Professional Development for History Students

I’ve been thinking about this for around three or four years – how to reach history students about professional development opportunities in the communities where they study. I don’t know any history professors or students. Each college or university has its own rules for solicitations from outside organizations. Would professors even be willing to pass this idea along? Would students these days consider it a good option?

Here it is:

Students – please consider joining your local genealogical society. These societies offer:

  • Leadership experience via board and committee service
  • Speaking credits via presentations at meetings and seminars
  • Writing credits in newsletters and, in some cases, periodic journals
  • Volunteer hours at the local genealogical center and for special projects
  • Networking with community members and a variety of guest speakers

Genealogical societies are all about history. In some cases, it’s family history, which revolves around using historical records. Other times, members want to know about societal changes, major local and regional events, or other aspects of their ancestors’ lives.

Societies are also about saving historical records and family stories, and the evolving technologies available for preservation.

A great turnout at the Foley Public Library for the BCGS April 2019 meeting.

Genealogical societies will be an appreciative audience as you develop skills as a historian.


If you’re a student of history, find your local genealogical society. Attend a meeting or two to see how they operate. Ask how speakers are selected. Read through a few copies of their publications. Find out when and where their board meets. Then see how your schedule could mesh with theirs to take advantage of the opportunities.

Jim and Joyce Cauthen perform at a meeting of the Baldwin County Genealogical Society.

Baldwin County Genealogical Society President Tina Graham introduce guests Jim and Joyce Cauthen for a presentation on ol’ time fiddling.

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That time my mother saw a murder-suicide

I must have been in high school when my mother first told me.

“It just occurred to me that I witnessed a murder-suicide,” she said.


A. She’d never mentioned this before. B. When did this happen? C. Who? D. Where? E. And why is this just now occurring to you?

She always knew she’d seen a man kill a woman and then himself, she told me, but she’d never thought of it in those terms: a murder-suicide. This from a woman who reads and watches tons of mysteries. And she’d never thought of it that way? But that day, something clicked.

Fast-forward to 1986, and I was a passenger in my friend’s car when she got in a wreck, and I hit my head, and I couldn’t remember exactly what happened, and after a few weeks it occurred to me that I had amnesia. Which made it cool. But still, that was weeks, not decades!

So, recently, I’ve been using a subscription to to look up articles and obituaries related to my genealogy research, and it occurred to me that I could try to find an article about this murder-suicide that my mother saw when she was in elementary school. I remembered her saying that she was with her mother and they were outside Sears in Pensacola.

Of course, I never think of this when it’s a decent hour to call my mom and verify the details or get anything extra that I may have forgotten. I went through pages and pages of the Pensacola News Journal from the 1940s before I found it.

Newspaper headline reads: "Woman Shot As Man Kills Self"

Newspaper headline reads: “Woman Shot As Man Kills Self” doesn’t have the Wednesday evening edition, so the earliest headline I found was on Thanksgiving morning, 1946. Weirdly, the article itself was torn out of the paper that was scanned. I presume it continued on page 10, because a small piece is torn out of that page as well.

I found a follow-up article published on Friday.

Short newspaper clipping from Friday's paper

The story in the paper differs from what my mother remembers.

When I told my mother I’d found the article, she described to me her memory of that day. She and her mother were walking along Palafox Street near Sears. My mom saw a man walk out of Sears and go directly to a car parked on the street. He fired several shots into the car, then walked around the front of the car.

The woman got out of the car and ran across the sidewalk. She collapsed in the doorway of Sears.

The man shot himself in the car.

My mom thought at first he’d thrown firecrackers into the car. When they found out what happened, she says her mother commented that she’d thought it was firecrackers. They did not stop, but kept walking down the street.

Of course, my mam-ma is many years gone now. I wonder if she was protecting her child by trying to get her out of whatever disturbance was happening. Did she really think it was firecrackers? Especially when the woman collapsed in front of them on the street?

The man was Leo Poyser. My mom says his wife and children attended Richards Memorial Methodist Church, where my mom and her family went. She didn’t remember if Mr. Poyser ever attended with them.

The woman was Florence Brady. Her daughter Winifred was in my mom’s class at Brentwood School.

Clipping describes daughter rushing to the scene.

My mother went to school with Winifred Brady.

It’s a salacious story. Reading between the lines, it appears Mr. Poyser and Mrs. Brady may have had an affair. According to these articles, Mr. Poyser had lived apart from his family for a while, and during that time, Mr. Brady and a friend went to Mr. Poyser’s trailer and fired several shots inside. They were arrested for attempted murder but made a plea deal to lesser charges.

Had Mrs. Brady and Mr. Poyser agreed to meet outside the Sears that day? The way my mom describes it, Mr. Poyser made a beeline to the car. He knew she was there. Her daughter was nearby; did he know Winifred wasn’t in the car when he started shooting?

Mom had said, even the first time she told me this story, that none of the kids at school ever bothered Winifred about this.

I asked my mom how she knew for sure that no one ever said anything to Winifred. She said, “I would have seen her crying.” But of course, we can’t know that. She may not have been the kind of child who cried, or maybe she was all cried out. I would like to think that my mom is right, and that the children in that school were a little more considerate or empathetic than children today.

I don’t have the impression that my mother was traumatized by what happened. Maybe that’s because it all happened so fast, and there was clearly a delay of a day or two until she found out that the woman was shot and that the last bang she heard was a man killing himself. But it definitely is a moment that has stayed with her for more than 72 years.

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Memories from My Mother

We had dinner with my mom today, and I got her talking about the olden days. She was born in the late 1930s.

When she was little, they lived at 4103 N. Palafox Street in Pensacola, Florida. They had some chickens, two or three milk cows (she remembers ones named Beauty and Pet), occasional goats (her pet Snow White got mean and had to be taken up to live at her grandmother’s home in the farm country of Walnut Hill where it – at least once – chased her Aunt Bonnie) and pigs (She remembers a huge one named Betsy).

Later, her dad fenced in the large vacant lot next to the house and started buying hogs at auction. At one time, they had 200 head of hogs. One was mean and got out and bit a child that lived down the street. She thinks the boy was bitten in the stomach. She assumes her dad paid any medical bills. The mean hog was taken away; Mama’s not sure if he was sold or butchered. Her dad had a truck and would take two to four hogs to auction them off every so often. She was never allowed to go to the auction because it was “too rough” for a girl. Her younger brother got to go, and I think she’s still miffed about that.

When they had the 200 head of hogs, her dad worked at the Navy base. He was a contractor who helped build Sherman Field. He would haul off all the garbage from the cafeteria to feed the hogs. I’m not sure if he was paid for that or if he just did it to get the scraps. Some of the sailors would – I hope just accidentally – throw away dishes, individual creamers, and utensils. Mama said they would wash it and use it. I asked her if they went through the garbage before giving it to the hogs, and she said the hogs ate around the dishes and left it laying there. She’s not sure what happened to it all, although I’m pretty sure she has a couple of serving spoons embossed USN.

She mentioned that once her dad had bought a horse at auction and they had it on Palafox Street for a short time until he could take it up to his parents’ farm in North Escambia County, where they still plowed with a horse.

I asked Mama about her Grandma Cook’s place up in Walnut Hill. She described an area that’s probably 2-3 acres. She remembers them growing cotton, and one year when she was small she helped pick some and earned a dime. They had large burlap sacks with a strap that went across their chest. As it got full, they’d have to drag it along behind them. She wasn’t sure how much money they would have made from harvesting two acres of cotton. The Cooks were also sharecroppers for a while, and she said her Papa Cook worked for the railroad some.

My mom’s parents were teachers, and after school on Fridays, her dad would sometimes drive his truck up to Georgia and get a load of peaches, and drive straight back. For a while, they had a curb market, or other times, he’d just park the truck along Palafox by the house. Sometimes he’d drive through the new Brentwood neighborhood and holler out “Peaches! Peaches for Sale!” She said everyone had their windows or doors open because there was no air conditioning, and there wasn’t TV, and some people may not have even had electricity for a radio, so it was quiet, and they’d hear him holler.  He also grew Black Diamond watermelons on his own farm property in Walnut Hill, and he’d bring a big load of those down and sell them. My mom would sometimes be the one assigned to sit by the truck and handle the sales. She said the farmland was fresh and new, and some of the watermelons were so big, they’d take three people to lift them. She spread her arms out indicating they were probably three feet long! She said her dad would sometimes sell some of these big loads to Bailey’s Curb Market. Bailey’s is still in operation. Back then, they were located on Palafox Street, a mile or two south of my mom’s house. When I was growing up, they were on Fairfield Drive. I always thought it was cool because they had a gigantic statue of the Jolly Green Giant. More recently they relocated to Davis Highway. My husband and I went in there for some fruit today, and I noticed a sign that said what year they were established; I thought it said 1949 but one online resource says the business started in 1938, so I’m not sure. Anyway, I wondered at the time if there was a rivalry with my grandparents’ business, so I asked about it. She said no, they often sold produce to each other. They were in different neighborhoods and had different customers.

My mom was a tomboy and played often with the Rimpf boys, whose family rented a house from her dad. She recalls one game they played called “roll a bat.” One player held the bat, threw their own ball into the air and hit the ball towards the other kids. The player would lay the bat down, and whoever caught the ball would roll it towards the bat. When it hit the bat, it would bounce up and the player would have to catch it. If he or she caught it, that earned the player another time at bat. If not, the bat passed to another child. Mom says she was the only girl who played and the boys pretty much had to let her play because it was her bat. Later the Rimpf boys got their own bats and drew out a ballfield of their own down the street. At that time, they tended to play more with other boys from around the area, and my mom didn’t go down there.

While my dad was stationed in Scotland and we were all living there, her parents sold their house on Palafox Street. The house was moved; she doesn’t know where. She thinks her younger brother drove by it once, but she never did. There were many things that didn’t get moved. She thinks many stacks of Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines that were in the attic were probably thrown away or burned. Some of the Navy dishes may have been disposed of at that time.



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Mystery-Thriller Giveaway

What would you do if your child was abducted, brutalized and left for dead?

That’s the question at the heart of CounterPunch, a new novella by Patrice Williams Marks. CounterPunch book cover shows an African-American female with a shadowy figuring in the background.


This book really packs a punch, too. It’s told primarily from the point-of-view of determined mother Everest, a woman who’s been through too much already. When her teenage daughter Mo is attacked, she’s ready to take matters into her own hands to ensure Mo is the rapist’s final victim.

My jaw really did drop open when I read the final lines. That ending is a doozie!

I had the privilege of being on Marks’ launch team, which meant I got to read CounterPunch shortly before its release. You can read my reviews at Amazon and Goodreads.

Now, Ms. Marks is giving me another opportunity — a chance to share this book with ten friends or followers. I have ten iTunes codes for a free download of CounterPunch. That means the winners will have to have an iTunes account. We’re also asking that, once you read it, you share your honest opinion of the book by adding your rating and review to the book’s iTunes page, or on Amazon, Goodreads, or your own blog.

It’s really easy to enter.

1. Leave a comment on this post telling me why you would like to read CounterPunch.

2. Go to Twitter, follow me, and retweet the following post (requires a free Twitter account):

3. Follow me on Twitter and tweet the link to this blog post and giveaway.

That’s it. Three ways to enter and win. Limit 3 entries per person. I’ll pick ten winners at random on Saturday, April 27, sometime after 7:00 a.m. central time. Make sure you leave your email address when you fill out the form to comment here. If you’re following me on Twitter, I’ll contact winners by private message.

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The Time My Pap-pa Saved Me From a Bear

When I was a toddler, my dad was stationed in Seattle, Washington. We lived in Kirkland.

While we lived out there, my grandparents – my mother’s parents, Hoyt and Willie Cook – drove out there to visit, and we all went on vacation together to visit several national parks.

Right after Christmas, I bought a turtleneck shirt that reminded me of a story from that vacation.

Close-up of shirt design showing a tent, travel trailer, and campfire in front of snowy trees and mountains.

The pattern on this shirt reminded me of a family story.

See, my grandparents had a travel trailer, and my parents had a tent. We had a station wagon, and in those days (late 1960s), I wasn’t strapped in a car seat when we traveled; I could crawl around and play in the whole back area. In the very back of the wagon sat a wooden box that my dad built to hold the camping supplies.

One of the sites we visited on that trip was Yellowstone National Park. My dad unloaded the camping box and set up the tent. We saw some sights, had dinner, and bedded down for the night.

Well, something woke up my Pap-pa. He was a light sleeper. He looked outside and saw a bear in our campsite. Now, I certainly don’t remember any of this myself; I just heard the story a lot growing up. My mom doesn’t know for sure what Pap-pa did next, but we both agree Pap-pa probably ran the bear off. I can just hear his voice now, “Go on, bear. Git outta here!”

Whether he ran the bear off or just watched and waited, eventually the bear did leave. And Pap-pa came out to the tent and told my parents, “Give me that baby.” I didn’t need to be sleeping in a tent with a bear on the loose, he told them. I needed to be safe in the trailer. And so I was.

Mom said, the next day they took a closer look at the camping box and saw claw marks on it where the bear tried to get into it.

I love that story, and I’m so glad to have found a shirt that allows me to tell it every once in a while. Now, all I need is a little pin of a bear to help make the image complete.



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Secrets of Finding Family Through DNA

You’ve gotten your DNA results, but something’s missing. Where is your family tree? Where is the list of your famous relatives, proven by science?

That’s gonna take some work.

Yes, my friend, genealogical research is the first secret of finding family through DNA.

When I tested in 2013, I wasn’t sure what to expect. DNA testing was still somewhat new for the home market. I won my kit from a blog sweepstakes, when 23andMe was doing a marketing push online. The main thing I was curious about – as with so many people – was whether I really had any Native American blood, as the family lore suggests.

White box with a colorful 23andMe logo and the tagline "Welcome to You."

23andMe Test Kit

And there it was. 0.7%.

Okay, that’s cool. What’s next? Oh, here’s a list of DNA matches. Surely I’ll recognize a few surnames. I think I had around 700 matches back then.

Nope, I didn’t recognize a single name.

Who are these people?

Granted, I knew just a few family stories, most going back one or two generations. I knew these names: Hahn, Silcox, Cook, Allison, Stevens, Pittman.

Now, we all have 16 great-great-grandparents. That’s 16 surnames. (Unless your family is from the South. I have 15 surnames at that generation, because my paternal grandparents were second cousins.)  Anyway, lots of potential surnames for third cousins.

But wait, there’s more. Let’s say, in addition to your ancestors each pair of great-great-grandparents produced two other children, one boy and one girl. Those girls got married and changed their names. They each had a daughter, who got a new name. I’m not good with math, but that’s at least 20-something more surnames to get through. And in the 1800s and even early 1900s it was common for people to have 6, 8, 12 children. Then they’d get remarried and have some more.

If you know six surnames, and your third cousin knows six surnames, you’re both scratching your heads wondering how on Earth you’re related.

(By the way, if you’re still figuring out how you’re related to your second, third, and fourth cousins, several websites have a handy chart. I like the one at Flowing Data. It also explains that whole “once removed” thing.)

So, the second secret of finding family through DNA is: you have to build your family tree backwards, forwards, and to the side. That way, you can look at your third (or fourth or fifth) cousin’s list of surnames or their much-smaller-than-yours family tree and more easily find the connection.

The third secret is knowing where all these ancestors lived. I know my maternal grandfather’s family lived for three generations in Marian County, Georgia. When my DNA match has connections to Georgia, I check that branch of the family first.

Here’s a story: I had a DNA match to a man, surname Lawrence. I sent him some of my surnames, and he wrote back that he was only researching the Lawrence family. I was told he was the grandson of Cager Britt Lawrence, whose past was unknown prior to his arrival in Buena Vista, Georgia. Google Maps showed me that Buena Vista is in – you guessed it – Marian County. A thorough look through my Cook family tree showed that Cager Lawrence married Lou Della Cook, my great-great grandfather’s sister.

There is no fast easy way to make sense of your DNA results. It takes time and some detective skills, but consider this: as long as you share your findings with other members of your family (siblings, children, and even a few fifth cousins once removed), you are helping create a legacy for your entire extended family.

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The Science of DNA Heritage

You’ve sent in your spit or your swab, and now you’re waiting on the DNA company to send you your results, to tell you who your family is and where you came from.

When the results come in, you’ll get a list, and perhaps a map, of your ethnic makeup.

MyOrigens map generated by Family Tree DNA from my test results.

MyOrigens map generated by Family Tree DNA from my test results.

I’m 97% European, with traces of Native American, Asian, and African.

The DNA companies will all give you slightly different results. That’s because they’re comparing you to different people.

Here’s now the DNA ethnicity results are generated. The companies each collected DNA samples from hundreds or thousands of people who knew their ancestry. I don’t know how they found these people, and I don’t know how accurate their family trees are. They convinced the company that their people had been in the area of Frankfurt, Germany, or the Loire Valley in France, or Manchester, England for at least a couple of generations. Then the company compares my DNA to theirs and determines where I’m from based on where they get the strongest matches.

So, your ethnicity is reliant on the accuracy and size of the company’s database. They’re at least somewhat accurate.  I know my great-great grandfather came over from Germany when he was a teenager. It’s not just family lore; I’ve found documents supporting it.

Based on my family tree, I’m 1/16 German. Here are the results from three companies:

  • 23andMe: 17.4% French and German
  • My Heritage: 30.4% North and West European
  • Family Tree DNA: 48% West and Central European

I didn’t test at all three places. I sent my spit to 23andMe, then I downloaded my raw data and uploaded it to the other two companies, who analyzed it using their databases.

As the companies build their databases, the results will become more accurate, and more focused. For now, it’s a good tool for general information on your ethnic background.

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