Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Years ago one of my most frustrating brick walls was my great-great grandmother, Margaret Deatherage Swain. It seemed impossible that someone who died so "recently" could be so difficult to discover. Census records didn't match with ages, and without consistency to Deatherage family residences, it was difficult for my inexperienced self to find her family. I stumbled upon a lead on a website by Mr. Ric Tobin, who has done extensive research on the Deatherage family, even publishing a book entitled "The Deatherage Family:  The First Four Generations in America." Through correspondence we figured out where she fit in the Deatherage chain (For more of the details here is the post describing how we came to this conclusion How I linked Margaret Deatherage to her Parents).

Although we had a lot of circumstantial evidence I wouldn't say any of it was hard fact, and frankly, I was just so happy to have her linked to a family with the information I did have that I didn't try any harder to find the concrete evidence to support the link. It's been nearly 10 years since that "breakthrough". Today I was just cleaning up my Deatherage files and decided to run a search for the father I linked her to, J.M. Deatherage, just to see if any "new" information could be found on him.

I found the typical census records that I already had (from the help of Mr. Tobin), but reviewed them again anyway. The key find wasn't Mr. Detherage's marriage record, but a marriage record of a J.M. Deatherage, his son, and the brother of Margaret. This is the brother who also went to Parker, TX (and died in Parker, TX) like my great-great grandfather, Milus Swain. When I looked at this marriage certificate, I found the evidence I needed! Surprisingly, on this marriage record of J M Deatherage to N E Dancer from McNairy, TN my great-great grandfather, Milus Swain, is written as the witness to this marriage.

 Although I felt confident in the relationship I had put together previously, this documents puts my mind at ease and provides solid support that Margaret Deatherage, the sister of J.M. Deatherage, and the child of J.M. Deatherage Sr is the Margaret Deatherage who married Milus Swain, my great-great grandfather.

Patience is one of the most frustrating aspects of family history work. When I get to brick walls and feel I've exhausted research avenues, I have to move on to a different family to keep myself motivated. Every once in a while I'll come back to my brick wall and do a quick search to see if I can find any new information. Inevitably, with all the new online resources available, something new will show up that adds more clues to help me piece the puzzle together.

Who needs a Facebook Crime Scene Game? I've got plenty of mystery in my family history as I look for real clues about real people. Unfortunately, patience is one of the keys to figuring it all out. I have been surprised over and over again how records find their way to me, a lot later than I sometimes hope, but they come at just the right time to motivate me and help me understand how my family fits in history.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

It's a Small World After All

The world is growing smaller. Finding connections with people is easier than ever, and today that was confirmed in the genealogy world again. My dad has a scrapbook of my great-grandmother's. I hadn't seen it until this weekend, but when I found it I spent hours reading it's pages and then photographing the contents.

My great-grandmother had cut out of the newspapers any article that was of interest to her - be it a relative who was getting married, or an acquaintance that was in the war, or just an article that showed the life and times of Orange County.

I took pictures of everything and hoped that I would be able to find the people on familysearch.org that I was not related to and post those articles there so others could get a hold of them. Several of the articles that were cut out were about a William O. Hart, a publisher for an Orange County newspaper, who died in a plane crash. Tragically, his son was killed the very next day on the way to the funeral.

I searched for this William Hart on familysearch.org and noticed that on his page someone had recently updated the information. There was an email address too so I emailed him directly the records I had in case he was interested. It turns out William Hart was his grandfather, and through a little more correspondence, we discovered his dad and my grandmother were in the same year of school at Olive Elementary in Orange County, CA . That got me excited, because I had these two pictures:
Olive Elementary School 3-4th grade classes, 1930.
My grandmother, Bernice, is sitting to the right of the teacher.
She was in the 3rd grade in this picture.
Olive Elementary School 3-4th grade classes, 1931
My grandmother, Bernice, is standing in the middle row, 3rd from the right.
She is in the fourth grade.

Sure enough his dad was in both of them. But the coolest part . . .  he sent me this one in return!!!! His dad is to the right of the teacher on the back row, and my grandma is the first little girl on the right bottom row. Now I have the 3rd, 4th and 6th grade pictures of my grandma!
In 1933 Bernice would be in the 6th grade. She is the first girl on the right bottom row.

I called my grandma, of course, and she remembers this Ross McClintock well. They had gone to school with each other from the 1st grade up until college and he even would drive her home from college on occasion. She described him as really good looking and all the girl's liked him, but very nice and a good friend to her.

 I value genealogical records and if someone had information about my family that they didn't know what to do with I'd hope they would try to find someone who might need it or want it. We can do that now so much easier through familysearch.org and ancestry.com or through blogging, facebook, twitter, etc. Sharing has become my favorite part of family history work, and it makes me realize that it really is "a small world after all".

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! 
Thinking today of a great (x3) uncle who died in World War II. Floyd Edmond Swain was the son of Milus. He enlisted in 1941 while living in Los Angeles. He was single with no dependents and was working as a chauffeur at the time.  He was part of the 450th Bomber Squadron 322nd Bomber Group, but on the foggy night of July 4, 1944 his plane flew into Cronk ny Arrey Laa (no that's not a typo), a hill on the southwest side of the Isle of Man and crashed. The pilot and one passenger survived. Floyd and four of his comrades were killed. He is buried in the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England.  Thank you for your service for our country.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Look Again

Family History work is detective work. Each source we find has clues about a person’s life that we can piece together to show a broader picture.  What’s so interesting, is that as you learn more information with each source, documents that you’ve already found can tell you something new from the new information you just learned. Let me try to illustrate this better as it’s happened to me twice in the last few months.

I have looked at this census record for as long as I have been working on my Swain family (almost 12 years) –
It’s the 1880 census of McNairy, TN.  My 3rd great grandmother Mary M.C.Swain  is living next door to her son M.F.L. Swain and wife, Margaret. (M.A. Swain). These are my 2nd great grandparents. Recently, however, I discovered that Mary M.C. Swain’s daughter, Nancy, married a J.T. Morris. When I went to discover them on the census, guess what! They were on this same census, also living next door to Mary M.C. Swain! All that time I’ve looked at that census and never realized that two of her children were living next door to her.

Tonight, I had a similar experience. I was teaching a family history class and brought examples of the types of documents that give you clues about your ancestor. I brought this marriage record of Milus Swain and Margaret Detheridge which I have looked at a million times but not in the last year. Today, however, I noticed that the witness to their marriage was J.T. Morris, which now I know as the husband of Milus’ sister. 

It's so important to keep looking over the documents you have already found as you get new information. You never know what will catch your eye.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Milus Swain’s Grave

Findagrave.com has 115 million photos of tombstones from around the world. I found the photo of my great-great grandfather, Milus Swain's grave here. He's buried in the Floydada, Floyd, Texas cemetery. He died after falling from a windmill when he was 64 years old. He left a wife and 17 children, 7 of which were still minors.  


There were a few things that struck me about this gravestone when I first saw it. First, the interesting shape - the knobby protrusions, the leaves at the top. It's ornate, but in a peculiar way. At the top of the headstone it says "Woodman of the World Memorial" with a latin inscription of "Dum Tacet Clamat". Underneath that inscription, there's an engraving of a compass and square with a G in the center. I figured all these things were symbolic, so I did a little online research. Most of the time grave markers may tell us some important key dates about an individual, but our great great grandfather's grave tells us more.

First of all, "Woodmen of the World" is the name of a fraternal organization that was started in 1890. It was basically a very early insurance company that provided a death benefit for the family and also helped others in need. As part of that death benefit, members would be given a tombstone in the shape of a tree, which accounts for the oddness of my 3rd great grandfather Milus' marker. I'm sure his widow, Kate, appreciated that death benefit and his desire to plan for the unexpected and help her be more financially secure after his fatal fall.  "Dum Tacet Clamat", means though silent he speaks. This was often found on every "Woodmen of the World Memorial" inscription.

I looked to see if the compass and square engravings were standard on most Woodmen of the World markers and they are not. This must have been requested by him or his family. The inscription of the compass and square is the most common of the Masonic symbols, and it stands for "faith and reason". One website said,
 "The square in the Masonic square and compass is a builder's square, used by carpenters and stonemasons to measure perfect right angles. In Masonry, this is a symbol of the ability to use the teachings of conscience and morality to measure and verify the rightness of

one's actions. 

The compass is used by builders to draw circles and lay off measurements along a line. It is used by the Masons as a symbol of self-control, the intention to draw a proper boundary around personal desires and to remain within that boundary line.

The letter G usually found in the center of the square and compass is said to represent "geometry" or "God.""

Whether he was actually a Freemason I suppose is up for further research, but why would he use a Mason symbol on his tombstone unless he valued its meaning and why would it mean something to him if he wasn't a mason.

Finally, my favorite part of his gravestone is the simple phrase that doesn't take any research to figure out, "He died as he lived, a Christian".

I LOVE to see the faith of my ancestors. His headstone tells me so much more about him and the type of man he was. Obviously a man of principle, who was guided by truth, conscience and morality, and had a central belief in God and Jesus Christ as well as a man of integrity who acted the way he believed.

I look to my dad, my aunts and uncles and cousins and have often thought about the good men and women they are. I feel lucky to rub shoulders with all of them, but it's no wonder they are such good men and women when we see the legacy that has been left for all of us.

As a side note: Findagrave.com is a site where volunteers take photos of headstones and upload them so others can see them. It's all volunteer! I'm very grateful for the volunteers who have made it possible for me to learn more about my ancestors through these photos. A cousin I correspond with, Davine Harding from Texas, has photographed over 15,000 graves. My hats off to her and all the work she's done as well as all others!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Howe Swain's Passport Application from 1797

I was indexing Passport Records today from the early 1920s and was curious what kind of collection FamilySearch.org already had available. The passport records contain so much interesting and detailed information - including birth dates, birth places, description of the person, names of kin, a possible photo . . . I secretly hoped I might find my own ancestor in the records I was indexing.

The collection Familysearch has already available isn't searchable yet but you can browse through the (3 million!!!) records. So, I started browsing. On image 60ish (and about where I stopped for the night) I found this image . . .

If my family is related to the Swains of Nantucket this could very well be a cousin of someone in my direct line. Notice the date . . . a passport from 1797 for a Captain Howes Swain!! It's obviously not as detailed and informative as the passports from the 1900s but it's still cool.

To check out the passport collection go to: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2185145

To learn more about how to help index (the way to make records searchable online) family history records: https://familysearch.org/indexing/

Sunday, March 2, 2014


What a family I come from! This story is great. It's about the sister of our third great grandfather, Milus Swain. Her name was Permilla Rebecca Swain, otherwise known by friends and family as "Aunt Puss" (I want to know how she got the nickname).

Wagon Spokes by Billy Wagoner

On an autumn day in 1865 the following story was enacted, The great war between the States had ended in April - a company of soldiers was stationed at Purdy. Reconstruction had begun. Capt. Samuel Lewis had been appointed Sheriff of McNairy County and Federal soldiers were guarding the jail. One was on guard at all times. Among the prisoners in jail was a young soldier, Rufus Brown, son of 'Railback' Brown, who beat John V. Wright 1 vote for Rep. of McNairy County. They had accused 'Railback' of voting for himself after they had agreed each would vote for the other. The name 'Railback' was derived from his long back and short legs. Young Rufus Brown's wife, Elzette, was grieved very much about her husband being in jail. One day she and Permilla Swain, better known as Aunt Puss Hair, were in the field picking cotton. Permilla said: 'Elzette, we will just go up to Purdy and get Rufe out of jail!' So here goes the plan, She said 'We will go to see Rufe and I will carry an extra dress and bonnet. When we get ready to leave, Rufe will walk out with me, and you will stay inside the jail". The plan worked. Rufe, dressed in women's clothes, but as he could not wear women's shoes, had to wear his boots out. Permilla being about 6 feet tall, her dress was long enough to cover the boots fairly well. They walked out by the guard and to their horses hitched near the jail. They mounted as quickly as they could and started to ride off at a rapid pace. About that time the guard discovered the trick and began to shoot. That excited the horses, and at the sound of guns Permilla's horse ran down the road about 2 miles. He was stopped by old man Garner, a freight hauler from Crump to Purdy. The guard said afterwards he thought at the time that it was a 'damn long nosed woman coming out of the jail'. As soon as Rufe got to the branch below the jail he leaped off the horse and took to the woods. That of course left Elzette, his wife, in the jail. They threatened to keep her but she argued with them that she must get home to her baby, that it would starve unless she could get to it. Her argument prevailed - they released her and she journeyed to her home a happy woman. (Editor's Note: The above story was given to me by Mr. A.L. Gaddy, Bethel Springs, Aunt Puss was his grandmother and lived to be 91. Elzette died many years later, Rufe and his brother Ephraim, went to Arkansas. Rufe died in a short time and Ephraim became a prominent lawyer and was County Judge at Jonesboro.)

I'm proud to be related to such do-it-yourself-ers! As a note, the Rufus Brown in the story was Permilla and Milus' cousin. Also, I guess we know that height comes from our Swain line.

Thanks to Davine Hardy and Ron Gaddy for sharing this article and photo with me.