When deciding what to write about for Week One’s 52 Ancestor challenge, I thought it would be best to start at the beginning. If you’ve been a follower of the blog for a while, you know that I got my love of genealogy from my mother. What you probably don’t know is how she found her way into the genealogy world and became the official family historian. So, here is her story..
Pamela Sue Burkhart was born in 1957 in Detroit, Michigan to Dorothy Jean Price and Vernon Burkhart. Her parents were both from Harlan County, Kentucky. They had moved to Detroit for work by way of the “Hillbilly Highway”. My mom says that when she was growing up, it was just like being in the south. All of her neighbors were either from Kentucky or other southern states. Families in their neighborhood held tight to their Southern traditions. So, while they were living, and working, in the north, most families never really embraced the Michigan way of living.
My mom married my dad, Christopher Franklin Arthur, in 1975. His family came from a similar background. They made their way from West Virginia to Michigan for work also. To say that my childhood had mostly southern influences and traditions would be an understatement. In 1991, my dad’s job moved us back to the south. This time, though, we were heading to Tennessee.
About this time, my mom began to hear stories about her 2x Great Grandfather. There was a family discussion on what his name was and which side he fought for during the Civil War. At the time of the war he lived in East Tennessee (Union County to be exact). If you know your Tennessee history, you know that the state was split on who fought for which side. While rumors were that he fought for the Union, nobody knew for sure.
Now that we were living in Tennessee, about 4 hours away from the Knoxville/Union County area, my mom decided to put this “discussion” to rest. She now had easy access to the Tennessee State Archives and, with a little drive, access to the cemetery where her 2x Great Grandfather was buried. Needless to say, she solved the mystery and figured out the Elias S. Carroll was a Lieutenant in the Union Army during the Civil War.
She now had a taste for the research and how if felt to solve a family argument. Now she was eager to see what else she could find. Family history had always been important to her, but now it was at another level! This was long before internet research was a thing. I love reading over some of the notes from phone calls and the emails that went back and forth between newly discovered relatives. If she had not laid such a great foundation, I would not be the genealogist I am today.
I asked my mom what advice she would give to someone beginning their family history/genealogy journey. Here is what she told me:
Who doesn’t love a good love story? While I seem to be destined for a life of single-hood, that does not mean that I don’t love stories about how people met their forever person. I especially love the stories that are unusual. Either they met by random circumstance or maybe they had whirlwind romance. Whatever the case may be, I love to hear them!
I especially loved learning the story of my 1st cousin, 5x removed, Alice Disney. Alice was born on Jun 25, 1869 in Knox County, Kentucky to Thomas Balton and Rebecca Donaldson Disney. She was one of eight children born to Thomas and Rebecca. Alice was considered one of the more popular girls in Knox County, however this didn’t translate to finding herself a husband. She watched many of her friends and family become married and still did not have that special someone.
At the age of 21, Alice decided to take things into her own hand when it came to marriage and took a bit of a risk. She wrote an advertisement for a gentleman correspondent and placed it in a matrimonial newspaper based out of Chicago. She did it for fun more than anything else, but if something were to come of it, even better! Alice received numerous responses, but the one that stood out the most was from a gentleman who lived in Texas, Clarence Van Ness.
Alice and Clarence began writing each other and continued to do so for about six years. Through the years they developed a friendship which blossomed into a romantic relationship. Not long after reaching the six-year mark, Clarence wrote Alice a letter proposing marriage. Alice was now creeping closer to her 30th birthday (she was about 28 years old at this point) and was eager to settle down. She happily accepted Clarence’s proposal.
For some reason, Alice decided to keep this proposal a secret from her parents. It’s unknown the reason why, but she came up with a plan to marry Clarence without her parents knowing. How exactly does a single lady in the late 1800s get herself to Texas to marry a stranger? Alice called upon the assistance of her brother, George Madison Disney, who at the time lived in Oklahoma. Now, if George really knew what was going on, nobody knows. What we do know is that Alice contacted her him to arrange for her to come visit him.
Alice made her way to Oklahoma to her brother, and then made her way down to Texas to marry Clarence. Alice and Clarence were married in Canadian, Texas in May 1897. This was the first time they had ever met! Clarence owned 600 acres of land and had numerous herds of cattle. Not too shabby of a pick! After they married, Alice and Clarence moved to Tecumseh, Oklahoma where they had three children. Alice passed away on April 17, 1944 in Tecumseh.
I’m sure at some point, Alice’s parents found out about her secret marriage. It’s unknown how they reacted. It can be assumed that once Alice made her way out west that she never returned, at least to live, to Kentucky. I think it’s safe to say that Alice knew, without a doubt, that Clarence was the one for her!
Genealogy is full of surprises. It could be finding out that you are related to someone famous. I have also seen where two friends ended up being distantly related! There are all kinds of fun surprises and for the most part, that is what keeps a genealogist going.
What happens, though, when those surprises seem a little off-putting? What if you’re related to the biggest traitor in American history? (Yeah, let’s not talk about that one). What do you do if you find out your parents are related? Yep, this was my big surprise moment. What in the world do I do now? Does this explain why some of my joints a double-jointed?! Genealogy is just like life, you have to take the good with the bad.
*Cue the Facts of Life theme song here*
First of all, let me start by explaining that where my parents are connected is far enough down the line that it really doesn’t matter. They are somewhere in the arena of 8th cousins and many, many, many times removed.
I began this discovery by researching my maternal Baker line. My 2nd Great Grandmother was a Baker (Stella Alice Baker) and her line had me researching in the Eastern Kentucky area. I was curious to see where exactly this line would take me. I found Stella’s father John William Baker who lead me to his father John Baker and then to George Thompson Baker and on to Brice Baker. It was my discovery of Brice Baker that gave me a little pause.
It seems that Brice, my maternal 6x Great Grandfather, married a woman by the name of Mary Arthur. Wait a second, I thought, I’m an Arthur. Is it possible that I’m just related to Arthur surname on both sides of my family?! This wouldn’t be the first time. I have several surnames that appear on both my maternal and paternal side of may family. As I’m sure most who are doing their family research have discovered. So, just out of curiosity, I hopped over to Mary’s family to see what I could find out about her Arthur line.
I didn’t find a connection anywhere until I found Mary’s 2x Great Grandfather, Thomas Barnabus Arthur (1680-1715). When I attempted to enter Thomas’ information into my tree, it showed that he was already there. That was strange! When I looked at his children, it seemed that I was already related to his one son, John Arthur. After connecting the dots, John was my 8th Great Grandfather on my paternal side. That meant that Thomas Barnabus Arthur was the bridge that connected my maternal and paternal sides! Talk about mind being blown!
After sharing this information with my family, a new joke started. They like to tease me and say that if I keep researching, I’m going to be my own Grandma!
This week I have been researching my paternal Arthur side. I don’t know much about my paternal side, so this has been fun! Finding new cousins, even the ones that are no longer with us, is always fun.
While researching this side, I found my 3rd cousin, 5x removed, Arthur Preston. Arthur was born February 18th, 1858 (happy early birthday!) in Lawrence County, Kentucky. His parents were Robert McDonald Preston and Matilda West. Arthur had eight siblings; Alford, Edison, Malissa, Louisa, Joseph, George, Wallace, and Mary Preston.
On April 20, 1887 in Johnson County, Kentucky, Arthur married his cousin, Louisa Christina Preston. Together they had six children, Lydia Eloise, Dora Augusta, Gussie, Georgia, Arthur and Paul C Preston.
Arthur made a living by owning and operating a general store in Louisa, Lawrence County, Kentucky. When doing my research this week, I found a newspaper article that gave me a better picture of his business. Unfortunately, the reason the story was in the paper is because someone had decided to rob Arthur’s store.
Arthur Preston passed away on April 2, 1931 in Lawrence County, Kentucky. I have yet to find if his children followed in his footsteps. I’m hoping someone in the family took over his store! I guess that’s research for another day!
This week our family lost Mabel O. Leckie Strunk. Mabel was born on September 25, 1937 to Isaac Leckie and Delia Price in Harlan County, Kentucky. She passed away on January 24, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I wasn’t privileged enough to have met Mabel (my first cousin, 2x removed), but I have heard many wonderful stories about her from my grandmother. My favorite is when my grandmother talks about their first tube of lipstick. The girls were not allowed to wear lipstick, but they were able to buy one tube without their parents finding out. My grandmother says that they would take turns carrying the lipstick and wearing it. The girls loved to feel fancy and to pretend they were movie stars.
Mabel is the loving mother of Betty (Bill) Miller, Norma (Dale) Boggs, Michael (Mary) Strunk, Joyce (Thomas) Ferris, and the late Patricia Strunk. She is also survived by nine grandchildren and many other family and friends.
Mabel was the light in her children and grandchildren’s lives. She will be greatly missed. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days. Rest in peace, sweet Mable.
I’m starting this new category in order to be transparent on what I’m currently researching. Here I will highlight some of the more interesting tidbits I’ve found during the week.
This week I’ve been working to expand the tree on my Rogers line. I’m related to the Rogers through my 5th Great Grandfather, John Rogers, who married Jane Eaton. By doing so, I “met” my 2nd cousin 4x removed, Audrey Mae Barton. Audrey was born in 1914 in Knox County, Kentucky. She married a man by the name of Ron Hensley. They moved to Harlan County, Kentucky where they raised four children; Evelyn, Gerald, Betty, and Genette.
Sometimes you find unpleasant things when trying to expand your family tree and so was the case when I looked for Audrey Barton in the newspaper. I found the following article explaining how Audrey passed away in the Lexington Herald in 1952.
Reading this article broke my heart, but so did reading her death certificate.
Check back next Saturday for the Weekend Update. Hopefully I’ll have something a little more lighthearted!
I debated for a while who I would profile this week for the #52Ancestor challenge. There were so many different ways to interpret to the theme of “first”. Should I talk about the first ancestor I ever researched? Should I talk about someone’s first job? So many decisions! For some reason, I kept coming back to my great-grandmother (my maternal grandmother’s mother). I knew she was the “first” of 13 children to survive, but was that enough to write about her? I think it is.
Vera Elizabeth Martin was born on November 17th, 1912 in Harlan County, Kentucky. Her parents were Frank Martin and Stella Alice Baker. As I stated earlier, she was the oldest of 13 children (Frank and Stella’s first child was stillborn). The age difference between her and her youngest brother, 24 years! Vera always made it clear that out of all the children, she was “Poppy’s [her father] favorite.”
Growing up on a farm and surrounded by younger siblings, Vera did not have much time to herself. However, this did not stop her from pursing an education. School was very important to Vera. After finishing her morning chores, she would take the train into the town of Harlan in order to attend school.
“I was so embarrassed, ” Vera would say, “showing up to school and smelling like cow tit.”
According to her report cards, she was a very good student. Unlike most girls her age, she completed the 10th grade. The opportunities were few and far between in Harlan County. Most families couldn’t afford for their children to go to school, either due to monetary reasons or for the fact that they couldn’t do without the children helping around the farm.
Vera did not go back to school in the fall of 1927. She had met her first husband, Roy Robinson and they were married on November 16th, 1927 in Harlan County. Vera was only 14 years old at the time (she wouldn’t be 15 years old until the day after her wedding) and because of this she needed a note from her parents to get married. Her parents signed the note, although whoever filled out the marriage bond stated that Vera was 16 years old. Oops!
A little over a year later, Vera gave birth to her first child, Roy Franklin Robinson (25 Nov 1928). Unfortunately, her son, Roy, was still born due to asphyxiation. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Another year passed, and Vera gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Charlotte Robinson (14 Nov 1929).
Vera, Roy, and Margaret would enjoy life as a family a three until October 1931 when tragedy would strike again. On October 14th, 1931, Vera’s husband, Roy, passed away. His appendix ruptured and there was nothing that the doctors could do. Knowing that should couldn’t turn to her parents for help, since they were still in the middle of raising all of her siblings, Vera took a job at a boarding house in the area. This allowed her to provide for herself and her young daughter. With her first paycheck she bought Margaret a new dress and new Mary Jane shoes.
Vera would find love again, this time with William Howard Taft Price (my great-grandfather). Taft, as he was known, was friends with many of Vera’s brothers. Supposedly, her brothers were very impressed with Taft and would talk about him all the time.
“All I would ever hear my brothers say is ‘Taft Price says that’s great!” Vera would say. “Who is this old man?!”
Turns out, that old man was only two years older than Vera. When they say opposites attract, it seems they are talking about Vera and Taft. Vera was strong, stubborn, and a bit stoic. Taft was hardworking, fun-loving, and sensitive. One of the best stories that showcase just how opposite they were happened when Vera and Taft were in a back bedroom. All of a sudden everyone in the house heard a slap. Convinced that Taft has just slapped Vera, her brothers came running into the bedroom. When her brothers arrived, they found that it was Vera who had done the slapping, and Taft who was escaping through the bedroom window.
They were married on November 6th, 1932 in Harlan County. Taft embraced Vera’s daughter, Margaret, as if she were his own. They would also have three children together; William Paul (b. 1933), Carl Edward (b. 1935), and Dorothy Jean (b. 1937). One of the things that Vera and Taft could always agree on was the fact that they never wanted their children to feel that they were poor. They did whatever they could to stretch a dollar as far as it would go.
Other than her family, Vera had a great love for the Lord. Her faith was something that never faltered, even during the most difficult times of her life. Vera struggled with health issues her whole life, but this never kept her from taking care of her family and serving the Lord.
Vera’s mother was a dedicated Sunday School teacher, and passed that dedication down to her. Not long after Vera dedicated her life to the Lord, she began teaching Sunday School class at the mission near her home. Whenever she moved to a new community in the county, she would join the local church and continue teaching classes. Around 1933, Vera began working with Women’s Missionary Union (WMU). While she did take some time off due to her health, Vera was integral in organizing WMU chapters in several churches in the Upper Cumberland Association. Beginning in 1957, Vera became a member of the Sunshine Baptist Church where she served as the WMU Director and Assistant Church Clerk for 26 years. For 16 of those years, she also taught the Adult Ladies Sunday School class. In 1968, she became the director of the Upper Cumberland Association of the WMU.
Vera took her Sunday School teaching duties very seriously. My mother likes to tell the story of all the really neat Sunday School stuff she had, like felt boards and craft supplies. Vera used most of this for her classes with the children at the Christian camp, Camp Howard. Never were any of the grandchildren allowed to play with her Sunday School supplies. To this day, my mom still complains about that!
As Vera got older, some of her stoic ways started to fade. One of her favorite shows was Dallas, and she would have weekly phones calls with her son-in-law (my grandfather) to discuss what happened. She loved to sit and watch what was going on in the neighborhood. Nothing would get by her! She also developed a dry sense of humor that would surprise most people. My personal favorite story of her, is when I was about 8 years old. She had a Dustbuster hanging in the hallway. After eating her dinner in the living room, she asked me to go get the Dustbuster and vacuum her off!
Vera Martin, by no means lived an easy life, but she never seemed to complain. She was the type who would take the good with the bad and keep pushing though. While most did see her as a strong and focused woman from an early age, her siblings could always bring out her young and carefree side that she would keep hidden from most. Vera passed away on October 29, 1997. She was a woman that never left the comfort of her home county, but had a big impact on the world around her.
To get the Want Ads kicked off, I thought I’d be a little self serving and share a picture that I’ve been struggling with.
This picture includes my 2x Great Grandmother, Stella Alice Baker Martin (m. Frank Martin). She is the second from the left and sitting with her arm on the table. Stella was born in Laurel County, Kentucky (1895) and lived in Knox and Harlan Counties in Kentucky. I’m assuming this picture was taken in one of those counties. Her father was Reverend John William Baker.
This picture sits in my kitchen and every time I walk by it, I want to figure out who these people are! Haha! I’ve asked my family members and nobody seems to know…except that Stella is in this picture.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, or contacts please share in the comments section or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and remember, I’m always looking for items to post in the Want Ads!
In case you didn’t know, the Kentucky Genealogical Society’s seminar is coming up on Saturday, August 4th. I had the opportunity to attend a couple of years ago and learned so much! The sessions include:
• Finding Ancestral Places of Origin
Research strategies for finding ancestors and
• Newspaper Research: The Dailies, Weeklies, and Beyond
Finding them in both logical and unexpected
repositories and using them to learn about your
• The Farmer in the Dell – and in Many U.S. Records
Exploring the extensive records and places for learning
more about ancestral farmers and farms
Major Midwestern Archives and Their Records
Highlighting major Midwestern archives and their
holdings, finding aids, websites, special
indexes, and available assistance for those not visiting in
The cost is $60 for KGS members and $70 for non-members. These prices include a continental breakfast, lunch, and snacks!