Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Forgive; I am not my ancestors.

NPR has been writing this week about the Race Card Project, an effort started by Michele Norris to understand the American public's views on race. She explains that while on tour to promote her first book, The Grace of Silence, her "idea was to use these little black postcards to get the conversation started...I asked people to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity. Then I asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to just one sentence that had only six words...The submissions are thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, brave, teeming with anger and shimmering with hope..."

My ancestors included indentured servants, sharecroppers and slave owners. I've worked on my family genealogy for over 14 years and find both the goodness and harshness of humankind interwoven throughout the generations.

Today, I'm working on the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules. It's rather a grim and dark chapter of American history and not one of which I'm proud. But to sweep it under the carpet is akin to condoning the practice. And so as George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." gives me two choices with the schedules: one, I can just print out the index proving that my ancestor indeed lived in the specified location and move on. Or two, I can sift through the card catalog and get the actual data: the number of slaves, their age and their race (black or mulatto). I ran across the schedule for William B. Dudgeon first.
1850 Slave Schedules, Casey KY

The Dudgeon and the Weatherford farms stood side-by-side in Taylor, Kentucky in 1850. William "Buck" Dudgeon and his wife Sophia (Silvey) Phillips owned five slaves: a 60-year-old black woman, a 17-year-old mulatto male, a 15-year-old black male, a 5 year old mulatto female and a 4 year old black male.

I know the Tuckers and Weatherfords lived nearby in Casey and so looked through those schedules as well. Abel Weatherford and his wife Frances Tucker only had one slave: a 21-year-old black female.

One of my uncles had told me that Frances Tucker, Abel's wife, had inherited a slave from her father Dandridge and that Abel didn't approve of slavery. The woman had been granted her freedom and stayed on as a housemaid. This story set a little better with me but I wanted to know more.

Abel fought in the 13th  Kentucky Volunteer Calvary, Company D: a Union regiment. His father, George Weatherford had twelve slaves in 1950; his father-in-law Dandridge Tucker had seventeen. One of those slaves was a 42-year-old black man; he would have been 8 years younger than Abel at the time.

Able mustered in on 19 November 1865 in Columbia, Kentucky and transferred to field and staff on 23 December 1863. He was honorably discharged 26 April 1865. He would have been 63 years old.

Also in his company was one George W. Tucker, a black man born in 1810 who mustered in 22 August 1863 in Columbia, Kentucky and was discharged 10 January 1865. It's not hard to put those two together, especially if George's middle name turns out to be Weatherford.

The 13th Calvary joined the 5th Colored Calvary in the Battle of Saltville. You can read more about this historic battle here (click).
I'll flag the Weatherfords, Dudgeons and Tuckers and come back to them in a later post.

Since I grew up without really knowing aunts, cousins and grandparents, I imagined them larger than life. Farmers. Inventors. Cultivators of the human spirit. What I found are just people.

And while I'd like to latch on to an exceptional granduncle and tell myself that I'm just like them and beam with the notion that living the life I do would make them proud and carry on some noble family name, the truth is that I am my own person. Not the Irish immigrant factory worker, the indentured colonist or the Ulster-Scot landowner. Not the Missouri sharecropper, the accomplished musician and not the slave owner.

I submitted a Race Card today. It seems to me that continually beating ourselves up over our ancestors' transgressions serves no point but to fuel the dark times. As a world nation, our goal should be to learn from our mistakes, to move on to a better place and to forgive. We are not our ancestors.

You can find the Race Card Project here: (CLICK)

And NPR's articles here: (CLICK)

Thursday, January 2, 2014


I was never one for New Year's resolutions thinking that a resolution is simply the outcome of a personal continuous improvement process. I managed large departments and projects ensuring that continuous improvement processes identified defects, measured the effectiveness of the improvement and ensured the resulting processes were implemented as culture. But to measure success, you must first document the thing to be improved upon and so began 2013's Bucket List.
The Circumcision (Luca Signorelli)

I figured I'd start simply: handwritten letters versus email, go someplace new with Walt, paint something. I've refined 2014's Bucket List to be a more specific: handwritten birthday cards to my relatives, go someplace new with Walt outside the 50-mile ring encompassing NW Arkansas and paint the house.

New Year's celebrations began with the Babylonians in March. The Romans later changed the beginning of the new year to January, named for Janus, the two-faced god who looks both back to the previous year and forward to the new year. The custom of setting a new year's resolution began with the Romans vowing to be good to others. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the official religion, moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting.

The Catholic (and Lutheran) church replaced the early Roman new year's festivities with the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ: a naming ceremony in accordance with Jewish tradition where the child is formally given his name and then circumcised by the priest.

In contrast, the Puritans spent their time reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the year ahead. In this way, they adopted the old custom of making resolutions.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, took resolution writing to the next level penning 70 resolutions over a two-year period which he committed to reviewing each week. You can find them here (click).

My mother alternated between Catholic mass and Lutheran mass taking us to the latter for sacrament. I loved the ceremony and bells and chanting and incense and especially the stained glass and art adorning the walls and ceilings, and tried hard to keep up in my prayer book. But I don't remember any reference to circumcising a baby at New Year's mass. My guess is that when the church found parishioners partying with Janus and the Romans rather than attending mass, they revised their new year's service to focus on their commitment to treat their neighbors with charity and avoid habitual sins.

Three cheers for continuous improvement.

Thanks to Bill Petro ( for his article "History of New Year's Resolutions: Where did they begin."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Coming Home

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a community page on Facebook entitled "I remember when...Orrick, MO." I have little to add to the community posts other than stories from my Mom and flash memories of one visit when I was six. This past week, those of who remember when the Beatle's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was not a re-run have been talking about restoring some of the town's historic buildings through fundraisers, or maybe just get together with some homemade fried chicken, potato salad and watermelon and share stories.

From William E. Paulson in his 1975 memoir: Orrick as I Remeber...Plus 

"The Orrick picnic was really the event of the year. To many it was considered "Homecoming Days." Natives or former residents of the community would come for miles for the event. Charles Ross at Huntington, West Virginia would wait to apply for his annual vacation until such time as the picnic dates had been announced. For years the picnic was held in the Dorton pasture in the southeast part of town (now known as the Endsley Addition). In later years it was held on South Front Street until the State Highway Department took over the street as a part of the state highway system. The picnics were then moved to between Elm and South Front Street on Creason. Most of the concessions were operated by local clubs and churches. It seems that the roads were always oiled shortly before picnic time."

"Nearly every Sunday there would be a basket dinner at one of the churches in the neighborhood. There were picnics. Fishing River was one of the favorite spots, under the Santa Fe bridge, also one half mile north of Highway 210 on the Charley Ashley farm."

"The schools, Orrick, Albany, Hannah, Lillard, Flemming, Wallace, Red Brush, Hall, Union, Clevenger, Pigg, Egypt, Centennial and Artman also Sunday School classes sponsored box suppers and pie suppers where the girls would bring fancy boxes for auctioning to the highest bidder. The girls would usually wink at their boy friend when their box was up for sale. At times the competition was keen when a boy was trying to develop a relationship with a certain girl."

"There were 'party plays' where games such as London Bridge, Circle Left to Rouser, Shoe Fly, Needles Eye and Post Office were played. Square dances were somewhere every weekend."

"We would hike to Old Mill Spring on the hill north of Orrick. Sometimes the hikes were on Sunday afternoon and at other times at night. Upon reaching the spring, fires would be built and roast weiners and marshmallows. In the fall we would collect Missouri bananas (paw-paws) and persimmons."

Today, when I think of "Homecoming" I think of football, hot dogs and screaming for my team until my throat gave out. But I really like the idea of a "Coming Home" picnic and like Charlie Ross would love to plan an annual vacation to drive to Orrick with a box of homemade fried chicken and my mother's potato salad to share photos and stories and meet distant cousins.

Thanks again to William Paulson and his family for this book...everytime I read it, I find new treasures. And thanks to the residents and their families of Orrick, Missouri for posting stories and pictures on Facebook and for sharing their kind memories of my mother's family.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Long Road Home

I just returned from a trip to Dayton to visit the kids. Actually, the trip was a three-fer. Visiting the kids was my top priority, but to get to Dayton from here, I had to drive northish and then eastish. Likewise, the return trip meant driving southish then westish and so I thought I'd swing by Richmond, Missouri on the way there and do a little research at the Ray County Museum and Louisville, Kentucky on the way back to meet some distant cousins.
Road Trip
There's no easy way to get to Richmond and once you arrive, there's no easy way to find the Museum. So I asked for directions.

"Well, it's just off the square." Okay, where's the square. "You see that hill? Just follow the school bus and turn left." Luckily, there were signs posted with arrows pointing to the fair grounds and the museum or I'd still be driving in circles.

The museum was once the Ray County poor house and contained artifacts donated by the area's first families: civil war uniforms, china, furniture and cases full of books, scrapbooks, handwritten notes, newspapers, photos and decades of ghosts ready to tell their stories. After the first 10 minutes I realized that I'd planned poorly; I'd need a week just to get started.

Lisa, the director of the genealogy library was very nice and pointed me at family history files for the Dudgeon and Pigg families. I opened the first file folder to find photos donated by my 2nd cousin 1x removed, Eleanor. Eleanor and I have been writing and sharing information for about 3 years now and so I felt a bit like a prospector who'd turned up the same yellow rock three times.

I opened the second folder to find more files donated by Eleanor. "Who are you looking for?" Charlie had grown up in Camden, Missouri, just south of Orrick. "Hicks, Dudgeon, Pigg, Dennis..." I replied. "Oh, I knew Arnie Hicks..." And so the stories started.

Stories are the real gold.

The genealogy library closes at 4:30, but the museum's director, Linda Emley, stayed to give me a tour of the museum and the county's history. As she walked me to the car, she mentioned that she had Elliott ancestors from Ray County, but hadn't researched them. "You don't mean Millie Elliott do you?" I asked. "Yes!" she smiled. Another cousin.

On the trip home, I met my third cousin Vickie from the Dennis side of the family. Her husband Jim met me at the door. "You look familiar!" we both called, recognizing smiles from Facebook photos. Again, I time-planned poorly and started the introductory meeting speed talking about my family interlaced with questions about hers and casual conversation about travels, their new home and landscaping plans over a wonderful lunch on the patio. We never really got around to looking at one another's research, sufficing to swap invitations and a promise to write, but touched on stories of shared family in Cocke County Tennessee and another 3rd cousin I've not yet met and plans for another road trip.

I'm going to close with a couple quick links to the Ray County Museum and Genealogical Society. Call before you go. Ask for Linda or Lisa...and if Charlie's there, tell him Arnie Hicks's great niece says thanks for the roadmap (it was a lifesaver!) and the stories.

Ray County Museum:
...and their Facebook page:

Ray County Genealogical Society:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

William Leon Hicks

William Leon Hicks
My grandparents made pretty babies. I've always thought the Hicks family were a handsome lot. Uncle Bill in particular.

William Leon Hicks passed away in his sleep March 23, 2013; he would have been 90 this September. I'll miss the way he giggled when recanting family tales and the way his eyes danced. I say my thanks for having really gotten to meet him two years ago and kick myself for not having gone for a visit sooner. We tell ourselves that there's always time.

I spent some time this morning reading my past posts and realized that I'd not properly introduced my mother's family other than through the odd story. So here goes.

Thurman and Julia (Pigg) Dudgeon
Tillman Hicks was born 03 November 1894 in Cosby, Cocke County, Tennessee to James Wiley Hicks and Laura Jane Dennis. He married my grandmother, Fleda Frances Dudgeon 17 September 1921 in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri. Frances was the daughter of Thurman Emerson Dudgeon of Ireland, Taylor County, Kentucky and Julia Ann Pigg of Orrick, Ray County, Missouri.

Laura Dennis and Wiley Hicks
Frances and Tillman had seven children:
Bertha Frances (my mother); Billy Leon (who later changed his name to William)
Rosemary; Wilbur Gardner; Zella Mildred; Walter Thurman and Lewis Dennis Hicks. All of the kids were born in Orrick. Their high school graduation photos are posted below along with photos of Frances and Tillman as youngsters.

A couple of years ago, I ran across a self-published work by William E. Paulson entitled "Orrick, as I Remember." He wrote the publication in 1974 after reading "Ray County History" (1973) and not finding much about Orrick. So he knocked on doors and picked through old scrapbooks and sifted through deeds to piece together a really nice overview of the town's origins, who owned which properties,  how the schools evolved and what kids did to pass the time before Final Fantasy and Facebook. I ordered the book (really just a copier print with a stapled binding) from the Ray County Historical Society, but I'd be happy to look something up for readers. Email me at: or just leave a comment below.
Top left to right: Bertha, Rosemary, Mildred, Thurman. Bottom left to right: Wilbur, Tillman and Frances. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Dennis. Bill Hicks' graduation photo is included in the upper left corner of this post. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Richard Parker

I rather like punctuation marks. Like signposts, they guide the reader through the written word: the colon indicates a list ahead, the comma separates each item in the list and the period affirms that the sentence and the reader have arrived at their destination.

Research comes with its own unique punctuation. Oftentimes, clues will generate new paths separated by time, location and events. And when that research yields a new personal story, the affirmation rings ta da! as I put a period next to another branch on my tree.

Then there's the question mark. Question marks tempt you with a period only after winding through false clues and half truths until even your arrival leaves you unsure.  I think most researchers yearn for a good ta da.

One of my friends asked recently if I were going to continue the blog now that I've found Ellen. I don't know that the blog is as much about Ellen as it is about the journey to find her. Ellen has taught me to reach out to strangers and ask personal questions. Ask for photographs. Ask for stories. Ask for help. She's given me the courage to unearth the paths my ancestors walked and revel in their tenacity and perseverance. Even if I don't like what I find.

We rented the movie Life of Pi this weekend. I'd been struggling with things I'd uncovered recently and as the credits rolled, I reflected on the story's alternate points of view. Of Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger who shared a lifeboat with the shipwrecked teenager. Or Richard Parker, the person that Pi became to survive the shipwreck. Walt reminded me that events occur. How we deal with them is a choice. Sometimes we don't have all of the facts. Sometimes the facts are so harsh that we turn our attention elsewhere. Sometimes all we have is our faith, our beliefs and our choices.

Sometimes there are no periods.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Got the Music in Me

My grandfather was the Music Director for Miami radio station WIOD from 1929 until 1952. He attended Yale's music conservatory and claimed to have graduated in 1924 although Yale seems to have forgotten about all but his first two years. He was a concert pianist, composer and crooner and evidently relatively famous as newspapers from his hometown of New Haven to Miami carried the locations of his daily whereabouts from where he played, to what he ate for dinner.
Earle Barr Hanson was a Star.

I met Earle about 3 years ago through Google's digital newspaper archives. It's a shame that they've cancelled the project because I still have so many questions. What happened to Earl's manuscripts? Did he publish? Did he record? According to the Miami Daily News, his career began with an Italian orchestra which somehow translated into spaghetti cravings, yet the photo from this article would lead me to believe that he'd still not mastered the fork. Maybe he was really hungry. Maybe he was a ham. That would follow as radio was live until the mid to late 1950s and to keep an unseen audience entertained day after day, you had to be funny. Funny Earle the Star. I like this guy.

Google also revealed that Earle was an early adopter. Before Gene Roddenberry, there was the Dixie Fantasy Federation. Earle was President and reportedly the largest collector of antique dime novels of his day.

Science fiction fandom made its appearance in the United States in the late 1920s in the discussions column of Amazing Stories, a science fiction magazine launched by Experimenter Publishing in 1926, and Weird Tales which began publishing pulp fiction in 1923.  Fans stayed in contact with one another through newsletters and professional magazines known as "promags" and "prozines." These early chat boards turned into local science fiction clubs who published amateur magazines and newsletters called "fanmags" or "fanzines." Some clubs held conventions. The Dixie Fantasy Federation's fanzine was called "Les Zombie" or LeZ for short. LeZ was published about once a month for five cents a copy or fifty cents for a year's subscription. You can find digitized issues here:

My birthday was 3 weeks ago, but Tuesday a box came in the mail from my youngest daughter. Inside was a Luke Skywalker action figure. A replacement Luke as the original had been secured to a Estes model rocket engine and launched down the driveway in a father-daughter science experiment long ago. He's found a place next to my monitor where he guards case Walt gets any more ideas.

Thank you to Bob Tucker from Bloomington, Illinois for digitizing and publishing Le Zombie on the web and to The National Fantasy Fan Federation for publishing "The History of N3F" which can be found here:

From "Le Zombie" Number 47, May-June 1942

Zombie (Al Ashley)

Out of the earth that covered me,
Streaked and pitted from heel to poll,
I burst, to shuffle eagerly
In pursuit of my errant soul.

But halted now my questing dance,
I cannot moan or cry aloud;
echoing thru my voodoo trance
the master calls. My head is bowed.

Past row on row of empty biers,
All staring-eyed and mould-arrayed,
I hast to toil thru voidfull years
With other slaves that he has made.

Nor can the cons liberate
Full charged with punishment my scroll;
No longer captain of my fate,
I am a Thing without a soul.