Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book Review: The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

with author's permission
I was taking a break from my blog having just completed a series of posts about the wives and children of James Franklin Jollett. No new ideas were coming to me, so I was grateful when Nathan Dylan Goodwin contacted me offering a free copy of his latest novel in exchange for a review. It is a genealogy mystery. Mysteries are my favorite genre, so add to that some genealogy – how bad could it be?

The Spyglass File is a story within a story, mystery within a mystery. It begins with a woman named Barbara hiring Mortimer Farrier, a forensic genealogist, to research her birth parents. Apparently Mortimer is suffering a crisis of confidence in his research skills, but because he too was adopted and knows how consuming the curiosity about one’s past can be, he agrees to take the job. That is the framework for one story in this novel.

The central story though is that of Elsie Finch, Barbara’s birth mother. A bride and World War II war widow at almost the same time, Elsie decides to create a new life for herself. She joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where her ability to speak and understand German lands her in the Y-Service listening in on conversations among German pilots. It does not take her long to realize her value to the war effort. Thus her new life with so much purpose is one she cannot give up when she finds herself pregnant.

Mortimer’s efforts to learn more about Elsie and the identity of the father of the baby she gave up for adoption become more complicated when he learns of the existence of the Spyglass File. There are people who will do everything to make sure he does not get to the truth. [Insert spooky music!]

One of the fun features of the book is the structure itself. Chapters alternate between Elsie’s story in the 1940s and Mortimer’s research in the present. Family historians like me will identify with Mortimer at work checking Ancestry dot com and doing the harder work of genealogy: getting in the car and actually visiting people, museums, libraries, archives, memorials, and cemeteries. When Mortimer finds a news clipping or photo in one chapter, we get to see the events leading to it decades before in another chapter. I like mental hop-scotch; I really do.

What I enjoyed the most – aside from the plot itself and the compelling characters – is the historical accuracy. So often war stories are about the soldiers, but in this one, the focus is on the women. Some of the women in the story are real, like WAAF officers Jean Conan Doyle and Aileen Clayton. The intensity of eavesdropping on the enemy, juggling daily routines with a mad dash to the Anderson shelter, escaping war work with drinks and dancing – this is the World War II England that Goodwin paints so well. One scene in particular describes an air battle between British and German pilots with such detail that I felt I was watching the World War II version of Top Gun.

Honestly, I was prepared to dislike this book figuring Goodwin must be a brand new writer if he’s counting on ME! But he’s not that new. It turns out The Spyglass File is book #5 in a series of genealogy mysteries. Plus he has written some non-fiction books on the history of his hometown of Hastings, East Sussex, England.

Nathan sent me a freebie. I’ll buy the others. After all, I need to know: Is Mortimer ever going to find his own birth parents?

Disclosure: While I was given this book for free in exchange for a review, I was under no obligation to like it. The opinions expressed are my honest views. I will not be receiving any commission on sales of books by this author.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Frances Jollett: Celebrating the BSO

Some people call it “chasing rabbits down the rabbit hole.” Others say they are chasing squirrels. For others, that moment of distraction from a designated search is simply a “BSO” – Bright Shiny Object.

I was sitting here doing much of nothing when an email from a potential new-to-me cousin arrived in my inbox inquiring as to whether I knew anything about Unionist soldiers and sympathizers living in the Jollett Hollow community of Page County, Virginia. Aware, yes; fully knowledgeable, no. In an effort to be helpful, I turned to my trusty Google machine which brought up several sources at Google Books.

With each book, I grabbed the opportunity to check to see if there was anything about my Jollett ancestors too. The index of one book had one entry for Jollett; below it was an entry for Jolly. Years ago I dismissed anyone named Jolly as being from a separate family, but I have seen too many of my own Jolletts parading around with this spelling to ignore it. Likely it is an indication of some remnants of a French pronunciation.

The Jolly in question was from an earlier time than my maybe-cousin’s inquiry that had prompted the search. The source was a list of marriages of Culpeper County, Virginia, compiled by a local DAR chapter. It seems that a Frances Jolly married Revolutionary War patriot Richard Gaines 4 May 1789.

On my Jollett timeline that I started some years ago, I have 3 mentions of a Frances Jollett: she paid property taxes in Culpeper County in 1782, 1787, and 1788. I cannot account for the intervening years, but I can be sure this Frances was a woman, not a man. How do I know? Easy – NO tithables. Tithables were any male 16 years and older, slaves (both male and female 16 and older), and Native American servants (both male and female 16 and older). In general, women were not named in tax lists unless they were head of household, usually a widow but possibly a “spinster” who inherited property.

In 1782, Frances was entered as Jollett, but in 1787 and 1788, she was Jolly. So were Mary and James, my 5X great-grandmother and 4X great-grandfather. After 1788, Frances was no longer paying taxes in Culpeper County. That 1789 marriage between Frances Jolly and Richard Gaines could be the reason why.

Surely Frances Jollett/Jolly were the same person, making her undoubtedly closely related to my Jolletts. But how?

I do not think Frances was sister to my 4X great-grandfather James. Since his mother Mary was a tax-paying head of household, Frances likely would have been living with her and, therefore, not named at all.

Frances could be a widow of another Jollett, but I have no names of Jollett men from the tax lists that might fit logically. It can’t be Thomas Jollett because he was still living when Frances paid taxes. It can’t be William because he last appeared in 1736. One possibility is she was simply an unmarried daughter of the James and Gracey Jollett who sold some property in Culpeper County in 1777, just a scant five years before Frances made her tax-list debut.

My best GUESS is Frances was either a cousin or an aunt to my 4X great-grandfather James Jollett. The DAR patriot search shows that women have joined this organization by virtue of their lineage to one son of Frances and Richard. Others joined through descendants by a different wife. Public family trees at Ancestry are a shameful display of sloppy research assigning children to the wrong mother, assigning parents who were really grandparents or other relatives, linking images of pension records belonging to a different Richard Gaines, shall I go on? As for Frances Jolly, everyone seems to know she existed but no one knows her parents or dates of birth and death. However, at least one “researcher” offered 1764 as her date of birth but no source was cited.

In order to pin down the genealogical facts of Frances’s life, I will need to put boots to ground since online research has produced little to go on. Today I just love that BSO.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday's Obituary: James Ira Sullivan

Sunday’s Obituary is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers asking us to post obituaries along with other information about that person.

Source: The News-Virginian, Waynesboro, Virginia, December 13, 1963

James Ira Sullivan
GROTTOES - James Ira Sullivan, 77 a lifelong resident of the Harriston community near Grottoes, and a retired employee of the Norfolk and Western Railroad and the Wayne Manufacturing Co., died at 10:15 p.m. Thursday at his home. Mr. Sullivan had been in ill health for a number of years.

He was born on June 17, 1886 in Greene County, the son of the late Ira and Parthini Shifflett Sullivan, but was reared by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Jollett. He moved to the Harriston community as a child where he has since made his home. He was a member of the Pleasant Hill Church of the Brethren.

On Aug. 31, 1907 he married Miss Mattie Claytor who survives him. Besides his wife, he is survived by four sons, Arthur C., Luther D., David E., and James A. Sullivan, all of Grottoes; and three daughters, Mrs. Robert Morris (Nina) of Grottoes, Mrs. Carl Estes (Rena) of Newport News, and Mrs. Lee Camper (Gladys) of Norristown, Pa. He also leaves 15 great grandchildren, 25 grandchildren; and three brothers, John, Jerry and Arthur.

Funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday from the Pleasant Hill Church of the Brethren. Due to illness his pastor, the Rev. Ross Spiecher, the Rev. F.Y. Garber will conduct the services and burial will be in the Edgewood Cemetery near Mt. Meridian.

The body now rests at the Koontz and Lindsey Funeral Chapel at Weyers Cave where it will remain until noon Sunday when it will be taken to Church to remain until the hour of the service.

The relatives will meet at his late home at 1:40 p.m. Sunday for a brief service prior to leaving for the church.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday: James Ira and Mattie Bell Sullivan

Tombstone Tuesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks bloggers to include an image of a gravestone of one or more ancestors along with a brief description of the image or the ancestor.

Tombstone James Ira Sullivan and Mattie Bell Claytor
Tombstone of James Ira and Mattie Bell Sullivan
photo courtesy Marlin Diehl,

James I.              Mattie C.
June 17, 1886       Sept 13, 1888
Dec 12, 1963       Sept 5, 1964

James Ira Sullivan and his wife Mattie Bell Claytor are buried together in the Edgewood Cemetery in Weyers Cave, Virginia. Many of their children are there as well.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Monday, August 29, 2016

James Franklin Jollett's Kids: James Ira Sullivan

As part of my “Genealogy Do-Over” efforts AND to force myself to get crackin’ on my James Franklin Jollett book, Jollett Reunion, I will be researching and writing brief biographies of James Franklin, his wives, and his children.

James Franklin Jollett and his wife Eliza Jane raised at least one more child, but the child was not their own. His name was James Ira Sullivan, and in the 1900 census he was enumerated as an “adopted” child of the Jolletts.
from 1900 Federal Census Augusta County, Virginia
Was the adoption a legal arrangement, complete with court documents? Or was this merely a case of one neighbor helping out another?

James Ira was born June 17, 1886 to Ira and Parthenia America Shiflett Sullivan of Greene County, Virginia. In the 1870 and 1880 census, Ira and Parthenia lived not terribly far from the Jolletts. James Franklin and Ira were more than just neighbors though; they knew each other well having served together in Company D of the 46th Virginia Regiment during the Civil War. Like most families in Greene County, the Sullivans too eked out a living from the land. By 1880, Ira and Parthenia already had six children between the ages of 2 and 14, and there were more to come.

Had a fire in the Commerce Department Building not destroyed most of the 1890 census records, there might be some clues as to what happened that the Sullivans sent their son into the care of James Franklin and Eliza Jane Jollett. Maybe the answer lies in the 1900 census. The older brothers and sisters were married and out of the house. The senior Ira was still alive and married to his second wife, Parthenia having died about 1889 when James Ira was only three years old. Perhaps that is the answer – perhaps the widowed Ira was not equipped to take care of a young boy who needed a woman’s touch.

In 1907, James Ira married Mattie Bell Claytor of Augusta County. The 1910 census reveals that they rented a place not far from the Jolletts’ home in Harriston, Augusta County. James Ira was a farm laborer, and Mattie Bell was a homemaker and mother to a 2-year old son.

By 1920, their lives changed dramatically. Four more children were added to the family. James Ira no longer worked on a farm; he was a laborer for the railroad. Apparently the pay was good enough for him to purchase a home along Paine Run Road in Grottoes, not far from where he grew up in the home of James Franklin and Eliza Jane.

James Ira and Mattie Bell added more children to the family according to the 1930 census, but otherwise the details of home and work were the same. One of the daughters returned home as a widow with a two-year old daughter.

After that, life changed dramatically once again. As of the 1940 census, they no longer owned their home; instead they rented. James Ira was working for the State as a laborer on state roads. He worked only twenty-five weeks in 1939, but what that means is not clear. He could have been sick. He could have lost his job with the railroad and was out of work. He could have been in and out of any number of jobs.

In all, James Ira and Mattie Bell raised ten children and two of their grandchildren whose mother died from tuberculosis at age 22.

No one knows how James Ira felt about being given away as a young boy to another family. However, it seems he was loved by James Franklin and Eliza Jane. They must have shown him the power of love and loyalty. Jollett reunions typically included a photo session of just James Franklin’s children and their spouses. James Ira was right there with them as a member of the family, not a Jollett by birth but regarded as a brother still.
Jollett Reunion 1921 Harriston, Virginia
Jollett Reunion 1921 Jollett home in Harriston, Virginia
Standing: Laura Sullivan, Sadie Jollett, Ulysses Jollett, Leanna Knight, Mary Frances Davis, Walter Davis,
Sallie Clift, Vic Breeden, Decatur Breeden, James Ira Sullivan
Seated: Will Sullivan, Jack Coleman, Emma Coleman, James Franklin Jollett, Eliza Jane Jollett 

James Ira SULLIVAN (17 Jun 1886 Greene Co, VA - 23 Dec 1963 Augusta Co, VA) and Mattie Bell CLAYTOR (13 Sep 1888 Virginia - 5 Sep 1964 Grottoes, Augusta, VA) married 31 Aug 1907 Augusta Co, VA
  1. Joseph Ira SULLIVAN (24 Apr 1908 Augusta Co, VA - 9 Sep 1963 Harrisonburg, VA) and Agnes Beatrice WADE (9 Aug 1905 Albemarle Co, VA – 10 Apr 1980 Fairfax Co, VA) married 3 Apr 1931
  2. Virginia Pearl SULLIVAN (14 Jun 1910 Harriston, Augusta Co, VA - 5 Feb 1933 Augusta Co, VA) and 1) Ernest BRUCE (1907 - 1984 Augusta Co, VA); 2) Harry Alfred ROBERTS
  3. Clarence Arthur SULLIVAN (1913 Augusta Co, VA - 4 Sep 1996 Harrisonburg, VA) and Lottie Nora MORRIS (3 May 1915 - 31 Jul 1994 Waynesboro, Augusta, VA) married 18 Sep 1934
  4. Luther Franklin SULLIVAN (11 Mar 1916 Harriston, Augusta Co, VA - 13 Oct 1998 Grottoes, Rockingham, VA) and Daisy P. BLACKWELL (16 Mar 1920 – 18 Jun 1993 Grottoes, Rockingham, VA) married 25 Mar 1938 Waynesboro, Augusta, VA
  5. Nina C. SULLIVAN (23 Jan 1919 Augusta Co, VA - 29 Jul 2009 Grottoes, Rockingham, VA) and Robert Lee MORRIS (11 Jul 1910 Grottoes, Rockingham, VA - 2 May 1972 Grottoes, Rockingham, VA) married 9 Oct 1937 Grottoes, Augusta, VA
  6. Rena P. SULLIVAN (18 Aug 1921 Augusta Co, VA - 17 Feb 2008 Newport News, VA) and Carl D. ESTES (4 Nov 1918 Augusta Co, VA - 4 Jul 1994 Newport News, VA) married 6 Sep 1936 Waynesboro, Augusta, VA
  7. David Edward SULLIVAN (17 Feb 1924 Harriston, Augusta Co, VA - 18 Jan 2002 Augusta Co, VA) and Mary Frances PARR (12 Jun 1926 Augusta Co, VA - 3 Oct 2007 in Staunton, VA) married 24 Sep 1946 New Hope, Augusta Co., VA
  8. Gladys Irene SULLIVAN (28 Mar 1927 Augusta Co, VA - 13 May 2011 Mt. Juliet, TN) and 1) Lee Odell CAMPER (12 Jan 1922 Rockbridge Co, VA - Feb 1989 Norristown, PA); and 2) Stanley V. ROSE
  9. Charles Harris SULLIVAN (27 Jun 1928 Augusta Co, VA - 29 Aug 1929 Augusta Co, VA)
  10. James Arey SULLIVAN (20 Dec 1931 Augusta Co, VA - 18 Feb 2002 Grottoes, Rockingham, VA) and Goldie Sue GREEN (21 May 1933 West Virginia - 27 Sep 2013 Fishersville, Augusta, VA) married 30 Jun 1951 Waynesboro, Augusta, VA 

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reflections on Turning 5

Five years ago Jollett Etc was born. At the time, the only blogs I knew about were ones showing me how to create exciting tablescapes, prepare meals that would delight my family, and upcycle old windows into coffee tables. Pinterest was just a baby tempting me with nifty ideas for creating art from paint chip samples. I was not sure how genealogy fit in that world.

Then I found Geneabloggers, and I realized there were lots of family historians like me trying to share our research. In five years, I have seen lots of blogs come and go, lots of bloggers come and go, and lots of changes to genealogy blogging as a whole.

5 years ago
Family history bloggers who were held up as models of excellence were writing STORIES of their ancestors.
Bloggers who receive recognition are the ones telling the rest of us how to do it – how to write a story, how to write titles, how to attract readers, how to research, how to network, how to promote our blogs, how to organize our research, how to organize our blog, how to measure success. (I still prefer the story tellers.)

5 years ago
Family historians looked for documents and interesting resources to fill in their ancestor’s life story. They eagerly shared those findings.
There is much more emphasis on citations – PROPER citations – for those sources. (You have to be thick-skinned to keep from feeling like a lowlife researcher for recording simply “1880 Virginia Federal Census.”)

5 years ago
Family history meant finding those ancestors and looking for deeds, wills and other documents to tell THEIR story.
We are encouraged to tell OUR OWN story too because one day we will be someone’s ancestor. Someone will be interested in our baby picture, wedding photo, and stories of our glory days in school. (Done! Well, to some extent anyway.)

5 years ago
I was not aware of opportunities to improve my research skills.
There is always a free webinar online even if I cannot get to a state or national conference and collect blogger beads. (I am not looking to be a certified genealogist, but I attend webinars if the topic is interesting.  While I don’t always heed the advice of how-to articles – in fact, sometimes I just give ‘em the eyeball roll – I would have appreciated the help five years ago, so I am confident their service is appreciated by new bloggers.)

5 years ago
Family history bloggers measured success by the number of comments on their blog.
Those predicting the future of blogging say that comments are a thing of the past. “Real” bloggers are moving the conversation to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. (Maybe I’m just “old school,” but I prefer seeing comments on my blog. Unless Blogger goes the way of Geocities, my blog with its comments will be there for years to come whereas tweets and “Likes” will disappear with the next scroll.)

5 years ago
Networking for genealogy blogs was mainly through Geneabloggers. I found other blogs by participating in the daily prompts that worked much like a blog hop. We came to expect a return visit if we left a comment on someone’s blog.
Geneabloggers is alive and well, and there are memes like 52 Ancestors and The Book of Me that pull family historians together. Nevertheless, networking is largely dependent on outlets like Facebook,Twitter, and even Pinterest. In addition to their personal Facebook accounts, many bloggers create a page for their blog or a closed group for the family line. (I have mixed feelings about the shift from blogging to Facebook. I understand why many bloggers give up the blog. Writing stories is hard. Keeping to any sort of schedule is hard – and harder still if you listen to the ones saying a definite schedule is a MUST. I understand the frustration and disappointment when family and yet-unknown cousins do not read the blog. So yes, posting photos and latest findings to a Facebook group dedicated to a particular family or geographical region is a heckuva lot easier and still accomplishes the goal of sharing research. Besides, for some people – and it’s not necessarily a generational thing – blogs are just a foreign concept while Facebook is mainstream.)

5 years ago
Blogging was pure and sweet and fairly simple once you mastered your chosen platform, Blogger and Wordpress being the top 2 choices.
Our blogs are subject to the worst of human behavior. Spam has led to comment moderation. Copyright violations are a constant worry. It is not merely about being careful with images; we have to watch out for unscrupulous parties copying our content and posting to other websites. Bloggers are obsessed with checking their stats to see where visitors are coming from and then trying to understand what those numbers mean and how their blog will be affected. (Probably because my blog is story-driven and thus appeals to a limited audience, Jollett Etc has not been deemed worthy of stealing. Furthermore, I have not been bothered by hordes of Russian visitors. Maybe I should be insulted.)

Whatever the future of blogging may be, I am in it for the long haul. Happy Blogiversary, Jollett Etc! 

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday: James Henry Jollett

Tombstone Tuesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks bloggers to include an image of a gravestone of one or more ancestors along with a brief description of the image or the ancestor.

Tombstone James Henry Jollett Harriston Methodist Church Cemetery Harriston, VA
James H.
son of
J.F. and E.J. Jollett
Born Apr 21, 1894
Died Aug 29, 1909
James Henry Jollett is buried in the Harriston Methodist Church Cemetery just down the road from his home in Harriston, Virginia. James Franklin and Eliza Jane are buried there as well.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.