Last week, our county had a 100th remembrance of an event that very few other places in the world can share. The eruption of a volcano. On May 22, 1915, Mount Lassen, the volcano that sits quietly overlooking our town erupted with vengeance, wiping out settlements, farms, and animals. Were you aware that a volcano erupted in California just a hundred years ago? Neither was I. What a surprise it was to learn that the gentle mountain looking down at me held such a secret.
I grew up in the neighboring state of Nevada and I remember being told in school that volcanos in the continental U.S. were extinct. That the only active volcanos were in Hawaii. Not true, I know now. When Mount Lassen began its long 48 hour eruption it was night. The mountain began rumbling but the people took little notice. It was the giant mud-slide that got their attention. The Red Bluff Daily News has a wonderful pull-out section on the Anniversary, giving the history and actual news accounts of the day at www.redbluffdailynews.com under Special Publications.
What could have been a disaster for the people of Tehama and Shasta Counties was avoided because people cared about each other. They warned one another of the coming danger and helped others escape the path of mud heading down the mountain. This episode made me curious about the dangers we face in our towns and counties today. Do you rely on your local government to help you face the onslaughts heading your way or do you turn to friends, neighbors and family when you see floods, fires, and volcanoes?
Remembering the 100th Anniversary also caused me to wonder about other disasters that might have happened in areas in which my family lived in the past. If I didn’t know about a volcanic eruption what other disasters have I missed in my research? It isn’t always very easy to find out about those local disasters if they didn’t make the national or international news. Sometimes though, you might see clusters of information that help you decipher what really happened. If you see family members moving suddenly from one area to another, look at county histories and try to learn what caused people to move in or out of the area. Was it a flood, a famine, or disease? Did a new opportunity spring up in a new area, like gold being discovered in California? Or maybe land was now available in an area that previously belonged to another country?
To understand our family and our past we have to understand what drove those original settlers. Knowing what circumstances made them into the people they were can only better help us to understand the person we are today. Learn more about that volcano sitting in your backyard.
Yes, I know I’ve been gone a while, life interrupts. I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom life intrudes on plans and goals and at times makes complete changes to pathways and roads on which we travel. As I travel to my job out of town, I drive down an old highway that meanders over to the coast of California. I don’t get to travel that far, my stop is just forty miles from home. But in that forty miles, I travel from a populated, wi-fi, cell phone enabled area to an area that modern time has not yet found.
I see animals that still make their homes in Northern California, I see mountain creeks and trees that have grown in odd places. And I see wilderness. The wildness around me helps me to better picture how my ancestors lived in this same area 150 years earlier. I think of Marietta Henshaw Merritt. I think of Eujane and Roswell Graves. I think of those others I have yet to write about.
On my daily drive to work I see abundant game animals such as turkeys, geese, ducks, and deer. The water is plentiful. Eagles flying overhead tell me there are even more animals that I don’t see. In all that beauty I also see the hardships. Disease and hunger. Loneliness. Cemeteries.
I drive down this road that has twists and turns, hills and valleys. Times in which I don’t know what might be around that corner or over that hill, but I take the chance. The road on which I travel led men to seek out gold, and to create logging camps, to build cities and states. To build families and legacies. Today, I think of all those who came before me, sacrificing so much, working in conditions we will never truly understand, so that I have the freedom and luxury to choose where to live and where to work. And how to worship.
I think of my family tree and what it means to be just one small part of such a large group. Today, stop and look around, feel what life must have been like for your ancestors. And think on them.
When I first started researching my own family history I was excited to learn I had a “Mayflower” connection. This was early on, way before I learned that everyone doing genealogy was certain they had a “Mayflower” and/or “Native American” connection. So I was excited and I began to dig into what family records I could find. This led me to my 3rd great-grandparents Edwin B Allen and Mathilda Tinkham. Poor Edwin seems to have sprouted out of thin air, to date no records have been found to link him with his supposed brothers and sisters or any parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents. I’ll write more about Edwin B Allen in the near future. Mathilda Tinkham though, brought me a wealth of information by bringing me to her parents, Jacob Tinkham and Rebecca Nutting.
Ah, Jacob and Rebecca, nomads who ranged across the Midwest. They were both born in Vermont, they married in 1820 and had four children in Vermont and then moved to New York State where they had three more children. Then, sometime between 1843 and 1850 they packed up and moved to Wisconsin. To Baraboo, Wisconsin. Baraboo didn’t ring a bell with me. I didn’t know much about Wisconsin, just that most of my family lines passed through there at one time or another on their way West. As I researched Jacob and Rebecca Tinkham I noticed that although they always went back to Baraboo, they seemed to spend a great deal of time traveling in a circle. Going from one place to the next, visiting children and other relatives throughout Wisconsin and Iowa, back and forth it seemed.
Why did they always seem to be on the move? Maybe he’s a tinker or a traveling salesman, I thought. So, I did just a little research on the area and learned that Baraboo was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Laugh out loud! Well, this might even be better than a “Mayflower” connection. However, I’ve looked and I’ve researched and I just can’t find a connection to the circus. I did however find my “Mayflower” connection. Through Jacob Tinkham, I have proven seven Mayflower lines from Allerton, Brown, Cooke, Howland, Tilley, and Warren. Jacob has given me a plethora of history and events to research that will take me a lifetime to learn. Even better than a circus, I now have connections to almost every major event in the Colonies.
I grew up with a love of books and libraries. I know now that it is a matter of genetics, this love of reading. It is something I have in common with many cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and sisters. I enjoy the feel of a good book in my hands, turning the pages as I get absorbed in the story. And I like stepping into libraries and seeing all those books surround me. Some libraries are especially welcoming, giving the aura of home and family.
Two hundred years ago, during the War of 1812, the British destroyed both the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress. Tragedies of war, symbols of our country. The very thought of someone intentionally destroying books appalls me. On January 30, 1815 Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s personal library for $23, 950. At that time, Jefferson held the largest personal library in the United States, a collection of nearly 6,500 books. With this collection, the United States Library of Congress was officially back in the business of serving Congress.
Today, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC still follows its mission to support Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people. It is our nation’s oldest federal institution and is the largest library in the world.
Libraries are fascinating places, holding stories to our pasts. The Indiana State Library has a folder with letters written by a group of brothers and their sister, called the Messler Family Letters. In this folder I found answers to mysteries in my own family history helping me to understand the difficulties they faced. What answers will you find in your library? You will never know until you go there in person and search for your own answers. Libraries are a family historian’s best friend. Visit your friend today.
Growing up, I knew absolutely nothing about my paternal grandfather. I was told he died, which was true. What I didn’t know was that in 1941 he abandoned his wife and 5 children (with one on the way), left them in Idaho and went off to start a new life in California. His name was Carrol Raymond Messler and he died years later in 1959.
I knew very little about Carrol, in fact, I had never even seen a photo of him. I didn’t know what kind of work he did, I didn’t know about the events that led to his leaving. I didn’t even know what he looked like.
I grew up calling my grandmother Mildred’s second husband Percy “grandpa”. They married in 1956, long before I was born, so he is the one who I remember. Percy died in 1993 at the age of 91. I traveled back to Idaho for Percy’s funeral. Understandably, my grandmother was having a difficult day and it happened that for a short time, it was just the two of us in her house.
She sat on the sofa and pulled out an old cigar box that held photos and pulled one out and handing it to me she said, “That’s Carrol”. Oh my goodness, it was like looking at a photo of my own father. As I looked at the photo, grandma began telling me stories. Stories that I had never heard before. She talked about the difficulty of caring for six children, feeding them and clothing them during the 1940s. She shared memories of situations she faced.
And then she walked into the kitchen and sat at the old Formica table. Grandma’s kitchen was the center-piece of the house. Only guests used the front door, friends and family always came in through the back straight into the kitchen. Even now, as I write this, I can still picture the kitchen. As we sat at the table, drinking our Cokes, Grandma pointed over to the wall next to the basement door. “See that hammer? Hand it to me will you?” I reached over for the hammer and gave it to her.
She looked down at it as she turned it over in her hands and told me the story of how the hammer came to be.
“I was over at my folk’s house one day, out in the barn with my father, when Ramon found this old hammer head in the dirt.”
“Mommy, mommy,” he said, “I’m going to take this home and Daddy can make me…”
“He stopped talking and threw the hammer head down. After he left the barn I picked the hammer head up and stuck it in my pocket. Years later, Percy made this handle for me and put it together.”
I looked at the hammer. A normal, every-day hammer that was always leaning in the corner behind the basement door. But it held secrets. The secrets to a little boy’s pain at knowing his father was never coming home again. The secrets to a mother’s pain. And it held understanding for me.
I think about the secrets that families have. As researchers secrets are our goal. We dig into newspaper articles and birth, marriage, and death records looking for the secrets. How much easier our jobs would be if people didn’t keep secrets. Life is painful, life is beautiful and messy. Must secrets play such a big part?
James Whitecotton was born March 14, 1750 in Stafford, Virginia to George Whitecotton and Mary Harris. James married Ruth Newton Hudspeth about 1771, there is some confusion about Ruth’s name, but it appears Newton was her maiden name and Hudspeth a married name. Ruth was also born about 1750 and died sometime after 1840 when she signed an affidavit in which she stated she was then 75 years old, but that date does not match up with the birth of her children so it is more likely she was at least 85 years old in 1840. There are no records found of Ruth Whitecotton after 1840.
James and Ruth had 10 children, all of whom lived to adulthood and married. They have thousands of descendants roaming around the world. My own circle of known descendants numbers in the hundreds itself.
In 1776, James enlisted as a Private in Captain William Fountain’s Company in Virginia. Serving under Colonel Charles Scott, this company marched across Virginia near what is now Norfolk, at that time it was known as Long Bridge or Great Bridge. On December 9, 1775 the company engaged in battle with the British. The bridge was on the main road connecting Virginia to North Carolina, a very important and strategic holding for the Continental Army. James Whitecotton fought in this battle and was part of the victory forcing the British to evacuate Norfolk and later to totally retreat from Virginia. This defeat caused the British to lose their supporters in Virginia and was a huge victory for the Continental Army.
In 1778, James Whitecotton re-enlisted under General George Rogers Clark. If you are not from Indiana or Kentucky, the name George Rogers Clark probably has no great meaning, but in those areas Clark is revered to this day. General Clark was the brother of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame). Under Gen. Clark, James Whitecotton was in the company that marched from Kentucky to Kaskaskia, Illinois. They were then able to capture Vincennes, Indiana from the British. George Rogers Clark and his company of men fought on the Northwestern frontier and marched across much of Indiana and Illinois fighting the British and their allies, the Native Americans.
By 1800, James and Ruth with their children, had moved to Kentucky. They settled in Washington County, near Bardstown. James and Ruth did not own slaves, but I doubt it was for ideological reasons, but more likely because of lack of funds and resources. From 1800 through 1840, James can be found listed in the U.S. Federal Census in Washington and later Marion Counties (Marion was formed from part of Washington County in 1834).
When we think of James marching across Virginia to Kentucky to Illinois, I think many times we picture these places as we’ve seen them today. However, once we realize that there were no troop transport trucks, no airships, no roads, we see things differently. In 1776, these men walked hundreds of miles through brush and briars, finding their food along the way. They rowed boats down the Ohio River and waded through creeks and swamps, evading both human and animal prey. The hardships were enormous and difficult as they spent days and nights in the open and endless time away from their families.
While in Kentucky, I visited Lebanon National Cemetery where James Whitecotton was laid to rest. I stood on the Ohio River bank and tried to imagine crossing it in 1778. I visited the home of George Rogers Clark and wondered if James had been there at some time in the past. I wonder what James and Ruth thought as their children began to move from Kentucky to Missouri and their descendants moved even further west. James Whitecotton, a Kentucky soldier, died on June 7, 1849 in Pleasant Run, Kentucky. He was 99 years old. James and Ruth Whitecotton were my 6th Great-grandparents. Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Patriot Index #1966, Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Patriot Index #P-318654. I obtained much of my information through my own research, however I did also use the resources provided by Bettysgenealogyblog.