Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Dinah Rush, Former Slave

Dinah Rush was a former slave and matriarch to the Kelley family. I first wrote about the Kelley's here.

What a great research job her ancestors did to find this photograph.

The idea for this post came from

UPDATE 3 MARCH 2017: I received a comment on this photograph on my family tree informing me that this was not Dinah Rush but rather another woman. She had previously been identified by a member of the Kelley family.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Miska Muska, Mickey Mouse

Do you remember the Disney television show, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?"

Robert Wayne Amsberry, my 6th cousin, was a radio personality in Portland, Oregon, during the early 1950s with a daily half-hour show, "Uncle Bob's Squirrel Cage." He was musically inclined, a natural entertainer and had a flair for voice characterizations. A friend of his invited him to come to California and join Disney Studio's music department. He was so enthusiastic about the assignment and did so well performing the songs, that he was invited to join the cast of of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse show the first season. He was one of the least-known of the three adults in the regular cast.

Bob Amsberry in his soda jerk role. Photo courtesy of
Bob described his role on the show as that of a utility infielder. He wrote the skits and many of the songs, handled the guest stars and other acts and performed some of the character parts.  His best songs were considered to be Super Goofy Shuffle, Doin' the Donald Duck Walk, and Dry Gulch Cowboy. During the second season he was the Blue Team leader. Season three was his last season on the show as his work didn't find much favor with Walt Disney.
After leaving the show in 1957, Bob moved back to Portland. On November 10th of that same year, he was killed in a single car accident at the age of 29, leaving a wife and two children behind.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Randall Breedlove's War

Randall Wilson Breedlove was my 5th cousin once removed. He died in 2008 at the age of 87. I just discovered our connection a month or so ago. Randall was a member of our "Greatest Generation" and had a hard war. He was a private first class with the 88th Infantry Division. He was drafted on October 6, 1943 and went overseas in March 1944, spending a few weeks in North Africa before the invasion of Italy began.

Randall's mother, Lillie O. (Beard) Breedlove, Randall Wilson Breedlove, and Randall's mother-in-law

Today is the 69th anniversary of his being taken prisoner of war in Italy. He was transported to Germany and imprisoned in Stalag 7-A. The camp was liberated on May 2, 1945. By the beginning of June, Randall was returning to the U.S. and his young wife and infant son.

He described his capture in an article his hometown newspaper wrote about his return on June 12th:

"We were making a roadblock to keep the Germans from getting through on hill in the north when the Jerries outnumbered us. Being Americans, though, we certainly weren't going to let them take us without our fist putting up a good fight, but they were just too many for us. We were disarmed and marched in the pouring rain to a German observation post where they relieved us of our raincoats. Then we were questioned by German officers. They wanted to know all about our movements, our plans, how many men there were in the whole outfit, and how much equipment we had; but we didn't tell them a thing. They soon found it was useless to try to force anything out of us.

Randall Wilson Breedlove

We were marched up the main highway and then shoved into trucks to Mantavia where we were put in box cars, like cattle, for the trip to Mooseburg, the journey taking three days and nights through the Alps. Our next stop was Stalag 7-A.

There were always guards with ready rifle butts close by. Sometimes they hit the poor fellows that were too weak to work. They hit them any place they could -- on the head, across the back, they didn't care. Not long before we were liberated we were served grass soup, yes that's what it was, and our ration of bread that tasted like sawdust. In all the six months we were prisoners we never had clean clothing. We wore the same shirt, pants and underwear and were pestered by lice.

Randall and his wife, Elizabeth, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

On May 2nd, I was working in the kitchen when the first American scout came up the street. We were liberated that day by the 14th Armored Division. Well, you can probably guess the excitement that followed."

Randall Wilson Breedlove was one of the lucky ones. He returned home to his wife young son. He and Elizabeth had three more children during the course of their marriage.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: 1917 Fordson Tractor Ad

How many of you learned to drive on a tractor? I did -- a 1958 Ford. This old commercial for a Fordson Tractor made me smile.

1917 Fordson Tractor Ad -- Horseless Farming

The idea for this post came from

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Family's Fordson Tractor

I learned to drive on an old 1958 Ford tractor with a column shifter so this story from my Aunt Joan's brother Homer's, journal about the family's first tractor resonated with me...and made me laugh out loud:

Summer was a thrilling time of the year. The spring field work led right into all kinds of activity. Along about this period, father purchased a Fordson Tractor. It was simply beautiful, all new and un-scratched. The wheels were fitted with steel lugs so as to hold traction in the field work.

Fordson Tractor with plow. Photo courtesy of NCSU Libraries’ Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials

Occasionally we had friends visiting us from Detroit. A very pleasant older gentleman spent some days with us. He seemed thrilled with the farm life, enjoying the change of pace to that of the city. After watching the new machine a while, he wondered if he could drive it.

Father showed him how the machine was handled, how to put it in gear, and how to set the plow in the furrow. So the man set off down the row doing fine. It was at the far end when things began to go wrong. He forgot how to stop; yelled "whoa" several times; but the monster did not get the message. It took but a few turns of the wheel and the Fordson was clawing its way through the fence. The gentleman was completely rattled by this time. The plow caught the wire, causing the machine to stall, ending an interesting situation.

No one got hurt. So after it was all over we had a good laugh at my parents' friend's expense."
Since the family sold the farm in 1917, the Fordson had to have been purchased prior to that date.

Friday, October 18, 2013

AncestryDNA Results

Several weeks ago, my husband and I took AncestryDNA tests. My results were posted on within three weeks. Pete's results took eight weeks. I believe they were trying to determine if he is human! ;)

My results surprised me:

AncestryDNA ethnicity

Where were my British Isles genes? Did I get nothing from my Dad? Where was my Jennings second cousin, who I knew took the AncestryDNA test and that we have shared people on our public trees? I was seriously confused.

I tweeted about my confusion and Crista Cowen (@CristaCowan) explained it took a couple of days to load a person's full DNA results.  Sure enough. A few days later, my Jennings second cousin was included in my results. (@Ancestry) tweeted a link to a very helpful video on their YouTube channel. Here's the video that explained why I had no British Isles ethnicity.

AncestryDNA video

You get half your DNA from each parent, but you do not get half of all their DNA. Which means there might be some genes from your father or mother, you don't get at all.  Here's an illustration of that very important point:

The four sets of fruits and vegetables at the top are DNA from your grandparents. The two sets of fruits and vegetables in the middle are DNA from your parents. Your DNA is at the bottom.  You'll notice your fruit parent got a watermelon and a strawberry from one of their parents and passed them to you.  That means you have no DNA from one grandparent. One of your siblings may have gotten some of those genes, but you did not. This is a very simple explanation Crista developed to explain complex science, but it worked for me. It explained why I have no British Isles ethnicity even though all of my father's ancestors that I know about came from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  Some of my Scandinavian and Central European ethnicity could be from my Dad -- think Vikings and Saxon invaders.

Back to my results...

AncestryDNA results page

Out of 97 pages of DNA matches, I only shared a known common ancestor with three people. At first this was disappointing, especially as one tree was private and the other was the second cousin I knew about. But I had no earthly idea who the last match could be.

This DNA match and I were 4th cousins once removed through sons of John William and Anna (Waldron) Jennings. I had my great great grand father, Powhatan Perrow Jennings', brother Pleasant Jefferson Jennings in my tree, but I had not researched any of his nine children who lived to adulthood. I spent the week after receiving my results doing just that. And that research has taken me in some interesting directions.

Pleasant Jefferson Jennings and his wife, Martha Ann Christian (Kelley) Jennings left Virginia with their five children and moved to Walker County, Texas, where Pleasant became an overseer at the Hightower plantation. You'll notice his daughter, Emily Jennings, married a Hightower. Pleasant and Martha Ann had four more children in Texas. Their last living great granddaughter is still alive at 90 years old at the time of this post.

Martha Ann's brother, William Rolfe Kelley, turned out to be a true Texas character. I blogged about his descendants here.

I've since learned AncestryDNA is just the tip of the DNA iceberg. I've uploaded my raw DNA results and family tree to and people there are doing chromosome matching to determine relationships. I have no idea what that is but am trying to learn. I will keep you posted as I figure out this complicated (to me, anyway) science.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Vance Monument

Zebulon Baird Vance was a governor of North Carolina and United States Senator.  He is an ancestor of my cousin's second husband.

1907 post card of the Vance Monument in Asheville, North Carolina

Vance Monument, Asheville, North Carolina
The idea for this post came from

Monday, October 14, 2013

Out of Africa: The Kikuyu

My Aunt Joan was born in Kijabe, British East Africa (now Kenya), in 1921. Her father was a missionary for the Church God and the family lived in there from 1920 until 1929.  Joan's brothers -- Maxwell and Homer -- wrote journals about their lives.  Homer's journal includes many descriptions of life in Africa. 

The Kikuyu folks we found to be most friendly. As to the language, we did not know a word at first.  Soon we knew the greeting, "Wemuwega." People were pleased to help us, often were amused, laughing as we stumbled about strange words. The Kikuyu didn't have a daily newspaper; it was "Waiguatia?" Just a few words later and you had communicated the latest news.

We were surprised to see them bearing great burdens on their backs. Wide, wide rawhide thongs tied about the load passed over the head and leaning under that load they carried produce from garden to home or home to market. Women will carry larges vessels on their heads.

Kikuyu men carrying bundles of wood.  Photo courtesy of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Kikuyu women

Well-worked skins formed the major part of a woman's attire. Men wore them as well but many were wrapped in blankets. The children wore smaller skins, a baby goat's skin for example. Many of the skins were well saturated with castor bean oil mixed with a reddish pigment. The oil made the skins somewhat waterproof, but the pigment seemed to rub off on other objects, turning them bright red.

In those days it was common to see their hair shaved close, leaving a circle at the top of the head. The Kikuyu wore bracelets, beads, and rings. The bigger the better. Most ears were pierced, the lobes being stretched to quite long lengths.

The Kikuyu stretched their ear lobes with weights and jam pots

I believe in order to avoid contagion a very ill person was taken out to the edge of the wilderness, left there with food, fire, and fire wood.  Seemingly no one stayed with them. If the fire was kept brightly lit, the hyena would stay away. It was evident some did not make it as their bones would be visible in the forest. With the advent of the medical mission, as well as government doctors, some of the old dangers diminished as well as the customs.

The Kikuyu were hard working, frugal, and progressive. Often in the early days the small herds of goats or sheep spent the night within the hut with the family for the leopard was a danger.

NOTE:  Previous "Out of Africa" posts:
  1. Doctor Livingstone, I Presume

Friday, October 11, 2013

Coal Mining: A Dangerous Occupation

Coal once fueled the Industrial Revolution and many of my ancestors were miners. Coal was discovered in Illinois, by La Salle in 1683. Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect missionary, made the first historical mention of coal in the state, describing a day when La Salle became separated from his party:

"On the second day they found him, his face and hand all black with the coals and wood he had lighted during the night, which was cold. There are Indian mines of coal, slate and iron, and lumps of pure red copper."

The first coal seam in Madison county was discovered in 1840 and mine operators were quick to take advantage, opening several drift mines in the county. By 1911 there were 27 mines in Madison County, employing over 4,000 men, who in dangerous circumstances, removed nearly 4 million tons of coal from the ground annually.

Drift mine entry circa 1908. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Using World War I registration cards(1), I discovered many of my ancestors living in Madison County, Illinois, worked for Donk Brothers Coal and Coke Company at the time they registered for the draft.

World War I draft registration card for William Riggin (1890-1967)
  • Henry Wilbur Riggin was a blacksmith at the mine
  • William Riggin was a miner
  • Ova Lawrence Hudgens worked in coal mines for over 30 years, first as a miner then as an electrician
  • William Collins was a miner
There were more, but I didn't capture their occupations at the time I looked at their registration cards. I will have to go back and do that.

The Annual Coal Report of the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals proves how dangerous mining can be. In this report I found two men who were related to my great great grandmother, Clementine Wells Riggin/Collins that died in the mines:
  • Daniel Boone Wells, Clementine's brother, was killed instantly in 1910 "under a fall of coal at the face of his room." He was 54 years old.
  • William Collins, Clementine's second husband, was killed on 23 Jul 1917 "by a fall of slate." He was 68 years old.
Photograph of a Riggin family reunion in the early 1920s. The woman I believe to be Clementine Wells Riggin/Collins is circled. Her son, Henry Wilburn Riggin, is also circled.

(1)24 million registration cards were created as a result of the draft.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: The Founding of Troy

No, not the founding of that Troy, the city-state made famous by Greek mythology. Troy, Illinois, in Madison County. It was co-founded by my four times great grandfather, John C Riggin (1781-1869) and four times great grand uncle, Harry Riggin.

These books(1) did turn out to be a goldmine!

The idea for this post came from Geneabloggers.

(1) Norton, W. T. (editor and compiler), Centenial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People, Volumes I and II. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Killing of Abolitionist Lovejoy

Illinois entered the union as a free state in 1818. However, that didn't mean that every citizen of Illinois was anti slavery.

A resident of Madison County, Illinois, was Elijah Parish Lovejoy. After his strident editorials denouncing public wrongs made him many enemies in St. Louis, Missouri, he moved to Alton, Illinois and began publishing the Alton Observer. A committee, whose members included a gubernatorial candidate and the state's attorney general, ruled that while Mr. Lovejoy had the right to promulgate anti-slavery views, it was not expedient that he should do so. In order to promote peace and harmony in the city he should sever his connection with the paper.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Drawing courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mr. Lovejoy spoke in opposition to the resolution and made quite a speech:

"What infraction of the law have I been guilty of? When and where have I published anything injurious to the reputation of Alton? Have I not, on the contrary, labored to promote the best interests of Alton? What is my offence? If I have been guilty, you can easily convict me. You have public sentiment in your favor. You have your juries and you have your attorney and I have no doubt you can convict me, but if I have been guilty of no violation of the law, why am I hunted up and down perpetually as a partridge upon the mountain? Why am I threatened with the tar barrel? Why am I waylaid from day to day and from night to night, and my life put in jeopardy at every hour? This is the question: Whether my property shall be protected; whether I shall be suffered to go home to my family at night without being assailed and threatened with tar and feathers and assassination; whether my afflicted wife, whose life has been in jeopardy from continued alarms and excitements, shall, night after night, be driven from a sick bed into the garret to save her life from the brickbats and violence of the mob. That, Sir, is the question.

Sir, I dare not flee away from Alton. Should I attempt it I should feel that the angel of the Lord with his flaming sword was pursuing me wherever I went. It is because I fear God that I am not afraid of all who oppose me in this city. No, Sir, the contest has commenced here and here it must be finished. Before God and you all, I here pledge myself to continue it, if need be till death. If I fall my grave shall be made in Alton."

Alton was a center for slave catchers recapturing escaped slaves and had largely been settled by Southerners. Sentiment was against him. A mob surrounded the warehouse where Lovejoy had hidden his printing press and fired into the building. Lovejoy's supporters returned fire and killed a man. The mob sent a boy up a ladder to set fire to the roof of the warehouse. Lovejoy tried to push the ladder away from the building and was shot and killed.

Wood engraving of the pro-slavery setting fire to the warehouse where Lovejoy's printing press was hidden; courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lovejoy became a martyr for the abolition movement. The Centennial History of Madison County, published in 1911 had this to say about the tragedy:
"The most far-reaching event in the history of Madison County, the one of greatest national importance, was the tragedy of the killing of Elijah Lovejoy, by a pro-slavery mob in the city of Alton on the night of 7 November 1837. The horror that untoward event inspired throughout the country advanced the anti-slavery cause, it is safe to say, at least a generation. It inspired the eloquence of Wendell Phillips and lighted a flame of indignation over the land."
Lovejoy was the most prominent abolitionist in the county but he wasn't the only one or even the first.  My four times great grandfather, one of the co-founders of Troy, Illinois was a founding member of the Madison Association to oppose the introduction of slavery in Illinois. The association was formed in 1823.

From the Centennial History of Madison County. John C. Riggin 4 times great grandfather.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Franco-Syrian War

During the Bailey family's journey to British East Africa, now Kenya, they stopped in the Middle East and toured the area for three weeks. During that time, they got caught up in the Franco-Syrian War. You may read about their outbound trip here and here.(1)

Immediately after World War I, the British occupied Damascus, Syria. With Britain's permission, the ruler of the Hashemite people, Faisal, declared the establishment of an Arab constitutional government. Later during talks between the victorious allies, France reminded Britain of their 1916 Skyes-Picot Agreement, which essentially divided the remains of the Ottoman Empire between the two countries. The area that included Syria was located in the French mandate and they wanted it back. France then established a military administration in the Levant.

Faisal I, King of Syria

At the same time, Syrian nationalist feelings were rising and the first national conference was held in 1919. Several nationalist societies advocated independence as a constitutional monarchy with Hashemite ruler, Faisal, as king. The nationalists looked to Britain and the United States for help, but Britain pulled out of the country and signaled an end to its involvement in Syria.

In 1920 Faisal was forced into negotiations with France, which his vehemently anti-French supporters opposed. French forces were sporadically attacked and the Syrian Congress reconvened and declared an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria with Faisal as king and Hashim al-Atassi as prime minister. The British and the French repudiated the new kingdom and the League of Nations met to reinforce the French mandate.

Several violent incidents occurred, initiated by Arab militias, which strengthened world feelings against the Syrians. Faisal surrendered in July 1920 and disbanded the troops but his defense minister did not. Yusuf al-'Azma raised a small body of fighters. He led them to Maysalun where they were resoundingly defeated by the French. Yusuf al'Azma was killed during the battle.

French troops in action during the Franco-Syrian War

French general Henri Gourand established a civil administration for Syria and divided the country into six states. The state of Greater Lebanon later became the modern country of Lebanon.

French Mandate for Syria, 1922
You'll remember Homer Bailey described his family "running into" this war in 1920 on their way to Kenya:
We walked many miles the day we went to Nazareth. There was war then. Heavy gun fire could be heard in the distance. Traffic was almost non-existent. A military truck came along and gave us a lift. We were taken across the Sea of Galilee in the commander's motor launch. Due to the general unrest in the area, he urged us to spend the night in his military camp. So we had a tent, camp beds, and all the comforts of home.
(1) You may read about the Bailey family's trip home from Kenya in 1929 here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Gone Fishing

My grandfather's favorite way to pass time was fishing. He passed that love on to his youngest son, who passed it on to both his sons, my brothers. My middle brother has passed it on to at least one of his sons.

My grandfather (middle) and my Dad (right) on Dad's boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

My Dad (left) and his friend fishing somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay in the early 1950s
The idea for this post came from