Got a family mystery you’d like to solve?

I’m not going to pull any punches here. Genealogy is fun yet often frustrating.

Family stories passed down through the generations often turn into a game of Telephone. A little bit of the true story gets lost with every passing generation.

Case in point: As a teenager, I heard a fantastic story about my great-great grandmother’s aunt. It featured murder, revenge and the Gold Rush. Decades later, I was bored and plugged a few keywords into a newspaper search engine. And I made a fantastic discovery. The story was true. Mostly. The murder happened. The revenge happened. It did indeed happen during the Gold Rush. However, the great-great-aunt’s name was different from the family’s recollection.

So, I thought it would be fun to open this blog up to Louisiana genealogy stories you’ve heard but never been able to verify. Maybe some armchair detectives can prove or disprove them. Submit them in comments.

Genealogy tools, Newspaper articles

Aunt Mayme’s Recipe for Green Tomato Sweet Pickle

I’m sure there’s a story behind how Aunt Mayme (really my great grandmother’s aunt) ended up publishing a recipe for Green Tomato Pickle in a San Francisco newspaper. I have no idea what that story is.

Aunt Mayme was Olive May Rhodes. She never married but supported her nephew Homer on a schoolteacher salary in Texas. She liked going to the movies and collecting the free gifts given to encourage ticket sales. In fact, one of those free gifts – a candy dish – sits on my dining room table.

Money was always a concern. She often didn’t even have enough money to send a letter so I doubt she ever traveled to California.

My point is that you never know what you’ll discover when you put someone’s name into a newspaper search engine. Sometimes, you can even search for free if your library has a subscription to Genealogy Bank, Newspapers.com or Newspaper Archive.

In the meantime, enjoy Aunt Mayme’s recipe from 1913.

Genealogy tools, New Orleans

Louisiana birth records

Finding old birth records in Louisiana can be a bit tricky.

Take my grandmother as an example. She was born along Bayou Boeuf in 1913. It was the same year the Model T started rolling off the assembly line in Detroit so the world was definitely changing and advancing. However, Louisiana wouldn’t start keeping statewide birth records for another five years.

Because she was Catholic, I found her baptism record, which made note of her birth date as well as the day she was baptized – no doubt screaming at the top of her lungs when the water hit her head. I have to imagine she was already a spitfire in the making.

Church records are a great resource if your ancestor was Catholic. Many of the records in south Louisiana have been published and can be found in local libraries.

Another thing to consider is whether your ancestor lived in New Orleans. For Louisiana records, New Orleans is always the great exception. Records there go further back than in any other city.

Family Search’s database of New Orleans birth records goes back to 1819. Search here.

Sadly, the images of the certificates themselves aren’t online. However, this is a good index that includes the parents’ names.

Happy searching!

The other side of the family

Glimpses of the Millhollon family homestead?

While scanning in photos of the Texas side of the family, I keep coming across the same old house. It’s not a house that I’ve ever visited, but it intrigues me.

Someone went to the trouble of putting up a gate and trellises. Obviously, this was a much loved home even if it wasn’t grand. Whose home was it?

There are some clues. Clearly, this was a place where the Millhollons and Newnhams gathered. Is this where my great-great grandmother, Lucy Jane Newnham Millhollon, lived? I have no idea. I don’t think it’s my grandfather’s boyhood home – later torn down and turned into a barn – because I don’t see the dog trot that was described.

I believe – but I can’t be sure – that my grandfather is the little boy standing behind the screen door in the photo below. I don’t know who Maud and Cannon – the couple photographed above – were.

The group photo above is of my grandfather’s great aunt, great uncle and their daughter and son-in-law. How strange it is to meet relatives in photographs.

Above is yet another photo of the house. This one shows that the gate stood on its own although maybe a fence once complimented it. At some point, someone scrawled the name “Vera Redwine” on the back of this photo with a question mark: I haven’t a clue who Vera was.

Most of the people in the photo above are recognizable to me. That’s my grandfather: the little tow-headed boy in overalls. That’s his cousin, Billie Jean, on the bike. My great grandmother – never a team player – is the woman looking at the ground. I believe the woman on the far left is Lucy Jane.

Let me give this a try: Lucy Jane Newnham Millhollon (?), Mattie Millhollon Henderson (?), Carol Henderson (?), Billie Jean Henderson (on bike), Edd Millhollon, Tommie Stark Millhollon, Rex Millhollon (little boy), Juanita Ashmore Chaney, Frosty Chaney, Addie Newnham Ashmore and Reed Ashmore.

Clearly, this is an assortment of Millhollons and Newnhams. Two Newnham sisters are in this photo – Lucy Jane and Addie.

It’s a sweet house, isn’t it? And a sweet family gathering.

The other side of the family

Logging towns of Cherokee County, Texas

I discovered a bunch of photos tied to logging towns in Cherokee County, Texas, while going through my grandmother’s photo collection. I though that I’d share in case someone’s interested.

Cherokee County and logging towns figure heavily in my family history. My great grandmother was born in the little town of Forest. My grandmother said it was a logging town (a town that sprang up to harvest the timber). I’ve heard a lot about Forest because it’s where my grandmother’s relatively young great-grandfather took a break under a tree while working at the logging operation and never woke up from his nap. The owner of the logging operation let his widow and children stay on in one of the homes provided for workers.

I’d never heard of Wildhurst, but it also must have figured in my family’s history since we have multiple photos of logging operations there. Like Forest, Wildhurst is in Cherokee County. The mill at Wildhurst closed in 1944, and the forest’s reclaimed the area. But the pictures show a lot of excitement back when the logging town was flourishing.

Finally, I’ll share a photo of the schoolteacher at Forest. This was Tip Hayes Vaughn, who died in 1956 at the age of 71. That’s him below. He probably taught my grandmother’s kin.

New Orleans

The dainty, sweet, cocaine-addicted ward of a Supreme Court justice

If you read Joseph Arsenne Breaux’s Wikipedia page, you’ll quickly learn that he had a remarkable life. He became the first lawyer in Iberia Parish, launched a newspaper, distributed food during a yellow fever epidemic, traveled to Nova Scotia to learn about his Acadian ancestry, reformed public education, expanded free health care and served as the ninth chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. It’s a wonder he and his wife found the time to take in an orphan.

I’m not sure what spurred Chief Justice Breaux and his wife, Eugenie, to adopt Mae Bolian. Perhaps it was the fact that they had no children of their own. Perhaps it was the fact that Eugenie was an orphan herself after losing her parents to a hurricane. What I do know is that Mae was a bit of a problem child. Sort of the Paris Hilton of her day.

I’m also not really sure how Mae’s story began. She was born about 1883. She later gave her place of birth as Colorado, and there is a little Mae Bolian on the 1885 Colorado census. Perhaps that’s her.

By 1900, she was living in the Poydras Female Orphan Asylum – just one of numerous girls with no other home. It was an enormous place full of staircases and soaring ceilings. That’s a snapshot of a dormitory room above.

1900 also was the year Mae went to work for Judge Breaux as a stenographer. She would work for him until 1915 and also lived in the family home. Perhaps she aged out of the orphanage and had nowhere else to go. Regardless, she was soon being characterized as his adopted daughter. I doubt that there was a legal arrangement given that she was 16 or 17 when this occurred.

1915 was the year Mae started scandalizing New Orleans society. A bout with catarrh led to a raging cocaine addiction. Mae left the Breaux home and moved in with a friend, who tried to break Mae of her drug addiction. The intervention didn’t work. Once she stopped being able to get cocaine in Louisiana, Mae took a trip to California and returned with a pile of cocaine that she placed in a safety deposit vault at the bank.

Just before Thanksgiving, she checked into the Grunewald Hotel and started sending suicide letters to friends and loved ones. A maid at the Breaux home received a letter instructing her to shroud Mae’s body. The maid, who’d been going to the hotel weekly to do Mae’s nails and massage her face, alerted the hotel instead. Mae was found unconscious and gasping for breath. It was thought that she wouldn’t recover. She proved resilient and recovered within days.

A friend described Mae as “a dainty, sweet creature” and then asked for a policeman to guard her home upon Mae’s release from the hospital.

1916 was the year Mae went to jail. Months after her overdose, she showed up at the hospital and told a nurse that she planned to kill the doctor who had attended her. She then went home, where police shortly arrived to arrest her. Newspaper reports said she arrived at the jailhouse neatly attired in expensive clothes and laughing at her predicament.

While bunking in the parish prison, Mae found time to write. She wrote a 20-page letter to the district attorney protesting claims she was insane. She was vehemently opposed to a mental examination. A grand jury was called to review the case.

A convenient agreement ended the saga. Mae’s brother, Walter, agreed to let his sister live with him in Chicago. Getting Mae out of the city and the state seemed to satisfy local authorities. She was placed on a train, alone, and the investigation into her sanity was dropped.

1917 was the year Mae married. She wed prominent architect Henry Collier Cooke in Galveston. Three hours after the wedding, they were on a train headed east to make their home in New Orleans.

Henry was considerably older than his bride. This was his second marriage. His first wife died in 1915.

1920 was the year Mae became a widow. Henry died of cirrhosis in Mineral Wells, Texas.

1926 was the year Judge Breaux died at age 89. Newspapers listed all 40 of his honorary pallbearers, who included the governor. No mention was made of Mae.

Genealogy tools

How to find out if you’re related to Jane Austen

Not to brag, but Jane Austen is in my family tree. Granted, I’m about as closely related to her as I am to Lady Di (another relative). The point is that you’re all peasants to me now.

Just kidding – although Jane and Di apparently are my cousins. They could also be your cousins. I’ll tell you how to find out.

I’ve always been more of a Brontë fan than an Austen fan, but I watched a little bit of the Colin Firth version of “Pride and Prejudice” last night. Perhaps that’s why I opened up familysearch.org and saw this teaser: Jane Austen and I are seventh cousins (seven times removed).

It’s a wonder this never came up at the childhood dining room table.

Here’s our really close connection (read with sarcasm but still delight at discovering we’re “related”):

Thomas Throckmorton and Elizabeth Berkeley begat William and Mary. William is my great-grandfather (times 12). Mary was Jane’s great-grandmother (times five).

I discovered the very long distance connection through a new feature at www.familysearch.org. If you know me – and most of you don’t – it would seem far more likely that I would be related to Lucille Ball than to Jane Austen. Both redheads (mine used to be natural). Both slightly nuts.

And wouldn’t you know it? Lucille and I are 11th cousins once removed! This connection is actually a little more recognizable than my connection to dear Jane. My grandfather’s beloved granny was descended from the Holleman family. Lucy and I share a Holleman ancestor. We last shared a real family connection in the 1500s before the family tree started growing in different directions so it’s not a close connection.

All you need to do in order to use the “Am I related tool” is to upload your family tree. Then, it’s just a matter of clicking on celebrities’ pictures to see if there’s a connection. Now, be warned. Unless you’re Colin Firth’s first cousin, most of these “connections” happened centuries ago. You’re not likely to be invited to a family reunion.

Here are the rest of my celebrity connections:

Sean Astin? Sadly, we’re not related.

Walt Disney? 9th cousin, 3 times removed. Had I only known that summer I sold ice cream at Walt Disney World!

George Washington? 7th cousin, 7 times removed.

Charles Dickens? No connection.

Babe Ruth? 12th cousin, twice removed.

Princess Diana? 11th cousin.

And, here’s where I should add another word of caution, as much as I’d like to be related to Lady Di. This connection is through John Millhollon, who’s as far back as we’ve gotten in our Millhollon family tree (Millhollon is my maiden name). I don’t know who decided that his mother was Martha Scroggin, whose ancestors were also the Spencers’ ancestors. So, it’s obvious that Family Search is taking my family tree and making it more robust using other people’s submissions.

Have fun with this, but don’t make a claim to the throne of England based on it.

Now excuse me. I have an inexplicable craving for a cup of tea.

The other side of the family

The Creekmore family in 1949?

Ready for a confession? Here it is: I’m only half Cajun.

My mom’s family has lived in Louisiana for generations. My dad’s family lived in Louisiana now and then but mostly resided in Texas and Arizona. In fact my grandmother’s nickname in high school was “Texas” during the brief time her family lived in California.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on the Other Side of the Family (the Texas/Arizona side). I don’t normally do so because my grandmother did tremendous work on this. But photos need to be scanned in and uploaded to Ancestry to help others.

The back of the photo above rather helpfully – and unhelpfully – says Lufkin, 1949. I say helpfully because that suggests this is a Creekmore family reunion. Unhelpfully because I haven’t a clue who the majority of these people are.

I can identify exactly two people: my great-grandparents (and, frankly, I’m not positive that’s my great grandfather). Here they are:

The rest are a mystery. While I’m at it, I’ll share other Creekmore family photos in case they’re helpful to someone.

This is the E.M. Creekmore family. The back of the photo says Pete is holding Cissy and Ned is standing with Cindy:

The one above is simply identified as Anelle – and now I’m wondering if that was Anelle and not my grandmother in the 1949 photo.

Here’s Dick, Johnny and Ned Creekmore (and I may have Dick and Ned reversed). These were my great grandfather’s brothers:

And, finally, I’ll post a few pictures of my great grandfather’s mother, Alma Louise Yarbrough, who married Milo Creekmore.

Here she is age 20:

Here she in the 1950s. I believe this was taken at my grandmother’s wedding:

Here she is with her sister, other relatives and a friend. Flora Etta was her only full-blooded sister. She also had a half sister named Maggie. Dink and Bill were Maggie’s daughters.

The other side of the family

Wedding bells for Rex and Paula

I can’t help but smile looking at these photos. I’ve seen them many times, but I came across them again while scanning in family photos.

These are my grandparents on their wedding day.

Looking at these, I realized for the first time that my grandmother had a going away outfit, which meant extra work for her mother. I’ll explain.

That’s the happy couple – Rex and Paula – in the photo above with my grandmother’s parents. My great-grandmother (I was lucky enough to know her) had such a loving heart. Were it not for her, these photos wouldn’t exist.

My grandmother also has a loving heart, but she’s extremely practical. When her shoes got scuffed, she colored in the scuff marks with a marker rather than buy a new pair. When we got her a Keurig, she tested to see how many times she could reuse the K-cups before noticing an unmanageable difference in her cup of coffee. I laughed when I learned recently how much my young niece loves tuna fish. Tuna is a family favorite. It’s cheap!

So, when it came time for her wedding, my grandmother would’ve been fine getting married by the justice of the peace. Her mother wouldn’t hear of it.

My great grandmother wasn’t frivolous. She grew up during the depression living on sweet potatoes from a neighbor’s field. But she was sentimental when it mattered.

She put together this wedding on a shoestring budget since money was always tight. How did she do it? She enlisted her neighbors to help sew the wedding outfits: bride’s dress, bridesmaids’ dresses and my grandmother’s going away outfit in just a few weeks. Time was critical because my grandfather had to get married while on military leave.

It was really important to my great grandmother that her daughter’s wedding day be special. The photos burst with happiness, don’t they?

And there are such sweet touches. The flowers aren’t plentiful but they’re beautiful. The photos don’t fill a huge album, but some of them are obviously professional.

Above are more members of my grandmother’s family: Her aunt, her grandmother, her sisters and her beloved cousin. It looks like her sister, my Aunt Daphne, caught the bouquet.

Genealogy tools

Free Stuff Friday: Sean Astin

I should probably clarify: Sean Astin is not free. He’s the keynote speaker on March 4 at Family Seaarch’s Roots Tech conference. And you can tune in for free!

Given his wild family history (he had to take a DNA test to figure out which of three famous contenders was his biological father; his mother, Patty Duke, wasn’t accepting of the results), I’m expecting a great speech. Plus, I’ve been a fan since the “Goonies” and may have ugly cried on the couch during a fateful scene in “Stranger Things.”

So, I am super excited.

Roots Tech offers a lot of goodies and no booby traps (get it?).

The 2023 calendar is crammed with workshops on DNA, research tools and oddities (my favorite). For example, even though I can’t claim any ancestry in Denmark, I will most likely tune into a Danish census webinar just because the title – “Counting Peasants” – grabbed me.

You’ll also learn how to figure out if you’re related to royalty, navigate adoption reunions, use manuscript collections and more. The fun starts Thursday, March 2, at www.familysearch.org.

Here’s a little calendar of events that might be of particular interest to those researching in Louisiana:

March 2, 9 a.m. CST: Antebellum Emancipations and Free People of Color

March 2, 10:30 a.m. CST: FamilySearch: Finding What You Need and What You Didn’t Know You Wanted

March 2, 2:30 p.m. CST: State and County Courts

March 3, 10:30 a.m. CST: Digging into Death Certification Data to Uncover Family History and Family Health Information Treasures: A Physician’s Perspective

March 3, 10:30 a.m. CST: Using Manuscript Collections

See you in “Counting Peasants!”