Almost Dying Changes You – 52 Ancestors #348

Before you read any further – I’m fine. Now. But I wasn’t.

I’ve been really debating about whether or not I should write this article. After it was written, I debated about whether I should publish it. It’s one of those all-or-nothing propositions.

Obviously, because you’re reading this, I decided to share this chapter in my life’s journey.

Thankfully, it was not the closing chapter but was far too close for comfort.

You might want a nice cup of tea, coffee, or maybe something stronger for this one😊.

Shift Happens

You might have noticed over the past few months that my 52 Ancestor stories have changed a bit. They’re a lot more like this one with fewer historical articles. Don’t worry – they will shift back soon.

They changed because I’ve been making some significant changes in my life and I just didn’t have the time for the required research to do each ancestor justice. I’m almost through that knothole now.


Sometimes we decide, of our own free will to make changes in our lives. We decide to go to college, or get married, or maybe not.

We make decisions about our jobs and careers. We decide where to live. Our ancestors decided to migrate or remain in their home village. So do we.

Many of the significant changes in my life have been the result of a rather rude push. Off of something that looked a lot like a cliff at the time.

For example, I received a “shove” to leave Indiana that came in the form of life-threatening domestic abuse. At the time, I was utterly terrified, alone with my young children, two pets that survived, (he killed one), and heartbroken. That chapter shaped who I’ve become a great deal.

In hindsight, it was one of the best “shoves” I ever received and absolutely for the best. Not the abuse of course, but the fact that I had to leave to escape. I learned courage, resilience, tenacity, and to advocate for myself when there was no one else. In other words – survival skills – baptism by fire.

Back then, there weren’t domestic violence shelters and women were often blamed when their husbands were abusive.

In leaving and beginning anew, doors I never could have imagined opened. I established a new, abuse-free life and found the perfect career.

A few years later, another unexpected push off that cliff came when I had to find a new job. The company I worked for, and loved, was acquired. I was very unhappy at the time, but now, looking back, I realize that I took extremely important life-lessons about problem-solving and thinking outside the box with me, along with a bright shiny college degree. I didn’t want to, but it really was time to move on. The next door was opening. I just didn’t see it that way – at least not yet!

Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I don’t know who said that first, but it’s oh so true. All of life’s events are strung together like a chain, every single one essential to getting us to where we are today. Changing one thing changes everything.

I’m sure every single one of you can relate similar experiences.

Near Death

I’m one of those extremely fortunate people who is alive because of medical advances, specifically antibiotics. Had I been born just a generation earlier, I assuredly wouldn’t have survived.

Aside from my difficult birth, my first much-too-close encounter with death was when I was 10 years old and critically ill with meningismus, a close relative of meningitis. By all rights, I should have died, and I very nearly did. I recall an event vividly, although I was in an oxygen tent and my mother assured me that I was NOT conscious when I told her about this “memory” later. She did, however, confirm that what I saw happened exactly as I described, which simply confused both of us.

The doctor asked my mother to step out of my hospital room with him and I decided to “go with them.” They walked quite a way to the end of the hall. I was “floating along,” slightly above and behind them, but it didn’t seem at all odd. I realize it sounds odd now.

They sat at the end of the hall, alone, in a small waiting area. The doctor asked my mother if there was anyone she needed to call. She didn’t understand what he meant. He explained that it was unlikely that I would recover, and he wondered if there were grandparents, siblings, my father, etc. that would like to come to the hospital to see me while they still could. He offered to help her make the necessary calls.

My mother was clearly shocked, stood up, looked at him, and declared emphatically, “My daughter is NOT going to die!” With that, she left him sitting there and walked resolutely back to my room. In my floating state, I returned with her, and I saw myself lying in bed beneath the plastic oxygen tent zipped around most of me, apparently “sleeping.” I remember thinking that I looked small.

I remember nothing else.

I’ve had a few other brushes with death – close calls – but perhaps not THAT close.


In the 1970s, I was involved in an automobile accident where my car flipped end-over-end in a field several times after broadsiding a vehicle that ran a stop sign in front of me. I couldn’t see the vehicle approaching because the corn was above car height.

By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden – Ford Pinto runaboutUploaded by Oxyman, CC BY 2.0,

Thankfully, my vehicle, a much-disparaged Ford Pinto, ironically for safety issues, literally collapsed around me like a protective cocoon, leaving me with injuries that warranted hospitalization, but that didn’t leave me in critical condition.

Yes, events do “slow down” in the seconds when a crisis like that is occurring. The seconds between seeing that car pull in front of me, slamming on the brakes while throwing the transmission into reverse to slow my speed, crashing into the car, feeling the jolting impact, then spinning over and over with my vehicle finally coming to rest on its roof seemed like a slow-motion eternity.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say I was trapped in the car and bleeding badly. The important thing is that my child was not in the car with me, and I survived, as did the other driver.

One of the supreme ironies is that after a fatal accident a couple of years earlier, my step-father had been part of organizing a local fundraiser to purchase jaws-of-life for the volunteer fire department, and a new ambulance to cover that part of the county. Little did he know they would both be used to save his daughter’s life.

Pain Medication

In the early 2000s, I either became or always had been allergic to morphine and never knew it.

In the wee hours of the morning, I awoke in the hospital, following surgery earlier in the day, and observed an entire circle of doctors and nurses, along with a crash cart, surrounding my bed. Apparently, I had a reaction to morphine that involved my blood pressure and respirations dropping to a critically low level.

A few years later, my dentist prescribed Tylenol with codeine after a procedure. It never occurred to me that my years-earlier morphine issue might also extend to codeine. I took one pill before bed. Thankfully, only one, which was half the prescribed dose. Otherwise, I would probably have died on the floor where I spent the night flat on my back.

That experience was quite interesting.

I felt ill in bed, got up and attempted to reach the kitchen for something to settle my stomach. On the way, I felt faint, leaned over the couch, realized I was losing consciousness and wondered if I was dying just before everything went black.

I recall rousing slightly during the night on the floor. I couldn’t move, but I realized I was cold before slipping away again. Sometime a little later, I struggled to consciousness again amid the realization that I literally could not die because I wasn’t “finished.”

To this day, I don’t know if I “thought” that or “someone” was speaking to me from the other side.

Near morning, around dawn, I finally roused enough to crawl back into the bedroom and awaken my husband. I realized that I had gone to bed more than 6 hours earlier.

No more morphine, codeine or opioid-based pain meds for me – ever.

Unfinished Business

Regardless of where that message “came from,” it arrived nonetheless, and I heard it loud and clear. I knew exactly what business was unfinished, and that’s where I’ve been focused on a daily basis since that epiphany. You might have surmised by this point that my unfinished business was and is genetic genealogy, and specifically one aspect of my research work.

I have always felt that I was guided, or pushed, to where I needed to be and this is no exception.

2020 & 2021

These last two years have been incredibly challenging for everyone in a myriad of ways. Literally, let me count those ways. I’ll need my fingers and toes and maybe yours too😊

I’ve been fortunate because my income and my husband’s have both been mostly spared and we have escaped the worst aspects of Covid. That’s to say, neither of us or our immediate family, meaning spouse, child, or parent has died from it.

However, I’ve lost many friends and close relatives and the deaths continue to mount. My husband’s best friend died. One of my close friends has lost either 5 or 6 close family members to Covid, one just today. Two others have lost both parents, just days apart. Sadly, there are so many that I’ve lost count.

Even more friends and family members have Covid right now, residual long-Covid, or are suffering from Covid repercussions. Families are irrecoverably fractured by differences in both politics and Covid beliefs.

And by fractured, I do NOT mean a disagreement. I mean a forever rift that cannot be repaired. Polarizing politics, Covid, fear, abandonment, betrayal, and sometimes death all thrown together in the most toxic of stews.

Some people have managed to survive all that but have suffered from and are still experiencing the effects of being physically isolated from family members and friends. And of course, for many, the employment landscape has changed dramatically.

After two years, there is no longer a “normal” to go back to.

I thought 2020 was the worst.

I made countless masks and quilts for people in need or suffering.

We mask-makers viewed ourselves as “can do” Rosie the Riveter, 2020 version, all pulling together with what we had on hand to help others out, especially those in medical, public safety, and public-facing jobs who had to work to care for others.

We were all terrified, especially as people began to sicken and die and Covid progressed from the abstract happening someplace else to the grim-reaper stealthily moving among us and our family members.

I made myself a quilt from just a few of the mask scraps that I named Black and Blue, because that’s how I felt in the spring of 2020. Beaten, bruised and isolated as we attended Zoom funerals.

We made the best of things, hoping for an end soon.

I was so hopeful for 2021, especially with the vaccine becoming available. Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out exactly as I expected, and here we are, still struggling and embattled in January of 2022, enduring the worse surge yet.


By spring and summer of 2021, after a year of being locked down, people became very restless. Covid fatigue. Zoom just wasn’t cutting it anymore. We had spent months trying to find things to do separately but together.

Me, right along with them. I began focusing on outside activities as the weather warmed.

I was never so glad to see spring arrive in my life. Green leaves, flowers, and release from the houses that held us hostage yet at the same time protected and sheltered us during 2020 and the following cold, grey Covid winter.

May 2021

Gardening was in full swing by May. Colorful blooming flowers everyplace soothed my battered soul, even though I still couldn’t see friends and family members in our normal settings. We were finally beginning to see family members outsdoors, still masked. I was so grateful and that felt SOOOooo very good. I had missed them incredibly.

The garden had come to life, insects were buzzing and I was spending lots of time outside.

One morning, I felt something brush my face, by my eye. I didn’t know what it was, but I reflexively fanned it away with my hand. A second or so later, I felt a sting, then another one.

Both stings on my face near my nose.

Within seconds, I felt intense burning rise to my eye, through my nose, and the palate of my mouth begin to swell. The swelling was moving swiftly towards the back of the roof of my mouth.

I suddenly realized what was happening. I was having a severe, intense reaction, and if my throat swelled like my face and the roof of my mouth were doing – I was going to be in extreme trouble in about a minute.

My husband was nearby and I somehow managed to find my way to him. I distantly heard him say to someone on the phone, after glancing at me, “Uh, I have to go. I have a really big problem here.”

We made it to the hospital where all I could do was attempt to choke out the word, “bee” and motion to my throat as I gasped, but I don’t know that they could hear or understand me.

Except, it wasn’t a bee. The culprit was a hornet, the most toxic and life-threatening of stinging insects.

Emergency Room

The lobby of the Emergency Room was full of coughing patients.

The staff pointed to the seating area, wanted me to “take a seat and wait,” but I was frantically trying to gesture that I couldn’t breathe. They summoned a nurse who was quite alarmed.

We were immediately hustled into a triage room where a flurry of people were scrambling around me, cutting my shirt off, asking questions and starting IVs.

I remember little, except a sense of relief that someone understood just how much trouble I was in.

A few hours later, hooked up to what seemed like every electronic monitoring device possible, I was drifting in and out of sleep with Jim sitting in the chair at the foot of the gurney. I heard the nurse step behind the curtain of the person in the area beside me and tell that patient that he was Covid positive and that they were going to transport him “someplace” as soon as they could stabilize him and find a bed.

Still quite groggy, I asked Jim if I heard what I thought I heard. He slowly shook his head in the affirmative. We stared at each other in wide-eyed shock and disbelief, combined with fear. We had both tried so hard to avoid Covid, yet, here it was, right beside us with no precautions taken to separate people with Covid symptoms from the rest of us.

We had all been there for hours, just feet apart – and my neighbor was positive. I was trapped.

I asked the nurse and while she could not confirm that the man next to me had Covid, she said that they did in fact “have Covid in here.”

We had all shared a lobby, the triage room (he was already there when I arrived,) restrooms, and hallways – for hours. Wonderful. Just wonderful. We spent several more hours side by side too until he was transported.

There was no hospital room available, so we remained in the ER until they were sure I could breathe, my vitals stabilized, and the swelling had abated somewhat.

I was sent home on high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs. And to wait…

You Know What’s Coming…

I was home, but I was not “OK.” Anaphylaxis is an immense shock to the system and your body is literally flooded with chemicals. You become very ill. And you don’t just get over it as soon as the meds take effect.

I had never experienced an anaphylactic reaction before, but went to bed and expected to feel better soon. However, I continued to feel very crummy. Extremely tired, weak and dizzy. For many days.

I finally called my doctor who instructed me to go and get both a Covid PCR test and a Covid serologic antibody test. She wanted to know if I was positive for Covid at that point, hence the PCR test, and if my system was having a reaction to the Covid exposure, meaning I had had Covid. You can read about the various types of tests, here.

I was not positive for Covid at that time, but my antibody numbers were literally off the chart.

You can see on my results above that 8 is the top end of the chart, and my results were 8.11.

Yes, my body was fighting both that double hornet sting AND Covid, at the same time. No wonder recovery took a long time and I felt miserable.

I knew I had come perilously close to dying.

Something Changed

I don’t exactly know how to explain this, but something changed. A paradigm shift.

Maybe something had been changing all along and this life-threatening event just cinched it. Pushed me over another cliff of sorts following a whole lot of cumulative smaller shoves.

Covid has made us all think about and reconsider things. Lots of things.

  • What is important?
  • Who is important?
  • Some people have come to view their career and employer in a different light.
  • Jobs have changed too with many people now enjoying a work-at-home or hybrid position that shifted from an in-the-office job.
  • Other people left the workforce and have not rejoined.
  • We were somehow more restricted but less tied.
  • Numbers vary by age group and location, but more than 20% of Americans have moved during this time.
  • Relationships have morphed and changed too – sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. Many ended. Some began.
  • We have been conflicted – both grateful to be working at home, which is both more convenient and productive, but also lonely for in-person human contact.
  • We have more social media and electronic connections than ever, although many of those platforms have become hateful and toxic. Yet, it has been the only way for us to keep track of friends, family, and acquaintances, so we’ve tried to sidestep the increasing toxicity.

Somehow, whether we intended or wanted to or not, we’ve all taken stock of what is important as a result of living with the constant threat of a miserable death.

Not one person that I know has been untouched by this threat. All of us have family members who have died. Some of us nearly died.

Trauma changes you, especially sustained trauma. Some people have developed PTSD, but we aren’t exactly into the “post” part of post-traumatic just yet, because this trauma continues.

Life has changed in big ways and small.

June 2021

I knew that I was done. I knew that somehow a chapter had ended and another had already begun. That cliff might have been invisible, but I was already over the edge and there was no return.

I had been delaying several changes – some through procrastination pure and simple.

I had been reluctant to make other changes due to restrictions and factors that had shifted in subtle and not-so-subtle ways over the previous 18 months, and longer.

The hornet stings, Covid exposure, resulting reactions, plus Covid-induced lifestyle and relationship changes all morphed together to create an avalanche thundering downhill.

  • It was time to clean out.
  • It was time to downsize our surroundings and upsize our life.
  • It was time to stop procrastinating, even if the reasons had been “good” and were justified.

“Someday” is not a day of the week and doesn’t just happen without focused effort.

We thought we had “forever” left – but forever nearly turned out to be minutes and not years or decades.

It is time to fully live for us and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I’m not retiring.

I absolutely LOVE what I do. That epiphany on the floor all those years ago still holds true. I’m not done. I just needed to reprioritize, shift to a different environment, simplify things and eliminate some dead weight.

With the summer solstice arrived the season of change. Soul-searching walks in the labyrinth confirmed what I needed to do.

I won’t tell you I wasn’t fearful and apprehensive, because I was. But I also knew. The path existed and I was on it, even though I couldn’t yet see through the mists where it led. This journey hadn’t yet been unveiled, but there was no turning back.

I was headed into the darkness of uncertainly as a result of escaping the darkness of death.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I wrote about Swedish Death Cleaning a few weeks ago. Suffice it to say I really had no concept of HOW MUCH STUFF I had accumulated.

Sifting through all that was both cathartic and incredibly painful.

I found things I had entirely forgotten about – until I saw them again. I was reminded how blessed I had been to have been forced over those cliffs of uncertainty all those times in the past.

Yes, that’s a much younger me at Twentieth Century-Fox – a landmark opportunity in my career.

My life passed before my eyes one piece of paper, one found photo and one item at a time. I found the bear I made my mother for Mother’s Day as a child. It resided on her bed all the days of her life.

Some treasures made me smile, some cry, and some, both.

Many family photos are minus many or even most of the other people.

Yet, they are also some of life’s most joyful moments.

I relived the great joys, and the great sorrows of my life, one after another, all in the space of a few weeks.

Some were unspeakably bittersweet.

Mom’s last birthday card to me as her health was failing

I never knew what the next box or envelope I opened would hold.

In many ways, I had to say goodbye all over again to family members, both human and animal.

We spread the ashes of our long-departed fur-family members as we prepared to move on.

I found this gravestone rubbing made by my daughter when we visited Aurora, Indiana with Mom back in the 1980s.

They are gone, not forgotten, and will live in our hearts forever. We don’t need the stuff to take the memories.

The future was once again a blank slate in front of us, waiting to be filled with our new life.


During this time, I made an unexpected discovery. I received a great deal of satisfaction by gifting things that I had always cherished to others. Things near and dear to my heart. 

I gifted my grandmother’s china to my 1C1R (first cousin once removed), who is also my grandmother’s descendant.

My cousin’s mother was my Mom’s niece who she absolutely adored.

My cousin is relaying the china to a different 1C1R. My family already has what they want and I’m thrilled to find a way to keep Grandmother’s china in the family.

My grandmother, her sisters, aunts and mother painted the gold edging in the early 1900s. One is initialed by my grandmother’s aunt and dated 1905.

Here’s the sad part. My mother never used that china. Neither had I. Everyone was terrified of breaking it, so it sat forever in the cabinet, revered but unused. I hope my cousin uses that china that belonged to both my grandmother and her mother, my great-grandmother, as well. My cousin is at least the fifth generation, if not the 6th.

Regardless of whether she uses it, or simply loves it, the china is still in the family and I’m not carting it around only to have it wind up in a rummage sale someday, or worse. At least now it has the opportunity of remaining in the family for more generations.


When my cousin came to pick up the china, she looked so much like her mother and my grandparents. That was startling and made me weepy. Even weepier than I already was. She didn’t know it, but she was visiting on what would have been my Mom’s 99th birthday.

My cousin brought me a lovely gift as well – my grandfather’s masonic apron, shown below on a table cover that I hand-quilted, for his daughter, my mother, years ago.

I am thrilled beyond words – and I enjoyed visiting with my cousin immensely. I have several things from my grandmother, but nothing from my grandfather – until now.

Additionally, my mother had crocheted shawls for all the females in the family, plus a few extras. Her shawls were extraordinarily delicate and beautiful, winning many ribbons at fairs and exhibitions over the years.

There was one shawl left. I offered it to my cousin who, of course, had known my mother. She was thrilled, saying THAT was the highlight of her visit.

She adopted Mom’s last afghan too.

I’ve enjoyed sharing the love so very much – and I know Mom would approve as well. I felt her with us.

In fact, I’ve felt her with me many times during this process.

Use the Crystal

As I sifted through what to sell and gift, and what to keep, I had to weigh the importance of each item to me, combined with the possibilities of where it would go in a new chapter of its life. How I felt about where it would go, and with whom, made a big difference in my decision.

Mom had some crystal that was also my grandmother’s. She used the crystal bowls from time to time, unlike the china. I remember various crystal pieces on the table.

I decided to keep those, and as I was wondering exactly what to DO with them, I heard this voice in my mind. Mom said, “Use the crystal.”

Use the crystal. Now that I think about it, I think the fact that I could remember those dishes being used created a bond I didn’t have with the much-loved but unused china. The crystal was actually a part of our life.

It doesn’t matter if I use the crystal for its original intended purpose or something else. I can feel close to Mom by simply using it in my life.

Right now, I’m using one bowl for tangerines and another for chocolate.

Chocolate was Mom’s perennial favorite, so no matter what I did with anything else, her unwavering gaze would be affixed on that chocolate in her dish😊

Yep, Mom surely approves.

I think I’ll use her water pitcher as a vase when I’m not using it to pour iced tea. My hubby already used one of her crystal glasses for a sip of wine last night.

Regardless, the crystal pieces are no longer going to reside, unused, on the shelf in the cabinet.

We are already using her crystal.

Reshaping Life

I’ve utilized this reshaping opportunity to decide what is, and is not, important.

I’ve donated and donated and donated.

If something doesn’t bring me peace, joy, or happiness, it’s off to bring that to someone else. Money already spent is a sunk cost and not a good reason to keep something that no longer meets that criteria.

And really, who needs a dozen pairs of shoes. Now genealogy books, well, that’s another matter altogether😊!


I’ve realigned my life with what’s important at this stage. I’ve focused on what I want and less on “should” based on what I think is expected of me.

I realized that I wasn’t important to everyone who I thought was important to me. Investing in relationships and people who don’t care and aren’t appreciative is a vicious cycle of pain and disappointment. I stopped. As Dad used to say, “let go or get dragged.”

I’m less tolerant of BS. Life is just too short.

Yes, it truly does take a village. I don’t mean just to raise children, but for all of us. You truly know who the people who love you are when you need help, or nearly die, and they show up, or don’t.

Whoever it was that said, “We are just walking each other home,” had that exactly right.

Family of heart is our family of choice, and I would be truly lost without them. Choose wisely, Grasshopper, because those people are your “village” residents. Those who will share their food with you in a drought or masks and TP in plague times, or who will shrug and let you perish as collateral damage.

I care less about other’s people’s opinions of me.

I’ve removed negative and toxic people from my periphery.

I’m not allowing the key to my happiness to live in someone else’s pocket.

I’m focused on spending time and resources on people who are positive and kind.

Love and loyalty are not simply words and concepts, they hinge on actions. Without corresponding actions, they are nothing but deceptive, manipulative, hollow words, or worse. Like my mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Believe the behavior.


I’ve thought a lot about the first few words of my obituary.

In other words – what do I want my legacy to be? We are the only people who can make that happen. Our legacy isn’t so much what happens TO us, but what we do about it. We write our legacy every day, every minute, of our lives.

  • She was…
  • She will be remembered for…
  • She loved…
  • We miss her because…
  • She left…
  • The best thing about her life was or is…

Every single one of these things has to do with people, and how we make them feel. Not a single one of those things has to do with “stuff,” unless it’s making sure that others have their needs met.

It’s not at all what we have or accumulate that matters, but the legacy we leave behind.

I can’t help but think of Betty White who died just days shy of her 100th birthday and we STILL thought that was too soon. Be like Betty.

I’ve tied up as many loose ends as possible so that my daughter doesn’t have to make (as many) difficult decisions.

I’ve reaffirmed and acknowledged, again, how important genetic research is to both me and others. Not just individual others, but the genealogy community and world at large, now and in the future.

I’m thinking about the Million Mito Project which will benefit mankind (and womankind) as well as individual genealogists. Tracing our way back in time and lighting those dark crevices with knowledge one step at a time. Eventually, those tiny steps evolve into a journey.

I’ve recommitted to my 52 Ancestors series. I’m not writing for me, but for them, and for the future. For people probably not yet born. There are stories and tidbits that will be gone, forever, when I am. I’m trying my best to make sure they aren’t!

I’m doing what I love and will continue as long as I manage to avoid those pesky hornets.

I’ve hired someone to help with the outside home maintenance. Not only do I not care for that task, I’m making it as difficult as possible for those hornets to kill me😊.

And speaking of those evil flying assassins, in case you’re wondering, I now carry an EpiPen in the bottom of my purse and in a drawer by the back door at all times. I’ve already needed it once too – not for me – for someone else.

Had that hornet NOT stung me, I would not have had the pen on hand for a young man who was stung and also had no idea he was severely allergic. Speaking of a worthy legacy, a huge thank you to Sheldon Kaplan who invented the EpiPen and thereby saved and continues to save countless lives. HE made a huge difference. Be like Sheldon too!

Oh, and the back door is now located elsewhere, meaning I relocated, and the new patio is screened.


I’ve made the same journey my ancestors did. Migration. I’ve thought so much about them, their choices and sacrifices these past few weeks and months – and their legacies.

Their lives have passed before my eyes as I embarked and walked along that same pathway. In some cases, I’ve revisited those locations, such as Aurora, Indiana, on the Ohio River where a Christmas wreath adorns a boat.

I’m glad to see the home belonging to my ancestors, Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel is getting a much-needed facelift. It was here that the Haviland China was painted more than a century ago, probably in the parlor. My great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore was born and raised here. My grandmother, Edith Lore spent a great deal of time with her grandparents and that Haviland china was probably painted by three if not four generations of women chatting and painting happily together. I’ve always wondered if it was my grandmother’s wedding china. I can’t help but wonder if my ancestors know I’m here, visiting, passing through on my own migration journey exactly a century after Barbara Drechsel Kirsch sold the Kirsch House to live with her widowed daughter.

I’ve gained a new and much greater appreciation for their lives and the challenges they faced. Although modern travel is much easier for me, well, except for the 3 Mad Cat thing😊.

I don’t dare complain one whimper, because compared to those months-long transatlantic ship voyages that were dependent on the wind and weather, my headaches were nothing. Jacob Lentz and his wife, Fredericka Ruhle, lost a child and possibly her parents, were shipwrecked, set adrift in the Atlantic, nearly starved, then stranded for a year in another country before having to indenture themselves and their family to pay for passage a second time where they encountered a hurricane. Nope, my trip was NOTHING in comparison.

Once again, I’m following in the collective footsteps of my ancestors. They paved the way and have sheltered me on this journey. I feel their presence. Every journey is different, and mine, especially recent decisions, has been challenging in many ways that I never anticipated.

So yes, I am using the crystal, Mom’s silverware, and the heirloom quilts! I hope you will too. If not now, when? Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

No Regrets

My goal at the end of my life is to have no regrets.

I can tell you as I’ve gotten older, I do wish I had done some things differently, but my major regrets are things that I DID NOT do, not things I did.

Most often, what prevented me from doing something was fear, disguised as lots of other emotions. Responsibility, especially for my children, guilt, and focusing on what I “should” do instead. What might happen if…

What I wanted to do was all but suffocated for a long time under that weight – for so long that I didn’t even know how to figure out what it was that I wanted – until I almost didn’t have that opportunity anymore.


Like I said, nearly dying changes you.

I’ve decided to live more boldly now. I’m lighter, both in terms of stuff and emotional baggage.

I have donated more than I kept – and I do mean that literally – to Lacasa, our local woman’s shelter that helps women escape domestic abuse by providing safety, protection, and whatever else they need. Many women leave with absolutely nothing except what they are wearing, their children, and if they are lucky, their pets.

There was a time in my life that I needed that type of assistance, but it wasn’t available. I left with the clothes on my back, a clunker car that he burned, my children, and 2 cats. He killed one pet and tried to kill us, including the children, and promised he would succeed if I left him. He nearly succeeded.

I was utterly terrified, young and alone, but left anyway, knowing instinctively that escape was my only prayer of survival.

I discovered that restraining orders are completely and utterly useless.


I still carry multiple scars, but I’ve come to realize that scars are the marks of warriors that won their battles. Reminders of valor and courage. Beauty marks – perhaps my best attire, as someone once said, made of hellfire itself.

These are not the permanent marks of suffering, but of bravery and survival. They are my secret source of strength, my superpower because they remind me that if I can survive that, I can survive just about anything. I wear them with pride and dignity. It’s not the scars themselves I want you to see, but how they transformed me, and through me, others.

Most women don’t talk about abuse and their abusers. It’s degrading, embarrassing, humiliating, and often involves rape and other unspeakable, horrific violations.

Worse yet, many people still blame the victims one way or another. A lot of second-guessing, “well, why didn’t you…” or “you should have…” goes on. There’s implied judgment and blame FOR THE VICTIM in every one of those words.

Every woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship situation knows she made a poor choice initially, but the question becomes one of survival. Women can’t go back in time and request a redo and other people back away. Men don’t advertise themselves as abusers – that behavior generally emerges after the woman is already dependent.

I was shocked when I learned my mother, at one point, had been a victim too. Many family members were embarrassed by her divorce and would have preferred that she “find a way” to remain married to her brutalizer.

It was hard enough for me, but even more difficult a generation earlier, because it was even more challenging for women to work and their wages were universally low. Not to mention the social and societal aspects of being viewed as “damaged goods,” a failure, “difficult,” a “loose woman,” and somehow a threat all rolled into one.

Unfortunately, women’s shelters didn’t exist for either me or my mother. Thank heavens they do now.

Shelter and Hope

Today, Lacasa has both a brick and mortar and online retail store stocked with donated items. Lacasa clients shop at no charge of course. All money raised goes to fund things like their 24-hour hotline and safehouse. All services for victims, survivors and their families are provided at no charge.

Not only did I donate a boatload of furniture, like this bookcase that used to hold quilt items, I also donated all kinds of household items, in addition to books. Reading is so important, and truthfully, I think this is the only way I could have parted with many of my books.

In addition to several friends who helped, I found a lovely couple to pack my remaining things, including moving the heavy furniture, so I didn’t need to do it or agonize and second guess my decisions about individual items.

Seeing my things in the Lacasa shop, like these bookcases being reassembled for use, made me cry. The service these items will provide in their new life is far, far beyond any use I would ever have gotten out of them. They held books for me. Now they hold out hope for others!

A path to safety and a new life. A transformational opportunity to break the cycle of abuse.

Donating to Lacasa made the shedding of excess baggage that I needed to accomplish for my metamorphosis so much easier.

We rented a storage unit for Lacasa to house the items that won’t fit in their store right now. Women will be able to “shop” here too, and Lacasa will stock the store as needed.

I own a whole lot less but am much richer than when I started this journey months ago.

Live Boldly

Everything has changed, and so have I.

It’s kind of like my magnetic poles have shifted.

I’ve sold and given away the majority of my possessions including heirlooms, quilts and books I cherished. There is something infinitely satisfying and rewarding about sharing the love – sewing those seeds to spread across the winds of time into future generations.

I’m using Mom’s crystal.

I cut a quilt into smaller pieces to repurpose and use differently as table runners.

I would/could have never done that before.

I’ve realized in many ways it was time to move on, and I have.

I trekked abroad to think and ponder the future before the Delta variant made travel too dangerous again. To the land of the midnight sun – to walk the continental divide between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, to experience a volcano erupting, and to explore the world of ancient DNA.

Ahhh, DNA and genealogy, my lifelong passion. DNA has both created and transformed my life.

I will not leave this world with any stone within my power unturned. I will educate about genetics, DNA test myself and others, write and research in the most productive ways possible, including this blog. In addition to my book published in 2021, there is likely going to be another in 2022.

I will travel and walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.

I will stop to smell the flowers and allow them to inspire quilts that burst with summertime joy in the midst of winter.

I will celebrate the sun on my face and the love of my ancestors in my heart as I trace their pathways.

Furthermore, I promise, I will never, ever, be a well-behaved woman.

I would regret that immensely, and life is just too short to live within the restrictions imposed by the expectations of unknown and unnamed others.

Besides that, history is just waiting to be both made and revealed. It’s not like it’s going to simply reveal itself!

I am incredibly grateful to be so fortunate. I’m able to laugh and smile – a lot – and find joy in something every day. I haven’t just survived, but thrived with the help of my village – my family and family of heart. I feel a karmic obligation to repay my good fortune whenever possible by sewing both quilts and seeds.

I firmly believe that when you have an abundance of love, (or other things), that you need to give it. Literally, share the love.

Love is an unlimited, regenerative commodity. Love is not pie. There is always enough to go around. In fact, love is self-sustaining, increasing with the amount given.

OK – It’s Your Turn

I hope you too will live boldly – whatever that means to you. The future, and our legacy which is the rear-view mirror reflection of that future, is what we make it.

You don’t have to almost die to make changes. I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

What’s your legacy going to be?

What do you want to write in your own history book?

On your tombstone?

What are you going to do?

What’s stopping you?

What is your superpower?


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The 3 Mad Cats – 52 Ancestors #347

You’ve heard of the 3 wise men? Well, I have the 3 mad cats. Let me explain.

Sometimes life throws curve balls. For most of December, my husband and I have been living in a hotel with our three wonderful cat children.

Now maybe you’re getting the gist about why the title of this article.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, one of those cats is extremely intelligent. Our MENSA cat, aka, Chai, the ringleader who just happens to be very shy. Hiding under the covers is one of her favorite things to do.

Our second cat, Kitters was severely abused as a kitten and we refer to her as our scaredy cat. She doesn’t do well in new situations, or with new noises. And she pretty much only trusts family members.

Then, there’s happy-go-lucky Mandy. Miss “Hey, Pet Me.” She’s not terribly bright, but you can’t help but love her.

The two weeks or so in the hotel, which wasn’t TOO bad was followed by three days on the road.

Let’s just say this has been epic, and I’m sharing the adventure with you.

You’d Think I Would Have Learned

Let’s start out by saying that you’d think I would have learned.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, we used to travel about 6 hours by car to my parents in another state. At the holidays, we took everyone, meaning the two hand-raised orphan kittens who had grown up to be cats, of course, that belonged to my children. Additionally, our rescue dogs, both kids, suitcases, favorite pillows and quilts, and Christmas gifts all sandwiched into our “sleigh.”

Old McDonald going to town had nothing on us.

We all piled in the vehicle after an hour or so of packing and filling every vacant inch. The cats were allowed to be released from their carriers and snuggled in with the kids and dogs. On a good trip, everyone eventually fell asleep.

One year on Christmas Eve, someplace near Fort Wayne, Indiana on Interstate 69, the entire drive shaft on the truck in front of us suddenly dropped from beneath the vehicle, including the large universal joint connecting the shaft to the rear axle.

The truck lost control, and suddenly, we were trying to avoid hitting either the truck, the drive shaft, the bridge to our left, or the vehicles in the other lane.

Having only a few seconds to pick the lesser of the evils, we hit the drive shaft which launched our vehicle, dragging the drive shaft along with us beneath. We landed on the drive shaft itself, spinning and sliding out of control.

My husband was driving. I was awake, but our precious cargo was sleeping. Or had been before being jolted awake. One cat, Muffin, was beneath the front seat. He didn’t appear, and I immediately feared for his life. We hit HARD when we landed and I heard the vehicle crack. I addition to being afraid for Muffin, I didn’t want to pull a dead or dying cat out in front of my grade-school age daughter. He was her baby. In fact, if I recall, he was all dressed up in doll clothes for that trip.

Thoughts raced helter-skelter through my mind.

Our vehicle and others were now involved in a multiple car accident and the vehicles were still on the road in a very congested area. People were still hitting debris scattered across the road and other cars. It was a mess and getting worse by the minute.

I helped the kids out of the car to safety, taking them into the median behind the end of the bridge which was fortunately quite wide. Traffic had finally come to a stop.

The dogs had been obedience trained and were well-behaved, albeit frightened. I put Mitten, the cat snuggled in on the seat into her carrier. After my daughter exited the car with her father, I pulled Muffin out from under the seat, dreading and expecting the worst.

Muffin was quite groggy, but had apparently been positioned exactly right to be sheltered by the seat when our vehicle landed again, not crushed by it. He was entirely uninjured, but quite confused.

I put him in his carrier and everyone huddled together in the cold median at dusk waiting for the police to arrive. That was before the days of cell phones and we could only hope that someone had stopped to call it in.

Eventually, the police did arrive, as did tow trucks. The tow truck driver packed all of us into his cab, including the animals, even though he wasn’t supposed to. Was he just going to leave us in the median in the dark? Thank goodness the answer was no.

We called my parents who had to bring two vehicles to retrieve all of us, arriving a couple hours later.

It was a Christmas Eve like no other. When we finally arrived at the farm, the rest of the family was gathered for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and had been for hours. The food was cold and we arrived as people were leaving. They had Christmas Eve in our house without us, or maybe better stated, ate without us and postponed the rest.

We were oh-so-very-lucky. The cats could have escaped in the accident given that they were not in carriers. Someone could have been injured or worse.

After that, we never again traveled with cats outside carriers for their own safety, in case of an accident. Of course, this made for unhappy cats, and carriers take more space than just cats. Our cats’ traveling days were pretty much over…that is…until now.

Take Two

Fast forward three decades.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. We did it again.

Of course, the children grew up. Muffin and Mitten crossed the rainbow bridge long ago, as did our dogs.

However, there are always animals that need to be rescued and I can’t imagine living my life without fur family. When we adopt a furry family member, it’s for the duration of our lives or theirs. There is no “rehoming” anyone.

Our current “cat children” aren’t youngsters. They’ve had years to train us properly, but they still struggle when we break training which we very clearly did in December. And WOW, was this one a whopper.

In fact, they immediately began to inform us of the magnitude of our transgression.

These cats have never traveled before. They have gone to the dreaded V-E-T, which we spell because they are smart cats and begin hiding immediately if we don’t.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find, and catch, three determined hiding cats?

We scheme and plan when we need to capture them, in essence breaching their trust by petting them and then capturing them when their guard is down and quickly inserting them into their carrier. We try NOT to have to take more than one captive at a time to the vet because cats 2 and 3 disappear immediately when the captured cat sounds the alarm.

However, that plan didn’t work in December, because we were setting out on a cross country adventure and had to capture all 3 cats at once.

On the designated day, Jim and I managed to shut all three cats in the bedroom at the same time. Providence smiled on us.

We weren’t using carriers, but larger airline crates because the cats were going to have to be confined for many hours at a time, so needed litter boxes, a place to lay, food and water.

Fortunately, the first ride to the hotel where we were spending the first couple of weeks wasn’t far. We were serenaded the entire distance by all three cats who insisted that a car ride was a form of torture. Plus, it was COLD and they are inside cats. Brrrr….

Upon arrival, they got to take a ride on something we call a luggage cart but which they refer to as a cat torture device where we parade them in their captive state in front of the entire world in order to humiliate them. They continue wailing on the off-chance that some good Samaritan will hear their pleas and rescue them.

Of course, there are three large crates which means that we had to make at least 4 trips to unload. Three with cats and one with our luggage and theirs too. Yes, cats have luggage when you travel. Food, bowls, litter, scoopers, bathmats, quilts and pillows. Yes, pillows. You’ll see why in a minute. It’s not what you’re thinking.

In order to prevent said cats from escaping out the hotel room door, the crates must be unloaded and the other luggage safely in the room before anyone can be released from their private hell.

Of course, a few minutes after we released them, there was always one that had to jump back in their crate to inspect where the crime against catumanity had been committed. Generally, Mandy.

Each crate had to be emptied and cleaned out, because invariably the wailing, flipping and gnashing of teeth during that miserable car ride resulted in the water being spilled which in turn results in wet bedding (bathmats) and mad cats. You’ve heard the phrase “mad as a wet hen.?” I have no idea who came up with that, but they had clearly never met a wet cat.

Pet Friendly, Sort Of

Some hotels are pet-friendly, but that doesn’t really mean they are well-prepared, especially not for cats. It means that they allow you to stay there with pets and they charge you an exorbitant cleaning fee for the privilege. However, you are grateful and pay it.

One challenge is that most of the floor space is occupied by the crates.

We wound up using the crates as a table because we couldn’t get to much of the furniture.

Don’t turn your back for a second or you have company for breakfast.

Chai was just checking to see where her order of catnip-eggs was.

Of course, the great sniff-fest begins post-haste upon release. Every square inch of the room MUST BE INSPECTED IMMEDIATELY before anyone, including us, gets any rest.

Here, the cats are trying to get under the bed. That’s their first destination.

The hotels place the box springs on a wooden box so there is no “under the bed.” At least, not for dogs. Cats are much smarter than that.

At the head of the bed, there was a small space between the wall-mounted headboard and the mattress. Just big enough for a cat to squirm themselves into.

Have I mentioned that cats can’t turn around very well, and certainly NOT when wedged into a narrow one-way tunnel that is narrower on the exit end than the entrance end?


We noticed that Chai had gone missing and it’s nearly impossible for a cat to hide in even a “large” hotel room. Yet, Chai had managed. Yes, she was truly AWOL and no one had exited or entered the room, so the door had not been open.

After a thorough search, there was only ONE place she could be. Somehow, she had breached the bed/frame/wall/headboard barrier.

I laid down and started feeling with my hands. There was a small space above the frame, but too small for even Chai. However, I discovered the space at the top of the mattress against the wall beneath the headboard.

The side nightstand “table” was built in, so I couldn’t move it to obtain a better view or the right angle to reach behind the mattress.

Jim and I laid down (because we couldn’t get to the couch to sit down) to discuss the situation and how to proceed, when apparently Chai decided she had enough of hiding and wanted OUT NOW. In true cat fashion, she probably only wanted out because she realized she couldn’t get out.

We heard pawing and tiny plaintiff muffled meowy whimpers. I do think she was embarrassed.

Jim and I managed to shift the mattress and box springs enough to unblock the exit end and one very rumpled, offended Chai emerged, glaring at us for some unknown reason.

Cats are like that.

I hoped that the other two cats had not seen her. In fact, we quickly took stock of them when I grabbed the spare pillows and wedged them into the space at the headboard.


Fixed that!

For a little while anyway.

The other two cats were upset because Chai was upset. We laid down with them, and within a few minutes, all three cats had climbed into the bed and were bathing or discussing their dilemma among themselves and plotting how to escape.

Chai had been comforting Kitters, but was thoroughly exhausted between the miserable ride plus the indignity of being trapped behind the bed, so she had to take a nap.

Besides that, I just MIGHT have remembered to bring her heating pad.

Jim and I saw this as an opportunity to try to find food, which is a whole other story in and of itself, so we left the room for an hour or so. Mind you, we finally found someplace where we could order carryout. The staffing issue is very real.

Upon our return, we discovered that Chai was once again missing.

How is that even possible?

I blocked her access on both sides of the bed, right?

Upon inspection, it became evident that she had dug out a portion of the pillow and wedged herself across the top, into that same space, AGAIN.

I decided to try to outsmart the cat, so we laid down. When she realized we weren’t pursuing her, she decided she wanted to come out again. But once again, she couldn’t because the exit was still wedged with a pillow. We heard her attempt to dig. I let her out and took my sweatshirts (both of them) out of my suitcase and wedged them into the spot where Chai has been able to free up the pillow and crawl through.

At this point, the cats have utilized 3 bathmats which are wet and drying, two pillows and both of my sweatshirts.

I was not exactly prepared for this.

Home is Where the Cats Are

As the days passed, the cat kids became increasingly comfortable in our new “home.” They wouldn’t admit it of course, but they actually LIKED how close we were to them and the minute we sat down or laid in the bed, they were right there like glue.

Mandy even got so comfortable that she took a willful nap in her carrier.

As soon as Chai noticed, she immediately woke Mandy up and demanded to know EXACTLY WHAT she thought she was doing.


Kitters just wanted to snuggle and purr.

Mandy’s Great Adventure

Jim and I were both working in the hotel room as best we could. On the far side of the room, there was a desk and a dresser both built into the wall as well. The dresser consisted of three drawers. I opened the middle drawer to remove a piece of clothing and failed to close it immediately. I put the clothing on, and my head emerged from the shirt just in time to see Mandy’s tail disappear over the back edge of the drawer into the space behind the drawers.

Good Heavens.

We couldn’t reach her.

We couldn’t push the drawer in because she was in the space.

If we pulled the drawer towards us, she couldn’t get back into the drawer because of the board on top – plus she couldn’t jump up.

If we tried the same thing with the bottom drawer, the same issue except she wouldn’t have had to jump up.

Eventually, Jim and I, between us, managed to get ahold of her and wrestled her into the drawer amongst much caterwalling. Mostly her caterwalling, not us. We were swearing instead. I was fearful that we were hurting Mandy, but there was no evident drawer release and we had to get her out.

We shut the drawer and I had learned my lesson. I would never leave a hotel drawer open again.

Unfortunately, Mandy learned her lesson too.

A few minutes later, Mandy was attempting to open all of the hotel room drawers.

“Wow, Mom, this is fun!!! Who knew?!”

Hence this scene with their quilt stuffed in the drawer handle. That also protects them from catching their leg in the handle if they jump off so they don’t break their leg.

And this one on the other side. Our room was beginning to look like a disaster zone.

The Drawer Wars

In order to be an effective deterrent, we had to wedge items in the handles of multiple drawers together, because Mandy was pawing them open from the sides. I’m sure Chai was coaching her.

What we really needed was child guards, but I digress.

Eventually, we had towels threaded and tied through all of the handles and reinforced our bed headboard barrier daily.

Thankfully, it was nearly time to begin the next leg of our journey. We did a load of mostly cat’s laundry and began packing.

We were anxious to leave before the weather got worse. However, the cats had come to love their rooftop view and spent time in the deep windowsill. They had gotten used to our coming and going. We declined room service and for the most part, one of us was in the room so that the staff did not accidentally come in and allow someone to escape. Escape was our worst fear in all of this.

Jim went and retrieved a luggage cart.

What is THAT?

This can’t be good!

The humans are up to something again.

On the Road Again

When I tell you we were sandwiched in the vehicles, I mean literally every inch, side to side and top to bottom.

One carrier is wedged behind the driver’s seat with the back seats down, which allowed just enough room for the other two carriers to be placed side by side at the rear of the vehicle. The liftgate barely closed. The only spare space was behind the passenger seat, in the passenger seat and a few inches on top of the carriers.

You might note from the picture that this arrangement facilitated a cat serenading me from directly behind my head. I selected the quietest cat for that position in the vehicle. You might have guessed that it was Kitters.

Chai, on the other hand constantly reminded me of her rights per the Geneva Convention, and Mandy just agreed with whatever Chai said. I think Kitters was just praying the entire time.

By the end of the first driving day, thankfully, there was no snow, but it was still quite cold.

We found our hotel and had to unload the entire Jeep again in order to get everyone inside.

This place was slightly smaller, and the drawers had no handles, so we had to build a luggage/carrier fort in front of the drawers to keep Mandy from pulling them open.

Before we let the cats out of their carriers, I once again stuffed pillows and sweatshirts into the headboard/mattress gap.

They were thoroughly, thoroughly, disgusted.

Third Time is Charm?

By the next night, as tiring and time-consuming as load/drive/unload was, we had the routine down pat. It only took an hour or so instead of two.

When we checked in at the next hotel, we thought we had everything blocked and secured. I hadn’t paid much attention to the bathroom drawers because they were difficult to open with significant resistance.

Apparently, not difficult enough.

Yes, that’s Mandy being very proud of herself sitting BEHIND the drawer. “Hi Mom!”

This drawer was small. I could not get enough space to pull her back into that drawer. She couldn’t get back in either.

Fortunately, we had a Leatherman in one of the Jeeps and a YouTube video showed us how to release that particular kind of drawer catch.

Yes, we disassembled the drawer unit to retrieve Mandy. Then reassembled it, of course.

The large towel was too thick to go through the handles, and the small towels weren’t long enough, so I had to block the bottom drawer with a suitcase, then the top drawers with the towel. Of course, this was in addition to blocking the drawers in the bedroom portion and the bed/headboard pillow/sweatshirt barrier. In this room, there was a sleeper sofa too and we had to roll towels and our clothes and block that as well because the cats crawled under there and got stuck.

The fun just never ends!

Mandy tried her best to get back in that drawer. It was her favorite naughty thing to do.

The Home Stretch

As we traveled, each day closer to Christmas, the issues locating food and other accommodations increased. Many dining rooms and some restaurants were closed altogether. In other cases, part of the dining room was open, but no carryout. Other locations did exactly the opposite – only limited carryout service with no seating.

Given that we are traveling in the middle of a pandemic, we certainly didn’t want to be crammed either into a dining room, or in a line waiting for a table.

We were very, very glad to be on our way that final morning.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful.

We had driven far enough south that the unseasonably warm weather was allowing flowers to bloom.

We crammed ourselves, our mad cats and everything else into the vehicles one last time. Each day, the duration of yowling decreased at least a little. I could sense Chai and Mandy giving up and just deciding to take a nap. The cat version of “whatever.”

That morning, we got lost, thanks to our two GPSs giving opposite directions, but that detour likely saved us from the 6 or 8 car accident that happened just a couple minutes before we arrived on the scene. The cars in the middle were crushed, and it made my heart skip beats to think of the cat kids in an accident, just like all those years before.

Several hours later, we arrived at our destination thinking the cats would be mad at us for some time. However, they seem to be just as relieved as we were that their two weeks living as traveling nomad cats was over.

Chai no longer has to burrow and Mandy has given up spelunking in drawers, at least for now. Kitters is still purring. Everyone is taking a bath trying to wash all of that yucky travel off of themselves!

I, for one, hope to have permanently retired from traveling with cats. I would certainly do it again if I had to, because they are unquestionably worth it, but it’s not fun for anyone – humans or cats.

I hope it was at least amusing for you😊

Happy New Year!


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The Holidays and Coping With Grief – 52 Ancestors #346

First, let me say that I wish you a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, something else or no specific holiday at all.

This season is traditionally a time of family gathering.

That also means that it can be a time of grief when family members are no longer available to gather with.

I hope you are not grieving. If you are, this article might help. If you’re not, chances are very good that people around you are, whether you’re aware of it or not.

These Past Two Years

These past two years have surpassed anything any of us have ever lived through in terms of death and grief. Yes, I’m talking about the worldwide pandemic, which has now moved from epidemic to pandemic to endemic. I’m of course referring to Covid in all of its variant forms.

Initially, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 was compared to Covid, and also WWII in terms of deaths, but Covid is different than both.

In the US, only soldiers died during WWII. Other people were safe. Not so in parts of Europe and elsewhere though.

Covid infects and affects everyone, indiscriminately.

Now, almost two years in, I don’t know anyone whose family is untouched, and most of us have lost multiple people. That doesn’t count the one quarter to one third of Covid-infected people who recover that carry long-haul symptoms. We don’t know if they will ever fully recover.

The Holidays

Anyone who has ever lost someone they love knows all too well how difficult the holidays can be – especially the first set of holidays following their passing. Everything changes. Traditions cease to exist or are hollow shells of what they were before.

Some people go through the motions for the sake of others. Others don’t have anyone left to go through the motions for. Or they simply can’t or don’t want to.

I get it.

The Tsunami

These past two years have seen the “normal” deaths that would have occurred regardless, PLUS an exorbitant number of Covid deaths. More than 815,000 in the US alone, 5.3+ million worldwide, and rapidly rising.

Add to that the fact that for at least the first year, including this time last year, most people didn’t gather with their families. Even so, the worst Covid spike we saw followed the holiday season.

Since that time, we’ve had a slight reprieve, followed by Delta and now by the Omicron variant which propagates 70 times faster than Delta which, as we know, was more than twice as contagious as the original unmutated Covid-19.

This article isn’t about Covid itself, but the effects of Covid on families, which likely includes yours.

This Holiday Season

Some families have cancelled or curtailed holiday gatherings for a second year in a row.

That alone causes grief. Not everyone who was present two years ago is here this year, and some of the people here this year won’t be here next year. Life simply doesn’t stand still.

The good news is that various forms of electronic communications exist, like Zoom. Zoom has become a staple.

While Zoom is nice, it’s not the same and can’t replace a hug.

The Blame Game

If someone died in 2020 or 2021 from Covid, or has long-haul which causes disability, it’s all too easy to play the blame game.

Did they not take proper precautions and paid the ultimate price?

If you think for one minute death only affects the person who died, think again. Not only is an entire family grieving, someone has to pay for a HUGE medical bill. My cousin is losing her home because her spouse died of Covid after refusing to believe it is real and act accordingly. He left her with a ginormous medical bill after weeks in ICU.

Did someone else not take proper precautions and infected a family member who died? How does the rest of the family feel about that person? How do they feel about their actions? How do people cope with that?

Was someone untruthful about their vaccination or isolation status before a gathering, or refused to wear a mask, transmitting the disease to someone who became ill or died? Yep, that happened to one of my cousins too. Needless to say, that family isn’t gathering together this holiday season.

In these situations, family members not only lost the person who died and are dealing with some level of fallout from that, but may well have “lost” other family members one way or another in the process too.

They may be grieving a death and also angry with the person who died (or other people) because their death was needless.

Regardless of right or wrong, grief is grief and has a cascading effect.

The Walking Dead

These other lost family members are the people I’ll refer to as “the walking dead.” They are still alive, but the family is so fractured that family members have become completely estranged.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again these past few months. Repeatedly. One friend’s wedding caused a huge rift because they insisted all of the guests be vaccinated.

Another friend lost 4, yes 4, siblings and yet other family members wanted to attend the in-person funeral(s) without masks. Big rift in that family now too.

Yet in other cases, the politics behind various beliefs surrounding all-things-Covid has cleaved families clean in half. (Please, no political comments.)

While all of that that sounds awful in general, think of this in more individual terms.

Perhaps this is your brother and his family, or your parents, or one of your parents but not the other, or God-forbid, your children.

How would you be feeling this holiday season, with some family members actually dead, and others among the walking dead because they have chosen estrangement?

I can tell you how you’d feel. Utterly and completely miserable.

Life has changed entirely in the past two years, and it’s never going back to the way it was.

The pandemic may end one day, or enough people may contract Covid or be vaccinated that we reach herd immunity one way or another, or we may learn to live with Covid in some weakened form. Regardless, the accumulated damage and grief will never be repaired

This has not been a pause which we hoped it would be initially. It has been a slow-motion train wreck that’s still occurring.


Studies show that at least 27% of people in the US are estranged from a close family member. You can read about that here and here. Most of these studies are pre-Covid, and I guarantee you that estrangement has increased dramatically over the past two years.

Furthermore, an estrangement with one person often has a ripple effect. For example, if you are estranged from a specific family member who has children, you’ve in essence lost them as well since the parent controls the children.

If you’re a parent/grandparent in this circumstance, this is agonizing. It’s like they died but only to you, and by choice.

Truthfully, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any family who has had a relative that died of Covid who has managed to escape estrangement.

The “I Don’t Care About You” Message

Estrangement says very clearly that one person doesn’t care if the other person lives or dies, literally – or anything in-between.

That’s a horribly bitter pill to swallow – especially if the estrangement was the result of ghosting or unspoken issues surrounding the parameters of engagement, like vaccinations or political beliefs.

And that message is unmistakable.

Fractured Families

This article in Psychology Today discusses the estrangement epidemic with suggestions for how to understand and deal with fractured families.

If you’re one of the more than 67 million people suffering from estrangement, there are tips and hints here for you.

You can also reach out to others. Often, helping someone else who is in need or suffering makes both people feel better. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently and it helps a great deal.

What Can You Do?

The holiday season isn’t just about wishing someone happy holidays or purchasing a gift. Sometimes it’s about reaching out. It’s about a human connection.

Do you know someone who has endured a Covid or non-Covid related death during the past couple of years? Funerals have not been normal and a situation that is already extremely stressful has become even more so with grieving routines and traditions disrupted and family disagreements boiling over. Reach out and make sure your friend knows you care. Invite them if you are gathering. Don’t simply assume they’ve been invited elsewhere or that their family traditions haven’t changed.

Alone, if you don’t want to be alone, is awful.

The holidays are hard enough for some people without all of the additional stressors we have now.

Do you know someone who is estranged from a family member?

Have you heard the phrase “family of heart?” Family-of-heart is who we choose to be our family members. Some of the people I’m closest to are my “chosen family,” my “family of heart.”

Ask how someone is doing, and listen without judgement.

Be generous with kind words. I’ve told many people I love them these past few days. I do love them and I want to be absolutely positive they know that.

Tell people that you love them and how much you appreciate them while you can.

Estrangement Is Embarrassing

Estrangement, in particular, is embarrassing. When someone dies, everyone gathers the next holiday season and talks about how wonderful the dearly departed was. Not so with estrangement.

Estrangement is the dirty little secret no one wants to discuss. It’s painful and there is always the scent of guilt. “Why would they do that to you?” is easy to interpret as “What did you do to deserve that?”

If you can do so gracefully, share you own estrangement story with your friend. Let them know they really are not alone. Estrangement or abandonment happens to good, wonderful people. People who don’t deserve to be hurt. But it happens quite frequently, nonetheless.

When your friend shares with you, be sensitive how you form questions. Questions that begin with “Have you tried…” might suggest that you think they bear the responsibility for not resolving an issue that is not in their power to resolve. I guarantee, they’ve probably asked themselves every possible question over and over.

Estrangement combines betrayal and abandonment and causes the victim to wonder why as well.

I do feel compelled to add that some estrangement is entirely warranted such as abuse. Those aren’t the situations I’m referring to.

Tough Time of Year

It’s a tough time of year under normal circumstances, and this is anything but.

If you have a friend who is withdrawn, depressed, grouchy or just not acting themselves, grief may well have something to do with it. You may not realize they are grieving. They may have lost multiple relatives or close friends in one way or another – and often the loss of the walking dead is actually more painful that someone who physically died.

The person who died had no choice in the end – the walking dead make and continue that dagger-in-the-heart choice every single day.

Grief Never Ends

Regardless the source of grief, it never ends. In time, we often learn to deal with grief in a more productive or less painful way – but that’s not always the case with a series of grief events in close proximity.

Be caring and respectful of those who are grieving, which is pretty much everyone this year, whether they’ve told you or not.

They are likely NOT going to post that information on social media.

Depending on the situation, grief may extend to a job, one’s health or other factors.

Grief can include anything that affects your life negatively.


This has been a tough year for me in multiple ways. I’ve lost more than 9 relatives to Covid – depending on how you count. For example, my cousin lost both of her parents a few days apart. One of her parents is my cousin by blood and one by marriage. How do I count that? Is the couple one family member or two?

Furthermore, I’ve lost additional close family members to estrangement.

My husband’s longest friend died, and that family is fractured too.

Covid, death and estrangement isn’t just an isolated story now, but one shared by almost everyone one way or another.

I’m extremely, extremely grateful for my family members that I’m close to, although my family is shrinking.

I’m also incredibly grateful to my friends and family-of-heart. For example, within the last week or so, one friend has come to help me at least 4 times with something particularly difficult. Then, just this evening, Christmas Eve, my husband and I were included in a non-traditional family gathering.

Perhaps we are forming new traditions this year – ones to sustain us in the future since going back to the way things were in the past is simply not possible.

Wishing You Peace

I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.

I hope you are happy wherever you are.

Personally, I’ve adopted the Icelandic strategy where you go to bed with a good book and eat chocolate. Yep, I have my book waiting here for me, as soon as I’m finished with this article. My 72% dark chocolate awaits too, as does a hot bath, comforting quilts and my three fur-children.

If celebrating is not in the cards for you this year, I wish you a good book, a good movie, good food and lots of sleep.

Please know that I care about you. Let me know how you’re doing!

Sending Treasures Home for the Holidays – 52 Ancestors #345

Recently, I’ve been focused on sending things, items that I consider treasures, to where I eventually want them to live.

Downsizing aka Swedish Death Cleaning causes one to think about things differently. My frame of reference has shifted.

Space becomes a premium, and if we own something that would be better placed elsewhere, especially eventually, maybe now’s a good time to share the love.

Add to this the fact that Covid has also forced us to pause and reflect. We’ve had to seriously consider our own mortality in more immediate terms. We’ve learned what we can live without and perhaps reassessed a number of things in our life. This particular mix of factors has led me to rehome several items.

I’m not rehoming them because I don’t love them – but exactly because I do. I want them to continue to be loved by someone, the right someone, after I can no longer do that. I’ve realized you don’t have to physically possess something to love it.

The holidays is the perfect time to do this as well. It might be for you too. What better gift to give and receive than a wonderful heirloom filled with love.

I’ve shipped several packages recently. Let me tell you about one.

My Paternal Half-Sister

I haven’t yet written about my paternal half-sister, Edna, although I will soon, I promise.

Edna and I are a generation offset. She was actually two years older than my mother.

My Mom knew Edna, although not well, because they lived distantly. Edna was not close to our father. After Mom and Dad parted company, and Dad died, Mom and Edna kept in touch via occasional letter. I think over time that dwindled, then eventually trickled to a stop.

I didn’t meet Edna until I was an adult. In fact, I didn’t even know she existed except through vague references.

I suspect that my mother didn’t want to have to explain “life” surrounding my father – and trust me – I would have had questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I surely did when I finally met Edna.

A New Sister

I was over-the-moon ecstatic to have a sister. I was a young mother myself when that accidental discovery occurred.

From the day we met, we bonded like two cups of water in a bucket.

We wrote letters, talked on the phone most every Sunday and traveled to see one another. In many ways, it was like we had never NOT known each other. Perhaps we were trying to make up for lost time.

I had young children, but Edna and her husband had just retired and were in the process of moving to Arizona.

As my career developed, I often had to fly to the west coast. I arranged for a flight that landed in Phoenix so I could visit with her and catch the next travel leg the following day.

Edna’s children, who were my age and older, called me their “Baby Aunt.” I was the same age as Edna’s youngest daughter. We looked a great deal alike too as children.

This photo of our father with Edna’s children was taken about 1960.

50th Anniversary

For Edna and Cliff’s 50th wedding anniversary, I cross-stitched a celebratory sampler as a gift.

Edna and Cliff often came home to the north country and lived in their 5th wheel in the summer. It might be a “dry heat,” but it was still beastly hot in Arizona at that time of year.

They often set up the 5th wheel under a large shady tree on the farm that they used to own, then owned by one of their children.

To celebrate their anniversary, their grandson hosted a picnic. The entire family attended.

To prove I really was accepted fully as family – let me explain that they loved to tease me. Especially Edna’s grandchildren, some of whom were nearly my age.

The Volleyball Game

Picnic attendees were playing volleyball in the yard in the July heat at Edna’s golden wedding anniversary party. Everyone took a break, me included.

I moseyed over to the drink tent and spotted some lovely red fruit punch in a bowl full of ice. That looked so good. I dipped myself a nice large cup full. It was wonderfully cold, I was sweating and very thirsty – so I gulped the entire thing and filled my cup again.

We walked back out to the volleyball area and I leaped to spike a ball. I was invigorated and felt like I leaped higher than ever before. Wow, that punch was amazing!

The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to see everyone circled above me. All staring down at me.

I was flat on my back in the grass. Apparently, somehow that grass had gotten slippery. I had absolutely no recollection of how I got there or why people were staring at me. Things were a bit fuzzy and very funny.

The hosting grandson said to another grandson, “I think she drank some of the punch.’

“Well, that explains that,” someone said. Everyone started laughing uproariously. 

As for me, I was still laying there happily confused. Man, that punch was lusciously good.

And what did me drinking punch have to do with anything, anyway?

White Lightening

Turns out, that was special white lightening moonshine punch. The fruit juice masked the taste.

And I had gulped a huge cupful.

I was feeling absolutely no pain.

I don’t remember a lot more about the rest of that day. But trust me, I never lived it down.

What glorious memories.

A Dozen Short Years

It truly never occurred to me that Edna might die.

Of course, I conceptually knew that SOMEDAY that would happen, but no time soon so it wasn’t anything I needed to think about.


A dozen years after I met Edna for the first time, she left the earthly realm. Just a couple years after the anniversary party, Edna was gone. Suddenly and unexpectedly.

Everyone was stunned. Grief stricken. She was the matriarch of her rather large family and greatly loved.

I was shell-shocked.

It felt like a cruel joke. I grieved her passing deeply and still do. It was like part of me died too.

Given and taken away all too soon. Without warning.

Creative Artistry

Edna possessed a great many talents and never failed to amaze me.

Among other things, Edna was a woodcarver.

My favorite carving was a spiritual piece. Three or four people of clearly different races standing closely together, looking upwards, suggesting to a higher power. This spoke of brotherhood, unity and peace without saying an actual word. It touched me profoundly. I wish I had a photo of that carving to share with you, but I don’t.

Not only did Edna meticulously carve the shapes, she also burned and sometimes selectively stained the wood to achieve depth and color.

After Edna passed over, her husband called and asked for my address. He mentioned that he was selling the Arizona property and moving back North in his 5th wheel, permanently. In other words, he didn’t have space for the gift I had made them.

I was very grateful for his candor and the fact that he returned the sampler to me so lovingly. He said that’s what Edna would have wanted.

He asked if there was anything else of Edna’s that I wanted. I told him I wanted one of her carvings, if there were enough to go around.

The Box

The box arrived with two items – the sampler and a bird wood carving. For all these years, her carving has been within sight in my office. I felt close to her, like she was watching over me.

The birds sometimes gathered outside the window near the carving. I guess it was one bird communing with another.

For three decades, the sampler and wood carving have been my silent sentinels, connecting me to her. What we had and was ripped from us.

I have moved from sadness and grief to joyful recollections, at least most of the time. That’s not to say I don’t still miss her. I do, of course. That gaping hole will never be filled. But I wouldn’t trade the absence of pain because that would have meant that I missed the joy and love.

Grief is but one manifestation of love.


As the family genealogist, it’s important to me to be sure that these two pieces ultimately reside in her family line. They belong with her children or grandchildren and their descendants. They are her legacy, her story, not mine.

I waited to the last day to wrap these. I wanted them with me as long as possible. It was difficult.

I knew that sending them off, or ”back home” as I prefer to think about it was absolutely the right thing to do, and that Edna would 100% approve. That still didn’t mean it was easy.

I don’t want Edna’s things to wind up in some rummage sale, or worse, after I’m gone, not that my daughter would do that. But at some point, down the line, someone WILL do that. ‘

I packed those two pieces up again, smiling as I thought of the day oh-so-many years ago that I opened the box from Cliff.

I released them and blessed them on their way.


A few days later, Edna’s grandson’s wife messaged me to let me know the box had arrived. She told me that she already had incorporated them into their family and hung them in a place of honor.

My heart was gladdened, and I was thrilled to know how much they love them.

Of course, this particular grandson was one of those white-lightening-punch culprits. He says he remembers that day when I gave Edna and Cliff the sampler. They must have opened their gifts after I drank that fateful punch😊

I’m so very glad to know these two heirloom pieces are now on a path of descent in Edna’s own direct line. I loved them every single day. They connected me to her. I know she loved them too. They were made by her hands and mine. But it’s time now for them to make their way among her descendants – not mine.

Seeing the picture of the two pieces, hung together in their beautiful home among their festive decorations assured me that I had done exactly the right thing. I’m so grateful she sent the photo to me. It removed whatever tinge of sadness I had about their departure.

The sampler and Edna’s the wood carving have made it home in time for the holidays!

Bon voyage.


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Swedish Death Cleaning: It’s Actually a Good Thing – 52 Ancestors #344

I know. I know. That name sounds awful and morbid. But trust me on this one – it’s really not. At least, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Additionally, this topic is timely right now, because the holidays are coming soon.

In a nutshell, Swedish Death Cleaning is a gift to whoever would otherwise have to undertake that task after you’ve departed to visit with the ancestors.

My mother did this for me, although I WAS NOT NEARLY APPRECIATIVE ENOUGH at the time. She had an estate sale after my step-father died, sold most of the contents of the farmhouse, and moved to an apartment in town.

Of course, she took with her the things she truly loved – which is the entire point. Paring down to what’s really important and not holding on to things “just because.”

It’s a departure from my old habits and a new way of thinking about your things.

Unless you’ve recently deep-cleaned, or moved, I guarantee if you open any closet or cupboard door in your house that you’ll find all kinds of stuff in the back or on the shelves or even on hangers that you don’t need, don’t actually want and may not even remember that you have.


I need to apologize to my Mom right here and now for not helping her with this task. She had my step-brother and his wife and family next door, and my other brother and family an hour away. I thought everything was covered.

I was a 6-hour drive one way. Had she asked me to come and help, I would have gladly done so. In retrospect, I should simply have volunteered or showed up to assist.

Now that I’m doing this myself, I realize that even just keeping her company as she went through every box in that house would have been oh-so-welcome companionship. And now I think of the questions I would have liked to ask, and the conversations we might have had. The stories she would have told me.

Now, she’s gone and I can never hear her voice again.

But…I didn’t know or realize at the time.

When the time came to pack up Mom’s things – it was difficult enough. I can’t imagine having to deal with that entire farmhouse full.

The Process?

Of course, cleaning of this type can be difficult simply because there are so many decisions to make.

And it can be difficult because of unexpected emotions.

In my case, I’ve kind of been living my life backward as I sort through boxes. I have found so many unexpected bittersweet things.

My mother’s flatware. This made me smile. Now it’s integrated it into my own silverware drawer. I smile every day when I see these and think of her and the meals we shared at home.

A gift I made for my Mom when I was about 10 or so. I used her sewing machine, the little black Singer Featherweight that I still have. My Dad bought the machine for her before his death. I even hand-sewed the seam together on the bear’s shoulder. This was on her bed every day of her life.

I didn’t realize this bear was stored where it was, so it was a bit of a surprise when I discovered it. So bittersweet. Mom’s gone of course. What the heck do I do with this? I’m not about to pitch it. There’s no one to give it to.

Ok, in this case, it’s going on the guest room bed for now. Someday, someone else will just have to deal with it.

Anyone know what these things are? My head hurts just thinking about them.

When my Mom passed away, I brought her bedroom set home. I couldn’t go through everything at the time, but I have now. That’s where I found these gems.

Somewhere there’s a picture of Mom with pink rollers in her hair, using these roller pick or pin things. She would haunt me forever if I published that – so maybe it’s better than I have not yet reached that cleaning depth yet.

Dad’s flag from his coffin. This brought me up short. It also reminded me that I need to find the flag box I purchased and put it together so it can be displayed properly.

The first quilt pattern book I ever purchased. I bought the fabric to make a similar quilt for charity – then purchased my own quilt at the auction because my child loved it. Of course, then I needed to make the other child a quilt too – and one for our bed as well. I found that quilt too in this process.

Before this book, my quilts were all “scrap” with one of the church women providing a pattern. Or all of the patches were squares of the same size, traced using a cardboard template.

I’m gifting this book to someone. Maybe they will learn to love to quilt too. Trust me, I know this pattern by heart now.

I’ve found boxes and boxes of pictures too.

My daughter and I are waving goodbye to my parents when they first came up to visit after we bought that house. This made me sad, because in its companion photo, we were all standing together and hugging and now my daughter and I are the only two left.

Dad, being a farmer, had to plan carefully to be gone for more than a few hours. This was only the second time he had ever left the state of Indiana.

Dad and his three-legged rescue cat – Frosty – both napping. This was an after-lunch routine and they were inseparable. The photo hanging over the bed hangs in my house today, and the bed, purchased for my Mom by her parents for her 16th birthday is in my guest room.

My bracelet from the hospital when I was born. I don’t think I had ever seen this bracelet before either. I also found my footprints inked by the hospital when I was born.

I made this doll quilt for my daughter when she was maybe 6 or 7.

No one in the family wants this doll, cradle or the little quilt. With my daughter’s permission, I gifted it to a little girl who loves it!

And the pets. We miss our furry family members so much.

But yee-gads – look at that awful wallpaper.

My daughter and I had a good laugh over that.

And then, there was this.

The last birthday card my mother sent me.

Yea, that one was really tough.

The Up Side

  • First, I’ve found photos I either didn’t know I had or had forgotten about. In some cases that was because I had not gone through my mother’s things completely.
  • Second, I found wonderfully uplifting letters from so many people. For example, my great-aunt sent me an encouraging card that said, “I’m so very proud of you. You said you would do it, and you did! Congratulations.” (Hint – if you’re going to save something, write the date on it.)
  • Third, I found information that I didn’t realize was important the first time I reviewed it. For example, I discounted a photo of a couple several years ago because they were not my direct ancestors. I’ve since discovered that one of the people in the photo was my ancestor’s sibling – and I don’t have a photo of the ancestor. That sibling is probably as close as I’ll ever get. I took the opportunity to scan the photo, upload it to the couple in my genealogy trees, and share with others.
  • Fourth, I’ve found so much that I can now gift to someone else. I’m not specifically talking about heirlooms here, but information for my genealogy cousins and buddies. I’ve sent so many boxes off. In some cases, I’m returning something to the proper people. I’ve returned letters with signatures that people sent me 20 or 30 years ago – and their grandchildren or great-grandchildren now get to enjoy the letters along with their signature. I’ve donated to historical societies. I’ve sent research documents that I no longer need to other people researching the family or area. I should get a discount at both the post office and UPS.😊
  • Fifth, I’ve decided to gift many things now instead of waiting until later. That way, I can enjoy seeing the person or people using or wearing or just enjoying the gift. If I’m not actually using it, and they can begin enjoying it now – that’s a win for everyone.
  • Sixth, I’m going to do my family members one more favor – and this is a big one. I’m going to scan and organize the photos. I already purged a great many. Before you cringe, let me explain that really, no one needs 10 shots of the same thing or pictures with people whose heads are not in the photo. (That was my mother’s specialty.) Or pictures of places we can no longer identify.

So yes, I threw lots of pictures away. I had also printed second copies of many rolls of film for my Mom, then I inherited her set, so I didn’t need both.

I’ve started the digitizing process, albeit slowly. I’ll be doing this as I can over the next several months.

Swedish Death Cleaning is Satisfying and Freeing

Truthfully, I hate cleaning. It feels like such a waste of time because it never stays done. Not only that, but I’d much rather be doing something else, like genealogy, or quilting, or writing blog articles. Pretty much anything BUT cleaning.

However, this has been different.

Yes, I’ve had quite a few good cries. But for every one of those, I’ve SAVED my daughter from one.

For every difficult thing I find and have to deal with, I’ve saved her from the same.

I’ve also found some wonderful memories.

I’m enjoying the process of gifting. And I know the people involved – like my Mom for instance – would be pleased to see her things used and loved anew.

I’m sharing love with so many people in various ways. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed, but different.

I feel so much freer with fewer things – and it makes cleaning easier too.

I’m hopeful that maybe, just maybe, one of the people who’ve received research documents will be able to make a big breakthrough that I missed.

That would be the ultimate gift.

The holidays are coming.

Is there something in your possession that someone in your life would like to start loving now?

Consider Swedish Death Cleaning and spread the love!


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A Wink and a Nod From My Ancestors: Flyin’ Over the Old Home Place – 52 Ancestors #343

Have you ever been busy doing something to discover that one of your ancestors just gave you a really, REALLY unexpected, completely out-of-the-blue wink and a nod?

Of course, immediately you think that’s entirely silly.

I mean, that’s not possible. Right?

Yet, there you are…and whatever it was just happened.

An Unplanned Detour

I knew I was flying to a particular destination. I’ve flown there before. No big deal.

But this time, nothing seemed to go right. Flights that used to exist evaporated into thin air. Inexplicably, the flights that did exist were full – at least the day I needed to fly.

I could get a lovely, direct, flight into a city about 90 minutes distant from my destination. That was very confusing because normally it’s THAT city whose flights are typically full.


I couldn’t get there via the path one would normally travel, but I could get there, so I booked the flight.


You know the butterflies you get in your stomach when you head off for a huge life change? Even if you know it’s the right path?

A wedding maybe?


Moving away from anyone or anything familiar?

New job?

Career shift?


Any major life move.

Sometimes the butterflies start hatching a few days in advance and by the time you’re on the way, you have an entire kaleidoscope in residence.

Everyone’s coping methodology is different.

Some people get insomnia.





On this particular flight, I chose distraction because those butterflies were out of control.

I couldn’t concentrate enough to read, so I opted to watch an in-flight movie.

Except…I didn’t like either movie I started to watch, and by that time, If I had started to watch a different movie, the flight would have ended before the movie.

I flipped to the plane’s flight-tracker, and that’s when it happened.

Where Am I?

My window shade was closed. It was dark in the cabin. Most people were either watching something or sleeping.

I didn’t really think much about how to get from point A, my departure location, to point B.

However, I noticed on the flight tracker that the airplane was generally over a part of the country that seemed like it would pass near where my ancestors lived in Virginia and Tennessee, near the Cumberland Gap.

I enlarged the map to view the plane’s path.

Wow, it’s traveling east of Knoxville, near Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The map had an upper limit to how large one can make the map, and only the cities and larger towns were shown. Trust me, not one of my ancestors is from any place even resembling “large.” Not even medium.

I pulled my shade up, not that I expected to see anything that I would even remotely recognize from 30,000 feet in the air.

I was in for quite a surprise.

Goin’ Home

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve driven those ribbon-looking roads home.

Where is home?

Home is where my ancestors lived. Where my Dad was born, and so were his parents and their kin for generations. Home was where I went to find them. When I first began that journey, I only knew one word – Tazewell. A town in Tennessee. According to my Mom, that’s where my Dad was from. I knew nothing else. Nothing about his parents or siblings. Nothing about his grandparents.

Nothing. Not one thing.

That was in 1978.

Oh my, what a long way we’ve come – me and my ancestors. I’ve been pushed, guided, and cajoled. I’ve had many fortuitous “accidents” and met the most amazing people. I found family I had no idea existed, and I’m very close to many of those cousins today.

I cherish those mesmerizing, life-changing trips where a dear cousin took me to stand where my ancestors stood, lived, and yes, were buried.

Uncle George was the first, and he’s been gone for almost 25 years now. We climbed in the cattle grate of his pickup truck for the trip up the mountainside in Estes Holler where our ancestors homesteaded.

After several years, the people you met decades ago have passed over, and the younger generation isn’t necessarily interested. Furthermore, you’ve found the ancestors who lived in that region and pushed the brick wall further back to a time before they settled there. In this case, back into Virginia and North Carolina.

Said another way that genealogists will understand, there just doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to return again – especially if it’s a long distance with no one left.

I haven’t been back to the Cumberland Gap area in more than a decade.

That is, until today.

The Window

I looked out and saw the first of the mountain ridges rising in the distance, like pleats in the fabric of earth, or maybe ripples in the sea of time.

Are those the linear ridges that comprise the Cumberland Mountains, forming a 100-mile group of NE to SW ridges within the Appalachian Range that includes the Cumberland Gap?

Why yes, yes, I believe it is.

We can see these same ridges on this 1795 map that the early settlers would have used. We can see the Kentucky road and the Indian boundary line, just to the left of the road where the red color begins. That Indian boundary line ran right through my ancestor’s land.

A few other steep, treacherous, but passable gaps occur between the ridges, but not many.

Click images to enlarge

I looked back at the plane’s path on the screen which was currently east of Knoxville and yes, sure enough, those mountains out the window are the beginning of the Cumberland Range of the Appalachian Mountains.

My family was from all over, down there.

Each individual ancestor’s journey eventually coalesced in Estes Holler, along Little Sycamore Road which follows Little Sycamore Creek, of course. To get there, you have to follow the valleys, along the Ol’ Kentucky Road, south out of Tazewell, then turn north again when you reach the crossroads called Springdale. You’ll know you’re there when you see the school, the gas station that serves pizza by the slice, and the church. Estes Holler is up yonder a bit.

It’s about 7 miles from Tazewell, unless you’re a crow, then it’s maybe 3. Of course, you could take the unpaved two-tracks across the ridges, but that’s not recommended unless you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.

If I was right, then out my window I was seeing Barbourville, where my Vannoy ancestor, John Vannoy’s son, Francis Vannoy (1746-1822) – Daniel Vannoy’s brother and Elijah Vannoy’s uncle resided. For years, we had no idea quite how Francis Vannoy was related to my ancestor, Elijah Vannoy who lived not terribly far away along Mulberry Creek in Claiborne County, the part that would one day split off to form Hancock County.

Francis Vannoy lived about 60 miles distant in Barbourville, Kentucky, over rough mountain trails. Regardless, we knew the families retained close ties because they intermarried. The Vannoy family, along with the McNiels and several others lived on what would eventually be called Back Valley Road. Back Valley, which is also called Rebel Holler in some places, and is reportedly haunted by the ghosts of Civil War soldiers, follows a holler just below the state line between Virginia and Tennessee.

Pineville and Middlesboro, Kentucky should be visible out the window soon.

When my grandfather, William George Estes, moved back to Appalachia after tenant farming in Indiana, he eventually settled on the highest part of Black Mountain in Harlan County, just 60 miles but almost two hours east of Pineville on hopelessly winding roads with deadly switchbacks. His grandson would die a tragic death on those roads one day.

My grandfather didn’t drive, although I have no idea why not. He rode a horse initially, and then rode as a passenger with others. Cars were scarce in the 19-teens and 1920s when he moved back.

By the 1950s, he would catch a ride down to Pineville, Kentucky, then take the bus through Middlesboro, Kentucky, across Cumberland Gap, and through Tazewell, Tennessee.

Today, there’s a tunnel, but back then, the only road went across Cumberland Gap. You can take a look here, although the road is abandoned today, and hear some of the country music of the hills too. Of course, the earliest pioneers walked the path along the Wilderness Road, which you can view here in a lovely, short historical documentary.

The bus or some kindhearted soul would drop my grandfather south of Tazewell at Springdale where he would catch a ride with someone headed down Little Sycamore Road to Estes Holler. No ride – no problem – he would walk.

His parents and family lived in Estes Holler, as had three previous generations. However, my grandmother, Ollie Bolton’s parents, and family lived on up Little Sycamore into Hancock County, on Wallen Ridge, along the Powell River where the only way across the range is across the river and through Mulberry Gap.

Michael McDowell settled Slanting Miserly and lived near William Herrell, James Lee Claxton, and Joseph Bolton when Joseph arrived from Giles County, Virginia in the 1840s. By that time, those other families had been established for 30 or 40 years – some longer.

Lazarus Dodson, a Revolutionary War veteran, lived close to Middlesboro, on the Tennessee side, just beneath the actual Cumberland Gap.

Civil War soldiers camped in his field, marked on a military map, which is how we located his original land. Lazarus Dodson’s land was sold to David Cottrell, and this map shows the location of the homestead.

In addition to the Dodson homeplace, you can see the corresponding roads today.

Lazarus Dodson Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Campbell. Her parents, John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins, and grandparents, Jacob Dobkins and Dorcas Johnson lived on the Powell River, near where the river bends back on itself near the Hancock County border. Of course, there’s a family cemetery, as there is in many locations.

It’s difficult to see from this perspective, but I know my ancestors are all down there within view.

John Campbell who married Jacob Dobkins’ daughter lived right above Liberty Baptist Church. In fact, Liberty was built on what had once been his land.

Before the Campbell boys moved to Claiborne County, the Campbell family and the Dodsons lived at the old Warrior Path crossing on the Holston River near Rogersville where the TVA plant is located today, near Dru Hanes Road. Jacob Dobkins lived about 8 miles away, up to Bull’s Gap, near the Hawkins/Hamblen County line.

About 1795, two of Jacob’s daughters married Campbell brothers. About 1801, all three of those families, along with Lazarus Dodson and his family, moved to Claiborne County. Their son, Lazarus Dodson Jr. married Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins.

Generation after generation of closely allied families were born in these hills.

The Crumley family migrated with the Brown family from Frederick County, Virginia to Greene County, Tennessee about 1797, settling on what is now Crumley Road near Greeneville.

Two decades later, William Crumley moved on from Greeneville to Blackwater Creek on the border between what is now Hancock County, Tennessee, and Lee County, Virginia, along with his adult son William, who had married Lydia Brown. The younger William’s daughter, Phebe Crumley would one day marry Joel Vannoy in Hancock County, Tennessee and they would move down Little Sycamore to Vannoy Holler, named after Joel, right across the ridge from Estes Holler.

You know where this is headed, right?

Indeed, Lazarus Estes, son of Rutha Dodson and John Y. Estes went courtin’ across the ridge and married Elizabeth Vannoy in 1867.

Rutha and John’s marriage was rudely interrupted by the Civil War, and never really recovered. She lived out her life in Estes Holler, but he walked on to Texas, establishing a new branch of the family there.

You know, I always wondered how Rutha Dodson, daughter of Lazarus Dodson and Elizabeth Campbell who lived plumb up to Cumberland Gap met John Y. Estes.

John Y. Estes lived in Estes Holler after his parents settled there when they arrived from Halifax County, Virginia, following his father’s service in the War of 1812. I figured it out when we realized Rutha’s mother died young and she was being raised by her grandparents, John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins who owned land right near Estes Holler, where Liberty Baptist Church is today.

You can’t marry who you don’t see – so two people have to be close enough to court.

Another branch of the family, the Reverend Nicholas Speaks and his wife, Sarah Faires left Washington County Virginia near Glade Springs about 1820 to found the Speaks Methodist Church in Lee County, Virginia.

The church is only 6 or 7 miles as the crow flies from Mulberry Gap. Of course, it’s 18 or 20 miles as the horse travels, through Mulberry Gap and then fording the Powell River at a low place – assuming there is a low place to be found.

Nicholas’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Speaks, married Samuel Claxton who fought for the North during the Civil War and died soon after. They lived on the Tennessee side of the Powell River.

Getting to church was not for the fainthearted.

Many of these families lived along or near the Powell River.

James Lee Claxton and his wife Sarah Cook left Russell County, Virginia near Honaker on the Clinch River around 1800 and settled on Claxton Bend near Slanting Misery on the Powell River where Michael McDowell tried to plow land that was more vertical than horizontal.

Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman followed the advancing Virginia frontier too and settled in Lee County, near the Powell River that formed the border with Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Muncy men served in the forts in Russell County, Virginia during the Revolutionary War.

Agnes Muncy married Fairwick Claxton about 1814 in the part of Claiborne County that would become Hancock in the 1840s. They too lived on the Powell River on Claxton Bend, near what is today Camp Jubilee where they are buried on the old homeplace.

Elizabeth Vannoy’s grandparents, Joel Vannoy and Lois McNiel settled in Claborne County, the part that became Hancock, after leaving Wilkes County, North Carolina about 1812 or so. They weren’t the only people from Wilkes that settled among those valleys and mountain ridges along the Powell River. William Harrell, sometimes spelled Harrold in Wilkes County, and Michael McDowell, a Revolutionary War veteran came too, along with their families. The Hickerson line married into those families in Wilkes County, as did the Shepherd and Rash lines.

Wilkes County was located across the actual mountain range itself, not along its ridges or valleys. There was no easy way to get from Wilkes County, North Carolina to Claiborne County, Tennessee. Look at those majestic, and tall, mountains!

These hearty ancestors settled in this rugged terrain, between the ridges, in the hollers, near the tops of mountains, and along the cleanest part of the streams where their families would, hopefully, be safe.

Many families arrived in eastern Tennessee shortly after the Revolutionary War, and some, like Jacob Dobkins, even before. Countless more found their way to the westward frontier when the floodgates opened after the War of 1812.

Perhaps they were joining family members who had already staked a claim and built a small cabin.

Regardless of who they were, how they arrived, or when, over a span of a hundred years or so, 42 of my ancestors lived, loved, and made their lives in these rugged mountains. They came to love them and called them home. Eventually, those ancestors gave life to my father who passed that love of the mountains on to me.

Just looking at them, from the valley floors or from 30,000 feet in the air brings me peace.

I am a product of these hardscrabble survivors. Some of them didn’t even have houses, at least not at first – living in structures created from animal hides before they built small one-room cabins for their large families. Kitchens and bathrooms were both outside. They fetched and carried water from a stream.

Some were Native people who were none too happy to see the new settlers.

Many risked everything, either to fight to defend their land, this fledgling nation and to make the trek to settle the dangerous frontier.

Women plowed, farmed, and performed the work normally done by both men and women. Sometimes only when the menfolk were gone, but all too often that stretched into forever because their husbands never returned.

Today, I saw all of this in the span of a few minutes. Kind of like the panorama of my ancestors’ lives passing before my eyes.

More than two centuries of my ancestors’ blood and DNA waters the land below. Journeys that took months of hard work in muddy ruts, and cost some of them their very lives, slipped beneath my plane window in just a few minutes.

What would my ancestors have thought?


This unexpected birds-eye survey of my ancestors’ lives provided me with an amazing perspective.

I was able to appreciate their journey in a way they never could.

Observing their lives pass before my eyes spoke to my soul and buoyed my spirits.

I felt like my ancestors – all of them, as far as the eye could see – were cheering and waving me on to my future. Of course, that’s the future for the parts of them that I carry in me, too. By virtue of that, they accompany me.

I’m doing my small part to look to the horizon once again. Carrying on the wanderlust tradition.

I must be brave. Compared to what they faced, and survived, this is nothing. I can always fly home, or back to visit. I can text in an instant to someone who lives distantly.

They couldn’t even rely on letters to arrive. No notification if someone passed away. Women didn’t know if their husbands died in war, or hunting, or not. Were they a widow? Would they, could they, should they, remarry?

No modern medicine either. Childbirth was inherently risky, as was any infected cut. Appendicitis? You’re toast. Dig the grave.

My ancestors unquestionably understood fear – for themselves and their family members. It was part of their daily diet.

Yet, it didn’t stop them. They pressed on and persisted. That’s a good thing for me!

A Wink and a Nod

My unexpected, unplanned Appalachian tour that consumed maybe all of 30 minutes was indeed a wink and a nod from those ancestors. Quieted those butterflies right down.

I had my own personal cheering squad.

Silently wishing me well.

I heard them in my heart as I gazed down at their homelands. I can see the line of ancestors, their path extending back into Virginia, and beyond in the misty distance.

Frontiers have never been easy, but I see the horizon just over that next mountain. Just like they did.

Thanks Ancestors. I needed you today!



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Come Sit a Spell With Jacob Dobkins – 52 Ancestors #345

Probably 20 years ago, I discovered that Jacob Dobkins (1751-1835) was my ancestor, and began researching in Claiborne County, Tennessee where his daughter, Jenny Dobkins lived with her husband, John Campbell.

In fact, two of Jacob’s daughters married Campbell men. His daughter Elizabeth married George Campbell, believed to be John’s brother, back in Hawkins County before the entire group moved to Claiborne. Jacob lived in Claiborne County in 1801 when the county was formed and he attended the first court session.

Jacob purchased 1400 acres for $100, land roughly a mile wide and about two and a half miles long. That’s a LOT of land. Of course, it was densely forested and no houses or other improvements had been made. Jacob immediately began parceling it out to his sons and sons-in-law, essentially assuring that most of his family would stay nearby.

In the research process, I met other Dobkins researchers, including Bill Nevils, a local historian, and genealogist. He too was descended from Jacob.

In 2006, cousin Daryl talked to Bill who told us he knew where Jacob Dobkins was buried.

Stopped us cold in our tracks. There was no marked grave. No known Dobkins Cemetery.

Say what?

Jacob’s grave?


Cousin Daryl discovered more than that too. She made other calls and the owners in 2006 were family members who had VERY INTERESTING photos of the original cabin.

This very old photo from (probably) sometime in the early 1900s or possibly even late 1800s shows Jacob Dobkins’ homestead, fenced, with a secondary, larger building having been added to the left. Yet another building is shown in the distance and a structure to the rear as well. Notice the fieldstone chimney.

Yes, this is Jacob’s original cabin! Be still my heart.

How can I be sure? The deed work shows that in 1835, when Jacob died, his heirs quitclaimed his property to Betsy Campbell, his daughter who was married to George Campbell. From that point on, her son, Barney, his son Alexander, then his son Arthur lived in this home until Arthur died in 1969. The family had built a new home and retained the property.

Jacob’s cabin in the 1960s or 1970s, abandoned.

Jacob’s cabin lasted for at least another 150 years after his 1835 death before it was purchased, disassembled, and reassembled elsewhere – we think someplace in North Carolina (maybe) in some sort of reenactment or historical park. If you recognize this cabin, please let me know.

Daryl made contact with the lady who owned the farm in 2006:

I just had a lovely conversation with our cousin who owns the property and descends from Barney Campbell. Her family recently celebrated her birthday at the old farm and gave her a photo frame with digital family photos that include the old cabin.

She claims the farm has been in the family since about 1820, but she has never checked it out. Her nephew is the one interested in the family history. Her grandmother, Sally, died when she was about 10 and she heard the story of Barney many times growing up…Barney was a Dobkins, his mother was Elizabeth and he took the Campbell name when Elizabeth married George Campbell.

The original old house was 2 stories, living room & one bedroom on the main floor and 2 more bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen was detached from the original house. I quizzed her a bit, because there were not too many houses two stories in those woods in the late 1700s or early 1800s. She did not know how old the house was, or who the first occupants were. She assumed it was Barney.

The house was moved about 1970. All she remembers is that a man who owned a pottery company, factory or shop bought it. He took it apart and it was to be reassembled at his business in western NC. A cousin in Tazewell was building a house about the same time and he took the chimney/fireplace and connected it to his house. He has since died. She said the old house reminds her of one she saw in the Museum of the Appalachia brochure, the one near Norris Dam.

It’s worth noting that the founder of the Museum of the Appalachia began collecting in 1969, so the timing would be right. Maybe Jacob’s house is there. If so, it’s probably labeled as the Campbell home.

Here’s the cabin from a different view after it was abandoned, but before it was deconstructed.

And here, before it was abandoned, with the “wash” hanging on the line. It looks like a typical home here.

I should mention that this building does not appear, on the surface, to be the traditional log cabin, but is instead a plank or clapboard building. If Jacob did indeed own that sawmill, as was described in the 1819 deed from Jacob Dobkins to John Whitaker, this wouldn’t be too surprising. Regardless, this tells us that a mill was very close by sometime before 1819.

Another story says that this building incorporated the original structure, but was built by Barney Campbell, possibly in the 1830s.

According to family members:

There was a kitchen behind the former house which was converted into a loom house and the previous living quarters used as kitchen facilities when the new house was occupied. The kitchen and dining ell of the present old house is not as old as the living quarters but some of the material of the original house was incorporated into the ell which would indicate that part of the house may date back to 1800.

According to this, the original home was incorporated into the “new” house, a very common practice of that time. Frugal settlers wasted nothing and did not simply “move” to a new house. They added on.

A third story says that Barney built this cabin, but his first wife, then pregnant with twins, died before ever getting to live there. That would have put the origin of this building about 1838 or so. Jacob’s original cabin would have been more than 30 years old by then, and Barney had a passel of kids – something like 17 between both wives, not counting the twins that died when his first wife did! Yes, Barney definitely could have used more room.

But that story doesn’t quite make sense either – because nobody would intentionally build a log cabin and immediately cover it up with lap siding.

Do we have any evidence? Why yes, yes we do.

Aha – this photo of the cabin during disassembly clearly shows a chinked log cabin beneath the clapboard siding.

Here’s the rear during the deconstruction process. Look at those dovetailed logs. Indeed, this is the house that Jacob built from the trees he felled clearing the land. Later deeds also refer to this property as being where Jacob lived.

Barney’s grandson lived here until sometime in the 1960s, so this land never left the Dobkins/Campbell family.

About Barney

Interestingly, we have Y DNA genetic evidence that conflicts with the story about Barney being adopted by George Campbell. Some of Barney’s descendants match the Y DNA of the Campbell line, and some do not. Given that at least one of Barney’s son’s lines matches the Campbell Y DNA, it’s unlikely that Barney was not George Campbell’s son! Not to mention that George was very generous with Barney.

Barney is of course a Dobkins on his mother’s side, so I’m not exactly sure how that original story was intended. It’s ironic that the family story includes an unknown father, but the DNA might disprove that, and prove that a Campbell male was indeed the father – exactly the opposite of what sometimes happens.

Obviously, we have absolutely NO IDEA what actually happened back in 1797 when Barney was born, or later with his descendants.

What I can say is that we could probably resolve this question if male Campbell men descended directly through all males from Barney through the following sons would do a Y DNA test.

Barney had the following sons through his first wife, Mary Brooks:

  • Benjamin Campbell (1820-1882) married Eliza or Louisa Eastridge, born and died in Claiborne County, TN.
  • George Campbell (c1821-1860s) married Nancy Eastridge, lived in Claiborne County and died during the Civil War.
  • Andrew Campbell (c1826-?) married Louisa (Eliza) Campbell, lived in Claiborne County.
  • John Campbell (c 1829-after 1900) married Mary Ann Chadwell, lived and died in Claiborne County.
  • Toliver Campbell (1835-1899) married Sarah Lewis, lived and died in Claiborne County.

Barney had these sons through his second wife, Martha Jane “Jennie” Kesterson:

  • David Campbell (c 1841-1919) married Missouri Williams, lived and died in Claiborne County.
  • Arthur L. Campbell (born circa 1842)
  • Newton J. Campbell (1845-1911) married Lucy Williams, lived and died in Claiborne County.
  • Abraham Campbell (1850-1914) married Nancy Cornelia Williams, lived, and died in Claiborne County.
  • Alexander Campbell (1853-1923) married Sarah “Sallie” Campbell, lived, and died in Claiborne County.

Come On – Let’s Visit Jacob!

Bill Nevils and his mother hosted us for a lovely lunch, but we could hardly wait to set out for the Dobkins land and cemetery, circled in red, above. The house was located near the building with the white roof, halfway between the main road and the cemetery.

Jacob is buried in the Campbell Family Cemetery at 230 A. L. Campbell Lane in Tazewell, although there is no reference to a cemetery on the deed back in the 1800s. Cemeteries were assumed back then and seldom mentioned. It’s still a private cemetery today.

I can’t tell you how much fun Daryl and I had that day. This chimney, at least that’s what I think it is, was probably for the outside kitchen. This chimney was not taken when the cabin was removed – probably because it was not attached to the house. We know that the chimney on the house was moved to Tazewell.

I can only imagine cooking outside in all types of weather, all seasons of the year. Well, actually, I can’t imagine that.

There’s another very early building too.

Look at the size of those logs. This is clearly a very early structure. Is this the building that was converted into the loom house? If so, then it was here when Jacob lived. It’s standing beside that chimney or stone column, whatever it is.

Behind these buildings and the modern-day house, we crossed through the working farm, drove through a gate, and across the field.

This is the same path that would have been followed when a “buryin'” needed to take place. The wagon with the coffin, pulled by horses or mules, would lead the procession of walking family members from the house where the family would have “kept watch” and prepared the body for burial. The wagon wheels would have squeaked under the load. The family knew this was Jacob’s last trip – that late fall day in 1835 – accompanied by a preacher.

Jacob had cleared the field where his funeral procession took place more than three decades earlier. We drove up to the cemetery 171 years after Jacob’s final journey.

Jacob Dobkins Cemetery, Known as the Campbell Cemetery

A fence surrounds the cemetery which is far to the rear of the property, near the Powell River. You didn’t want a cemetery too near a house, or the well for that matter.

Cousin Bill and me before entering this sacred ground. I’m so incredibly glad we made this visit when we did, because Father Bill, an Episcopal priest, has gone on now to meet Jacob. Bill spent years researching this family and I wish he would send a few answers!

A HUGE, massive tree grows in the center of the cemetery.

As we strolled in that direction, Bill told us that it’s believed that both Jacob and his wife are buried under that expansive tree.

That makes sense given that the newer graves radiate out towards the edges. Jacob assuredly wasn’t the first burial here, but he was likely one of the early ones. He would have established the cemetery after he bought the land, as need dictated.

Graves were marked only with rocks. Everyone who needed to know already knew who was buried where. They had stood graveside as the casket was lowered. Neighbors would have come over to help dig the graves and cover them after the service. Perhaps they were marked with a simple wooden cross at the time.

Looking around, we can see Wallen’s Ridge there in the distance.

John Campbell’s land, part of which was apparently originally owned by Jacob, lies across the ridge in this direction. Today’s there’s a cemetery behind Liberty Church, established in the 1850s, on John’s land, but I bet in that time, everyone in the family was simply buried here, in the Dobkins family cemetery. Jacob was the family patriarch.

The photo below connects with the one above at the mountain, looking back over the homeplace, providing a panorama vista of sorts.

Elisha Wallen, the Longhunter, claimed vast tracts of land and sold this farm to Jacob immediately after Claiborne County was formed.

Jane Dobkins Campbell who had married John lived across what is locally known as “Little Ridge.” It doesn’t look very little to me.

I’d wager she’s buried here too.

Jacob would have cleared these fields, tree by tree. Except for that one tree, of course. It was left to shelter those attending funerals. I can’t help but wonder if Jacob did that intentionally. Or maybe he simply started burying family members beneath its branches.

Standing beneath the tree, this is what I see.

I can only imagine the amount of labor that was invested in establishing a farm from the wilderness. By the time Jacob bought this land, he was 50 years old. He did have sons and sons-in-law, but they had their own farms to clear.

Jacob sold the land in the photo below to his son-in-law, George Campbell who was married to Elizabeth.

Even after clearing, Cedar trees aggressively try to reclaim the land for the forest.

You can see that this part of George’s land is very rocky. Impossible to plow after clearing, but reminds me so much of Scotland.

I can see Jacob Dobkins and Elisha Wallen, walking this land together before Jacob’s purchase, discussing the land, and probably so much more. Both men had faced incredible challenges in this new land and somehow survived.

Both had followed what would become the Wilderness Road, when it was wilderness and before it was a road. The only thing there when Jacob and Elisha first arrived was buffalo and Native people, angry at the incursion. Elisha’s first visit was about 1761, and Jacob’s was about 1779 when he arrived at Fort Harrod before the Revolutionary War.

This beautiful stream, Russell Creek, is only about 15 miles, less as the crow flies, from where Jacob traveled back in 1779 between his home in Shenandoah County and Fort Harrod. In 1779, this land was beyond the frontier line.

The area was much tamer 20 years later when Jacob bought this land from Elisha Wallen. Jacob’s service helped to tame the region, making it safe for settlers. Jacob switched from soldiering to homesteading. It’s ironic that Jacob survived the Revolutionary War battles, although bullets ripped through his clothes – but homesteading, which you think would be safer, broke his collarbone and shoulder, disabling him.

Did Jacob look across these ridges from Cumberland Gap and fall in love back in 1779? Did he tell his son-in-law, George about those adventures as they walked this land before Jacob sold him this portion?

Clearly, Jacob wasn’t just buying land for himself, but with the intention of purchasing enough land for his entire family, probably so that his sons and sons-in-law wouldn’t feel the need to “move on.” Best investment ever!

That’s probably the exact reason he sold his land on White Horn Creek near Bull’s Gap and moved everyone to Claiborne County where large tracts of land had become available. Opportunity was knocking.

Of course, Jacob was also establishing a family cemetery whether he initially meant to or not. Every family had one. I wonder if he thought about where would be a good location for a cemetery on his land or if he only thought about that when, due to necessity, they needed to bury someone. Would that first burial have been one of his grandchildren? I would bet so.

Cemeteries were often on higher land so that they didn’t flood and contaminate the water supply. Did Jacob choose this location because of this beautiful tree?

Did he decide that he’d like to be buried right here?

Cousin Bill, dwarfed, pondering beneath Jacob’s tree.

I can’t help but wonder if this tree was already old when Jacob bought this land more than 200 years before.

If only this tree could talk. What stories it would have to tell.

I think this is a maple tree. Medium growth rate for a maple tree is about a foot each year, so this tree must be ancient. Based on the photos, I’m guessing at least 300-400 years and maybe more.

Some gravestones are located beneath its sprawling branches. Bill told us that Jacob is supposed to be buried beneath this tree.

Most of the space beneath the tree consists of unmarked graves. Apparently, there are many, many unmarked graves.

Perhaps Jacob is resting right here in the shade. Surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

Some died in his lifetime. Jacob’s son Reuben died in 1823 at the age of 40.

More unmarked graves.

Many graves weren’t marked, except for field stones, if that, until in the 1900s. A gravestone was a luxury none could afford.

Some field stones remain, but others are clearly gone.

Findagrave shows the Arch Campbell Cemetery with a total of 138 burials, some with photos of the stones.

Barney Campbell’s son Benjamin is listed among the burials. Assuredly, Barney was buried here too following his death between 1853 and 1855, as are his parents who died about the same time, and grandparents who died twenty years earlier.

The day in May that we visited was stunningly beautiful with spring’s warmth not yet giving way to the oppressive summer heat.

Daryl, Bill, and I walked every inch of this cemetery, looking for any clue. Just being with Jacob and our family members for a short time.

I couldn’t help but glance over each fence and picture Jacob standing and doing the same. Of course, his split rail fences would have looked quite different.

Did Jacob go to the far side of his property each day and fell more trees?

Did he stand here pondering life’s unfairness when he buried family members?

I slowly turned in a circle to see what Jacob would have seen.

I can’t help but wonder how all of these people are connected to Jacob. Maybe some aren’t but many appear to have “married in” to the family. After a few generations, these Appalachian families are all related to each other one way or another.

Daryl and I, always the consummate genealogists, photographed gravestones.

This cemetery is not small. Many areas are entirely vacant, signifying unmarked graves. It looks like there are as many unmarked as marked, or maybe more.

While the old burials are near the middle, there are contemporary graves too.

Areas towards the fence had modern burials.

No matter where you look, the mountains are ever-present in the distance. Today, just as Jacob saw them two centuries ago.

By now, there are probably 8 or maybe 10 generations of family members all resting together here. Jacob would probably be quite pleased that his investment in a large amount of common land, enough to share with his sons and sons-in-law, paid such handsome dividends. Indeed, many stayed and continue to stay.

Of his own children, 5 lived out their lives in Claiborne County, two struck out for Texas, and one is uncertain.

Many of Jacob’s descendants still live in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and perhaps some still live on Jacob’s land.



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Genealogy Research

Jacob Dobkins (1751-1835); Several Bullet Holes Through His Clothes – 52 Ancestors #344

Jacob Dobkins is one of those border ancestors. What do I mean by that? Some ancestors spanned certain events or timeframes. One of these critical junctions was the Revolutionary War and the westward movement from the colonies into the frontier.

What happened during this period was that many men, and some families, traveled westward. Often courthouses were burned during subsequent wars and any documents that did exist were destroyed. Sometimes those documents never existed in the first place.

Many times, we find those men in their new location with no ties backward in time. At least none that we can find.

Where did they come from? Who were they and who were their wives?

Several researchers spent decades trying to piece the life of Jacob together. Fortunately, Jacob served in the Revolutionary War and applied for a pension in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but that certainly was not where he began his life.

One of the challenges tracking Jacob is that the surname is spelled a variety of ways: Dobkins, Dobbins, Dobikins, and more.

Birth and Early Years

Jacob was born about 1751 in Augusta County, Virginia, the portion that became Dunmore, now Shenandoah County, to Captain John Dobkins, also spelled Dobikins, and his wife, Elizabeth whose surname is unknown but rumored to be Moore. (DAR Patriot Index and The People’s History of Claiborne County, Tennessee 1801-2005, Vol. II, page 164). In 1775 Jacob married Darcus or Dorcas Johnson in Dunmore County, Virginia (Marriage Bonds 1772-1850).

Bill Nevils, long time and now deceased Dobkins researcher showed that Jacob was born in Frederick Co., VA, and married in 1775 in Dunsmore Co., VA. Bill’s work was excellent, but I wish he had shared his sources as he wrote.

Jacob’s age is taken from his application for a Revolutionary War pension in 1832 where he states that he is 81 years old. Thank goodness for that declaration, because that’s the only semi-firm birth year we have from Jacob’s own lips.

We first find Jacob listed on the Fincastle, Virginia delinquent tax list in 1773 with one taxable person – himself. Of course, since Jacob was “not found,” he had moved on from wherever he was living by the time the tax collector arrived.

Where was that? Good question.

When Fincastle County was created from Botetourt County in 1772, it included everything to the Mississippi River including the present state of Kentucky, all of West Virginia south of the Kanawha and New Rivers, Virginia west of the crest of the Blue Ridge and essentially south of present Roanoke and Craig Counties.

Dunmore County, now extinct and renamed as Shenandoah County, was created in 1772 from Fincastle. At that time, Lord Dunmore was leading the military opposition to the “rebels” in Virginia and had already issued the infamous Emancipation Proclamation offering to free any slave who fled their Virginia masters and joined the Royal British forces.

Fincastle Co., VA 1773 Delinquent Tax List
Jacob Dobbins Not found – 1

Elsewhere the surname transcribed from this record is spelled Dobins.

In 1777 Fincastle was divided into Montgomery, Washington, and Kentucky counties. Its records were retained by Montgomery County which explains why these delinquent accounts are found among the Montgomery County delinquent lists.

That first tax list is described as a list of inhabitants on the Clinch River which flows through the present Virginia counties of Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise. The second and third lists are not identified as to area and may be compiled lists. The destinations of the delinquents are primarily adjacent counties including Bedford and Pittsylvania east of the Blue Ridge and Augusta County to the north. Since the present state of Kentucky was a part of Fincastle County at this time, the Indian land referenced was probably in Tennessee or Ohio.

In May of 1774, Lord Dunmore’s War commenced when he, as Virginia’s Governor, essentially declared war between Virginia and the Native people. This conflict resulted from escalating violence between white settlers who believed that in accordance with the Treat of Fort Stanwix in 1768 that they had the right to settle the lands south of the Oho, present-day Kentucky, Ohio, and southwest Pennsylvania, and the Iroquois Confederacy who had the right to hunt there.

The Virginia militia, all-volunteer, was called into service. Access Genealogy has transcribed the rosters of the units and the men at the early forts – although some lists are incomplete.

Many units participated in the Battle of Point Pleasant in October of 1774, but some did not. A transcribed list of volunteers in Robert Doack’s Company of Militia who defended the frontier in 1774, but did not participate in the Battle of Point Pleasant include one Jacob Dobler. I strongly suspect this is Jacob Dobkins, his name misspelled. I would like to see the original document.

Jacob married Dorcas Johnson in 1775 in Dunmore County. His brother, Evan, married Margaret Johnson, possibly a sister of Dorcas on January 30, 1775.

Jacob, along with Evin (sometimes transcribed incorrectly as Kevin) and Reuben appear on a Dunmore County militia roster dated May 29, 1775, so we know that they were living in present-day Shenandoah County at that time.

Evin (Evan) and Reuben are both presumed to be Jacob’s brothers given that there are no other Dobkins families living anyplace close. Based on this record, they would all have been born around 1750, give or take a year or two.

Shenandoah County was created in 1776 to replace Dunmore who proved to be an extremely unpopular governor.

In 1776, Jacob’s son, John Dobkins was born. Daughter Elizabeth was probably born in 1777, followed by Jane, also known as Jenny, about 1778. Both Elizabeth and Jenny married Campbell brothers.

Jacob Dobkins enlisted in Captain Todd’s Company at Harrodsburg (eventually Kentucky) in May 1779 and served for two years during the Revolutionary War. In 1780 he joined Captain McGary’s Company of Colonel George Rodgers Clark’s army and participated in the Piqua campaign against the Shawnee Indians of Ohio in the summer of 1780.

Jacob was obviously a VERY long way away from home, but returned to Shenandoah County after the war. However, that itch to move to the frontier had already taken hold.

Jacob’s name, along with John and Reuben Dobkins, appears on the Shenandoah County heads of family census of 1783.  They do not appear on the 1785 Virginia tax list “census” so they must have migrated to the western lands in the spring of 1785.

We have the names of 4 brothers: Jacob, Evan, Reuben and John Dobkins.

What happened to Jacob in the war?

The War

In 1775 Jacob enlisted in the American Revolutionary War in Shenandoah County in local Militia # 6 in Jacob Holeman’s Company (Revolutionary War Records, Vol 1, VA).

In 1780, this unit was mustered out to repel the British Invasion, but Jacob was already serving in Kentucky, so only Reuben and Evin would have been serving with the Holeman unit.

This information was originally taken from Jacob Dobkins’ application for a military pension in 1832 from the Claiborne County Court notes and later augmented by both the original petition and other historical records. The spelling and some punctuation has been modernized to aid in readability. Note that the writer slips back and forth between third-person and first-person as the narrative unfurls as Jacob speaks. I can just see the court clerk writing with his quill pen as Jacob, then an old man, testified, describing events that took place half a century earlier.

Jacob Dobkins, aged 81, …being duly sworn…states that he has not attended any Court of Justice in fifteen years last past and that he is very infirm and decrepit and about fifteen years ago he met with the misfortune of having his shoulder and collar bone broke [sic] which has greatly disabled him from getting about. He also states that he is much afflicted with the phrumatic (sic) pains.

He also states that he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated. That in the year 1779 and in the month of May in said year he resided in Kentucky at Harrods Burgh when he enlisted in the service of his country under Capt. Todd, which said company was attached to the troop commanded by Colonel Bowman.

(Page 2 of the original document.) Colonel Bowman shortly afterward marched to the Chilicothe towns against the Indians and the company to which this applicant belonged to commanded by Capt. Todd was left to guard the fort at Harrodsburgh where he remained until the spring 1780 and this applicant states that he was then transferred to a company commanded by Capt. McGarry [?] and we marched to the Shawnee Springs where we built a fort and afterwards, the company which this applicant belonged to was ordered to march to the falls of the Ohio with the view of guarding the artillery up the river which we accordingly did and joined the troops commanded by General Clark. Sometime in the month of July in the year 1780 we were then ordered by General Clark to march up the river with a view to kill provisions for the army. We accordingly marched up the river to the mouth of the Kentucky River where we attempted to cross the river to join the main army who were camped on the other side of the river. The Indians made an attack upon us and in the engagement we lost ten of our men. We then marched up the river to Cincinnati where we joined the troops commanded by Colonel Logan. We then built a block house and stationed a guard and the whole of the balance of the army marched to the Chilicothe towns (page 3) and the Indians evacuated the towns and would not give us battle. We then pursued them to the Pickaway towns where we arrived in the month of August in said year. We then found the Indians collected together and we had a very severe battle which lasted about three hours and a half. We killed a considerable number of them, and I think our loss was about 28 men. This applicant states that he did not receive any wounds in the battle but that there was several bullet holes through his clothes and applicant states the whole of the army then marched back to Cincinnati and the company to which I belonged marched back to the Shawnee Springs where this applicant was stationed until the month of August 1781 and during which time we had no general engagements, that a great portion of our time was spent in skirmishing parties through the country. Said applicant states that he actually did serve in the army of the United States putting the whole together more than two years. Applicant states that he does not remember that he ever did receive a discharge and if he did he has lost or mislaid it so that he cannot produce it. He states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his service. He duly relinquishes every claim to a pension or an annuity except (page 4) the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any agency of any state whatsoever.

Signed by Jacob Dobkins

I love that we have Jacob’s actual signature, as shakey as it was. It’s the one personal thing left of him, except for his DNA carried by his descendants.

History Involving Jacob’s Units

What can history tell us about what Jacob was doing when combined with his pension application? Let’s take this apart, piece by piece.

Jacob Dobkins, aged 81, …being duly sworn…states that he has not attended any Court of Justice in fifteen years last past and that he is very infirm and decrepit and about fifteen years ago he met with the misfortune of having his shoulder and collar bone broke [sic] which has greatly disabled him from getting about.

This tells us that when Jacob was about 66 years old, he had some type of painful accident that broke his shoulder and collar bone and never healed correctly. Jacob was a farmer and used mules and horses to plow and for other farm related activities. Of course, horsepower was the only way to get to town, other than walking. I have to wonder if he fell, or something fell on him.

I can only imagine how painful this must have been – not to mention disabling. Thankfully, families took care of one another. We know he lived beside his son Solomon and very near his two sons-in-law, John and George Campbell.

He also states that he is much afflicted with the phrumatic (sic) pains.

I’m presuming here that he meant what is known as rheumatoid arthritis, today.

He also states that he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated. That in the year 1779 and in the month of May in said year he resided in Kentucky at Harrods Burgh when he enlisted in the service of his country under Capt. Todd, which said company was attached to the troop commanded by Colonel Bowman.

What was Jacob doing in Harrodsburg in 1779? He says he already was living there.

These records published in the Genealogy Trails that apply to Kentucky land entries filed in Fincastle County, Virginia include one John Dobbins who could well have been John Dobkins, Jacob’s father, or perhaps Jacob’s brother John.

Name Date Type Zone Assignee Location Page
Dobbin, John 80.01.11 PW 6 N Elkhorn 126

PW = a presumption of 1000 acres for improving prior to 1778. In 1780, one John Smith appeared and represented the claim of John Dobbin on January 11, 1780, meaning the claim had been sold.

According to Wikipedia, North Elkhorn Creek starts just east of Lexington and flows 75.4 miles (121.3 km) through Fayette and Scott counties, and into Franklin County, where it meets the South Elkhorn at the Forks of the Elkhorn east of Frankfort.

South Elkhorn Creek begins in Fayette County, and flows 52.8 miles (85.0 km) through Woodford, Scott, and Franklin counties to reach the Forks of the Elkhorn. South Elkhorn Creek defines the boundary between Scott and Woodford counties. Beyond the Forks of the Elkhorn, the confluent waters flow north and empty into the Kentucky River north of Frankfort.

Elkhorn isn’t anyplace close to Harrodsburg. The southernmost part of Elkhorn terminates in Elkhorn Lake, near Payne Gap on the northern side of the mountain range between Letcher County Kentucky, and Wise County, Virginia.

In 1779 when Jacob enlisted, Harrodsburg was a small village in the middle of the wilderness, only 5 years old. What is now Kentucky was part of Virginia, and the Shawnee people were very unhappy, caught in the middle, feeling betrayed by both white men and other Native people.

In 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals (now Elizabethton, TN) was signed between Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company and the Cherokee people. It opened for settlement the area from the Ohio River south to the Watauga settlement, including Harrodsburg.

The Shawnee people, who inhabited the lands, were not involved in the negotiations and, understandably, refused to accept the terms of the treaty. Hence, they felt betrayed by the Cherokee, that their lands were being invaded, and attempted to repel settlers whom they viewed as trespassers.

The first European settlers were either quite brave or foolhardy, I’m not sure which. Within a few years, attempts were being made to settle the land beyond the few longhunters that frequented the area.

The passage of a Land Act was an important event of the year 1779. Up to that time land had been acquired without money and practically without price, but in that year the public lands of Virginia assumed a new importance. That naturally was the outcome of the Act by virtue of which Commissioners were appointed to sit as a Court to examine and grant certificates of settlements and preemptions. A Court was held in Harrodsburg on the 13th day of October and all who had claims to land were obliged to attend and state them.

Of some of the happenings of this year E. Foley writes: “We started from Frederick County, Virginia, and settled Bowmans fall 1779 about the middle of December; my mother was the first white woman that was there for some time and our coming was the first settling of station. There was nothing but a camp there till some time in March because it was too cold to work. As soon as we had gotten a good camp Col. Bowman brought his family from Harrodsburg and by Spring we had 20 farms…”

The year 1775 saw an influx of settlers to this section, the new arrivals coming from Virginia and North Carolina, and Harrodsburg received its quota. A number, it is said, clustered around Harrod’s old cabin the rising settlement. This year, too, saw a commencement made in the work of erecting the Fort which increasing numbers and the ever present menace of the Indians rendered a necessity. It is said that on the arrival of the pioneers in the previous year a temporary fort or shelter was established, but I have found no mention of this anywhere, and it may be merely a matter of tradition.

The year 1776 saw the completion of the fort which doubtless was greatly accelerated by Clark’s encouragement and example. One of his schemes at this time was Virginia ownership for Kentucky, deciding to call upon for protection. On June 6 he called a meeting of the settlers at Harrodsburg and they decided to send delegates or deputies to the Assembly of Virginia and Williamsburg with a petition asking the Assembly to establish the County of Kentucky. Clark and John Gabriel Jones, a lawyer, were elected as the delegates.

Clark was in Harrodsburg in 1777 and there he wrote an interesting diary which he had begun in the previous December and which was concluded on March 30, 1778. In this diary he says: “March 6th, 1777, Thomas Shores and William Ray Killed at the Shawnee Spring.”

In the Spring the Court of Quarter Sessions held its first sitting at Harrodsburg attended by the Sheriff of the county and its Clerk, Levi Todd. The first Court of Kentucky was composed of John Todd, John Floyd, Benjamin Logan, John Bowman and Richard Calloway. Just after the Court had adjourned, the Fort was attacked by the Indians and it is said that all the hunters and surveyors were driven from the surrounding country and forced to take refuge in the fort.

This census of sorts, taken from the journal of one of Harrod’s men is enlightening.

Almost every man at or near Fort Harrod was in the service.

In 1779, Col. Bowman left Frederick County with multiple families to settle Harrodsburg.

Given that Jacob says he enlisted at Harrodsburg, he was either already there or was with this group of families. For all we know, his father, John, and brothers may have been among this party as well. Regardless, we know positively that Jacob was in Harrodsburg in May.

The situation with the Shawnee continued to escalate and deteriorate.

Colonel Bowman shortly afterward marched to the Chilicothe towns against the Indians and the company to which this applicant belonged to commanded by Capt. Todd was left to guard the fort at Harrodsburgh where he remained until the spring 1780…

In other words, Jacob spent the majority of a year guarding the fort. The march to Chillicothe took place in May of 1779, the same month Jacob enlisted.

Fort Harrod

We are fortunate that a reproduction of Fort Harrod exists today in the Old Fort Harrod State Park.

By FloNight (Sydney Poore) and Russell Poore – self-made by Russell and Sydney Poore, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The actual fort location is under the Fort parking lot today.

The entire park is only 15 acres.

You can view the inside of the fort, here, and here. Imagine Jacob and all of the families living in this small space along with all of their animals in the corral inside the fort.

The fort housed a militia blockhouse, a family blockhouse, several cabins, a school, minister’s cabin and the leader’s cabin. Furthermore, two freshwater springs were located within the fort.

Those springs served several purposes. Drinking water, of course, but they also removed the need to exit the fort to retrieve water if the Indians were attacking.

Furthermore, the Shawnee would set forts afire to burn the settlers and militia out, but because the water source was within the fort, that tactic never worked at Fort Harrod.

The walls were 14 feet tall, with the bottom 4 feet buried in the ground. The posts measured more than a foot in diameter, so I can imagine the men felling those large trees. Ten foot gates were located on the north and west walls.

Inside the walls, blockhouses sat at the southwest and southeast corners where the upper story extended 2 feet outside the walls to allow the soldiers to shoot along the perimeter of the walls. It was here that Jacob would have spent most of his time while on duty, guarding and watching.

Between the blockhouses were seven 20×20 foot story-and-a-half houses separated by 10 feet. A single-story cabin was built next to the east corner and used as a school and a blacksmith shop was located on the southern wall inside the fort.

You can watch several YouTube videos showing inside Old Fort Harrod with stories told by interpreters here, here, here and here. One of the original rifles at the fort still exists and is mounted on the wall. Jacob would have carried a rifle or long-gun like this, along with the powder horn.

Take a look. Even if your ancestor isn’t involved with Fort Harrod, this provides incredible perspective about the settlement of the frontiers.

Sometime in the month of July in the year 1780 we were then ordered by General Clark to march up the river with a view to kill provisions for the army. We accordingly marched up the river to the mouth of the Kentucky River where we attempted to cross the river to join the main army who were camped on the other side of the river. The Indians made an attack upon us and in the engagement we lost ten of our men. We then marched up the river to Cincinnati where we joined the troops commanded by Colonel Logan. We then built a block house and stationed a guard and the whole of the balance of the army marched to the Chilicothe towns (page 3) and the Indians evacuated the towns and would not give us battle. We then pursued them to the Pickaway towns where we arrived in the month of August in said year. We then found the Indians collected together and we had a very severe battle which lasted about three hours and a half. We killed a considerable number of them, and I think our loss was about 28 men. This applicant states that he did not receive any wounds in the battle but that there was several bullet holes through his clothes and applicant states the whole of the army then marched back to Cincinnati and the company to which I belonged marched back to the Shawnee Springs where this applicant was stationed until the month of August 1781 and during which time we had no general engagements, that a great portion of our time was spent in skirmishing parties through the country. Said applicant states that he actually did serve in the army of the United States putting the whole together more than two years. Applicant states that he does not remember that he ever did receive a discharge and if he did he has lost or mislaid it so that he cannot produce it. He states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his service. He duly relinquishes every claim to a pension or an annuity except (page 4) the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any agency of any state whatsoever.

…and this applicant states that he was then transferred to a company commanded by Capt. McGarry [?] and we marched to the Shawnee Springs where we built a fort and afterwards, the company which this applicant belonged to was ordered to march to the falls of the Ohio with the view of guarding the artillery up the river which we accordingly did and joined the troops commanded by General Clark.

The Captain’s name could have been James McGinty. He and his wife, Anne, established the first ordinary, reproduced within the fort today, and are both buried in the cemetery at Fort Harrod.

However, based on the mention of Shawnee Springs about 6 miles distant from Fort Harrod, land was claimed by Hugh McGary, I’d wager that the man being referenced is Hugh McGary. His required land improvement was probably the fort built by Jacob Dobkins and the other men. That doesn’t seem quite right.

A Backwoods Army on the Move

Jacob Dobkins clearly knew George Rodgers Clark, born in 1752, referenced as General Clark, whose headquarters were at the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, KY. Jacob and Clark were about the same age, 27 or 28 years of age. Hard to believe George Rodgers Clark was already a general.

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall of that stockade as the two men talked.

George Rodgers Clark depicted here sometime before his stroke in 1809 and death in 1818.

Sometime in the month of July in the year 1780 we were then ordered by General Clark to march up the river with a view to kill provisions for the army.

 Jacob, along with other men were hunting to feed the soldiers.

In response to Clark’s orders, an army began congregating at the mouth of the Licking River with July 31 as the date by which all of the companies were to be mustered. Clark had dictated a massive mobilization of Kentucky militia. The Licking River’s mouth is across the River from Cincinnati.

We accordingly marched up the river to the mouth of the Kentucky River where we attempted to cross the river to join the main army who were camped on the other side of the river.

The Kentucky River’s mouth is at Carrollton, half-way between Louisville and Cincinnati.

Of course, by this time the Revolutionary War was well underway, and the Native Americans had sided with the British, hoping to drive the frontiersmen out of their lands.

In 1778 and into 1779, Clark led his men on a winter march to Vincennes in what would become Indiana. While Jacob was not present for this march, the depiction of the mountain men in their brown garb and muskets was probably similar.

In June of 1780, the Shawnee, Delaware (Lenape) and Wyandot Indians invaded Kentucky, capturing both Ruddle’s and Martin’s Forts, along with hundreds of prisoners.

The great panic occasioned throughout Kentucky by the taking of Ruddle’s and Martin’s Stations caused the people to look up to General Clark as their only hope. His counsel and advice was received as coming from an oracle. He advised that a levy of four-fifths should be made of all the men in the country capable of bearing arms, whether inhabitants or strangers, and to meet at the mouth of Licking on the 20th July. Those from Lincoln and Fayette, under the command of Colonel Logan, were to march down Licking. Those from Jefferson under General Clark were to march up the Ohio.

In August, General Clark decided to lead a retaliatory force that would lead to the Battle of Piqua near Springfield, Ohio.

As soon as it was decided that an expedition should be carried on against the Indians. General Clark gave orders to have a number of small skiffs built at Louisville capable of taking fifteen or twenty men, which together with batteaux, the provisions and military stores, were taken by water from Louisville to the mouth of the Licking. The vessels were under the direction of Colonel George Slaughter, who commanded about 150 troops raised by him in Virginia for Western Service.

Were those boats involved with Jacob’s unit? Was Jacob on those boats? He was clearly there.

The Indians made an attack upon us and in the engagement we lost ten of our men. We then marched up the river to Cincinnati where we joined the troops commanded by Colonel Logan. We then built a block house and stationed a guard…

If Jacob Dobkins was at the mouth of the Kentucky River, these boats would have passed by on their way to the mouth of Licking River, at Cincinnati – or picked the men up along the way. But Jacob says they marched.

In ascending the river, it was necessary to keep the vessels close to the shore, some of which were on one side and some on the other; it happened whilst one of these skiffs was near the north side of the river a party of Indians ran down to the water’s edge and fired into it and killed and wounded several before assistance could be obtained from the other boats.

The fact that the boat was attacked, and Jacob also mentions losing men makes me wonder if this is the same event, told from two different perspectives. Jacob says they marched to the Kentucky River, then on to Licking River, and were trying to cross the river when they were attached. The boat doesn’t say anything about marching men, so maybe this was two separate events.

That party of the army commanded by Colonel Logan assembled at Bryan’s Spring, about eight miles from Lexington, and on the following night a man by the name of Clarke stole a valuable horse and went off. It was generally believed that he intended to go to North Carolina. When the army arrived at the mouth of Licking, the horse was found there, when the conjecture was that he had been taken prisoner by the Indians; but it was afterwards discovered that he had gone to the Indians voluntarily in order to give them notice of the approach of an army from Kentucky.

The army rendezvoused and encamped on the ground where Cincinnati now stands, and the next day built two blockhouses, in which was deposited a quantity of corn, and where several men who were sick left with a small guard, until the return of the army.

The division of the army commanded by Colonel Logan took with them generally provisions, only sufficient to last them to the mouth of Licking, as it was understood a sufficient quantity for the campaign would be brought up from Louisville to that place; but when the army was about to march, the provisions were distributed among the men, and was only six quarts of Indian corn, measured in a quart pot for each man, most of whom were obliged to carry it on their backs, not having a sufficiency of pack horses to convey the whole, together with the military stores and the baggage of the army.

Jacob received few provisions before they were marching once again.

The Battle of Pickaway

and the whole of the balance of the army marched to the Chilicothe towns and the Indians evacuated the towns and would not give us battle. We then pursued them to the Pickaway towns where we arrived in the month of August in said year.

We then found the Indians collected together and we had a very severe battle which lasted about three hours and a half. We killed a considerable number of them, and I think our loss was about 28 men.

Battle of Pique map, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Jacob describes this as a very severe battle. The Native warriors were outnumbered, two to one, but they fought valiantly.

Clark, in the Shawnee Expedition of 1780, led a total of about 970 men who had crossed the Ohio River and then marched up the Little Miami and Mad Rivers. They arrived at the village of Piqua (not the current day city in Ohio), the head village of the Shawnee with approximately 3000 inhabitants on August 8th. The village surrounded a small stockade.

The Shawnee were driven off when General Clark used artillery to bombard the stockade from river cliffs above the village. Clark’s men then spent two days burning as much as 500 acres of corn surrounding the village.

Clark reported 27 casualties (14 killed and 13 wounded) which seemed like a victory, but historians have corrected that number to almost three times that based on eyewitness accounts of survivors. However, Jacob also reports the same number as Clark. Perhaps that’s what he was told, although an eye-witness report would seem to be quite credible.

Of course, that number of dead does not include the Shawnee casualties.

The battlefield location today is more than 200 miles north of Fort Harrod, a very long and treacherous march on foot through unknown and dangerous terrain, about 7 miles west of Springfield, Ohio on the Mad River, known as the George Rodger’s Clark Park.

It’s here that Jacob spent those three and a half hellacious hours.

It’s here, along the Mad River that the devastating clash of cultures occurred – and it’s here that Jacob came close to losing his life.

The Shawnee never rebuilt their capitol village that housed more than 3000 people and instead moved to the Great Miami River where they settled just north of what is today the modern town of Piqua, Ohio, naming their village Peckuwe (later anglicized to “Piqua”).

You can read more in the George Rodgers Clark Papers, here and see the Peckuwe battlefield site, here and reenactors, here.

Several Bullet Holes

This applicant states that he did not receive any wounds in the battle but that there was several bullet holes through his clothes…

I just had to stop and let that sink in. Jacob Dobkins came that close. Inches or closer.

“Several bullet holes through his clothes.”

Not one.

Not two.



Jacob’s daughter, my ancestor Jenny was probably born sometime between 1778 and 1780. Based on this, I’m presuming 1778 before he left, or perhaps as he was in the thick of the fighting or even after his return. Regardless, had those bullets been just a hair closer, or he had been unlucky that day, she would either never have been born, or never have known her father.

I’m sure the men acted brave, but Jacob must have been terrified facing more than 450 braves on their own territory. Three and a half hours of intense battle. I’d wager that he never noticed those bullet holes until after everything was over and he had a chance to recover a bit.

He had to have known how close he came as the soldiers took stock of what had happened and buried their dead.

Of course, the soldiers would have been surveying the immediate damage when the fighting ended. Who was injured and needed attention? Who hadn’t been so lucky to only have bullet holes in their clothes? Who was dead? What did they do with injured soldiers and Shawnee? What did they do with the dead in mid August? Did they bury the dead Shawnee too? How would they secure themselves before nightfall to prevent an attack?

Back to Shawnee Springs

…and applicant states the whole of the army then marched back to Cincinnati and the company to which I belonged marched back to the Shawnee Springs where this applicant was stationed until the month of August 1781 and during which time we had no general engagements, that a great portion of our time was spent in skirmishing parties through the country.

Armies march about 15 miles a day, resting every fifth day to recover a bit, and it was roughly 200 miles, maybe slightly less to Shawnee Springs. That march would probably have been somewhat more than 2 weeks, so they would have arrived in September sometime.

Shawnee Springs is assuredly the land claimed by Hugh M’Gary in October 1779 about six miles from Harrodsburg on Shawnee Run. This land was contested, which means the M’Gary name was scattered throughout the records. In one suit, his property was mentioned as being a common stopping place between the fort and Harrodsburg.

Based on his comments about skirmishing parties, Jacob clearly was not always at either fort, the one at Shawnee Springs or Fort Harrod. We have no information about the fort Jacob built at Shawnee Springs, but I suspect it may have been little more than a block house. It certainly was not as large as Fort Harrod.

Said applicant states that he actually did serve in the army of the United States putting the whole together more than two years. Applicant states that he does not remember that he ever did receive a discharge and if he did he has lost or mislaid it so that he cannot produce it. He states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his service. He duly relinquishes every claim to a pension or an annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any agency of any state whatsoever.

Jacob Dobkins outlived many if not most or maybe even all of the men at Fort Harrod. George Rogers Clark died in 1818. It would have been very difficult to keep in touch with people at that time unless you were related or lived close.

What About King’s Mountain?

Jacob Dobkins is listed on the muster rolls of the men who participated in the Battle of King’s Mountain in Pat Alderson’s book, The Overmountain Men. I wrote about King’s Mountain, here. The Battle of King’s Mountain occurred on October 7, 1780. Based on Jacob’s own testimony, he marched from Ohio in August of 1780 to Shawnee Springs near Harrodsburg where he remained until May of 1781, “during which time we had no general engagements.”

Jacob Dobkins would surely have listed his service at King’s Mountain if he or his unit had participated. Furthermore, he would NOT have said they had “no general engagements.” King’s Mountain was unquestionably a major battle and a turning point in the war.

I think we can take this as evidence that Jacob Dobkins was NOT at King’s Mountain.

Participation at King’s Mountain is difficult to document because there are no muster rolls, so it’s often assumed that any man serving at this time, especially from Virginia, would have assuredly been involved in that battle. Generally, I’d agree, but in this case, I think we can rely on Jacob’s own voice in his pension application.

Jacob’s Path

During 1779 through the spring of 1781, Jacob traveled at least 450 miles – and that’s not counting his journey from and back to Shenandoah County, following the path along the valleys alongside the mountains, sheltering as he could in the forts known as stations along the way. The Wilderness Road.

Jacob would have stopped at Martin’s Station, marked with the red star below, before it was destroyed by the Shawnee.

Martin’s Station wasn’t far from where he would ultimately settle south of Cumberland Gap on the Powell River, some 20 years later, marked with the red pin on Campbell Lane.

By Cmadler – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Perhaps when Jacob sheltered at Martin’s Station, he made a foray over the mountain, crossing through the gap, hiked along the creeks, saw the lands along the winding Powell River and determined that one day, he wanted to live there.

Or, did Jacob stand at the pinnacle of the Cumberland Gap and survey his surroundings, mesmerized by the stunning majesty, and vow to return one day?

Jacob was part of the beginning trickle of pioneers, mostly men, down a dangerous trail. That trickle would turn into a stream and then a flood of pioneers by 1810 when more than 300,000 people had passed through Cumberland Gap on that Wilderness Road on their way to the new frontier and what they hoped would be a better life and more opportunity – specifically, land.

After the War

I wonder how long it had been since Jacob had seen his wife. Did he have a new baby that was by then a toddler? He enlisted in May of 1779 and wasn’t discharged until August of 1781. Some men went home and planted crops, but it’s an incredibly long, and dangerous path from Fort Harrod to Shenandoah County. Not to mention, we already know that Jacob was at Ford Harrod when he enlisted.

I sure wish we knew more of the circumstances surrounding Jacob’s enlistment and how the war changed him. Did his wife know him when he returned? Had it been more than two full years? Did she even know if he was still alive?

Cousin Carol shows a daughter, Dorcas Dobkins, born May 29, 1780 in Shenandoah Co., VA. married Sept. 16, 1796 to Malachi Murphy. She died Dec. 11, 1858. Carol believes that Dorcas is the daughter of Jacob Dobkins and Dorcas Johnson. Her first name would certainly suggest that’s a possibility.

Not that I’m counting on my fingers, but if she was born in May of 1780, that would be more than a year after Jacob had left for Fort Harrod. Of course, birth years were wrong back then, not to mention people often incorrectly stated their own ages. I’ve seen records of men being AWOL long enough to go home and plant crops too, but that’s an awfully long distance.

In 1783, Jacob’s son Reuben was born in Shenandoah County, Virginia and eventually married Mary whose surname is unknown.

In 1783 Jacob appears in the Shenandoah County, Virginia census as head-of-household. His father, John, and brother, Reuben, are also listed in the area.

Jacob’s daughter, Margaret, was probably born in Tennessee in 1785 since the family is no longer listed on tax lists in Virginia. Margaret eventually married Elijah Jones and lived in close proximity to Jacob in Claiborne County.

Jacob already had that itch and the family didn’t remain long in Shenandoah County. With the end of the war and land opening, the exodus had already begun and Jacob, then about 40 years old packed his family into a wagon and joined the stream of frontier families on the Great Wagon Road heading south and west, often together.

In 1785 there was a court document from the state of North Carolina requesting Jacob Dobkins of Shenandoah County, Virginia for a deposition in lawsuit of J. Sevier and A. Bird McCain. Had Jacob gone back to Shenandoah County again? Maybe to pack his family for the journey?

Jacob and Darcus’s daughter Margaret was reportedly born in 1785 in what would become Claiborne County, but based on these records, I don’t think that’s correct. Claiborne had not yet been formed and no settlers were yet living there. They were probably living in the eastern portion of what would one day become Tennessee.

The State of Franklin

The eastern portion of what would become Tennessee was both Virginia and North Carolina at various points in time, along with the proposed (unrecognized) State of Franklin that existed only from 1784-1788. Jonesboro was initially the capital of the State of Franklin, then Greeneville beginning in 1785.

By Brian Stansberry – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

For perspective, here’s a replica of the capitol building in Greeneville based on the dimensions given in historical records.

Nothing was elegant. Everything was simply functional on the frontier.

Unfortunately, very few records exist from this timeframe, and none from the defacto “State of Franklin” itself.

As far as the rest of the colonies were concerned, “Franklin” was just a rogue part of far western North Carolina. The Franklinites thought about themselves very differently and ran the State of Franklin in conflicting parallel with North Carolina. Both entities thought they had sovereignty over those lands and residents.

By Iamvered – I, Iamvered, drew this map myself., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Two factions battled within the State of Franklin: the Tiptonites who were loyal to the state of North Carolina, and the Franklinites, led by Tennessee’s future governor, John Sevier, who desired an entirely separate state.

Washington, Greene, Sullivan and Hawkins County comprised the “Old State Party” who supported staying with North Carolina. The Franklinites did not.

By 1786, the residents of Franklin were negotiating with the state of North Carolina for readmission. Franklin was a mess, suffering from both internal and external conflict. In addition to the political battles, the residents were in conflict with a treaty with the Cherokee that escalated into conflict in 1788.

The book, The Lost State of Franklin provides details and a look into this fascinating time and place.

The residents were tired and frustrated. They wanted to own land and have the protections of a “normal” government of their time.

Two elections in 1786 and 1787 were disputed. In an attempt to resolve the conflict, the poll lists were sent to the North Carolina general assembly, which is the only reason we have that list today.

Jacob Dobkins was listed among the voters in August 1786 at the courthouse in Jonesboro for Washington County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) as was his brother, Reuben.

In 1787, only Reuben is found on the Washington County, NC poll list.

Jacob’s son, Solomon Dobkins was born in Tennessee in 1787 per the 1850 census. P. G. Fulkerson, early Claiborne County historian, says the family was in what would become Claiborne County by 1792. I don’t this is accurate given that Grainger wasn’t formed until 1796. We have a list of Grainger County “Insolvents Living Within the Indian Boundary for the Year 1797,” families illegally living on the Indian lands, which would have been Claiborne at that time, and Jacob isn’t included on that list.

We know that Jacob and his brothers were living in Washington County, in what would become Tennessee in 1787 and 1788. Based on the North Carolina court records, we also know that Jacob was somehow involved in the political intrigue.

The Sevier family was front and center in the State of Franklin, heading up one of the rival sides of the political disputes – the Franklinites.

Washington County, Tennessee Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions

Page 252 – Friday the 6th (think this is May 1785) – ordered the justices of Shenandoah Co. Virginia to take the depositions of Jacob Dobkins, Sylvia Foella and other witnesses in the suit between Valentine Sevier Sr. and Andrew Bird.

Valentine Sevier and Andrew Bird had been neighbors in Augusta County, serving in the same militia unit before moving to the frontier. In 1753, Sevier had sold Bird land in the portion now Rockingham County.

Page 294 – Nov. 5, 1787 – Will of Rudolph Cresslias – executor Elizabeth and John Cathart Cresslias – William Noodling Sr., John Dobbins and Abraham Riffe appraisers.

345 – Jacob Dobkins of John Wier for 100 acres dated February 21, 1788, by Abraham Riffe

358 – Evan Dobkins finds a stray horse on November 13, 1788

Reuben Dobkins (spelled Dobbins) takes part in Martin’s campaign of 1788 against the Cherokee near present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, also known as Dragging Canoe’s War. Martin, the former Indian Agent, commanded the men from Sullivan County, although there’s no way of knowing whether Reuben served directly under Martin. We do know that the men, when finally paid in 1790, had been from Washington, Sullivan, Green and Hawkins, but some lived in other nearby counties.

The less than straightforward Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with the Cherokee was at the heart of the conflict in this region, and when combined with local emotional politics, the situation boiled over.

Where’s Jacob?

On November 24, 1789, Jacob’s name appeared on the south of the French Broad Petition to the North Carolina Legislature.

The land South of the French Broad River now falls into Jefferson and Sevier Counties. Back then, it was Washington District.

I transcribed the document in its entirety, here. You can hear the desperation and frustration, even from 232 years distance.

Other transcribers of the document provide this information:

This set of documents includes the names of many men who lived in Eastern Tennessee in 1789, names that might not be found in any other records. These men were living on Indian territory that had not been purchased by the United States. They were considered trespassers. Most of them had lived under the State of Franklin, but once that was disbanded, they belonged to no state, no nation. These petitions were written to the North Carolina Assembly, asking for help. Many of these people stayed around and eventually gained legal possession of their land almost 20 years later, but others gave up and left the area, not leaving any evidence behind in county and state records besides their names on these petitions.

Apparently, Jacob is one of those who gave up and moved back to Virginia, but not for long.

Jacob appears on the 1790 census for Shenandoah Co., Va. However, he was in newly formed Jefferson Co., Tennessee in 1792 when he sued Benjamin Wallace and John Sevier. Yes, the famous John Sevier, the man whose case he had been summoned to provide a deposition for in 1785. The families had lived as neighbors in Virginia.

1792 – Historian, Colonel P.G. Fulkerson states “Jacob Dobkins was living in the Claiborne County area in 1792”. In 1792 all but the northeast tip of present-day Claiborne County was designated as Indian Land and remained so until 1796. In Fulkerson’s defense, he was reporting events as they had been told to him from a century earlier, and we’re very fortunate that he committed that information to paper.

When Jacob did move to Claiborne County, he purchased the land north of Wallen’s Ridge above Cedar Fork, but first, Jacob, then in his 40s, settled in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County, Tennessee

Jacob fully intended to settle down and farm. He bought land on the White Horn branch of Bent Creek, near Bull’s Gap in present day southern Hawkins or Hamblen County.

Around 1795 two of Jacob’s daughters married Campbell men, believed to be brothers, probably the sons of Charles Campbell of Hawkins County who lived 8 miles directly down the road near the Holston River. It could be that before Jacob purchased land, he was living closer to the Holston and Charles Campbell.

In 1795 and 1796 we find Jacob Dobkins buying two tracts of land in Jefferson Co., Tn.  Deed book B-210 provides us with the location of Jacob’s land.

Cousin Carol sent photos of this area years ago.

I visited years later, found the location, and took photos after driving from the Campbell land near Dodson Creek in Hawkins County, where it intersects with the Holston River. Raleigh Dodson was the ferryman where the original ford used to be. The Dobkins, Dodson and Campbell families were intertwined.

The Campbell land near Dodson ford to White Horn.

Jacob Dobkins to Henry Cross of Greene Co., June 14, 1796, recorded October 13, 1796, 163 acres, 100 pounds, on the White Oak Fork of Bent Creek adj Col ? Roddy, Abraham Howard, Jacob Dobkins, wit John Goare, John Reed, signed

When I found Charles Campbell’s land, I had to find Jacob Dobkins land too. After all, their children are my ancestors. White Horn from the side road, above, and the main road, below.

Note this entry as well from 1810 – Henry Cross of Greene Co to Jacob Kirkpatrick March 15, 1810, 163 acres on White Horn fork of Bent Creek adj ? Roddy, Graham Howard, Jacob Dobbins, witnessed by Levi Day, Wilkins Kirkpatrick, William Howard proven at the March session 1810.

Lazarus Dodson who had lived by the Campbell family bought land in 1797 on White Horn too. His son by the same name would marry the daughter of John Campbell and Jane Dobkins a few years later after all of these families moved to Claiborne County.

Jefferson County, Tennessee, Court Notes 1792-1798

Page 11 – Jacob Dobkins vs Benjamin ? Wallace and John Sevier. Plaintiff prays for appeal to Superior court of the district of Washington County.

I sure would love to know what this was about. I wonder if this further affirms that Jacob was supportive of this part of Tennessee remaining part of North Carolina and not becoming the State of Franklin? Were hard feelings left from earlier days between the men?

69 – Deed from Jacob Dobkins to Henry Cross

Barnett Campbell was born to Jacob’s daughter, Elizabeth and George Campbell in 1797, according to the 1850 census.

We don’t know much about Jacob Dobkins’ religious leanings, but most people in that time and place attended church. If he was Scots-Irish, then he was probably Presbyterian, but most families attended the church of opportunity.

The Reverend Tidence Lane founded Bent Creek Church, supposedly preaching under the old tree in the Bent Creek Cemetery.

This is probably where Jacob attended church, under this tree.

Tidence Land moved up to Claiborne County too. Maybe they all talked about that under the tree as well.

Claiborne County

Grainger County was born in April of 1796 and Claiborne in October of 1801.

Jacob Dobkins did not stay in Jefferson very long as we find him in the newly formed county of Claiborne County in 1801 where he spent the rest of his life. Jacob was about 50 years old when he made this final move. Maybe he was getting tired of the exhausting work of felling trees and homesteading.

Claiborne County lies in the northern portion of East Tennessee and borders both the States of Kentucky and Virginia. The famous Cumberland Gap is situated near the middle of its northern line. The principal waterway in the county is the Powell River, with the Clinch River forming its southern boundary. The land has a variety of hills, mountains and valleys. For the most part, the soil in the valleys was good, although the hillsides were rocky. In many places, the mountains were unpassable. Jacob and his family, along with other settlers, had to deal with Indian troubles and several forts were built. The pioneers suffered much from savage depredations and conflict, especially in the early days, seemed everpresent.

The act to erect a new county from portions of Hawkins and Grainger was passed October 29, 1801. It was name Claiborne in honor of William Charles Cole Claiborne, one of the first judges of the superior court, and the first representative in Congress from Tennessee.

In 1801 Jacob Dobkins was appointed as a member of the Grand Jury for the First Court of Claiborne County, Tennessee after it was formed from Grainger, so he was already living here at this time.

The court of pleas and quarter sessions was organized at the house of John Owens December 7, 1801.

The next term of the court was held at the house of John Hunt, who lived on the site of Tazewell. The grand jury empaneled included Jacob Dobkins.

The third term of the court was held at the house of Elisha Walling, and it was not until 1804 that a small frame courthouse was erected. It stood near the site of the present courthouse. In 1804, the jail was built and remains today.

At the March court session in 1802, Jacob Dobkins “proved” a deed for 300 acres in court that was conveyed from Alexander Outlaw to John Campbell who was married to Jacob’s daughter, Jenny.

On June 07, 1802, Jacob purchased four hundred acres from Elisha Wallen, the famous longhunter, on the north side of Wallens Ridge. Jacob owned the land north of Wallens Ridge near Cedar Fork – Deed Book “A” June 07, 1802.

At the September Session of the Claiborne Court of 1803, Jacob Dobkins and his neighbor, Abel Lanham reported to the court as members of the “Jury on the road from Powels Mountain to Cumberland Gap”.

Jacob was also ordered to serve at the December term as a juror.

In 1803 and 1805, Jacob purchased additional land.

About 1808, Jacob’s son Solomon married Elizabeth, surname unknown.

Sadly, in 1809, Jacob Dobkins purchased four enslaved people. This hurt my heart, although it wasn’t uncommon.

“I Jesse Cheek hath bargained and sold unto Jacob Dobkins 4 negroes names Aneker or Anekey, Mitilty, Jiary, Amelyer for the consideration of $130 in hand paid.”  March 29 1809 Jesse signs, registered July 30, 1809.  John Campbell and Solomon Dobkins are witnesses.

Jacob’s son and son-in-law were witnesses.

Jacob buys and sells land in 1812, 1813, 1814, 1819 and 1821.

In 1812, Jacob was serving as a juror again, along with John Campbell and George Campbell, his sons-in-law, and laying out roads.

1814 brought war again to the Dobkins family. Jacob’s son, Solomon Dobkins served as a Captain in the War of 1812, also known at the Creek War. Solomon served for three months from January 17 to May 9, 1814 in the 2nd Regiment of East Tennessee militia under Colonel Bunch.

Andrew Jackson’s official report of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (27 March 1814) mentions that:

“A few companies” of Colonel Bunch were part of the right line of the American forces at this engagement. More than likely, some of those companies included Captains Francis Berry, Nicholas Gibbs (who was killed at the battle), Jones Griffin, and John McNair. In addition, muster rolls show some casualties from this battle in the companies led by Captains Moses Davis, Joseph Duncan, and John Houk. Other men from this regiment remained at Fort Williams prior to Horseshoe Bend to guard the post — provision returns indicate that there were 283 men from Bunch’s regiment at the fort at the time of the battle.

This regiment was in General George Doherty’s Brigade and many of the men stayed after the enlistment expiration of May 1814 to guard the posts at Fort Strother and Fort Williams until June/July. The line of march went through Camp Ross (near present-day Chattanooga), Fort Armstrong, and Fort Jackson.

Jacob must have been greatly relieved when Solomon returned home and walked up to his house, probably hungry, bedraggled and exahusted. Other men from Claiborne County weren’t as fortunate. Jacob was probably trying NOT to think about those bullet holes that ripped through his own clothes at the Battle of Piqua.

In 1814 Jacob sold seventy acres to his son-in-law, George Campbell and three hundred and twenty acres to son-in-law, Elijah Jones.

1817 – The accident that broke Jacob’s collarbone and shoulder occurred.

March 17, 1819 – Jacob Dobkins to John Whitacre, $400, 20 acres on the waters of Powels River beginning on the ridge near the head of a large spring known by the name of Hunt’s spring running west crossing a small branch and a few steps above the head of the said spring…crossing the branch below the mill…Jacob signs, Solomon Dobkins and George Campbell witness. February session 1820 Solomon and George swear to the conveyance and prove the deed.

Does this tell us that Jacob Dobkins owned a mill? A small tract of 20 acres would be a respectable-sized mill tract. Jacob may have given up on his shoulder healing by this point, and decided it was time to sell.

In 1823, Jacob’s son, Reuben died and his widow, Polly, served as his administrator. It must have been incredibly difficult for Jacob to lose an adult child.

The 1830 federal census in Claiborne County lists Jacob and Dorcas living next to their youngest son, Solomon. They are also living 3 doors from Abel Lanham who witnessed Jacob’s Revolutionary War pension application, and 5 doors from his son-in-law George Campbell. Jacob owned 4 slaves, 2 males ages 10-23, one female 10-23 and one female slave child under age 10.

In 1832 Jacob applied for and received a pension for his Revolutionary War service. His friend and neighbor, Abel Lanham, recommended him.

In 1833, Jacob, living beside his son Solomon is again shown on the Claiborne County tax list.

Jacob’s pension packet shows that his benefits stopped on March 4, 1833, which was his presumed date of death. But there’s more.

The next court session in Claiborne County occurred on March 18, 1833 where we find an entry referring to a Jacob Dobkins, Jr. If Jacob Sr. was still living, then there would be no need to address Jr. as such.

Ordered by the court that Jacob Dobkins Jr. be appointed overseer of the road from ? Henderson’s shop to the old Hawkins line in room and stead of William Laughan and have the same hands.

We find Jacob Jr. mentioned again in December of 1833 and March 1834.

Another record shows Jacob’s death in late 1835.

On this pension payment record, Jacob is shown as paid through 1835. He would not have been being paid if he were deceased.

And in this next one as well, so perhaps he did not die until in the fourth quarter of 1835. These records are not consistent, but they are close.

However, according to a deed index, in 1835, real estate transactions were taking place between individuals designated as Jacob’s heirs in deed book L, page 177. However, deed book L is missing, and according to FamilySearch, volume M resumes in 1836. Of course☹

In March of 1838, Jacob Dobkins in the court records is no longer referenced as Jr. suggesting that Jacob Sr. is gone, as is confirmed by the above records. However, the Claiborne County court notes reflect nothing about an estate or his death.

Without a court entry date or those deeds, it’s safe to say that Jacob died sometime between March 1833 and the end of 1835.

Based on when Jacob Jr. is no longer referred to as Jr., in March 1834, and the final payment vouchers, I would say that Jacob Dobkins died in the fourth quarter of 1835.

By 1850, two of Jacob’s slaves had been freed, one registered in the court records in 1850, apparently after filing suit.

October 5, 1850 – “I Solomon Dobkins do this day free my negrow boy Jefferson and doe agree to gave to said boy Jefferson a good hors and saddle and bridal on theas conditions that the said Jefferson doath dismiss his suit in chancery at Tazewell for his freedom and relinquish all claim on me for my laber sens my oald master Jacob Dobkins deceist, giveon under our hands and seals this the 5 day of October 1850”.  Solomon signs and Jefferson (+) Dobkins, wit Jacob Dobkins, Nathaniel Brooks and John C. Dodson filed Dec 3 1850, personally appeared before me Thomas Johnson Solomon Dobkins and Jefferson Dobkins with whom I am personally acquainted and who acknowledged the execution of the above deed for the purpose therein contained upon the 7th of October 1850.

I wonder if Jefferson continued to use the surname Dobkins. I didn’t find him in the 1860 census.

Jacob’s Path

Jacob’s path AFTER the Revolutionary War – from Shenandoah County, to Jonesville, back to Shenandoah, then on to Bull’s Gap and finally, to Claiborne County was not a short journey. Those years were filled with conflict, probably far more conflict than we can even begin to imagine.

Jacob was probably extremely grateful to actually purchase land, farm and stay in one place. From 1801 when he bought land and settled in Claiborne County on the Powell River, until his death in the 1830s, Jacob never moved again.



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Unraveling the Odd Fellows Lodge Meeting in Claiborne County, Tennessee – 52 Ancestors #343

I have absolutely no idea where I got this newspaper clipping, but I found it buried among some papers as I was sorting through a box. I’d much rather go down this rabbit hole than sort and clean any day, so I felt compelled to see if I could figure out when this mystery photo was taken.

Why am I so interested?

My grandfather, William George Estes, known as Will, is pictured in the center of the second row.

I “thought” Will was probably a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge near Springdale in Claiborne County, but I wasn’t sure.

Springdale, the bottom red star, is more like a named area and not a village or town per se. It’s a crossroads stop along the old buffalo trail, now 25E, marked by a few houses, a gas station today, and the primitive log cabin Big Springs Baptist Church which was already more than a century old by the time this photo was taken.

The Estes family lived in a holler a couple miles down Little Sycamore, the intersecting road heading east from Springdale.

The winding back roads intersect with Little Sycamore Road near Pleasant View Baptist Church. Once there, you follow around the church and up a dirt road around the cemetery where most of the family is buried, until you turn, cross a creek and travel back up into the hollers “till you can’t go no further.”

The Estes Holler “road” turns into a two-track, or less, crosses the mountain, and exits on the other side of the ridge into Vannoy Holler. There’s no turning around or backing up, so once you start over the mountain, you’re going all the way. Trust me on this one.

Back in the WPA days in the 1930s, the first actual road through the county was an amazing 16 feet wide, with three inches of gravel. Before that, dirt and mud.

Some of the other men in this picture are my relatives too and they all lived down Little Sycamore, which is the name of the stream and the road that runs along it, both.

Of course, as a genealogist, I’m curious as to when this photo was taken, and where.

I love the women’s fine hats as they sat on the porch. It looks like a warm day and I’m not sure I’d want to be wearing those long skirts, long sleeves, and bonnets. I can tell you those women probably arrived in wagons or buggies, not riding horses sidesaddle individually. Some may have walked. The home looks well-cared-for and lovely.

According to an old newspaper article, including a photo, there was a fine plantation-style home near “Roundtop,” the “hill” that actually defines Springdale. Unfortunately, I can’t tell if this is the same home, but given the fancy dresses and the location, it surely might have been.

Every man, except my grandfather, was wearing a hat. Not sure what that says about my grandfather, but I’d wager it wasn’t good. If he wasn’t wearing a hat for a photo like this, I’d bet he didn’t own one. Life was difficult for my grandparents back then. In the 1900 census, Will reported 6 months of being unemployed, but none of the rest of the men on that page reported anything near that.

My first guess would be that this picture was taken about 1910 based on a few pieces of information about my grandfather. He was born in 1873 and looks to be around 30 here, more or less. After he married Ollie Bolton in 1894, they moved to Springdale, Arkansas for several years, returning to Tennessee between June 1898 and 1900, before the census.

I know my grandparents moved to Indiana approximately 1912, sometime after the 1910 census and before 1913. I also know my grandfather moved back to Tennessee 1915ish, apparently got divorced, and was living in Claiborne County in March 1916 with his second wife who happened to be his first wife’s cousin. Suffice it to say there was bad blood between Will and the Bolton family.

Sometime after the 1920 census, he moved to Harlan County, Kentucky.

Based on this information, this photo was probably taken sometime between 1900 and 1910, or after 1915 and before 1920, although he does not look 40+ in this photo.

Let’s see what kind of information we can discern based on the names of the men provided.

Front Row, left to right:

Allen Hodge – Born in 1846, he died in 1925 on Lone Mountain. He looks to be about 65 or so in this photo. According to the census, he was 73 in 1920. Lone Mountain is the name of the road at the Springdale crossroads that heads west, while Little Sycamore goes to the east.

Willie Hodge – Son of Allen, Willie was age 26 in the 1900 census and looks to be maybe 30 in this photo. He was born in 1873 and died in 1961.

Worth Epperson – Worth Epperson lived in Estes Holler beside Will and was married to Cornie Estes, my grandfather’s sister. Worth was born in 1873 and died in 1959. He looks to be about 30, maybe 35 in the Odd Fellows picture.

Photo of Worth Epperson, at left, standing with Will Estes in their later years.

Milt Dalton – Born in 1880, he married in 1900 and was living in the Springdale area of Claiborne County in the 1900 census near the Venables, Campbells, and Hursts.

Lee Day – In 1900, Lee Day, born in 1862, was living off of Little Sycamore Road just beyond Estes Holler, near the Plank Cemetery, beside the Boltons and Venables. He married Cora McNiel in 1899. Cora was the daughter of John Anderson McNiel, the great-nephew of my 3 times great-grandmother, Lois McNiel who married Elijah Vannoy. In other words, Lee’s wife was my grandfather’s 2C1R. These families all clustered a couple of miles east of Springdale, between the Pleasant View Church and Liberty Church.

Pryor Carr (holding child) – I wish they had given the name of the child which would make dating this photo significantly easier. Pryor Carr was born in 1869 in Springdale, the area where Little Sycamore Road intersects with now 25E, but formerly the Kentucky Road. He died in 1926 in Madison County, KY. Pryor only had two sons, Shelby born in 1903 in Lee County, and James born in 1905 in Springdale. By 1910, this family had moved to Rose Hill, Virginia.

Willie Vannoy – Born in 1877 in Vannoy Holler, he died in 1950 and looks to be about 35 in the Odd Fellows photo.

Willie and Pearlie Shumate lived “up to Lone Mountain” which is the same road as Little Sycamore, but west of Springdale. Willie Vannoy and my grandfather were first cousins.

Jim Hodge – uncertain, but Hodge family members lived near Estes Holler on Little Sycamore.

Jim Bolton – Two Jim Bolton’s from this time frame are first cousins, born in the early 1870s, and live near each other on Little Sycamore. Will Estes was married to Ollie Bolton who was also first cousins with both Jim Boltons.

Arch Bartlett – Born in 1883, married in 1906 to Lillie Painter whose parents lived in the middle of several Bolton families.


Row Two:

Joe Campbell – If this is the correct Joe Campbell, he was born about 1845 in Claiborne County, the grandson of George Campbell and Elizabeth Dobkins and a double third cousin to William George Estes’s grandmother. Joe would have been about 55 in this photo. The Campbell family members lived all up and down Little Sycamore Road.


Bill Cunningham – Born in 1872, it’s unclear who Bill’s parents were. However, the Cunningham family lived near the Estes family.

Thomas Sulfridge – One Thomas Sulfridge was born about 1855 and lived in Claiborne County, although this may not be the same person. By 1912, he was living in Kentucky.

Bob Ferguson – Born in 1869, in 1900, William Mack Ferguson was living in this part of Claiborne County.

Will Estes – In 1900 and 1910 my grandfather was living in Estes Holler by the Cunningham and Hodge families and Worth Epperson. Sometime after 1910, the family moved to Indiana, but after 1914 and before 1916, he had moved back to Claiborne County and remarried. His daughter, Irene was born in March 1916 in Shawnee which is in the North part of the county. I don’t believe Will ever lived in the Springdale area again and eventually moved to Harlan County, Kentucky.

Martin Venable – William Martin Venable was born in 1881. The Venable family married into the Estes family and was living beside Milt Dalton and the Cook, Bartlett, and Campbell families in 1900. Martin was a 3rd cousin to Will Estes through his mother on the McNiel side.

Milt Bolton – Two Milt Boltons were alive during this time. The younger man was born in 1884 which would mean he would be between 20-30 in this photo. The man in the picture is clearly an older man.

The older Milton Halen Bolton was born in May 1844 and died in 1907, a half-uncle to Ollie Bolton, the wife of Will Estes. Milt’s wife, Narcissus “Nursey” Parks was also Ollie’s first cousin, twice removed on her mother’s side.

We also have a newspaper clipping of Milt Bolton’s funeral. Unfortunately, most of the people are unrecognizable, but the photos look similar and the actual funeral is very interesting.

Mont Carr – a physician born in 1870 and who lived in the neighborhood. I’d say he looks to be about 50 in the picture. He died in 1937. I can’t help but wonder if this photo was taken at his home.

Howard Friar – Howard, born in 1875 and his wife, Mary Ann “Ropp” Bolton were the best friends of Will Estes and Ollie Bolton Estes.

Both couples moved to Indiana as tenant farmers at some time after 1910. Will Estes, at left with Ollie, took their photos together in Indiana.

In 1920, Ropp and Howard were still living in Indiana, but moved back sometime before 1930. Ropp was Ollie’s first cousin. The fact that Howard was in the Odd Fellows photo pretty much eliminates the photo dates in the 19-teens.

Back Row:

Willie Bartlett – If this is the right person, Wiley Bartlett in 1910 was living near a Carr family.

George McNeil – Named after our common ancestor, this George was born in 1866 in Claiborne County, lived by the Bolton families and died in 1934. He married Nervesta Estes, a first cousin once removed to Will Estes. George McNiel was also Will’s third cousin through his mother, Elizabeth Vannoy.


Is there any wonder why I match the DNA of almost everyone from this part of Claiborne County?

So, When Was the Picture Taken?

By process of elimination, we have bracketed these dates:

  • Pryor Carr only had two sons, assuming he is holding his own child. Shelby was born in 1903 in Lee County and James was born in 1905 in Springdale. Given the Odd Fellows vest, the child had to have been a male. By 1910, this family had moved to Rose Hill, Virginia. Based on this, we can fairly confidently say that this photo was taken sometime between 1905 and 1907 when one of those babies was about 18 months old. We know this had to be taken before 1910 when the Carr family was no longer living here.
  • The cincher here is Milton Bolton’s death year of 1907, although unfortunately, we don’t have an exact date.
  • Based on this combined information, the photo had to have been taken between 1905 and 1907, before Milton Bolton’s death.

My grandfather, Will, would have been turned 32 in March of 1905 and 34 in 1907. He and Ollie had brought either 7 or 8 children into the world by then, having lost either 3 or 4.

At least two children died after 1900, Robby perishing in a fire when their cabin burned to the ground between 1904 and 1907. A third was likely born and died about 1900, based on a telltale gap between children.

Will doesn’t look very happy in the Odd Fellows photo, but then again, smiling for photos wasn’t a “thing” back then. I’m actually surprised that Will didn’t take the actual photo. He was a photographer. My Aunt Margaret said that he had his camera “rigged up with some kind of timer.”

Will always looked concerned in the family photos he took, so maybe he was worrying about whether the camera would work without him behind the box. He’s in the back row at far right in this 1913 photo where he looks somewhat older than in the Odd Fellows picture.

Other than Ollie and William George to the right in the back row, Ollie’s cousins, Clara and (the younger) Mont Bolton are at far left, and possibly family friend Ted Barnes is third from left in the tie. Beside Ollie is Elizabeth Bolton, sister of Mont and wife of George Smith. Apparently a family group had gone on a great adventure, visiting Ollie and Will in Indiana.

One of Will and Ollie’s sons, Joseph, was missing in this photo, reportedly at scouts. My father, William Sterling Estes is the youngest male in the front row on the left beside his brother, their oldest son, Estle. Beside Estle at the right of the front row are cousins Lee and George Smith. The blonde female is their daughter, Minnie, born in 1908 and the brunette is Margaret born in 1906.

If Will had been responsible for taking the Odd Fellows photo, I would have thought that he would have been standing in the front row, not behind. But he wasn’t in the above family picture. Margaret was in this photo, so she should have known about how they took photos of the entire family, including her dad. In fact, I specifically asked.

Or maybe, just maybe, Ollie, my grandmother took the Odd Fellows photo. Maybe she went along to whatever event was happening and was dressed in one of those long dresses. Maybe she wandered off the porch long enough to do the honors.

Cameras and photographers were quite scarce at that time which is why we have so very few photos. Photographers had to develop the film and print the final pictures. Will may have been the only photographer in the county. I know he was sought after to attend many family reunions to record the event, his black camera on the tripod in tow with the black curtain that went over his head. He even took along his own quilted backdrop, seen in the photo of Ropp and Howard Friar with their baby.

I’m grateful for this picture, along with the men’s names and this stroll down memory lane with my grandfather and his kin, one warm summer day long ago.



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The Old Vannoy Homeplace, and Cave – 52 Ancestors #342

It’s amazing what you discover going through old, dusty, boxes.

Joel Vannoy, my ancestor, was probably born in 1813 in Claiborne County, the portion that would become Hancock County some three decades later. One record shows his birth in North Carolina. Regardless, the family moved to Claiborne County about this time.

Joel’s father, Elijah Vannoy settled his family up in a holler, not too far from the intersection of Mulberry Gap Road and Little Sycamore Road today, on a small spring tributary of Mulberry Creek. I found the land grants and the land itself several years ago now, but the old homeplace was long gone and no one living knew exactly where it stood.

Joel had a rough life, as did his father, Elijah, who homesteaded that land. By that time, the good, flat, land was already claimed. By 1834, Elijah was in financial trouble, the family had little, and Joel was trying to help keep his father, and the family, afloat. Both men struggled to keep their land.

Elijah died sometime after 1850.

Joel married Phoebe Crumley in January of 1845 and commenced raising a family.

Their first child, Sarah, arrived on the first day of December, that same year, followed by another daughter, Elizabeth, known as Bettie, my great-great-grandmother, in June of 1847.

Like clockwork, every two years or so, one by one, three more children were added, another daughter and a son before James Hurvey Vannoy arrived in February of 1856.

One final child, Nancy, joined the family in September of 1859. Of course, there is a suspicious gap or two, suggesting that perhaps a baby or two was buried in the family cemetery.

The Old Homeplace

The family lived on the old homeplace before and during the Civil War. The house was probably located someplace in this clearing, near the small stream where the family would have drawn fresh water. This land was anything but flat, ascending up the side of the mountains.

Family legend tells of the family hiding, with the chickens, in a small cave someplace up the mountainside on their property.

As you can see, part of the mountainside that Elijah owned is wooded yet today, with lots of craggy rock features. A cave could be hidden anyplace – and thankfully so. Otherwise, the family might well have not survived and, well, I wouldn’t be here.

Joel told the story about how they could hear the soldiers ransacking their house and farm, hunting for food, or pretty much anything they could use. Clearly, the family wasn’t hidden far from the house. They probably prayed that no child or animal made a noise.

The soldiers, like the mountain people, were desperate for food. The armies and marauding soldiers from both sides frequented this area.

It was only a few years after the Civil War when Joel moved his family from the land near Mulberry Creek on down Little Sycamore Road, into the portion of Claiborne County that would remain Claiborne when Hancock was split off. They probably didn’t want to move, but Joel and Elijah had lost the land in Hancock County to debt.

Joel’s mental health issues had probably already become apparent by this time because even though they moved, the deeding of the new property was “unusual,” and eventually, his wife owned their land in her name alone.

Joel, about 50 years of age, didn’t serve in the Civil War, but many of his neighbors did. Perhaps the war exacerbated Joel’s issues. We didn’t have either mental health care or medication at that time. Joel’s demons worsened with age and he eventually became institutionalized. In fact, right after the State Hospital opened in Knoxville in 1886.

Sadly, we don’t have any photos of either Joel or his wife, Phebe, even though Joel didn’t die until 1894 and Phebe didn’t pass away until 1900. Their grandson, William George Estes was a photographer, and the fact that we have some photographs of their children is very likely the result of his occupation. Thanks Will, but why oh why did you NOT take a picture of your grandparents, or your wife’s parents or grandparents for that matter. But I digress…

James Hurvey Vannoy

Yes, that’s Hurvey, not Harvey.

James was born to Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley in 1856, so he would have been a young child during the Civil War when the family was hiding in the cave up the mountain. I bet that’s one adventure he never forgot.

He would have been about 14 or 15 when they moved down to Little Sycamore.

James, who was eventually known as “Old Jimmy,” lived a long life, to age 92, and married three times.

He was also quite photogenic.

In this portrait, Jimmy looks to be maybe 40 years old. I don’t see any gray hair yet. Maybe a touch in his mustache.

In 1876, Jimmy married Matilda Jane Venable and had 5 children. She died in July of 1885, leaving him with 5 children under age 8, including a 3-week-old baby.

In April 1888, Jimmy married Martha Ann Lewis. I’m surprised he didn’t marry sooner.  They had 4 additional children.

This photo shows Jimmy and Martha Lewis, with four children. This photo looks to have been taken the same day perhaps as that portrait. In fact, the portrait may be a cleaned-up, cropped version of this same photograph.

Sometime, maybe around the turn of the century or slightly after, Jimmy’s photo was taken with his two sisters.

Nancy Vannoy, born in 1856, who married James Nelson Venable, the brother of Jimmy’s first wife, is on the left side of this photo.

Elizabeth “Bettie” Vannoy, my ancestor, born in 1847 who married Lazarus Estes is standing on the right side of the photo, meaning actually standing to Jimmy’s left.

We know this photo was taken before October 1918 when she died.

I’d say that Elizabeth looks to be about 60, which would date this photo to about 1907. That would make sense too, because Will Estes was still in his heyday as a photographer before the family moved North to Indiana a few years later. Jimmy would be about 50 and Nancy, 48.

Martha Lewis died in 1916, leaving Jimmy with children ranging in age from 16-24 in addition to his children from his first marriage.

We don’t know when this photo was taken, but I’d wager it was another 10 years later – maybe 1916 or 1917. Jimmy looks to be in his 50s or early 60s.

In December of 1917, at age 61, Jimmy married Minnie Magnolia Saunders, pictured with him above. She was significantly younger, 23, born in 1894. They would have three children, born from 1918-1927.

If this is their youngest son, George Dewey, at right, born in 1927, James would be in his early 80s here. The daughter would have been either 17 or 20.

It’s thanks to this third family who still lived in the northern part of Claiborne County, near Shawnee, in the 1980s that we have much of the information about this branch of the Vannoy family. I remember walking out to see the garden where Jimmy had lived with Minnie and the garden edge was lined with cannon balls from the Civil War. They lived within literal sight of Cumberland Gap where so many battles were fought.

Jimmy Visits the Home of His Childhood

On either Easter or “Decoration Day” in 1929, Jimmy Vannoy and his sister, Nancy Vannoy Venable visited the old homeplace in Hancock County. While soldiers scavenged here more than 65 years earlier, in 1929, Jimmy drove one of the early automobiles back to visit his childhood home.

Lucky for us, someone with a camera took pictures.

The tradition in the south is to “decorate” the graves and clean up the cemetery on Memorial Day, hence, the name “Decoration Day.” Often, families gathered in the cemeteries, had picnics, visited and shared stories and memories as they maintained the graves. Sometimes something a little stronger than sweet tea was present too.

Given the flowers in this picture, I’d guess that Jimmy, then 73, and his sister, Nancy, went to put flowers on the graves of their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They may have had siblings buried there too.

The bonus is that although the house is clearly overgrown and abandoned, it is the old homeplace. Probably the only glimpse we’ll ever get of the home that sheltered three generations of this family for roughly half a century before, during and after the Civil War.

Years later, a second photo surfaced, taken the same day which confirms the age and location.

On the back were written the names of the people, confirming the oral information from the first photo. The ink is smeared, but still legible. It’s my writing from back in the 80s during one of my exploratory visits. (Yes, I know NOW that I shouldn’t have used ink, but at least I did record the information.)

Pearlie Vannoy Bolton was Jimmy’s daughter with his first wife. She married Joseph Daniel Bolton and the year can be confirmed based on the birth year of the child she is carrying.

There’s one more photo that looks to have been taken the same day, based on Nancy Vannoy Venable’s clothes.

The perspective of the cabin is slightly different here. There appears to be no door, and the cabin is clearly small. The distance from the door to the end of the structure is about the same as the height of the door. If the cabin was 20 feet or 24 feet long, that would have been considered a LARGE log cabin for that timeframe.

Just think, Elijah raised 10 children here, and Joel raised 6 or 7.

Just a Glimpse

I’m oh-so-grateful for these old pictures. That family outing, fortuitously recorded for posterity on film is the only visit to that old home place that we’ll ever be afforded.

While we don’t know what Phebe Crumley and Joel Vannoy looked like, we do have photos of three of their children.

Perhaps Jimmy looked like Joel. Maybe Betty and Nancy, who look very much alike, resemble Phebe. At least I have photos of three of their children.

It may be only a glimpse, but it IS a glimpse back into a long-ago time up on the ridge above Mulberry Creek.


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