#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Identity

This post is adapted from a letter I wrote to my mom’s brother about my research into their maternal grandfather’s family.

When I started researching the family tree, I knew the name of my great-grandfather Billie Stevens from hearing him talked about and from going to Clopton Cemetery. I didn’t know his parents’ names or anything about him, other than that he died when my mom was a little girl.

Billie Stevens

J.W. Stevens was born October 5, 1884, according to his wife Mollie Pittman Stevens’ Bible (in possession of my cousin Cassandra Schansman). His World War I Draft Registration card records his birthday as October 5, 1880. (WWI Draft Card available on FamilySearch.org)

The U.S. Census of 1910 records his name as William J. Stephens, birthplace Alabama, parents both born in Alabama.

The U.S. Census of 1920 gives his name as J. W. Stebens, birthplace Florida, parents both born in Alabama.

The U.S. Census of 1930 lists his name as J.W. Stevens, birthplace Alabama, parents both born in Alabama.

The Florida Census of 1935 gives his name as J.W. Stevens and his birthplace as Florida.

All U.S. and Florida Census records are available on FamilySearch.org. I have not found any of the family in the 1900 U.S. Census. The 1890 U.S. Census, as genealogists know, was destroyed by fire.

The first record I found naming Billie Stevens’ parents was his death certificate; the informant was Willie Cook, his daughter. It gave the names Bill Stevens and Mollie Reed (Death certificate is available on FamilySearch.org).

As I began searching, I found one record that seemed to be his parents. William A. Stephens and Mollie Reid were married in Conecuh County, Alabama, on July 26, 1883 with the consent of Mrs. Nancy Reid.

Using that information, I found U.S. Census records and FamilySearch family tree profiles for James T. and Nancy Reid living in Conecuh County beginning in 1850.  Mollie, also known as Mary, was born around 1855 – that’s consistent through all the Census records I have for her. I don’t have a specific birthdate.

I wasn’t positive at that I’d found the right couple. I am sure now for several reasons.

I have quite a few DNA matches to descendants of James and Nancy Reid’s other children.

We know that Billie’s mother remarried Charles Muterspaugh. They had a daughter named Charlotta Rhea “Lottie” Muterspaugh, born December 5, 1894. The only marriage record I found for Charles Muterspaugh was to Mary R. Gilmore, wedding date 19 March 1891, in Escambia County, Florida. The 1910 Census says Charley and Mollie had been married for 19 years, which matches that date. But where did Gilmore come from? I found a marriage on March 7, 1889, in Conecuh County, Alabama, between J.C. Gilmore and Molly Stephens. The justice of the peace noted that he performed the marriage at the home of Pink Louis – aka Pinkney Lewis, Mary Reid’s brother-in-law.

But the big questions is, who is William A. Stephens (or Stevens) and what became of him? I have two possibilities.

There is a Wm. Stephens in the U.S. Census for 1880 living in Conecuh County, Alabama, with his mother Melviny Stevens. He is 18 years old, putting his birth in around 1862. According to the information recorded in the Census, he was born in Alabama, his father was born in Georgia, and his mother was born in Alabama. Melviny is age 42, born in Alabama, father born in Georgia, mother born in South Carolina. They are living a couple of houses down from John Henry Stephens and his wife Margaret. John Henry is 21 years old, born in Alabama, father born in Georgia, mother born in Alabama.

In the 1870 Census, William Stephens, age 5, is living with his mother Vina, age 26, and brother John Henry, age 11. In 1900, we find a William M. Stephens in the household of John Henry Stephens. William is identified as brother to the head-of-household, divorced, birthdate given as February 1872.

There is also, in the 1880 Census for Conecuh County, a William I. or J. Stephens, age 20, so born in Alabama around 1860. He’s living with his father Benjamin Stephens, age 65, who was born in Georgia to parents born in Georgia. His wife Mary A., age 45, was born in Alabama to parents born in South Carolina. The other children are Martha A., Benjamin F., Sarah T., James T., Bamy,  Mary E., and Maggy.

I haven’t found anything yet – document nor DNA – to confirm which William is ours. There may yet even be another William in the area that I haven’t found yet. Right now, I’m researching a Stephens DNA match that leads back to Ethel Almitty Stephens Freeman, who appears to have lived in Southwest Alabama in the early 20th Century. I have found a 1940 obituary for Mary Ella Poole that names her daughter as Ethel Freeman and lists two siblings, J.H. Johnson and Mrs. Ida Shell, who were living at the time in Evergreen, Conecuh County, Alabama. Perhaps someone reading this will recognize these names and help me make the connection to my Stephens ancestors. #CousinBait

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Broken Branch

My Reid family is one that I have found quite a bit of information about, after 1850.

I had no idea anyone in the family was named Reid until I saw the death certificate for my great-grandfather James William Stevens, known as Billie. The document gives his parents’ names as Bill Stevens and Mollie Reed. The informant was Billie’s daughter, my grandmother, Willie Stevens Cook.

I searched in Escambia County, Florida, and Escambia and Baldwin Counties in Alabama for people with those names, to no avail. When I widened my search, I found marriage documents for William A. Stephens and Mollie Reid in Conecuh County, Alabama, which is just north of Escambia County, Alabama.

William and Mollie were married on 26 July 1883, fifteen months before Billie Stevens’ birth. One court record for the marriage says they were wed at Mrs. Nancy Reid’s.

That led me to U.S. Census records for the Reid family in Conecuh County. The earliest record is for Mary Reid, age 5, living in the household of James T. Reid and Nancy J. Reid. She was living with her parents as Mary in 1870, age 16, and as Mollie in 1880, when her age is given as 24.

Later, I found the record for her second marriage, to J.C. Gilmore, on 19 March 1891. The marriage was performed at the home of Pink Lewis, who was married to Mollie’s sister Matilda.

I also have several DNA matches from James and Nancy Reid’s descendants, so I’m confident that I have the right couple.

But that’s where the branch breaks.

Detail from 1870 Census showing James T. and Robert Reid living next door to each other.

FamilySearch has John Abner Reed and Sarah B. Kendrick attached as James T. Reid’s father. There are no sources attached. One person has added a note that the first name could be James instead of John. According to the FamilySearch tree, James had a brother named Robert Seldrick Reid, who has a son named John Abner Reid, for what that’s worth. The FamilySearch tree indicates that Robert was born in Conecuh County in 1821.

Looking at the 1840 Census for Conecuh County, I find four Read families.

James Read’s household consisted of a man and a woman both between 20 and 30 years old, and one girl between 10 and 15.

The second James Read household has a man and a woman between 60 and 70 years old, a man 20-30, a male and a female between 15 and 20, and a girl under 5.

Could one of these households be the home of James and Nancy Reid?

Records suggest that James was born around 1815, which would make him 25 at the time of the 1840 Census. Nancy was born around 1820, which would make her about 20 years old. Either household could include this couple.

We don’t know when James and Nancy were married. The oldest child we’re aware of was born in 1843. They went on to have a total of ten children. Could they have married in 1839 and had one baby in 1840 who later died? Of course, it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s likely, which would rule out the first household.

Robert Reid, who’s listed as James’ brother, was born in 1821, so he’d be between 15 and 20 in 1840. James and his brother could have been living with their parents in the second James Read household. We don’t know who the younger females are. Has a sister been lost to time? Could they have had a young servant and her child in the home?

Looking at the other two households:

Nancy Read is the head of a household with one woman age 20-30 and four children – a boy 5-10 years old, and two girls and a boy under age 5.

Finally, we have Absalem Read, the head of the largest Read household in the 1840 Census for Conecuh County: One man age 50-60, a woman age 40-50. Two boys age 20-30, a girl age 15-20, two girls and a boy age 10-15, two girls and a boy age 5-10, and one girl under 5.

Absalem owned property in South Alabama at least as early as 1824, according to land records on FamilySearch and at the Bureau of Land Management. He has two boys in the right age group to be James and Robert. It’s possible that he could have arrived in Conecuh County by 1821 before Robert’s birth and just not bought land until 1824.

If Absalem is not my ancestor, it’s still possible he’s related, but I find only two census records for him in Conecuch County – 1830 and 1840.

This is a broken branch that still needs a lot of attention.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Popular Name

Back in the olden days, everyone had the same first names. It can sure feel like that sometimes.

Here’s a brief look at a couple of the common first names (also known as given names or Christian names) in my family tree.

George

On my mom’s side of the family, George Cook was born in 1789 in South Carolina. He had a son named George Washington Cook (b. 1845, Georgia). That George, with wife Gertrude Metz, had a son named George F. Cook (1891-1970).

George Cook's 1817 Army Discharge Paper
George Cook’s 1817 Army Discharge Paper

George Cook (b. 1789) also had a daughter named Frances, and her daughter Fannie Cook (1874-1972) and husband John C. Ryals (1863-1945) had a son named George Ryals.

Another branch shows Thomas E. Pittman (1812-1894) had a son named George Washington Pittman (1834-1923). Thomas’ son John Wesley Pittman (1838-1927) had a son named George Washington Pittman (1872-1958). George (b.1834) also had two grandsons named George.

On my dad’s side of the family, my great-great grandfather William F. Hahn (~1846-1907) had a son named George Herman Hahn (1883-1940).

On my husband’s side of the family, my father-in-law was George Peter Lindsey (1935-2013), and his grandfather was George Rouse Lindsey (1837-1913).

Mary and Mollie

Mary is an extremely common name, and while Mollie really is more of a nickname than a name, it’s a moniker bestowed upon many females in my family tree.

On my mom’s maternal side, my great-grandmother was Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Pittman (1882-1967). Her mother was Mosella Elizabeth Thompson (1865-1924). Mosella had a sister named Mary Camille Thompson (1868-1906) and an aunt named Mary Ann Rikard (b. 1847).

Mollie Pittman Stevens, Willie Stevens Cook, Zenova Cook Hahn, & Auriette Hahn (1965)

Mollie Pittman’s mother-in-law was Mary Reid (b. 1855) who also sometimes went by Mollie. I’m sure they would both be pleased to know that Mollie Pittman has a great-granddaughter named Mollie Cook.

Mollie Pittman, on her dad’s side had an aunt Mary Elizabeth Pittman (1843-1874). She also had cousins Mary Elizabeth Pittman (1866-1945), Mary E. Pittman (b. 1866), and Mary Missouri Evans (1864-1954).

On my mom’s paternal side, my great-great grandfather John Cook had a sister named Mary Etta Cook (b. 1878). John Cook’s wife Loucinda Ryals had a sister named Mary Ryals (b. 1846).

On my dad’s side, his paternal grandmother was Mary Margaret Cooper (1886-1967) and he had an aunt Mary Elizabeth Hahn (1911-1970).

My 3x Great-Grandmother was Mary Ann Delaney Pippin (1825-1914) and she had a daughter Mary D. Loper (b. 1850).

On my husband’s paternal side, his great-grandparents C.L. DeForest Price (1865-1945) and Rozila Jane Lancaster (1868-1934) had daughters named Mary Ellen Melvina Price (1889-1972) and Lillie Mary Price (1906-1961).

His mother had a sister named Mary Ann Raney (1932-2018).

Names

Thank goodness for the parents who picked out less common names for their children. Those uncommonly named children help us genealogists sort the families filled with Georges and Marys, Johns, Elizabeths, Thomases, Williams, and Sarahs.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Mistake

A lot of my ancestors made mistakes. Or rather, they made the same mistake. They didn’t leave behind clear and accurate information about who they are.

"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFH6-LRL : 20 December 2020), Mrs Silcox, Santa Rosa, Florida, United States; citing family , NARA microfilm publication  (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
In 1850, enumerator George Fisher didn’t record the first names of female heads-of-household. This page includes Mrs. Chestnut, Mrs. Ard, and Mrs. Silcox.

Would it have been so difficult to make sure the census taker wrote down their full names? Could they not have provided a consistent age and birthplace to each enumerator? If they weren’t home, I’m sure they could have tracked down the census taker and verified that the information given by the child/neighbor/farmhand was correct.

County clerks in Alabama and Georgia, just to name a few, made some pretty big mistakes, too. I mean, come on, would it have been so difficult to add a couple of extra lines to the marriage license and include the happy couple’s birthdates and parents’ names?

State leaders should have been on the ball as well, and started collecting birth and death data way earlier than they did. It would have been helpful information to have, to keep track of population growth and shift over the years.

And did anyone at any level even consider fireproof vaults for important records?!

If only sheer force of will could get this message back in time. We could all turn on our computers tomorrow and find a nice surprise of dozens of new and more complete resources for our genealogy.

My mam-ma always said, if wishes were horses, beggers would ride, but that never stopped me from begging for a horse!

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Conflict

I know who my great-great grandmother is, and yet, I don’t.

I’m talking about my mother’s father’s mother’s mother, Delila Bruce Allison. Or maybe it’s Delila Dickerson Allison.

My cousin Pat Lowe has done a lot of research on this family tree going back at 40 years. She’s always given the name of this ancestor as Delila Bruce.

We know from Delila’s children and grandchildren that Delila was married to S. John Allison and had seven known children. The oldest were James Frank Allison (1888-1968), who’s Pat’s ancestor; and Dorcas Elizabeth Allison, known as Dollie, who is my great-grandmother. Frank married Dollie’s sister. Dollie married Frank’s brother.

John and Delila grew up in Marion County, Georgia. Around 1903 or 1904, they packed up the children and headed west to join some relatives who had moved to Oklahoma. They took the train. The story goes that there was a train wreck, possibly in Mississippi. Delila was mortally wounded. It’s not clear if she died in Mississippi or made it to Oklahoma. We have found no death record. The story passed down by Dollie to her children was that Delila was pregnant and lost the baby along with her own life.

The story goes that John was stricken with grief and died soon after arriving in Oklahoma. Another child, Ida, who would have been about three years old at the time of the wreck, disappears from the records.

The other children, at least the oldest four – James, Dollie, John Henry, and Elbert Byron (known as Zeb) returned to Georgia, and soon moved to Escambia County (John Henry died in Escambia, Alabama, the others in Escambia, Florida). They ranged in age from about 9 to 16 years old at the time of Delila’s death.

But who was Delila before she became Mrs. John Allison?

The family tree on Family Search gives her parents as James Bruce and Jane Coursey. A marriage record connected to Jane’s profile shows a marriage to Steven Dickerson on 4 July 1852 in Taylor County, Georgia. No one has attached any records for Jane.

Steven or Steven (depending on the record) was, according to an 1860 Census, born around 1778 in South Carolina. He’s married to Jane Dickerson, age 31, with children John, age 12; Stephen, 9; Rubin, 7; Eliza, 6; Thomas T., 4; and Anna, 2. Everyone else in the household is listed as born in Georgia. They are living in Taylor County, Georgia. This census does not provide relationships.

An 1870 Census record shows Dilly Dickerson, age two months, living in a home in Talbot County, Georgia, with Jane Dickerson, age 40, and another girl, Nancy, age five years. This census does not provide relationships. Birthplace is listed as Georgia for all three.

I find two census records in 1880.

In one, Jane Dickerson, age 42, is living with two daughters Mary E. Dickerson, age 15; Delila J. Dickerson, age 12; and son Sam W. Dickerson, age 9. Jane is listed as being born in Rhode Island to parents who were born in Rhode Island. Mary, Delila, and Sam are listed as being born in Georgia, father born in Georgia, mother born in Rhode Island. (The next door neighbor is George Cook, whose great-grandson Arthur Cook would one day marry Delila’s daughter Dollie.)

Turn to the next page in the 1880 Census, and you find James Bruce, age 71, born in North Carolina to N.C.-born parents; his wife Jane Bruce, age 51, born in Georgia, parents born in Georgia; and children Nancy, age 15; Delila, age 10; and Samson, age 8, all born in Georgia to parents born in Georgia.

Both pages indicate that they were enumerated on 18 June 1880.

But, if James Bruce is their father, why wouldn’t the children’s entries give N.C. for their father’s birthplace?

If Jane Coursey Dickerson is the same person as Jane Bruce, why wouldn’t her birthplace have been listed as Rhode Island on both forms?

We don’t know who provided the information to the census taker. It wouldn’t be the first time I found an ancestor in two places at once.

Are Delila Bruce and Delila “Dilly” Dickerson one and the same?

I found another clue that suggests they are. Maybe. I decided to take another look for the marriage record of S. John Allison and Delila Bruce or Dickerson.

Their oldest child, as far as we know, was James Frank Allison born in 1888, so I looked for marriages in Marion County, Georgia, in 1886-1887. I tried various combinations of search terms until I found one for John Anderson and and Dillie Dickeson, married on 8 September 1887 by a justice of the peace in Marion, Georgia. I haven’t found a John Anderson in the area who is of an age to be marrying Dillie in 1887. Maybe he was just passing through, married her, and took her away with him. Or maybe it’s a mistake and is supposed to say John Allison.

Looking at my DNA matches, I do have several on Ancestry who lead back to James Bruce’s father Jordan Bruce. If the records we have are right for Steven and Jane, he was much older. Maybe she had an affair with James Bruce and then moved in with him when Steven died.

All this conflicting evidence creates a quandary that will take more digging and hopefully a few new-to-me records to straighten out.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Yearbook

While I’ve had access to Ancestry.com, I looked up my parents and a few other more recent relatives in their yearbook collection. I learned something I didn’t know about my dad.

That’s my dad on the right.

Until I saw the photos, I never knew – or at least I don’t ever remembering hearing anyone mention – that he worked on the school newspaper. In 1952, according to the Tate High School (Pensacola, Fla.) yearbook, William Hahn was a reporter, and in 1953, he was listed as a business manager.

I’ve always liked writing, and although I never worked on the school paper, I did grow up to work in television news. It’s something I never knew I had in common with him. Isn’t that strange? I would sure like to find an old issue of the “Crimson and Gray” and read an article that he wrote.

My dad is second from the right. What’s that look he’s giving his classmate there?
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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Textile

Tweets like this one inspired the start to my genealogical journey.

This prompt reminded me of what got me hooked on genealogy seven years ago. I saw #TartanDay trending on Twitter and I had an hour to kill, so I thought I’d trace my Scottish ancestry.

Yeah, I’m still looking for those immigrant ancestors!

Over the years of searching, I have realized that my family is woven together like fabric. Instead of nice, straight lines, like a tartan, some of mine are rather tangled and perhaps a bit psychedelic. Someday, I should do that crime-show trick of using different colored strings on a bulletin board, just to see how tangled it gets!

I still have hope that someday I’ll trace all my ancestors back to the old country(ies) and perhaps, finally, I’ll be able to celebrate Tartan Day with my tartan, instead of just marking it as the anniversary of my genealogical journey.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Food & Drink

When I think of my mom, Zenova Cook Hahn, I often remember her as she was when I was growing up, in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, she almost always kept a glass of tea handy. When I say a glass of tea, of course, I’m talking Southern sweet iced tea.

She made the tea using a metal cup that probably held about two cups of water (without the tea bags). I asked her about that today, and she said it was something my dad, Bill Hahn, brought home from St. Regis. I don’t know what they used those silver cups for in the paper-making process.

Mom would boil water in a kettle on the stove (pre-microwave) and place the tea bags in the silver cup while waiting for it to boil. I don’t know if they made family-size tea bags back then; we only ever had the individual size of an Orange Pekoe variety. When the water boiled, it was poured over the tea bags and left to sit for a few minutes. While the tea steeped, she added the sugar to the pitcher, and then she poured in the steeped tea and added tap water to fill.

The pitcher I remember most was a round green nubby one, for which she had matching glasses. I asked her today whatever happened to that pitcher. She said, “The handles would break off. They all did, everybody who had one.” She’s not sure if her handle broke off or if it just cracked. She says it’s probably in the attic now. She kept it figuring it could be used as a vase or for a flower arrangement.

Mom did make good tea, although I preferred Kool-Aid or soda. Now, I drink mostly water and an occasional Cheer Wine or Ale-8-One. Coke and Pepsi and the others don’t taste the same anymore.

Mom also drinks mostly water, although she will sometimes add a little Dr. Thunder for a bit of flavor. I can’t stand the idea of watered-down soda!

When I drink tea, it’s hot tea, typically Earl Grey, with a lot of sugar and a little milk or half-and-half. When we went to London in 2008 for our long-delayed honeymoon, everywhere we went, I ordered hot tea, and Tim would laugh and remind me that I didn’t have to specify hot tea because over there, it all is!

Sweet tea is a Southern tradition, and it’s one I saw carried out over and over again growing up.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Social

Today, many of us use social media to share details about our lives – celebrations, announcements, tragedies, or even just a good joke.

A hundred years ago, newspapers provided social media. I must admit, I never thought I’d find my relatives regularly mentioned in newspaper columns. I thought I’d find obituaries, wedding announcements, and birth announcements. I was flabbergasted to see some of the things that got printed in the paper “in the olden days.”

This tiny snippet tells that my Pap-pa, Hoyt Cook, had a dinner date with fellow teacher Homer Lambert and two young ladies. This was part of a column on happenings in the Bay Springs community in the northern part of Escambia County, Florida, published in the Sunday paper on January 24, 1932. That was nearly a year and a half before Hoyt married my Mam-ma.

Hattie and Louise Hahn were my great-grandaunts. Hattie was born in 1875, Louisa in around 1877. Somehow they both ended up in the fourth grade at the same time. I wonder if they competed to see who could get the best grades. It seems all the students in Miss Clubbs’ class did very well.

It’s definitely worth finding out where the local papers for your relatives’ communities are archived online. Several Pensacola, Florida, and Baldwin County, Alabama, papers are available at newspapers.com, so my subscription there has been well worth it. I’m fortunate that my mother has been paying for it as Christmas and birthday gifts for the past several years.

Sometimes, you may even get lucky and find a photo:

My Uncle Steve, aka Charles Hahn, was in a high school play. (Pensacola News Journal, 3 February 1957)

I feel bad for the genealogists of the future, because I don’t know what’s going to happen to the online-only ways we share community and personal events nowadays. Some people are even foregoing published obituaries in favor of online notices at the funeral home; I sure hope those will be preserved for future generations of family historians.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Document

I envy people whose ancestors saved pages and pages of letters and diaries documenting their lives and their associations with others. As my mom and I go through old papers and scrapbooks, I find that I do have a few items like that. I find I don’t have the hours in the day to properly scan and preserve everything, and I don’t have room in my house to keep it all. Now that I have a smartphone, I can at least take photos of letters and other ephemera.

Annie Oakley coloring book that belonged to my mom, Zenova Cook Hahn.

On a recent visit to my mom’s house, she handed me a coloring book that must have belonged to her when she was a girl. From some research online, I can see that it’s missing a lot of pages and the edges are torn. Still, it’s a wonderful piece of history.

I think of Annie Oakley as being from the old west, but her legend lived on. Oakley’s life spanned 1860-1926. My mom wasn’t born until 1937, but that was two years after a movie came out starring Barbara Stanwyck as Annie. Another movie, the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” came out in 1950, when my mom was just finishing eighth grade. I see some listings for this coloring book online dating it to 1957 and linking it to a mid-fifties TV series, but I think it must have been reprinted many times.

At the same time that my mom gave me that coloring book, she also handed me a couple of letters. One is from her mother Willie Stevens cook to her, the other is from her mother, who I called Mam-ma, to me.

The letters were not in an envelope, and there is no date noted. I can narrow it down to around 1977 or 1978. My cousin Wendy, who is mentioned in both letters, was born in December, 1970. The letter to me describes her as being in first or second grade, so I’m thinking it was the summer between those school years. I think the big gathering mentioned in Mam-ma’s letter to my mom was a Cook-Allison family reunion.

Excerpt from letter sent by Willie Stevens Cook to Zenova Cook Hahn. I sure wish she’d noted the date in the corner!

That’s also the era when my dog Snoopy lived with Mam-ma and Pap-pa because we couldn’t have him where we living in Charleston, South Carolina. Mam-ma’s letter to me told me he was fat and happy. I remember them telling me that he got really sick one time and they took extra good care of him, because they didn’t want to have to give me bad news.

These letters don’t contain anything earth-shattering. They are just a few thoughts and experiences, but it’s wonderful to see my grandmother’s handwriting again and to know what she was thinking about for a few minutes.

A look inside the Annie Oakley Coloring Book.
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