Steven Butler in London, England (where his convict ancestor came from), 2007.
This section of my website is where I share (whenever I have the time and inclination) any news I may have about my family history research and also my views or thoughts regarding the results of my research. Most visitors, I expect, won't be terribly interested in this section but that's okay. I have added it as much for myself as for anyone else, to give myself a place where I can put down in writing the myriad thoughts that go through my mind while researching or while reflecting on my research.
If you do decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it. If you have a comment or question, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Additional Proof (Monday, February 27, 2023)
Since writing my February 17 entry, I have found additional proof that confirms that I have found the right Miles family. Just today, I found six persons who are a DNA match to me and every single one of them is descended from the Poteet family, a member of which intermarried with a member of the Miles family in Baltimore County, Maryland. I have also found several DNA matches to people who are descended from members of the Rice family that intermarried with the Miles family.
Interesting to note too is that several members of the Rice and Poteet families also migrated to Caswell County, North Carolina, offering even more proof that I'm on the right track.
No Reason to Doubt (Friday, February 17, 2023)
After months and months of careful, meticulous research, I have finally reached the conclusion that there is no doubt that my principal paternal line, the Miles family, originated in Baltimore County, Maryland before migrating to Caswell County, North Carolina, then to Logan County, Kentucky, then to Robertson County, Tennessee, then to Franklin and Coffee counties, Tennessee, and then finally, to Collin, Hunt, and Dallas counties, Texas. I base this belief on the fact that I have no fewer than 36 verifiable DNA matches to people who can likewise trace their ancestry to the Baltimore County line (and are therefore distant cousins). Here then, is what I have good reason to believe is my Miles Family line of descent in this country:
- John Miles, Sr. (immigrated c.1680), c.1650 England - 1712 Baltimore Co., MD
- John Miles, Jr., 1677-1731 Baltimore Co., MD
- Thomas Miles, Sr., 1696 Baltimore Co., MD -1766 Orange (now Caswell) Co., NC
- Jacob Miles, Sr., 1725 Baltimore Co., MD - 1804 Caswell Co., NC
- Jacob Miles, Jr./Sr. (Revolutionary War veteran), 1756 Baltimore Co., MD, - 1836 Robertson Co., TN
- Thomas Miles, c.1785 Caswell Co., NC - 1835 Robertson Co., TN
- William B. Miles, c.1810 Caswell Co., NC - c.1856 Franklin Co., TN
- John W. Miles, c.1843 Franklin Co., TN - c.1928 Hunt Co., TX
- Charles W. Miles, 1885 Franklin Co., TN - 1958 Dallas Co., TX
- Raymond J. Butler, 1927-2019 Dallas Co., TX
As can be seen from the above list, five generations resided in Baltimore County, Maryland and four were born there. Four generations lived in Caswell County, North Carolina and two were born there. Three generations resided in Franklin County, Tennessee and two were born there. Four generations have lived in North Central Texas (Collin, Hunt, or Dallas County) and two were born there.
For those who may be wondering: The reason my surname is Butler instead of Miles is because in 1927 my biological grandfather, Charles W. Miles, had an extramarital liaison with my grandmother (maiden name Alice Tate), who at the time was married to Herman H. Butler, a man who either knowingly or unknowingly "adopted" my father and gave him his surname. The details of this story are revealed in my book Miles Away from Butler, which can be purchased from Amazon.com for $11.99 plus tax and shipping.
Miles Across the Water (Thursday, February 16, 2023)
In December, during a month-long visit to the UK, I met up with one of my English DNA cousins, Tina Miles (seen here with me) at a pub next to the historic Chatham Dockyard. Interestingly, this is only the second time I've met up with one of my DNA matches who I had not previously known.
I'm happy to report that Tina and I had an enjoyable lunch at the pub and a good old "chin wag," as the British say, getting to know one another and discussing our mutual genealogy, even though at this point we don't know the identity of our common ancestor. All we be sure of is that his surname was Miles, and that he had at least two sons--one that went to America and one (or more) who stayed in England.
Tina is not my only Miles DNA match cousin in the UK, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet up with them all. One, who lives in Southeast England like Tina, wasn't interested in meeting up, and the others were too far away. One, for instance, lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and I just did not have time to go there. Maybe another time.
I have a few other DNA match cousins in the UK, to whom I'm related through different families, but as with Tina, we haven't been able to identify our common ancestor--with one exception, a young woman who lives in rural Wales who is actually an American, related to me on the Tate side of the family, who married a Brit.
In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to be able to figure out the identity of the common ancestor I share with Tina. In doing so, of course, it would hopefully lead to learning more about the Miles family even further back in time than I do now. Only time will tell if I'm successful, but if I'm not, if won't be for lack of trying!
Year-end Update (Saturday, December 3, 2022)
During the past several months, while recovering from a heart attack, open heart surgery, and also cataract surgery, I've had plenty of free time to devote to family history research. Throughout all that time, I have focused on two goals: 1.) Breaking through the proverbial "brick wall" that has my MILES family line stalled at the year 1810 (more or less), and 2.) Figuring out exactly how I am related, through which common ancestor(s), to my black (or more accurately, mixed-race) DNA-match cousins, who now number more than two dozen. As 2022 draws to a close, I'd like to be able to say that I have made great progress toward achieving both those goals, but unfortunately, and despite all my efforts, I can't.
First, the MILES quandary: After months of in-depth research, I am no closer to identifying the parents of my 2nd Great-Grandfather, William B. Miles, than I was when I first found out about him. I think, but do not know for sure, that he was a descendant of a family that originated in Baltimore County, Maryland. This supposition is based on the fact that I have 26 DNA matches to people who can trace their ancestry to that family through a verifiable "paper trail." The trouble is that I also have 20 verifiable matches to people who are descended of a MILES family that originated in Virginia. So, how can that be? How can I be the descendant of two different MILES families? The only answer I can think of is that there must have been some intermarriage between the two families at some point, or intermarriage with a third family with links to both families. Trouble is, I can't find those "missing links," at least not yet. And then, to complicate matters, I have no less than fifty DNA matches to people who have MILES ancestors but no apparent link to either the Maryland or Virginia lines! These are all in addition, by the way, to the more than fifty DNA matches that I have to people who are verifiable descendants of William B. Miles. All I can hope for, in the coming year, is some discovery that will enable me, at last, to trace my MILES ancestors all the way back to the first one to come to America, almost certainly from England.
Figuring out how I'm related to my mixed-race cousins has been equally challenging, and mostly frustrating, also due to a lack of progress. All I want to know is: Who is our common ancestor or ancestors? Just two days ago, I had a small break-through on that front. Thanks to some prior research that was done by one of my mixed-race cousins, a veteran genealogist (and historian) in his own right, I can confirm that he and I are 5th cousins, 2x Removed, and that our common ancestors are the MOORE family of Southeastern North Carolina. Interestingly, though there's no doubt that we are cousins, he and I are not a DNA match to one another! I found him, not through 23 and Me or Ancestry, but as a result of trying to figure out how I'm related to three of my DNA-matched mixed race cousins, to whom he is also related.
So, as the year draws to a close and the holiday season arrives, all I can say is that I will keep on trying, in the new year ahead, to solve both these puzzles, and others. In the meantime, whatever you celebrate at this time of the year, I hope it's a good one!
My Unexpected Cousins (Monday, July 18, 2022)
Three years ago, as chronicled elsewhere in this section of my website, I had the DNA surprise of my life, when I learned that in 1927 my married paternal grandmother had an affair, or at the very least, a one-night stand, with her next-door neighbor, Charlie Miles, resulting nine months later in the birth of my father, Raymond Butler.
Not too long ago, I had another unexpected surprise, unexpected for a white person at least: I have black cousins!
How can that be?
Well, for anyone who has studied American history on even a basic level, the answer appears to be obvious. In the antebellum South, which is where most of my ancestors lived, it was not unknown for white slave owners or their kinsmen or their overseers, to have non-consensual sexual relations with female slaves, for the express purpose of producing new slaves that didn't need to be paid for. In some, perhaps most cases, this is the answer, but it's not the only answer!
One black family to whom I am somehow related had ancestors who were not only "free persons of color" in antebellum North Carolina, but also were "mulattoes," that is mixed-race persons. Now, to most folks that comes as a surprise because it is generally believed that before the Civil War, every black or mulatto person in the South was a slave, and most were, but not all.
Three of my black cousins are descendants of the West family of Sampson County, North Carolina, whose antecedents were mulatto "free persons of color." As it happens I have several white ancestors who lived in Sampson County or an adjoining county around the same time (late 1700s and early 1800s) and it is almost certainly one of these white ancestors of mine who is also the white ancestor of my black cousins. But who?
I have recently been in contact with one of these black cousins, a 75-year-old retired English teacher who, like me, has a doctorate and once taught at a community college, and, also like me, has published a book about some of her ancestors. She has responded to my proposal that we work together to discover our mutual ancestor and I am confident that in time, we will succeed.
Do we have any clues? Thanks to DNA, the answer is "yes." As it happens, several of our shared DNA matches are descendants of the Ward family of Columbus County, North Carolina, as am I. I am therefore confident that when my black cousin and I finally discover the identity of our common ancestor, that person's surname will be WARD.
As it turns out, I am far from being the only white person in America who has black relatives and conversely, my black cousin is not the only black person in America to discover that he or she has white relatives and ancestors. If you watch the PBS TV series "Finding Your Roots," you already know that this sort of thing is far more commonplace than most people think. It also demonstrates the complexity of race relations in the United States and the fact that in reality, there is only one race: the human race. It also supports what I have believed for a long time: That it would be a lot better use of our time to work together for our mutual progress and benefit, than for us to waste time making trouble for someone just because they look a little different.
Guess who else I'm related to! (Monday, July 4, 2022)
On this Independence Day, I am proud to report that although I am not a direct descendant of President Thomas Jefferson, thanks to the fact that he and I have a common ancestor on my father's side of the family (Christopher Branch) we are distantly related: Fourth Cousins, 6x Removed.
Jefferson is also known, of course, as the author of the Declaration of Independence, which is the founding document that we celebrate on the Fourth of July every year. Although like most folks I admire Jefferson for writing the Declaration, I also look up to him for his strong stand on separation of Church and State and for standing by Thomas Paine, the patriot who urged Independence in his pamphlet Common Sense, after he (Paine) was scorned by many Americans for his criticism of the Bible and religion in general in a later book The Age of Reason.
I should mention too that my admiration for Jefferson is tempered by the fact that he was a slave-owner, which leads me to another interesting announcement: As everyone now knows, Jefferson had six children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. This means that obviously, I am also distantly related to the sons and daughters of Jefferson and Sally Hemings! Fifth Cousins, 5x Removed.
Here is a link showing how Thomas Jefferson and I are both descendants of Christopher Branch.
Doubtful Lines and "Weak Links" (Sat., July 2, 2022)
In recent years, I've started to take a closer look at some of the lines or "branches" in the family tree that I've built over time. As a result, I have found that there are some that which must be considered "doubtful" or "questionable," owing to a lack of documentary evidence. In most cases, the doubt centers around what I call "the weakest link," i.e., a person who supposedly connects his or her own family line to another, but for which the connection is based either on assumption or uncertain evidence.
Two examples of weak links are my 4th Great-Grandfather, Elliot Murdock, and his wife, Eliza Magill. For years, I have assumed, along with other researchers, that Eliza was actually named Elizabeth and that she was the daughter of Samuel Magill of Greene County, Tennessee, but was she? The truth is that I don't know for sure. Samuel Magill did have a daughter named Elizabeth, and according to an article in the South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research, a man named Elliot Murdock married a woman named Eliza Magill in 1821, but where? And what's the source of this info? Unfortunately, the magazine doesn't say. Consequently, the notion that she is the daughter of Samuel Magill of Greene County, Tennessee is pure speculation. As for Elliot Murdock: I, and others, have assumed he is the son of William Murdock of South Carolina, and grandson of Hamilton Murdock, an Irish immigrant to South Carolina. But was he? Again, there's no documentary evidence and without it, we can't say for sure.
Another example of a weak link is Dorothy or Dorothea Henrietta Maria Edmonston Orme, the wife of another 4th Great-Grandfather, Francis Jenkins . Again, I and other researchers have assumed that she was the daughter of Robert Orme of Prince George's County, Maryland, and his wife, Priscilla Edmonston Orme. Trouble is, there's no evidence. According to an Orme family Bible, Robert and Priscilla had a daughter named Dorothy, but she was born in 1772. The Dorothy Orm (as spelled in an old Jenkins family Bible) that married Francis Jenkins , was, according to census records, born in Maryland, but ten years later, in 1782. So, is she their daughter? If we go by birth year, we have to say "no." But what if census records are wrong?
We must also consider the fact that Dorothy or Dorothea Orm Jenkins named one of her sons Archibald Edmonston and another she named Jesse. So did Robert and Priscilla Orme! Was Dorothy naming her sons after two of her brothers? And if not, we have ask: Why did she give two of her sons the same names as two of the sons of Robert and Priscilla Orme? But then we come back to that ten-year age discrepancy between Dororthy Orme, the daughter of Robert and Priscilla Orme, and Dorothy Orm Jenkins. Although the circumstantial evidence is strong (the similarity of names), the actual evidence (birth record in a family Bible) is also strong, and seemingly irrefutable. This leads to an impasse: If we can't be sure that Dorothy Orm Jenkins was the daughter of Robert and Priscilla Orme, then not only is the Orme family, but also all their attendant family lines or branches are suspect as well, insofar as our supposed connection to them stands.
There are a few other questionable lines and weak links in my family tree beside the ones named above, but thankfully not many. I will keep working though, to try to strengthen the weak links through the discovery of documentary or DNA evidence, or failing that, concede that the lines from which they are supposedly descended will remain forever questionable.
Not So Fast! (Sun., June 26, 2022)
Yesterday, I wrote that there was a "near certainty" that I am a descendant of the famous Indian "princess" Pocahontas and her English husband, John Rolfe. This assertion was based on the fact that I have several verifiable DNA matches to a certain Reverend James Clack, an early-day inhabitant of colonial Virginia, who allegedly married a woman named Rebecca Jane Bolling, said to be a great-granddaughter of Pocahontas. Unfortunately, I did not go as far with my research as I should have done. As a result, I must reverse the statement I made yesterday and say instead that there is a near certainty that I am NOT a descendant of Pocahontas!
Why? Well, there are two reasons. First of all, since making yesterday's announcement, I have discovered that Col. Robert Bolling, who married Pocahontas' granddaughter, Jane Rolfe, had only one child with her: A son named John. All accounts agree with this. In short, they had no daughter named Rebecca Jane. Secondly, I have also discovered that though I have no doubt that I am related to the Reverend James Clack (through my grandmother's family, the Tates), according to reliable accounts, the name of his wife has unfortunately been lost to history due to the records of the church with which the Clack family was affiliated having been destroyed by fire.
Boy, do I have egg on my face!
Was Pocahontas, my 10th Great-Grandmother? (Sat., June 25, 2022)
Late last year I came across some information that led me to believe that there was a possibility that I am a descendant of the famous Pocahontas of Jamestown, Virginia history, but I hesitated to claim her pending further research. Well, I am happy to report that further research has been done, largely in regard to DNA matches, and I can now report that I now think there is a near certainty that Pocahontas is in fact, my ancestress! This, of course, would explain the trace amount of Native American DNA that I possess, according to 23 and Me.
Although, as of this date I have not had the chance to visit the site of Jamestown, I have been to Gravesend, England, where, many years ago, an English friend pointed out that Pocahontas (known also as Rebecca Rolfe) is buried in a churchyard there. She died, as it happened, in 1617, while on her way back to America, having been brought to England by her English husband, John Rolfe (also my ancestor), in 1616. Like almost all Native-Americans of the time, she had no inherited immunities against European diseases, which proved to be her undoing. She was reportedly only 19 when she died.
I have prepared a family tree to show how she is related to me through my grandmother TATE's family.
I took the above photograph of a statue that marks the grave of Pocahontas during a trip to England in 2005.
"Fair Sysley" (Tue., June 21, 2022)
I have known for some time now (about two years or so) that my earliest ancestor in America was a 10-year-old girl named Cicily, who arrived at Jamestown, Virginia in 1610, presumably with her parents (names lost to history), aboard a vessel called The Swan. What I failed to take notice of until more recently is that fact that Cicily, who as a grown woman was married three times, was a common ancestor to both my grandmother, Alice Tate Butler, and my biological grandfather, Charlie Miles, which means that my grandparents were, as incredible as it might seem, distant cousins! To illustrate, I have made a family tree for Cicily that shows both lines of descent.
Cicily or "Fair Sysley" as she was known in her lifetime, is also distinguished by the fact that after her second husband died, she was sued for breach of promise when she allegedly promised to marry one man but ended up marrying another instead! YOU CAN READ ALL ABOUT IT HERE!
Two New Sections (Sat., June 18, 2022)
This past week I began adding two new sections to my family history website.
One, which is more or less complete, is called VETERANS. It is a list of ancestors who rendered military service prior to 1860.
The other section, which I'm still working on (and may be for a while) is called GAZETTEER. In effect, it is a travel guide to places in the United States and elsewhere, which you can visit, that have some connection to our family history. It is arranged in alphabetical order. So far, as of this date, I have completed Alabama, so there's a way to go yet. I'll send updates as more states and places become available to consult.
It was 50 years ago today (Sat., May 28, 2022)
Fifty years ago today, on May 28, 1972, my grandmother, the only one I ever knew, passed away at the Skyline Nursing Home in Desoto, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. She was 86, nearly 87, years-old.
The following extract from my memoirs tells how I remember her, the day she died, and also the day of her funeral, which took place on May 30, 1972:
My grandmother, Alice Mae Tate Butler, whom I called "Nannie," was one of the most important people in my life, one of the few people I could always count on to love and care for me unconditionally. When she passed away, I felt a terrible sense of loss.
By the time I got out of the Navy, Nannie was eighty-six years old and living in the Skyline Nursing Home in Desoto, Texas--a Dallas suburb. My wife and I, or just me after my wife became pregnant and was suffering chronic stomach upset, occasionally went to visit her at the home, where she resided in room 103.
Nannie was always happy to see me and I am pleased that she lived long enough to meet my wife and to know that our first child, her great-grandchild, was on the way. I just wish she had lived long enough to see and hold the baby.
I wish now that I had visited her more often but nursing homes depressed me (and still do). I enjoyed spending time with her more when she was staying for the weekend with my Dad at his home in North Dallas, or with my Aunt Ruth in Oak Cliff and I would visit her there. I remember at the nursing home she was using the seat cushion cover I sent her from Puerto Rico, on a cushion she kept on her rocking chair. On her nightstand was a framed photograph of me in my Navy uniform, which had been taken years before at boot camp. It made me feel good to see those things prominently displayed, because they stood as proof she cared about me.
Nannie had never been very tall but by this time she had lost a lot of height, due no doubt to bone loss. I think she might have been barely five feet tall. She also began to have spells of sickness. Once, about a month or two before she died, she had to be hospitalized in a facility in Pleasant Grove, near where my Uncle "Bud" lived. I went to visit her there and she kept holding her stomach and saying things like, "It hurts so bad. I don't care if I do die." Naturally, this alarmed me but I was assured everything that could be done for her was being done. I think they suspected it was stomach cancer and years later, when I discovered that her father, Isaac Tate, had suffered the same thing at about the same age, I became convinced that's what it was.
In any event, she began to grow weaker and finally, one day, on May 28, after I found out, probably from my father, that she had slipped into a coma, I drove down to Desoto by myself to see her. When I got there, my father and Aunt Ruth were sitting beside her bed, in another room across the hall from hers. She was unconscious but I sat beside the bed and held her hand and spoke to her, hoping that maybe somehow she could hear me. I told her I loved her and I wanted her to get well. I don't know if she heard me or not. I like to think so but probably she didn't. When a minister came into the room and started praying over her, Aunt Ruth broke down and started sobbing while my father tried to comfort her. I should have known then that the end was near but in my youthful naiveté, I thought somehow she would rally and everything would be all right. I stayed at the nursing home an hour or two , then finally, when there seemed to be no point in staying, I left and went back home.
Later that afternoon, or maybe it was early evening, I was standing outside the front door of our apartment, painting a chest o'drawers that we had got somewhere for the baby we were expecting. I was painting it with yellow enamel. My wife was there with me, chatting as I painted. Suddenly she said, "There's your stepmother." I looked behind me and saw her walking up toward us from the parking lot behind the block of apartments. Even before she reached us, I suspected why she was there.
She was very matter-of-fact about it. "Your grandmother died," she told me. I can't remember what I said or did right after that. My stepmother didn't stay long, just long enough to tell me that Nannie had passed away about two hours after I left the nursing home. Only my father and Aunt Ruth had been there. I wished, and still do, that I had stayed, so that I could be with her at the end but I didn't realize it was coming so soon. No one, not even my father, said to me, "Your grandmother is probably going to die today. Maybe you should stick around." Maybe they didn't think so either. I don't know but it has bothered me ever since.
On the day of the funeral, my wife and I rode with my father and stepmother and my two little half brothers to the West Funeral Home chapel, at 271 South Hampton Road in Desoto, where it was being held. When we arrived, we learned that Nannie's coffin was going to be open for viewing until the start of the service but closed after it began. I told my wife I didn't want to see her dead, that I wanted to remember her being alive, even if the last time I had seen her she was in a coma. Finally, after everyone who was going to go pay their respects had done so and just moments before the service began, I changed my mind. I entered the chapel by myself and walked up to the front, where she lay in her coffin. She was wearing a blue gown and looked like she was asleep. I stood there for awhile, the only person in the room, just looking at her kindly, careworn face, remembering. Quietly, I whispered, "I love you. I won't ever forget you." Then suddenly, some men came in from one side of the room to close the coffin and I watched as they did so, which meant I was the very last member of her family to look upon her face.
During the service, Reverend Jack Ramsey, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, whom my father had asked to preach the service, said something to the effect that the body lying there in that coffin wasn't Alice Butler. No, he said, Alice Butler was in heaven with Jesus. I couldn't, and didn't, buy it. No, I thought to myself, you're wrong, that is my grandmother in that coffin. She is nowhere else, except in my heart.
After the service was over, my father and my stepmother went to ride in a big black limousine reserved for them and my aunts and uncles. I can see in my mind's eye my two aunts, Ruth and Margaret, leaving the chapel and sobbing their hearts out. Dad asked me to drive his car and take my wife, my step-grandmother, and my two little half-brothers (who were then about twelve and ten years old, respectively), to the cemetery. Up to this time I had not shed a tear. Then suddenly, the finality of it all hit me like a tidal wave and sitting there behind the steering wheel of my dad's car I began to cry in great gasping sobs while my wife, her arm around my shoulder tried to comfort me as Daryl and Brandon looked on from the backseat, wide-eyed and seemingly not knowing what to make of all this.
Because the funeral was held in Desoto and Nannie was being buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, at the corner of Harry Hines Blvd. and Walnut Hill Lane in far Northwest Dallas, the funeral procession was a long drive from one side of Dallas County to the other. I don't remember much about it but I do recall we traveled part of the way up Hampton Road and then finally down Harry Hines. I can still see in my mind's eye the motorcycle policemen who accompanied the procession, his bike propped up and him standing in the street, stopping traffic with an upraised hand on Hines Blvd. as we approached from the south and swung across the southbound lane and in through the gate of the cemetery.
After I parked the car alongside the gravel road of the cemetery, I walked over to the hearse, which was parked beside the gravesite, to join the other pallbearers, which included my cousins Herman and Henry Butler Jr., whom I had not seen since we were all kids. I noticed that Herman was growing his hair long, like me, and I suddenly remembered Nannie gently chiding me for doing so but not making a big deal about it.
We didn't have to carry my grandmother's coffin very far. The Tate family plot was, and of course, still is, located just beside the gravel road and not very far inside the front of the cemetery. It is marked by a big gray slab with "TATE" carved in large letters upon it. On the east side of it are buried my great-grandparents, Nannie's father and mother, Isaac and Sarah Tate. Beside them is her sister, Mamie. Nannie was buried on the west side of the marker, beside her husband, Herman H. Butler.
The graveside service was brief. After Dr. Ramsey said a final prayer, almost everyone there suddenly turned to one another and started chatting like it was some sort of family reunion or party. My sense of loss was so great that I just couldn't take it. In disgust, I turned and walked away, with my wife, who was then seven months pregnant and showing it, clinging to my arm. As we walked west on the gravel road, away from the gravesite, we were joined by my father, who put his arm around my shoulder. Then suddenly, we halted and the three of us-me, my father, and my wife, stood in a very close circle, our arms around one other, and sobbed our hearts out, even my wife, who hadn't really known my grandmother very well and had only just met her six months earlier. Then, having got our grief out of our systems, we walked back and joined the others for a while before going home.
These Past Two Days--New Cousins and a New Census (Sat., April 2, 2022)
For me, these past two days, Thu., March 31, and Fri., April 1, have been packed with family history events and developments. First of all, March 31st was the third anniversary of my discovery, in 2019, that my father's father was Charlie Miles, not Herman Butler, as we had all thought. As I remarked at the time, this was a major event because it effectively replaced a quarter of the family tree I had been working on for the past nearly fifty years and replaced it with a whole "new" set of ancestors!
Interestingly, this third anniversary brought with it a new DNA surprise! From time-to-time, I look at my DNA matches on Ancestry.com, just to see if there are any new ones. I do this in the hope that finding a "new cousin might lead me to clues or information about our mutual common ancestors. Well, on Thursday this week, which was March 31st, I took a look at my DNA match map and I noticed that I now had 9 DNA cousins living in the U.K. Previously, there had been only eight. So, I decided to take a look at the "new" one, and found that his name is Daniel Vaughn and that he lives in South Wales. When I checked his ethnicity, I saw that he is 83 percent Welsh and the rest either English or Irish, which are all ethnicities that I have in my genetic make-up. But when I looked at the family tree that Daniel has posted on Ancestry, which goes back several generations, I could see no familiar names and no one with any connection to America. My initial assumption was that Daniel and I are related through my mother's line, the Jenkins family, who originated in Wales. But then I then looked at our "Shared Matches" to see if that might shed any light on the matter and I discovered instead that all our shared matches are on my father's side of the family, the Tate family in particular. Okay, I thought, but then as I scrolled down through the list, something caught my eye. There, among our shared matches was a young African-American woman. Now, let me tell you, I had already found some African-American cousins before. Four in fact, so this latest one was not a huge surprise. After all, several of my white ancestors were slave-owners, some of whom had obviously been intimate with one or more of their female slaves. But then, as I continued to scroll down, I found another one, and then another one (both men). Three African-American cousins, all on one day!
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE: As I continued to investigate, I fount that although all three had different last names, they were all related to each other, as well as to me, and all through the Tate family!
Now, I haven't found our common ancestor yet, and I don't know if I ever will, but I can say with some certainty that these three new cousins and I share either a common 3rd Great-Grandfather, a common 4th Great-Grandfather, or a common 5th Great-Grandfather. How can I be sure of that? Because based on the amount of DNA we all share, they are either my 4th, 5th, or 6th cousins. That means our common ancestor most likely lived sometime during the mid-to-late 1700s or the early 1800s.
Satisfied that I could explain, at least in theory, how these three new African-American cousins and I are related, I next went back to take a closer look at Daniel Vaughn, the Welsh cousin who had inadvertently led me to the others. Where does he fit into the picture? Answer: I don't know and I don't have a clue, because every single ancestor in his extensive family tree was born and died in Wales, or England, or Ireland! This means that finding the ancestor that Daniel and I have in common is probably going to be more difficult than finding the common ancestor I share with three African-American cousins in this country! But if and when I do, I will let you know right here in the "News and Views."
And now, as they used to say on the Monty Python TV series, for something completely different: The 1950 U.S. Census, which was released yesterday, Friday, April 1, 2022, by the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
I had been looking forward to that day for ages. Amazingly, what with all these new cousins distracting me, I forgot about it until my cousin, Henry Butler, reminded me!
CLICK ON THE SCREENSHOT ABOVE TO GO THE NARA 1950 CENSUS WEBSITE.
This is the first census in which I appear! And I won't bore you with the details but though it took me a little while to figure out how to use NARA's online census search, which is not as good as Ancestry's will probably be once they get it up and running, I found my parents and I where I expected to find us, living in East Dallas, with my Aunt Nez, my mother's sister, living with us. I also found the page with my grandmother and Cousin Henry's family, and also my biological grandfather, Charlie Miles and his wife, Lillian.
I'm very pleased, of course, to have lived long enough to see the release of the 1950 federal census to the public. If I'm lucky, perhaps I will also see the 1960 census, due for release on April 1, 2032, and maybe also the 1970 census, due for release on April 1, 2042. I guess I will just have to wait and see if that happens!
Fifty Years of Research (Mon., Feb. 28, 2022)
Although the chance discovery of a box of old family photos in the attic of my father and stepmother's house, in November 1971, was the spark that ignited my interest in family history, I didn't begin to do any formal research until Tuesday, January 11, 1972, the fiftieth anniversary of which recently came and went without my remembering it at the time. For some reason, I was thinking I didn't get started until February or March, but today, when I checked an old notebook that I kept in 1972, I was reminded it was a much earlier date.
At the time, I had recently gone to work as a mail clerk for the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, in a tall office building on Pacific Avenue in downtown Dallas. The Dallas Public Library, which had a then-small genealogy section, was only a ten-minute walk away, and so, not long after I had started my new job, I began going there from time-to-time, to see what I could find out.
However, although I can now say that I started my family history research fifty years ago, I can't claim to have spent the entire fifty years doing it. There were two big gaps in the 1970s and '80s--the three years I spent going to college in Rhode Island and the five years I spent living with my family in London, England. Unlike now, in those days you couldn't do research at home with a personal computer connected to the Internet. You had to physically visit a library or archive building, where books and microfilm were kept. In the pursuit of information, I've literally traveled all over the U.S. and also the U.K. (In the photo above, I'm standing on the front porch of the Alabama State Archives building in Montgomery.) I wish I could tell you how much time, money, and effort I've expended or how many miles I've traveled in connection with what has become almost an obsession, but I can't because it might take me another fifty years just to add it all up! Sometimes I think that maybe I should have just waited until the 21st century to get started, but who knew, in 1972, where we would be today in terms of technology?
When I started fifty years ago, I knew practically nothing about my ancestors beyond my grandparents' names (or at least three of them), but little else. Today, I'm much better informed. In fact, I've learned so much in all that time that I think I have forgotten nearly half of it, which is why I try to keep better research notes than I did at the beginning!
If someone had told me that I would still be doing family history research fifty years later, I'm not sure I would have believed them. But as all family historians know, you can take a break from it now-and-then, as I have done myself, but eventually, you'll be drawn back into it and no matter how hard you try, you will probably never get to the end of it, because there's just so much to be learned!
When I started, I did so primarily just to satisfy my own curiosity, but as I went along I began to realize that what I was doing was not only of value to myself but also to my children, and their children, and to all the as-yet-unborn generations of my family to come, provided that the information I've gathered is preserved and passed along. In other words, I was shaping a legacy, and I'm still doing it, and if all goes well, I may still be doing it when I reach the 60th or even the 70th anniversary of starting. Come back in 10 or 20 years and see!
Piles of Miles but still no Smiles (Thu., Dec. 16, 2021)
I've just spent the greater part of the past two days compiling an Excel spreadsheet of my verifiable DNA matches of Ancestry.com members who are Miles descendants. Altogether, there are 120, and after looking them over, I can report that there is some good news and there is some bad news.
The good news is that of those 120 DNA Matches, 62, which is a little more than half, confirm what we can also prove through documentation about our branch of the MILES family. One confirms that my grandfather was Charlie Miles and 34 confirm that John W. Miles was my great-grandfather. A further 13 matches confirm that William B. Miles is my great-great-grandfather. Another 13 confirm that William B. Miles had a sister named Mary Ann Miles, who married Trollio Farrar. William B. Miles' wife was Mary Farrar, Trollio's sister.
20 of my DNA Matches are descendants of John Henry Miles, who was John W. Miles' son by his fourth wife, Mary Alice Hefner. One is a descendant of Claud W. Miles, another son of John W. Miles. Two more are descendants of Claud's brother, Layton M. Miles, and two others are descendants of Mary Idella Miles, a daughter of John W. Miles and Mary Alice Hefner. That makes a total of 25 descendants of John W. Miles and Mary Alice Hefner. Many of them live in North Texas, not far from where John and Mary Alice lived.
John W. Miles first son, by his first wife, Ophelia Mitchell, was William Andrew Miles. Ten of my DNA matches are descendants of William Andrew Miles and many still live in Alabama, where he spent most of his life, even though born in Franklin County, Tennessee.
William B. Miles, the father of John W. Miles had children by his wife, Mary Farrar and also by a woman named Sarah Wileman Baker. Three of my DNA matches are descendants of the daughters of William B. Miles and Sarah Baker, who bore the surname Baker, even though their father's surname was Miles, much like my father, whose own father was Charlie Miles.
The bad news is that although I have nearly 60 DNA Matches to other people whose ancestor were named Miles, I still can't figure out exactly how we are related.
20 are descendants of either Thomas W. Miles or Isham Miles, who were of an old Virginia family named Miles. Conversely, 12 of my matches are descendants of an old Maryland family named Miles. Both had members who settled in Tennessee, but trying to figure out, through documentary evidence, how we are linked to one or the other (or both) has proved, so far, to be challenging, to say the least.
There are plenty of other matches who ware descendants of a family named Miles that don't appear to have any connection to either the VA or the MD line, so again, no joy. Like I say in the headline, I've got piles of Miles but so far, no smiles.
The Five Families of Franklin County, Tennessee (Mon., Dec. 13, 2021)
Through my father, Raymond Joe Butler, I am a descendant of no fewer than five families that made their homes in Franklin County, Tennessee during the nineteenth century. This is exceptional. The only other place where I've found an equivalent cluster of antecedent families (also five in number) is Hardin County, Kentucky, and those are all on my mother's side.
Where is Franklin County, Tennessee?
Franklin County, the seat of which is the town of Winchester, is in lower Middle Tennessee. It is bounded on the west by Lincoln County, on the northwest by Moore County, on the north by Coffee County (which was formed from part of the original Franklin County), on the northeast by Grundy County, n the east by Maron County, and on the south by Jackson County, Alabama.
In alphabetical order, the "Five Families of Franklin County" are: Farrar, Hodge, Holder, McCraw, and Miles.
How about date order? Which was the first to take up residence in Franklin County?
Based on available records, here are the families in order of arrival, along with the source.
- Holder and McCraw (1820 federal census)
- Farrar (1830 federal census)
- Miles (1836 circuit court records)
- Hodge (1845, county court records)
It's possible that some member of the Miles and/or Hodge family arrived in Franklin County as early as, or perhaps even earlier than the Holder, McCraw, and/or Farrar families. The trouble is that I don't know the names of the parents of my great-great-grandfather William B. Miles, which makes him, at least for the time being, my earliest Miles known ancestor in Franklin County. The same situation applies to James A. Hodge, my earliest known Hodge ancestor in Franklin County. James may have been born in Franklin County, but I have no proof of it, at least not yet.
Next question: Which of my Franklin County ancestors stayed the longest?
William McCraw, the ancestor who brought his family sometime prior to 1820 stayed until 1840 at the latest, when he and his wife moved to Alabama. However, their daughter, Martha, who married Ransom Holder, stayed until she passed away, probably sometime in the mid-1870s. Likewise, Martha's husband, Ransom Holder, died sometime in the mid-1870s.
John Farrar, who brought his family to live in Franklin County sometime between 1820 and 1830, died about 1851, his wife about 1854. Their daughter, Mary, who married William B. Miles, died earlier, about 1847.
Both James A. Hodge, who may have been born in Franklin County (but we have no proof of that), and his wife, Martha Jane Holder, died about 1889. Their daughter, Margaret, who was almost certainly born in Franklin County and who was briefly married to John W. Miles, stayed until 1900, or January 1901 at the latest, when she and her second husband, S.E. Jones, purchased some land in Dallas County, Texas.
This means that of the five families of Franklin County from whom I'm descended, the Miles family stayed the longest. William B. Miles died about 1856. His son, John W. Miles, who was born in either Franklin County or adjacent Coffee County, left the county in 1885 and moved to Alabama, later Collin County, Texas. His second oldest son-my grandfather, Charles W. Miles-stayed until sometime after the 1900 census was taken, but certainly no later than 1908, when he was married in Dallas County, Texas.
What this all means is that from 1820 or possibly a little earlier, up to the turn of the twentieth century, one or more members of the five families from who I am descended resided in Franklin County, Tennessee-a period of eighty years, or possibly more, that included the antebellum era, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the dawn of the twentieth century.
Does this also mean then that I no longer have any family ties to Middle Tennessee? As it happens, the answer is "no." Thanks to DNA testing, I know that I have at least two distant cousins who either reside or previously resided in adjacent Coffee County and I have been in contact with them both through email and Ancestry.com's message center. One is a third cousin, a woman whose great-great-grandfather was James A. Hodge. Another is a 4th cousin 1x removed, who is a descendant of our mutual ancestor, Ransom Holder. She lives with her husband and children in Huntsville, Alabama now, which isn't far from the Tennessee state line. Undoubtedly, there are others in the area that I don't yet know about, but I'll keep looking because although I've already made a trip to Franklin County (in 2019), I'd like to go back, now that I know more, and perhaps if I do, I can meet up with some of my cousins.
Another DNA Surprise (Mon., Aug. 16, 2021)
I am one of those avid family historians that is always doing some kind of family history research, especially now that I'm semi-retired. I ought to be fully retired, after all, I'm over 70, but I still teach three sections of U.S. or Texas History at a community college near my home.
For quite a long time I had a DNA match whose relationship to me I couldn't figure out. To protect his privacy, I'll just call him Mr. X. His son is a match to me too, of course. A while back, I decided to determine exactly how all my closest matches were related to me, but I was having a heck of a time, even with information that Mr. X cheerfully provided, finding the link. I was sure that like me, he was a descendant of Matthew E. Seay (one of my maternal great-grandfathers), but I just couldn't figure out how.
Well, it took a while but I finally found the answer!
In the mid-1930s, Matthew Seay's oldest son, Ernest Ward "Jack" Seay, was living and working in or near a little town in Rusk County, Texas called Overton. This is confirmed by the 1940 census which also shows where people were living in 1935. Apparently, while he was in Overton, he made the acquaintance of a widow named Gertrude Brown Johnston. Long story short: Gertrude got pregnant and in 1934 she gave birth to a baby boy she named Alvin Ord Johnston (founder of the Texas-based sandwich shop chain, "Alvin Ord's"). Two years later she married a man named Raymond Wallace, who raised Alvin and his older brother and sister. Interestingly, Gertrude's first husband was also called Jack!
Turns out that Alvin Ord Johnston was Mr. X's father. As Mr. X explained, after his mother married a man whose surname was "X." he took it as his own. This was one of the reasons why I was having so much trouble figuring out our relationship at first, because I could find no one named "X" who was related to a Seay, nor could I find a Johnston. Then, I remembered that Matthew Seay and both his sons were building contractors who worked all over Texas, so I looked to see where Jack and Buck Seay were living in the 1930s. I knew that Matthew Seay couldn't be Alvin's father, because Matthew had died in 1933 in West Texas, so I figured it had to be one of his two sons, either Jack or Buck. As it happened, Buck was in Longview in 1935, which is near Overton, so for a while I thought he might be Alvin's father, but when I saw that Jack was in Overton itself, where Alvin was born, I know I had solved the mystery!
So there it is: My grandmother Ida's brother, Jack, fathered a child with a woman other than his wife (just like my paternal grandfather, Charlie Miles, did) and as far as I know, no one in the family knew about it until it was revealed by DNA testing and my research skills.
But wait! There's more!
In April 1939, while living and working in the little West Texas town of Seagraves (Gaines County), Jack Seay said goodbye to his wife, Nancy, one day, and set out for work but never returned. He seemingly vanished into thin air. Some people thought he might have been murdered but no body was ever found. In 1951 a court in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Nancy Seay was living at the time, declared him officially dead so that she could collect on a $100 life insurance policy. I can't help buty wonder: Did he find another extramarital partner whose husband found out and murdered Jack in a fit of jealous rage? Who knows? Or, he could have wandered across the state line into New Mexico, where he was abduced by space aliens that landed in Roswell. Take your pick.
My Latest Book (Sat., Aug. 14, 2021)
Inspired by the 100th anniversary of my maternal grandparents' wedding and the 87th anniversary of my maternal grandmother's death in 1934, I have finally fulfilled a long-held ambition, which is to write a novel based on the events of my grandparents' 13-year marriage and more particularly, the ten years or so they spent living in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Scheduled for publication on or before September 1, 2021, it is titled Muskogee: A Novel Based on a True Story. On the left is a picture of the front cover, which I designed myself.
On the back cover is a "blurb" that gives a brief description of the book, which I also wrote. It says:
"Based on actual people and events, MUSKOGEE is the heartwarming story of a young Texas family who leave farming life behind to make a fresh start in one of Oklahoma's fastest growing small cities and how for ten years that spanned the "Roaring Twenties," the Great Depression, and the beginning of FDR's "New Deal," they coped with and adapted to not only the ongoing changes in their personal lives, but also some of the technological and societal changes in American life that were taking place during that period. Lovingly crafted by author/historian Steven R. Butler, MUSKOGEE will make you think, tickle your funny bone, and almost certainly, tug at your heartstrings."
The book's FOREWORD explains further:
This book is a blend of fact and fiction, or as it is known in the trade, "historical fiction." Subtitled "A Novel" so that people won't think that it's a travel guide of some sort, by and large it is a true story, but with fabricated dialogue and several situations that are either partly or wholly the product of my imagination.
The principal characters, three generations of the Jenkins family, were real people, whose real names have not been changed because all of them are gone now. With the notable exception of Ida and her last child, Elizabeth Ann, they were also people with whom I was personally acquainted. Ollie Jenkins was my grandfather. My uncles, Jack and Lindell, my aunt, Inez, and my mother, Louise, were Ida and Ollie's children. Some other relatives that I knew personally also play a part in this story.
Several years ago, the notion that my grandparents' life in Muskogee, during the 1920s and '30s, would make a good book began to form in my mind. They reminded me of the characters in novels and movies like The Grapes of Wrath, A Trip to Bountiful or Places in the Heart, stories about plain folks trying to fulfill their hopes and dreams while struggling to overcome adversity. These are the sorts of stories that have a universal appeal. So now it's up to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself if I was right. Either way, this book is a tribute to Ida, the grandmother I never knew.
Other relatives who have a role in the book are my great-grandparents, Bill and Lestie Jenkins, my grandfather's brother Newton Jenkins and his first wife, Bonnie, another set of great-grandparents, Matthew E. and Maggie Ward Seay, and several other Seay and Jenkins kinfolk.
This is the third book I've written that was inspired by my family history research. Once it is published, it will be available for sale on Amazon.com for $15.99, plus tax and shipping. Both of my siblings and all my first cousins on my mother's side of the family (and some of my father's side as well) can count on receiving a complimentary copy.
Simultaneously with the publication of this book, I have added a special feature to this website, a collection of photographs that feature my maternal grandparents and some of the other "characters" in the book. You can view it by CLICKING HERE!
It was 100 Years Ago Today (Fri., July 23, 2021)
One hundred years ago today, on Saturday, July 23, 1921, at the age of nineteen, my maternal grandfather, William Ollie Jenkins, married my maternal grandmother, Ida Lee Seay, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Lamar County building contractor named Matthew E. Seay. Unfortunately, the venue has been lost to history, but in view of the fact that the officiant was the Reverend N. C. Walters of Powderly, the New Providence Church, located about five miles northeast of Paris, the church to which Reverend Walters was attached, seems a likely spot. Of course, it's also possible that the wedding took place at the Jenkins home in Powderly or the Seay home, the location of which is uncertain.
Ida and Ollie were married for almost exactly thirteen years. During that time, they had five children: My uncle, Jack Jenkins, born on June 27,1922; my uncle Lindell Jenkins, born on June 26, 1923; my Aunt Inez Jenkins Hickman, born April 15, 1927; my mother, Ida Louise Jenkins (married three times), born Nov. 15, 1930; and a little girl named Elizabeth Ann, who died only a month or so after she was born in 1934.
Although Ida and Ollie were married in Texas and spent the first year or so of their marriage in Lamar County, where they lived on a cotton farm near Sumner, Texas, a farm that belonged to an aunt and uncle of Ollie, they spent the bulk of their years together in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where Ollie worked for the Muskogee Iron Works and where all their children except Jack were born.
As it happens, today is also the anniversary of an unhappy occasion, namely Ida's funeral, which was held eighty-seven years ago, on Monday, July 23, 1934, after which she was buried at Frozen Rock Cemetery, a small, semi-rural burial ground located on the outskirts of Muskogee, not far from the west bank of the Arkansas River. She died on Friday, July 20, 1934 (only two months after baby Elizabeth Ann was buried in a children's grave in a different cemetery), of tuberculosis, also known as "consumption," thus bringing the marriage of Ida and Ollie to a conclusion. Ida, the grandmother I knew, was only thirty years old at the time of her death.
Reflecting on these two events, which occurred thirteen years apart to the day, I can't help but feel sad, and sorry for my grandmother, whose life was cut so tragically short. I also feel sorry for her children, only 12, 11, 7 and 3 years old at the time their mother passed, who would spend the rest of their childhoods without her to guide and nurture and comfort them. And I feel sorry too for myself and my siblings and my cousins, who never had a chance to know the woman that her sister Maude characterized as "a beautiful person." Rest in peace grandmother.
Left: Ida Lee Seay Jenkins, about 1925.
Update on the Miles Mystery (Tue., July 6, 2021)
As I think I may have mentioned in a previous posting, my great-great-grandfather, William B. Miles, is the furthest back member of that line for which I have a verifiable "paper trail," beginning in 1836, when he was about twenty-six years of age and living in Franklin County, Tennessee, and going up to about 1856, when he apparently died, also in Franklin County, Tennessee, at the age of about fifty-six.
That being said, the DNA matches I have on Ancestry.com, to other Ancestry members, seem to point to William B. Miles being descended from a Miles family that had its roots, before coming to Tennessee, in Charles City County, Virginia, Cumberland County, Virginia, and Caswell County, North Carolina. I call this line MILES LINE 1. This is the one to which I have the most verifiable matches.
At the same time, I also have some DNA matches to two other Miles lines: One that originated in Baltimore County, Maryland and the other in Cumberland County, Virginia. I call these lines MILES LINE 2 and MILES LINE 3. What makes this particularly interesting is that some members of MILES LINE 2 also resided for a time in Caswell County, North Carolina, and one member of MILES LINE 3 was born in Cumberland County, Virginia, where one of the most prominent members of MILES LINE 1 resided from 1762 to 1798. Is this mere coincidence? Or evidence of some sort of familial connection? If the latter, I've yet to find any evidence of it. Despite all the effort I have made to find some verifiable familial link of any kind between any of the three lines, I've been unable to do so, and believe me, I've tried!!! I've looked at deeds, wills, census records, tax records, military records, etc. and in the process, I've learned a lot about each of these families, but I still cannot find what I called "The Missing Link."
I may have many more MILES to go before I solve the mystery, if I ever do, but I'm going to keep trying!
My Father's VA Grave Marker and Some Thoughts About the Family Plot (Sat., July 3, 2021)
Yesterday, I drove out to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Dallas to see my father's VA grave marker, which had only recently arrived and been set in place. Some people say that "the government" can't do anything right, but I have no complaints with this government-made marker. It was exactly as I expected it to look, with no mistakes. I was, however, a little upset by the fact that while my father's marker was nice and straight, those of his mother and her husband, who are buried on the same side of the plot, are not flat to the ground anymore and also askew, especially my grandmother's husband's marker. I decided that I'd arrange to have them reset, so that they will be in alignment with my dad's marker. Afterward, I started thinking about the history of that family plot, which is marked by a large stone that simply says "TATE," which was my grandmother's maiden name.
My great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran named Isaac H. Tate, bought the six-space plot in 1926, a year before my dad was born. He (Isaac) was then eighty-two years of age and he got it cheap because it was then located on land surrounded by farms, some 15 miles or so north of his home on Main Street in Dallas. He also paid for the big marker that says "TATE." which sits in the center of the plot. I suspect that he probably thought he'd be the first one buried there. He wasn't. The first member of the family to be buried there was his wife, Sarah A. West Tate, who died at the age of 76 in early 1928, when my father was just a babe in arms. Isaac was next. He died in 1932, at the age of 87, and was buried next to Sarah. In my mind's eye, I tried to imagine all the family and friends as they must have looked at that time, gathered around the site, having arrived in automobiles made in the 1920s or early 1930s.
The third person to be buried in this plot was my grandmother's husband, and father of all her children but one (my dad), Herman H. Butler, who died of pneumonia in July 1935, when he was nearly 55-years-old. He was the first person to be buried on the west side of the plot. In my mind's eye, I can see my grandmother, wearing black and widowed at age forty-nine, standing by the side of Herman's grave, holding my then seven-year-old father by the hand, with her older children gathered around her. My dad, of course, thought they were burying his father that day. Little did he know that his actual father, a man named Charlie Miles, was still very much alive and well, and would be until 1958!
In December 1954, when I was only five-years-old, my father's Aunt Mamie Tate died at the age of 75. A few days later, in January 1955, she was buried next to her parents on the east side of the plot. I might have gone to her funeral, but to be honest, if I did, I can't remember.
I do remember my grandmother's funeral, however, which took place on May 30, 1972. I was nearly twenty-three and had only been out of the Navy a few months. When she died, my grandmother, Alice Tate Butler, was just a few months short of her 87th birthday. Wearing a borrowed black suit, I was a pall-bearer, along with some of my cousins, one of the six people who carried my grandmother's casket from the hearse to gravesite. I still remember how stunned I was when as soon as the graveside service was over, almost everyone gathered there, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on, turned their backs on my grandmother's grave and started talking to one another as if it was some sort of family reunion, which upon reflection, I suppose it was. At the time, I was offended by it and with tears in my eyes, I walked up the road leading away from the gravesite, to mourn on my own. My then-pregnant wife, however, saw me leaving and ran to catch up with me. So did my dad, and I remember too that after they joined me, we formed a circle, hugging each other, and sobbing our hearts out.
In 2019, shortly before my dad died, I discovered that the plot included six spaces, one of which was still available. My dad had arranged to be buried at Restland but it didn't take a lot of persuasion to get him to change those plans and agree to be buried in the Forest Lawn plot instead, when the time came. Unfortunately, only a few months passed between that time and his funeral, which was held on a Tuesday, nearly a week after he died on November 13, 2019. The graveside service, held on a mild, sunny day, was brief but dignified, and I think my dad would have been pleased that we gave him a proper send-off, replete with a Navy bugler playing taps and then, with another petty officer assisting, folding the flag that draped his casket, so that it could be handed to me.
So now, nearly a hundred years after my great-grandfather bought the plot, it is full, with Isaac, Sarah, and Mamie on the east side, and my grandmother, her husband, and my dad on the west side. And the cemetery is no longer way out in the country, but surrounded now by busy city streets and nearby businesses that probably no one could imagine in 1926.
More Thomases, Williams, and Johns than I can shake a stick at! And which one is the "Missing Link?"
(Wed., June 30, 2021)
As June draws to a close, I'm still looking for the "missing link" that connects me to the Miles ancestors my DNA test results suggest that I can claim. Unfortunately, it's not been easy because there are two different branches to which I seem to be related. One is from Maryland, the other from Virginia and to make things harder to figure out, members of both ended up in the same county in North Carolina (Caswell) at around the same time (late eighteenth century) and then left there around the same time (early nineteenth century) to go live in Middle Tennessee! Furthermore, they all liked to give their kids the same names: Thomas, William, John, and Samuel being the favorites for men and Sarah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Martha being the favorite for women. Arrgh!!!
The search goes on!
"Brick Walls" and "Going with the Flow"
(Saturday, June 12, 2021)
One of the things I learned a long time ago is that in family history, sooner or later, a researcher will hit what's called a "brick wall," a point at which no matter how hard you try, you just can't go back any further in time because the paper trail has seemingly run out. I guess you could also call it a "dead end," except that you know there's an answer to your questions, but you just can't find any documents that answers them. This is because the documents you seek don't exist, or you just haven't looked in all the places where they might be "hidden." Most often, what you are looking for is something that provides a link between generations, a deed or a will or something else that says "my son so-and-so," or "my daughter, so-and-so," or "my brother, so-and-so." Well, you get the idea.
After I learned in 2019 that I had a "new" family, thanks to an unexpected DNA surprise (which you can read all about in an earlier posting, or in my book, Miles Away from Butler), I began to try to trace my "new" ancestors back as far as I could go. Four of those lines, which represent one quarter of my sixteen great-great-grandparents, were all nineteenth century residents of Franklin County and/or Coffee County, Tennessee. Unfortunately, three of the four have turned out to be "brick walls." These are the MILES family, the HODGE family, and the FARRAR family. For a while, I thought there were only two, MILES and HODGE, but although some other researchers had already plotted out a line of descent for the FARRAR family that reaches back all the way to the earliest years of Colonial Virginia, closer inspection has led me to have little or no confidence in it. As things stand right now, it could be correct but for various reasons I don't think it is.
I also learned a long time ago that when you hit the proverbial "brick wall," and just can't seem to go any further with any particular line, it is time to be like water and find the path of least resistance. In other words, it's time to "go with the flow," and that's what I've done with the fourth Franklin County, Tennessee family from whom I'm descended, the HOLDER family.
Thankfully, unlike the MILES, HODGE, and FARRAR families, I have been able to trace the HOLDER family at least three more generations back, to the earliest days of English settlement of America, although there is unfortunately some disagreement among researchers as to who was the original immigrant ancestor and when he arrived.
And through the HOLDER family, I'm also connected to several other lines--BUNCH, LANGSTON, BENNETT, PERSONS, BEATTY, WORRAL, McCRAW, MADDOX, DANCE, DEWEY, PATTERSON, WALKER, LUMPKIN, RICHARDSON, CURD, CONSTABLK, MELBOURNE, ELYE, ANDERSON, BRANCH, GOUGH, ADDIE, SPARKE, BAYNE, and possibly BAIRD--some of which include some of the very earliest settlers of English Colonial America.
Researching all these, and doing what I can to verify the links by following the "paper trail," is going to keep me busy for a long time! So, maybe those "brick walls" are not such a bad thing altogether!
Miles to go yet.
(Wednesday, June 9, 2021)
Shortly after I discovered, on May 31, 2019, that I have a different grandfather than the one I thought I had for all my life, I began to research the "new" lines from which I'm descended, to replace the "old" lines that were no longer (and never had been) relevant). By and large, I've been successful, and happy with the results. Not the least of my discoveries is the fact that I am a descendant of some of the very earliest English families to settle in North America. However, while that's gratifying, I've also run into some proverbial "brick walls." Not the least of these is the fact that so far as the proverbial "paper trail" is concerned, I am unable to trace my direct paternal line, the Miles family, any further back that about 1810, when my great-great-grandfather, William B. Miles, was born in North Carolina (according to the 1850 federal census). Unfortunately, although the census provides us with an approximate date and place of birth for William B. Miles, the actual paper trail ends at June 1838, when his name first appears in the country court minutes of Coffee County, Tennessee. So far, I've been unable to find anything older, nor any document of any kind that provides us with the identity of his parents, or even a good clue. So, at present, I'm stuck. Or am I?
In the absence of any document that irrefutably links William B. Miles to any of the Miles families living in Tennessee at the same time, I have recently turned to DNA to help me solve the mystery. In short, the same DNA testing that led me to learn that some of my ancestors were not who I had supposed them to be, might, I hope, help me find the "new" ones who've replaced them in my family tree.
It's not been easy though. Although I have multiple DNA matches to people who are also Miles descendants, figuring out which ancestors we share in common has so far proved a challenge. The trouble is that while some of my matches are people who have been as careful with their research as I am, a lot more haven't. The result is that I've encountered more "dead-ends" than "break-throughs." That being said, I now have good reason to believe that I may be descended from a fairly well-documented Miles family that has its origins in Baltimore County, Maryland. From there, some members went to Caswell County, North Carolina. Others went to South Carolina. Later still, some of both branches went to Tennessee. So now, I'm busy trying to straighten out the spaghetti-like tangle of Miles families that inhabited Tennessee during the early nineteenth century, to try to figure out which ones are most likely to be the parents of William B. Miles.
Will I be successful? Right now, I don't know, but I'm hopeful. I'm also still working on the paper trail, checking deeds, wills, county court minutes and any other records I can find, in the hope I'll come across something that gives me no doubt as to the identity of William B. Miles' mother and/or father. Which one, DNA or paper, will help me solve the mystery? Hopefully, both. Stay tuned!
412 and counting!!
(Sunday, January 31, 2021)
One of the things I've resolved to do in the new year is to replace my paper family history files with digital files, in order to make more room in my house. Right now I have a huge file cabinet full of folders that is taking up an enormous amount of space. Sometime this year, I hope to discard all papers that are not original documents, replacing the bulk with digital files, and then either get rid of the file cabinet or use it to store other things that are also taking up space in boxes.
As part of the process, I've been taking stock of my ancestral research, which is now entering it's fiftieth year. It was in November 1971, that I first became interested in tracking down my ancestors, to satisfy my own curiosity and also to leave a legacy to my children, grandchildren, and any other descendants I may have, so that they will know where they came from, which I didn't when I started this work.
When I began, I knew the names of my parents, of course, and also my four grandparents. In addition, I knew the names of five of my eight great-grandparents. That's a total of eleven people. Yesterday, when I made a spreadsheet listing the names of all my known ancestors to date, I was astonished to learn that there were 155 surnames and 412 individual names! Of those, 81 surnames are paternal and 74 are maternal. Of the 411 individuals, 195 are paternal and 217 are maternal.
As it happens, I already have digital files for most of these people. What I need to do now is compare what I have in the physical folders with what I have in existing digital folders to make sure the digital folders are complete before tossing out any paper copies of documents. This is likely to be a time-consuming project, but it's one that needs to be done. When I started this work in the early 1970s, actual physical files was the only way to go. I did not have a computer of course, and none of the material I accumulated could be found on the Internet because there wasn't an Internet!
More than 400 years in America!
(Sunday, January 31, 2021)
Yesterday, when I was in the process of creating the spreadsheets I mention in the section above, I was reminded that although Christopher Branch was certainly one of my earliest ancestors in America, he wasn't the first. I had forgotten the fact that an ancestor named Cicily Reynolds arrived at Jamestown aboard The Swan in 1610 or thereabouts, some ten years earlier than Christopher Branch. Sometime after, when she was about sixteen or seventeen, she married a man named Thomas Bayley or Bailey. Precisely when he arrived in the colony is unknown.
The Bayleys (or Baileys) had a daughter, named Temperance, who was born in Virginia about 1817. We know that her father died about two years later and that her mother married a widower named Samuel Jordan, who had three sons. Together, Cicily and Samuel had two daughters, Margery and Mary, and then Samuel died, about 1623, which was a year after the Powhatan Indian uprising of 1622.
After Cicily's second husband died, she led two other men to believe that she would marry them, but when she didn't, one of them sued her for breach of promise. Instead, she ended up marrying another of my ancestors, a man named William Farrar, for whose family Farrar's Island was named. In the meantime, Temperance Bayley or Bailey grew up and in 1637 married another of my ancestors, Richard Cocke, who had arrived in the colony just the year before!
There are a lot of Americans who would like to be able to trace their ancestry to one of the passengers on The Mayflower, but I don't care about that. The Mayflower didn't bring the Pilgrims to America until 1620. At least one of my ancestors was in Virginia at least ten years earlier, which to me is even better!
400 YEARS IN AMERICA!
(Thursday, October 8, 2020)
Believe it or not, my "roots" in America go back exactly 400 years this year because my earliest ancestors in America, an Englishman named Christopher Branch, and his wife, Addie, sailed from London aboard a ship called the London Merchant, in March 1619 (old style) or 1620 (new style), bound for Virginia, where the English had first established a colony only thirteen years earlier, in 1607. For those of you unfamiliar with what that means, England was then still using a calendar in which each new year did not began until March 25.
Because he arrived in America just as England was beginning to establish a toehold in America, Christopher Branch, to whom I can trace descent on my father's side of the family, eventually became a wealthy land owner. When he died about 1681, at the then-remarkable age of 83, he owned a 1,380 acre plantation at Henrico.
Obviously, since it is now October, this posting is six months overdue. I should have added it in March, but that's when the COVID19 pandemic broke out and family history got pushed to the back of my mind for awhile. But, as they say, "better late than never!"
Eventually, when time permits, I'll add a biography of Christopher Branch and his family to this site.
Picture above courtesy National Park Service.
In Memorium: Kathleen Jenkins Eavenson (1950-2020)
(Thursday, October 8, 2020)
On Friday, September 25, 2020, my cousin, Kathleen Jenkins Eavenson, died at her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She was four months short of her 70th birthday. She was the daughter and only child of my Uncle Lindell Ray Jenkins and his wife, Betsey Torrey Strow, of Dallas, Texas, where Kathleen was born and raised.
As children, Kathleen and I were playmate. During the summer of 1955, shortly after my parents divorced, she and her mother lived with me and my mother. Like all kids, we didn't always "play nice." In later years, Kathleen was fond of reminding me that one day during that long-ago summer, she gave me a bloody nose, when I called her an "old trash-can lid." A few years ago, I had a coffee cup made for her, with a picture of a trash-can lid on it, assuring her that "Old Trash-Can Lid" is actually a term of endearment.
She also liked to remind me that I drove her crazy playing my "Ballad of Davy Crockett" record over and over and over again. Kathleen said that whereas I liked to dress up and pretend to be Davy Crockett, she wanted to be Billy the Kid. In our later years, whenever we wrote to one another or spoke on the phone, she would sometimes call me "Davy" and I'd call her "Billy." In the photo to the left, which was taken at my sixth birthday party, she is dressed as Billy the Kid. That's her dog, Duffy, in the picture. Kathleen really thought it was funny to have Duffy wearing a party hat.
The last time I saw Kathleen, when we were children, was in February 1959, when her father took me and her to the movies. I didn't see her again after that until the spring of 1985, when I chanced to fly to Phoenix on business. We were in our 30s then. Although due to physical distance, we only saw each other occasionally over the years, we never lost touch again, and corresponded with one another or spoke on the phone several times each year, and we always sent each other a birthday card.
On those infrequent occasions when we got together, it was almost always memorable. In 1998, Kathleen and I accompanied her father to Muskogee, Oklahoma, to help him place some paving bricks around a grave marker he had made for his mother, our grandmother, Ida Lee Seay Jenkins. Thankfully, I took a video camera with us so that I now have a permanent reminder of what was definitely a trip I'll never forget. In 2010 Kathleen and I visited Paris, Texas together, to see the final resting places of some of our ancestors. That same year, my father and I spent a few days with Kathleen and her husband, Mike, in Phoenix. During that time, she went with us to see Sedona, Montezuma's Castle, Wupatki National Monument (where the top photo above was taken), and the Grand Canyon. Between 2014 and 2017, I made several automobile trips to California, which gave me multiple opportunities to enjoy the hospitality of the Eavenson home in Phoenix. Sometimes, Kathleen came to Texas. In 2000, when her father died, she flew to Dallas and I helped her make his funeral arrangements. In December 2018, she and Mike came to Texas. I didn't know then that when we said goodbye in the parking lot of the El Fenix Mexican restaurant where we had just enjoyed lunch with her husband and some members of his family, it was the last time I would ever see her in person. The last time I spoke to her on the phone was in August of this year. What made the call memorable is that she barely mentioned any of the many health problems she had been having for the past decade.
She was definitely one-of-a-kind and I am already missing her very much.
Rest in Peace you old trash can lid.
My New Book
(Saturday, January 25, 2020)
Earlier this month, my latest book, Miles Away from Butler: How a DNA Test Rewrote my Family's History, was published by Poor Scholar Publications. Consisting of seven chapters and an Introduction, it tells the story of how in 2019, thanks to the results of a 23 and Me DNA test, I uncovered a 91-year-old family secret that had the effect of pruning several branches from my family tree and the addition of many more new ones!.
You can purchase a copy from Amazon.com for only $12.99, plus tax and shipping.
My Family Tree is Branching Out
(Monday, December 23, 2019)
It may be winter, but my family tree is branching out like it was spring. This year (2019), owing to the subtraction of four paternal branches by DNA testing and the addition of seventeen "new" ones in their place, combined with six others that were the result of regular research, my paternal branches now total thirty-four.
The overdue addition of nineteen maternal branches, resulting from regular research, brings the total of maternal branches to forty-five.
This means it is time for an update to this family history website, but with so many "new" families to add, it may take a while.
At last it can be told.
(Sunday, December 22, 2019)
Yesterday, Saturday, December 21, 2019, was what would have been my father's 92nd birthday. To commemorate it, I had lunch in the same restaurant where I had taken him out to lunch on his birthday every year, or almost very year, since he turned 65. Later, I visited the cemetery where he was recently buried, to sprinkle some earth from the front yard of the house where he was born on his grave. I had scooped up a little for that purpose back in February, when he and I visited the old homestead in East Dallas. (See March 1st posting below.) I didn't think I would need it so soon. Even though he was then 91, I had hoped he had at least another two or three years left, but it turned out to be only a few months instead.
In the evening, my two brothers and I, and their wives, and a nephew and his wife, gathered at the home of one of my brothers to remember our father and to celebrate his life. After enjoying some barbecue from the restaurant where we had taken our dad to lunch on Fathers Day every year since about 2001, we sat down to watch a 37-minute long tribute to Dad that I made using bits and pieces of video that I had recorded over the past few years. Parts of it were funny, but by the time it ended, several in the room were tearful.
Finally, at long last, I told them about a family secret that I had only learned about some eight or nine months ago: That the DNA test that I wrote about in my April 15th posting on this site, had revealed that our paternal grandfather was not the man that our dad had thought was his dad, and that our dad was the result of an extra-marital relationship between our paternal grandmother and her next-door-neighbor in East Dallas, a man named Charlie Miles (see photo, above left).>
When I learned this secret back in March, for several weeks afterward I mentally wrestled with a dilemma: Do I tell my father? Or not? In the end, I decided it was best to remain silent, thinking that it might have done him more harm than good to have this information so late in life. My brothers agreed that I had done the right thing.
Before telling my brothers all this on our father's birthday--a day that I had deliberately chosen for that purpose--I had worried a lot about how they would take the news. To my relief, they were not only unfazed but also curious to know about our "new" grandfather, Charlie Miles.
In my April 15th posting, I said I had not yet met any of my living "new" relatives. Well, since then I have made the acquaintance of one "new" cousin, who like me is a grandchild of Charlie Miles, and she has been very gracious and welcoming. In fact, we have got together several times since May, and in June I even arranged for her to meet her "new" Uncle, my father, by inviting her to a picnic that I hosted, passing her off as a colleague from work. Of course, he did not know who she was, but she knew, and it was gratifying to both her and to me that she was able to meet him before he passed away, She and her husband also attended his funeral in November.
So, where do I go from here with my research? Well, truth be told, I have already done a lot. In the spring I made two family history research trips, one to Oklahoma, where I visited the gravesite of my "new" great-grandmother (Charlie's mother), and to Tennessee, where Charlie was born. Thanks to the plethora of documentary records that are now available online, I was able to quickly trace some of my "new" family lines back to the 1600s, and ever the 1500s in some cases. It was particularly gratifying to learn that one of my "new" ancestors was one of the very earliest settlers of Virginia, arriving only thirteen or fourteen years after the colony was founded!
Amd as I make mew discoveries, you can be sure that I will add them to this site!
In the meantime, you can read about "Grandpa Charlie" and my MILES FAMILY ancestors HERE.
In Memorium: Raymond Joe Butler (1927-2019)
(Saturday, December 14, 2019)
On Wednesday, November 13, 2019, my nearly 92-year-old father, Raymond Joe Butler, died at Dallas Medical Center.
To honor him, I have created a Find-a-Grave memorial which you can view HERE
My father devoted 50 years of his life to Scouting, as a Boy Scout himself and also as both a Scoutmaster and Cubmaster. The photo seen here was taken at Camp Wisdom in the southern part of Dallas County, Texas, where my father often camped as a boy and also as a Scout leader. At his request, he was buried in his Scoutmaster's uniform. My father was also a U.S. Navy veteran who in 1946 took part in the first postwar atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific, while serving aboard the U.S.S. Bexar (APA-237).
Some Unexpected DNA Revelations
(Saturday, April 13, 2019)
Two weeks ago, after comparing DNA results with some of my known cousins and with some of my recent DNA matches on both 23 and Me as well as some on Ancestry.com, I learned some startling news about one branch of my family tree. Without going into any details, I'll just say that the result has been to more or less "erase" three or four lines from my family tree. In short, I found out that I am not descended from some of the people I had thought, in some cases for decades, were my ancestors. In effect, they have been replaced by a whole new set of ancestors I never knew I had previously. I've also discovered that I have a whole "new" set of living relatives, some of them residing in the area where I make my home. As of this writing, we haven't met in person yet, but we have been in contact by email. I look forward to making some new acquaintances soon, and also learning more about my "new" family, which isn't really "new" at all. I just didn't know about it before. I'd be a liar if I didn't say that the news, for a whole variety of reasons, was a bit shocking at first, but after much reflection, I have come to terms with it. The DNA testing simply revealed that for a long time I was on the wrong path, but now that I know the right one, I am determined to move on and continue my research.
This Old House
(Friday, March 1, 2019)
In the spring of 2014, when I took my oldest son and grandson on a drive-through visit to my grandparents' old neighborhood in East Dallas, I was astonished to see that their house was still standing. Most of the original wooden homes in the neighborhood were already gone by then, replaced by new houses made of brick. Three years later, when my elderly father and I went by to take a look, the old house was gone, but there was no new house, only a vacant lot. When I looked again this year, in late January, I fully expected to see a brand new house on the site. To my surprise, the lot was still vacant! I realized then that my dad and I still had a chance to do something I wished that we had done in 2017--that is, get out of the car and walk around the place. Recently, on Sunday, February 24, a remarkably sunny, warm day in North Texas, my 91-year-old father and I did just that.
In the photograph seen here, Dad and I are standing on what used to be the front porch of the house in which he was born and spent his entire childhood, and where I also spent some memorable childhood days as well. I'm not entirely sure what thoughts were going through my father's mind as we stood there on a spot that was once so familiar to us both, but for me the experience was surreal. As I walked around the property, I recognized it, yet at the same time I didn't recognize it. Where was the house, the focal point of the whole place? Gone of course.
It seemed so strange to stand in the spot where my grandmother's living room had once been, where I had played with my toys when I spent weekends with her in the late 1950s and early 1960s, where I read my Superman and Mickey Mouse comic books, and listened to "Nannie," as I called her, tell me stories about her childhood, and then walk over to the place where the bedroom had once been, the place where she had taken care of me when I came down with scarlet fever, but now with no walls or ceiling to enclose what had formerly been a snug and comforting space.
My father did speak of some of the things he remembered, like the time his own dad--the grandfather I never knew because he died before I was born--made him a kite that was so big it lifted my dad up off the ground, and how he (my dad) climbed up a backyard tree and then had trouble coming down!
While we were there, I thought about how fortunate my father had been, even though his family was poor. Not only was he born in that house that was no longer there, but also he grew up there. Unlike me, he never had to move houses as a child, never had to change schools except when his age demanded it, never had to make new friends in new neighborhoods as I often had to do when I was growing up, and never had step-parents. In short, he had a stable childhood, and though his father died when he (my dad) was not even seven, his mother and also her sister, my dad's Aunt Mamie, doted on him, and did everything in their power to give him a happy and secure youth. To the best of my knowledge, they succeeded.
Since this page is meant only for brief notices and I have a lot more to say about this subject, I have created a webpage about my grandparents' house, illustrated with photos, which I invite you to visit. Here's the link:
This Old House: 1432 Rowan Avenue (The Butler Years)
I Got Some More DNA Results!
(Thursday, February 21, 2019)
Well, my 23 and Me results became available today. Not surprisingly, I am mostly British and Irish (67.2%) with some French and German (15.3) and general Western European (11.3%), which was no surprise at all. I have plenty of documentary evidence that supports the same conclusions.
One surprise, however, is that they found a trace amount of Native American (0.3 percent), which my Ancestry DNA results did not find, so I guess now I can restore that once elusive "Cherokee Princess," whoever she may be, to her rightful place in the family tree! The test also found a tiny smidgen of East African DNA (0.2%).
They also found I have 2.8% Scandinavian DNA. The Ancestry test originally said I had about 9% Scandinavian DNA, but then later they retracted it.
Another surprise is that I am very distantly related, through a common ancestor, to Alexander Hamilton!
There was also a very big disappointment. For decades I have thought I might be descended from Kinnard Butler and Nancy Ann Johnson, who I believed, even though all I had was circumstantial evidence, were the parents of my great-great-grandfather Alfred Butler, but they are not. How do I know? Because someone I've communicated with in the past on Ancestry.com, who is descended from them and who also took the 23 and Me test, is not on my list of 23 and Me DNA matches. If I were also a descendant of Kinnard Butler, that person would have shown up in my matches. So now I am back to "Square One" on the Butler line research.
Interestingly, when my cousin Kathleen got her 23 and Me results, she had two women (twins) show up in her matches as first cousins. They were born in 1963, but had been given up for adoption in their infancy. Kathleen couldn't think of anyone on her mother's side of the family that could be the father or mother, so she speculated that my mother, who was living in the same city where these twins were born, as a divorced single mom, was their mother, and that my mother had taken the secret to her grave. In other words, Kathleen suspected that these twins were my secret half-sisters. Well, they aren't, because neither of those two women showed up anywhere in my DNA matches, much less as my sisters! I didn't think they would. But now Kathleen is going to have to figure out who on her mother's side of the family had some children she never knew about!
The Kindness of Strangers
(Tuesday, February 3, 2019)
In late January, I received an email from a woman in Dripping Springs, Texas that read:
Recently, my daughter and son-in-law were in an antique store and left with a very old photo. Names, dates of birth and deaths are written in pencil on the back. They thought it would be cool to try to find the family it belonged to. Since they were in the middle of a move, they left the photo with me. This morning, I Google searched TW Jenkins and found your website with a great story about him. I am certain the photo we have is one of Thomas and Louisa Jenkins. We would like to send this wonderful old photo to the family it belongs to. If you will provide a mailing address, we will be happy to send it to you.
Naturally, I wrote back right away, to confirm that the photo in question was of my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side of the family, to thank her for her offer, and to provide my mailing address. I also offered reimbursement for the cost of the photo and also the cost of postage, which was very kindly refused. This morning, there was a small package in our mailbox that contained the photo, which can be seen above. In addition to the inscription on the back, which enabled the writer of the email to locate me, the name "Beedie Jenkins, Powderly, Texas" can also be seen. I know that T. W. and Louisa had a daughter named Susan Zobedia, whom I've heard was nicknamed "Beadie" or "Beedie" (not sure of the spelling), so it must have been hers. One of my cousins also has a copy of this picture so it's obvious that after T. W. and Louisa visited the photography studio where they had the photo made, they must have ordered duplicate copies for all their children. This means that there may be as many as eight in existence, provided they kept one for themselves. My cousin has one and I now have two. I wonder who has the others?
On close inspection, a name, beginning with the letters "PRA" can be seen embossed, at an angle, on the lower right side of the front side of the photo. The letters "HOTO" can also be seen. Unfortunately, the letters in-between were stamped right on top of the decorative edge so they are hard to make out. After consulting a 1908 Paris, Texas city directory (the earliest I could find online), I see now that it says "PRATT PHOTO" because a man named George H. Pratt had a photography studio at 217 N. 20th Street in Paris. Unfortunately, the photo itself is not dated, but judging by the apparent ages of T. W. and Louisa in the photo, I am guessing that it was made right around the turn of the twentieth century, give or take a few years.
Upon reflection, I have decided to "pay it forward" by looking for Beedie Jenkin's descendants, if any, to see if any one of them wants the photo. If so, I will pass it on, since I already have one that was passed down through my branch of the family. If anyone reading this should happen to know where they are, please let me know!
(Monday, August 27, 2018)
Note: In order to protect the privacy of the people in the following story, I have not given their names nor, I hope, any information that would make it easy for someone to identify them. Doing so made it a lot more difficult to write in a coherent fashion, but I hope I have managed to do so.
Above is a photo, taken at White Rock Lake in Dallas about 1953, of me (wearing cowboy hat), my step-great-grandmother on my mother's side of the family, and three other kids whose identities, until last summer, were a mystery to me. Little did I know that my efforts to discover their names would lead me to also discover some remarkable and completely unexpected coincidences!
To make a long story short, I finally found out last summer (2017) that the three other children in the photo were the son and two daughters of one my mother's cousins, who I have no recollection of meeting, although I probably did because there are three of his kids in this photo! This means they are my second cousins, since their father is my first cousin 1x removed. However, that was probably the first and only time because I have no recollection of either him or his kids, who I probably never saw again---until recently that is, some sixty-plus years later!
Last summer, I managed to learn the name of the cousin sitting in the stroller in the photo, and invited both him and his uncle (who because his grandfather had two wives, is actually younger than him), to lunch. During the course of our conversation, I was told that the older girl in the photo, the one standing next to me, now lives overseas but that the other girl, the baby in the photo, lives in an adjoining state. After I got her email address from her brother, I wrote to her, to introduce myself, and received a very welcoming reply, inviting me to look her up if I was ever in the state in which she resides.
About two weeks ago, while on a road trip through that state, I phoned her and we set a time and place to meet up toward the end of my vacation. Four days earlier, while traveling through an entirely different city in that state, my youngest son (who accompanied me on the trip) and I had dinner with another relative, one I had never met before--the brother-in-law of a first cousin on my father's side of the family.
Okay, so here's where the remarkable coincidences begin: While conversing with my second cousin (on my mother's side, remember), I casually told her than the man my son and I had dinner with a few nights earlier happened to have the same last name as my second cousin's mother, and I wondered aloud if they might somehow be related since it was an uncommon surname. My second cousin then asked: "What's your brother-in-law's wife's first name?" When I told her, she asked, "Does she have a brother named XXXX?" When I said, "yes," my second cousin asked, "Did they live in [a certain part of Dallas]?" "Yes," I replied. And then, my second cousin said, "I know him!" "What! How it be that you know the man my son and I had dinner with the other night, who is the brother-in-law of a first cousin on my father's side of the family?" "Because," she replied, "My brother and sister and I grew up in the same part of town." "In fact," she added, "the man you had dinner with was my brother's best friend!" But wait! There's more: When I afterward emailed her brother to tell him that I had dinner a few earlier with one of his childhood friends, he not only confirmed that they were buddies in school but that he (my second cousin on my mother's side of the family) had been best man at his friend's wedding! (Remember, the man in question, the man my son and I had dinner with, is the brother of the wife on one of my first cousins on my dad's side of the family.)
To make things even more remarkable, my second cousin, the woman with whom I was having this conversation, revealed that she had once lived in the same neighborhood in which I now reside, and furthermore, that her children went to the same elementary school as my kids! But not at the same time, because she and her family had moved away from that neighborhood the year before I and my family moved there! Keep in mind that this is a second cousin I had not seen in over sixty years, since we were children and had our photo taken together!
Well, needless to say, I was completely taken aback and astonished by all these remarkable coincidences! What's ironic though, is that after doing some research upon returning home, I have discovered that the answer to my initial inquiry--were my second cousins on my mother's side related to the wife and brother-in-law of my first cousin on my father's side--is almost certainly "no," although I still think there might be a possibility of it if I (or someone) made the effort to go back a few more generations.
So, as I often say, doing family history is a lot like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates, "You never know what you're going to get!"
A Mother's Day Tribute to the Five Most Special Mothers in My Life (Sunday, May 13, 2018)
Well, it's been a while since my last post, almost two years! But here I am on this Mother's Day to pay homage to the five most special women in my life, all of them mothers!
The first on the list (I'm going in the order in which I became acquainted with them) is my actual mother, born Ida Louise Jenkins in 1930 in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Sadly, my mother's own mother died when she (my mother) was a little girl of three. Consequently, my mother was raised by her father, William Ollie Jenkins, and also, because my grandfather was not always the most reliable or responsible parent on the block, her grandparents, William Newton and Lestie Jenkins, and then later her Aunt Pearl and Uncle Ernest Hayes, with whom she was residing in Dallas, Texas, when she met and married my father in the late 1940s.
Unfortunately, although my mother and I loved each other, we were not as close as I would have liked. Why? Because I didn't spend a lot of time with her. In effect, I "lost" her three times. The first time, in 1958, when she and my first stepfather moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and I went to live with my dad and new stepmother. The second time, in 1960, when she left my first stepfather and then went to live in Chicago, where she remained for the rest of her life. The third time was in 1995, when she unexpectedly died at the age of 64.
The second mother on my list is my mother's older sister, my Aunt Nez Hickman, born Emma Inez Jenkins in 1927, also in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Aunt Nez was one of a handful of people who saw me and held me shortly after I was born. During my childhood, she and my Uncle Charles Hickman were like a second set of parents to me and I spent a lot of time with them, so much in fact that after my parents were divorced and my mother remarried, they proposed to adopt me. My mother wouldn't agree to it, however. I owe Aunt Nez a lot because she was there for me, loving me and caring about me during a time when I often felt unloved and unwanted, after both my parents remarried. She was in some ways more of a mother to me than my own mother and we remained close until she died in 2009. Aunt Nez was also special to me because unlike my mother, who had no interest in family history, Nez was enthusiastic about helping me learn more about my maternal ancestors. She was a great help to me in that department also.
Third on my list is my grandmother, Alice Tate Butler, who I called "Nannie." Born in a little town in Alabama in 1885, she came to Texas at the age of three with her family, settling in Dallas in 1890. She also loved and cared for me during those unhappy years when I felt like a "leftover kid." I spent a lot of good times with her, staying with her on weekends and sometimes longer, at her home in East Dallas. When I was around twelve, she nursed me through a bout of Scarlet Fever, an infectious illness that she had suffered herself as a child. By the time I came along she was in her sixties so I only remember her as an old lady, but a very sweet and loving one, who always made me feel wanted and special. When she died in 1972 at age 86, I felt like I had lost one of my best friends in the whole world, which I had. I still keep a photo of her and I together, taken when I came home on leave from the Navy, on my chest o'drawers. I also owe my grandmother a debt of gratitude because it was she, albeit without meaning to do so, who inspired to begin my lifelong hobby of family history research.
The fourth mother on my list is my mother-in-law, Fay Wolfson. What can I say about Fay? She had a heart of gold and I just wish everyone could have a mother-in-law as wonderful and kind and generous and sharing as her. Born in London, England in 1913, Fay had a hard life, especially during the Second World War, when the Germans were bombing the British capital, but through all her hardships, she kept smiling. She always made me feel welcome, from the first day I met her in 1969. Unfortunately, like my own mother, Fay died suddenly and unexpectedly, although at the more advanced age of 74.
Last, but hardly least on my list, is my wife, Anita, the loving, caring mother of my sons, and the wonderful "Nana" of my grandsons. There are not enough superlatives to express how much I love and appreciate her. She figuratively, and perhaps also literally, saved my life by coming into it at just the right time. Of all the people in my life, she is undoubtedly the most important. Although the other women I've named above have all, in their own way, made me feel special and loved, no one has ever done a better job of it, and for much, much longer, than my wonderful wife.
A Special 4th of July (Another additional posting 28 June 2016)
One of my goals when I first began to research my family's history was to learn how the Butler family came to be in Texas. In fact, I remember very well, back in November 1971, asking my paternal grandmother, after she told me how her parents brought her and her siblings to Texas from Alabama in 1888, if she knew how my grandfather's (her husband's) family came to be in Texas. She said she didn't know. All she knew was that he (my grandfather Butler) grew up in Denison, a little town located on the Red River a little more than an hour's drive from Dallas. For a long time that's all I had to go on and it wasn't much.
In 1986 (or thereabouts) I discovered that my grandfather's grandfather was the first member of the Butler family to come to Texas and that he arrived in 1846 (shortly after Texas became a state) as a soldier in the War with Mexico. A decade or so later, after doing some research in the Alabama state archives in Montgomery, I discovered that his regiment (the First Alabama Volunteers) had first arrived in Texas not just on any old day that year but on the 4th of July!
This means that for our family, the 4th of July is not just Independence Day but also "Arrival in Texas Day" and this year marks the 170th anniversary of that event. This is something else of which I remind myself whenever I'm feeling down about my seeming inability to break through those genealogical "brick walls" that frustrate me. Forty-five years ago I set out to answer a specific question and although it took me something like twenty-five years to do it, I did do it!
My next quest, after that goal was accomplished, was (and still is) to try to find when the Butler family came to America! We are, I think, either English or Irish in origin. Unfortunately, so far I haven't been able, despite my best efforts, to get any further back than my grandfather's grandfather! I live in hope however and if I ever achieve this so-far-seemingly unattainable goal, I will be sure to post the news here! In the meantime, have a safe and happy Independence Day and if you are related to me, be sure to fire off an extra firecracker (only if it's legal where you live) or drink an extra beer or something to mark the occasion of our family's 170th anniversary in the State of Texas!
37 Family Trees (Additional posting 28 June 2016)
Starting last Thursday and finishing today, I have created several "Family Tree" webpages for this site that illustrate the line of descent from thirty-seven different pairs of ancestors down to and through me to my grandchildren. When I started my research forty-five years ago, I only had knowledge of two (my two sets of grandparents). When I think about all the genealogical "brick walls" I've yet to overcome and become frustrated, it helps me to remember that if I had not made this effort, it would either have had to wait for another generation to discover all that information or it would have continued to be "lost."
The first of these trees was the toughest to build because I used what is known in HTML lingo as "nested tables." The information boxes, with the names and dates of birth and death for each ancestor, weren't so hard. It was making sure all the connecting lines went in the right direction and made the right connections that proved to be the most difficult part of the job, but I knew that once I finished one successfully, it could serve as a model for all the others, which it did except for the two that illustrate how I have two sets of first cousins as husband and wife in my tree. One of these is one my father's side of the family and the other is on my mother's. Here's a link if you are interested in taking a look!
I'm not adopted. (Posted 28 June 2016)
As announced in a previous post, I recently bought an Ancestry.com DNA kit for my 88-year-old father. Yesterday, the results arrived. The good news is that the man I've spent all my life thinking of as my father actually is my father! In short, I'm not adopted or someone else's kid. Not that I ever thought so after I told my oldest son about the test he said, "Hey, what if you find out he's not your Dad?" One of my cousins said the very same thing. My reply to both of them was that I would be pretty upset about it, of course. When I told my dad what they said, he replied that he would be pretty upset too! Fortunately, there's nothing to be upset about and the DNA test proves it. Not that I needed one for that purpose. I only have to look in the mirror to see quite clearly that I'm my father's son.
My father's results are as follows: Completely European (no surprise there); 57% British (less than me but still high, I have 70%), Irish 18% (higher than me, I'm only 6%), Western European 15% (higher than me, I have only 3%), Scandinavian 4% (much lower than me, I have 9%), Eastern European 2% (lower than me, I have 3%), Finland/NW Russia 2% (I don't have any of this at all!), and Iberian Peninsula 2% (I have 5%), No Jewish or Caucasus or Italian or Greek at all. Since I have trace amounts of all these, I guess this test means that I got them from my mother's side of the family.
Guess Who I'm Related To! (Additional 18 June 2016 posting)
I nearly forgot to mention that almost exactly a year ago, while doing some research on my mother's side of the family, I discovered that I am descended from a Frenchman who is known as Mareen "The Immigrant" Duvall.
Mareen is apparently so well known in history that he even has his own Wikipedia page (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mareen_Duvall. He also has a lot of descendants, some of whom are famous.
What this discovery means, fortunately or unfortunately depending upon one's point-of-view, is that I am distantly related to at least two U.S. Presidents as well as some other famous folks, who are also descendants of Mareen "The Immigrant" Duvall. Here are photos of the Presidents:
Barack Obama (ninth cousin)
Harry S Truman (seventh cousin, twice removed)
Other famous cousins include the actor Robert Duvall (eighth cousin, once removed), Wallis Warfield Simpson (sixth cousin, two times removed), the divorced American woman for whom Britain's King Edward VIII abdicated his throne , and former Vice-President Dick Cheney (ninth cousin).
Friends and family who know me well will have no trouble guessing which of these cousins I am pleased to have as relatives and which I am not too happy about!
In any event, as I have frequently commented, ancestors and relatives are like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates, "You never know what you are going to get!"
Thanks to the White House Presidential biographies webpage for presidential photos.
Random Reflections (Posted 18 June 2016)
I can't believe it has been nearly a year since my last post. The older I get, the faster time seems to pass!
Since tomorrow is Fathers Day I'll mention that about a month ago I bought an Ancestry.com DNA kit for my 88-year-old father. We haven't got his results yet (it will probably be another month or so) but I am eager to find out from which side of my family I got which percentages of my genetic ethnic makeup. I can't have my mother tested unfortunately because she died more than twenty years ago but having my father tested ought to be sufficient to figure things out.
I have to say too that I am impressed with the accuracy of these DNA tests. My cousin Kathleen (on my mother's side of the family) was tested earlier this year and after her results were in, Ancestry.com correctly identified her as my first cousin! More recently, they connected me to a fellow I had never met (although as it turns out I knew his father, a first cousin of my mother's), saying they were pretty sure we were either second or third cousins. Well, they were right, he is my second cousin. (I used my Family Tree Maker software to calculate the relationship.)
I am a little puzzled though about one thing: Although Kathleen's father and my mother were siblings, Kathleen had no percentage of Western European ethnicity in her DNA. I find that curious in light of the fact that we are both descended from the same set of French, Dutch, and German ancestors who are quite obviously Western European. I think I read somewhere though that even siblings do not always get the same "dose" of genes so maybe that accounts for it. In either event, I thought it was odd.
I GOT MY DNA TEST RESULTS! (Posted 11 July 2015)
About a month ago I received the results of my Ancestry.com DNA test. In the main the test revealed what I already believed to be the case, namely that my ancestry is almost entirely European (98%) and largely British (70%).There was only one small surprise (1% European Jewish) and also a small disappointment (no Native American DNA at all). The test revealed that my non-European ancestors (2%) came from the Caucasus region of Western Asia.
Here's the complete breakdown of percentages:
- 98% European
- 70% British
- 9% Scandinavian
- 6% Irish
- 13% "Trace Regions":
- 5% Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal)
- 3% Eastern Europe
- 3% Western Europe
- 1% European Jewish
- less than 1% Italy/Greece
- 2% West Asian (Caucasus Region)
Above: A satellite photo of my ancestral home.
The Caucasus, according to Wikipedia is "a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, which contain Europe's highest mountain, Mount Elbrus. Politically, the Caucasus region is separated between northern and southern parts. The southern parts consist of independent sovereign states. The northern parts are currently under the jurisdiction of Russia. The region is known for its linguistic diversity: aside from Indo-European and Turkic languages, the Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian, and Northeast Caucasian families are localized to the area."
According to the map that Ancestry.com uses for DNA test results, the Caucasus region also includes Turkey and much of what we today think of as the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Iran, and Iraq).
As I say, the results were not terribly surprising and also, by corroborating the documentary evidence I have so far uncovered, they are actually reassuring. I knew already that my mother's ancestors were Welsh and it's a fair bet that my father's are either English or Irish. Along the way, I have discovered ancestors who were Scottish, Northern Irish, Dutch, French, and German—all of which the DNA test results seem to confirm.
A LOOK BACKWARDS AND GETTING ORGANIZED (Posted 11 July 2015)
The receipt of my DNA results prompted me to do something I have been meaning to do for quite some time, namely get things better organized. Whether it is the work I do to make a living or the work I do as a hobby, the part I like the best is the actual "doing," which in the case of my family history work means "research." The part I like least is the "paperwork," that is getting things organized.
As I looked around my house, I realized I had lots and lots of unfiled notes and papers that needed to go into the file folders I created long ago in an effort to keep things better organized. So, after buying new file folders and labels (to replace the folders and labels that had become rather battered-looking over time), I spent about a week, on and off, just filing. Apart from a small stack of notes, I am now finished (at least for a while) and feel a lot better about things.
One thing that came to my mind as I was filing was that three of the five drawers in the large filing cabinet I possess are devoted to Family History folders. I also have some other Family History related items in cardboard boxes, as well as in binders, some of which are quite large. In other words, during the nearly forty-four years I have been trying to track down my ancestors, I have accumulated an enormous amount of data.
There and then, I realized I also need to do something else I have been meaning to do for a long time: Digitize as much of this material as possible, so that it won't take up as much physical space in my home and also so that I can share it with other family members who may be interested. That's my next big project!
Getting better organized also led me to contemplate the fact that although I often getting frustrated by my seeming inability to break through some of those genealogical "brick walls" that nearly every researcher inevitably encounters, in nearly forty-four years of intermittent research I have actually made tremendous progress.
In November 1971, when I first set out on this journey of discovery, I knew practically nothing about my family's history. I did know who my grandparents were and I personally knew two of them—my mother's father ("Grandpa Jenkins") and my father's mother, or "Nannie" as I called her—the person who was the first one to help me on my quest.
Thanks to my "Nannie," I also knew the names of two of my great-grandparents (her parents) and that they came to Texas from Alabama when my grandmother was very young. I also knew that my grandmother's father had been a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. On my mother's side of the family, I personally knew one step-great-grandparent (my grandfather's stepmother)—but that was it!
As for my father's side of the family, all that "Nannie" could tell me is that her husband—my grandfather Butler—had spent his childhood in Denison, Texas before his family finally came to Dallas.
That was then; but what about now?
Today, I know the names of more than fifty direct ancestors on my father's side and more than twice that many on my mother's side! That's more than 150 altogether! And that number does not include all the aunts and uncles and cousins I have likewise discovered, some from the past and some still living today! (And sometimes helping me or me helping them with our mutual interests and research!)
In some cases I also know much more about my ancestors' lives than just the dates and place of their birth, marriage and death. I have also personally visited the places where some of them lived and died and are buried, and in a few cases where they fought in some of our country's wars.
I have traced some of my ancestors all the way back to Europe and in a few cases, I even know the name of the ship that carried them to the "New World."
These are all things that might have continued to be lost to history had I not made the effort that I've made over the past four, going on five, decades!
I have to remind myself of these accomplishments from time to time because I often become discouraged by my seeming inability to learn the answers to the things that I still don't know, to get through the so-called genealogical "brick walls" that in some cases have frustrated me for many long years.
Looking back, I am also struck by something especially ironic. Although my father is not as intensely interested in family history as I am, he seems to enjoy hearing about my discoveries (provided I don't go into too much detail) and has never discouraged me from pursuing my research. In fact, from time-to-time, whenever I've asked him, he has been quite helpful. In contrast, my mother's attitude was "let the dead stay buried." In other words, she not only had no interest whatever in her family's history, she also tried to discourage me from looking into it. I can see why. Some of it, particularly the story of her own immediate family, is quite sad. Her mother, who she barely remembered, died young from tuberculosis and her father spent some time in a TB sanitarium while she and her siblings went to live with grandparents who resented taking the responsibility and treated the children accordingly. The irony therefore is that I have had much better success tracing my maternal ancestry than my paternal ancestry! This is something I would never have accomplished had I not chosen to ignore my mother's indifference and even opposition to the effort!
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