Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Cousin

On of the best things about is that others are looking for answers which leads them to you. I have a new 2nd or 3rd cousin who just found a note I wrote about my grandmother. We have the same great grandmother although we know little about her family. It is exciting to think that maybe she will be able to tell us a little more. My great grandmother left her family and moved away leaving three small children. She eventually remarried and had four more. My grandmother had nothing kind to saw about her mother and didn't let her kids know she was still living. Still, I have to wonder what the other side of the story was. Our newest cousin may not know either but there might be some interesting tidbits to lead us to a more balanced view than we currently have. We all have stories but most of them are biased. It would be fun to have another view point and I am pretty excited.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oh my goodness!

I have searched the census records for months looking for Martha Jane McCollum Rhea. She is the focus of my family search and the person whose story I want to tell. I couldn't find her in the 1890 or 1900 census. While I still haven't found her in 1890, I finally found her in 1900 and was shocked.

She remarried. That in itself isn't such a big deal as she had been a widow for a long time and still had children at home. Lillie was 15 when she married Amos Hammons. Since Lillie was born 2 months after John was murdered, she was alone for a long time.

What's shocking is she never used the Hammons name so the only place we find it is on the census. Amos had a son who was not listed on the census so I have more research to do. It appears Amos also moved back to Virginia where he was born. I only found this information last night so I can't draw any real conclusions but my guess is the marriage didn't last long.

Just when I thought I had pretty clear understanding more was revealed. Life is sometimes more complicated and what I thought I knew changed again.

Back to researching.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Census reports

I started out with a new book called Writing the Family Narrative. I got as far as page 34 when I read a sentence about census reports. It stopped me dead in my tracks because I hadn't really looked at them before as a complete record. I got the names, ages, sex, and marital status but hadn't really looked at the checked boxes.

I have been having a problem with my 2nd great grandmother and discovered that Susannah was a 2nd wife and not another name for Sally. The boxes checked were "married within the year". I hadn't seen that before but it goes a long way to explain the name issues. More work certainly needs to be done but it now appears Sally was the first wife and the mother of the children while Susannah  and my 2nd great grandfather married when they were both in their 50's.

Given that information, I have copied the blank census forms and am filling them in page by page. I wondered why my great aunt never married but the census says she was handicapped. Wow, what a lot of information I missed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

10/6/2013 – Telephone conversation with Joyce Marlene Burgan Meyer. Joyce is the great granddaughter of Sarah Ellen McCollum. 

James Northcross McCollum left Tennessee in about 1855 

to seek his fortune in the California gold fields. He returned to Tennessee in 1886 to live with his daughter Sarah. According to Joyce who heard this story from her grandfather, Mack C Depew, his father Henry Eli Depew used to leave the house every morning on his way to the fields. As he left, he would look at James Northcross McCollum and  say,  “Jim, you need to be gone when I get home.”  Every day he would return from the fields to find Jim sitting in the same place next to the fire, whittling away. He never left. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The past and present meet

My grandfather was a tall, lanky man who topped well over six feet. His mother was small and we don't know what my great grandfather looked like but I am going to make the assumption that he was also tall and lanky. My dad and his brothers were all over six feet as are my sons. 

John Carter Rhea was my great grandfather. He served in the Confederate Army, Company D, Tennessee 29th Infantry Regiment. My son is a Civil War reinactor. He is the one in the foreground. I was taken with this photo because with a little imagination, this might have been my great grandfather 150 years ago.   

Sunday, August 11, 2013

2013 Family History Vacation

It is not everyday that I willingly post a picture of me that is not composed to show only my smile. However, this is a 1848 Hawkens rifle that was used in the Civil War. My son bought this rifle recently and while he and my brother are gun collectors, my interest is centered around family history. The Hawkens is a muzzle loader and was made in St. Louis, Missouri. My great grandfather was murdered using his own rifle. I don't know if it was a Hawkens but it was a popular gun used in the war and very common in Eastern Tennessee. I was surprised at its accuracy but can't imagine having to reload it for each shot. The picture was taken on our family history vacation in Missouri. Christopher is showing me how to use it while Niles is loading one of the pistols in the background. Chris is my youngest son and Niles is my grandson.

View of downtown Eldon, Missouri. This is where my grandmother grew up. In terrain, it is similar to Sneedville, Tennessee although not as green. The area is more rocky and I imagine that farming was a little more difficult. I have a better understanding of my grandma's background after visiting the area. I have no idea where she lived, (it wasn't in town) but there was a town to go to for supplies and not as cutoff as my grandfather in Tennessee.

This is the courthouse in Carthage, Missouri. In 1914, my grandparents came here to get their marriage license. I had seen pictures of this courthouse but pictures don't do it justice. It sits on a square surrounded by Victorian and Craftsman homes.

We had a great trip. We met new family (my husband's missing siblings), spent time with my family and got a better understanding of the history that made my grandmother who she was.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Greens of Tennessee

As I write this, I can look out my window and see the dried vegetation in the field across the street. Further out, our hills are covered in tan and the mountains that loom over our small valley, are different shades of brown. Except for the trees and plants watered daily in our valley, our summer colors are brown and tan.  

Tennessee was a revelation. Never do I remember seeing so much green. Everywhere you turn, the greens are overwhelming. It was like being transported to a different planet.

This is the view from where the home place stood. This is where my grandfather would have played as a child and farmed as a youth. All of the land between the road and the house to the river was planted. In the center of the picture is the Clinch River. I didn't have a visual from the older pictures but now see that the river was very much a part of their lives. My great grandmother talks about flooding and now I see why.

This photo was taken in 1982. My dad, on the left, is with two of his cousins. This was his first trip to Tennessee and the first time he saw the home place. Somewhere between then and now, the house burned and is no longer there. What is left is the foundation. 

This appears to be what is left of the pump house, which was on the left in the picture above. The forest is taking back its own and this is all that's left. What struck me is that although the house is gone and those who lived here are gone, the foundation of our family still stands. And while the forest may eventually obscure all,  the mark they made on this land will never diminish.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I am in Tennessee - Finding roots

The house place in Sneedville is long gone. Sheldon Livesay, a 2nd cousin and head of the Of One Accord ministry in Rogersville, says he thinks it burned down. There is only the foundation of rocks. I am disappointed but we walked on the farm. It was very large and the original land grant was 1000 acres.

For the first time, there is a visual of the home place. My grandfather played in the field and the river. I finally have an understanding of the topography. I was disappointed the house was gone but at the same time, delighted to see the river from the road. They lived in an incredibly beautiful spot; a small river valley between two hills. I understand all those things that my great grandmother mentioned in her letters.

Now my cousin and I are off to Nashville and beyond. The adventure continues.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2 weeks and counting

Growing up, we learned nothing about out Tennessee family. We knew they existed but it was never anyone's priority to share any information other than my great grandfather was murdered in front of his family. I can't think of a single other fact that was discussed.

Many years later, my mother got hooked on genealogy. My parents made a trip to the 1982 World Fair in Knoxville. It was then that my father met his Tennessee cousins for the very first time at the age of 60.

Things tend to repeat themselves so at roughly the same age, I am going to Tennessee. It's two weeks and counting. I have made arrangements to meet some cousins and to have the Sneedville Historical Society open for us to research. My companion on this trip is my cousin who knows as much (or as little) as I know about the family.

Patty and I are surprised at how we accepted the fact that the family was out there but not part of our lives. It might have to do with age but now we want know. These are our roots and part of who we are.

I can describe in detail, Montana and Texas. That's where my parents are from and we spent lots of time traveling to those states. That history is no surprise and I have a very complete family tree on my mother's side. It's my dad's side that has all the mystery. In fact, after we tackle my grandfather's family, I am going after my grandmother's story.

So I am packing. I am taking my family group sheets. I am taking my scanner and camera. I am going to meet my ancestors on their own turf and see what they have to tell me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wishful Wednesday - Who was Martha Jane McColloam?

Martha Jane McCollum was my great grandmother. Somehow, I can't seem to let her go. I want, or more so, need to understand who she was. I have five letters she wrote to my grandfather. I have read them over and over again. Still, she eludes me.

The other day at baseball practice when I was refusing to get out of the car, I wrote down the things I know about her from the letters. Maybe they don't add up to a lot but it's a start.

She had a strong tie to her children.
Her children did not want to disappoint her.
She had a great love for her grandchildren.
She was a hard worker.
She managed the farm.
She did not remarry after her husband was murdered.
She was on good terms with her daughter-in-laws and son-in-laws, at least those who lived in town.
She was money savvy.
She was business minded.
She was observant.
She believed in God.
She was in tune with the weather.
She could read and write.
She worried about her children.
She shared into about the community but was not a gossip.
She was never unkind in her comments but some were made with humor.
She was well aware of the event going on in the world.

This is a Wishful Wednesday post so what do I wish? I want to post this and have it all rearrange itself into a full and complete person who I can understand.

Part of the problem I am having is that I have no frame of reference, no setting. In three weeks, I am going to Tennessee, to Sneedville. I will be able to see where she lived. I will be able to walk in her steps. I need to take what I know and add it to what I will see, what I will find. Then maybe, this ultra-strong, self-reliant woman will reveal herself to me. When I have that down, I will be able to move onto the others who are crowding my mind, demanding a hearing.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Photos from the A to Z Blogging Challenge

I have to admit that I have never done a blogging challenge. It's a little more daunting than I thought. First of all, I need to respond to all of those who graciously left me comments. That's not really an issue because all of them have interesting things to share and I am enjoying them. Then...I need to make sure that I have some of my posts ready to go. No problem there except I am struggling with "N". I don't like what I have chosen but can't find another word to use. I am doing destinations and attractions in California.

Now that I am sidetracked, I came here to post historical pictures of my parents and grandfather. I did the La Brea Tar Pits for "L". I can't seem to find any current pictures but did find four when I was going through some of my older photos left to me by my mom.  The pictures were taken in the summer of 1948.

 My parents
 My dad and my grandpa
Grandpa's hat on the tail of the saber-tooth tiger. 
My mom posing.

The pictures are fun because we've spent a lot of time at the tar pits. I wasn't there then, my parents were a newly married couple but this is one of my favorite places to go.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I need more time to play with GeneaBloggers

GeneaBloggers is a really cool site. It's new to me and their daily prompts look interesting. I want to get started there too but am in the middle of the A to Z Blogging Challenge with my Completely California blog and I am finding it hard to manage my time.

Writing the blog isn't a problem. It's finding and scanning the pictures. Yesterday looking for pictures of Kings Canyon and Sequioa, I found pictures of my grandmother's brother and sister in the hundreds of photos and slides my mom left me. I found the Kings Canyon pictures but also pulled the family photos to scan and put on for later posts. 

Then it hits me that I have spent so much time scanning and posting family photos that I have lost an hour or two that should have been spent working on the posts for the California blog. So it's back to California and the family history will have to wait. 

That might not be a bad thing since I can spend the first part of May getting ready for the trip to Tennessee. Then I can do an in-depth search and really determine what I hope to find in the records there. Fortunately, GeneaBloggers will still be there for me to really play with. Kind of a reward for completing the A to Z challenge.     


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I joined GeneaBloggers

I see their badge all over the Internet but I wasn't really sure what it was all about. Then yesterday, I read a post on the Monday Morning Mentions on The Armchair Genealogist by Dear Myrtle. I will have to go back and read the whole blog because I don't quite get GeneaBloggers but wow, so many blogs to read. Then, there is the Pinterest page. 

I just started the A to Z blogging challenge so lots of my time is being spent there. I am still planning the trip to Tennessee. There is so much going on and it's spring so I need to get my garden started. All of this is taking away the time I want to spend reading the 3000+ plus blogs on GeneaBloggers. Still, I will get to them eventually because my newest passion is family history and I'm quite sure that I can learn from all the bloggers. I really can't wait. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The more I learn, the worser my family gets

I am trying to get my act together for the trip to Tennessee to track down the missing answers. I think I've read somewhere my gg grandfather was adopted so that's a dead-end although I plan to really check that out. When my mom did the trip in the 1980's, there wasn't as much documentation.

So I hit RootsWeb. I didn't realize that it was possible to search by name, by county. Imagine my surprise when I found these two tidbits. 

Martha Priscilla Rhea
BIOGRAPHY: She was a twin and her twin brother was named Aquilla and they were Herb Doctors. The common talk or story was that one of Priscilla's brother's did not like her husband and had killed him and put him in the river.Her brother helped her raise her twins James and John Jr.

John McCollom
BIOGRAPHY: His occupation was a music master. He died of unknown causes. He disappeared one day and never was found. He probably was taken by Indians who were raiding in the area at that time. As a young man he came and boarded at the Rhea Station, which was south of Sneedville, Tn. and across the Clinch river. It was the first home of the Rhea family. He met his wife Priscilla Rhea at this Station. 

I have a death date (not verified) for John McCollom. Now, it might be bogus and has to be added to the list of questions to answer. The note on RootsWeb does not identify the brother who didn't like John but it leads one to wonder if if might be John Elijah Rhea Jr. His son, John Carter Rhea, married Martha Jane Rhea, the daughter of the twin, James Northcross McCollom.

It took several days to unravel the relationship between Martha Jane Rhea and John Carter Rhea. They were second cousins. Now it gets even more sticky if indeed the brother disposed of Martha Priscilla Rhea's husband and not Indians as the other note suggests. However, the Indian story also holds some merit because Martha and John Elijah's mother was Indian.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

I'm going to Tennessee!

Due to my gracious cousin Patty, we are making a pilgrimage to Tennessee to see where our grandfather grew up and to understand the area that made him who he was. We are going to the Historical Society to see what we can find about our great grandmother. We have a cousin there who is going to show us where the Rhea land grant was so we can see where they lived. This is more exciting than I thought because I never believed I would have this opportunity.

There is so much that I want to know. Facts and records tell only part of the story. I want to walk on the land, take in the sights and hear the river. I want to walk in their footsteps.

We never went to Tennessee as children. Our parents (my dad and her dad) never took us to see where Grandpa was from. We didn't hear much about that side of the family and it was only when my parents went there in the 1980's that we had any pictures or ideas what it was like. We heard the stories that were passed down and it wasn't until recently that we were able to confirm them.

The thought of going there makes me weepy. How much richer could our lives have been if we knew that part of the family? My mother had a large family in Texas and we were there a lot. My dad's family was only his parents and two brothers. We spent time with our grandparents, cousins and two uncles but never with any of my grandma's or my grandpa's extended families. We knew they were out there but only as abstracts. 

We have a short amount of time and lots of places to visit. I firmly believe that to write my great grandmother's story, I need to understand her surrounding. This is a gift that I am going to take full advantage of.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Taking a "Rhea" break, spending a moment with the "Yeakley's"

I have been doing some research on my cousin's family tree. Her family is really interesting with multiple wives, Salem happenings and Mayflower descendents. It took a lot longer to go through her tree because there were so many interesting things to read as I did each family. Every time I found something that I thought would interest her, I sent it on. I did tell her that I was jealous because she has Mayflower descendents and some great uncle who was accused of witchcraft in Salem. We only have preachers and farmers. Her family is also Mormon and Annie Clark (her great grandmother) wrote a book that is used in their university. Patty's family is so much easier to document because the Mormon's were wonderful record keepers.

I can't seem to track the Rhea's back that far. I do need to look at the family in Pennsylvania and how they are related to the Ephrata Cloister but I think they landed in America much later than 1620. 

So I went looking at the Yeakley's and found that they were also Mayflower immigrants. I am still verifying my sources because in the middle of the family they seem a little thin. Still, I don't believe that I am too far off.

It seems that we may be related to William Brewster who was the Elder of the community. His daughter Patience Brewster married Thomas Prence who was the Governor of Plymouth and at one time presided over the Salem trials.

When we went to Plymouth, I didn't even consider checking to see if we were related. Plymouth is a fun place on its own and just being in that part of history was enough. Now I wish I'd spent more time. I was disappointed by the small size of Plymouth Rock but now I know it was divided four times. I learned that they didn't go directly to the mainland. I was appalled by the size of the Mayflower. It is really, really small. We are history buffs and love all those details.

I am going to continue looking for sources. If I find myself satisfied with the results, I will attempt to join the Mayflower Society. I don't so much care but my grandson (who is 12), finds it fascinating and they have a Junior Membership. It is a teachable moment and a connection to the past that affects him directly. We can have fun learning about the Pilgrims in more detail. What a great thing to share with him.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tracking down records - It helps to pay attention to detail

I have an account with It is not new and I am really good at navigating their resources. However, I am not so good at paying attention to detail when it comes to outside sources. You would think that trying the same thing over and over again would net me new results. DUH

I am going to Tennessee with my cousin who is also interested in family history. We have our own history. We are one day apart in age and grew up spending a lot of time together as children. As adults, we haven't seen each other in more than 30 years so this will be an interesting reunion on its own. What we have discovered is that we are just older versions as our younger selves so I a really looking forward to this trip.

In preparation for this trip, I am gathering notes on missing data which brings me back to paying attention  I have searched the records for the birth and death records of the Tennessee family. There are none to be found so I thought we might need to go to the Tennessee Archives and search there. I had assumed (you know what that means, right?) that they just had not been filmed or Tennessee had not released them. Again...DUH!

Searching the Tennessee Archives I found this note...

"Births & Deaths Before 1908
There was no official statewide registration of births and deaths in Tennessee before 1908. Four cities did keep some earlier birth and death records, which are available through the Tennessee State Library & Archives."

Sneedville is not among the four cities listed. It is much too small. Martha Jane (McCollum) was born before 1908. So was my grandfather. Knowing that, I actually did some more accurate research (paying attention to detail) and found a birth certificate for my grandfather.

Apparently, Social Security required a birth certificate although there were many who did not have them. In an effort to rectify the problem the State of Tennessee, among others, created programs to add the missing records. 

What I found unbelievable was that my grandfather, born September 15, 1882, did not request his birth certificate until March 19, 1946. He was 64 years old. I didn't find a birth certificate for Martha Jane. I guess it wasn't necessary as she died in 1929 and although I can find a death certificate for another of her sons who died in 1929, there is not a death certificate for her either. 

Going to Tennessee was supposed to help me find these records. Now I believe that they do not exist. Still, there is information to be found so I will continue making notes on other records I am sure I can find. Just going to Tennessee may be enough in itself.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I read a new book - Tell it slant:Writing and shaping creative nonfiction

I wrote a book report on Squidoo for Tell it Slant:: Writing and shaping creative nonfiction. Somehow, I can't seem to say what I want about this book clear enough. I loved it and am reading it again. 

Martha Jane McCollum is my s ubject. I know some things about her and her life and I know what she looks like. What I don't know is what I would need to fill a book. Still, she interests me and her story is one that should be told. The story is not any different than any other woman who has lived through trials and tribulations but it is her will to carry on that I find fascinating.

This book has helped me in so many ways. For example, her picture shows what appears to be a stern woman. Of the three that I have, none of them are smiling and yet, my grandfather smiled a lot so is it safe to assume that she smiled too? In those days, no one really smiled and that was the pose most used. Her mouth is not sunk-in like those who didn't have teeth so I am guessing she had teeth. Her hair is pulled back into a bun so I think it must have been long. 

Tell it slant: Writing and shaping creative nonfiction helped me to determine how far creative writing could go with the facts I have. It's a great book and I hope to learn so much more doing the exercises at the end of the chapters. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write family history is a story like format.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What I learned from the Family History Writing Challenge

I joined the challenge with a lofty goal to write 1000 words a day for 28 day. It was ambitious and maybe a little out of reach but everyday I attempted to meet the goal. What did I learn?

1. Set the goal high.

I can write a 400 word article with ease. I have been writing them for a long time. I am lazy so to make the challenge work for me, I had to up the anty.

2. Meeting the goal

I only made the word limit on 2 of the 28 days. It was much more difficult than I thought. The material is there but stretching it to meet the word count is not the best way to write. Instead, I gave myself permission to write only what was needed.

3. Life gets in the way

If life got in the way, I wrote about it.  The blog is about family history and trips to the doctor would qualify as a family history for future generations. I don't promote the blog so the only people who read it regularly are family. When writing a family history, life doesn't get in the way, it is current events that will be history tomorrow.

4. There are holes in the story - Creative non-fiction

Martha Jane Rhea did not leave a diary or a blog. Heck, they didn't have electricity. I have learned to accept the holes and realize that if I write her story, some of it will have to be creative. That's not the original plan, it just worked out that way as I tried to imagine the scenes.

5. Read the other blogs

There is a lot of talent out there in blog land. There is also a whole lot to learn from others. I didn't always leave comments but I made it a point to read the blogs of the other Family History Challenge members. Their stories touched and inspired me each day.

6. Challenges are fun, tiring, and well worth the time

The Armchair Genealogist never fails to deliver. I don't know how Lynn does it but there is always something new to learn or enjoy. When I first considered the challenge, it was something new. The thought was since I was only competing with myself, how hard could it be? It's hard but I ended up with is a disjointed 28 days of writing that could possibly be turned into a story. The bones are there. That's so much more than I had before. Can't wait for next year's challenge. 


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Martha Rhea - New photo of my great grandmother

The Family History Writing Challenge is over and I must admit it was hard to write every day. However, after having skipped a day, it somehow just doesn't feel right. Fortunately, on, Ancestry Anne's post today was about posting a picture of you favorite female ancestor. Apparently, it's Women's History Month.

I am not going to spend this month writing about my female ancestors but I do have a new picture of Martha Jane (McColloam) Rhea. It's not the best picture but was taken at the same time as the other family photo I have.

In the family picture, Martha is wearing the white shawl. The small child is wearing a jacket with lots of buttons. Floyd is wearing a dark jacket and a white shirt.

In the new picture, the clothes are the same. The picture was found in a box full of old photos left to Sheldon Livesay by Jewelle Rhea, the daughter of Victor, shown on the top right in the first photo. 

Trying to date the first photo was difficult. My grandfather left Tennessee in 1914 when he married my grandmother in Missouri. In the first picture, we can only guess at John's age but in the Washington Floyd family, the other two children are there. John is the oldest, He was born in 1904. The next child was Guy born in 1906. The baby was Homer born in 1908. 

Homer looks to be slightly more than a year old. That would put Guy at three and John at five. That would make the date of the photo at 1909. My grandfather would have been 27.

This picture is another treasure. We see Martha, John and Floyd again but now have faces for Guy, Homer and Floyd's wife Eliza.

Women’s History Month!
Women’s History Month!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Music - Last day of the Family History Writing Challenge.

My father played in the Michigan Symphony Orchestra. As a student at Michigan State, he was studying music when World War II began. Like many of the "boys", he enlisted in the Army before he was drafted. When he came home from the service, he was engaged to be married and continued his education at USC, majoring in Accounting.

You have to wonder what he would have done had his education been uninterrupted. Music was a big part of his life and a part of ours. I found a picture of my dad, uncle, and grandmother taken in November 1944, with furlough written on the back. I don’t remember a piano in Granny’s house but there it is in the picture. There is sheet music in the background and the keys are exposed. I don’t know who played it besides my dad.

 In our house, we had several instruments. We had the piano, the flute, the clarinet, and Dad’s favorite, the piccolo. My brother made a half-hearted attempt at playing the violin and I think, the trumpet. We were glad when he moved on to other interests. My mom came from a musical family and was always singing or playing the piano. Like my dad, music defines who I am and I majored in music in college until life got in the way. I played in our high school band and sang in the choir.

Music was always in our house and the favorite music was the hymns. When we weren’t at church singing, we had people over or went to their houses to sing. I grew up in a small community, isolated from the larger cities around us. We knew everyone and all attended the same church.  

I wish that I had paid more attention to the music in my grandparent’s home. I don’t remember them being musical and even when I spent summers with my grandmother as a young adult, music seems absent to me. I know that there was no piano in my uncle’s house. He lived in Billings, Montana too but I do know that when we took my grandma to church, they sang with gusto. If music was important to my dad, it had to be fostered by his parents. What did music mean to them? For the Tennessee family, where did music fit into their lives?

Just before my mother passed away, I wrote a poem for her.
When I was just a little girl my momma sang to me.
She’d sit at the piano, I’d sit upon her knee.
She’d sing the old time music, she’d learned when she was young.
That’s how I learned the melodies she taught me how to hum.

And when the nights were stormy, with lightening all around,
my daddy’d take the chairs and things and place them on the ground.
He’d make us tents and shelters and put a record on,
that matched the stormy weather, till all the fear was gone.

Now I am grown and I have kids who sing along with me,
I taught them how to sing the songs my momma taught to me.
And when the nights are stormy, we often make tents too.
That is what’s important, what I want to share with you.

Fame is not important if forever is your aim.
Traditions live forever, handed down like family names.

So when my kids are grown up,
I really hope to see.
The children of my children
sing my momma’s songs to me.
I was blessed to be able to share this with my mother. I was also blessed that after adopting my grandson, one day he started singing one of my mother’s song. He was small and wanted to know why I was crying.

Music has to transcend generations. Knowing nothing about the music from the Rhea’s of Tennessee, I thought I would look at 1918, the year the letters were written. I was pleasantly surprised to find several of the top songs for the period were some that I knew, not just the names but the songs that we sung in our house when I was small. 

The short list includes:

“Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” This was recorded by Al Jolson on March 13, 1918. It was from a musical called “Sinbad”.

“I’m always Chasing Rainbows” came from the musical “Oh, Look”. The show opened in March 1918. Using the music from Frederic Chopin, it was published in 1917.

“Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” is an Irving Berlin song written in 1918. He wrote this while in the Army and everyone in the Armed Forces knew this. Irving Berlin is and has always been one of my favorite composers.

“Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here”, was published in 1917 and words written by D. A. Esrom to a turn from the 1879 opera “The Pirates of Penzance”. 

But my favorite of all is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Although an older song, written in 1861, it used the melody from the song, “John Brown’s Body”. Julia Ward Howe wrote the words at the end of the Civil War. In 1918, it was rerecorded by the Columbia Stellar Quartet and spent 6 weeks on the US Billboard as #1.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
his truth is marching on."

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
his truth is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

I like that this song ties us all together. As a family, my dad, mother, brother, and I sang this in a church service. We sang all four parts because that’s how we sang everything. While not knowing anything about my great grandmother’s musical taste, I can say with certainty that she was familiar with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” And in the same way that my grandson sang my momma’s song to me, the tradition of the music carries on.

Music to share – The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a beautiful version of this song.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Continuity - Day 27 of the Family History Writing Challenge

Throughout Martha Jane's life, there were wars. Although she didn't live to see World War II, she certainly saw the devastating effects of the Civil War and World War I. In 1918, when she wrote the letters, World War I was just ending.

She writes on January 1, 1918:

“Leona’s and Della’s boys all right since the armistice was signed. Don’t know when they will be at home, Perhaps not soon. Roy Hatfield says he is homesick.”

Roy Hatfield was her grandson, the son of her daughter Della. In the picture: Victor Rhea, Martha’s son, her grandson Roy (son of Della), her granddaughter Mossie (daughter of Victor), and a neighbor child.  
Roy registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 and served from September 20, 1917 to April 12, 1919. He was 22 years old when he registered. The registration form says he was tall and stout with blue eyes and yellow hair.

I don’t think that Roy had been discharged when the photo was taken but his homecoming would not be as hoped. During the war, he had been part of the group that had been attacked with Mustard Gas. I don’t pretend to know anything about it other than, many times, it was fatal. That was not so with Roy. He survived the attack but soon after returning home, he was sent to the US National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The diagnosis there was arthritis.  

We know that he was back in Sneedville in October 1919 because Martha writes:

“Roy and Sam still running trucks.”

Sam was Roy’s younger brother and both of them worked for the mining company. I haven’t spent much time with Della’s family other than to document the notes my mom made when she went to Sneedville, Tennessee in 1982. There are many missing details but what struck me about the family was the amount of tragedy is a small space of time.

My friend started yesterday and found some information right off the bat that her mom has been lying to her for years. I told her that she would find things that might be upsetting. Today, the Hatfield’s upsets me.

Roy Hatfield died in 1938 at the age of 43 by committing suicide. One has to imagine that the war had something to do with his state of mind and health.

How sad for the family so I thought I’d look at the rest of the kids.

Jessie Hatfield is hard to find. We have a birth year for her but no death date.

George Dewey Hatfield is the next in line. He had moved from Tennessee to Indiana and died at the age of 69.

Sidney Hatfield is next. We only have the year of his birth but no other information is available. However, the notes we have say that he committed suicide.

John Hatfield lived to age 82 in Indiana.

The next sister was Carrie Hatfield. There is not much information for her either.

Next comes Sam Hatfield who Martha mentions in her letters. We have no death date for him either. Again, there are more notes that say he had cancer and committed suicide.

Edna Hatfield lived to the age of 92. According to the note left on Find A Grave, her granddaughter posts a glowing report of how wonderful her grandmother was.

Grant Hatfield also moved to Indiana and lived to be 72.

Ray Hatfield, age unknown died of lung cancer.

Luke Hatfield had also captured my attention because Martha said he “Favored Wm a great deal.” William was my grandfather. Unfortunately, Luke died in 1937 at the age of 18 in a car accident.

We have Roy, Sidney, and Sam who committed suicide. Ray died of lung cancer and Luke died in a car accident.

Della Hatfield was her mother’s child. She was also a strong woman who had the ability to rise above whatever life threw at her. However, the saddest part of all is when Mack Henry Hatfield was 81, he also  committed suicide. We don't know why but maybe he just couldn't deal with the death of his 5 sons. It is one of the things I want to find out when I make the trip to Tennessee. So much heartbreak but Della hung on for another 15 years and died at the age of 83.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Faith – Day 26 of the Family History Writing Challenge

We are in 6th grade this year and studying ancient history and the beginnings of the world’s religions. Ok, our grandchild is in the 6th grade and studying history. However, after learning it myself more than 50 years ago and then learning with my boys, we are now doing it all over again with our grandchild.

I am much older and wiser and know a bit more about Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Our 6th grader is at the age to question belief systems and how they relate to him. He wants to know if it is wrong to learn about the other beliefs. I tell him no. I questioned my basic Baptist beliefs. My preacher grandfather told my mother it was all right to question hers. It’s a normal right of passage.

He asked recently why my beliefs are Christian and not one of the others. My response; underneath all the dogma, all belief systems are similar. He is free to choose which one fits in his life. Christian belief is a choice and must be made freely. He has asked for the “bible” for each one and I will grant his wish.

What does this have to do with family history?

When I found my grandmother’s letters, I was instantly struck by the passage she wrote on 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.”

Martha Jane was tired. She wanted William to come home but beyond that, there was no fear of death. She had already made peace with her maker. I find that comforting and based on my belief system, know that when I get to Heaven, she will be there to greet me. However, rest was not as near as she thought because she lived another 10 years.  

When she passed away, my grandfather wrote on May 30, 1929:  

“It was very depressing news of Mother being dead. Yet we all must answer the Summons when it comes.” Grandpa also believed.

Family history is more than dates and times. It is an affirmation of who we are and where we came from. My beliefs tie me to my great grandmother, her sons, my parents, my children, and grandchild. What matters to me is that my beliefs were shared with my earlier ancestors. Many of the Rhea’s were preachers. Many of my mother’s family were preachers. Yet, all of us questioned our beliefs.  

This was graphically illustrated when my 2nd cousin sent me the pictures he found. There are picture of my grandfather’s brother, Victor, being baptized in the Clinch River.



He was not a young man. I don’t know why he was baptized so late in life but that’s irrelevant. What counts it that he walked in the same path that I have chosen. While we spend time living our lives, the thread of belief runs deeper than any of us realize. Understanding that allows me to encourage my grandchild to look at the all the belief systems. Whatever he chooses will be right for him, even if he is as old as Victor when he makes his decision. He will know that those who have gone before him will welcome him with opened arms.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Flood - Day 25 of the Family History Writing Challenge

This is harder than I thought. The more I write, the more holes I find in my research and I have to go back and track down the missing pieces. The information that Sheldon has provided has been a great help but it also points out missing pieces.

We are planning a trip to Tennessee. Hopefully, if we get there, we can find some of the missing information. It appears that most of the records we need are in the Knoxville and Nashville archives. What are missing are the birth and death verifications that would make this so much easier. 

Back to the story of Martha Jane. In her letters, she mentions the river being high. They had a river farm but it is hard to understand if you live on the flatland without water being close by. Some of the pictures that we got today are of a flood in Sneedville in 1963. The only difference I can see in the pictures is that the road is paved and there are electrical lines. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been much different in the 1918 flood. 

This is the house. Like I said before, it will not be moved. The water is lapping at the porch but not getting through. Hardy people build hardy homes. 

Pictures – Day 24 of the Family History Writing Challenge

Sheldon Livesay, who runs Of One Accord, an outreach ministry and food bank in Rogersville, Sneedville, and Church Hill, Tennessee, is my 2nd cousin. He is a busy man who has joined me on my journey and found, like I said in an earlier post, documents and pictures. He has been scanning photos into his website.

The photos are a treat. People who were just names have faces. They lived in homes and played on the river. There is a picture of my grandfather’s brother, Victor, being baptized in the river. They photos offer comfort.

My grandfather left Tennessee and moved to Montana, far away from the family. Cut off from the Tennessee family, us kids grew up without knowing much about them. We were an insular family with just the three brothers. My uncle Ralph, stayed in Montana, married Bernice, but had no children. My uncle Howard, move to the San Francisco area and had five kids. My parents moved to Southern California with just my brother and I.

I have been playing with genealogy for a long time and I can recite names and dates from memory. Now, for the first time ever, these have become real people. Today on day 24, I am posting some of these remarkable images.

Let’s start with Sheldon. I cannot say how grateful I am for his help.

Sheldon in the grandson of Victor Edwin Rhea, brother to my grandfather William Ogden Rhea. Victor married Cornie Hutson.

Victor and Cornie had three daughters. The oldest is Jewelle. In the letters my great grandmother wrote to my grandparents, she mentioned that Jewelle sucked her thumb. Before ever seeing a picture of her, she had already become a real person. Tidbits like that make the research fun. Opal is the next sister and Mossie (Sheldon’s mother) is the youngest.

We don’t have many pictures yet of Washington Floyd Rhea, another of grandpa’s brothers. I am also in search of pictures of Martha Jane. I have two in my possession but Sheldon posted another.

This is Floyd Rhea, his wife Elisa and three of their seven boys, John, Guy, and Homer. Martha Jane Rhea is on the left. Floyd’s youngest son, Robert is 90 and still living. His wife June and I have begun writing to each other. She says they have been married for 71 years.  

This is so exciting. What is even better is I am not alone anymore. I have help from my cousin Patty and Sheldon. Even June is willing to help although Robert has dementia and doesn’t remember much, she has shared a little of her life and childhood. I appreciate her so much.

Accurate Research - Day 23 of the Family History Writing Challenge

In the midst of this writing challenge, I was sidetracked. In fact, this is catch-up. I was asked to update a tree on for a family member. She doesn’t have the time right now to do the detail work. It’s fun and easy for me and my tree is pretty complete.

I pride myself on getting the facts right. I check names and dates. I check ethnicity. I double-check dates. I say that twice because I found that my great, great, great grandfather died 15 years before his son was born. What?

All right, I delete the death date I have and make a note to go back and see where I went wrong. I continue with her tree. Why are there three Martha Jane’s? There are three of a lot of the people. I can see why her tree needs help.

I flip back to my tree. I have three of some people too. Where did I go wrong? It seems that in my haste early on, some of the more distant relatives were double on the family trees I added. Back then, I wasn’t as careful.

It helps to pay attention. I no longer add references twice. I am very careful but after doing this challenge, I am so familiar with the family names that I know when they’re wrong. That doesn’t mean I get it right. The name “Rhea” is not that common but in Tennessee, it seems that all of the men are named “John Rhea.” Honestly, I get the handing down the name thing but in ten generations, there are eight!

So how did John Rhea’s father die 15 years before he was born? Obviously, I have the wrong John Rhea but with so many to choose from, which one do I pick. They are all born within 20 years of each other. That seems like an easy choice but there are variables.
For example, my great grandmother married her second cousin. That’s a chart I had to diagram to understand.

Martha Pricilla Rhea                and her brother               John Elijah Rhea Jr
1790- 1850                                                                  1804 – 1859

Married                                                                        Married

John McColloam                                                          Lucy Anderson
1773 – 1850                                                                1808 – 1865

(Already, there are new things to research. Martha and John McColloam died the same year. That’s a clue for something, another thing to add to the why list.)

They had:                                                                     They had:

James Northcross McColloam                          John Carter Rhea
1820 – 1898                                                                1842 – 1884   

So far so good, James and John are cousins. This is where it gets interesting. James is 24 years older that John.                           

Married                                                                        Married

Mary Polly Gray                                                           Martha Jane McColloam
1825 – 1888                                                                1848 – 1929   

They had:

Martha Jane McColloam

Martha Jane and John Carter were contemporaries. Regardless of the family relationship, they were both the same age. There were plenty of other choices for either of them but who knows what draws people together. That’s another thing to add to the I want to know list. You will also notice that there are three John’s. UGH! (As an aside, Martha and John had nine children. None of them are named John.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Annual Decoration Day – Day 22 of the Family History Writing Challenge

A quote from Wikipedia:

“Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountains. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day, put flowers on graves, and renew contacts with kinfolk and others. There often is a religious service and a "dinner on the ground," the traditional term for a potluck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the "memorial day" idea.” (

As a child, I remember Decoration Day. We must have been in Texas visiting my mother’s family. I don’t remember a lot about it other than it had to do with food. I do remember the tablecloth on the ground with dishes full of great flavors. Now, this tradition seems to be a long lost memory.

We are planning a trip to Tennessee and I will have the opportunity to visit the grave of my great grandmother and other family members. Since Memorial Day falls into the period for the proposed trip, Decoration Day takes on additional meaning, I can see us having a picnic at the graveside. Decoration Day or not, we would still be going there to honor those who have gone on before. This just adds the tradition that I am sure was done in their time. Somehow, it seems to bring us closer.

The whole genealogy, family history trek started out with just birth dates, death dates, marriage, and children listed on a page. While it was gratifying to learn about these ancestors, it somehow was not enough. I really wanted to know these people, who they were, what they dreamed of, what they wanted.

I was fortunate to find some letters and documents to aid in the research. I searched my memories for stories and compared notes with other family members. I was lucky enough to find more distant cousins who were interested and learned what I could from them.

I am an excellent researcher if it is on-line. However, I am a total novice when it comes to physical research. Planning a trip to Tennessee where there are additional records is difficult. I need to refine my search techniques to know where to start. At least, the cemeteries are a good place to start.

The Depew Cemetery is in Sneedville, Tennessee is where we will have our picnic and meet Martha. Sarah Ellen (McColloam) Depew is there. She is Martha’s sister. James Northcross McColloam and Mary Polly (Grey) McColloam are there too. They are Martha’s parents.

Febra Northcross, the Indian maiden who walked off the Trail of Tears is buried in the Rhea Hollow Family Cemetery. She married John Rhea Sr. It is said that this cemetery is hard to find but someone in the family has to know where it is and we will find it.

The thought of celebrating Annual Decoration Day appeals to me on many levels. I am researching these people. They are family. Spending time, even with only the headstones, puts me in the trails they once traveled, getting me one-step closer to who they were.