#52Ancestors: Great (#Genealogy)

One of the GREAT mysteries in my family tree is my great-great grandfather William A. Stephens. At least, that’s the surname on his marriage certificate, and the surname his ex-wife or widow used when she remarried, although his son’s family always spelled it Stevens.

I have three records for William A. Stephens. Two are marriage records to my great-great grandmother Miss Mollie Reid. I know from those records that he was “of age” and that Mollie, a.k.a. Mary, had to have consent of her parents. The couple were married on July 26th, 1883, in Conecuh County, Alabama, at Mary’s mother’s home.

Marriage record for William A. Stephens and Miss Mollie Reid.

Their son Billie was born in October 1884, and when Billie died in 1939, the death certificate records his parents’ names as Bill Stevens and Mollie Reed.

And that is all I know about William A. “Bill” Stephens or Stevens.

I know his wife remarried in March 1889, to J.C. Gilmore. In March 1891, she married her third husband, Charles Muterspaugh. I have never found death records for any of these men, nor have I discovered any divorce papers.

There are possible families for William in Conecuh County, Alabama.

Listed in U.S. Censuses for 1860, 1870, and 1880 are William Stephens (born circa 1860) and his parents, Benjamin Stephens and Mary A. Thomas. This William’s middle initial is sometimes indexed as I or J. A family tree on Ancestry gives his middle name as James. My great-grandfather was named James William (or sometimes William James), and he was called Billie.

There is a William J. Stephens on FamilySearch, born in 1860 and listed in the 1900 Census as living with his wife Sarah. Their oldest child living at home is Oscar, born in 1888. This could be the child of Benjamin and Mary, and/or it could be my ancestor, if he remarried.

I also found a William Stephens in the U.S. Census for Conecuh County in 1870. He’s living with Melvina Stephens and has an estimated birth year of 1865. An application for widow’s benefits says Melvina’s husband was in the Civil War, sent home with disease or injury that caused his death in 1864, so he could have been born in 1864 or 1865. (By the 1900 Census, this William’s birth year is recorded as 1872.) I believe Melvina’s maiden name was Chitty, and my William’s wife had a sister, Sarah Catherine Reid, who married George Chitty, who was Melvina’s first cousin. So, there’s a good chance this William could have met my Mary/Mollie through family connections.

Assuming my William wasn’t yet another William Stephens from a neighboring county, I think one of these two (or three) is mine.

Barring a family connection through DNA, I don’t know how to determine which one is my ancestor.

Melvina Chitty Stephens had another son, John H. Stephens, who married Emmaline Joyner and had several children: Henry, George, William, Sophie Janie, and Edna.

William, son of Benjamin Stephens and Mary Thomas, had several siblings: Martha A., Benjamin Franklin, Sarah J., James Thomas, Lucinda, Barny, Mary E., and Maggy.

William J. Stephens (parents uncertain, but he may be the child of Benjamin and Mary), married Sarah Thomas. Their four children are Oscar Hunter, Ora Ethel, Willie Erma, and George Edgar.

If anyone reading this blog is a descendant of one of these families, and if you have tested with Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA (Family Finder or mtDNA), Living DNA, or MyHeritage, or if you’ve uploaded to GEDmatch, I would love to hear from you and see if we are matches or not. Either result could help me focus my research.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Music

I know very little about my maternal great-grandfather James William (or sometimes William James) Stevens. One thing I do know about him is that he enjoyed music and dancing.

Billie Stevens

J.W. Stevens, commonly known as Billie, was born on October 5, 1884 in Alabama. That’s the date in his wife’s Bible and on his tombstone.

The earliest official record I have for him is his marriage license. Here his name is listed as James W. Stevens and his bride’s name is given as Miss Mary E. Pittman. The license was issued in Baldwin County, Alabama, on Wednesday, July 3, 1907 by Probate Judge J.H.H. Smith, who also notes that he performed the ceremony himself in Bay Minette. The information was recorded on Saturday, July 6th, 1907. The marriage bond portion of the certificate is not filled out.

Marriage License for James W. Stevens and Mary E. Pittman. (“Alabama County Marriages, 1809-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XTWR-Y53 : 19 February 2021), James W Stevens and Mary E Pittman, 03 Jul 1907; citing Baldwin, Alabama, United States, County Probate Courts, Alabama; FHL microfilm 1,839,623.)

In 1910, the U.S. Census lists William J. Stephens and Mollie Stephens, both age 26, both born in Alabama, now living with their one-year-old daughter Willie in Muscogee, Escambia County, Florida. He’s listed as a merchant at a grocers.

My grandmother Willie said her father was quite a practical joker. One of his favorite tricks was to pull the chair out from under her when she would go to sit down. Years later, she had an x-ray and it showed her tailbone twisted like a corkscrew. She wondered if her father’s practical joke caused that.

In 1917, Billie registered for the draft, listing his occupation as an oiler at the sawmill. He’s described as short, medium build, with hazel eyes and dark hair. Here his birthdate is listed as October 5, 1880.

The 1920 Census shows J.W. Stebens, age 37, living with his wife Mollie, age 38, and daughters Willie, age 11, and Nellie, age 5. Also sharing the home is Billie’s mother, Mollie Muterspaugh, widowed, age 65. His occupation is still listed as oiler. I recall being told that he was a sawyer, who often worked nights sharpening saws.

I discovered one incident from this time period while browsing on Newspapers.com. I did ask the Pensacola Police Dept. if they had mug shots of my great-grandfather and his brother-in-law; unfortunately, they did not. The article confirms Billie is still living in Muscogee in 1925.

Articles Detailing Charges against Billie Stephens and Charlie Pittman after Drunk Driving Crash

By 1930, Mollie Muterspaugh has apparently died and Willie is out on her own. In the household are J.W. Stevens, age 42, and Mollie, now given the age of 47, and daughter Nellie Mae Stevens, age 15. They are still shown as living in Muscogee. Now his occupation is listed as laborer, odd jobs.

Florida’s 1935 Census shows Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Stevens, aged 51 and 52 respectively, now living in Brent. His occupation is still listed simply as laborer. My mother has told me that, for a while, he took orders for men’s suits. He would go to the home, or the workplace, I suppose. He would show samples of suit fabrics and take the gentlemen’s measurements. The clothes would be made to order for the customer. My great-grandmother later used the fabric samples to make a quilt.

I know of a story from around this time, although I don’t know the exact date. I remember my grandmother, Willie, talking about this, and my mother. They told me that Billie Stevens was in the garage when he was struck by lightning. As I understand it, this was at the Brent home, just off Palafox Street. The garage still stands, by the way, at the corner of Mason Lane. His wife and daughter realized what happened and pulled him out in the rain to wash the electricity out of him, they said. I wish now that I’d asked more questions and taken more notes, about how they realized what happened, did he have any burns, were there scorch marks on the building. I do wonder, looking back, if that’s what weakened his heart. I believe it was my grandmother Willie Stevens who was there and helped.

The next record I have for Billie is his daughter Nellie’s death certificate. She was pregnant, and was found dead in the home her husband built for her, just a little more than a stone’s throw from where Billie and Mollie were living in Brent. That house still stands. For years, Nellie’s widower rented out the home, and a smaller one next door that he also built. Just past those two houses stands a shotgun house built as a rental property by Billie Stevens.

Finally, I have Billie’s own death certificate. As the world marked the arrival of a new year and a new decade – and the end of the Great Depression – Billie Stevens went out dancing. He probably went to the Green Gables nightclub, not too far from where he lived. His wife didn’t really approve of his drinking and dancing, so that New Year’s Eve, he went, not to his own home, but to his daughter Willie’s house. Willie and her husband Hoyt Cook lived at 4103 North Palafox Street, about half a mile south of Billie and Mollie. Hoyt put him to bed in my mother’s room and took my mother in with them; she was just two and a half years old. The next morning, Billie was dead.

I’m not sure why they dated his death as December 31st, 1939, instead of January 1st, 1940. Maybe he didn’t wait for midnight to leave the nightclub, so he was last seen alive on the 31st. I hope he enjoyed his last night on the town.

Billie’s death certificate gave his parents’ names as Bill Stevens and Mollie Reed. I found a marriage certificate for William A. Stephens and Mary Reid in Conecuh County the year before Billie was born, and DNA provides strong evidence of Mary Reid’s family. I can’t pin down William A. Stephens (or Stevens). Mary R. Stevens remarried in 1889, and then again in 1891. I have yet to find divorce papers or a death record for her husband, so Billie’s heritage remains a brick wall, for now.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Loss

My great-grandparents, Arthur T. Cook and Dollie Allison, had nine children who lived to adulthood, and those children gave their parents 26 grandchildren, that we know of, including my mother, Zenova Cook Hahn. They all lived – or are living as I write this – long lives. My mom didn’t lose a first cousin until 2016.

James Donald Beasley was the oldest of the cousins when he died at age 88 on November 25th, 2016, due to illness.

A month later, one of the youngest cousins, David Charles Holland, passed away at the age of 62, after severe health problems.

In 2018, Curtis Clark Hale died at 82, and just this month, Clark’s brother Trammel Douglas Hale followed at age 83.

My mother didn’t have any first cousins on her mother’s side, as her only aunt died during pregnancy before my mother was born.

In comparison, I’m one of nine first cousins on my dad’s side. We are the grandchildren of Charles Hahn and Malzie Silcox The first first cousin that I lost was in 1992. Dusty Hahn was 19 years old when he died in an accident involving an ATV. Dusty’s on my dad’s side of the family.

I’m also one of nine grandchildren of Hoyt Cook and Willie Stevens. The first loss on that side was in 1997. James Hoyt Cook crashed his car just hours before our grandfather died after a stroke. His half-sister Wendy Cook died, along with one of her young children, in a car crash in 2015.

My dad never really talked much about his first cousins, not like my mom talked about hers. My grandfather Charlie had three younger siblings, and they’re the ones whose names I remember – Gussie (Anna Augusta), George, and Dan.

Looking at the family tree on FamilySearch, 26 grandchildren were born to Rev. Theodore Hahn and Maggie Cooper. 13 of my dad’s first cousins (not counting his siblings) have passed away, including three in childhood. My dad and four of his siblings are gone.

Deceased children of Willie Louise Hahn: Robert Brill (2006), Opal Brill (2019), Louverta “Bert” Brill (2011), and Earnest Brill (1934, age 20 months).

Deceased children of Mary Elizabeth Hahn: John Morris Jr. (1937, age 5), Violet Morris (2004), Virgil Morris (1937, age 3), and Augusta Morris (2013). Three more sons – Thomas, Joseph, and William – are listed as deceased with no death dates).

Deceased children of Anna Augusta Hahn: Franklin Hurst (2004), and Martha Jane Hurst (1991).

Malzie Silcox’s parents, Dave Silcox and Annie Givens, had 32 grandchildren. Dave also had three daughters with Sarah McCann, and at least 9 grandchildren.

Of those known grandchildren, five have passed away: Patricia Kerr (1962, health age 12), Connie Silcox, Malcolm Best (1970, boating accident, age 19), Dorothy Silcox, and Raymond White.

It has often struck me, while researching family history, that I often get to know a relative and lose them on the same day. I may celebrate their birth and mourn their death within a few minutes.

It gives me some peace to know that by entering them in the FamilySeach family tree, finding articles and documents about their lives, and – in a few cases – preserving family photos through scanning, I am helping to keep their memories alive for posterity.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fortune

A week or two ago, an internet search rabbit hole led me to the website of The Cooper Group, described on their front page as “one of America’s oldest and largest stevedoring and maritime firms.”

The company has extensive operations in Mobile and other parts of Alabama, and as I have Cooper ancestry in South Alabama, I looked for the company’s history. I found it under the “About” tab. The page says, “The story of the Cooper family begins right after the Civil War when Henry Harrison Cooper and his two brothers immigrated from Scotland and settled in South Carolina. They soon moved to Baldwin County, Alabama, in an area later appropriately named Rosinton.”

Maybe these weren’t my Coopers after all, I wondered for a moment, because mine were here well before the American Civil War.

My great-grandmother was Mary Margaret “Maggie” Cooper, who married Theodore Hahn in Rosinton, Baldwin, Alabama, on May 12th, 1905. Maggie’s father was Henry Merrit Cooper (1858-1898), and his father was John Jordan or Jurdan Cooper (1830-1909). John married Arminta Alice Stephens on July 23rd, 1857, in Baldwin County Alabama.

According to U.S. Census records John was born in Georgia. His parents were Lewis Jordan Cooper and Frances Jane Cumbaa, who were both, according to multiple records, born in South Carolina, and who later both died in Baldwin County, Alabama. An unmarked plot in the Old Cooper Cemetery, surrounded by a low stone wall, is said to be their burial place.

Going back to the Cooper Group website, the history acknowledges the connection to South Carolina. I will admit, I haven’t dug deep into the family tree beyond that. Other researchers on FamilySearch have linked the family back to Pennsylvania, and a few generations earlier, to Yorkshire, England, but I cannot attest to the accuracy of their research.

This plot is believed to be the final resting place of Lewis Cooper and Frances Cumbaa. (Photo by Auriette Lindsey)

I do feel confident about the Baldwin County Coopers.

Records show, among Lewis Jordon Cooper’s many children, in addition to my 3x Great Grandfather John Jordan Cooper, a son named Henry Harrison Cooper (1846 – 1909).

Let’s go back to the Cooper Group’s history: “Henry Cooper and his wife, Matilda, had fourteen children; the next to youngest was named Angus Royal Cooper.”

Lewis’ son Henry Harrison Cooper married Matilda Camella McKenzie in Baldwin County on February 27th, 1868. Matilda was my 3x Great Grandmother Arminta’s half-sister. They shared the same mother, Katherine Webster. Matilda’s father was Daniel G. McKenzie, born according to records, in North Carolina in 1794.

When I first joined FamilySearch, Daniel had a father or grandfather listed who was from Scotland, although that connection has been removed, and I have not researched it. Maybe that is where the people who assembled the history got the Scottish connection.

My family’s Henry and Matilda Cooper, my 3x Great Grand Uncle and Aunt, did have a son named Angus Royal Cooper, among 13 children listed on FamilySearch. He was more in the middle of the pack, not the next-to-youngest. He was born in 1877. He had three children: Vivian, Robert, and Ervin.

The Cooper Group website continues, “Angus Cooper’s son, Ervin, joined his family’s business. He married, had two sons (Angus II and David), and went on to personally direct the firm’s expansion to ports throughout the U.S.”

Yep, these are my Coopers. Whether they came from Yorkshire or Scotland, they were in the United States – and Alabama – well before the Civil War. My, they did well for themselves.

Ervin is memorialized with a statue at Cooper Riverside Park in downtown Mobile. The park is named after him because his sons donated $244,000 towards construction, back in the 1990s.

In comparison, in my branch of the family, John Jordan Cooper was a farmer. Henry Merrit Cooper “worked in turpentine,” according to the 1880 Census. Maggie was a farmer’s wife. Interestingly, her husband’s father worked sometimes as a stevedore and a bayman, but despite his career on the waterfront, he didn’t found his own company that would grow “from modest beginnings to a complex, multifaceted maritime giant.”

Such are the fortunes of family.

This post was inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Name’s the Same

Sometimes a name travels down through the family, at least a generation or two, and it can be key to helping a genealogist make connections.

Take my husband’s grandfather, John Crittenden Raney. I knew very little about him when I started researching the family tree. He died more than a decade before my husband was born. I found John pretty quickly on FindAGrave, and that gave me a birthdate of March 5, 1880 and death date of December 9, 1951. My mother-in-law told me he was born in Russell County, Kentucky, and she remembered him talking about his mother, Loretta Belle.

It took me a while of trying different search combinations before I finally found a likely pair for his parents. Loretta B. Harris married William J. B. Raney in Russell County, Kentucky, on June 3rd, 1880.

Wait, what? That’s three months after little John C. Raney was born. Now, I haven’t found a birth certificate, so maybe the date listed on all the other dated records I’ve found has been off by a year.

Marriage record for William J.B. Raney and Loretta Belle Harris. [Source: Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954 (FamilySearch.org)]

Now, I have to say, after researching my Alabama ancestors, seeing a marriage record with two pages of details filled my heart with joy!

Then I started reading. William J. B. Raney?! Why didn’t you give your age? Or the birthplaces of your parents? Were you not being cooperative? At least I knew Loretta’s age and where her mother was born. Oh wait, here’s a clue — to be married at John J.C. Harris’ — could that be her father? And, look, John J. C. Harris also officiated. Hmmm, maybe this was a shotgun wedding!!

I began to look more into Loretta and the mysterious John J. C. Harris, and I found them in the 1880 Census. Indeed he was her father, and his occupation is listed as preacher. The enumeration date of the census was June 1, 1880, and there’s no baby in the household, leading me to think John C. Raney was really born in 1881, which would have put his birth exactly nine months after the wedding. Maybe dad didn’t have to be led to the alter after all.

The evidence was starting to fall into place, but I still wasn’t 100% sure I had the right family until I found John J. C. Harris’ profile on FamilySearch. That gave his full name as John Jefferson Crittenton Harris. Profiles on other family tree sites have the spelling as Crittenden.

I believe the name Crittenden/Crittenton came from Kentucky statesman John J. Crittenden. According to Wikipedia, he was born in 1787 in Kentucky, son of a Revolutionary War veteran. A few years before John J. C. Harris was born, John J. Crittenden was nominated for U.S. Attorney General, and at the time of Harris’ birth, Crittenden was Kentucky’s U.S. Senator.

That the middle name’s the same convinced me that I was on the right track.

Members of the Raney and Harris families later moved from Kentucky to the same part of Texas around the same time. Also in the past five years, I’ve found quite a few DNA matches leading back to John Jefferson Crittenton Harris, further verifying my research.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Multiples

The first multiples that came to mind when I saw this week’s 52 Ancestors Challenge prompt were my great-uncles Horace and Hurley Cook.

The twins were born to Arthur Thomas Cook and Dorcas Elizabeth Allison,known as Dollie, on November 9th, 1916. According to Dollie’s granddaughter Jane, all Dollie’s babies were around 10 to 11 pounds at birth, including the twins! During the later stages of her pregnancy with Horace and Hurley, she told Jane, Arthur had to carry her from bed to sit on the porch, and then carry her back again, because of the weight.

The twins’ full names are Horace Murphy Cook and Hurley Sellous Cook. Hurley’s daughter Mary Ann said the middle names both came from local doctors. In fact, she said, her father was named after Dr. Sellers, but it ended up spelled Sellous instead.

Horace married Cuminell Wise, known as Nell, on October 11th, 1941. They had one son. Horace’s middle name of Murphy was passed down to his son.

Hurley married Grace Elizabeth Morgan on November 22nd, 1938, in Etowah, Alabama. They had one daughter. On February 7th, 1942, in Etowah, Alabama, Hurley married Wilhelmina Eliza Merritt, known as “Johnnie.” They had two sons.

In August, 1942, the boys enlisted in the Naval Reserve. An article published in the Pensacola newspaper said they were “the first set of twins, enlisted through the local Navy recruiting station and accepted for duty in the Naval reserve.” The article went on to say, “Horace, a former cement finisher at Eglin Field, received a rating of petty officer, second class, and Hurley, formerly employed as crane operator at the Naval Air station here, is now a petty officer, first class.”

Photo of twins Horace and Hurley Cook.
Hurley Cook in dark shirt, Horace in white. Photo scanned from the collection of Hurley’s daughter.

After the war, Horace established his own construction company in Escambia County, Florida. His son later joined him in the business. Hurley left the service after the war but later re-enlisted and served a total of 22 years. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer in 1965; at the time, he had been working as an instructor at the Naval Reserve Training Center in Durham, and he remained in North Carolina, working as a real estate broker.

Horace died on December 20th, 1968, at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. The death certificate lists immediate cause as hypotension due to renal and liver failure as a consequence of carcinoma of the colon. He was buried at Bayview Memorial Park in Pensacola, Escambia, Florida. I was just three years old when he died, and we had only visited Pensacola a couple of times since I was born, so I didn’t know him at all. Aunt Nell lived in the same house, and I visited her many times there. I know from seeing his photo there and hearing her talk about him that he was a member of the Shriners.

Hurley and Johnnie remained married until his death on June 15th, 1975, at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. The death certificate lists immediate cause as dissecting ascending aortic aneurism as a consequence of atherosclerotic vascular disease. He was buried near his brother at Bayview Memorial Park in Pensacola. We were living in Pensacola at the time, and I can’t say for sure if I remember going to the funeral, but I do remember overhearing a comment that I suppose stuck with me because it seemed a bit eerie. The person said that the coffin chosen for Hurley was just like the one chosen for Horace.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Power

As soon as I saw this week’s prompt for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors Challenge, I thought of my first cousin twice removed Ary Joseph Johansen. I recalled that Ary worked for the electric company in Texas. I was soon reminded that he was not the only member of his family to choose a career in the utility business.

Ary was born in Pensacola Escambia County, Florida on December 18th, 1907. His parents were Charles Johansen and Hattie Hahn. He appears to be named after his grandmother, Ary Hahn.

The 1910 Census records Ary living with his parents and brothers Charles and Edward on South C Street near West Pine Street. His father, it says, ran a store.

When the U.S. joined the Great War, Herman Edward Johansen registered, listing his occupation as oiler at the Pensacola Electric Company. Charles’ registration gives his occupation as Chief Clerk at Pensacola Electric.

Brothers Charles F. and Herman Edward Johansen were both working at Pensacola Electric Company when they registered for the draft during the Great War.

In 1920, the family had moved to South E Street, still near Pine Street. (I went back and looked again at the handwriting on the previous census, to make sure I hadn’t misread an E there, but it still looked like a C.) Charles and Hattie are both listed as running a grocery store. Brother Herman Edward was listed as an operator at the electric plant. Ary would still have been in school. I haven’t found Charles the younger on the 1920 Census.

I do have a hint of where Charles may have been in 1920. His obituary published in the Tampa Times on May 1st, 1947, said that in 1925 Charles left Tampa, where he was assistant treasurer of the Tampa Electric Company, to become treasurer of the Houston, Texas, Power and Light Company. When he died, he was treasurer of the Atlanta Gas Light Company.

The 1930 Census shows Ary J. Johansen living in Beaumont, Texas, and working at the electric plant.

In 1930, Herman Edward is listed as working as a stationary engineer at the power plant in Escambia County. Ary, it seems, has followed his oldest brother to Texas; he’s listed as a lodger in Beaumont, Jefferson County, Texas, working as a bookkeeper at the electric plant.

The 1940 Census, lists Edward Johansen as an operator for Gulf Power. Charles, as mentioned in the aforementioned obituary, was working as a treasurer for the Gas and Light Company. Ary is back in Jefferson County, Texas, after some time in Grimes County, Texas, around 1935, and he is listed as working as a cashier at a utility company.

Electricity came to Pensacola in 1888; the first power company served just 20 customers. The Johansen family would have seen the use of electricity – and the need for employees – increase exponentially as the children grew up. Charles and Ary may have gotten some of their bookkeeping skills while helping out in the family store. Sadly, Charles and Ary’s died young, but Herman Edward lived to 76 years old, and according to his obituary, he was a retired civil service worker.

I never heard anything about our Johansen relatives until I started researching the family history. I was delighted to hear from one of Ary’s grandchildren, who found me through WikiTree. It’s strange how, in just a couple of generations, families can lose track of each other. The power of online trees, DNA, and other 21st century tools are helping to bring us back together.

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My Gator Family

I was only 16 when I graduated from high school, and I ended up doing all four years at schools close to home: two years at Pensacola Junior College (now Pensacola State) and two years at the University of West Florida. Before there was a University of West Florida, my maternal grandparents attended the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Hoyt & Willie Cook at Lake Wauburg during a stay in Gainesville for college.

Hoyt and Willie (Stevens) Cook were teachers. As I recall being told, Willie took some classes early on at Florida State College for Women (now Florida State), and both Hoyt and Willie took extension courses (usually over a weekend) throughout their teaching careers. They also built up a lot of credits by attending summer school in Gainesville.

When their children – my mom, Zenova, and the boys, Aldis and Howitt – were young, sometimes Willie’s mother, Molly Pittman Stevens, would go with them to help out. My mom spoke of playing Monopoly by their own rules and the games could last for days. Sometimes relatives would come visit.

In order to graduate, they had to attend a full year on campus, so in 1955 they headed to Gainesville. My mom had graduated from high school the year before, so they made her go along. She says if they had let her stay in Pensacola and continue going to PJC, she would have earned her associates degree, but she had to transfer, and in 1956, she got married, and she never finished college.

All that’s set-up to this: I was scanning Mam-ma’s photo albums, and I found this:

Ticket booklet for the 1955 University of Florida football season

It’s a ticket booklet for the 1955 football season. The first eight tickets are torn out. Pap-pa has signed the book, and it has a physical description. I have no way of knowing if he attended all eight of those games; it’s entirely possible that he drove up with the team or rode with someone else, or he could have just discarded the tickets. I don’t know why he wouldn’t have attended the last three games. Two regular season games were out of town, but there’s also a ticket good for a Freshman game (the ticket says “if one is played on Florida Field” so perhaps there wasn’t one).

Pap-pa enjoyed sports. He played and sometimes coached various teams. He also enjoyed being with a group of people, talking and having a good time. Mam-ma was more likely to stay home and study. She used to complain that he’d fall asleep in class and still get a better grade than she would! They both graduated in Spring 1956 with their Bachelor of Arts in Education.

Zenova Cook in Gainesville – 1954. This is a grey dress with a two-tone skirt. Willie Cook ordered this for Zenova from an ad in American Girl magazine. It’s signed “Love, Zenova” because she sent it to my dad.
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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Unusual Source

This week’s prompt in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge is “Unusual Source.”

Medical Report

The most unusual source I’ve ever used for genealogy has to be a report on the 1853 Yellow Fever outbreak. I wrote a thorough post about it in 2016, before I was aware of the challenge. I found this source by doing a Google search for Daniel McKenzie, the man who I believed was my great-great-great grandmother’s father (it turns out he was her stepfather).

Title page of the "Report of the Sanitary Commission of New Orleans on the epidemic yellow fever of 1853: published by authority of the City Council of New Orleans" (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
“Report of the Sanitary Commission of New Orleans on the epidemic yellow fever of 1853: published by authority of the City Council of New Orleans” (US National Library of Medicine)

This is my favorite “unusual source” because it described where 3xG Grandmother Arminta was living, gave me a little insight into her personality, and provided amazing clues about her biological father (it didn’t name him, but I believe I now know who his parents were). I hope you will click through the link above and read the full post about everything that medical report contained.

Organizational History

Google also led me to some interesting information on my second cousin twice removed, Ed E. Reid. I knew the Reid family was in Conecuh County, Alabama, for several generations and could still be there now, so I went to Google and tried “Reid Conecuh.” That search brought up “Reid State Technical College” in Conecuh County. I wrote last year about how I determined that the school was named after my cousin. In that case, the unusual sources were an administrator at the college and an online history of the Alabama League of Cities, which Cousin Ed helped create.


I found two patents attributed to my great-great grandfather, William F. Hahn, listed on a genealogy site, probably Ancestry, but at first I wasn’t convinced that he was the inventor. There was at least one other William Hahn in Escambia County around the same time. Quite a while after first seeing those patents, I took a closer look and realized they definitely belonged to my ancestor. William’s son-in-law Charles Johansen witnessed the patent. These are the only documents I’ve found that include William’s middle name Fredrich, although he used the middle initial on his naturalization document.

My takeaway from all this is that you should never leave a stone unturned when looking for genealogical information. Use search engines and look for any reference to your ancestors. Use combinations of names and places. When you find something different, always look at it carefully, because there may be some information useful to your genealogical research, and it will also add a little to your knowledge of what went on during the “dash” between birth and death.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Valentine

I looked for an ancestor who was born on February 14th or married on Valentine’s Day, and I came up blank, so I’ll just spend this week’s post telling you about a couple that I know very little about.

John R. Ryals and Lottie Hale are my 3rd great-grandparents on my mom’s side. Their daughter Loucinda Ryals married John Cook of Marion County Georgia, and their son Arthur Thomas Cook married Dollie Allison, and their son Dewey Hoyt Cook is my maternal grandfather.

Photo said to be John R. Ryals from Pate-Moss Private Tree on MyHeritage
Photo said to be John R. Ryals (Pate-Moss Tree, MyHeritage)

According to the 1850 Census, John R. Ryals was born around 1812 in South Carolina. His wife, indexed as Lola in that census, was born in Georgia in about 1813. They were living in Marion County, Georgia, with four children. The oldest was Sarah, age 13. Next came Thomas, age 8; Mary, 4; and William, 3. They’re all listed as being born in Georgia. John’s occupation is listed as farmer.

Looking at that record, I wondered at the big gap between Sarah and Thomas. Was Lottie or John ill? Were they separated for some reason? Did children born in that period die of illness or injury?

The 1860 Census finds the family still living in Marion County, Georgia, with their last name recorded here as Royals. John’s age remains consistent with a birth year of around 1812. Lottie is a bit younger now, with an estimated birth year of 1818. Sarah, Thomas, Mary, and William are still living at home, but something has changed; Thomas, Mary, and William are now given a birthplace of Alabama. Sarah is still listed as being born in Georgia. The younger children are all given a birthplace of Georgia; they are Malissa age 10; Jeremiah, 7; Lucinda [sic], 5; and Elisabeth, 1. John is listed as a farmer and Lotty [sic] as a domestic. They also have living with them 72-year-old Martha Hale, identified as a domestic; she’s believed to be Lottie’s mother.

The 1870 Census lists John B. and Lota Ryals living in Pine Knot, Chattahoochee, Georgia. John’s age is given as 62, which would put his birth year back to 1808. His wife is younger still, with an estimated birth year of 1820. Sarah, William, Melissa, James, Lucinda, and Elizabeth, are living at home, and all the children’s place of birth is again Georgia. Now there’s another Elizabeth Ryals listed in the household, age 36, and below her are two children – Georgia, age 11; and John age 2. It’s unclear what become of Mary – if she married or died.

Records show Thomas married Elizabeth Taff in 1863, and on FamilySearch Georgia is listed as their child, but her birth year is listed as 1860. Baby John is attached on FamilySearch as the child of John and Lottie.

The last time John and Lottie appear in a U.S. Census is 1880. They are still living in Chattahoochee County, and John’s occupation is still listed as Farmer. His birth year is estimated at 1813. Lottie’s birth year is estimated at 1820. They still have several children living at home: Sarah, William, James, Elizabeth, John – identified as son of the head of household – and two new children, also identified as a son and daughter, Thomas, age 5; and Susan, age 1. It seems unlikely that Lottie had two children after the age of 55 (or older, if earlier censuses are correct). Perhaps they’re adopted, or maybe they’re really grandchildren.

No parents have been identified for John R. Ryals. Lottie’s father is listed as Thomas Hale and her mother is believed to be the aforementioned Martha.

Hopefully, someday, we’ll be able to take this family back a generation or two.

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