Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Family Stories and Mysteries

Long ago I became interested in family history. Gerald had a friend in Hawaii who was interested in his family story. Soon after we were married, we visited him and his family when they came home to Kentucky on furlough. Chester urged us to look into our family while we could. My grandparents were dead, but we took a day and visited Gerald’s grandfather and great aunt and wrote down everything they told us about their parents.

A good many years later, Mother had a long-time letter writing friend who was into genealogy and sent Mother some of the forms she used. I wrote down some stuff my parents told me on those forms. My parents had been contacted by a distant relative from out East who visited them and many other Martins in Southern Illinois. He recorded what he could find out and shared it. Together he and the family worked to find information and put a tombstone on the grave of my great great grandmother at Busby Cemetery in Goreville.

They were never able to determine positively her death date, but they were able to make a good guess about the year. No one knew where her husband Valentine Martin was buried in Clinton County, but Hannah Alice McCullough Martin Nichols now had a marker. And since the family story was that Mr. Nichols had abused her and, thus, caused a son to go rescue her in a wagon drawn by a team of oxen, the name Nichols was left off the tombstone. I carried on a brief and rewarding correspondence with the family researcher and one of my dad’s elderly first cousins who had been located, but they both passed away soon after.

We never expected to find out much about Valentine except the story passed down that he died from a fall from a horse in 1858. He and Hannah had come to Illinois with the McCullough family in 1829. My Uncle Homer told me once that the Martin family had a preacher in its background even before my great grandfather William Felix Grundy Martin came to rural Goreville and married Louisa Jane Craig, built a home in Sleepy Holler after the Civil War, and with a brush arbor revival meeting changed a nearby place called Hell’s Holler to Happy Holler.

This was long before the Internet, but a decade or so later, I must have written someone for information on the McCulloughs since I thought Valentine was as far back as I could ever go with the Martins. I can’t remember to whom or how I made inquiries. I do remember that suddenly I was surprised to have strangers send me long hand written letters and large envelopes full of papers with information—some relevant and some not. This would have been wonderful, except those letters contained questions, and it seemed to me that I “should” respond as generously as the other person who had tracked me down and shared so much material. (The McCullough family had lots of people interested in their antecedents; and at that time, one of them published a newsletter on that clan.)

That was a very busy time of my life with elderly parents to help care for as well as four children to rear. I soon knew I was in over my head. I had to give up genealogy as a hobby. I swore off and promised myself to never bother anyone again with a question. I am sure this early correspondence must be in this house somewhere since I am addicted to paper and seldom throw anything away.

Genealogy was not one of my plans when I retired in 1998 after a brief late-in-life career. Learning how to use the Internet to write emails was my plan. Almost immediately, however, I learned by email that a couple of our Illinois Martins had connected with Jeffrey Martin, who had found our common ancestor in the Carolinas and even a generation beyond that back in Virginia.

I was so hooked to learn that Valentine’s father was Elder William “Cedar Billy” Martin, a preacher who came to Bedford County, Tennessee, with his family in 1817. Oh, so that was who Uncle Homer had heard stories about when he was a young man. Cedar Billy inspired a Yahoo group named after him, and the first summer of my retirement and for a long time afterward, Cedar Billy was one of the most used phrases in my life. Jeffrey Martin helped us with his encyclopedic accumulation of Martin information. Emails flew back and forth between a couple dozen people from several different states. Someone would make a conjecture, and later someone else would be able to find the correct information. So the emails contain both true and false stories as we tried to piece together what went on two centuries before. They are still on file out there in cyber space, but no one has written an email for a long time now.

In the meantime, I had become involved with a cousin’s daughter several states away, who did all her research with hand-written letters and had accumulated much information in that way. Carolyn was a highly trained psychiatric nurse, and she was as fascinated as I had always been with my precious great uncle—Oscar Isadore Martin. I had written a couple articles about his influence on my childhood summers at Mount Airy Farm. Oscar had entered the state mental hospital when I was only eight, and I assumed that was the first time. Actually it was his fifth and final time. Carolyn found out that starting at age 31, he would go in for eight months or a year or so and be discharged and evidently be all right for awhile. (He had been discharged in 1931, two years before I was born, and was not readmitted until 1942.)

Mother had told me of his early marriage and the death of his wife, so I always felt sad for this sweet uncle who was so good to us kids. I am positive in my own mind that Mother did not know that Oscar had a baby son when his 16-year-old wife died of spinal meningitis and malaria in 1908. She told me about the possibility of his having an illegitimate child, and she would have told me if she had known he had a son with his wife. Why did my father not tell her?

I found out about his son Hebron when Sandra, the daughter of my childhood playmate and second cousin, started working on family history. In the 1920 census, she found Louisa Jane still living in Sleepy Hollow. Living with her was son Oscar and her grandson Hebron, born in 1908. Oscar was in the hospital for the second time when Mother and Dad married in August 1923 so Hebron was no longer with his grandmother, or Mother would have known about him.
Oscar was discharged in December 1923. Louisa Jane died in 1924, and Oscar went back to the hospital at the end of that year for the third time. Hebron’s maternal grandmother died in 1925. Cousin Sandra could not find Hebron in the 1930 census but found where he had married and divorced in Missouri, joined the service in Utah, and then lived in California after World War II.

Before I knew about Hebron, I had interviewed a couple of older people (now deceased) who were younger than Oscar but remembered him. They told me how everyone liked Oscar, and one told me what a fine horseman he was. On Saturday farm families came to town to sell their eggs and cream, shop for groceries, and visit with their neighbors on the benches built into the front of the buildings there on Goreville’s main street.
Oscar would ride his horse Fowler down the then dirt street standing up on him and playing his banjo. He could get that horse to shake hands or do anything, and he enjoyed showing off his skill. I feel certain folks enjoyed his show.

Well, because of lack of time, I do not work much on family history any more although the need to finish essays I have started on various ancestors hangs heavy on my mind. However, for some reason I woke up at 3 a.m. recently and started pondering the mystery of Hebron and why my father had not told Mother or us about him. I have to think it was so disturbing that Hebron had disappeared from the family that Daddy did not want to talk about it. Anyhow a couple of days later, I wrote an email to my older brother and sister and a cousin in Oregon trying to stir up memories to see what they knew about that era of my dad’s life before he married Mother. I heard back from my cousin who answered a question I asked about her dad’s time line. And since then, I have called both my siblings, who also never heard tell of Oscar’s son Hebron.

But my brother Jim did tell me some great stories about Oscar’s brother Sam. And one new story about Uncle Oc. Sam ran a baling operation for many years, and Jim said Sam was baling hay for Daddy with his team and bailer. (Or was it a threshing machine?) Evidently it was necessary to dig a hole for the machine’s wheels to be placed in to keep it stationary as the horses moved around it in a circle. They finished and were ready to leave the field, and the machine had to be pulled out of that hole. A neighbor man was driving the team and he could not get the horses to work together to do this difficult task. He became angry and was yelling and whipping the horses unmercifully. Oscar went over and asked to drive the team. Jim, as a young boy, was there with them, and he said Oscar talked to the team and calmed them down completely. Then he asked the team to go forward and pull the heavy machine out of the hole. And they promptly did. I wish Hebron could have been there helping to see his dad work with the horses.

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