My Pap-pa, Hoyt Cook (my mother’s father) used to tell us stories about when he was a little Indian boy. These were tall tales about how he crossed the river by using alligators as stepping stones and killed three turkeys and a bear with one arrow. He also told us his mother was part Indian (that’s what we said back in the 1970s, instead of Native American).
I would swear that when I was talking to him about it once, and I asked him if his mother was part Creek, that he told me it was Cree, not Creek. I looked it up in my trusty Book of Knowledge encyclopedia, which informed me the Cree were in Canada, far from Georgia, where my great-grandmother, Dolly Allison Cook, was born.
Decades later, my great-aunt Bonnie Holland, about a year before she passed, said that their mother was part Creek, and that’s what my mom said she’d always heard growing up.
Our Cook-Allison family genealogist Pat Lowe has never found any documentary evidence of Native Americans in our family tree. DNA testing shows a very small percentage – one might say a smidge – of indigenous characteristics.
Going back to the family legend, my mother pointed to some of the family members’ straight black hair as “evidence” of Native American heritage.
Then there’s the story that they had to leave Georgia and go to Oklahoma. Growing up, I always imagined my forefathers marching along the Trail of Tears.
Not so much.
They didn’t leave Georgia until around 1903 or 1904, about 60 years after the enforced relocation of Native tribes. From Pat Lowe, who interviewed many of the older generation before they passed, they went by train and were involved in a train wreck. Dolly Allison’s mother, Delila Bruce, died of injuries from that train wreck. One or two young children followed her to the grave soon after, and her husband, S. John Allison, basically died of a broken heart. The remaining children shortly packed up and moved back to Georgia.
Perhaps someday I’ll find the ancestor who gave me my little smidge of Native American DNA. Until then, I will remember the tall tales and the true stories of my Cook-Allison family.
Her prompts are intentionally designed to allow for multiple interpretations. If you do any family history research, or are simply interested in preserving some of your own memories for future generations, do considering joining in. You don’t have to publish on a blog, as I’ve been doing for the past year. You can save your notes in a computer file. Write them longhand in a notebook. Type an email and distribute to children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins – and let them decide how to preserve them. Getting started is the key.
Many of my ancestors made a fresh start or two. My great-great grandfather William Fredrich Hahn came to the United States from Germany when he was around 13 years old. Approximately six years later, he moved from wherever he lived before to Escambia County, Florida. Records are scarce, so I don’t know what led him to make those moves. He had some success in Escambia County, though. He married my great-great-grandmother Ary Loper, and they had five children. He received two patents on his inventions, though I don’t think they made him any money, or at least not enough to be noteworthy.
William F. Hahn’s grandson Theodore Hahn married Maggie Cooper. Her Cooper ancestors moved from South Carolina to Georgia, and then a few years later to Alabama, when it was still a new state. It wasn’t exactly uncharted territory; they settled in Baldwin County, which had been explored by Spanish and French colonists more than a hundred years before Alabama became a state. It must have been equally exciting and terrifying to head into the unknown.
My great-great-great-great grandfather on my mom’s side, George Cook, got a fresh start after the War of 1812. Born in South Carolina, he got married and settled in Georgia. I’m still trying to figure out who his parents were, and what became of all his children.
I certainly hope to learn more about all these branches of my family this year, and I’m working on my husband’s family tree as well. When it comes to research, every day is a new beginning and a chance to add a little more information to book of our families’ origins.
For me, this post is the beginning of 52 more weeks of exploring and sharing family stories, histories, and records.
This final week of 2020, genealogist Amy Johnson Crow is using her 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge to challenge her followers to think ahead. She asked, “Are you thinking about research goals for next year? Who or what are you wanting to find?”
I would like to find my third great-grandfather, the paramour of Frances Cook of Marian County, Alabama. The story passed down is that Frances’ eight children, born between 1857 and 1874, all have the same father.
My cousin Pat Lowe, who’s been researching the family for decades, was given a possible name. DNA matches to that family tend to go back to a female, so I’ve stopped looking for evidence to support that claim, and now I’m just looking for any cousins who don’t fit into what we know about the rest of the family.
The best tool I have is my great-aunt Bonnie Cook Holland’s DNA. The mystery man is her great-grandfather. I found a second cousin and was able to get just enough information from the account manager to begin my research. I’ve traced the family back to Georgia, and one branch is from an area close to where Frances lived. It’s tantalizing, but I have a lot more work to do.
I have other brick walls, too, more than I’ll list here. These are the ones I particularly would love to solve.
Frances’ parents, George Cook and Rebecca Jane Johnson – who were their parents.
Great-great grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side William A. Stephens (or Stevens) – who were his parents?
Great-great grandfather on my dad’s side William Fredrich Hahn – who were his parents and was he really born in Berlin?
5x great grandfather Henry Stephens on my dad’s side – who was his son, who I believe was my 4x great grandfather, and who were his parents?
On my mom’s side, my 4x great grandmother was Theodosia P. something. First husband’s last name was Rickard or Rikard. Perhaps her maiden name starts with P. Perhaps her maiden name is Lawrence; records from another cousin show my 3x great grandmother’s name is Elizabeth Lawrence Rikard.
Beyond continuing my research, I resolve to do more to scan old photos and documents, label them in metadata, and share them on FamilySearch and elsewhere, including this blog, and I resolve to write about my family every week by continuing to take part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.
This may have been my first experience with snow. I was born in Spain in late 1965, and we returned to the U.S. (well, my parents returned; I came for the first time) in early 1966. In November 1966, just before Thanksgiving, we headed west from Pensacola to my dad’s new duty station in Seattle. Along the way, we visited Sequoia National Park. In the snow. I don’t really remember it, but last year, we had the slides scanned.
When I was four, we moved to Dunoon, Scotland. My dad was stationed at Holy Loch. In the fall, right after I turned 5, I started school. I turned right out of our yard and walked along a low stone wall a bit, and then I turned left. I think I walked downhill to get to school and uphill to go home (as opposed to uphill both ways). I remember my mom told me not to touch the snow and get my mittens wet, and as soon as I made that right turn, I ran my mittened hand in the snow along the top of the wall.
Later, I know it snowed when we lived in Virginia. I really don’t remember ever doing anything with any of the snow, like building a snowman or making snow angels or even throwing snowballs.
I made a snowman once in Florida. We were living in Pensacola and probably had an inch of accumulation. The snowman was about 5″ tall. I kept it in a baggie in the freezer for years until it either shrunk from freezer burn or melted in a power outage.
In 1992, I got married, and we lived in Missouri for the first year and a half. The first snow, while my husband was getting ready for work, I took the broom and went down and cleaned off the car for him. After breakfast, when he said, he’d better head down from our apartment a little early, so he could clean the car off, I proudly told him I’d taken care of it. Then he pointed out that it had started snowing again! I was so mad! That winter, I also fell on my keister twice from slipping on the ice. Tim insists it was a mild winter (and tells the story of when they didn’t have school, or electricity, for weeks because of a snowstorm. Brrrrr!
In March 1993, my grandmother died, and I flew back to Pensacola for the funeral. Tim followed a couple of days later and by that time the Storm of the Century was moving in, so his flights were delayed. Grandma was buried on Friday, March 12th, and the snow fell on Saturday. We got an inch or two of accumulation. Tim and I both laughed because they closed all the overpasses, and we’d both (by that time) driven in worse snow than Pensacola had that day. A few months later, though, we moved south.
For years after that, the Pensacola area had occasional flurries, with tiny little snowflakes that might last for a minute or two on a cold car, but would melt very quickly on your hand. We even had some once on Christmas or perhaps Christmas Eve.
Then came 2014. It wasn’t so much snow that started falling on January 28th, but freezing rain. It layered up until the entire greater Pensacola area was essentially a solid sheet of ice. I worked in the news, so I geared up and went to the car, and I couldn’t get in. The doors were frozen shut. We worked on it for hours, heating the key to try to get it to go into the ignition. Scraping the windows with credit cards. Finally, we got in and turned it on to warm up and try to melt the rest of the ice on the windows. When we could see, Tim said he would try to drive me. We got about a mile and a half down the road (it’s maybe 5 miles to my work) and Tim said, nope, and turned back. He was more worried about the way other drivers were sliding around. When we turned around, we saw one of my colleagues with a news vehicle interviewing the deputy who was guarding one of the overpasses (it really was a good thing to close it that day). So, Tim let me out, and I slowly slid (without falling!) my way over to the crew and bummed a ride with them. By the time I got off work, the roads were clearer due to people driving on them all day, and Tim was able to pick me up.
So far, this is the only photo I have identified of Annie Olive Givens Silcox. She is holding her son John D. “Jay” Silcox (1924-1995).
Annie is my great-grandmother. She was born around 1903 to John David Givens (1867-1941) and Ellen Elizabeth Parker. John David was the fourth child and oldest son of Joseph Harvell Givens.
The earliest record I have for Annie is in the 1910 Census. She is living in her father’s household in Walnut Hill, Escambia, Florida.
On April 28th, 1918, she married Henry David “Dave” Silcox in Escambia County. On June 19th, 1919, she gave birth to my paternal grandmother Malzie Elizabeth Silcox. Interestingly, everyone always said Malzie was born in Alabama, and her birth is registered in Alabama, but a note on the register said she was born in Muscogee, Escambia, Florida.
We find Annie and her growing family in the 1920 Census taken in Baldwin County, Alabama, and that’s where they remain in 1930. Between 1935 and 1940, she and Dave moved to Escambia County, Florida.
Annie was known to her many grandchildren as Bama.
She died in Pensacola on October 19, 1960. My mother recalls that Annie had been having stomach pains and had surgery, and she never woke up after. She is buried in the Enon Baptist Church graveyard, though the grave was never marked. Years later, my dad, Bill Hahn, tried to find the grave with intention to place a headstone, but the location could not be identified.
I’m taking part in a genealogy challenge developed by Amy Johnson Crow called “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” The idea is to write something each week about your family history, and Amy provides a new prompt (a word or phrase) to help kickstart the creative process.
As you may have guessed from the title, this week’s prompt is “Witness to History.”
Wow. That’s a big one.
I think we all realize that we’re living history right now. I mean, 2020. What the heck?! The year began with the novel coronavirus spreading rapidly through parts of China and thence to the rest of the world. Massive wildfires left incredible damage in Australia and the Western United States, and we had several going at once here in Northwest Florida early in the year. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Hurricane season set new records left and right; my hometown was directly impacted by Hurricane Sally in September.
I decided to look back at some past hurricane seasons and see how one branch of my family might have been affected.
You know, I think about this sometimes. On the one hand, they probably had no kind of warning that a hurricane was coming. What must they have thought as the wind picked up and just kept getting stronger and stronger? They didn’t have the opportunity to board up windows or make other preparations. On the other hand, they didn’t have power to go out, so they didn’t have to worry about food spoiling, and they had no air conditioning to miss.
In 1850, my great-great-great-great grandfather Isaac Pittman was living with his son and grandchildren in Holmes County, Florida. If you start at the western edge of the Florida panhandle and count five counties over, the small boxy one close to the Alabama state line is Holmes County. It’s very close to one of those red lines. I don’t know if this storm affected my family. That would depend on how large the storm was and how quickly it moved through. Also, by 1860, the family had moved to Baldwin County, Alabama (just west of the Florida state line), and I don’t know when that move occurred; maybe they were gone by the time it hit, although I know some of the extended family remained in Florida.
The 1860 and 1870 Censuses show my great-great-great grandfather Thomas Pittman living in Mobile, Alabama. That little southern panhandle of Alabama is divided into two counties, with Mobile Bay in the middle. Mobile County is on the left and Baldwin County on the right. The Pittman family would most definitely have felt the impact of this hurricane, which had a similar track to Hurricane Zeta in 2020. Thomas Pittman was a farmer; judging by the effects of Zeta this year, I imagine he suffered losses because of the storm.
The resource I found for historical hurricanes did not have a map showing landfalls for 1870 to 1879.
In 1880, Thomas Pittman was living in Baldwin County and “working at home” according to the U.S. Census. His son Isaac was also living in Baldwin County, with his new wife and her family, the Thompsons. He was working as a teamster. It’s unclear when in the decade this one storm made landfall in the area of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. A compact storm, like Hurricane Dennis in 2005, may have been barely felt at all in Baldwin County. A broad storm, like Hurricane Katrina, also 2005, could have downed trees, leaving roads impassible. Strong winds could easily pick up and smash wagons or stagecoaches.
Military pension records suggest that Thomas Pittman died in or before May 1894, just a few months before a major hurricane made landfall dead center of the Baldwin County coast. His widow, Elizabeth Ward, likely lived through this storm, as did Isaac and his family. By 1900, the U.S. Census listed Isaac as a farmer, so whether he was still driving teams in 1894 or was already growing crops, this hurricane very likely affected his livelihood.
How interesting it would be to know when these ancestors of mine first realized that the storm blowing in was going to be worse than usual. What did they see and hear as the storm passed by? What damage did it cause to their home, their crops, their cattle or tools?
I recall my grandfather, Hoyt Cook (who’s connected to the Pittmans by his marriage to the younger Isaac’s granddaughter, Willie Stevens), talking about one major hurricane that came through. I don’t remember now if he was telling his own memory or recounting a story told by one of his ancestors, but he described a piece of pine straw that had been driven into a tree like a nail by the powerful winds.
I’ve been through my share of hurricanes. Frederic in 1979, which made landfall in Mobile. Hurricane Elena in 1985, which kept making loops. Kate, also in 1985, which looked like it might come to Pensacola but ended up turning east (I was in a play and told my director my mother wouldn’t let me leave the house because of the hurricane; I did leave, though, and went to hear Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry speak at the University of West Florida.) Erin and Opal in 1995. Ivan in 2004. Dennis and the very edges of Katrina in 2005. Sally in 2020.
Of them all, from my perspective, Ivan was the worst. That’s based on its effects on the greater Pensacola area. Personally, the house we bought in January of 2004 came through it fine; we lost an awning on one side of the house and our power was out for about three weeks. My parents’ house, not that far away, had more damage from Dennis than Ivan. We lost power for three days after Katrina. A lot of people had major flooding from Sally; our street -which is low – filled up, but nothing got in the house. We did lose power for about a week.
So, my family has been a witness to hurricane history for at least seven generations. Of course, there are a lot of other kinds of history to witness. War, disease, scientific and technological advancement. I wish I knew more about how some of these great events affected my family. Because of that, I’ve also been trying to record how some major events in my lifetime affected me and my family, so that future generations won’t have to wonder.
This is a photo of Rev. Theodore Hahn and his wife Mary Margaret “Maggie” Cooper (1886-1967).
Maggie was the daughter of Henry Merrit Cooper and Sarah Elizabeth Givens, who was the daughter of Joseph Harvell Givens and Mary Susan Holland.
The earliest record I have for Maggie is the 1900 Census. She is living in Lowell, Baldwin County, with her mother, sisters Louella and Norah, and brothers Louis, William, Charles, and Rudolph.
She married Theodore in Baldwin County on 12 May 1905. They had a daughter Emma Estell, who was born and died in 1906.
By 1910, they had two other children, Willie Louise and Ary Lee, but I cannot find the family in the 1910 Census. I have an article – one of those little community briefs about comings and goings – that places them in the Bellview area of Escambia County, Florida, in October 1910.
The 1920 Census shows the couple living in Baldwin County, Alabama, with Willie, Ary, Charles Theodore (my grandfather), Anna Augusta (we called her Aunt Gussie), George Edward, and Daniel Yancey.
By 1930, they had moved to Escambia County, Florida, where Theodore was born. At that time, they were closer to the downtown area.
Later, they moved out to Beulah, just around the corner and down the street from where Charles Theodore and his wife (and 2nd cousin) Malzie Silcox later lived (and years later, my husband I lived on that same property as well).
My mother Zenova Cook Hahn, wife of Charles and Malzie’s son William D. “Bill” Hahn took the attached photo. It was colorized using the free tool at MyHeritage.
I’ve made errors, as we all do at one point or another, while researching my family tree. Most don’t stick with me. I fix them as I realize my mistake, and I move on.
One that I recall was a case of mistaken identity in the newspaper. I found a brief mention of a fire that burned the home of J.W. Stevens in Muscogee. The arson suspect was also charged in another crime in 1928. My great-grandfather was J.W. Stevens and his family lived in Muscogee. My mother doesn’t remember ever hearing about a fire. This was nearly 10 years before she was born, so that’s not definitive proof it’s not the same J.W. Stevens, but I have put that aside for further perusal some other time.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was not making a bigger effort to preserve family videos. We’ve never had central heat and air, and we live in Florida, so I can look through the little windows of the VHS cases and see that they’re not in good shape any longer.
Another error I regret was not writing down the stories and memories of the older folks while I had them around. I sort of remember a few things, but I should have kept notes when I was young and listening to those stories firsthand.
And this one’s just silly: When I first really got into this hobby, the day I discovered FamilySearch and clicked the little arrow to go back and back and back into my family history, I proudly announced to my husband that the reason I’m really into Shakespeare and love tiaras is because I’m descended from royalty.
“Sure,” he said.
Now, every time I’m looking at an ancestor’s profile and there are no sources attached, and I realize that his alleged mother died 15 years before he was born, and his alleged father was born and died in England while my ancestor lived his whole life in the New World, I hear that voice in my head saying, “Sure.”
These two pet peeves are somewhat related, but they occur on different websites.
On FamilySearch, I see a lot of information added to the tree with the notation “GEDcom data.” What that means is that the contributor was working from a family tree that they or someone else built on a computer somewhere. It is NOT a source. A source is an original document or an index or even something that someone told you. My maternal grandmother Willie Stevens Cook, or maybe my mom, told me that Willie’s birthday was January 13, 1909. The source would be personal knowledge. I have a photo of a page from Willie’s mother’s Bible listing that date. I could cite the Bible, which is in the possession of my cousin. I could attach a copy of her birth certificate, which says January 14th, and explain all the reasons why it’s January 13th everywhere else. I shouldn’t say, “GEDcom data.”
In my mind, GEDcom data is the equivalent of saying, “They say….” Like, they say wearing a tinfoil hat will protect you from mind control. Who is they? What evidence do they have that tinfoil can block communication waves? And is tinfoil the same as aluminum foil?
The other pet peeve I have in mind today is found on Ancestry, and it’s a situation that Ancestry has created for some unknown reason. It happens when Ancestry offers a hint about a relative on your tree. Sometimes the hints are actual documents in a collection of historical records. Other times, they’re just pointing out that another family tree has information that might relate to your family. They give you (if you are a paid member) a button to add that information to your family tree. Ancestry does nothing to verify that the information is correct or relevant to your family. If someone else comes along and looks at your family tree, and they look at the sources, they’ll see the tantalizing words “Ancestry Family Tree.” If you click any other source, such as a census record, Ancestry will show you the record. If you click on “Ancestry Family Tree,” you basically get a link to the Ancestry website. I mean, it should at least give you the name of the family tree the person copied and either the date the tree was created or the date the information was copied. If the tree has been deleted, it should say that. With all their algorithms, the system should be able to notified everyone who copied the information if it is later changed or corrected.
If you are building a family tree, please put where you got the information. If you find something on someone else’s family tree online, make a note of whose tree it’s on, and then try to find actual evidence, such as a vital record, a will, a census page. Include that information on the profile, either by attaching a link to the record or leaving a detailed note that will help other family members verify the data. If you’re uploading or copying a GEDcom file, include a note about who created the file and when. Did that person list any sources?
Never assume that anyone else’s work is correct. Review their sources or find your own and cite them. Otherwise, you may as well just be making it all up.
I am thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving week, but this is a genealogy post, so I’m going to focus on that side of my life.
I’m grateful for….
The many online resources that those aforementioned cousins didn’t have access to when they started their research decades ago. FamilySearch. Reclaim the Records. State archives. Library and university archives. Digital books. Special thanks to the employees and volunteers who spent hours and hours and hours creating searchable indexes.
Having DNA samples from my great-aunt and uncle who have since passed on, as well as my mom and her brothers (and on my husband’s side, my mother-in-law). Having a sample from a generation or two further back is such a blessing when trying to figure out which side of the family one of my matches is on. Sometimes they match people I don’t. I am confident their donation of spit and cells will help me solve some family mysteries and break through brick walls.
Access to the Ancestry Library Edition at home. Yes, the coronavirus pandemic is dreadful, and I’m tired of it (as we all are), but the one joy I’ve gotten from it is being able to look stuff up on Ancestry from home at any hour of the day or night. This will not last forever, and believe me, I’d rather be rid of COVID, but for the time being I’m taking great pleasure in the research opportunity.
Never-ending online seminars and webinars. I’ve watched quite a few from the Florida State Genealogical Society and Family Tree Webinars. I’ve also enjoyed talks presented by the Southern California Genealogical Society and the Georgia Genealogical Society, and probably a few others. I’ve seen many presentations advertised that I cannot afford, but all the ones I’ve mentioned here will allow you to watch the event live for free, and FTW gives you up to a week to watch the recording. I have learned so much.
Kinfolk and cousins who’ve done exhaustive research and built accurate and documented trees before I ever got into the hobby. I stand on their shoulders as I strive to add additional sources and take us back another generation or two. In some cases, I found their work after I had done some of my own, and it allowed me to “validate” what I had done beyond simply reviewing the records.
Stories and memories from my mom. I’m so glad she’s still here at age 83, and that I’m able to share some of my genealogical findings with her. It’s amazing to look at old black and white photos with her and have her describe the colors and fabrics of her outfit. Of course, one of the many downsides of this pandemic is that I have a new (now 10 months old) digital recorder that I bought in order to record her stories, but I’ve been trying to reduce my time around her to protect her from potential exposure. There have been many times on the phone that I’ve opened a document and started typing her stories as she tells me. I just have to keep up. I definitely don’t want to lose all those memories when that terrible day comes that I lose her.