

J.W. Upton's Enlistment and Fort Smith grounds

Closing the day, we drove across the Arkansas River into Oklahoma - our road trip's fifth state. We spent the evening in Muskogee reconnecting with family that we hadn't seen in 21 years.

Day Four Recap
Miles Traveled: 180
Direct Ancestor Graves Visited: 6

Monday, October 27, 2014

Family History on the Road - Day Three

From Joplin, Missouri we drove over an hour east to Crane Creek. Day three of our family history road adventure found the weather uncooperative. The drive had us navigating winding country back roads through intermittent rain showers. Our first destination was Mars Hill Cemetery.

Followers of this blog will recall that I recently broke through my Brickey Brick Wall, and was able to locate the burial for my 3rd great-grandmother Pauline (Brickey) Winkler Lee. It was gratifying to be able to pay my respects at her grave after having discovered her whereabouts less than a month earlier. She's buried in the Lee family plots near the front of the cemetery. Her stone was covered in pale green lichen. I gently wiped the lichen growth off the lettering to make the inscription legible.

Back in the car, we snaked our way south out of Missouri and into the top northwest corner of Arkansas. After another hour's drive, we pulled into Springtown Cemetery. The landscape was a vibrant green, paved with a lush carpet of clovers. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in Ireland.

My 4th great-grandparents George Henry (Jucket) Hawks and his wife Amanda Miller (Johnston) Hawks are buried on the grounds. For me, this cemetery was like coming full-circle. The day before - in Rossville - we paid our respects at the grave of their son Edmond. 

George also represents a bit of an intriguing family mystery. 

Amanda Miller (Johnston) and George Henry (Jucket) Hawks

There's a question about the identity of his birth parents. Family lore says his father was a Jucket, but when his mother died young, he was entrusted with a maternal aunt to raise him. The story suggests the aunt gave George her surname of Hawks. I'm collaborating with distant cousins - each descendants of George's sons - to crowd-source an answer to this mystery and locate definitive proof to substantiate the stories.

Our final stop was Jackson Creek Cemetery. What an adventure to get here! We turned off a paved county road onto a dirt path. I was apprehensive about whether the rental could manage the ruggedness. The ride was bumpy, but the view was spectacular. Lush hills surrounded a green valley dotted with hay bales and curious cows.

Although it was only four miles, the dirt path made movement slow going. There were no other vehicles to be seen. Eventually, the car began climbing a hillside and a clearing in the dense trees opened to our left. A beautiful fenced-off cemetery was tucked alongside the road. We opened the gate and began searching the old weathered stones.

My 3rd great-grandparents John J. Herriman and Mary Ann "Polly" (Reeves) Herriman were buried beside each other. Their beautifully tall stones were recently decorated with silk flowers. It was moving to see that the secluded location of the cemetery didn't prevent folks from decorating the graves. I added my own.

Mary Ann "Polly" (Reeves) and John J. Herriman
Mary Ann's father was buried to the left of her grave. Jeremiah Turner Reeves was a veteran of the War of 1812. A small gold star commemorating his military service was placed in the ground in front of his stone.


I look forward to researching more about his War of 1812 service, and seeing what records - if any - exist for him in the National Archives.

Day Three Recap
Miles Traveled: 240
Direct Ancestor Graves Visited: 6

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Family History on the Road - Day Two


Day two of the family history road trip started with an early morning breakfast at the hotel, bags quickly packed into the car, and highway-bound to Rossville, Kansas.

Rossville is where my Lumpkins and Hawks ancestors spent many years. In fact, my 3rd great-grandfather William Lumpkins settled in the area in March 1874 and was the proprietor of the Lumpkins House - the town's only hotel. 

In 1892, it was billed as an "Excellent accommodation for boarders and commercial men" with "reasonable" prices. 

Rossville Times - April 22, 1892

Day two of the road trip was a Sunday, so much of Main Street was closed, including the library. Our research was going to be limited to the cemetery. The skies were beginning to cloud into an ominous color and threatened to rain. The wind picked up and brought with it a cold front. 

We made our way to Rossville Cemetery to pay our respects at the graves of several direct ancestors. Among these were William Lumpkins' first wife Phoebe (Howerton) Lumpkins. She passed away at the age of 51, and her grave is marked with a tall obelisk. The inscription is weathered. A biblical passage on the upper portion of the monument is largely illegible. The stone's size dominates the hill on which its placed. It seems preeminent and symbolic of the sadness and regard for which her family surely must have had at her loss.

Phoebe (Howerton) Lumpkins' grave
Phoebe's monument does not include any mention of her husband's burial. However, according to the Topeka City Clerk's register of deaths, William Lumpkins' remains were buried in Rossville. Furthermore, the Rossville Reporter published his obituary on August 13, 1909, and stated that he was laid "to rest beside the wife in the Rossville Cemetery to wait for dawning of The Morning." His grave is, apparently, unmarked.

Their son, my 2nd great-grandfather, John George Lumpkins, is also buried in the cemetery. He married Minnie Hawks in Rossville on January 6, 1897. They had six children together (including my great-grandfather Marion Lumpkins) before he died following an accident. 

On February 23, 1910, John was walking home from work. He slipped on a patch of ice and hit his head. That evening, he took ill and early the following morning he passed away. It was his 38th birthday. As his obituary noted, the sudden "news of his death could scarcely be believed in Rossville and came as a distinct shock to his friends and relatives here."

The year 1910 would prove a difficult one for the newly widowed Minnie (Hawks) Lumpkins. Five months after her husband's death, she gave birth to their sixth child. In October, her father Edmond Hawks passed away at the age of 51 after "suffering for the past eight or ten weeks with a sort of paralysis." He was buried in Rossville in front of John Lumpkins' grave.

Edmond Hawks (right) and possibly Iva Elzina (Haworth) Hawks James (left)

Edmond's passing made a widow of Iva Elzina (Haworth) Hawks. She eventually remarried to Robert James. Iva passed away in Topeka on December 23, 1951. According to her obituary, she was buried in Rossville Cemetery. However, there's no marker for her in the cemetery.

I believe she may have been buried beside her first husband - my 3rd great-grandfather - Edmond Hawks. To the left of Edmond's headstone, I discovered a metal plate without an inscription. I suspect this is her final resting place. I'm hopeful the Rossville Library or city can help to confirm the burial.

From Rossville, we pushed eastward to Edwardsville in the suburbs of Kansas City. My 4th great-grandmother Sophronia (Rogers) Dornon is among the cemetery's earliest burials. In fact, the cemetery's charter was filed with the Secretary of State in March 1879. Sophronia passed away on May 23, 1872. She, or rather her husband, has been an ongoing mystery that I've been working to unravel. What happened to her husband Burr Zelah Dornon? When and where did he pass away? I'm hopeful an obituary for Sophronia will surface in Edwardsville's records that could shed light on her husband's passing.

I walked the cemetery, looking for a marked grave. There's no evidence that he was buried in Edwardsville. The only Dornon I found was Sophronia's small marker, now split in half. The portion with her name faces skyward. 


From Edwardsville we drove into Missouri. Our pit stop for the evening was Joplin where we planned our adventures for day three.

Day Two Recap
Miles Traveled: 260
Direct Ancestor Graves Visited: 6