#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Free Space

The day was April 28th, 1989. I had been living in Central Florida for seven months, and finally, my day off coincided with a scheduled launch of the space shuttle. That morning, I got in my car for the approximately 50-mile drive from Kissimmee to Kennedy Space Center.

As I neared the base, traffic was backed up, and while I don’t remember for certain, I was probably hearing on the radio that the parking lots were full. Like hundreds of other people, I pulled over and parked on the side of the road.

I got out of the car and pulled out my 35mm camera. Someone else waiting nearby pointed out that we could see Atlantis on the launch pad, way off in the distance. I didn’t have a zoom lens, so what you see in the picture was pretty much what it looked like in real life. Very tiny. Still, since I had been living in Central Florida, NASA had launched shuttles three times, and I knew they were visible from 50-70 miles away. I figured it would be spectacular from a couple of miles away.

People had their radios turned up, so we could hear the countdown. Gosh, I was excited to finally witness a shuttle launch “up close.”

Then at T -31 seconds, they scrubbed the launch.

I get it. I remembered the Challenger disaster. I would much rather they cancelled the flight than put the astronauts at risk, but as I wrote on the back of the photo that I sent to my mom, “What a bummer!”

I never had another chance to try to see one from close to Cape Canaveral, although I did see a few other shuttle and rocket launches, usually while I was working at Walt Disney World. I remember one day, I was working the Backstage Studio Tour at what was then the Disney-MGM Studios, and I was able to call attention to the shuttle going up during one of the tours.

I had been fascinated with space and the space program for a long time. My mom says she got me up to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969, but I don’t remember that. I do remember watching every space shuttle launch and landing that I could, when I wasn’t in school or at work. I remember hearing about the Challenger and calling my mom to verify it was true, because I didn’t believe it. I remember being jealous of my dad getting to meet astronaut Judith Resnick when she visited his base in Panama City; she was one of the crew killed aboard Challenger.

I didn’t figure I would ever have a shot at going up in space. Not because when I was growing up there weren’t any women astronauts. No, I didn’t have perfect vision or excellent math skills, both of which were required to become a military pilot, which is what you had to be to be considered for the space program. Now, of course, all kinds of non-pilot scientists get to go up to space, but sadly, it is too late for me. If they ever offered a seat to an aging, overweight news producer, though, I would throw my name in the hat in a heartbeat!

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: At the Library

I miss going to the library. It’s one of the things I’ve been avoiding since the plague arrived. I used to love going and picking out books when I was a child, and then years later, and a few years ago now, my husband and I checked out several TV series on DVD.

A number of years ago, now, I served on a library panel that helped create a long-term plan for the West Florida Library System. It was an interesting experience, and in the years since, I have seen some of the suggestions we made come to fruition.

The downtown Pensacola library now has sewing machines (!!) and I went there to sew a Star Wars costume. I had found the pattern for said Jedi outfit online, and the library also has a large format (like banner size) printer that I used to print the pattern.

In all the years since I started my genealogy research, I have never had enough time at the library. They have funeral home records that may (*may*) finally answer questions about my great-great grandmother Mary “Mollie” Reid Stevens Gilmore Muterspaugh. I just haven’t had time to look. I used the computer many times to access Ancestry, and it was during one of those sessions that I finally found a naturalization document for my great-great grandfather William F. Hahn.

The genealogy branch library now has a scanner that can do book size, and I have several items I would like to digitize and share.

In this day of digital reading and research, I do miss the accidental discoveries we made when we had to look things up the old-fashioned way, with a trip to the library, the card catalog, and turning every page to get to the one we wanted. I just hope our digital records survive as long as the books have.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Help

This prompt, from Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, reminds me of a story that my parents’ minister told at my dad’s funeral.

He recalled the time that he and my dad were outside of the church in Ensley, a community in Escambia County, Florida. A man came up asking for money, and Mark said he’d go inside and get something for the man. I don’t recall if he intended to get the man a small amount of money or food, but he said that, instead, my dad pulled $20 out of his wallet and gave it to him.

When the man had left, Mark said to my dad something like, “You know he’s just going to use that money for liquor or drugs, right?” and my dad replied something like, “That’s up to him, but I felt like I needed to offer him the help.”

I know I don’t remember the words exactly, but the message has stuck with me these 15 years.

Twice, I felt like I got bilked by someone asking for help, and I’ve always resented it. Once was back in the ’80s. A woman came to my parents’ house, where I still lived, and told me she worked at the day care down the street and her mother was sick and she needed to get to Mobile and could she borrow some money, and then could she get a ride. I gave her about $20 and gave her a ride to another neighborhood. I started getting suspicious by the time I got home, and I called the day care. They told me she didn’t work there; she’d come to them asking for money and telling them she lived in the green house – which was my house. I called and told the sheriff’s office, but of course, I was still a fairly new driver and she had directed me into an area where I hadn’t gone before, so I couldn’t even say where I dropped her off.

Another time, still years ago, but I should have been older and wiser, a woman came to my door and gave a very similar story. I told her I couldn’t give her money but that I’d give her a ride. She directed me to a store down the street, where a man got into the back seat. Then I got scared. I drove them to a nearby motel and they got out. I felt so stupid. And lucky. Anything could have happened to me.

People have helped me before. When my car got a flat in Orlando, a man stopped and put the spare on for me. I was with two or three girlfriends of mine, and we were standing on the side of the road holding the tire removal tool and looking at the time, and I know he could tell we had no idea what we were doing.

Another time, I was with my mom and the car conked out and a man stopped and helped us. My mom offered to pay him, but he refused it and just said to pass it on and help someone else in the future. Now, he’d say to pay it forward.

I think most of us probably have it in our hearts to help someone in trouble or need when we can, and whether that person is bamming us is on them, not on us. Unfortunately, though, that last experience of finding myself at the mercy of two strangers has left me feeling that I cannot help anyone, for fear of putting my life at risk.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Teams

The first image this prompt conjured up was a photo of my dad that I think I probably first saw just a few months ago. At least, I never remember seeing it growing up.

When my mom and dad first got married, and my dad was working at St. Regis Paper Mill in Escambia County, the mill had a baseball team. I gather it was a community league, and they played teams from other businesses, or maybe even other divisions within the mill.

Bill Hahn at the ballfield and relaxing at home in his uniform.

I looked up on newspapers.com, to see if I could find any articles about a game in which my dad might have been mentioned. No luck there (unless they misspelled the last name), but I did find an article about a St. Regis employee golf tournament where he was listed. I remember him going to play golf a few times, and once or twice I went with him, when I was in elementary school. For me, golfing was just a lot of walking. Other than that, I really don’t remember him being involved in sports while I was growing up.

It’s interesting to see how active he was before I came along!

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Messaging Other Users on FamilySearch

In the upper right corner (on a desktop computer) there’s a quick link to
your messages. A red dot on the icon means you have an unread message.
If you see a blue-linked name of someone who made a change to a profile, you can click on it for messaging options. Here, the top example is from the Sources page (right side column), and the bottom example came up when I clicked the “edit” button next to a category on the Details page.
When you click a blue-linked name, you’ll get this pop-up. 

Click the blue “message” button to message the person within FamilySearch. 

Some people, like me, will provide an email address.
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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fun Facts

Fun fact about me: I was incredibly shy as a child. I didn’t want to talk to anyone I didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t want to stand up in front of a crowd and say anything. In about 8th grade, I forced myself to enter a speech writing contest, in which I also had to stand up and read the speech, and in about 11th grade, I decided to audition for a school play along with a friend of mine. In both cases, the same thing happened: my voice trembled and my legs shook. I did not advance in the speech writing contest, but I did get cast in the school play – as an extra. That was fine by me. I could hang out with my friend, do something fun, and I didn’t have to say anything! That is, until rehearsals stretched on, and people dropped out, and suddenly I found myself with a speaking role. That was the first time I ever had to say anything in front of a group that I didn’t write, and I realized that it takes some of the pressure off when you’re saying someone else’s words. When I got to college, I signed up for an acting class to continue that process of becoming more confident of speaking in front of a group. By the end of the first semester, I was cast in three plays and I changed my major to theatre.

Here I am after a night of performing comedy-horror songs at a haunted tour for First City Shakespeare, Pensacola.

Fun fact about my mom: She snuck out of the house once through her bedroom window. Her parents realized she was gone, and her dad locked the window and waited for her to come in the front door. I would NEVER have dared to do that! Of course, I don’t remember ever hearing this story when I was a child.

Fun fact about my dad: He was a violent sleeper. He kicked the window out in his bedroom once growing up, and when my parents first got married, if mom had to wake him up for shift work, she had to poke him with a broom. I guess he eventually grew out of it. I think I remember being told to be careful when I was little if he was sleeping, but I don’t remember any problems as I got older.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Timeline

My mother’s paternal grandmother is Dollie Cook, born Dorcas Elizabeth Allison, in Marion County, Georgia, on October 8th, 1890. As far as I know, no one has ever found a birth record for Dollie, but that is the date she always used.

Dollie’s timeline, based on the records we have for her, goes as follows:

1900 – U.S. Census – Dollie, age 10, is living with her parents, S. John and Delila Allison, and four brothers in Tazwell, Marion, Georgia.

1906 – Georgia County Marriages, 1785-1950 – Dollie marries Arthur Thomas Cook in Marion County.

1907 – Family records show she had a baby who died.

1909 – April 15 – Dollie gives birth to Dewey Hoyt Cook in Walnut Hill, Escambia County, Florida.

1911-1926 – Dollie has eight more children (five sons, including twins, and three girls).

1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, and 1950 – U.S. Census records show Dollie living in Walnut Hill.

1941 – Florida Divorce Index, 1927-2001 – Dollie divorces Arthur.

1973 – Florida Death Index, 1877-1998, and published obituaries show Dollie died on September 27th.

My mother remembers Dollie as being mean. Dollie insisted that her children bring their families to her home in North Escambia County for all holidays and special occasions. It’s one reason my grandmother, Hoyt’s wife Willie, was always ready to host Christmas dinner and gift exchanges on a day other than December 25th. She understood the pressures from the “other” family to spend the day with them, and she realized it wasn’t worth fighting about or getting upset.

I imagine Dollie’s early life was difficult. Both her parents died in or around 1904, when Dollie was 14 years old, or thereabouts. Her mother, it’s said, sustained fatal injuries in a train wreck on the way to Oklahoma. Her father and two younger siblings died in Oklahoma. The story I heard was that there was a settlement from the railroad, but the children didn’t see any of that money. Community members helped them get money to return to Georgia, where members of their late mother’s family still lived.

Dollie had one older brother, Frank Allison. He was about 16 when they were orphaned. They had two younger siblings, ages 12 and 9, and I’m sure she had to take on some of the responsibility of taking care of those children.

The timeline suggests that very soon after their marriage, Arthur and Dollie moved to Florida. Pensacola and Milton were booming with port traffic and lumber mills. The Cooks settled in the north end of Escambia County and started farming.

Dollie’s brothers Frank, John Henry, and Elbert Byron (known as Zeb) all moved to the same area and lived there all their lives.

I was told that in 1916, when Dollie was pregnant with twins Horace and Hurley, Arthur had to carry her to the porch, where she would sit and shell peas or whatever she could do. I’m sure that having nine children and a farm to run kept Arthur and Dollie busy just about every hour of every day.

At some point when Hoyt was a boy, their house burned. Hoyt had left his new shoes on the back porch and wanted to run around and grab them but Dollie insisted all the children stay with her. All his life, Hoyt said he could have saved those shoes if she’d have just let him run back there for a minute.

In 1965, according to an newspaper photo caption published much later, Dollie was injured in a car accident. My mother says she was told Dollie had gotten out of the car, perhaps to check the mailbox, and the car rolled and knocked her down. She was in a wheelchair the rest of her life.

I have searched the Pensacola newspaper archives on newspapers.com, but I can’t find a reference to the accident. I did find several listings from that time period where Mrs. Dollie E. Cook was named an inspector for an election precinct in Walnut Hill.

This timeline review – suggested by Amy Johnson Crow as part of her 52 Ancestors in 52 Days Challenge – shows just how little a timeline of vital records and censuses can tell about a person’s life and how important it is to preserve family stories that will otherwise be lost to time.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Characters

We all have a character or two in our family trees. The trouble is, we don’t always get to know the personalities and experiences of our ancestors or other relatives. We find names and locations in Census records and perhaps a brief mention in the newspaper, but it can be tough to fill in the blanks of a life lived.

The first person I think of when I see the word “character” is my maternal grandfather. Hoyt Cook was a great talker. He told stories of his youth, both real and for-entertainment-purposes-only. He was also a teacher, so I could always count on him to tell me about stuff. I can still hear him say, “Aw, foot” in disbelief of something.

Hoyt Cook and daughter Zenova Cook circa 1940 standing in front of iron gates at Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile, Alabama.
Hoyt Cook and my mother, Zenova Cook at Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile.

Next, I think of my great-grandfather, Billie Stevens, the father of Hoyt’s wife Willie Stevens Cook. He was a practical joker, but his tricks were not always appreciated. He also enjoyed a night out, to the disapproval of his wife, Mollie Pittman Stevens. I found a brief mention in the paper about the time he and Mollie’s brother Charlie got in trouble for drunk and disorderly conduct.

Billie Stevens’ mother must have been a bit of a character. Mary Reid was married three times. I wonder if she was hard to get along with or if she had bad judgment about men. I wish I knew more about her husbands and her life with and without them.

Hoyt Cook’s grandfather, John Cook, must have led a wild life. He was killed in a shootout, and later one of his sons died in another shootout. John and his siblings were all illegitimate. I wonder what kind of character their mother Frances Cook must have been?

I hope someday to learn more stories about the lives of these and other ancestors. I hope that by recording my memories of the people I knew, and the stories they told, perhaps I can help the genealogists of the future understand a little more about the family they are a part of.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Extended Family

When I was growing up, my extended family consisted of my four grandparents, my first cousins, and a few great-aunts and -uncles and their children.

Even then, I had trouble keeping up with them all.

Now, I’ve made contact with a lot more extended family – second cousins and third cousins, and sometimes even fourth cousins, not to mention the removes.

Sometimes I become aware of these relatives and/or make contact with them through the messaging system on FamilySearch.org. Have you used it? Of course, we can’t see living relatives in the Family Tree, but we can see who’s posting pictures or adding records to a deceased ancestor’s profile.

There are a couple of ways to send messages through FamilySearch. Just before I started writing this post, I added a comment to a new photo that someone posted to my great-grandmother’s brother’s wife’s profile. Maggie Oglesby and her husband, my great-granduncle Medrick Pittman ran a store. I have heard about it many times; my mother mentions it whenever we are driving along that stretch of North Palafox Street in Pensacola. Today, one of my Pittman cousins (based on the username) added a photo of the store, and it showed up on my home page when I logged in. How interesting to see what I had only heard about! I talked to my mother about it on the phone, and so my comment was able to include my appreciation for seeing the store, but also my mother’s memories about the house Medrick and Maggie lived in right behind the store, and the dislike my great-grandmother had for Medrick selling alcohol – a remembrance prompted by the “cold beer” sign out front.

Another way to send messages on FamilySearch is to click on the person’s name who posted a photo or made a change to a profile. You’ll get a pop-up like the one seen to the left. If they have uploaded a profile picture of their own, you’ll see the photo, otherwise, it’s an initial. Their username appears below, and you can click the “message” button to message them within the website.

Click on “View My Relationship” to see if you’re related. Warning: FamilySearch only shows one possible connection. For the example here, FamilySearch says we’re 10th cousins, but based on what he shared on the website and who it’s attached to, I think there may be a closer relationship.

I have not used the Add Contact option before. I presume this is a handy way to create an address book, of sorts.

Finally, if you’re lucky, the person will have authorized the sharing of their email address. If you want to share a photo or document, or if you aren’t confident that they’ll see an in-app message or that you’ll see their response, an email is a handy option to have. You can sometimes look people up by email on Facebook or other sites as well, if you’re trying to further analyze the relationship.

WikiTree is another free website that allows you to send messages through them. The way I have it set up, when someone messages me on there, I get an email. I now have photos of my great-great-grandfather’s daughter, grandson, and great-grandaughter – a branch of the family I never even knew about before genealogy – thanks to someone who found the family profiles I created on WikiTree.

DNA matches are also a great way to meet extended family. If you have DNA on any of the sites (23andMe, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, GEDmatch, Geneanet, Living DNA, My Heritage – am I missing any?), here’s my advice for making contact with family.

(1) Unless you’re adopted and don’t know, use your birth name on your profile. Putting a married last name doesn’t do anything to help identify how you’re connected to your DNA matches and can actually muddy the waters. I have DNA matches with the last name Lindsey, but we can’t be connected genetically through the Lindseys. I use my maiden name Hahn on my DNA profiles.

(2) Examine the options for sharing family information. Family Tree DNA lets you upload a GEDcom file of your family tree. 23andMe has a place for you to list surnames from your tree – include mother’s maiden name, grandparents’ names, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents, if you can. You can always update as you fill in the tree. MyHeritage and Ancestry allow you to attach your DNA to yourself in a family tree; your name and any living ancestors will be privatized, but having the names of even one or two deceased ancestors will help in figuring out connections.

(3) Several of the sites have a place for you to introduce yourself. Are you looking for birth parents? Mention that in the biographical information. Consider including an email address. (I list mine as username (at) domain (dot) com, to try to fool spambots harvesting addresses.) The messaging systems on these sites can be problematic; MyHeritage, for example, never sends an email when I have a message in my inbox, although I have checked the settings multiple times, and the system works fine on my husband’s account. Providing an email address can improve your chances of hearing from a relative.

(4) Include place names and dates of life on profiles in your family tree. If you don’t include dates of life, the website may assume they’re still alive, even if they died in the 1800s. If the date’s not there, the system doesn’t know. If you don’t know a death date, but you’re sure they’re dead, you can check the “deceased” box on the profile. Locations can be important in helping track down connections. If I don’t recognize the surnames on a profile, but I see they’re from Georgia in the 1800s, I can narrow down which branches are most likely to have the connection.

Making contact with extended family members is one of the great benefits of genealogy in the modern age. You never know who may have a document that will be invaluable to your research or a photo of an ancestor you’ve never seen before. I have my great-great-great grandmother’s middle name thanks to a cousin who had transcribed entries from a family Bible.

Like the old commercial went, “reach out, reach out and touch someone” or at least make it easy for them to reach out to you.

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#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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