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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

John Swain and all those Girls

Milus and Katy Swain, Parker or Knox, TX circa 1905.
click on the photo to see it larger

Meet my great-great grandpa, Milus Swain. He's the tall man on the right. 
And then meet my great-grandpa, John William Swain
or Willy as they called him, he's the boy on the left.  

John had six older sisters ( his oldest sister died of  pneumonia at the age of 1). When John's mother, Margaret, died when he was three, his father, Milus, remarried the woman in this photo, Katy Stimpson. It would take 8 years and four more daughters ( although it looks like five from this photo) before another male Swain would come along. John must have learned early how to get along with women! By the time he left home he had lived with two mothers, ten sisters, and his step-mother's mother (from census records it looks like she lived with the family for over 10 years. She's in the photo in black). After this photo, the girl streak ended. Six more children were born to Milus and Katy, but only one more daughter.

Milus had even more women in his life. He was the man of the house for his three older sisters and widowed mother before he was even 7. And then he ended up having 11 daughters of his own. So when my brother, a Swain, who's expecting his first child asks whether I think he's having a boy or a girl. . . I have to say, it's going to be a girl!

A big thank you to Ron Gaddy for sharing this photo. This picture comes from his grandmother, Louella Hayre. She is the daughter of Milus' sister, Permella Rebecca Swain.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

Mary M.C. Swain (1825-1895) and William W. Swain (1826-1864) of McNairy, TN
Parents of Parmilla Swain Hair, Sarah Caroline Swain McBride, Nancy Swain,
Milus Leroy Franklin Swain (my direct line) and William Harvey Swain.

Happy Valentine's Day! Doesn't this couple look like they are in love??!! ;)
Coincidently, today also marks 150 years since the man above was killed scouting out the territory in Mississippi during the Civil War.

I never thought I would see a picture of my great-great-great grandparents, but after sending the document I found last week to a relative who I noticed was working on my Swain line, she sent me this picture. Turns out she and I are third cousins with the couple above as our common grandparents. Her aunt, who was a great-granddaughter of Mary M.C. Swain, had this photo in her collection. Thank you Davine for sharing this awesome picture. Putting a name with a face, seeing family resemblances, being able to look at their eyes (and working together with third cousins) . . .it's what makes learning about my family fun.

She sent me another picture that was in another aunt's collection; however, it's unknown who the picture is of. Of course I'm hoping someone will tell me it's Milus Swain, my great-great-grandfather, but that would be wishful thinking! The picture comes from William Harvey's family, brother of Milus Swain. I'm sending this photo out to cyberspace with the hope that someone will recognize the individuals.

Anyone know?

And speaking of pictures,  if you haven't checked out the photos section of familysearch.org you should! It's a free account. Make a log in, sign in, enter in your first few generations until it ties in to other people's family lines and see if anyone has added pictures of your family (click on" memories" at the top and then "people" on the submenu). I've added about 30 pictures of my grandma's family and so anyone related to me would be able to look at those photos. It's pretty neat!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

William W. Swain and the Civil War

Mary M.C. Alexander Swain made claim for lost
property during the civil war. p27
What this one document shares about my 3-Great Grandfather's life is incredible.

Here's the background of this story:
In 1872 my 3rd great grandmother Mary M.C. Swain made a claim for lost property during the civil war. Several of her horses were taken for the conflict and she was trying to get compensated $900.00 for the loss. She went to court and was asked several questions about her past and her husband's [William W. Swain] experience in the war. This page is her response to one of the questions and this is what it says:

"My husband left home and went north to the state of Illinois and there enlisted in the Union Army in the state of Illinois sometime in the fall of 1861, and was in the fight at Fort Henry and Danalson, and soon after that he was taken sick and discharged from the Servis at Cincinatti and then came home about October 1862 and he then went to scouting for the Union Army in this county and on the 14th day of February 1864 he was killed by the Rebels, he was under General Hatch at East Port Miss. when he was killed."

William W. Swain must have felt strongly about the Union's cause to join in the fighting all the way in Illinois. He lived at the time in McNairy, TN, a boundary county between Tennessee and Mississippi. Then, being sick and discharged, he was home only long enough to get well and turned around to serve again where he could. His wife's brother, and a neighbor at the time was said to be a "rebel" and William was a "loyal" which shows how close the conflict came and how intense the feelings were at the time. After reading further, I learned that William's own brother Edwin was killed fighting in the confederate army and five of his nephews (from 3 of his siblings) also fought with the confederates.

An even more interesting part of this document can be found several pages later (p. 32) describing how the confederate army treated Mary and her family upon learning the news of William's enlistment into the Union army.

"In 1861 when my husband first went North and the news came back that he was in the Union Army they threatened to take our land and sell it for the use of the confederate army or government. And in the month of June 1862 Major Houghton of the rebel army came to our house, and told me that if my husband did not come up and deliver himself to the confederate army that he would burn everything we had. And in 1864 some were under Skinner (a rebel commander" came to our house and gave me 10 days to leave in or they would drive me out of my house and burn up the place, and they threatened to take my daughter and hold her in prison until my husband gave himself up to them, but they did not do either."

To see what this document proves about the Swain family line you can go to this post: myfamilylines-swain.blogspot.com

Source: Southern Claims Commission, McNairy, TN, Claimant: Mary M. C. Swain, Claim # 17779, 
Date: 12/05/1872, page 27, accessed here on 2/07/2014 http://www.fold3.com/image/632929/ There are 43 pages to this document.

Explanation of Southern Claims Commission: NARA M1407. The Southern Claims Commission denied these claims by southerners seeking compensation for property loss. They were barred or disallowed for a number of reasons.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Every Family Has a Story

I had an amazing time taking a two day break from my responsibilities to sit and learn about family history at the Rootstech 2014 Conference in downtown Salt Lake City this weekend with my mother. It was quite motivating and fascinating to learn what's available in online family history and discover new ways of connecting our families (more on that in another post) and also to spend time with my mom doing something we both love.

I was particularly impressed with this short video clip played before the opening key note address each morning. It  illustrates what I feel is the power of learning about our family's history. I believe that knowing our past gives us strength and hope. It gives us a sense of direction and helps us understand who we are.

Each of us does have a story to tell. And I am so excited to start telling and sharing mine..

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Nancy Benham In Contempt of Court

Letter to the court by Nancy Parris Benham (1782-1860)
She is the great- grandmother of my great-grandfather
Grover Lewellen  (1892-1963)
I found this little gem as I was going through some papers. I'm sure I am not supposed to have this . . .  In fact, I'm pretty sure that someone in the records office in Pike County, Missouri would have been fired for sending this original record from the Vincent Benham Estate Papers. The paper is cracking, the ink is faded . . . it's old and it's awesome! Perhaps this original was sent to my grandmother by mistake. Regardless, hopefully there is still a copy in the record books for others to retrieve. If not, then there may not be many in my Benham family that know of this.

Here's a little history about it: There was an administration on Vincent Benham begun in Aug 1820 by Nancy (Parris) Benham and Abner Hobbs. They were cited in 1822 and 1826 to make settlement and they finally did so, showing sale bill in the amount of $278.50. But apparently, Nancy did not answer to the court in a timely manner and was cited for her negligence in 1822. This is an old document where Nancy addresses the court about her citation and pleads to them for pardon.
Here's a link to a scanned copy of this document:

 Nancy's answer to the Court's citation

And here's a transcription of the letter:
To the Honorable County Court of Pike County

Having been commanded and brought before you by a writ of attachment for not having made settlement of the estate of my late husband Vincent Benham deceased, and for acting with contempt towards this court, touching the same - beg leave to offer to your honors the following reasons in excuse for the neglect. 1st not being acquainted with the nature of business of this I depended on the Justice of the Peace who was called to swear and qualify the appraising and presented the said papers to the court as they were prepared by the persons aforesaid, but the Justice having nelected to sign his name to the certificate which he has made on the send said papers they would not be received by the court, and before I could again get his certificate of the same the said Justice of this state and one of the appraising court Daniel Ra__ died - so that I could not have them sworn before any other person, and the reason why I did not present them here before is that I am well inform and have reason to believe that James Fugate the Justice of the peace aforesaid will be in this county again by the next term of this court, or that I can otherwise procure his signatures to the same.
I therefore beg that your honors will grant me till the next term of this court to make said settlement, and further Beg that I may not be fined being a poor widow with large family of children. I'm duty bound will ever pray it.
Nancy x Benham

November 4, 1822

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Importance of Collaboration

Collaboration is a little over my head. I'm not consistent and I'm probably too focused on gaining information rather than forging relationships. In going through my grandma's letters I was struck by the relationships and friendships she made with the relatives she met as she researched her family. Those relationships helped her learn more about her family than she could have otherwise.

One relative came across information about Lewellen's in a book entitled, "The Huguenot - Bortholomew Dupuy and his Descendants" by Reverant B.H. Dupuy, published in 1908. It was a  book located in the St. Louis Missouri Historical Society Library but can now be accessed online through books.familysearch.org. What Lewellen researcher, unless knowing specifically what they were looking for,would think to look in that book for information about their family? I wouldn't! But because of the relationship she had made, when her friend came across the Lewellen line in this book she made a photocopy and sent it to my Grandma!

You can see more about what the book shared at my Lewellen site, myfamilylines-lewellen.blogspot.com.