Lightner West and the Horrors of War

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Yesterday I inadvertently had a War Movie Day. I happened to be at my mom’s while she watched Monuments Men, and then I went with my dad to see the new Brad Pitt WWII tank movie, Fury.

Strangely enough, I had just hours earlier been perusing the Compiled Civil War Service Records for my 3rd great-grandfather, Lightner West. The records didn’t amount to much. He cropped up as a private on the roster of the 56th Georgia Infantry, Company D (the “Hall Volunteers”) and that was about it. As it turns out, most of the records were affidavits from his young wife, Sarah E. Moore West, swearing that yes indeed she was married to him and that she was owed the $50 bounty he never collected for volunteering for the war effort.

Lightner West civil War

So I guess, with this, and Veteran’s Day coming, war was on my mind when, in both movies I watched yesterday, I made the connection that each relied on a small incident involving a child soldier.

I suppose child soldiers are supposed to illustrate the horrors of war. But are we so desensitized to the horrors of war that we need to show little kids with guns getting shot or blown up to shake us up?

War is already horrible. Everybody already suffers. There are the soldiers who find themselves making excruciating choices on the battlefield, or the occupied who chew on shoe leather to stay alive, or the woman who can choose to collaborate and feel the scorn of her community, or watch her children’s stomachs swell as they slowly starve to death.

Yesterday, I made a sad timeline.

Lightner Leander West was born in Spartanburg or Union County, SC in January 1842.

He married Sarah E. Moore in January 1862. He conceived their only child with her sometime that spring.

In May of 1862 he enlisted in the Army of the Confederate States of America.

In October of 1862 he died, probably from illness, in Tazewell, Tennessee.

He was 20-years-old, and a schoolteacher, and a father who never met his son. He had blue eyes and fair hair and died, suffering, far away from anyone who loved him.

War is already horrible. We shouldn’t need to see child soldiers in every war movie to remember that.

[52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks] Edward West, My Rabble-Rousing 87-Year-Old Grandfather

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Early on in the year, genealogist Amy Crow of No Story Too Small challenged all blogging genealogists to write about one ancestor per week for 52 weeks. This is my first entry in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.

I think it’s fitting that the first ancestor I blog about in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge is alive and well and – thanks to a little recent instigating – eating better than ever.

My grandpa, Edward West, is an interesting fellow for many reasons. His early adventures include:

  • Developing his snuff dipping habit at the tender age 7 after stealing the can from his mother’s apron at night
  • Breaking his arm riding a bull
  • Serving in Germany in WWII
  • Acting as a union representative at Lockheed, his place of work for many, many years (this comes into play later in this story)
Edward West Ellabel Duncan West Luanne West

Ellabel West, Luanne West (i.e. the cutest baby to ever sit on a lap) and Edward West, c. 1960

Adventures of a Nursing Home Rebel

But what I want to talk about today is his latter day adventures. Because he may be 87-years-old, but he hasn’t slowed down a bit. In fact, December 2013 was a banner month for my grandpa.

We might think that people who live in assisted living centers are in the twilight years of their life. Bingo, visiting on the porch, and craft activities rule the day and that’s about it, right?

But not for Papa. Despite having a perfectly good house, he CHOSE to live in the assisted living center. He says he likes hanging out with his childhood friends, Shorty and Leon. Plus, the nurses took really good care of my Granna for a long, long time during her decline from the cruel combination of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

…But that isn’t to say that Papa isn’t going to do a little rabble rousing if he has to.

Around Thanksgiving, we had the following conversation.

Papa: Jennifer, do you know how to type?

Me: Yes, Papa.

Papa: I want you to type me up a petition. The food here is no good. The cook in there can’t even boil an Irish potato.

We were both stung by the injustice of it all. Ninety folks in an assisted living center with very few teeth between them being forced to eat hard potatoes! This cannot stand!

So this is the petition we came up with:

We the residents of X in Canton, GA would like to request better quality food. We feel that the food we are currently served is not high quality, filling or well prepared. We request that management reviews the food buying and preparation processes and increases the quality of the food we receiving in the dining hall. 

Within a couple of days, he had walked, walkered and walking caned his way around the whole place, and about 1/3 of his fellow residents had signed the petition.

Today – 2 months later – the quality of the food has vastly improved and they get choices at every meal. That’s solidarity, my friends.

(It’s a good thing that the traits of stubbornness and inability to take no for an answer don’t run in this family….)

Local Celebrity Tells All

Look what else happened:

Edward West Cherokee Tribune Dec 7 2013

Article on the front page of the Cherokee Tribune, December 7, 2013. Article by Joshua Sharpe and photographs by Todd Hull.

Edward West Cherokee Tribune Dec 7 2013 p2

p. 2

Papa was also recently in the newspaper. You can read the story (about Pearl Harbor) for yourself, but I especially like the picture on the second page. That picture of my Granna, his wife for 61 years, sits on his bed every day while he’s awake and lies on the table by his side while he sleeps.

She was a beautiful woman, but it isn’t the most glamorous picture of her. It was taken right before she died, and she looks anxious. But it’s the picture he wants and, as I think we’ve already established by now, what my Papa wants, my Papa gets.

[(Almost) Wordless Wednesday] Forsyth County Georgia Marriage Book G “Colored”

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When you see this…

Forsyth County Georgia Colored Marriage Book

Microfilm copy of outside cover of Forsyth County, Georgia Marriage Book G, “Colored” Marriages

And then you see this…

The Times Recorder Manufacturer Americus Georgia

Also a microfilm copy of outside cover of Forsyth County, Georgia Marriage Book G, “Colored” Marriages

And realize there was once a company with some line on an order form somewhere asking: Aha, you want to buy a marriage registry book for your county? How about a nice volume for “Colored” marriages?

(The Times-Recorder is Americus, Georgia’s newspaper to this day.)

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.

Need Genealogy Software Recommendations

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Tl;dr – I’m looking for a genealogy app or software for Mac that’s really heavy on place and migration route research. Know of anything?

Help with Genealogy Software

Seriously. Helllllp!

So you guys know that I’m an amateur genealogist. And like any amateur, I find myself starting out with cobbled together tools. I use Ancestry.com a lot, just because it’s so handy for accessing so many databases, and I have the Mac version of Family Tree Maker, which I rarely use because it isn’t use-friendly AND it hogs resources. I also use Evernote and a complicated system of digital folders to keep track of various research about families and places. Oh, and some paper folders for copies of things I haven’t gotten around to transcribing yet.

So basically my research is spread over 4 places. I’d like to firm that up a little bit.

Second of all, what I’m really most interested in is the history of the places my people came from and their migrations. Family Tree Maker attempts to address this a little bit, but I would love some kind of software that allows me to layer migrations and places where I knew my ancestors to be on top of one another so I could really study them (I.e. Why did 3 of my 4th great grandpas end up in Place X? Aha there was a gold rush!)

I’d also like a way to make notes on the various migration patterns, not just the people themselves. But I want to be able to do it visually, and to keep all my information together.

So, does anybody know a really geographic/place-heavy genealogy software ideal for the Mac? Is or this something that has yet to be created? Is there any program that perhaps integrates Google Earth so I could do this myself? Am I asking too much? What’s the meaning of life?

(Okay, I’m done now.) Happy Detecting!

Behind “Farm Laborer”: A Peek at Working Whites of the Old South

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If you’re like me you’re grateful when you find a relative in a census or other source holding an occupation anything – ANYTHING – other than “farmer” or “farm laborer.”

…But a book I’ve been wanting to read for over a decade and somehow finally just procured has me realizing that – like with just about everything in the entire history of the world – there’s a lot more to “farm laborer” than milking cows and putting by crops for Pa.

The Confessions of Edward IshamI’m talking about The Confessions of Edward Isham: A Poor White Life in the Old South. If you have antebellum ancestors in the South, this book’s dissection of a short, brutal life will give you a first person peek into what those lives might have been like.

Now, I’m not saying our “farm laborer” ancestors were all Edward Isham’s. Isham was a landless white man from Carroll County, Georgia who made his way through life working itinerant jobs and/or taking up with women. Oh and gambling. And a bit of robbing. Also lots of fighting. We know all of this because in 1859 Isham found himself on trial for his life for murdering a North Carolina farmer, who he claimed cheated him out of his fair wages.

You know that old saying, “Nothing else can kill you when you’re born to be hanged?” Well, I won’t give away the ending, but…

So, sure, not all poor white landless men in the South were Edward Isham’s, but the book does make a good case that fighting and frolicking were par for the course for pre-Civil War poor whites. For example, apparently men used to keep their nails long and sharp, as a handy eye-gouging weapon. Seriously.

I’ll detail the things that struck me about this book, with an eye toward family history, in no particular order.

Working Poor White Men in the Old South

As a student of American history, I vaguely remember all of those mini-depressions and financial crises the U.S. suffered through in our short history until the Glass-Steagall Act stopped that boom and bust cycle. (Until it was repealed. Don’t even get me started.) As they always are, these recessions were hardest on people who didn’t have much to begin with.

Isham and his fellow laborers were no exception. Then add geography into play. Isham was born about 1826 and his father moved the family to Carroll County, Georgia after making a successful draw in the 1832 Georgia Land Lottery. By Edward’s own account, his father, Edward Sr., was a “dissipated” man who moved the family frequently and taught Edward how to fight at a young age. Edward grew up in Carroll County when it was a mining area and where a man could make a living independently scratching for gold.

As Edward grew up, the wild Georgia frontier was slowly tamed, and the chances for a man to make his own way in the world independently slowly dried up. Many landless white laborers were forced to trade their mining kit for bosses and wage labor.

How working under a landed farmer’s stern eye must have stung after you had spent the first part of your life making your own way staking out your own claims. (I feel it. It’s why i’d rather sleep in a cardboard box than sign on as someone else’s employee ever, ever again.) The whole time I read this book, this song keep running through my mind:

Oh, and then there are the other laborers in the South at the time – slaves.

“The existence of black slavery in the South dictated the kind of occupational and geographic mobility experienced by Edward Isham and other poor white laborers. Slavery both stunted the growth of industrial wage positions and limited the need for white workers, as well as the wages paid to them, in the region. Because many Southerns who needed additional labor for their various enterprises relied on slaves, the market for white labor in the antebellum South was one of infrequent work and low pay.” (Charles C. et al. 1998)

Interestingly, the paradox that landless white laborers faced back in the day reminds me of the paradox that “unskilled” workers of all kinds often face in the U.S. now. (I put “unskilled” in quotes because I’d say that breaking your back, enduring physical hardship and swallowing a whole lot of crap to keep a roof over your family’s head is certainly an admirable trait, if not a skill.) The jobs that would pay decent wages go overseas or to undocumented or otherwise disenfranchised immigrants willing to work for low wages, further depressing the economy. One hundred and fifty years later we don’t blame the enslaved for the state of the antebellum economy. Will it take another 150 years for us to figure out who to blame for today’s economy? Probably so.

Voiceless

The editors make it plain that not all landless whites in the old South were like Edward Isham. For one, Isham took up with a lot of women but didn’t ever let any of them tie him down. Most other men weren’t so lucky… I mean, most other men worked alongside their nuclear families. In fact, when seeking out farm laborers, the landed gentry often looked for men with families because they could benefit from the labor of the wife and children as well. Single male workers like Isham were probably the least desired class of worker, but would do in a pinch if you needed a ditch dug or a fence built.

The Women of Edward Isham’s Confessions

The book includes Edward Isham’s 25ish page confession, and several essays parsing the document, including “Mothers, Lovers, and Wives: Images of Poor White Women in Edward Isham’s Autobiography” by historian Victoria Bynum.

Edward Isham “married” a couple of times, and also took up with a lot of women. There are so many consorts in the text that I actually lost count. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Isham, as a wanted man, was described as “rather good looking” with “light hair.” (No know pictures of Isham exist. If you can’t quite conjure up a mental image of Edward Isham, just check out Thomas MacEntee’s My Daugerreotype of Guy pinboard and take your pick.)

The editors posit, and I agree, that the marriages were probably common law rather than state sanctioned. He seemed to abandon his wives and consorts as he found better work opportunities. Interestingly enough, he does admit that some women had power over him. He courts one woman, leaves after some trouble with the law, comes back and steals her from her husband, finds himself cuckolded, and then apparently tries to get her back again but ultimately fails.

Isham also shows a little tenderness toward some women in his life. His 3rd reported wife died in childbirth shortly before he committed the murder that eventually did him in, and he reports being feeling low and drinking a lot during that time.

In other words, if you had any illusions of the prim and proper Victorian lady dwelling in the Georgia frontier, read this primary source for a clearer picture.  Times were tough for everyone and people made choices about marriage and mating for a variety of reasons.

Conclusion

“It is rich people, usually, who live on in biographies, in the pages of the social register. Working people live on in ledgers.”  – Rick Bragg, The Most they Ever Had

Now, every time I come across a male ancestor living with another family in a census or a female ancestor living back home with mom and dad and her children, my imagination will add a more colorful spin to the circumstances. I’ll never look at the “farm laborer” or “laborer” occupation in the census the same way again after reading the Confessions of Edward Isham. I hope, if you come from a family of boring old famers and farm laborers here in the South, that you’ll give this amazing primary source a read, and then you won’t either.

Sources:

Bolton, Charles C, and Scott P. Culclasure, eds. The Confessions of Edward Isham: A Poor White Life in the Old South. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

[Follow Friday] Your Daguerreotype Boyfriend, Child Laborers, & an American in Paris

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As I approach my 50th blog post, I realized I haven’t done a Follow Friday in forever. …So here goes!

Photography

My Daguerreotype Boyfriend – Admit it. You thought Robert Cornelius, the photographer of the very first selfie back in 1839, was hot.  (To me he looks like what Heathcliff should look like.) Well, this Tumblr compiles Cornelius and all of your other daguerreotype boyfriends together in one handy reference list.

Also, you can submit your photos. If it isn’t too squicky for you, maybe your hot daguerreotype ancestor can become someone’s daguerreotype boyfriend. Speaking of historical hotties, check out young Joseph Stalin at #9. (This link goes to Cracked.com which will always, at some point, become NSFW.)

The Lewis Hine Project – Labor Day just happened, so what better time to anxiously peer at photos of child laborers? I’ve already written about Shorpy.com, a historical photograph website inspired by a photograph of Shorpy Higginbotham, a tiny little boy working in a mine in Alabama. If you’re interested in more of Hine’s work documenting child labor, check out the Lewis Hine Project, run by historian Joe Manning. The site also features some mystery photos. Can you help identify these people?

Diary

Addie’s Sojourn – After serendipitously finding some old family letters, I’ve been especially interested in older personal writings. That’s why I was delighted to discover that my friend Liz Loveland (@Lizl_genealogy on Twitter) had inherited a copy of her ancestor, Addie Sturtevant Burnett’s diary, kept during her time as an American living in Paris from 1889-90. Addie was a well-educated, if, in Liz’s words “ethnocentric” woman who made an extraordinary decision for her time. The historian in me is especially drawn to issues of race and class, so it’s interesting to see phrases like “We met four people and two Chinese that came over with us on the Gascoygne.” Two Chinese indeed.

Genealogy News

4YourFamilyStory.com - I griped and griped about how I didn’t have any time for genealogy for about 6 weeks due to a big work project. So when I dug my way out, I was happy to see that Caroline Pointer (@FamilyStories on Twitter) had started posting a daily “# Things You Need to Know about Genealogy This Morning” post. Now I’m all back up to speed. Whew.

Happy Detecting!

National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair (Sep 3 and 4th – Online!)

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Image Courtesy of the National Archives

Image Courtesy of the National Archives

So I’m giving you about 12 minutes notice that the National Archives is holding a virtual genealogy fair today. Yep – we can get all of the goodness of a genealogy conference without leaving our messy desks. (Okay, well mine is messy. Maybe some of you guys are members of The Organized Genealogist on Facebook.)

How to Participate

Participation is simple!

1. Check out the NARA virtual genealogy fair schedule at the National Archives website.

2. Download the handouts for sessions on September 3 and September 4.

3. Create an account or get signed in at UStream.

4. Follow the National Archives account at UStream.

5. Tune in at 10am for the first session!

Sessions for Everyone

I have to work today, of course, but I plan to hit as many sessions as possible.(I’m self-employed, so I have 12 bosses. I work everyday!)

I’m going to try to listen in on all sessions, but my “absolutely can’t miss” sessions are:

September 3

10am – Introduction to Military Records at the National Archives with John Deeben

12pm – A-Files (Alien Files) with Elizabeth Burnes

2pm – National Archives Online Resources for Genealogy with Nancy Wing

September 4

10am – Genealogy and the Freedman’s Bank: Records of the Freedman’s Savings & Trust Company with Damani Davis

11am – Military and Civilian Personnel Records:  The National Archives at St. Louis with Ashley Mattingly and Theresa Fitzgerald

1pm – Federal Penitentiary Records with Jake Ersland (I have two unrelated relatives who were both rumored to have been in the federal pen for bootlegging…)

Join Me!

The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #GenFair2013. Connect with me on Twitter at @JennealogyStory and let’s be a boisterous backchannel! :)

How to Greet a Lady or Gentleman (When You’re in 1849)

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After doing so much research in Forsyth County, GA (where old newspapers are few and far between), I was delighted to discover that the Keowee Courier from Pickens County, SC has been printing almost continuously since 1849. Yay!

This little gem comes from the Keowee Courier’s very first issue on May 18th, 1849.

From the Keowee Courier (Pickens County, SC) Vol. 1, Issue 1, May 18, 1948.

From the Keowee Courier (Pickens County, SC) Vol. 1, Issue 1, May 18, 1948.

Tl;dr “Take your hats ALL the way off, people.”

Integration Comes to Canton, Georgia (1964)

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English: Town square, downtown Canton, GA, USA

Town square, downtown Canton, GA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This historian’s heart was gratified today to see a firsthand account in our local newspaper, the Cherokee Tribune, of some of the troubles Canton experienced during the Civil Rights era. Though we still have a long way to go (see: internet comments, ugh), it’s heartening to see my little town having an open discussion and getting past the racial divide that must have seemed insurmountable back in the early 1960’s. (I’m also proud to say that I know and love the Tanner family of Canton, Georgia featured in this article!)

To quote from the article by Joshua Sharpe:

Unrest in Canton

On Aug. 11, 1964, four young men attempted to integrate the Canton Theater on Main Street, and white residents of the city weren’t happy about the coming progress.

The Atlanta Constitution wrote at the time of the incident that the young men were met with much resistance that night.

“The Negroes were peppered with eggs and tomatoes from a crowd of about 700 white persons as they came out of the theater on Main Street,” the Constitution’s Aug. 12, 1964, article stated.

Ozella Tanner said at the time, non-white residents were only allowed to sit in the balcony at the theater.

When word spread that the young men were trying to change the policy, she said she knew something bad might happen and jumped in her car to go pick them up.

As she drove through downtown Canton, she saw that she was right to be worried.

“They were lining the street,” Ozella Tanner said of the hundreds of angry white residents unhappy with the protest. “They threw rocks at my car as I was driving through town.”

Find out what happens next in the Cherokee Tribune Article.

Of course, I can’t help but wonder what stories from this era have still gone untold. What about school desegregation? Restaurant desegregation? When were black people allowed to take jobs at one of the two Canton Cotton Mills? It’s something I sure would like to know more about. If you have a story, or are researching the Civil Rights era in North Georgia, please Contact Me.

Happy Detecting!

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