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 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: 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 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:

To learn more about how to help index (the way to make records searchable online) family history records: