#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Preservation

I’m not doing a very good job of preservation lately. I have stacks of photos and photo albums that my mother has handed over to me to be scanned. Somehow, when I sit down at the computer I end up doing anything but scanning, these days.

I also have a gift card for a scanning company for the dozen-or-so boxes of slides at my mom’s house. The gift card – and a digital recorder – were purchased right before the pandemic broke out. I’m now vaccinated, but my mother is not, so I’ve been trying to limit the time I spend around her.

When I finally am able to sit down with her and pull out that digital recorder, I know she’s going to freak and say that she “can’t find her words.” And it’s true, her memory slips more and more these days. I don’t think she’s developing dementia. I think when you have 84 years of memories, it’s harder for your brain to sift through them all quickly. Still, I want to capture those memories.

Sometimes when I’m on the phone with her, I’ll open a blank document and start typing notes of what she tells me about. It’s at least something. It’s easy, though, to get 30 minutes into a conversation and realize that I should have been taking notes.

Here’s an example of the notes I took one day:

I didn’t worry about capitalization (I went back and added the caps for the bank name later) or punctuation. I could flesh this out a little later. I could look online for pictures of a stuffed eagle at Florida National Bank in Pensacola. It’s also a reminder to ask my mom about some of the other “strange animals” they had around when she was growing up. At least I have these few notes as a recorded memory.

Photo of the curb market where the eagle would have been kept. That's my mam-ma with my uncles Aldis (standing) and Howitt (on the bench) with a dog whose name my mother didn't remember. In the background are bunches of bananas can be seen hanging from the rafters.
This is the curb market where the eagle would have been kept. That’s my mam-ma with my uncles Aldis (standing) and Howitt (on the bench) with a dog whose name my mother didn’t remember. See the bananas hanging from the rafters?

Pap-pa was my mother’s dad, Hoyt Cook. He had intentions of preserving some of his memories. My mom found a spiral notebook that had a list of one-line triggers written, almost as an index. They were the stories he wanted to write down for posterity, but he never did. All we have is that list. In some cases, my mom thinks she knows which story he was thinking of. She’ll never remember it exactly the way he would have, of course. In other cases, she’s not sure what his cryptic words meant.

When I was little, great Aunt Nell Wise Cook gave me a diary. I never got in the habit of writing in it every day, but I have occasional notes in there. It was a 5-year diary, so each date had just a little space for each of the five years. I have looked back at it, and in some cases, I know exactly what I was writing about, and in other cases, I have no idea!

It’s just as important to preserve our own thoughts and experiences as it is to record the memories of the older generation. Someday, our writings will be a precious glimpse back at the past.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Steps

Building a family tree takes a lot of steps in many different directions. My first step was to build my tree back, primarily ignoring siblings and spouses, in an effort to find my Scottish immigrant ancestors. Then I realized that building trees sideways and down can sometimes yield clues that can lead to more ancestors. The second step was filling out those branches.

Each step to building a family tree takes us back in time.

The third step was to join the West Florida Genealogical Society. What a happy coincidence that the day I happened to pick to go to the genealogical library for the first time was the day they were holding a meeting! I learned about so many resources that day, I marched right over to the table to plunk down my membership fee. Then I realized I had so many relatives who had, at one time or another, lived in Baldwin County, Alabama, that I joined that society, too.

The fourth step was realizing that a DNA test I’d done almost as a lark (I won the test from a blog before I ever started this family tree-building business) could actually be a valuable tool for genealogy. Warning: When the DNA bug bites, you may find yourself obsessing over adding your DNA to every major database and figuring out who else in the family you should test.

Of course, the more I learned, the more I realized I needed to learn. The fifth step was watching webinars and YouTube videos. Legacy Family Tree offers a couple of new programs every week that anyone can watch for free for a limited time. Since the pandemic began, I’ve found several state genealogical societies that provide free webinars once or twice a week. (Georgia, Southern California, and Florida are some of my favorites.)

Hmm, let’s see, what have I left out?

6. Talking to family members – My mom has been a valuable source for information, both about the past and about current kin. (She’ll say, “I talked to Cousin X” and then give me a rundown of all their grandchildren.)

7. Preserving photos and documents – I’m way behind on my scanning; every time I go to my mom’s house, she hands me another stack of pictures. Once the photos are scanned as TIFs, they also need to be converted to JPGs and uploaded to FamilySearch, family Facebook groups, or just emailed around to share.

8. Putting all that learning (Steps 3 and 5) to use – It’s important to follow the steps laid out in seminars by our fellow family historians. Search the unindexed records. Order files from the National Archives. Build a LEEDS Method chart for DNA matches.

9. Share your knowledge – Send an email to your cousins. Keep a blog or a handwritten journal. Type up a newsletter. Write a book. Don’t just keep your findings in your mind or in a box. Put it out there for everyone in your extended family. Even if they don’t seem interested today, they may come back to it later. Besides, you don’t want all your research going to waste and dying when you do.

10. Update your trees – As you learn more, keep all your family trees current. I’m assuming you have them on several websites, like I do. For one thing, your tree will be seen by others, or it may be used by Ancestry or MyHeritage for their ThruLines and Theory of Family Relativity tools. Any errors will be magnified exponentially on potentially dozens of family trees, and the more thorough and accurate your trees are, the better chance you have of finding new cousins who may be able to help you advance the family history.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fun and Games

I’m three weeks behind on my genealogy posts, so I have had three weeks to think about this topic.

I don’t know what games my far-off ancestors played, but my mom’s parents, Hoyt and Willie Cook, taught me Aggravation. It’s a game that involves rolling two dice, then moving your marbles around the board from base to home. If you landed on the same spot as someone else’s marble, you took their place and sent that marble back to base to start over. At the very end, you had to get an exact number to get your marble into place. It’s a simple game, but we had hours of fun. Sometimes it was just me and Pap-pa or Mam-ma. Sometimes the cousins would be visiting, too, or other friends of the family would stop by. I believe there were two boards, one that would accommodate six players and one that was limited to four. One of the boards was made out of a thick piece of plywood with acrylic on top, if I’m remembering right. What I wouldn’t give to join Mam-ma and Pap-pa at that table again.

Aggravation provided hours of fun.

Perhaps I’ve mentioned that my parents were very involved with the Good Sam Camping Club. We joined the Low Country Sams in Charleston, South Carolina, then founded the Conquistadors in Pensacola. Many of the members were old friends of my mom’s family, including some of the retired teachers my grandparents had taught with. I was often the only child there, although sometimes Marcus and Sara Page would bring their granddaughter, and for a while my cousin Wendy lived with Mam-ma and Pap-pa. I didn’t mind being the only kid. I was sort of like the club mascot, and I got along well with all the old folks. When the game Uno came out in the ’70s, we used to play that during campout weekends, and then sometimes we would play that at Mam-ma and Pap-pa’s house, too. That also led to a lot of laughter and good-natured ribbing.

Lawn darts like the ones we had.

The other games we played while camping were horseshoes and Jarts. This was back in the good ol’ days when Jarts had functional sharp points. I don’t remember anyone getting hurt. The horseshoes were heavy, so I remember doing a little bit better with the Jarts.

I always envied my mother’s stories of Monopoly. Her parents used to go to Gainesville, to the University of Florida, in the summer, so they could take classes and eventually earn their college degrees. They had a monopoly set and they made their own rules, and she said one game could last for days. That always sounded like fun. I never really had anyone to play with. Two games stand out – the one where my dad was losing and he got angry. That was no fun. And the other was when I was older and playing one of the neighbors when he was babysitting me. I won that game with a hotel on Marvin Gardens. That, of course, was fun.

Now, the only game I play with others, so to speak, is Words with Friends, and I have a similar-to-Scrabble game on my Kindle that I can play against the computer. It seems like there’s no time to sit down and play a game, but I wonder – if I made time, would the joy of my youth come as easily now?

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: On the Farm

I mentioned last week that farming is in my blood. Loads of my ancestors owned farms or worked on farms. Recently, I learned that my Great Grand-Uncle Isaac Pittman Jr. died on a farm. He was 15 years old.

I had never heard of Uncle Isaac until I found him on the U.S. Censuses for 1900 and 1910. Then I found his death certificate from 1911. Well, not really the death certificate, just the index on FamilySearch. (“Alabama Deaths, 1908-1974”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JDZK-PXY : 30 November 2020), Isaic Pitman, 1911.)

Of course, I asked my mom about him. It was a very confused conversation on the phone because she had never heard of Uncle Isaac and kept getting him confused with his dad Isaac.

Isaac Pittman Jr. was born on 23 June 1896, according to a handwritten list tucked into his sister Mollie Pittman Stevens’ Bible. Mollie got married in 1907. Her oldest daughter Willie, my grandmother, was born in 1909, so she may not have really remembered Uncle Isaac. According to my mother, Mollie never talked about her brother Isaac or how he died. Just a few days ago, when I received Isaac’s full death certificate in the mail, mom remarked again how strange she found it that Grandma Stevens never talked about her brother, and she added that Grandma never really talked about her daughter Nellie Mae, who died before my mom was born, either. Maybe that was Grandma’s way of coping with the loss.

For five years, I wondered why Isaac died so young. I had a theory that he had drowned, and that’s why Grandma Stevens never would let Willie go down to the creek to play with the other children.

That was wrong. His death was – in my mind – much more horrific.

The death certificate says his death was an accident the describes that he was “caught in line shaft of machinery.”

Example of the belt and pulley system of a line shaft. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Wtshymanski)

I had to look up “line shaft farm” to see what it was. I found a video that includes old photos and a demonstration of how the system works. It sounds like the farmer could install one motor and, with a system of belts and pulleys, use it to operate different equipment.

I don’t know what the line shaft was used for on the Pittman farm. I do know that in the 1910 Census, Isaac was listed as a laborer on “home farm,” which I assume means he did farming at his own home. His oldest brother, Medrick, was listed as a farmer at “home farm,” while another brother, Tom, was listed as a farmer “working out.”

The death certificate says he is to be buried at the Pierce Cemetery. Isaac’s Aunt Mary Elizabeth Pittman married a Pierce. I can find no reference to a Pierce Cemetery on FindAGrave, so perhaps it no longer exists or was given a new name. FindAGrave suggests that Isaac was buried in the Pittman Cemetery, which does still exist, but there is no marker and no documentation to prove he was interred there.

It’s sad to me that for so many years, Uncle Isaac, who died so young, was forgotten. While my heart hurts that he did such a terrible death, I am glad to have paid a small part in recording his short life for future generations.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Work

Census records list many of my ancestors’ and relatives’ occupation as “laborer.” I do wonder at the variety of jobs that word must have covered.

Some records, of course, are more specific.

In the above listing for my 3x Great Grandfather Origen Thompson (“United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHP5-8SZ, National Archives and Records Administration), does that look like “hunter” to you? It sure does to me. I wonder if he would have hunted “nuisance” animals like bears, coyotes, or cougars; or if he sold venison and wild turkeys to people for food. In 1860, the occupation column was left blank for Origen. In 1870, he was listed as a farmer, and in 1880 as a teamster.

Most of my ancestors were farmers, at least at one point in their lives. 2xGG William F. Hahn was different. He worked around ships at the Port of Pensacola. His son Theodore, my great-grandfather, became a farmer, and his son Charlie Hahn, my paternal grandfather worked road construction and drove a truck before getting a job at St. Regis Paper Mill, where he spent the rest of his working life. Grandma Hahn – the former Malzie Silcox – worked at the paper mill as well, as did most of their children at one time or another. My dad joined the U.S. Navy.

Malzie’s father, Henry David Silcox, worked at a sawmill for a time, but other census records list him as a laborer. In 1930, it specifies that he did “odd jobs.”

Another great-grandfather, Billie Stevens, also worked at a sawmill, and after it closed he did a variety of other jobs.

My mom’s parents, Hoyt Cook and Willie Stevens, were lifelong teachers, although Pap-pa owned a farm that he leased to a farmer, and he always had his own garden. My dad’s parents, as I mentioned, always worked at the paper mill. My dad made a career in the Navy, and after he retired, he and my mom started a business making and selling crafts.

Looking at those examples during my own lifetime, I’ve always felt a bit transient, which I somewhat blame on my Navy brat upbringing. I spent a few years in retail, a bit of TV production, a stint at Walt Disney World, a bit of marketing, another TV job. Now, I suppose that bouncing around a bit is part of my heritage – in my own way, I’m a “laborer” doing “odd jobs” for various employers.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: School

I was living in Scotland when my two little friends from down the street started first grade. I wasn’t allowed to start with them because my 5th birthday was one day past the cutoff. My mother spoke to the headmaster, but he was a stickler for the rules.

L-R, Me, Kimberly and Pauline on our street in Scotland.

My mother was determined, though. She found out what textbooks the school was using and where to buy them. She asked my friends what they learned each day and she worked with me at home. A couple of months into the school year, the old headmaster left, and my mother went in and talked to the new headmaster. VoilĂ ! I was in!

I have two memories at this school. I was standing in line to approach the teacher’s desk to ask if I could go to the bathroom when I wet myself. Teacher basically told me it was okay to butt in line if it’s urgent.

A better memory is making watercress sandwiches on buttered bread. I remember it as being very good, but it’s been 50 years since I had one, so I can’t vouch for what I’d think of it today.

I started 2nd grade in Scotland, then halfway through the year, we moved back to the States. I attended two more schools in second grade and two schools in third grade. Maybe three. I forget. Thus is the life of a Navy Brat.

At some point in 2nd or 3rd grade, one of these American schools wanted to put me back a year. After all, I technically started 1st grade when I was four, so I was a year or two younger than most other kids in my class, plus I was small for my age. Again, my mom stood up for me. She saw no reason for me to repeat a grade. She had skipped a grade in elementary school herself, which may have informed her decision that my age didn’t matter.

This time of year, we see so many first-day-of-school photos and reminiscences. My first-days really don’t stand out, maybe because there were so many of them.

A school friend took this photo of me, and I have it labeled as South Carolina, but I can’t be positive. It’s obviously bleachers.

Things finally settled down in high school. I did most of 8th grade and all of 9th grade at Gordon H. Garrett High School in North Charleston, South Carolina. Then my dad got stationed in Panama City, Florida. That’s a hop, skip, and a jump from my parents’ hometown of Pensacola, so the plan was that my mom and I would live in the house they built when they first got married, and daddy would live in our motor home in Panama City and come home on weekends.

I didn’t want to leave Charleston. I had friends and I was happy. We lived in a mobile home on a little cul-de-sac in a trailer park, and I knew the neighbors. I was 13 going on 14, and I tried so hard to convince my parents to just leave me there, and I could take care of myself. Of course, they refused.

So, I transferred to Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola. I did make some friends, although many of them were in 11th grade, closer to my own age. I got involved in chorus and several clubs. My senior year was kind of a washout in many ways. I mean, the French club always took a trip to France until I joined. No one asked me to prom. The yearbooks came in late, after seniors’ last day, and we weren’t allowed to pick them up until we returned our gowns after graduation, so I didn’t even have a chance to get it signed.

Our class has had several reunions, and I’m always surprised that some people actually remember me. I don’t feel like I was memorable.

Thinking about school days always makes me rather melancholy. The bad memories tend to stand out. It’s just such a different experience than my parents had. My mother went to Brentwood Elementary School in Pensacola, Florida through 7th grade. (I went there, too, in parts of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.) She went to Clubbs for 8th grade. She did the last four years at Pensacola High School. Some of her classmates she knew her entire life, either from living down the street or going to the same church or from school. Her senior class (1954) was the first to attend and graduate from the “new school” on Maxwell Street, which is still in use today (2021).

My senior class at Washington (1982) was supposed to be the first to attend the “new school” off Airport Boulevard, but the building wasn’t ready in time, so rather than move us in after the year had started, they let the next class get the honors. My old school is now a district administration building and bus depot. Nothing to be proud of. Nothing to be excited about.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Character

I’m about 95% sure that Wade Warren Silcox is my 3x Great Grandfather, and if he is not, then he is my 3x Great Grandfather’s brother. He most definitely had an interesting life.

Wade’s story actually begins with his father, of course, John Silcox or Silcock. He is said to have served as a loyalist in the American Revolution. He received a Spanish Land Grant in 1792 providing him with 300 acres “three miles from the head of the River Nassau in the County of Duval” (near modern day Jacksonville). A document associated with that grant says he worked the land until he left to serve in the War of 1812.

The land granted to the Silcox Family by the Spanish may now be part of the Thomas Creek Wildlife Management Area. (Photo: VisitJacksonville)

A legal document related to that land grant also says “that Wade Silcock did in the year 1820 settle on, improve, and cultivate a certain piece of public land situated in the head of Thomas’ Swamp near the line of Nassau and Duval Counties and that the said Wade Silcock had remained in possession of and cultivated the said place ever since, further that the said Wade Silcock was at that time over 21 years of age and the head of a family, had a wife and child and claimed no land either under British or Spanish Grants.”

That last was signed by John Silcock on October 26, 1828. Those pages from the Spanish Land Grant file at FloridaMemory support the general belief that Wade Warren Silcox was born in Spanish East Florida in or around 1797.

This is the sort of view the Silcox family might have seen on a regular basis, living near the Nassau River. (Photo: FilmJax)

The Silcox settlers had a rough time. They were settling in a still largely undeveloped area, although what is now Port Jacksonville had been used for trade since 1565, according to Wikipedia. Documents from the time list several times that Native Americans stole cattle and horses from them. After the transition of power, John and his sons, including Wade, were among early Florida residents who petitioned the U.S. president in 1826 for remuneration of their losses.

It’s said Wade was shot three times during the Florida Indian Wars, but whether that was in service as a soldier or as a landowner, I’m not entirely clear. He did later enlist to fight in the Mexican War. His widow Sarah later applied for a pension and was denied. Her request said he passed due to sickness contracted during his service. A transcript of the application (available as a Memory attached to Wade’s FamilySearch profile) includes a doctor’s note that says Wade should never have been allowed to enlist due to his previous injuries.

From Sarah Silcox’s application for a widow’s pension.

Wade was fairly young when he died on January 8, 1848. He may have contracted a disease in Mexico. He may also have been infected with something before he left Florida. He lived near a swamp, and I’m sure the air was thick with mosquitoes. Perhaps he never fully recovered from his earlier gunshot wounds, or he had some internal condition, like cancer.

While researching this side of my family, I came across another interesting character. While looking for family names in the index of of a Duval County history book, I noticed a listing for Charles Merian Cooper. I instantly thought of Merian C. Cooper, the Hollywood filmmaker who came up with the idea for “King Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young.” I have Coopers in my family tree, so I looked Merian C. Cooper up on FamilySearch and used the “View My Relationship” tool, and I was thrilled to see that he’s my 9th cousin once removed. Not through the Cooper line, though, apparently. It’s a Silcox connection, sort of.

I previously mentioned Wade’s father, John Silcox. His wife, Wade’s mother, was Amelia Ann Cordery. Her 3x Great Grandparents Obedience Robins and Grace Neale are, according to the FamilySearch family tree, our common ancestors with Merian C. Cooper.

These characters that we find in our family trees may be famous or largely forgotten. The stories and the human connections across the generations are part of what make genealogy such a fascinating hobby.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Tragedy

Every family endures its share of tragedies, from severe illnesses and early deaths to disaster-related losses of property. In many cases, the tragedy is that we don’t even really know what we’ve lost, because our loved ones failed to keep track of their ancestors or pass along the knowledge.

On my mom’s side of the family, I’ve filled in the family tree back to my 2nd Great-Grandparents. At the next level, I’m missing three names. I have eleven blanks at the 4th Great-Grandparent level, and a couple of others have names on the FamilySeach Family Tree, but without any supporting evidence listed.

John Cook’s father is unknown because his mother never married. Family lore says all her children had the same father, but his name is lost to history. John Cook married Lucinda Ryals, whose father’s name is sometimes given as Royal or Royals in documentation. His parents’ names are unknown. I have a promising DNA match that might be able to help, if the account manager would respond to messages. Sadly, the tester was elderly and may no longer be with us.

Jane Coursey is another brick wall. She seems to have been married to a Dickerson before having three children with James Bruce. No marriage record has been found for James and Jane.

William A. Stephens either died or divorced Mary Reid. I haven’t found a death record. They married in Conecuh County, Alabama, and there are a couple of possible William Stephens or Stevens in that area who could be him, but no evidence to support one or the other. I feel fairly confident about the Reid and Russell lines.

Someone added Jacob Ward and Elizabeth Collier as the parents of my 3rd Great-Grandmother Elizabeth Ward. No explanation or sources to explain why these would be the right parents. William Thompson’s wife is another one for whom I have no hard evidence of who she is.

Elizabeth Lawrence Rikard (or sometimes Rickard) is a pseudo brick wall. I know her mother was listed in various Census records as Dosha, Dotia, or Theodosia, and sometimes used the middle initial P. I have found a male Rikard in a Baldwin County Census, but no evidence to support that he is Elizabeth’s father. I also have no indications of what Theodosia’s maiden name is. Could that “P” be the first letter? Could Elizabeth’s middle name Lawrence (as listed in a family Bible, according to one of my Thompson cousins) be a clue?

My paternal great-great grandfather William F. Hahn remains a mystery. My dad’s brother took a Y-DNA test for me recently, so I hope that may shed some light on that family line. I’m pretty confident in his wife Ary Loper’s parents. Some DNA matches seem to prove a connection to the Bergsteiner family. I’m less certain about Joseph and Jane Pippin – and if Jane is my ancestor, who were her parents?

The Cooper family is well documented. Arminta continues to be listed on many family trees as a McKenzie, despite plenty of evidence that he was her stepfather. I don’t know her father’s first name, but he was a Stephens, and I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out who his parents and siblings are. The Givens family has been well-researched, which is terrific since Joseph Harvell Givens and Mary Susan Holland appear in my tree twice. I haven’t done much work on the Holland family and documentation is limited on James David Holland and Nancy Patsie.

The Silcox line is tough. I’m confident in William H. Silcox (some cousins say the “H” stands for Henry; my great-aunts say it’s Hampton). His death certificate gives his father’s name as John, but his mother was widowed when William was a small child. What are the chances his children didn’t know their grandfather’s name? There is a William and other children with the right names and ages to be this family in the 1860 Census living with the widowed Sarah Sylcox. Cousins have presented credible evidence that Wade Warren Silcox was her late husband. Wade has a brother named John, though, and both possible trails lead back to John W. Silcox and Amelia Ann Cordery. If the trees can be believed, several DNA matches confirm descendancy from that couple.

I have no confidence in Sarah’s maiden name and have not researched that line myself at all.

I believe the parents of Dorithea Duck (pronounced Drathey by my great-aunts) are correct based on documents and DNA matches.

Here we have the Givens-Holland lines again. Evidence is solid for the Parker and Manning fathers, but very limited for the mothers.

We have such incredible tools now for keeping in touch with relatives and for sharing what we know about our family history. Hopefully the work we are doing now to build accurate and well-sourced trees will help avoid the tragedy of lost history for future generations.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: In the City

My 3rd great-grandmother Mary Ann Delaney Pippin was born, according to family records, in Montgomery County, Alabama. Not in the city of Montgomery, which was created from two smaller communities in 1819, six years before Mary Ann’s birth, but in the southern part of the county in a small rural community called Ramer. It’s about 30 miles from Ramer to the Alabama State Capitol.

Sometime between the birth of my 2nd great-grandmother, Ary Loper, in 1857, and the U.S. Census in 1860, Mary Ann and her husband William Hamilton Loper moved about 140 miles south, and settled in Milton, Santa Rosa County, Florida.

Today, Milton is not the largest city in the Florida panhandle, but just before the Civil War, Santa Rosa County was the richest county in Florida, and Milton’s economy was booming.1

Unfortunately, the Lopers’ arrival in the big city would be followed by devastation during and after the war. Much of the damage was caused by Confederate troops, who didn’t want to leave anything of value that could be used by Union troops.2

In the 1860 Census, William Hamilton Loper was listed as a laborer, with no value listed for personal property or real estate. By 1870, Mary Ann is the head of the household, and she appears to be doing all right. The form lists $200 in real estate and $500 in personal property, which is the most of anyone on that Census page. Her occupation is given as “Ret Grocer” – or at least that’s how I read it. Several others on the page are listed with that occupation. I don’t know if that meant she had a store or a stall, or if she worked for someone else.

1870 Census record listing Mary Loper and her children William, Arkansas, Addie, and George.
“United States Census, 1870”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNZJ-PTX : 28 May 2021), Mary Soper, 1870.

In the 1880s, railroads proliferated in the area, bringing a new boom to industry around Milton.3 The prosperity would be tempered by disaster. The downtown area burned three times within 30 years – in 1885, 1892, and 1909.

In those days, Milton was pretty much like a port city.4 It’s well inland, but it sits on the Blackwater River, which connects to Escambia Bay which flows into Pensacola Bay, which connects to the Gulf of Mexico. There were no bridges over the bays in those days; the first one between Milton and Escambia County – the Highway 90 bridge – opened in 1926, to great fanfare, according to coverage in the Pensacola newspaper. It was a game changer for the area.

My searches haven’t found Mary Ann Delaney Loper after the 1870 Census. Someone on FamilySearch entered a death date of March 8, 1914, though I’ve found no evidence to support that. Perhaps she remarried or lived with one of her children for whom I haven’t filled in the descendancy. Certainly, she did have children who saw the continued growth of Milton and Pensacola into the 20th Century.


1 & 2 – Northwest Florida History

3 – City of Milton

4 – Santa Rosa Historical Markers

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Name

I have come to appreciate unusual names, because it makes it easier to sort out families and link records to the right person.

That’s not why I love my great-great-great grandmother’s first name, Arminta.

First, I should clarify that my dad’s parents never much talked about their extended family or their ancestors. All I knew about my great-great grandfather William F. Hahn was that he was 3 when he came over from Germany (wrong) and that he had maiden aunts in the old country and Hitler took their property (extremely unlikely since William was born 100 years before World War II). So, I am positive that I never heard of Arminta Stephens (sometimes listed by her step-father’s name McKenzie) Cooper before I started doing genealogy about five or six years ago.

John Jurdan Cooper and Arminta Alice Stephens and their children, as listed on the FamilySearch family tree.
Arminta’s family group from FamilySearch.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, I was involved in a Star Wars roleplaying/fiction writing group, and I created an alter-ego character named Aminta Starseeker.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw Arminta’s name. It’s so close. It’s a name I had never heard of before I made up my character’s name.

On FamilySearch, Arminta has two daughters named after her – Araminda Elizabeth Cooper, born in 1860, who tended go by her middle name, and Arminta A. Cooper, born in 1879, who appears in the 1880 Census and no other records that I’ve found.

My ancestor is Arminta’s son, Henry Merritt Cooper.

I think the name must have imprinted on his DNA and come to me in my blood, and I just left out one letter.

Posted in Genealogy, My Life, Star Wars, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments