Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Wilson heart

'Have a heart' is the brand of the squirrel trap in my back yard. (This will have to be explained in another post). It is usually said to elicit compassion or to say someone has it.

In my grandmother's family it is the mark of the grim reaper. A curse from some Indian medicine man after the Wilson's moved onto Indian lands in Alabama in the 1830s? Who knows how it started.

Through several generations of folks who died young or from heart problems the Wilson family now has the tag of the Wilson heart, one that doesn't last, it wears out early, a heart that won't get you to age sixty.

My great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Wilson died in 1933 at age 58. In his family four of the five sons died young, so the curse got some feet. But actually they all died violent deaths unrelated to the heart. Tractor falling on one, drowning, boat explosion, auto accident. My grandmother Edith lived to be 86 and her brother Walt lived to be 78 , but maybe they were just lucky.

Moses Wilson, the family patriarch who was born in North Carolina, moved into Alabama as the Indians were being displaced and then came to Florida after the civil war, lived to be at least 75. Of his 25 children some died early, but I don't know if it was the Wilson heart or just the short life expectancy of the times. His son, Edward Daniel Wilson died at age 58 in Oneco, Florida. Daughter Caroline Wilson Slaughter died at age 45 in Dade City, Florida and her sister Nancy Catherine Wilson Tait was only 25 when she died nearby. Several cousins have died of heart problems, Gilbert Leroy Wilson of Myakka died at age 62 and his daughter, Hilda Aileen Wilson Brainerd was barely 60 when she died during open heart surgery in Tampa.

In my mom's immediate family, six of the seven kids have some kind of heart problems. A couple of them were diagnosed just recently so the curse must be back.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


RAOGK stands for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. This is a volunteer organization that links people around the US and in many other countries who are interested in genealogy and agree to do research for others at no charge.

I came across RAOGK about 10 years ago when I wanted to do research in Texas. I received great response from the local contact and have used them several times since then.

I decided to volunteer in the Memphis area to do cemetery photos. I don't have any family connections to Memphis so am not too familiar with the local genealogy sources but figured I could take photos.

By far most of the requests come from people who have relatives at Memphis National Cemetery. This is a veteran's cemetery that was established during the Civil War after Memphis fell to the Union army. It is in what is now a rough area of town.

It has thousands of civil war era graves and in fact the 2nd largest number of unknown graves of any cemetery in the US. Many CW casualties were moved here after the war. It also is the final resting place for over 1,000 Union solders who were killed in the USS Sultana explosion on April 23, 1865.

This was the largest maritime disaster in US history but few people know about it. A steamer carrying former Union POWs who had just been released from camps in the South died when the ship exploded. It had over 2,000 people on board and only 800 survived. The ship only had capacity for 376 passengers.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kissin Cousins

People joke about folks in the South marrying our cousins.

Growing up it was always seemed a little strange that my aunt Irene Fulford married a cousin, Hardy Taylor. I always thought they were first cousins but realize now they were only second cousins. Irene was the best looking of the four sisters and probably the best looking girl in Cortez at the time, so I don't blame Hardy.

Anyway, in doing family research I've found a couple other cases that surprised those involved.

The great grandmother of my brother in law, Tom Ryon was Eliza Jane Hendry. Her 2nd cousin, Nancy Jane Hendry was the second wife of James Hamilton Wentworth. After she died he married Elizabeth Green who was the sister of our great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Green. I discovered this after their daughter Rachel was born. So far she doesn't appear to have any ill effects from the cousin connection.

My daughter Kristen was married last summer to Nathaniel Wiewora. His mom does genealogy research and sent me information on their family. It turns out that Kristen's 4th great grandmother, Elizabeth Keathley Caraway is the first cousin (three times removed) of the husband of Nate's grandfather's sister. We decided they were distant enough cousins that it was safe for them to have children, as long as they wait a couple years.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Family Bibles, the whole truth

While doing genealogy research pretty much a required first step is to look at an old family bible. I am fortunate that both my parent's families have preserved old family bibles.

My Great Grandmother on my mother's side, Ida Lundy Wilson, who was born Idle Day Lundy, had two bibles. She was a very religious person and along with her bibles were many bible lessons and notes from sermons she had heard. Her family bible gave me the name of her mother and her husband's mother. Both names were questions because about the only records with their given names were census reports. Most of the others just have them listed as Mrs Lundy or Mrs Wilson. Ida's mother was Margery Rowena Henry. There had been a question of her last name.

There are a lot of Hendrys in the Taylor County area and some family members said she was a Hendry. The bible record records her maiden name as Henry and this helped me confirm a marriage record as belonging to her mother and father and led to identifying her father's family.

Benjamin Franklin Wilson was one of at least 25 children born to Moses Wilson. Moses had two wives and the name of the second one was unclear. She was listed as Basty on one census and Vasty on another. After looking at the bible record I am pretty sure her name was Vashti.

What are the chances of being born to Moses, the one who stood up to Pharaoh and led God's people through the wilderness and Vashti, a queen who chose death rather than to take off her clothes in public. Both were strong personalities. My Moses and Vashti Wilson died long ago, well before my grandmother Edith Wilson Fulford was born so I don't know much about them or if they had similar qualities.

My Dad located the very ornate bible that belonged to my Great Grandparents on his side, Andrew and Rebecca Green. It was printed in 1875 and had been passed down between the daughters and one of his cousins, Hubert Horne ended up with it, Daddy made photocopies of some of the pages but they were very poor copies and barely legible.

I asked Hubert several times about looking at the old bible but he was reluctant to let me. I guess he was worried I would harm it or lose it. Finally about 10 years after my Dad gave me the copies Hubert let me take the bible and scan the pages to save them. It also had old tintype photos in pages with frames that gave me the image of my Great Great Grandfather and many other relatives.

While doing so, I discovered the daughters tried to help their reputations by altering their birth dates. Both parents died young, leaving the girls to be brought up living with their older brothers. Later, after they were past the age to normally marry and still single, several of them crossed out the year of their birth to make them appear to be younger. The story is that my Grandfather, Millard Fillmore Green was upset with them because at this point the Social Security program had started and they were hurting their chance to receive benefits by saying they were younger.