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



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!

Genealogists and GTLDs: Is a New Domain Name Right for You?

Don’t stop reading! I know the topic of this blog post sounds technical and deadly boring, but it may be vital to your continued success as the genealogy world moves increasingly online. Especially if you run a genealogy website or work as a professional genealogist. So hear me out here!

What the Heck is Going on Here?

ICANN, the body that governs and organizes domain names (i.e. web addresses, such as “” or “”) has decided to release a whole bunch of new “generic top level domain names.” In other words, instead of just .com, .net, .org, etc. we are now going to be able to buy domain names that end in things like .inc, .llc, and .plumber. (Yes, .plumber.)

Crazy, right?

Why do I Care About a Bunch of New Domain Extensions?

In my opinion, people who own businesses, provide services or spend a lot of time maintaining a well-respected website should care quite a lot about these new GTLD’s.

Because .Com’s and Friends are Vanishing

If you’ve tried to register a new domain name in the past few years, chances are you didn’t get your first choice. The world of domain names is getting pretty crowded. There’s no way any regular person is ever going to get or And forget scoring It’s just barely ever going to happen anymore. If somebody else with your name hasn’t already scored the domain name then domain squatters have bought it up with the intention of reselling it to you… for a steep price.

Because You Need Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

At the same time, search engine optimization (SEO) has increased in importance. In other words, if you want to get found online you need to handle your business and make sure that you show up high in search engine rankings when people search for websites like yours.  This is especially true when someone is using a search engine to find a local business or professional. I see stats on this vary, but the general consensus seems to be that about 60% of consumers search online at least once a month to find a local business.

Example: You are a genealogist in Atlanta, Georgia and you want private clients to find your lovingly-crafted website and give you a call or email. Even better, if someone searches “Atlanta Georgia genealogist” or “genealogist in Atlanta Georgia” on Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc. then you want them to find you first. Not your competitors, and not the Georgia Genealogical Society. (Not knocking them. And hey, they come up as #1 for this search. Good work, guys!)

(Is all this SEO talk making your eyes cross? Sign up for my bite-sized emails with online marketing tips just for genealogists.)

To make sure your website appears up high in the rankings when a potential customer seeks you out, you have to follow several steps. They include providing great content, updating frequently and making sure that your domain name represents what you do. Aha! This is where those pesky GTLD’s come in!

The first thing a search engine like Google looks for when someone performs a search is the domain name. If someone is looking for pizza in Akron, Ohio then Google will immediately know that “” is more likely to return the results that that searcher wants than a site named “” The site could represent the best pizza joint in Akron, but Google won’t know that. The domain name doesn’t help Google do it’s job.

If you were forced to buy a domain name that doesn’t express what you do – like “” or one that is so long that it doesn’t even fit on business cards – like  “” then these new domains are your chance to start over with a clean slate. …And a domain name that will help your target customers find you through online searches.

Possible New Top Level Domains for Genealogists

The reason I’m writing this post in the first place is that when I’m not geeking out over family history, I own Social Street Media and I’m busily marketing my clients online. One of my clients, GoDaddy, has put together a great resource on all the new generic top level domain extensions. There’s no “.genealogy” (bummer!) but there are a few that you might consider if you’re in the market for a new domain name:

  • .family – For family based sites. I think this one, above all others, is also best for genealogy sites in general!
  • .forum – If you run a discussion-forum based genealogy site, like the Guild of One-Name Studies.
  • .global – You run a site with a global focus.
  • .news – Your site is news-based.
  • .bio – A biography based site. I feel like this one would be great for a site that focuses on one ancestor or relative.
  • .church – For church or religion based sites.
  • .community – For community based sites.
  • .group – For groups or organizations that can’t secure the .org domain extensions.
  • .book – For book websites.

This is only a smatter of the many top level domains soon to be released into the world. Check them all out at GoDaddy’s GTLD Watchlist.

When You Shouldn’t Buy a New Domain Name

We all want the great family history research we do, the great books we write or the great analyses we spend hours on to be found and appreciated. But if you aren’t trying to market a service or business, it may not be worth your while to spend money on a new domain. After all, not only will you have to pay for it, you’ll have to take the time to redirect your old website to your new domain name, and perhaps even change business cards and other marketing materials.

On the other hand, if you ever want your genealogy work to be more than just a hobby, I highly recommend securing a descriptive, unique top-level domain name now – before they all disappear like the dodo and the .com!

For More Information

If you’re interested in finding out more about marketing your genealogy site, please sign up for my mailing list here. I send out easy-to-digest tips from time to time and promise never, ever to spam you or send you something you won’t find useful.

Happy Detecting!

The Spelling of Your Family Name? Total Accident


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This is something that most people who’ve been digging through genealogical primary sources already know, but I’ve found myself having a conversation about this with a bunch of interested family members and friends lately, so I thought I would write a post about this.

More than likely, your name is spelled the way it is because of a fluke. That’s right. the spelling of your name probably wasn’t standardized until the 20th century. If you think you’re the “Smyths” or the “Brownes” with an “e” then think again. You may very well be as closely related as 3rd cousins with people who spell your last name entirely differently than you do! Bear with me here.

(Non)Standardized Spelling

A few months back I was with my ex at the driver’s license office. He had to show documentation for his license and the clerk noticed that his name was spelled differently on his social security card than on his birth certificate. She warned him that he’d better get that fixed right away because it could mess with his social security, taxes, credit scores and background checks. Needless to say, he went to the social security office and made the change to the official spelling of his first name. Otherwise his whole life could get screwed up, right?

In the nineteenth century, nobody had this problem. First of all, what social security? What social safety nets? There was no real reason to require a standard spelling of a name.

Further, a lot of people didn’t read and write and so when they had to write their name – which wasn’t often – they did the best they could. If they went for years between writing their names, the spellings they chose could easily change. Not to mention that the English language didn’t really have standardized spelling yet. (Figures as recent as Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie wanted to simplify English language spelling because it is just too darn hodgepodge.)

Sometimes people didn’t write their own names at all. Sometimes their names were written by census takers or other public officials who did they best that they could with the spelling of unusual (and not-so-unusual) names. Check it out:

John P. "Gravett," 1870 U.S. Federal Census

John P. “Gravett,” 1870 U.S. Federal Census

James P. Gravet 1880

“Jas” P. “Gravet,” 1880 U. S. Federal Census (Yep, this is him even though they even have his first name as James rather than John!)

John P. Gravitt 1900

John P. “Gravitt,” 1900 U.S. Federal Census

Same guy, same family, three different censuses, three different spellings of their last name. Today, we use the “Gravitt” spelling but we are more than likely related to Gravetts, Gravits, Gravets, Gravots, and more as different families descended from the same ancestors changed the spelling of the name down through the years. It really is just a fluke that we ended up sticking with “Gravitt.”

The same thing happened with first names. Jennet Cowen West and her daughter Edith West lived together in 1888. But Jennet spelled her son’s first name “Paskill” while Edith spelled it “Paschal.” Census records, land records and civil war pensions show Pascal spelled almost every possible way.

Name Spelling in Primary Sources

This is not to say that your relatives didn’t know how to spell their names or didn’t have a preference. One thing to remember when looking at primary source research is that more often than not these records were written by people who were not your relative. Census takers, county clerks, and other assorted bureaucrats often wrote your relative’s name down for them. That’s why it’s always so amazing to find something written by the actual person you are researching. You can get that info straight from the horse’s mouth, for once.

John Berry Duncan's Signature, 1910

John Berry Duncan’s Signature, 1910

This is my 3rd Great-Grandfather John Berry Duncan’s signature in 1910 when he was 88-years-old. You can see he forgot the “n.” That doesn’t mean our name is really “Ducan.” Nah, it’s just that spelling wasn’t as important back in the day.

I hope this helps! (I especially hope this helps my friends who maintain that they can’t be related to anybody with the last name “Stevens”  because their last name has always been spelled “Stephens.”)

Happy detecting!

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, July 1882


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Edith West Harris, 1882

Image Courtesy of James T. Dunn of 3RDSON*VIDEO PRODUCTIONS.

How are you guys today? I am pleased to write that I am tolerably well and I hope you are well, too. (Sorry, I can’t help it. After getting buried in all of these old West family letters I want to talk like the writers do!) 

This letter is from my 3rd Great Aunt Edith West Harris in Forsyth County, Georgia to her brother, Paschal P. West in Yell County, Arkansas. Elizabeth West, mentioned in the letter, was their younger sister. I have to admit that this is the West Family letter that did me in.

Without further introduction I’ll just get on with it. ( I’ve kept the original spelling, but added punctuation and paragraph breaks.) Warning: have tissues ready.

My Transcription of a Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West and Rebecca Westray West

Letter recipients Paschal P. West and wife Rebecca (Westray) West, c. late 1860's, probably in Forsyth County, Georgia before they moved to Arkansas (Image Courtesy of Ron West)

Letter recipients Paschal P. West and wife Rebecca (Westray) West, c. late 1860’s, probably in Forsyth County, Georgia before they moved to Arkansas (Image Courtesy of Ron West)

July the 2, 1882

Dear Brother and Sister,

I once more embrace the opportunity of dropping you afew lines to let you no that we are all tolerably well. I am not well myself. Truly hoping these lines will reach you due time and find you all well.

Well Paschal I have no good news to rite. It is sad news must reach your ears in this letter. I am sorry to say to you all that Elisabeth has parted from us in death. This is sad news to rite to you all.  She died last Sunday morning, about 10 o’clock. She died here at Pap’s. She died with consumption. She had been feeble and cofing for along time and after she married she got wors and wors til she was oblige to give up. She had three good doctors to wait upon her but none of them could do her any good.

She suffered dreadful before she died. She died in her rite mind. She was happy for over a week before she died. She pointed out the road she was going to and all. I wish you could have all been here her talk about her sweet home she saw in heaven. She said she saw so many pretty things up there.

She saw a little baby on the foot of her bed. She saw it there all night. She told mother it was her baby and come after her and was waiting for her to go. She would take spells a shouting and would talk about her sweet home as long as she could talk. She loved to talk about things above.

She was so willing to die we ought not to grieve after her, but nature binds us so close we can’t help it. She told us not to grieve after her for she was going home to rest. She bade us all farewell and told us all to meet her in heaven. What a blessed thing it is to have ding(?) grace when she saw Maryan on her bed. Mother asked her if she saw Lightner two. She said no she did not see him but she said he was up there she would soon see him two. Her last days was here happiest days here on earth.

She died so easy. She closed her own eyes and folded her hands across her chest and fell asleep in Jesus.

Paschal, all that we can do is to try and prepare to meet her in heaven. That was her dying request. It was hard to give her up, but she is gone the way we all have to go.

We received your last letter but still kept waiting thought Lisa would get better.

Becky, I saw your pa an Gosy last Monday at the buriing (burying). They are all well. Your pa looks very well.

We are having plenty of rain here this summer. Crops is looking well so far. Pap has not had his wheat threshed yet. I can’t tell how much he will make. His wheat is very good.

William, I want to say a word or two to you. I am sorry you caused your mother to see so much trouble, but I hope you will come back this fall to see her. William, I wish you and all the rest of you could have been here to see your Aunt Elisabeth talk. She took mother by the hand and said “Goodby, Mother. Meet me in heaven.” Also took Pap by the hand and said “Good by Pap. Meet me in heaven.” Them was the sweetest words I ever heard spoke.

Paschal, I want you to come to see us one more time and bring Becky with you. I would be so, so glad to see you all coming.

Althie, I wish I could help you eat some of your honey. I want you to send me all of your pictures  when William comes home. I will send my little girls’ in this letter according to promises. I want you to rite as soon as you get this letter and let me here from you all. Rite long letters. I will anser ever one that I get. I love to here from you all. Read this if you can. So I must close. Rite soon. Goodby to all.

Edy Harris to Paschal and all

Edith West Harris (1850-1891), the letter writer

Edith West Harris (1850-1891), the letter writer (Image Courtesy of Debbie Shull)

Details of this Letter Deciphered (Tolerably Well)

I’ll wait for you to stop crying and for these letters to unblur themselves.

So this letter is basically one sister’s way of processing her grief over her sister’s passing. You can tell that she is reliving the events of last Sunday in her mind as she gives details in short, clipped sentences and sometimes circles back to think – and write – again on what has transpired.

I can only image what a horrible week Elizabeth suffered through and how difficult and also oddly comforting for her family as she spoke of heaven, of seeing the baby Maryanne, who had died in 1863 at just 3 years old, and of knowing that their oldest son, Lightner (my 3rd Great-Grandfather) was in heaven waiting for her, too.

A lot of evidence – the fact that Edith always wanted to live at home, even while married, the fact that a married Elizabeth came home to her parents’ house to die (if she ever left at all), and even the fact that Elizabeth hallucinated her little sister Maryann – demonstrates that this was a very close and loving family.

A lot of people and events are mentioned here so I’ll try to go over them:

I am sorry to say to you all that Elisabeth has parted from us in death. This is sad news to rite to you all.  She died last Sunday morning, about 10 o’clock. 

According to census records, Elizabeth West was born about 1855 and this letter shows that she died on Sunday, June 26, 1882. I was never sure if the Elizabeth West mentioned in Forsyth County Marriage Records was our Elizabeth, but since Edith mentions that Elizabeth’s illness worsened after she married, I think Elizabeth must be the Elizabeth West shown in the Forsyth County, Georgia Marriage Books as marrying William O. Humphrey on Dec 18, 1881. I’m not sure what became of him after this.

She had three good doctors to wait upon her but none of them could do her any good.

In her letter to Paschal and Rebecca West, Paschal and Edith’s mother Jennet Cowen West also talks about having 3 doctors attend her. I guess my ancestors trusted doctors about as much as I do. 😉

She was so willing to die we ought not to grieve after her, but nature binds us so close we can’t help it.

That’s just beautiful writing.

Mother asked her if she saw Lightner two.

Lightner West was Edith’s and Paschal’s oldest brother and my 3rd Great-Grandfather. He died in the Civil War at Tazewell, TN in 1863. I’m so glad he was mentioned in this letter, because I’ve never found very much about him at all.

We received your last letter but still kept waiting thought Lisa would get better.

I think they must have called Elizabeth “Liza” (though Edith consistently spelled Elizabeth with an s.)

Becky, I saw your pa an Gosy last Monday at the buriing (burying). 

This was Rebecca Westray West’s father and sister, Josie.

William, I want to say a word or two to you. I am sorry you caused your mother to see so much trouble, but I hope you will come back this fall to see her. 

I really, really want to know what William did to make his mother suffer! From later writing, we know that William is Edith and Elizabeth’s nephew. I think she must be referring to William McClure (b. 1862), the son of Sarah Jane West McClure and her husband Andrew H. McClure, Paschal and Edith’s oldest sister. I know that the McClure family was in Arkansas along with Paschal and Rebecca by 1900, but they may have still been in Georgia in 1882, when this letter was written and when William was 20. If so, it would make sense that perhaps William ran off to Arkansas and should return home to see his mother. There was a lot of “going West” back in those times.

An agricultural census shows that a Sarah Jane West owned land in Forsyth County, Georgia in 1890 even though William W. West (her brother?) is listed as her agent. It’s also a little strange that she’s listed as Sarah Jane West rather than Sarah Jan McClure, but since they lived on the “West land” it may make sense that the census taker may have just slapped the West surname on everyone.

This is an interesting mystery and I hope to get to the bottom of it. Also, if this is the same William I’m thinking of, he went on to become a doctor in Arkansas so I guess his mama probably forgave him.

Althie, I wish I could help you eat some of your honey.

I imagine Althie is Althea West (b. 1865), daughter of Paschal West and Rebecca Westray West. I guess she kept bees? There’s also an Althie McClure in the family, but she was only about 2 years old in 1882 and I suspect they still lived in Georgia at that time anyway.

This is such a wonderful find, I’m — once again — extremely grateful to my cousin Ron West and his aunt Jessie West Newman for finding and preserving these letters.

The Original Letter

I only have a copied version of this letter and page 2 is pretty wonky, but this is the best I could do. Good luck deciphering!

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, Page 1

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, Page 1

Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, page 2

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, page 2

Letter: Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, page 3

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, page 3

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, page 4

Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West, 1882, page 4

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this letter as much as I have (and cried a lot less than I did.) If you’re a relative or just want to say hi, leave a comment or Contact Me. Until next time, stay tuned and happy detecting!

How to Get Your Old Family Photos Colorized


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Remember how I was complaining that I haven’t been doing any genealogy or genealogy blogging for the past 6 weeks because I had a big contract? Well, I’ve turned in the last work on that contract and – save any edits they ask for – I’m finished. I now feel safe to spend a little time back in libraries, courthouses and the internet. Hooray!

So anyway, one of my day-job go-to blogs, Mashable, had a great article called 13 Black and White Photos Brought to Life with Color today. Check ’em out. For some reason, I really like #12 and #13.

I’ve been into colorization since two events: my uncle Jamey, of 3RDSON*VIDEO, colorized some old photos (like his Facebook page and maybe he’ll do some more for us) and since I saw these color pictures of the Great Depression. I even had this one as my laptop wallpaper for a long while:

Please be public domain, photo.

Please be public domain, photo.

Now obviously the world was not black and white before the invention of color photography and television but isn’t it hard to imagine the “good old days” in color? It is for me! So I love seeing old photos colorized, even though I know that her eyes or the berries on her dress may not be the exact shade they were in life.

Luckily for us, if we ask nicely, we may get someone to colorize our old photos for us. The subreddit /r/Colorization features colorized versions of old photos and even allows for requests. Of course, if you’re not familiar with Reddit, it’s a VERY finicky community so your mileage here may vary. But if I ever find an old photo with a great story that could benefit from colorization, I’m going to try it out. You can also try colorization out yourself, of course, with Photoshop or GIMP (which, unlike Photoshop, is the right price – free.)

Now I need to get back to transcribing those old George W. West Family Letters that I promised. I feel like a family history hoarder right now and that’s a sucky feeling since family history information wants to be free. Stay tuned!

Amanuensis Monday: Letter from Jennet Cowen West to Paschal P. West and Rebecca Westray West


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I’m so very excited to be posting the first in a series of four transcribed letters from the family of my 4th great-grandfather, George W. West (b. abt. 1819 in Spartanburg, SC – d. 1895 in Forsyth County, Georgia.) I received these letters from Ron West, a distant cousin I recently reconnected with. He’s of the Arkansas Wests and a descendent of Paschal P. West, the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather, Lightner West. He as kind enough to share original copies of these letters with me without me having to beg!

This first letter is from Jennet West in Forsyth County, Georgia to her eldest surviving son, Paschal P. West and his wife Rebecca (Westray) West, who lived in Milam, Yell County, Arkansas. (Are you a relative? See my entire West family line here.)

Confederate General and Georgia Governor John Brown Gordon. Photo by Matthew Brady.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Confederate General and Georgia Governor John Brown Gordon. Photo by Matthew Brady. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

To put the time when this letter was written in perspective, Grover Cleveland was president of the United States (for the first time.) And, Reconstruction having been over for over a decade, a democrat and former Confederate general John Brown Gordon was in his second term as governor of Georgia. (It is rumored that Gordon had been one of the original Ku Klux Klan leaders in the late 1860’s.) Elsewhere in Georgia, the whites-only Piedmont Park had been established just the year before, and so had Georgia Tech. In Southern politics, a battle all about fences was raging. This would eventually lead to the rise of Populism in the South. (More on this after the letter.)

Around the world, the first Whitechapel Murder had taken place just 5 days before on London’s East End. Nobody had heard the term “Jack the Ripper” yet.

More locally, at the time of the writing of this letter, Jennet Cowen West was about 72 years old and living on a farm in Forsyth County, Georgia with her husband George, her daughter Edith (Edy), and Edith’s children. (Edith was married, but never moved away from home, even though they couple had at least 4 children — a fact that apparently caused her husband to eventually abandon the family for greener pastures in Arkansas and Oklahoma.) George and Jennet’s son, George W. West, likely lived nearby at this time.

Two of Jennet and George’s children, Paschal P. West (who married Rebecca Westray) and Sarah Jane West (who married Andrew H. McClure) had already “gone west” to Arkansas at this point. It’s because of that move that we have these letters from a mother to her oldest surviving son.

Paschal P. West and wife Rebecca (Westray) West, c. late 1860's, probably in Forsyth County, Georgia before they moved to Arkansas (Image Courtesy of Ron West)

Paschal P. West and wife Rebecca (Westray) West, c. late 1860’s, probably in Forsyth County, Georgia before they moved to Arkansas (Image Courtesy of Ron West)

A little history on Jennet: She was born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in about 1816 and immigrated with her family to South Carolina when she was about 4 years old. She spent her early life and married George W. West in Union County, South Carolina in approximately 1840.  While still in South Carolina she bore their first 6 children, Lightner West (my ancestor), Sarah Jane West (McClure), Paschal P. West, William Russell West, George W. West, Jr., and Edith (Edy) West (Harris). I suspect she bore another child around 1852, who died.

The family moved to Georgia in around 1853. A later document associated with George W. West’s Reconstruction shows that they lived somewhere in Georgia for approximately 1 year before settling in the northeast corner of Forsyth County, Georgia, in the Hightower District. They attended Concord Baptist Church in Forsyth County and possibly Hightower Baptist Church just across the county line in Cherokee County, Georgia.

In Georgia, Jennet bore her other four children: Leander West, Elizabeth West, Monroe West and Mary Ann West. Jennet’s exact death date is unknown, but it is known that she survived at least two children, her son Lightner served in Company D, 56th Infantry Regiment (Georgia) and died at Tazewell, TN. It’s unknown whether he died from illness or battle. That same year, her youngest child, 3-year-old daughter Mary Ann West, died.

This letter shows that Jennet was in poor health. As I mentioned, I’ve never found a record of her death, but her husband George remarried in January 1892, so I suspect she passed away sometime around 1890 or 1891.

No pictures exist (that I know of…yet!) of George and Jennet Cowen West, but judging from pictures of their children and grandchildren, as well as their living relatives today, I suspect they were fair with light-colored eyes.

With that intro, here’s the letter. I’ve kept the original spelling, but added punctuation and paragraph breaks. I’ve also added my best guess about some terms, in brackets. I’ve added scans of the original letter at the bottom of this post so please correct me if you see something wrong (or if you know what she means she she talks about a “hippo.”)

My Transcription of a Letter from Jennet Cowen West to Paschal P. West and Rebecca Westray West

April 8, 1888

Forsyth County, Ga.

Dear Son and Dauter,

I seat myself to try to rite you afew lines to let you know that I am on the land of the living yet, but I am in a bad fix. I can’t walk, only on cruches yet and I am afraid I never will. My thy hurts me very bad. Some times I can’t lean any weight on it when I try to walk. It wasent managed right at first. We had Pool the first doctor, then Bramlet and then Luper. He said the little bone on my thy was knocked off. He said if it had been fixed right I would have been wing [walking?] long ago.

I keep in tolerable good sprites. Sometime I take the hippo very bad.  I can’t do anything but knit or saw [sew].  I know soks and sell them at 25 cents and by what I need.

Well, Paskill, I was very proud of that present you sent me last summer.  I was very much obliged to you.  I hope you will never miss it. I bought a nice dress and cloth to make a nice black bonnet and I have some of it yet saving for seed, but I don’t know where to plant it.

Paskill, I wisht you was here today to see the orcherd. It is in full bloom. It is beautiful. I think if nothing hatens [happens] we will have apples for you and Becky and the children when you come.  You must be sure and come. I wont to see you all very bad one more time.

Well, this is Sunday but I don’t go to meeting often.  I have sutch a bad way of getting along. I can’t get in a wagen by myself. They set me in a chair and lifts me in and I can’t get in the steps withoute help, but I recon it is all right. I have been very well waited on ever since I have been crippled. The nabers is all very kind to me. They come after me when I say I will go.

Wee have got the no fence law here now and I don’t like it atall.  Our fields is turned oute, and cows in a dry pastur. It suits ritch folks, but it don’t suite poor folks, but the ritch don’t care for the poor no how.

Well, Paskill, your Pap says to tell you he is here yet, and doing the best he can. He says you must be sur and come this winter and if nothing happens he will have plenty of apples, to. Wee have two hogs in the pen and wee will have a fine time.

Well, I rekon I had better stop writing. I won’t know where you can read this letter or not. I hadn’t rote in so long I thought I couldn’t rite atall but maybe you can and I will try and do beter nextime. So I will close for this time. Rite soon with oute fail for wee glad to hear from you. When this you see remember me, though many miles apart.

Wee be your old crippled mother.

George and Jennet West, to Paskill and Becky West

Details of this Letter Deciphered (Maybe)

I love this long letter! There’s so much interesting info in here.

The Doctors

I think the doctors mentioned were:

1.) Marcus Pool, found in 1880, a physician who lived in the Hightower District of Forsyth County, the same district where the Wests lived

2.) An Unknown Bramblett or Bramlett (The Wests lived near what is now Bramblett Rd.) Bramblett is a popular name around that area and the family appears to have been on the wealthy side.

3.) S. T. Looper – a physician living in neighboring Dawson County, Georgia in 1880

The Hippo

At one point, Jennet talks about “taking the hippo” in relation to her thigh injury. Does anybody have any idea what that might mean? (Edit: Sounds like it might have meant hypodermic needle.)

The Cows, Apples and Hogs

According to the 1880 agricultural census, George W. West, Sr. held 280 acres of land, 5 acres were covered in 600 apple trees. He also had 3 milch cows, 4 other cows and 13 swine. That’s pretty consistent with the promise of apples and the meat from two hogs in 1888. 😉 

The Black Bonnet

I have a picture of another of my other senior citizen ancestors (above in my blog’s header photo) wearing a black bonnet in the mid-1890’s. Stylish!


They attended Concord Baptist Church, where their daughter Mary Ann was buried, and where their children Monroe and Edith were later buried. I wonder why Jennet doesn’t mention George going to church with her? I always had the impression that he was a rather severe and religious man, but maybe he didn’t go?

The No-Fence Law

For me, this is one of the most interesting passages of the whole letter.  My ancestor’s view on politics! “It suits ritch folks, but it don’t suite poor folks, but the ritch don’t care for the poor no how.”

Amen, GGGGGrandma. Amen.

The following research and info is based heavily on The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890 by Steven Hahn. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.) Any mistakes are my own and I’d be happy to be corrected.

The No-Fence Law was a deliberate misnomer, for one thing. In fact, the No-Fence Law required George and Jennet and other smaller landowners at the time to fence in their livestock. You have probably heard of the “Fencing of the West,” but you may not know that the South was also fenced in. I sure didn’t.

I just researched all of this in the last few days so I may get some of it wrong, but my understanding is that before the 1870’s, custom was to let hogs, cows, sheep, etc. roam about freely. It was a planters job to fence in his crops to protect them from marauding animals. This did cause some problems (the Hatfield & McCoy feud started off over the killing of a free-rambling hog, you might remember) but it also allowed the animals to get some good eating and fatten up wherever they could.

After the Civil War, the South’s economic situation changed, and the empty countryside – where domesticated creatures roamed at will – started to fill in. Small subsistence farmers like George and Jennet West and their family started to bump up against planters struggling to cultivate their crops at pre-slave labor levels. In the 1870’s, the “ritch folks” decided it no longer suited them to fence in their crops when they could simply require the poor folks to fence in their animals instead.

So here comes the “No-Fence Law.” It was called by this name on local ballots, but what it really meant was that large land-owning planters were no longer required to fence in their land. Instead, George and Jennet’s cows were stuck being fenced in a dry pasture.

This whole thing got so absurd that at one point there was a law on the books in Georgia that if you lived in a “no-fence” county that bordered on a county that didn’t require livestock to be fenced in that you could actually build a gate or fence at the county line. You just had to maintain it and allow people to pass through freely from both sides. And if you did build such a fence, anyone leaving the gate open would be charged with a misdemeanor.

I can only imagine fences being erected willy-nilly at county lines while confused cows wandered about looking for something to drink.

As it turns out, the class struggle that erupted with the “No-Fence Law” was responsible for turning many Southern farmers to the nascent Populist movement. Jennet didn’t live to see the two elections where Populists on the national presidential ballot. (She wouldn’t have been able to vote in them if she had.) I wonder if George voted for Weaver in 1892?

It’s also nice to know that my 4th great-grandmother had “ritch folks'” number.

The Original Letter

Letter from Jennet West to Paschal P. West 1888

Page 1

Page 2

Page 2

To sum up, this was an awesome find and I’m excited to transcribe the other letters and share them here. If you’re a relative or just want to say hi, leave a comment or Contact Me. Until next time, stay tuned and happy detecting!

I’ve Located Letters from my 4th Great-Grandparents!


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Thanks to my long lost Arkansas cousin, Ron West, whom I located through, I have just read 5 letters written from relatives in the family of my 4th great-grandfather, George W. West (abt. 1819-1895). One letter was even penned by my 4th great-grandmother, Jennet Cowen West, herself.

If I can stop bawling my eyes out every time I read them (yes, they were THAT moving), I plan on transcribing them and even doing a little history project with them.

Until then, I’ll just put out into the universe that… YES! I have letters written from as far back as 1882 and I am one HAPPY and LUCKY genealogist! Huzzah!

Happy detecting!

Update: The first letter has been published! Letter from Jennet Cowen West to Paschal P. West

Update 2: The second letter has been published! Letter from Edith West Harris to Paschal P. West and Rebecca Westray West 

Amanuensis Monday: Cherokee (Georgia) Advance Newspaper Account of the 1928 Tornado


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Story #1:

From page of the Friday, March 28, 1928 edition of the Cherokee Advance


Five Killed and a Score Injured. Many Houses and Barns Blown Away


Most Appalling Disaster Ever Visited Upon Cherokee County



William J. Millwood, 55

Mrs. William J. Millwood, 45

Allen Millwood, 17

Estelle Millwood, 15

Osie Heath, 25

Grady Fowler, 30, died Wednesday morning


Alfred Millwood, 20, badly bruised about the face

Leo Millwood, 11, left arm broken

Edith Millwood, 9, badly bruised

W. J. Millwood, 7, severe lacerations of scalp

Mr. and Mrs. Howard McCuen

The tornado which struck Cherokee County last Monday night at about 10:00 o’clock near Lathemtown and Orange, was probably the most appalling disaster that has visited our county. Five persons were hurled to death and a score of others injured, houses and barns blown away, cattle hogs and chickens disappeared and vehicles demolished, is the toll that this brutal tornado exacted  Coming on this little community while they slept and striking with viciousness and without warning, the windstorm carved a path oa quarter of a mile wide and four miles long of the countryside, leaving uprooted trees, demolished homes and death and destruction in its wake. The tornado struck first at the home of William J. Millwood in the Orange Community, and after killing four members of this family and injuring five others, and scattering the Millwood home over a lot of land, traveled east to Lathemtown and destroyed four more houses.

The dead are William J. Millwood, 55; Ida Millwood, 45, and their children Allen, 17 and Estelle, 13, all of Orange, and Osie Heath, 25, of Lathemtown.

The injured are Alfred Millwood, 20, Leo Millwood, 11, Grady Fowler, 30, Mr. and Mrs. Howard McCuen of Lathemtown. Fowler has 8 ribs broken near the spine and a fractured arm and is not expected to live. Edith Millwood, 9, has both arms fractured and Leo Millwood, 11, has the left forearm broken. W. J. Millwood Jr., 7, received a serious laceration of the scalp, while Alfred Millwood was badly bruised about the head.

Osie Heath was crushed beneath his falling home and his body was all but severed in twain. Mr. and Mrs. Fowler were visiting at the Heath home at the time of the storm and before the three could rush out of the house on hearing the storm’s approach the house was twisted around and demolished. Mrs. Fowler narrowly escaped injury.

A harrowing story was of the fury of the storm was told by Alfred Millwood, who is at Coker’s Hospital here, who said that he and the other members of the family were in bed about ten o’clock Monday night when he heard a terrible rushing noise coming toward them. he ran to the door to see what the trouble was, and started out of the house when a window frame struck him on the head and he went sailing thru the air about 15 feet above ground for a distance of 25 yards, landing in the road, his face in the mud.

He said: ‘I was dizzy for some time after landing and when things quieted down I heard some of the children crying and finally located three of them, and we took refuge in an old house nearby, where I built a fire for them. When dawn came, I went to the home of W. F. Edwards and got help.’

Young Millwood told a horrible tale of rushing through the air at lightning speed and of seeing beams and pieces of timber flying by him like birds. He does not quite understand how he escaped serious injury himself, he said.

On learning of the tragedy, Mr. Edwards summoned aid and the injured were rushed to Canton for medical attention. Mr. Edwards said he heard the storm when it passed Monday night, but did not realize that anyone had been injured until dawn came. The tornado made a noise like an airplane, drowning out the thunder.

Mr. and Mrs. Joe Edwards and their baby had a narrow escape when a portion of their home, located near the Millwood residence, was torn down by the storm. Edwards’s barn was demolished and most of the house was wrecked. This family escaped uninjured.

Apparently the tornado was of a most freakish nature, as tornadoes are, for it tore up the Millwood home, splintered it to small kindling wood over a distance of half a mile and failed to disbturb at all a tall pile of cordwood a few years from the house. A floor still two inches by 8 inches was carried by the wind for half a mile and driven several feet into the clay bnak of a gully near where the body of Mr. Millwood was found.

Small iron tolls [sic] were lifted and carried half a mile while small articles such as pillows and clothes were carried only a few feet away from the original home site. The barn was lifted from over the heads of frightened animals and torn into bits. On a hill in the path of the storm, practically every tree was uprooted to a width of a quarter of a mile.

Mrs. Millwood was carried a quarter of a mile by the tornado and dropped into a small gully where she was found early Tuesday morning. The two dead children were found near the ruins of the home. All of the dead people were thickly covered with mud and had on practically no clothing at all.

After wrecking two homes in the Orange community, the tornado moved onto Lathemtown and destroyed four more homes, those of Grady Fowler, Osie Heath, T. W. Green and Howard McCuen. Mr. and Mrs. Fowler were visiting the Heath home during the tornado. Mrs. Fowler was uninjured. Fowler’s home was located some 200 yards from the Heath home while the McCuen’s home was next door to Heath’s place. Mr. and Mrs. McCuen were injured while their baby was not even scratched. The home of T.W. Green, half a mile off east of Heath’s home, was demolished, but Green and his family were not at home.

At Heath’s home the tornado splintered heavy beams, but left unbroken a box of glass bottles. It lifted the floor and deposited it several feet away, and took the walls and roof and splintered them. Part of the chimney was left standing. The force of the tornado seemed more concentrated at Lathemtown, as it did not move the pieces of houses very far.

The Canton chapter of the Red Cross, headed by Mr. W. S. Elliott, chairman, went to the aid of the tornado sufferers, and arranged for their treatment of injuries and of the burial of the dead. Major Green of Atlanta was in Canton Wednesday in the interest of the relief work.

At Canton no damage was caused but for a heavy downpour of rain and some little wind, but it was apparent to the close observer that there was trouble in the eastern portion of the county.

Funeral arrangements were made by C. H. Peacock of Jones Mercantile Co., undertakers. Mr. Heath was buried at ten o’clock Wednesday morning while the four Millwoods were buried Thursday. All four of them being buried in one grave.


The the People of Cherokee County:

The appalling disaster which visited our county last Monday night brings home to us sorrow and suffering seldom, if ever, before experienced in this section. The tornado killed five and seriously injured many more. Four homes were destroyed. The families of these unfortunates were left in destitute circumstances. For the relief of this situation immediate contributions in substantial amounts are required and the local chapter of the Red Cross appeals to you to subscribe liberally to this fund.

The following persons are on the local committees in their respective communities and you are urged to hand your contribution to them without delay.

CANTON: Major H. M. McCanless, chairman; P. W. Jones, Roy Crisler, A. M. Mode, W. S. Dick, Mrs. O. G. Glover, Mrs. A. P. Bobo

WOODSTOCK: Smith L. Johnston, Mrs. O. D. Perkinson

BALL GROUND: Mrs. C. W. Groover, Mr. C. W. Groover, Mr. B. R. Jones

WALESKA: Dr. W. M. Bratton, Prof. J. K. Dean, Mrs. H. W. Derden, Mr. T. J. Carpenter

HOLLY SPRINGS: Mayor Geo. A. Kelly, Mrs. W. J. Satterfield, Mr. Loomis Reece

ORANGE & LATHEMTOWN: E. M. Lathem, Mrs. Louie Lathem, E. J. Hamrick, Mrs. E. J. Hamrick

Do not wait to be called upon; go to a member of your local committee and make your contribution at once.


Chairman, Cherokee County Chapter of the Red Cross

Story #2:

From the front page of the April 6, 1928 edition of the Cherokee Advance


Those injured in the recent tornado that struck the eastern part of Cherokee county last Monday night a week ago, are recovering. The three Millwood children, aged 7, 9, and 14, are at Coker’s Hospital. The little 9-year-old girl was the most seriously injured, having both arms broken and other injuries. They have been given the best of attention at the hospital. They are surrounded by dolls, picture books, toys and the things dear to a child’s heart. These children came from a good home, but an humble one. These little fellows, it is said, had never been to town, and had never tasted ice cream. They didn’t seem to know what it is all about — so many nice things, and so many kind visitors.

Dr. Coker has given these unfortunates every attention with no thought of recompense or reward. Alfred Millwood, the older boy, left the hospital last week and is able to be about.

Last Sunday he visited the scene of the tornado and was an interesting spectator to the many hundreds of visitors who went to view the disaster caused by the twister. During the entire day a stream of automobiles paced down the narrow country road. Some of the citizens of that took the situation in hand and acted as traffic cops, making a one way road each fifteen minutes.

People were there from towns and cities many miles distant. Interested visitors were going over every inch of ground for a mile around, viewing the disastrous results of the tornado. Pieces of iron beds were strewn for 200 yards from the site of the house. Every plank was torn loose and scattered for a quarter of a mile. One could look east and see the path of the hurricane, which was about 100 yards wide. Uprooted trees, showing red clay, clearly marked the tornado’s path. A family living one half mile distant from the Millwood home noticed nothing unusual about the clements except for a brisk gale.

A storm pit was within 100 feet of the occupants of the house but no one had time to think about it.

Six of the victims were buried by the Red Cross organization. The people have been generous in their contributions to this fund. Many checks coming from out the country and state. This fund will be used for paying burial expenses and clothing, medicine and food for the injured, and probably for rehabilitation to some extent.

John Rambo: Georgia Convict


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I just had to share this little gem I came across while indexing Georgia Convict registers. (Click it to make it larger.)

John Rambo, Convict and Cabinet Maker

John Rambo, Convict and Cabinet Maker

John Rambo was a cabinet maker in Georgia wanted for… escape. I suppose I should have guessed that one.

By the way, I’m working on indexing 900 old historical records through the World Archives Project. I do this because it’s fun AND in order to get a discount on my subscription, since we’ve already determined that I’m a super frugal genealogist. Join me?