Saturday, March 1, 2014

Meet Mellie Farris

Mellie Farris is my grandmother. She was a spitfire in a small body and no one messed with her. She was loving but ruled with an iron hand. This photo is probably around 1914 when she married my grandfather.

My dad, uncle, and Granny taken about 1942 in their home in Billings, Montana. 
The Granny I remember with the smile that brightened a room. 

Mellie Farris was the oldest child of Oliver Valentine Farris and Matilda Jane Pitchford. She was born in Eldon, Missouri on January 20, 1883. We have no documentation on her birth nor do we know if Mellie is her only name. On one family tree, they have her name as Mellicene but no documentation to back it up. 

Her childhood was less than ideal and I will cover that later. In the end, she created a life that suited her and I think she was quite content. To me, she was just Granny and a major part of my life. 

Changing the blog name

This started as Yeakley/Rhea, my parent's names. Then I changed it to Rhea/McCollum to add my grandpa's family. Now I see that it was wrong to begin with. I have a new blog called Yeakley/Jones which is my mom's parents. I see now it would have been more accurate to have started this one as Rhea/Farris for my grandparents. So on March 1, 2014, it will include my grandmother's Farris family too.

Genealogy is hard enough without confusing the families. Fortunately, I did the Yeakley/Jones right to start with. This blog is a hodge-podge of different families. In the beginning, I also did my husband's biological family but eventually created a website and blog for him. I switched to my great grandparents in 2013 for the Family History Writing Challenge. I have just completed the 2014 challenge and am satisfied that I now have the bones to write the story of Martha Jane McCollum.

Now that the Challenge is over, I am heading towards the Farris side of the family. I am also working on the Yeakley's on a different blog. I've spent a very long time on the Rhea's and am satisfied with what I have although I know it will never be completely done.

The Farris family, like the Yeakley's have been ignored while researching the Rhea's. On Ancestry, I have all the facts but none of the details that make them real people. It will be an interesting adventure.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 28 - Recap

Last year when I did this challenge, I wrote whatever came to mind. I wrote some things well, others were just lists.

This year, I tried to put it all in order to see if I had enough to write a short story to share with family. I have about 24000 words so I looked it up. I have too many words for a short story and too little for a novel. However, with technology, novelettes are back in favor. When Jane was living, many stories were serialized and the word count would fall between those of a story and a novel. Novelettes were very popular.

Then I went back and looked at the different days. Some have dialog and others are just stating facts. All that will need to be redone but I have something to work with. The next it creative non-fiction or have I crossed enough lines to have to consider it historical fiction? While I would like to think of it as creative non-fiction, I already know the answer.

My goal for next year is to move on to another family line. It's time to look at Farris/Pitchford, my grandmother's side of the family. I have a second cousin making a trip to England this year to the Pitchford Castle. She will come back with lots of information to share. I also know a little bit about the Farris side and there are some interesting characters there.

The Rhea/McCollum story will continue to grow as little pieces pop up. Each new piece challenges what I thought I knew and that's what makes family history exciting.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Join me on the Blogging from A to Z Challenge - April 2014

While I finish the Family History Writing Challenge, I am getting ready for the Blogging from A - Z Challenge. If you haven't tried this one, click on the link and check it out. There is still time to sign up.

Last year I did California Destinations, picking a place for each letter of the alphabet. This year, I am attempting to do family history on the other side of the family. Since I am in the embryo stage of detailed research for the Yeakley/Jones family, this is proving to be difficult. I am writing about my aunts and uncles so we have some sort of record other than basic facts but filling in the other days is harder. To make it worse, I am also doing 52 ancestors in 52 weeks for the same family. I might have bitten off more than I can chew.

I am looking forward to the challenge. Not only does it stretch my skills as a blogger, I am looking forward to meeting new bloggers I haven't yet discovered. You should give it a try.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day 27 - Martha Jane Rhea

Martha Jane McCollum died on March 22, 1929 in Sneedville, Tennessee at the age of 81. She didn’t change the world or save humanity. She was a simple, country woman who raised 9 children, 8 of them to maturity. She survived the murder of her husband and lived through all the years her father was absent.

She worked hard to make sure her family was well taken care of. By the standards of the day, she was wealthy in terms of land. She was an astute business person and increased her holdings. She was generous with what she had.

In the letters to my grandparents, she was not above bribing them to come back. However, when she talked about the people around her, she was never critical or gossipy. She reported the facts with no censure.

Her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews speak kindly of her. I am still in the process of transcribing letters sent to me by a 2nd cousin. They were written by one of her nieces and she talks a little about her aunt Jane. Her Aunt Jane is mentioned with affection, especially when she talks about the trouble she got into with Victor and the switches her mom and Aunt Jane always had on hand.

My grandfather was a kind man. Sheldon tells us that his grandfather, Victor, was a good grandpa. These are the children she raised. Education was important to Jane. Her children could all read and write. In small communities in the Appalachian Mountains, education was not always a goal, survival was.

She loved her grandchildren and when she was talking about Jewelle, there was affection and humor. I don’t have a picture of her smiling but it appears in the tone of the letter.

I am never going to know this woman as I would like but have a pretty good idea who she was. Someday, I believe she and I will meet and have a lot to talk about.

Day 26 - Zip-lock bag

The zip-lock bag was sealed. The letters inside had been there for years, just waiting. They were unimportant and had no meaning.

I had been playing on for years, sifting through data and facts. There was no urgency: these were long dead people and interesting on a surface level. I didn't know them, certainly did not need to more than the birth and death date. I was on a mission to see how far I could track my family back. It was like the time machine, flashing through generations without slowing down.

The box was left to me when my mom passed away. It sat in the closet for years, moved to under the bed, and finally made it's way into the office. I knew it contained hand-written family group sheets, some pictures, and large computer printout from the 80's. Not all that interesting, just data that I'd already found on

The box would have been ignored many more years had I not hit a block wall on John McColloam. (By the way, wall still standing). I pulled the box from under the desk.

My fingers made prints in the dust on the top. I opened the box and started going through the folders my mom had setup. In the one marked Rhea, I saw the zip-lock bag. The five letters were fragile and addressed to my grandparents. I knew that Martha Jane Rhea (McCollum) was my great grandmother. The name was spelled differently but I thought there might be a clue to the elusive McColloam.

Martha Jane got me with the first letter I read dated January 1, 1919.

"Wm, I am 71 years old this morning and I want to talk to my absent children. What I can and truly hope that when the end of their road is as near is Sight as mine They can Rejoice as I can, that Rest is near." 

Those three sentences sent me in a new direction. Martha Jane McCollum more than birth and death dates. She missed my grandfather. She was old and wasn't sure how much longer she would live. I think she was tired and feeling the losses she had suffered. I read all five letters transcribing them to post on

It still had't hit me that I was more invested in her than I thought. Had it not been for a message from a 3rd cousin, I might have continued on tracking back to the dim past. Jennifer contacted me about the letters and mentioned that Fidello was not the right name. Her great grandmother was Della.

We had a discussion about the name. Fidello was her given name but she was called Della by the family and that's what her mom calls her in the letters. Jennifer's message pushed me to discover more about the family and eventually the obsession with Martha Jane McCollum.

The zip-lock bag lead me to other cousins. The cousins provided more information and pictures. Because of the letters, I had the opportunity to travel to Tennessee.

To me, Martha Jane McCollum is alive and well. If I could meet one ancestor from the past, it would be her. Besides, I need her to tell me about her grandfather, John McColloam.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 25 - Grandpa's voice

My grandparents (as far as I know) never went back to Missouri or Tennessee. They were unhappy places for her. We wondered if my grandfather had even been back to see his mother. He left in 1914 so it would have been 14 years. We still don’t know the answer. What we do know is Grandpa traveled without my grandmother. When we were children, we used to visit him in Mesa, Arizona while Granny stayed home to tend to business.

In discussing my grandfather with my cousin Patty, we discovered we don’t know much about him. She has a few memories and I have some but it doesn't tell us who he was. He was a very quiet man, not given to long speeches or idle chat.

So it was with total delight when Sheldon discovered the letter written by my grandparents to Victor Rhea on May 30, 1929. What tugged at my heart was the reference to Martha’s death on March 22, 1929. The letter is the first we've seen in his handwriting. This is the first time that Patty and I have heard from him in his own words.

He starts his portion of the letter talking about the farm. While we visited them in the house they built in 1932, in 1929, they were still living on the farm away from downtown Billings. Grandpa was employed full time by the railroad so the workload he carried would be staggering today.

He had just planted 600 pounds of potatoes, over an acre with Bantam Sweet Corn, and still had an acre to plant with miscellaneous vegetables like carrots and onions. He talks about taking care of the chickens. Then he writes,
“It was very depressing news of Mother being dead. Yet, we all must answer the Summons when it comes.”
We were shocked that of all the letters that must have been written, this is the one that survived. It answers some questions and provides very real emotions, which can’t be gleaned from the drier facts.

William goes on to ask,
“What did they do with Dow Arnold for killing James Willis?”
I have no idea what that’s about but because my grandfather wanted to know, so do I. It will not make any difference in my family history but it just adds flavor and texture to the story.

My grandmother wrote the second half of the letter. Her handwriting is instantly recognizable. She starts with the pleasantries and then says,
“It made us sad to hear of Mother’s death and what hurt most was that Wm had neglected to go to see her. I often urged him to go but he always said it hurt his mother so to have him leave her again. He would have gone if he had knew she would lived as long after Leona wrote him but it is always like that. Something to regret.”
Apparently, they, (Victor and Cornie) offered her the robe she had sent. She writes,
“No I don’t want the bathrobe. You do what you want to with it. I think Victor is entitled to the corn and what ever else they give him. He has been faithful to his mother.”
She then goes on to talk about the chickens she is raising and working in the garden. That is something else to research. If they were planting acres, what was in the garden?

The best thing about the letter is that for the first time, we know the emotions behind the facts. Grandpa was sad. Grandpa had regrets. Grandpa believed that everyone’s time on this earth was limited and accepted the death as a larger part of the universe. It was nice to hear from Grandpa. It was nice to hear Grandpa’s voice.