Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sepia Saturday: High Flying

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This month Sepia Saturday is all about travel to and fro. Since I’ve touched on trains and automobiles, let’s move on to airplanes. The planes in my photos were probably not used for pleasurable travel, however.
Unknown school children on a class trip
Melly, is that our precious Scarlett kneeling in the front row?
This photo seems to be of a class trip to somewhere, but where and why are a mystery. My grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan taught only in the Shenandoah Valley where the airport was just small and unimpressive, hardly a field trip destination. Perhaps the class was led by my grandaunt Velma Davis Woodring who taught in the American school in Japan and later Korea.  The greater mystery, though, is what Scarlett O’Hara is doing with this class. Oh, fiddle dee dee. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

My granduncle Ray Rucker was a sailor assigned to the USS Colorado in the early 1920s. The ship carried Corsair sea planes for scouting and reconnaissance.

Ray Rucker's photo of seaplane on USS Colorado 1920s

Ray Rucker's photo of seaplane on USS Colorado 1920s

Sailor walking on biplane wing USS Colorado 1920s
Sailor walking on the wings of the float plane

The following two photos of bomber planes are just small professionally produced photo cards. Each one is about 1.5” x 2”. They were among the photos that Ray saved from his days in the Navy.

Souvenir photos belonging to Ray Rucker 1920s

Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride to Sepia Saturday.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Fords, Plymouths, and Buicks Oh My!

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This month Sepia Saturday is all about travel to and fro. Some time ago I was reading the divorce case of my 2X great aunt Sallie Jollett Clift in which she told the judge she had found her husband’s love letters from his mistresses hidden in her stable. Stable? Who has a stable? But it was 1914, after all, so maybe cars were not yet common. Maybe she still relied on a horse and wagon.

I don’t know when my great-grandparents first owned a car, but my great-grandfather Walter Davis was certainly proud of this one.

Walter Davis and car Shenandoah, VA before 1934
Walter Davis before 1934
Shenandoah, VA
Orvin Davis and Mary Eleanor Davis 1929 Shenandoah, VA

My best guess - based on the winged hood ornament - is that his car was a Ford. He died in 1934, so the car predates that year, it’s safe to say.

Velma and Violetta Shenandoah, VA 1928
Velma Davis Woodring and Violetta Davis 1928
in front of their parents' house Shenandoah, VA
In 1928 SOMEBODY owned this car. It was probably Walter. The car was always in front of the house when pictures were taken. The car looks much like the 1928 Plymouth Model Q.

Lucille Davis with Orvin Jr. and cousins Shenandoah, VA
My grandmother on the right

Orvin Jr. at Davis home Shenandoah, VA
Orvin Jr. 1928

Orvin Jr. about 1928 Shenandoah, VA
1928 Rumble Seat
Violetta and Velma and others in the rumble seat 1928
As fun as that rumble seat looks, points for LUXURY go to the Breeden brothers in what appears to be a Buick, judging by those torpedo-esque bumpers.

Wes Breeden, Decatur Breeden, Leota Sullivan, Minnie Breeden, Elta Sullivan, Floral Sullivan
Breeden Brothers and Sullivan Sisters
(my grandfather's cousins) Shenandoah, VA 
While the entire car is not visible, this one driven by my grandmother around 1920-25 takes the prize for those lovely side lamps. Not much of a windshield though.

Lucille Rucker Davis at the wheel
My grandmother
Lucille Rucker Davis
1920-1925 probably
Hop in the touring car and let’s go visit Sepia Saturday.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Military Monday: Busting Myths About Richard Gaines

Military Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers for bloggers to post their images, stories and records of their ancestors’ service in various branches of the military.

Sooo, you think your ancestor was on that boat with George Washington breaking through the ice of the Delaware River. Or you heard stories that your ancestor was with George Washington at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered.
Letter 1911 about Revolutionary War service of Richard Gaines
Letter dated 1911 inquiring about service of Richard Gaines

     Please inform me if the records of your office contain anything with regard to the Revolutionary services of RICHARD GAINES and MICHAEL CLORE (sometimes spelled GLORE).
     Family tradition states that Richard Gaines, born 1752, died 1837, was with General Washington at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. He belonged to Captain Pearson’s company at one time, though he served more than one enlistment. He was also with Washington when he broke the ice and crossed the Delaware River, surprised the British at Trenton and captured a thousand Hessians. Was also at Egg Harbor. He was buried at Poplar Springs, S.C., having removed there from Virginia, with his father, after the war.

Such are the stories passed along to descendants of Richard Gaines (1752-1837), the man who married the somehow-related-to-me Frances Jolly of Culpeper County, Virginia.

I have bad news for some of the Gaines descendants who have been enjoying the trickle-down glory of having a hero in the family who fought alongside George Washington. The facts just don’t support it. Just ask Richard himself.

It’s easy to see how family lore gets confused and exaggerated over time. Even documents that spell out the truth can be misinterpreted by those reading them. It doesn’t help matters when several men share the same name. The DAR website includes five Virginia patriots named Richard Gaines. That does not mean they were the only men with this name. It means women of today have joined the DAR by tracing their lineage to only these five.

Three of the Richards served in their local militia. The other two, who were about 25 years older than the young soldiers, provided material aid and supplies.

The Richard who was married to Frances was a private in the Culpeper County Minutemen. He was born in Culpeper County in 1752 and died in Laurens County, South Carolina 9 November 1837. Two wives were listed: Elizabeth Flint and Frances Jolly. The majority of DAR members tracing lineage to this Richard Gaines do so through James, a son by Frances Jolly.

I then checked Fold3 to see if there is a record of service, pension applications, and so forth. And yes, there is. There are records also for the Richard Gaines who spent his entire life in Albemarle County, Virginia as well as the Richard Gaines from Charlotte County who migrated to Kentucky. Service records for Sergeant Richard Gaines are available too, but this rank does not match any of the Richard Gaines listed with the DAR.

And that is where the family stories lose a little of that glamour and excitement surrounding an ancestor rubbing elbows with ol’ George.

Richard Gaines service recorded in pension application 1832
from Richard Gaines' pension application of 1832 
In his application for a pension, Richard described his own service:
…. That he enlisted in the army of the United States in the year 1774 or 1775 with Capt. John Jamison and served in the first Continental Regiment of the Virginia line under the following named officers, viz: Col. Laurence Taliaferro, Major Alexander Spotswood, Capt. John Jamison, Lieut. Gabriel Long and Ensign David Jamison. That he was discharged and left the service on the [ blank ] day of [ blank ] 1776 or 77, that he resided at the time he entered the service in Culpepper County in the State of Virginia. That he enlisted for two years, and was at the siege of Little York Norfolk.

As it turns out, his application was rejected for failure to actually PROVE service for six months. Furthermore, the rejection was based on not serving in an “embodied corps.”

Besides service records and pension applications, my Richard’s file at Fold3 contains letters of inquiry to the Pension Board and War Department. In 1853, James Gaines, son of Richard and Frances, appealed to the Pension Board on behalf of his surviving siblings claiming their father did not receive all that he was due from service in the Revolutionary War. He claimed his father had been a sergeant in his company but did not report it with his original application for a pension in 1832 because according to the Act of 7 June 1832, he was not required to report all the details of his service.

Response to James Gaines about Richard Gaines' service as sergeant in Revolutionary War
Response to James Gaines
The reply from the Pension Department was essentially, “Nope. Sorry.” While they granted that Richard Gaines certainly knew his own service and that his children might have also been aware of it, he never claimed to have been a sergeant. Furthermore, the pension payments for the only Richard Gaines who had been a sergeant had gone to the one who served through 1781. James’s father himself said he served only two years. Available records just did not match the claims; therefore, the appeal was rejected.

That did not stop the family from believing it though. On Richard’s tombstone is etched his entire war career which unfortunately is most likely a mélange of service performed by at least 2 if not 3 men named Richard Gaines.

Tombstone of Richard Gaines Laurens Co, SC
Tombstone of Richard Gaines
courtesy of MJ

Richard Gaines
Miss Francis Jolly
Soldier in
Revolutionary War
Sergeant in
Col Holt Richeson’s Co
In 5th VA Reg with
Gen Washington at
Surrender of Cornwallis
At Yorktown, VA  Also at
Battle of Trenton, NJ
And at Egg Harbor
And Other Battles
Minute Man with Captain
John Jamison Col Lawrence
Taliferro’s Reg at Siege of
Norfolk, VA 1775

Richard’s own words did not include serving under Col. Holt Richerson or being at the Battle of Egg Harbor which took place in 1778, long after Richard supposedly completed his duty. The Richard who advanced to Sergeant served under Richerson, that’s a fact. But if we can trust MY Richard Gaines’ own memory, he served only two years. Had he been in Trenton or Yorktown, those would have been far more worthy of mention than the Siege of Norfolk.

Possibly the wording was provided by Richard’s great-grandson “L. P. Gaines,” author of one of the letters that spelled out the family story that Richard had served with George Washington. Was he trying to set the record straight, the record as he knew it, that is?

It is clear the tombstone was not commissioned at the time of Richard’s death, judging by the genealogy on the back.
Back of tombstone of Richard Gaines Laurens Co, SC
Back of Tombstone
courtesy of MJ
Richard Gaines 1686 – 1755
Father of
Henry Gaines 1731 -1837
Richard Gaines 1752 – 1837
James Gaines 1791 – 1866
Reuben Gaines 1815 – 1899
L. P. Gaines 1845 –
Jim Gaines 1878 –
Reuben Gaines 1911 – 

While the abbreviated genealogy is mostly correct, the family trees created on Find A Grave through links to parents and siblings are a complete mess. For example, in the list of siblings is Francis Gaines whose link goes to a memorial in which his parents are named Hierome Gaines and Margaret Taliaferro. My Richard was son of Henry Gaines and Mariah Woods.

The trees at Ancestry are not much better. Several link pension records to this Richard and Frances Gaines that actually belong to the Richard Gaines who lived his entire life in Albemarle County, Virginia. Now if you’re looking for a claim to fame, THAT Richard had it: he was employed by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

Compiled Service Record of Gaines, Richard (Sgt, Third and Seventh Regiment, VA) digital images,’s Fold3 ( downloaded 25 September 2016); imaged from Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, National Archives microfilm publication M881 [roll number 0971].

Record of Gaines, Richard (Pvt., John Jamison’s Co., 1st Continental Regt, VA) pension application 3866; digital images,’s Fold3 ( downloaded 25 September 2016); imaged from Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives microfilm publication M804 [roll number 1041].

Record of Gaines, Richard (Pvt., Landon Jones’ Co, Albemarle Co., VA Militia) pension application 8546; digital images,’s Fold3 ( downloaded 25 September 2016); imaged from Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives microfilm publication M804 [roll number 1041].

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Family History Month

It’s October and you know what that means: Family History Month. I’m a sucker for a theme and a meme, so when I read about the Genealogy Photo a Day challenge, I did not hesitate to join in. I am usually not very active on Instagram and Twitter, but I will be this month.

Find me on Twitter @Wendymath
Find me on Instagram Wendymath27

If you want to join in on the fun, here are the themes.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Life and Death on the Train

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This month Sepia Saturday is all about travel to and fro. 

Unknown woman at Grove Hill, VA
Unknown woman
Grove Hill, Page Co, VA
train station
I wonder who this unidentified woman at the Grove Hill train station was and where she was going. Maybe just a few miles away to Shenandoah or Luray? Maybe further along the route to Harrisonburg, Staunton, or Roanoke? Or maybe she had a big trip planned to Washington DC or even New York.

No doubt she was a passenger on the Norfolk & Western Railroad that ran through the Shenandoah Valley. The railroad was big business in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially for the little town of Shenandoah, Virginia, where so many of my ancestors lived. Over 30 members of my family were employed at one time or another by the railroad. They were conductors, engineers, brakemen, firemen, car repairmen, signal men, clerks, and railroad storekeepers.

Joseph Rucker and others N & W Railroad Shenandoah, VA
My great-grandfather Joseph Rucker
4th from left

If citizens of Shenandoah didn’t work for the railroad, they were neighbors to someone who did. The N&W fostered a tight community. So it must have been a sad time for everyone when one of their own was hurt on the job. No doubt friends and neighbors rallied around my family when a son/husband/brother/father confronted the worst day of his life on the job.

Hiram Oscar Eppard (2nd great uncle)

Newspaper article Hiram Oscar Eppard
11 Sep 1894 Alexandria Gazette
Oscar Eppard, aged 24 years, of Shenandoah was killed by a fall from the new Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge over Gwynn Falls, Baltimore, yesterday.

John W. B. Jollett (1st cousin 3X removed)

Newspaper article John B. Jollett
6 Aug 1897 Harrisonburg Rockingham Register
At an early hour last Thursday morning a freight wreck occurred on the Norfolk & Western Railroad near Ingham Station, about twelve miles south of Luray. The train was going north, and becoming uncoupled, without the knowledge of the engineer, the rear part ran into the forward cars as the engineer slowed up for the station. Some half dozen cars were demolished and a man named Turley, said to be a brother of Mr. George F. Turley, train dispatcher of Shenandoah, Page County, who was riding on the train, was killed. Mr. John W. B. Jollett, of the same place, was injured, as was also another man whose name has not been learned. The wreck delayed the running of trains for several hours.

Clement Willard Escue (stepson of 1st cousin 2X removed)
Newspaper article Clement Escue
1935 Bluefield Daily Telegraph
C. W. Escue, Injured
Virginian Engineer,
Passes at Oak Hill
C. W. Escue, 36, Virginian Railway engineer, who was burned severely in a head-on collision between two freight trains at Wriston, W. Va., on February 24, died in an Oak Hill hospital Friday afternoon, it was learned yesterday.
Mr. Escue was one of the ten men injured when the two freight trains collided. It is understood that all other members of the crew injured are recovering satisfactorily.
Mr. Escue was a former Princeton resident. He moved to Page about three years ago.

Hop aboard the Sepia Saturday train to see the sights my blogging friends have shared.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

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.