On the Trail of a Florida Pioneer – #Genealogy

I never thought of my ancesters as being pioneers. That’s a term I associate with the American West, and my people lived mostly in the East and South. When I identified my great-great grandfather’s parents, I learned that, indeed, they did blaze a new trail, right here in Northwest Florida.

Map of Western Florida in 1827 from The Florida Center For Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida.*

Map of Western Florida in 1827 from The Florida Center For Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida.*

Let’s start with my great-great grandfather, Isaac Pittman. Boy, was he a tough nut to crack. My mother remembered his name, and her grandmother, Mollie Pittman Stevens, had a framed portrait of him. We did not know who his parents were or where he was born.

In researching his wife, Mosella Elizabeth Thompson Pittman, I had found some U.S. Census records with a little bit of information. Trouble is, it was contradictory.

The 1880 Census, when Isaac and Mosella were living with her family in Alabama, says Isaac was born in Mississippi. So were his parents.

In the 1930 Census, his daughter Mollie (my great-grandmother) said her father was born in Alabama. Her brother Cleve (short for Grover Cleveland) reported the same thing.

I started asking myself if I’d somehow made a mistake.

Then, I finally found the 1900 Census, the last one while Isaac was living. It was mis-indexed under Patman instead of Pittman. That one says Isaac was born in Florida.


Three U.S. Census records. Three different birthplaces for Isaac Pittman (and his parents).

Three U.S. Census records. Three different birthplaces for Isaac Pittman (and his parents).

I had to make an educated guess. In 1880, he was living with his in-laws. I don’t know who was giving the census taker the information but Isaac might not have been home. His children may have assumed he was born in Alabama because that’s where they were born. But in 1900, he was the head of the household, and probably he or his wife were giving the information. Therefore, it had to be the most accurate.

Turns out, that was the right choice.

When I started looking in Florida, I found a 9-year-old Isaac Pitman in the 1850 Census. He was living in the newly-formed (as of 1848) Holmes County with his parents, Thomas E. and Elizabeth. Thomas E. Pittman was, indeed, listed as born in South Carolina (although Elizabeth was born in Georgia). I still felt I was on the right track, because Isaac named one of his sons Thomas E. Another of his children is Nancy Charity, just like his sister. It appears to show Thomas the elder’s parents living with them; their names are Isaac and Rutha.

U.S. Census for 1850 shows Isaac Pittman living in his parents' home and confirms he was born in Florida.

U.S. Census for 1850 shows Isaac Pittman living in his parents’ home and confirms he was born in Florida.

By 1860, most of the family had moved to South Alabama. Thomas’s son George Washington Pittman stayed in the Hurricane Creek area, according to a Holmes County Heritage Book, and was quite prosperous.  Isaac the younger married Elizabeth Thompson (see my previous post for more on that), and after his death, the family returned to Florida, this time to Escambia County, where some of his descendants still live.

I found a couple more interesting documents for the pioneering family. One is a land grant to Isaac Pittman for property in what is now Holmes County.

U.S. Land Grant designating property in the Territory of Florida to my great-great-great-great grandfather Isaac Pittman.

U.S. Land Grant designating property in the Territory of Florida to my great-great-great-great grandfather Isaac Pittman.

The other document is the voter rolls from Florida’s first election in 1845 listing Thomas Pittman on line number 28.

Document from Florida's first election in 1845 showing voter Thomas Pittman.

Document from Florida’s first election in 1845 showing voter Thomas Pittman.

The final piece in the puzzle came via email from my cousin, who has Mollie Stevens’ Bible in her possession. A note at the top of the page says it’s copied from her husband’s family Bible. It confirms that Isaac’s mother was born Elizabeth Thompson. It lists two children who died very young, one named W.O. after her father, the other named Ruthia after Isaac’s grandmother. Their names never appeared on a census, but in 1900, Elizabeth Thompson Pittman reported that she’d had nine children and seven were living.

Pages from Mollie Pittman Stevens' Bible.

Pages from Mollie Pittman Stevens’ Bible.

I’m now searching for additional documents to confirm the chain from Isaac Pittman, born 1967, down to me, in order to apply for Florida Pioneer Status. My ancestors deserve to be recognized for their part in Florida’s road to statehood.

*Map courtesy FCIT.

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How I found my great-great-great-great grandpa – #Genealogy

On April 6 2015, I saw #NationalTartanDay trending on Twitter. I’d been told some of our people came from Scotland, and I had a couple of hours, so I thought I’d figure out what my family’s tartan is.

Seven months later, I still haven’t figured out for sure what clan my people belong to, but I have made some progress in the family tree. The line I’m most proud of is on my maternal grandmother’s side. I knew her name and her parents’ names, but that’s all I could remember. Here’s how I identified my great-great-great-great grandfather, born in 1774.

I started building my family tree on FamilySearch.org. It’s a free website and it has a lot of research tools built right in.  It’s a collaborative site, meaning that when I typed my Pap-pa’s name in, it recognized him and started filling in branches based on research done by other family members. Mam-ma’s side, I got nothin’.

Mollie and Billie Stevens' gravesite. Photo by Doug Lindsey posted on FindAGrave.com.

Mollie and Billie Stevens’ gravesite. Photo by Doug Lindsey posted on FindAGrave.com.

I filled in her parents’ names, and started looking for documents relating to them. I found a photo of their headstones in Clopton Cemetery here in Pensacola. That gave me their birth and death dates.  I also found U.S. Census records from 1910, 1930, and 1940. The 1910 Census included my Mam-ma who was just a toddler. I remembered that Grandma Stevens’ maiden name was Pittman, but I couldn’t remember her parents’ given names. I did recall that Mam-ma grew up in Muscogee, a community in North Escambia County. My next step was to find census records for that part of the county and start looking for Pittmans.

I found one for 1920: E. Pittman, a widow with three adult sons and a boarder. Of course, her daughter Mollie was already married and in a home of her own, but when I saw the sons’ names, I knew I was on the right track. I remembered hearing about Uncle Medrick and Uncle Tom when I was growing up.

Excerpt from U.S. Census of 1920.

Excerpt from U.S. Census of 1920.

I wanted her parents’ names, though, and it wasn’t much to go on. The first initial E, her age, and that she was born in Alabama. It did give me an idea: I could look for Mollie and her brothers’ names. All that information, sketchy though it was, lead to my next discovery, the 1910 Census.

U.S. Census of 1910 listing the Pittman family.

U.S. Census of 1910 listing the Pittman family.

But wait — she’s 48 in 1910, and yet the 1920 form says she’s 50. Or maybe they’ve tried to change that 5 to a 6. So, how old is she really?

Portrait of Isaac Pittman in the possession of my mother.

Portrait of Isaac Pittman in the possession of my mother.

I had asked my mom if she remembered her grandparents’ names, and she drew a blank. Later, though, it came back to her that her grandfather’s name was Isaac Pittman, and she even has a picture of him.  The 1910 Census lists a son named Isaac (badly misspelled — and did you noticed Medrick’s name was spelled differently both times?), but it all seems to be coming together.

I still had no clues to help me find Elizabeth’s parents.

Then I found a death certificate. The actual image is not online, but the transcript gives her full name, her age, her husband’s name, her father’s name and birthplace, and a birth month and year. It took me a while to find this because the last name is misspelled, and so is Isaac’s first name. Turns out, her dad’s first name is, too.

A transcript of Mosella Elizabeth Pittman's death certificate.

A transcript of Mosella Elizabeth Pittman’s death certificate.

At that point, though, it was the best clue I had, so I started hunting for an Ira Thompson in Alabama. In the 1870 Census, I found a Thompson in Baldwin County, where Elizabeth had been living in 1910, and he had a daughter named Betty, who’s about the right age. But his first name is Ory, not Ira. Now, I don’t know how literate Elizabeth’s sons were, who were filling out the death certificate, and I don’t know how well they knew or remembered their grandfather. Ira’s fairly close to Ora. So, this could be the right family.

1870 Census listing the family of Ory Thompson with a daughter called Betty.

1870 Census listing the family of Ory Thompson with a daughter called Betty.

The next record is pretty much a clincher. In 1880, Ory’s daughter is married. She’s now going by Elizabeth Pittman, and her husband, Ory’s son-in-law, is named Isaac Pitman.

1880 Census for Ory Thompson family listing Isaac and Elizabeth Pittman.

1880 Census for Ory Thompson family listing Isaac and Elizabeth Pittman.

One mystery remains. Her death certificate says her full name is Mosella Elizabeth. I haven’t found anything else that says Mosella. Elizabeth is a pretty common name. And add to that, the 1910 and 1920 Census forms ask for the birthplace of each person’s parents. Medrick and the other children list their father’s birthplace as Alabama. Yet the 1880 Census says Isaac was born in Mississippi. Am I looking at the right family or not?

Then I found it. The piece that puts it all together. A marriage bond issued by the State of Alabama to Isaac Pittman and Mosella E. Thompson. They were married at the home of O. Thompson — that would be Ory. They were married on April 15, 1880, just a couple of months before the Census that showed them living in Ory’s household.

Marriage record for Mosella E. and Isaac Pittman.

Marriage record for Mosella E. and Isaac Pittman.

That’s settled then. Now, on to the next generation: Ory’s parents. I looked through old court records for Baldwin County and found an estate record giving Ory’s name as Origen Thompson. All the kids’ names matched up, so I was confident that I found the right person. When I searched Census records for Origen Thompson in Baldwin County, Alabama, I found him living in his father’s household.

The 1850 Census shows Origen Thompson living in his father's household.

The 1850 Census shows Origen Thompson living in his father’s household.

So, my great-great-great-great grandfather is William Thompson, born in South Carolina around 1774. Sadly, that’s all I know for sure. Google helped me find a discussion of his family that gives a wife’s name of Annie Odom or Odem, but I haven’t found any documents proving that. Prior to 1850, only the head of household is listed on the Census form, so that’s no help for finding who his parents are. A later Census lists Ory’s parents as being from Georgia. so perhaps they lived there for a time. I will continue to search for information, and new documents come online all the time, so I have every hope that someday I’ll find my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, too.

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‘Tis the Season for Genealogy

If you’ve been thinking of looking into your family history and starting to fill out your own family tree, now is the time. I mean, not just “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” but “The holidays are the best time to start.”


Think of the family gatherings. Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas vacation. All those parties, christmascreativecommonsflickrmaybe even a wedding or a baby shower. It’s the perfect time to ask questions. What’s grandma’s middle name? What’s Uncle Charlie’s birthdate? Where was Aunt Eva born?

Caution: Some families bicker and argue over everything from the spelling of a name to whether grandma’s family in Germany was Jewish or not, to who was great-great-great grandpa because he was married to someone but it wasn’t to your great-great-great grandmother. If you’re taking notes (and you should), just jot down the different opinions and ask someone for their casserole recipe to change the subject.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiRtKG9r_fPAhXL34MKHVh7B0cQjhwIBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.webdesignhot.com%2Ffree-vector-graphics%2Fabstract-green-tree-vector-illustration%2F&psig=AFQjCNGH3IanM4q6PA2SOPJBGk0HLdIKpA&ust=1477533531210419Before you pack the car, take a little time to write down what you know (or think you know). Ancestry has a printable 4-generation chart. Misbach.org has one that fits 6-generations on one page. Start with yourself and work your way back. You may want to use a pencil in case you find out the name your grandfather always used isn’t his legal name.

Sidebar: About 23 years ago, my mom called and said my grandfather was in the hospital. I went to the hospital to see him. I went to the desk and asked for Hoyt Cook, and they said they didn’t have anyone by that name. Remember, this was before cell phones, and my mother was at the hospital. Somewhere. Unreachable. Eventually, I got it sorted out, and come to find out, Hoyt was my grandfather’s middle name, and they booked him under his legal first name. I kind of knew that, but not well enough to recall it in the lobby of a hospital where he’d been taken rather suddenly. Use a pencil.

If you fill out a couple of generations before you get to the family gathering, it shouldn’t take long to verify what you have and make corrections or additions. Then you can start asking what you don’t know, like your great-great grandparents’ names and where they’re from.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwid6aS9sPfPAhWl7YMKHWAxDi8QjhwIBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wikihow.com%2FDesign-a-Family-Tree&psig=AFQjCNEVt1Lz1u6Nsw7rXFff9nXTMpN43g&ust=1477533787859769The more you can find out from your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or even family friends, the better armed you will be to start finding the answers that can fill in the blanks that no one knows.

I got a late start at genealogy. I was always moderately interested in the family history, but while I enjoyed hearing the stories of hog thieves and hellraisers, I didn’t really commit any of it to memory or write it down. Now my grandparents are all gone, and my mom’s memory isn’t what it used to be. The families are spread out and we aren’t able to get together in person as much as we once did. So, if you’re still young, please, fill out the chart now, even if you just stick it in a drawer for now. Someday, you (or your kids) will be glad to have it.

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Star Wars Fan Fiction

If you follow my blog or my Twitter account, you know I’m a longtime fan of the Star Wars saga. In 1987, at the 10th anniversary convention in Los Angeles, I learned about an unofficial club called Forces of the Empire. I eventually joined and became an active member for several years.

Cover of booklet containing the guidelines for members of Forces of the Empire.The club’s focus was on continuing the adventures through fiction and (occasionally) live action role-playing. Members lived all over the world, so even when we did have our annual get-together at MediaWest*Con in Lansing, Michigan, not all the members could be there.

I created several characters. Jazz Calbison is a pilot in the Rebel Alliance who finds out she has the Force, turns to the Dark Side, then gets turned back to the Light. RoAsha Br’yl-Castan is a diplomat from the planet Shandalay. Arani Adja is an Imperial officer. Qasimir Rave is a mercenary.  Corian Aca is a Sith.

Recently, I was going through a huge file of club-related paperwork, and I came across a series of interconnected stories. They involve several of my characters. These would have been written around 1993, as they also include characters (Shockeye and Aslan) developed for my then-brand-new husband to play at MediaWest*Con.

A certificate stating that my Imperial persona, Arani Adja, had been promoted to Lieutenant Senior Grade.

When my Imperial officer earned a promotion, I received this certificate.

These stories are mostly set-up for what was supposed to be a very involved storyline. Life got in the way and I ended up dropping out of FOE, but I think you’ll be able to see where they’re going. It took a few minutes to decide what would be the best reading order. “Maris Veramor” is first, because it takes place during the Jedi purge (remember, these stories were written pre-prequels and well before “Order 66”). The others all take place about ten years after Return of the Jedi. They’re PDFs, so this will take you to another page, where you have to click again to view.

Maris Veramor

Star Crux

Destiny’s Crossroads


Night Work


Remember, these were written nearly several years before the prequels and 22 years before The Force Awakens (dang, I’m old). I do have a mention of Coruscant; that planet was established in the then-new Timothy Zahn novel “Heir to the Empire.”

I hope you enjoy reading the stories, and I look forward to hearing what you think of them.

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Storm Warning: Should you evacuate?

Satellite photo of Hurricane Ivan.

Hurricane Ivan, 2004

I’ll not soon forget the night I was working as a TV news producer, cranking out the 10pm newscast with a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. I answered the news hotline and a frantic woman was on the other end. She wanted someone to tell her what to do, where to go.

As a news producer, I gave people the facts, information that they could use to make a decision for themselves. It wasn’t my place to tell this woman whether to stay or go or whether she should head north, east or west, just as I cannot write here what you should do in the event a hurricane is coming your way. I can tell you what to consider when you’re making up your mind what to do.


If you’re a few miles inland, not in a flood zone, in a well-built house, you can probably ride out the storm at home. You’ll want to have at least three days worth of food and water for the humans and animals that share your life. Flashlights, a radio, and extra batteries. Fill up your car and get an extra can of gas in case it’s a few days before you can fill up again. Extra gas if you have a generator. Refill your prescriptions if you need to, stock your first aid kit, and it’s not a bad idea to have a couple of tarps and a rope on hand in case you have some damage. Board up your windows and pick up anything in your yard that could become a missile in 150mph winds. Be prepared, and you’ll probably be just as safe as you would in the closest school.


If you live within a mile or two of the coast, you may be at risk of storm surge aka inland flooding. The best way I can describe storm surge is to tell you that it’s the highest high tide you will ever experience. It is a wall of water, with waves on top, and it can literally sweep a house off its foundation.

The residents of Grande Lagoon subdivision in Pensacola, Florida, learned that from Hurricane Ivan. About 30 residents stayed in their waterfront homes during the storm, and several died.

Standing water fills a residential road in Escambia County, Florida. after 6 inches of rain.

Flooding can be a concern anywhere.

Even if you don’t live right on the coast, if you live in a flood zone, chances are you’ll be dealing with high water. Rivers crest and drainage systems are quickly overtaxed, especially when branches and other debris start blowing around.

Rising flood waters not only put you at risk of drowning, it’s an unsanitary situation that could lead to infection or disease.


Is anyone in your household dependent on electricity? If someone relies on an oxygen machine or other medical equipment, keep in mind that it’s very rare not to lose power in a tropical storm. It’s not impossible that your power will stay on, but I wouldn’t count on it.

If it’s really difficult for you to evacuate, call your power company NOW and talk to someone about their priorities in a massive outage. They may be able to put you on a “medically necessary” list, ensuring that your neighborhood is one of the first to be restored. Bear this in mind: power crews can’t just rush in anywhere. Downed trees have to be cleared. New poles may have to be erected to replace ones that break or fall during the storm. If you live down a dirt road, a road prone to flooding, or if there are any other hazards, they may have the best intentions to get to you and still not make it.


Don’t wait until a disaster is imminent to consider your options. Think about all the different factors, such as heavy winds, torrential rain, potential for tornadoes, and your personal need for electricity. While the sun is still shining, decide what you’ll do, so that when the storm is coming, you waste no time; you can just act.

And please, if you do go, don’t leave your pets behind!

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The nuclear threat and TV movie-as-warning

The Day After TV movie advertisement

The Day After TV movie advertisement

Back in 1983, just about everybody watched the made-for-TV movie “The Day After.” The 33-year-old film became a hot topic again, at least for a few hours, when its airing was re-lived in the 2016 TV series “The Americans.”

Coincidentally, I was going through some folders in my filing cabinet and came across a 9-page essay about “The Day After.” No author’s name is listed. I think it was probably written by my Canadian pen-pal, Chris Scott, because it was next to some other items she had mailed to me.

This essay would have been written in the mid- to late

Cover of Newsweek magazine with the headline "TV's nuclear nightmare."

Newsweek magazine cover from the time.

1980s, fairly soon after the movie aired. Today, we are in a different world. I thought some of you who have a new or renewed interest in “The Day After” would enjoy a perspective untempered by time and a changing world order.

I have uploaded it as a PDF file. You can download it by clicking the following text link:

Essay on “The Day After”

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Why Star Wars Fans Stand in Line

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENSStar Wars: The Force Awakens opens on Friday (well, Thursday really, but the official opening date is December 18th), and around the country, fans are already lining up to see the movie. Most of those fans bought their tickets weeks ago, leading some youngsters to question their sanity.

Some will say that you still need to line up, because having a ticket doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a center seat or an aisle seat or that you’ll get to sit with your friends. The first people in line are the first in the theater. That is one valid excuse for lining up, but here’s the real, deep-seated reason.

It’s part of the Star Wars mythos.

star wars sf chronicle 920x1240

San Francisco Chronicle, 1977

You see, boys and girls, back in the dark ages of 1977, you actually had to stand in line to buy a ticket. Some theaters only sold tickets for the next show — meaning if you wanted to see the 8:20 p.m. showing, you had to buy it after the 6:00 p.m. screening started. When the first Star Wars (now known as Episode IV: A New Hope) opened, no one knew just how big a phenomenon it was going to be. There weren’t a lot of multiplexes, and the ones that had multiple screens probably had just two or three. And this was a time when you had to have a physical 35mm print to run through your projector, so there was no programming a blockbuster to show on three or four screens from one digital copy on a hard drive in the projection booth. One print=one showing. Star Wars is just about two hours long, so one print=about nine showings a day, if you ran it around the clock and allowed just 19 minutes to get one audience out, clean up their trash, and hustle the next audience in.

Star Wars Portland Oregon -3ffe39502f9da645

The Oregonian, 1977

Just about everyone wanted to see Star Wars and a lot of people saw it two or three or a hundred times. So you begin to understand why film goers back then found themselves standing in line.

Even when we got to 1980 and The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in 1983, you still had issues of maybe one theatre in your average-sized town had the right to show the movie, and they only had it on one or two screens. If you wanted to see the movie, you got in line, and if you wanted to see the first screening, you got in line really early.

Auriette with an unidentified Darth Maul, waiting in line for "The Phantom Menace"

Auriette with an unidentified Darth Maul, waiting in line for “The Phantom Menace”

I didn’t see the first movie until August of 1978 (thank you, Uncle Howitt), and even though the movie had been out for a year, people still stood in line for at least a little while to buy tickets. I don’t remember a long wait for The Empire Strikes Back; I went with a group of nerds who were taking PE in summer school so we didn’t have to deal with it during the school year. I do remember the movie opened in Pensacola a week or two late, while the theater got upgraded for 70mm. By Return of the Jedi, I made up my mind, I was seeing the first showing, and I got to the theater around three or four o’clock in the morning; I was the third person in line, and I made two really good friends that day.

By the time the prequels rolled around, the lines for the first screenings (at midnight on opening day) were like a party. A lot of people come in costume, bring their toys, and just hang out. We all have a shared love of that galaxy far, far away; we’re all excited; and it’s a lot of fun; but I don’t think that’s the primary reason we’re there.

Auriette in Naboo Pilot costume

Yours truly waiting in line for “Revenge of the Sith”

The primary reason, I think, that people wait in line for Star Wars is because it’s tradition. It’s what we had to do for so many years, that we still feel in our hearts that it’s what we should do when we’re seeing a Star Wars movie.

What am I doing this year? I don’t have a costume, and I’m a little confused by the fact the movie is actually opening a day before opening day. Plus, I’m put off by Disney deciding to open it in December instead of the traditional Memorial Day Weekend. So, I got my tickets for Friday afternoon, and I’ll head to the theatre as soon as I get off work. I bought my ticket a few days after they went on sale, and I don’t know what kind of line there’ll be, or if I’ll be able to walk right in and find a seat. Part of me will miss the line experience, and if I love this movie as much as I do A New Hope, then I’ll re-think my options for Episode 8.

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