A few years ago, I started transcribing records for familysearch.org. Imagine my surprise when I found myself transcribing my great-great-aunt’s birth certificate. Not only was I helping other people, I was also helping my own family.
Transcribing makes genealogy more accessible by using volunteers to index records. Years ago, we looked at census records on microfilm and spent hours hunched over those machines looking for our ancestors. Now we can look at census records online and even search a digital index for names.
The Smithsonian Institute is looking for volunteers to help transcribe records. Among the projects is the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was a federal agency that helped freed slaves and poor whites with shelter, food, clothing and fuel.
Records for Louisiana aren’t in the available list yet, but you can help with records for North Carolina and Tennessee. Here’s the handy dandy link: https://transcription.si.edu/
If you’d like to see the records for Louisiana, you can hop on over to familysearch.org. Carve out a few hours. There are nearly 100,000 images of records, and they’re not indexed. See: This is why transcribing is so important!
I’ve driven past this church for years. It’s off a state highway that runs through Napoleonville. That little archway has always beckoned me. This weekend I finally pulled over and explored the world behind it.
Long weekends are made for rambles. This is Christ Episcopal, which was designed by an NYC architect. For some reason, he wanted it to have the feel of an English country church even though it’s in a Louisiana country town. This church was an English-speaking oasis in French-speaking Napoleonville.
A cemetery is at the back of the church. This lovely statue holds watch over the graves, all of them magnificent even though some are crumbling.
The church dates to 1853 and was built at a cost of $9,500. Time hasn’t always been kind to it. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used it as a barracks and later a stable. The stained glass became a target for shooting practice.
The creation of the church was a true collaboration by the Episcopal members of a largely Catholic community. Napoleonville was very Cajun in the 1850s, but a few residents weren’t Catholic and they wanted their own church. New Hampshire native Ebeneezer Eaton Kittredge donated a corner of his plantation for the church and cemetery. Col. William Whitmell Pugh supplied the cypress and bricks. George Ament oversaw the construction and is buried in the church cemetery.
The original congregation numbered just 21 members. Not all were Episcopalian. Some were Catholics who wanted to participate in “so great a good.” Let’s face it: They were probably curious.
After the war, the congregation pulled together once again. They held church services in the courthouse down the road while rebuilding their ruin of a church.
The church would later be struck by lightning and ravaged by other acts of nature. Still, it endured.
At times, the church has been a bit of a hotbed for controversy. One clergyman, Quincy Ewing, embraced women’s suffrage and the equality of black people during the early 1900s. Enraged by a sermon on women’s suffrage, U.S. Sen. Walter Guion stormed out and quit the church. Ewing survived the controversy, largely because his family donated the land for the church.
Today, Christ Episcopal is one of the oldest Episcopal churches west of the Mississippi River. The grounds were quiet when we visited. We ignored the “private property” sign, kept to the pathways and respected the serene beauty. Hopefully, we didn’t offend.
Before she married, my grandmother was a Creekmore.
Her Creekmores lived in East Texas. As a child, I went to several family reunions and funerals for the Creekmores. I fondly remember rambles down country roads, walks through the woods, visits to log cabins and picnics at state parks that always accompanied a Creekmore family visit.
My grandmother dearly loved her many uncles and few aunts. Unfortunately, I didn’t see everyone enough to keep the names straight so I need help with family photos.
According to the internet – and we all know everything we read there is true – Kate Middleton and Prince William are distant cousins. More specifically, they’re fourteenth cousins, once removed.
Reading that inspired me to find the most famous branch of my family tree.
Here it is:
I am distantly related to the late Congressman Numa Francois Montet. His grandfather and my great-great-great-great grandfather were brothers. It’s amazing we never met with close ties like that!
I don’t know much about Numa other than that his tomb in the Plattenville cemetery is very grand compared to my poorer relations’ crumbling tomb. Apparently his Montets were more prosperous than my Montets.
After my grandfather died in May, my grandmother started giving me her genealogy files. Let’s just say we may need to build an addition to the house.
My grandmother was a dedicated researcher when her health permitted it. She visited libraries, searched archives, wrote letters, made phone calls and explored every branch of the family tree.
I’ve so enjoyed reading her correspondence and notes. And I’ve discovered that she and my grandfather were sometimes a sleuthing team when it came to genealogy.
In 1971, my grandmother wrote the “Caldwell Watchman” in Columbia, Louisiana. She and my grandfather were on the hunt for the grave of his great-great-grandfather, Robert T. Stark. My grandfather apparently even made the drive from Houma to Columbia and poked around a few cemeteries. At the time, there were more than 60 cemeteries in Caldwell Parish so I’m not sure how many he actually visited.
The point is they turned to the local newspaper for help. Local newspapers – as Miss Marple always stated – are a wonderful resource. A few years ago, when a serial killer was snatching women in Baton Rouge, I was a newspaper reporter. I clearly remember the Baker-Zachary bureau reporter, who’d been around forever, musing aloud that someone should take a look at Derrick Todd Lee since he was known in the community for peeping into women’s windows. Newspaper reporters know stuff.
But I digress.
The Caldwell Watchman’s genealogy columnist (how many of those are left nowadays) H. Ted Woods opined that Robert T. Stark probably was buried on his property as old-timers were back in the day. He wondered if anyone had even bothered to place a marker.
So my grandparents did some more digging and provided more clues. They learned that the Stark family lived at Alfa “several miles west of Kelly on the mail route between Columbia and Castor Sulphur Springs.” That clears nothing up for me, but apparently Mr. Woods was familiar with the area.
There also was a sighting of the marker at some point. According to our family, one of Robert T. Stark’s grandsons visited the old home place and found Robert T. Stark’s grave about five and a half miles from Columbia a quarter mile from the old farm and not far from the road. It was located in an area with four graveyards close together.
Mr. Woods couldn’t think of an area with four graveyards close together – and he was a local expert. Sadly, it’s a mystery my grandparents never solved, even with Mr. Woods’ help.
I was curious about Mr. Woods. Was writing genealogy columns in a small town his full-time job? Turns out, it wasn’t. He owned the newspaper and contributed his considerable knowledge even after retirement.
For now, I’m smiling, thinking of my grandfather making the drive to Columbia in search of his ancestor. He and my grandmother were always a team, even when it came to shaking loose the mysteries in the family tree.
I’ve been going through my grandmother’s genealogy files. While looking at her research on her mother’s family, I came across some interesting letters.
Molsey – no idea what her maiden name was – married Willis Rhodes. They had at least five children: Arnold, Susan, Samuel, Newton and Martha Angeline. Samuel was my grandmother’s great-grandfather.
The Rhodes family lived in Texas and Louisiana. Angelina, for example, married a John Bennett and raised a family in Frierson, Louisiana. When Angelina’s husband died, she buried him in the back yard, put their surviving four children in a surrey and moved back to Texas.
The letters I found were written by Molsey and transcribed by Avis Eldridge Jones. I don’t know who Avis was, but a quick internet search told me she died a few years ago.
Here’s one from Molsey to Angeline (I’m going to add punctuation but leave the misspellings):
Well Angeline I tak my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at this tim. Hopping thes few lins wil find you well. I am at John at this tim. I hav bin here ever sens September. I saved your letters. Was glad to hear that you was aliv. You hear that I was ded. I was mity sick in Jun. I had flux. I com back in Jully. I hav no hom. The devel cold not liv with my popl. I hant bin to Peter Martins sens Dan did. He did in October after he left you. Susan had a son born then I was with her. I hant bin to Matthew in too years. Molsa is marred to Len Smith has a daughter. I hant bin to Newton in monts. Arnold has not bin her. I hant heard from thim in a long tim. I expet to see her befor long. I wont to see you mity bad. If you will com I will go hom with you. Writ soon. Send your letter to Orthas and let me know when you will com so I may be redy to go with you. Thear is a grat many dethes. The new mony has him fatel. Bud Rees is ded. Doc Gorum. Ther is so many I cant writ them donn. I hey no mre at present but remans your loving Mother untel dath. So good by.
I don’t know who some of these people were, but I gather that Molsey was jumping from one child to the next. She didn’t seem too happy about it. I believe she died in 1871 so I hope Angeline came and got her before she died.
The picture above is from the last Zoom call we had with my 89-year-old grandfather. He collapsed a few minutes later and died that night of an aneurysm.
We were joking about my background, which is of the journalism building at LSU. Granddaddy joked that we’d upgraded our house to a mansion. Hours later, he was gone.
Granddaddy had lymphoma, although that’s not what killed him. One of my frustrations with the stay-at-home order is I knew we needed to stay away from my elderly grandparents. That’s a tough restriction when a doctor’s just given your loved one two years – at best – to live.
Fortunately, we thought of Zoom. Soon, we had the entire family chatting from Louisiana, Arizona, Virginia and Texas. We got to do two calls, and I cherish them.
My point is: Don’t let this virus keep you from talking to your relatives and seeing their faces. In today’s age of Zoom calls and FaceTime, social distancing doesn’t mean distancing yourself from communication.
My mother-in-law, Carmen May LeBleu Guilbeau, grew up on a farm in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. She was born in 1928. Flipping through a scrapbook she put together as a young woman, it quickly became evident to me how much World War II impacted her.
There’s photo after photo of servicemen. Clipping after clipping of servicemen. These had to be boys – and girls – she knew from school or church (probably both). Some probably were distant relatives since Louisiana Catholic families tend to have lots of relatives. I started wondering how many of them came home.
Wilbert and Wilfred were the twin sons of John and Emma Hebert. I’m pretty sure they were my mother-in-law’s cousins. Both made it back home from the war.
More Heberts! Let’s hope this doesn’t turn out like “Saving Private Ryan.” Four brothers fighting in the same war. No worries. All survived. Can you imagine how worried their parents were?
Here’s another set of siblings from Jefferson Davis Parish who served their country. Inez Migues was a schoolteacher who joined the WAAC. She and her brothers all attended Kinder High School, where Roland was a football star.
All made it back home, but Alvin died young from collapsed lungs.
No doubt this was another distant relative since my mother-in-law’s grandmother was a Langley. Claude died in 2004. By the way, his father’s name really was Fernest. That’s not a misprint.
My in-laws once had a spectacular argument over my mother’s name. One faction insisted it was Beverly. The other faction was firm that it was Beth. Turns out, they were both right.
My mother was named Beverly at birth, but she always hated her name. So she changed it. Now she didn’t go to the trouble of changing it legally. She just started calling herself Beth until it stuck.
The point is that people sometimes just change their names or go by nicknames, which gets confusing in genealogy. Other times, the person recording the name gets it wrong. My aunt, who didn’t like to argue with people, tended to say “that’s close enough” if someone asked her whether something was correct.
Take Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses’ actual name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. It was Rep. Thomas L. Hamer who accidentally renamed him. In 1839, Rep. Hamer nominated a young Grant to West Point, but he got his name wrong. He nominated him as Ulysses S. Grant. It was too much trouble to change the paperwork so Hiram Ulysses became Ulysses S. Soon, fellow cadets were calling him Sam because his new initials were U.S. – or Uncle Sam.
The Planters’ Banner was a newspaper that published in St. Mary and Iberia parishes from 1836 to 1871. It sounds like it should have printed crop reports, but it was a hodgepodge of items.
It had poetry.
Obituaries from the East Coast (the publisher hailed from Maine).
Lots and lots of attorney ads. Some things never change.
And cures for chlorea – a very helpful recipe in the 1800s. Basically, you administered deer horn, wine, cold water and sugar. Then you did a lot of praying because there’s no way in hell that recipe cured anything.
What disappoints me about the paper is the scarcity of local news. The paper would give you tales of haunted houses in England and gold certificate robberies on the streets of New York, but local goings-on were a bit sporadic.
The really good stuff was dug up by other newspapers and reprinted, like this woeful story from 1871.
Alcee Gautreaux’s father owned a plantation called Hard Times in Assumption Parish. Optimistic name for a farm, huh?
The Gautreaux family leased the plantation to a Mr. T. T. Cobry, who threatened to shoot anyone who came onto the property even after his lease expired. Alcee convinced carpenters with the last names of Bergeron and Gilbert to go with him to Hard Times for the purposes of assessing needed repairs to the sugar house.
Knowing this wasn’t going to be a picnic in the park, Alcee grabbed a double barrel shotgun for the excursion. When the trio got there, Cobry was standing in the road dressed in his shirt sleeves. Spying the men, he ran into the blacksmith shop and retrieved a revolver.
Cobry didn’t seem to be the most reasonable of guys. He asked the men if they had a deputy with them and then started swearing. An argument ensued. Cobry was shot and killed.
The carpenters were probably just sorry they agreed to accompany Alcee that day since the whole matter ended up in court with Alcee acquitted of murder for acting in self defense.
Here’s The Assumption Pioneer’s tribute of sorts to Mr. Cobry, may he rest in peace:
Now, if only I could figure out if that Bergeron was a relative. Alas, no first name was reported.