Friday, February 1, 2013

Ready, Set, Go - Day 1 of the Family History Writing Challenge

That is the title of the post for the 1st day of the Family History Writing Challenge hosted by The Armchair Genealogist. The challenge runs 28 days, all through February 2013. Each writer pledges to write a certain amount of word daily towards a family history. Since I am wordy, I set my goal at 1000 a day but know I will eventually have to edit out a lot of words. Still, the exercise is to write a comprehensive account of a family member, event, or timeline. I will be doing the writing as blog posts as I think I have greater accountability towards the challenge on something I publish.

My subject – Martha Jane McColloam (McCollom, McCollum), my great grandmother.

Steps for preparing for this challenge:
Note cards – Actual index cards in a file. It took a lot of time to list everything I had about Martha, her life, her family, and events that happened during her lifetime.
Timeline - I created a butcher paper timeline stretching across the closet doors. It begins in 1820 with the birth of her father to 1929, the date of her death.
Phone calls – I contacted two of my 2nd cousins living in Tennessee. While they don’t have much about Martha herself, they do have information on their grandparents who were Martha’s children. Sheldon sent me lots of pictures of his parents and grandparents. They were a real treat. Bill has a copy of the original warrant for the arrest of the man who murdered my great grandfather, Martha’s husband. – is current with the information I have so far.
Lots of research – Internet sources on the times.
The Armchair Genealogist – I read every post and all the comments.

I have five letters Martha Jane wrote to my grandparents in 1918 and 1919. They are what drew me to Martha Jane. A strong woman who raised eight children alone and yet, the letters show she was very human and at times wistful.

The best part about this whole process is the more information I write down, the bigger the holes I find in the research. I would not have ever considered calling the two cousins in Tennessee if I hadn’t need info. While I know they are family, they are strangers I have never met. What a treat to find them not only open to my request but also willing to be active partners in my research. The lesson here – is not to be afraid to contact people. The worst they can say is no.

The boring part – The Begats

John Elijah Rhea Jr 1804 – 1859
Lucy Anderson 1808 – 1995

John Carter Rhea
2 Mar 1842 - 21 Sep 1884
Sneedville, Tennessee

James N. McColloam 1820 – 1898
Mary Polly Gray 1825 – 1888

Martha Jane McCollum
1 Jan 1848 – 22 Mar 1929
Sneedville, Tennessee

John and Martha married on 4 Mar 1865

Joseph Andrew Rhea - 20 Jun 1866 – no death date
Mary Leoni Rhea – 18 Mar 1868 – 26 Feb 1940
Laura Tisabel Rhea – 15 Feb 1870 – after 1965
Washington Floyd Rhea – 2 Jan 1873 – 3 Feb 1929
Luvena Finetta Rhea – 19 Dec 1875 – 24 Apr 1913
Fidello (Fidelia) Florence Rhea – 11 Aug 1877 – 31 May 1961
Victor Edwin Rhea – 13 Jul 1880 – Apr 1973
William Ogden Rhea – 15 Sep 1882 – 1 Jul 1962 (my grandfather)
Lillie Bower Rhea – 5 Nov 1884 – 1952

The opening:

“Jan 1, 1919

She sat at the desk in her upstairs bedroom watching. It was raining and the Clinch River was higher than normal. She kept her eye on it praying it wouldn’t flood again. The river ruined last year’s corn crop. They’d been safe; river people always built their houses high. Looking at the paper, she continued to write.

“Wm, I am 71-yrs-old this morning and I want to talk to my absent children.”
She stopped writing, lost in thought. Only Victor and his family lived in the old home now. For a one-year-old who was just walking, Little Jewell could make an awful racket but she was grateful for the noise. She could hear the echoes of the absent children as if they were still home, eight of them slamming doors and hollering at each other. She picked up her pen again.

“What I can and truly hope that when the end of their road is as near in sight as mine, they can rejoice as I can, that rest is near.”

She put the pen down again and slowly pushed herself out of the chair. “I’ll finish later,” she told herself and little by little made her way down the stairs.”

The story

Martha Jane McColloam was born on January 1, 1848 in Sneedville, Tennessee. There is no birth certificate; the information comes from family records. She does confirm the date in her letter dated January 1, 1919.

She was one of three girls born to Mary Polly Gray and James Northcross McCollum. James and Polly had a farm that bordered the Clinch River. Their closest neighbors were the Rhea’s. She knew John Carter Rhea all her life so it was no surprise she married him at the age of 17 in 1865. John was 23-years-old and had just returned home as a veteran of the Civil War.

Ending day one here

There is more research needed on weddings of the time. Reviewing the records will show family members who would have attended the wedding. There was family around. Given there were no stores or large towns nearby, what would the couple wear? What kind of gifts would they receive? Where would they live considering the house wasn’t built yet? They did have land to farm. Where did they get it? This information may not be important or used in a final draft but it will form a framework for later stories.

Word count 970, 30 short of the goal.

1 comment:

  1. A marvelous idea, a writing challenge for family history. I need to apply this to my Civil War Ancestor blog. I've been neglecting it and only have 3 posts so far. A challenge like this would really get me going.
    Very nice start here.