#52Ancestors: Favorite Photo

I can’t say that I have “a favorite photo.” I have pictures of myself that I like. In my scanning of family photos, I have found many that I love. Nothing stands out as a “favorite of all.”

I’ve been thinking about this for several days, since the #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks topic was announced for this second week of January, 2020. I sat down to write something Friday morning, but my time was limited, and I just couldn’t decide on the picture.

So, I thought some more.

And this picture kept coming to mind. It was taken during a Christmas gathering at my mother’s parents’ house in Midway, which is an unincorporated community near Navarre in Northwest Florida. The area was also known as Lagniappe (læn’-nee-app) Beach.

Family Christmas in the 1970sNo, it’s not the best photo in the world. The people are blurry. It was dark. I’ve brightened it up and used the color correction tool in Photoshop, but it’s still hard to make things out. And it’s not framed well — that’s half of my Uncle Aldis in the upper left. That looks like Mam-ma’s hand in the lower right, and I don’t know whose arm that is with the white sleeve. That’s my mom in the red top.

What makes it special is what I can see because I know what it is. On those shelves in the back, on the left side you can see a ceramic cat, painted white and ginger. Below that cat is another cat, a plain gray finish to the figure as I recall. On the top shelf are some of Mam-ma’s – Willie Stevens Cook’s – hurricane lamps. On the bottom shelf – it just looks like a black blob to you – is a miniature wood-burning stove with all the little pots and pans. We were allowed to play with that, and the Tinker Toys and Pick Up Sticks that always stayed on those shelves as well. You may be able to tell that the shelves themselves were boards with bricks stacked in between.

Above the shelves, on the wall, see that light-colored vertical banner with the design? Those are fabric holly leaves and berries, cut out and glued on. I remember my mom and I making those.

In the far back, behind me and my Uncle Howitt, is the kitchen. On top of the cabinets (you can’t see them in this photo) is Mam-ma’s collection of pitchers. Behind Aldis’ hand, you can make out one of the bamboo swivel chairs that sat at the bar. I sat there many a time having oatmeal or Mam-ma’s good homemade soup or fried mullet or chicken baked with cream of chicken soup and biscuits.

On the sofa, holding a doll, you can just see some blonde hair. That must be my cousin Wendy, Aldis’ youngest child at the time. She passed away a few years ago in a terrible car wreck that also claimed the life of one of her young sons. I wish I could see her face in this picture.

Down left is the “foot stool,” a gag gift for Pap-pa (Dewey Hoyt Cook). I don’t know if we gave it to him that year or a previous year. A pair of men’s shoes and socks are stuffed and shaped around the two legs of the stool. The top is padded with, I believe, a brownish plaid fabric.

Another thing you can’t see, and I can’t imagine how they didn’t make it into this picture, were the brown paper grocery sacks, a staple of Christmas at the Cook house. Mam-ma filled a sack for each of her children and grandchildren, our names written in marker on the outside. They’d contain small toys, a washcloth with a crocheted ruffle of embroidery thread, or hangers covered with yarn. We each took our turn opening the bag and showing everyone what was inside. Sometimes – to laughter and ribbing – there would be a stick of Tussy deodorant or a bar of soap. It was a little embarrassing to hear the jokes, “You must smell bad!” but we knew we’d be turning it around on the others when they opened their bags.

My dad was in the Navy, so there were many years that we were in another state or another country at Christmastime. When we were in town, we would split our time with my other grandparents as well. Mam-ma and Pap-pa often had their Christmas dinner and gift exchange on a day other than December 25th. I remember very rarely having lunch with one set of grandparents and dinner with another, but that might have been Thanksgiving.  Still, those big family dinners with so much good food, playing with cousins, hugs and happiness, were rare enough to be a treat far beyond the annual occurrence of Christmas.

So, this isn’t necessarily my “favorite” picture, and it’s certainly not the best photo, but it’s a snapshot of those extra-special holidays spent with my extended family.

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Time Travel for Genealogists

Design shows a pocketwatch and the words Time Travel for Genealogists on a swirly background.

These are all the links from a presentation that I prepared for the Baldwin County Genealogical Society in Foley, Alabama. The presentation has been postponed until March.

Inflation Calculator (US): http://www.WestEgg.com/inflation
Inflation Calculator (UK): https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator

Historical Fashion: http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu
Historical Fashion: http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/
Historical Fashion: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Historical Fashion: http://www.ThisVictorianLife.com
Getting Dressed in the 18th Century: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpnwWP3fOSA
Bernadette Banner: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSHtaUm-FjUps090S7crO4Q

Newspapers: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
Newspapers: https://www.theancestorhunt.com/

Sanborn Maps : https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps
Old Maps Online: https://www.oldmapsonline.org/
Atlas of Historical Boundaries: https://publications.newberry.org/ahcbp/index.html

Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/
Townsends: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxr2d4As312LulcajAkKJYw

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Postcards from Germany, Part 1

I spent Christmas Day, 2019, scanning some of my mother-in-law’s old family photos. Some of them had long notes on the back, written in German. Her mother, Helen Schiesl, was born in Munich, or München, in 1892.

Thought I took a couple of years of German in high school, I’m not able to read these. Aside from my limited German, the handwriting is also a challenge, so I am posting them here in hopes I can get help with translating them.

On the first one, the second line, I think I can make out the word photographer or photograph. The picture this note was written on is below it. I think there are names written on, but the ink is smudged a bit over the years. I think perhaps the young man in uniform is Helen’s brother Norbert Schiesl, who may have been killed in World War I.

The links are to profile pages on FamilySearch.org, which is free to use but requires registration.

Postcard from Germany, late 19th or early 20th Century

From the collection of Helen Schiesl Raney

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#52Ancestors: Fresh Start

I had to make a fresh start on researching my family tree when I discovered evidence that a lot of family trees already out there – and even a headstone – were wrong.

When I first started this journey, everyone said my great-great-great grandmother Arminta was the daughter of Daniel McKenzie. The Baldwin County Heritage Book, many family trees online, and even her tombstone (pictured) gave her maiden name as Headstone at the Old Cooper Cemetery in Baldwin County bearing the name Arminta McKenzie Cooper.McKenzie. I started researching her father and was thrilled to find the ancestor who came to the U.S. from Scotland. After all, I started this quest to find Scottish roots and a tartan to call my own. Mission Accomplished!

Then I looked at some marriage records.

Her mother Catharine Stephens married Andrew McKinzie (sic) in 1847.

Arminta was born in 1842, according to her tombstone. Census records put it in the ballpark as well.


Armenta (sic) Stephens married John J. Cooper in 1857.


Then I recalled reading somewhere, perhaps in the heritage book, an explanation for that marriage license – that Arminta must have had a first, brief, marriage to someone named Stephens.

I don’t think so.

I have had just a tiny bit of luck in researching her, our, Stephens ancestors. A New Orleans doctor wrote a report about a yellow fever outbreak that affected her family.

Someday, I hope to discover her biological father’s name and more about his family.

As for the research I did on her step-father, it is time well spent. She clearly considered him her father, for her children and grandchildren to believe all these years that Daniel McKenzie was her dad.

This is a response to the week one prompt in the 2020 #52Ancestors Challenge.

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#52Ancestors: My Memories of 9/11

I signed up to take part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2020. The final prompt of 2019 was “You.” What do you want future generations to know about you?

I have thought for a while that I should write my memories about the morning of 9/11 and the weeks to follow, so here it is.

I was working as a news producer at WEAR-TV in Pensacola, Florida, on September 11, 2001. My shift ended at 7:00 a.m. Central Time, but I was still at work 46 minutes later when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. I don’t remember why I was working late that morning, but the sequence of events is still clear in my mind. At that time, we had a big open newsroom that connected to the studio. The anchor desk was just a few feet from my desk. One of the morning news anchors, Jared Willets, was standing by for a local news cut-in during “Good Morning America.” I heard him say, “Uh-oh, ABC News Special Report.” That meant ABC was cutting into its own programming, which we aired on a one-hour tape delay.

I looked up at one of the TVs in the room and watched a few minutes of the report. Something hit the World Trade Center, smoke was billowing from the upper floors, at least one witness thought it was a small plane. At that time, I think we all thought that it was an accident. I went back to work, and then minutes later, at 8:03 Central Time, I heard another voice from across the room. It was Christian Garman, our meteorologist. He called out, “Did you see that? Another plane just hit the World Trade Center.” At that moment, I think we all realized it was an attack. I remember standing in front of a TV in the newsroom with the other morning show anchor, Sara Baumgartner, and one of us said, “This is an attack,” and the other one said, “It’s Osama bin Laden.” I don’t remember which of us said which. We were both thinking it. He was behind the attack on the U.S.S. Cole just a year earlier, which we had covered extensively. I remember answering a call from one of our reporters, making sure we were watching. I also remember trying to call my mom several times as I tried to quickly finish up whatever I was trying to do before I left work. When I did leave, I drove to my parents’ house, about 15 minutes from the station. They were working in the garden, trying to get some things ready because they were about to go out of town. I was really frustrated because they didn’t quite grasp the significance of what I was trying to tell them. They started trying to talk to me about their trip and things I was going to have to do while they were gone. Finally I said I had to go because I wanted to see what was happening.

It was about a 30 minute drive to my house, so I turned on the radio and started flipping channels trying to find a station with news. That’s when I learned the terrorists had also hit the Pentagon, and that at least one other plane was missing. When I got home, I decided not to wake up my husband; he usually went to bed after I left for work at 10:30pm. We had PrimeStar satellite service then, and instead of local channels, we had ABC News through New York and L.A. For some unknown reason, I had turned on the Los Angeles station, and they were showing video from New York, but every time a reporter would step in front of the camera, they’d cut away. After a while it sank in, and I switched to the New York station. The cats started demanding breakfast, and I went in to fix it for them. When I came back, they were talking about one of the towers collapsing. I could see one tower on the screen, and a lot of dust and smoke, and I couldn’t quite grasp how completely it had collapsed. I thought the other tower must be behind the one I could see and that if they just changed cameras I would be able to see it. Then my mother-in-law called and that’s when I woke Tim up and tried to give him the brief rundown of the day’s events as he stumbled into the living room. He said later that he wished I would have woken him up.

I watched the New York station’s coverage for days. A lot of it was showing photos of people who were missing, where they worked in the tower. It really made it personal for me. Of course, for weeks our newscasts were consumed by reports coming in from New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, where that missing plane crashed. I would work 11pm to 7am, running profiles of the people killed, hearing from survivors, and covering local response — blood drives and memorials and fundraisers. Local K9s went up to search for survivors in the rubble. We talked to local people who were in the towers and survived. A mother from our area lost her daughter at the Pentagon. After work, I would watch the New York station until I went to bed at 2pm. When I got up at 10pm, I would watch CNN to get the latest updates. By the way, those news tickers that scroll the latest headlines and developments at the bottom of the screen (if they still do that when you’re reading this), they started in the wake of 9/11. It probably wasn’t healthy to be so focused on this terrible tragedy, but that’s how it was, at least for me, in large part because I was working in the industry. I remember it was really difficult to start moving away from 9/11 coverage and trying to return to normalcy. It seemed wrong, and yet it was necessary to help people recover from this horrific national event. I recall gradually starting to put back in my “Hollywood Buzz” entertainment segment, and even that, in the beginning, was all about 9/11. Movies were removing the Twin Towers from scenes. Some films were being postponed because they featured terrorist attacks, there were fundraiser concerts, and I remember there was talk of screenwriters and other filmmakers being called upon by Washington to discuss other possible scenarios. Remember, before 9/11 the idea of hijacking a plane and crashing it into a building was fiction.

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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 Newspapers.com 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”

Newspapers.com 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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