Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review - Five Top Five

Jollett Etc started 2015 with a bang but slowed to a crawl by the end of summer. Suddenly LIFE took over as we started preparing to welcome the first grandbaby. Blogging definitely took a backseat to washing the soon-to-be-new-momma’s own baby clothes and blankets to pass along, to shopping and attending parties, to fixing up some heirloom baby rockers.

In looking back over the year, I am actually surprised at how much I managed to accomplish. So without further ado, here are the highlights of 2015:

Top 5 Blog Posts

Top 5 Personal Connections

  1. When I was working on a piece about my maternal grandmother’s cousin Blanche Rucker Strole, I found a photo on Ancestry. I contacted the owner for permission to use it. It turns out she is Blanche’s niece, and not only did she give me permission, but also she sent me MORE photos and some stories.
  2. Robert Nair’s granddaughter contacted me after stumbling into my blog from a Google search for information about her grandfather.
  3. I received quite a few thank-you notes and inquiries about the Calhouns, Angus Rucker, Mary Jarrell, the Fraziers, and Mary Jollett Forrester. Planting seeds. Planting seeds.
  4. Sam Towler, a volunteer with Albemarle County, sent me some documents he transcribed and indexed thinking I might be interested in them after he found one of my blogs. The documents are forming my latest “proof” for membership in the DAR.
  5. Jan Hensley is not a new connection; in fact, we’ve collaborated on our Sampson research for several years. Because of our online friendship, she rescued a stove pipe cap from my great-grandfather’s store when it was torn down this year.

Top 5 Genealogy-Related Activities

  1. Remodeling the room over the garage into my “gene cave” which included creating a family wall of old photos and organizing my research into family binders
  2. FINALLY publishing that Jollett book I’ve been planning in my head for years and being able to donate copies to libraries and historical societies in counties where my Jolletts lived
  3. Indexing for Greene County Historical Society
  4. Serving my second year on Thomas MacEntee’s GeneaBloggers MIITY team (we interview other bloggers for the “May I Introduce to You” series)
  5. Membership in several genealogy-related Facebook groups

Top 5 Discoveries

  1. A recent acquisition of an old scrapbook filled with greeting cards revealed that my grandmother’s cousin Sadie Burns was not “Burns” but “Byrnes,” and that her religious name was Sister Vincent Carmel. More cards were signed “Pat and Peggy Byrnes,” giving me another clue to learning more about my dad’s side of the family.
  2. When Ancestry published death certificates for Virginia, I learned that my father’s great-grandmother’s maiden name was Julia Keene.
  3. Comparing some old photos that were obviously taken on the same day, I was able to identify my maternal grandfather’s cousin Ben Davis and his wife Fleeta.
  4. A general search for “Jollett” in Ancestry’s Virginia Death Records uncovered one Julia Booton Kean (1828-1917) whose mother was Mary Jollett from Madison County. I have yet to figure out how this Mary Jollett was related to this new-to-me branch of the Jollett family, but still it is an exciting discovery.
  5. A general search of marriage records in Rockingham County revealed another new-to-me Jollett: Nancy Jollett who married Hiram Gaines/Garnes. So far that is all I have on Nancy although I did find Hiram on Greene County’s Mortality Schedule 1850.

Top 5 Best Money Spent

  1. Newspaper Archive
  2. Genealogybank
  3. Ancestry
  4. Family Tree DNA Family Finder
  5. Commemorative Brick for the sidewalk leading to the NEW headquarters and museum of the Greene County Historical Society

OK 2016, whatcha got?

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Vintage Christmas Cards

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is inspired by the holiday season. I recently acquired my great-grandmother’s two scrapbooks of greeting cards that she saved and glued – and I mean GLUED to death! – onto pages that have turned brown and brittle since her death in 1939. From the looks of Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh’s pages, my need for order and logic did not come from her. Apparently she glued as she grabbed a card from wherever she had kept them, perhaps a bag, box or drawer. Smack dab in the middle of a parade of Christmas cards is a valentine or Mother’s Day greeting only to pick up again with Christmas cards soon to be interrupted by St. Patrick’s Day and Get Well.

Two scrapbooks full of HER memories! Here is just a small sample of beautiful Christmas greetings 1920s-1930s style.

Here is a card sent in 1935 from Mary Theresa's sister Delia Sheehan Christian (the one whose descendants on Facebook know nothing about her ~sigh~).

Merry Christmas y’all! Here’s to Happy Blogging in 2016!

For more holiday greetings, please visit my friends at Sepia Saturday.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sepia Saturday: "I am well"

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features a do-nut eating soldier on the cover of the Salvation Army’s newspaper The Mess Kit. My husband’s maternal grandfather wore a similar uniform as a soldier during World War I.

Russell Kohne 1918 World War I soldier Hardy, West Virginia
Russell Dayton Kohne (1894 - 1982)

Russell and Hattie Kohne had been married less than a year when he was called into service. Russ probably enjoyed his fair share of do-nuts, but I know for sure that he got cake. One of his letters to his young bride back in Hardy, West Virginia, survives to attest to that fact:

May 7, 1918
14 Co 154 Depot
Camp meed Md

Dear Wife I will drop you a few lines as I haven’t receved your letter yet but am looking for it tomorrow  I was sitting here and had nothing else to pass the time away so I thought I would write to you. I got all of my uniforms now so I guess they are going to keep me. I took out a 10 thousant dollar insurance it cost me 6.60 a month for it and 1.40 a month for washing I am going to send you 15$ a month and the
[line is cut off]

We hav a half aday off [?] on saterday well I must go over to the YMCA to here the band as the othe boys are going I will finish when I come back. Well I was over but the band did not play.

How is grad paw getting a lond tell him isaid hello I was working in the kitchen Sunday but I got plenty to eat they had chicking mashed potatoes lemon ade and lots of good things. I get every thing in the eat line but fil on cake and things like that I haft to grab to get it but I get it just the same ha ha

Well I must close for this time. Ancer soon love to you.
Good by

“Wife” and “Husband” – did they actually refer to each other that way? Maybe they were still reveling in the Honeymoon Phase of their marriage, in love and in love with their new roles.

The letter with its youthful and playful tone is in sharp contrast to the man I knew. Russ was already a grumpy old man when I met him in the early 1970s. Barry’s memories of visits with his mother’s parents are not pleasant. The grandchildren were instructed to sit quietly on the sofa. Barry recalls being hungry and nervous the entire time. When Russ had had enough, he would announce, “I guess it’s time for you to leave.” Russ probably invented the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.” He probably thought they should not be seen either.

Russ was well known for saying whatever was on his mind. He once threatened to whip a boy who was dragging a deer hide around the parking lot of the local watering hole. Russ had warned the boy a couple times repeating, “Put that hide back in the truck. It stinks.” No doubt he would have made good on his word too had the boy’s father not quickly rescued him.

Where did this mean streak come from? Surely alcohol was part of the problem. Russ’s childhood might also have contributed. His father was in and out of jail for any number of big and small crimes, so the children were split up, Russ living with his grandfather and his sister Laura living with an uncle.

In school Russ was just an average student. His report cards reflect the instability of his home life. The notation that his “deportment” was “Fairly good” suggests it was also probably NOT so good at times. The teacher urged him to be more regular in attendance and to “persevere.” The report cards were signed by a step-uncle, Jackson Kohne, who was not a Kohne at all; he simply went by that name for convenience.

If that gruffness and meanness were not part of Russ’s DNA or upbringing, war surely did not help. What he experienced in Europe in 1918 must be left to our imagination, but a message scribbled on a postcard addressed to his wife expresses relief on returning home:

Arrived in US June 6 will be home soon I am well and glad to get back hope to see you soon good by

The front of the postcard shows Russ was a member of the 313th Engineers.

Sent from the Madawaska
Co 313 Engineers

The Engineers were responsible for bridge and road repair, construction and maintenance of trenches, providing clean water, constructing or removing barbed wire. They also built barracks and target ranges, mess halls and hospitals. The Engineers were not relied upon for combat, but often they were the ones launching gas attacks.

Russ said he was “well and glad to get back.” He brought home an important souvenir: his M1917 helmet, often called a Tommy helmet, Tin Hat, or doughboy helmet. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture that would show why this helmet was and still is so precious. There is a dent from a bullet that did not pierce all the way through to Russ’s temple.

That could make anybody cranky. Darn good hat though.

Follow the do-nut crumbs to Sepia Saturday to see what the other “ultimate consumers” are up to.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Fur Sure

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is an illustration from Robinson Crusoe showing a gun-toting, fur-bedecked man with his dog. While there are many directions suggested in the drawing, I cannot take my eyes off that hairy outfit.

In the world of fashion, fur never goes out of style. Of course, attitudes about wearing animal skin swing from year to year and from person to person. Historically, fur was a practical reality, both convenient and warm. More recently the wearing of fur has been viewed as barbaric and cruel. “Fur” sure, it is not a neutral topic.

But those who appreciate fur wear it proudly for its warmth, its beauty, and its prestige. Nothing says “luxury” like a fur, whether it’s a full coat

Helen Parker at the Grand Canyon 1920s or 30s
Herbert and Helen Killeen Parker at the Grand Canyon
They married in 1927 - was this a honeymoon trip?
(click photo to enlarge)

a jacket or stole
Helen Parker
Helen Killeen Parker in mink
(click photo to enlarge)

a collar or cuff

Helen Killeen Parker and coworkers 1940s
Helen Killeen Parker far left
probably some of her coworkers
1930s-1940s era
(click photo to enlarge)

a hat
Lucille Davis and Janice Rucker
My grandmother Lucille Davis left
Her sister-in-law Janice Rucker right
(click photo to enlarge)

or a mink, fox or ermine complete with head and feet dangling around one’s neck.

Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh late 1930s
My great-grandmother
Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh
(click photo to enlarge)

“Fur” your viewing pleasure, visit my friends at Sepia Saturday.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sepia Saturday: The Settlement School

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt featuring children joining hands to play a circle game reminds me of an old photo of children at play outside the Frazier Mountain School.

Frazier Mountain was the stomping grounds of my 3X great-grandmother Nancy Frazier Shiflett and her many aunts and uncles and cousins. However, the photo is not THAT old, more likely from the very early 1900s.

Frazier Mountain School Greene County, Virginia
Frazier Mountain School
photo courtesy of John and Janet Thompson
descendant of Henry Timber Frazier, son of Miley Frazier

That is when the settlement movement made its way to the mountains of Virginia. The aim of settlement schools was to provide education for children in rural and mountain areas that were often not served by the county, usually for economic and logistical reasons. Churches often filled the gap building a school, a church, a clothing bureau, and sometimes even a hospital.

Frederick William Neve was an Episcopal minister born and educated in England who was asked to come to Virginia. He was based in the town of Ivy in Albemarle County, but he was drawn to the Blue Ridge Mountains just twenty-five miles away. He found someone to take him into those mysterious communities – Shifflett’s Hollow, Bacon Hollow, Mutton Hollow, Blackwell Hollow, and Simmons Gap – places that inspired stories of backwoods justice and suspicion towards strangers.

There were probably 175 people living there, but reportedly only two of them could read and write. Neve inquired about the mountain community and learned that no school or church existed within miles of the area known as “Frazier Mountain” to the locals but previously as “Lost Mountain.” Neve actually liked that name because he reasoned that without religion and education, the people were indeed “lost.” (Today it is known as “Loft Mountain.”)

So Neve looked for a location for a mission school and bought some property straddling Greene and Albemarle counties. Between 1890 and 1912, Neve started twenty missions, ten of them in Greene County alone. He continued to work with the mountain people building mission schools and churches throughout seven Virginia counties. Frederick Neve is remembered today as the founder of the mountain mission movement of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1888-1948.

Neve’s most ambitious mission project was the co-ed Blue Ridge Industrial School, which offered more advanced education beyond the elementary level. Since most students were likely to remain in a rural area, the school provided practical training for farm life and related occupations. The school even operated a cannery for a number of years. BRIS was the first accredited high school in Greene County.

Today all of the mission schools have closed except for the Blue Ridge school which is still going strong as a boarding school for boys.

Join hands and circle around to Sepia Saturday for more fun and games.

 © 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Alvic, Philis. Weavers of the Southern Highlands. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky, 2003. University Press of Kentucky. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <>.

Campbell, Olive D. Southern Highland Schools Maintained by Denominational and Independent Agencies. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1921. 30 July 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <>.

Covey, David D. Greene County, Virginia: A Brief History. Google Books. The History Press, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <>.

"A Guide to the Frederick W. Neve Papers, 1854-1981 (bulk 1900-1940) Neve, Frederick W., Papers 10505." Virginia Heritage: Guides to Manuscripts and Archival Collections in Virginia. Virtual Library of Virginia, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <>.

“Settlement School.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

Shifflett, Larry. "County Place Names." Shiflett Family Genealogy. Robert V. Klein, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <>.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Whisperer

On Thanksgiving Day, turkey is the highlight of the harvest table. My husband’s family historically were farmers, and many of them were in poultry. Turkey farmers.

Mathias turkey farm
Turkeys on the range

My brother-in-law was not a farmer, but in 1985 he managed to attract a flock of wild turkeys to his yard.

Donald Mathias and turkeys 1985
Donald and his feathered friends 1985

Those turkeys were far too trusting.

Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Dog Kennel Graduate

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt inspires a look at spirit pictures and double-exposed photographs. As a product of the Polaroid One Step and Kodak Instamatic age, I enjoyed fairly clear pictures for many years. That is to say, people and events are easily recognizable even if poorly framed. It wasn’t until I purchased a REAL camera requiring me to load the film myself that the potential for double-exposures emerged. And emerge they did, and always at the most inopportune time.

It was May 1982 and Baby Sister was graduating from college. Surely if any milestone should be preserved, it was this one. We brought the GOOD camera that day.

We also used the GOOD camera in July when we visited the grandparents and showed our year-old daughter her uncle’s hunting dogs. In September, we captured her joy in playing in the dirt in our little square-foot garden.

All on the same roll of film.

Double Exposed Photo
Jordan peering in at the dogs
Mary Jollette either reading the graduation program
OR praying we get good pictures
Double Exposed Photo
Mary Jollette receiving her diploma
sandwiched between views of Jordan playing in the dirt
Double Exposed Photo
It took me awhile to figure out Mary Jollette was not walking
toward the back end of some cows.
It's Jordan's legs -- a vertical shot turned horizontal --
her head is in the previous picture.
Bad photos seem to outnumber the good in the very old albums and envelopes of pictures passed down to me. They’re out of focus, faces are missing, people are too small to recognize, and dark spots and white spots obscure the intended subject. 

Sometimes I shake my head and wonder why anyone kept them.

Nancy Messier of My Ancestors and Me knows why. In looking at a group of pictures from a day spent with her daughters and grandchildren, she noticed the poor framing, the light and dark, the poor focus. Yet despite their poor quality, she kept them. After all, the point of the photo wasn’t to highlight technique. It was to capture forever those precious hours blowing bubbles and pulling kids in a wagon. With a calm recognition of how quickly children grow up, Nancy concluded that a bad picture is better than no picture.

Maybe that is something I knew but had forgotten, explaining why I carefully inserted all those double-exposed pictures into an album for safe-keeping. The pictures are a goulash of parental pride, a young woman’s accomplishment, a baby eager to pet that happy dog, a smiling face smudged with garden soil – stories flowing in and out of each other.

May and July 1982 Double Exposed Photo

But they still make my sister look like she graduated in a dog kennel.

If you visit the bloggers at Sepia Saturday twice, will you be double-exposed?

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Who ya gonna call?

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is timed right for Halloween. When my two girls were in their peak trick-or-treating years, there were parties and festivities coming at them faster than you could say, “Boo.”  But there was one non-costume and non-candy event that provided a welcome relief:  the Halloween Story Hour at our local branch library.

Junior Woman's Club of Portsmouth Halloween Story Hour 1988 Russell Memorial Library
Halloween Story Hour at Russell Memorial Library
October 1988

The story hour was just one project of the Junior Woman’s Club of Portsmouth, of which I was a proud member from 1983 to 1991 when I reached the maximum age for membership as a JUNIOR. Most of our members were mothers of young children, so naturally children’s issues were at the heart of many club projects.

The real draw for most of the children who attended the Story Hour was not the delightful or spooky stories they would hear but the appearance of our special guests, the Crime Busters.

Junior Woman's Club of Portsmouth Halloween Story Hour 1988 Russell Memorial Library
Crime Busters and volunteers eager to dance

Not Portsmouth's Crime Buster car but similar
image from Flickr

The Crime Busters were a group of policemen capitalizing on the popularity of the “Ghost Busters” movie franchise. Not only did they show up in costume, but they also arrived in a fully tricked-out white station wagon like the one from the movie.

Portsmouth Crime Busters t-shirt
Crime Busters t-shirt
image courtesy Pam Newsom Matthews

Junior Woman's Club of Portsmouth Halloween Story Hour 1988 Russell Memorial Library
Crime Busters with some of the kids
My girls are the 4th from the left (wearing a shirt
with a cheerleader bear)  and on the far right back.
The Crime Busters entered to music and even did a little dance routine. They were a big deal in our community, in demand for parades, school programs, and parties. Somewhere in all the excitement they managed to spread a little “child safety” information as well.

These pictures remind me what fun I had in my ol’ JWCP days. Most of the “young mothers” are now grandmothers. Many of those happy children eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Crime Busters are now young parents themselves. Right now they no doubt are pulling together costumes for their little witches and Elsas, vampires and Batmans.

I wonder if any of these new parents are taking their little ones to a Halloween Story Hour.

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, then follow the links at Sepia Saturday. I ain’t afraid o’ no ghost!

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sepia Saturday: So Dramatic

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo featuring the dramatic pose of a woman playing the harp has afforded me the opportunity to share some pages from my grandaunt’s college yearbook. While the Stratford Players put on some very dramatic performances at the Harrisonburg Normal School, the May Day Festival required the most lavish production. Students of elocution, chorus, and dance joined forces with the drama club to make May Day inspiring and unforgettable.

Program May Day 1923 Harrisonburg Normal School
In 1923, the theme was an Old English May Day,

Program May Day 1923 Harrisonburg Normal School

complete with Morris dancers,

Morris Dancers May Day 1923 Harrisonburg Normal School

milk maids,

a fiddler,
Fiddler?  I think that's a lyre.

Robin Hood, a jester, and a horse.

Now, honestly, I hate to sound judgmental, but any group of students who could craft the scenery and costumes for Pomander Walk

Outdoor auditorium with homemade scenery

should have been capable of rendering a better horse than that.

Maybe the May Day play was a comedy. I don’t know. Let’s look at that horse again.

That horse cracks me up!

I don’t mean to harp on it, but I do think you should visit the others at Sepia Saturday. AND if you’d like to join us, I can pull a few strings.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.