Monday, January 21, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 3 - "Unusual Name"

I could not have picked a more unusual woman to write about for this week's "unusual name" prompt! This week's post will feature my great-great-grandmother, Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900-1984). She is the only person I have ever encountered, in person or otherwise, with the name Vazzie, or with the middle name of Angelee.

Vazzie Angelee Hancock was born on May 10, 1900, to Charles Wesley Hancock and Laura Belle Leftwich. Both the Hancock and Leftwich families have a long and noble history: Vazzie's ancestor, William Hancock, was a participant of the First Thanksgiving in the New World, and the Leftwich family was an ancient and noble house in England, descending from the de Vere family, which accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy (as recorded in The Leftwich-Turner Families of Virginia and Their Connections by Walter Lee Hopkins).

Vazzie in the 1920s.
While Vazzie's early childhood may have been relatively normal, her teenage years were not. She began helping her father dig coal in a "punch" mine in Witcher, WV at age 14, and even became proficient at making and using mining explosives. An article from The Charleston Daily Mail on March 23, 1972, described her mining career in great detail. She is quoted as saying "You can bet your life it is hard work. Anyone who gets his miner's pension or black lung benefits deserves it. You can't go in there and sit down. You have to work."

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Vazzie was not her unconventional job, but her love life. She had five husbands throughout the course of her life, and divorced four of them. Her first marriage was three days before her 18th birthday, on May 7, 1918 (her age on the marriage record is listed as "21"), to Goldie Woolwine. She had one child with Goldie, named Charles Woolwine.

The 1920 census finds Vazzie, Goldie, and Charles in the household of Andrew and Luticia Hunt. Luticia was 33 years older than Andrew and was very ill, so Vazzie was her caretaker. Although Goldie and Charles both lived in the home, Vazzie and Goldie are both listed as "divorced."

Vazzie Rucker article.
Thu, Mar 23, 1972 – Page 8 · The Charleston Daily Mail 

Vazzie's second child, my beloved great-grandfather, was born on January 9, 1921, and was named Ernest Zacharias Hunt. He was the acknowledged son of Andrew, and has been confirmed by DNA to be Andrew's biological son. Andrew was still married to Luticia at the time of his birth, and as far as I know, Vazzie, Goldie, and Charles were still living in Andrew's home at this time.

A little more than a year later, Vazzie married her second husband, George Hayes, on March 15, 1922. Their marriage lasted about the same amount of time as the first, and produced no children. by mid-year 1923 Vazzie and Andrew were back together, because their second child, Luticia Margot Hunt, was born in February of 1924. (She has also been confirmed by DNA to be Andrew's child.) She was named after Andrew's wife, who had died less than a month earlier on January 17, 1924. My great-grandfather had a very early memory of being on a train, traveling back to live with Andrew and Luticia after Vazzie and George separated. He also remembered going to Luticia's funeral.

Vazzie in the 1940s.
I have not found a marriage record for Vazzie and Andrew, but I know that they were married sometime between 1924 and 1930, because they appear together in the 1930 census. They went on to have three more children: Douglas Newton in 1926, James Franklin in 1931, and Alma Belle in 1934. Douglas was unfortunately killed at age 5 in November of 1931, when he was run over by a car.

Not long after Alma Belle was born, Vazzie and Andrew separated and later divorced. Andrew was reported by several family members to have joked that he "paid for two divorces to get her, and one to get rid of her." When my great-grandfather was about 14 or 15 (1935-36), his mother remarried again to a man named Taylor Clay, whom my great-grandfather did not like. (I have also not found a marriage record for them, but I have seen a copy of the divorce record.) My great-grandfather did not like Taylor Clay so much that he actually left home and set up housekeeping in a renovated chicken coupe. When Vazzie's divorce from Andrew was finalized, Andrew was awarded custody of all of the children, a very unusual ruling for the time. The 1940 census finds Andrew living in his hometown of Belle, WV with all of the children, including Charles, Vazzie's child from her first marriage. By this time Charles had assumed the last name of Hunt, to match his brothers and sisters.

Vazzie in the late 1970s.
Taylor Clay eventually went the same way as the first three husbands. In 1953, Vazzie married her fifth and final husband, Walter Rucker, and was married to him until his death on May 10, 1968 - Vazzie's 68th birthday. Walter was by all accounts a good man, and was known affectionately as "Uncle Walter" to Vazzie's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Later in life, Vazzie was known for her unusual mix of hobbies. The same newspaper article that described her coal mining career also told of her fondness for squirrel hunting (a hobby she shared with two great-aunts on my paternal side, Aunt Allie Clay and Aunt Elsie Keeley), and of her great skill as a quilter. Two of my most treasured possessions are quilts that she hand-made.

My great-great-grandma Vazzie was clearly a most unusual woman to match her most unusual name. She was ahead of her time in so many ways, and was an amazing woman. I had such a hard time choosing between this week's prompt of "unusual name" and next week's prompt of "I'd like to meet" to write about her, because she is at the top of my list of ancestors that I wish I could have a conversation with.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Vazzie is as follows:

Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900 - 1984)
2nd great-grandmother

Earnest Zacharias Hunt (1921 - 2008)
Son of Vazzie Angelee Hancock

Phyllis Carolyn Hunt (1943 - )
Daughter of Earnest Zacharias Hunt

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Phyllis Carolyn Hunt

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

Thursday, January 10, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 2 - "Challenge"

Many of my posts tell the stories of my ancestors that have proven very difficult to find. My goal in writing about them is to set the record straight about who they are and where they came from, and to paint them as actual human beings instead of names on a piece of paper. There is a unique joy that comes from unraveling someone's story and telling it, often for the first time since their death. 

Sometimes the story is an amazing one, like the story of how my great-great-grandparents met while my great-great-grandfather traveled with Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. But sometimes, the story is much more commonplace. The story that will unfold in this post contains no exciting venues (like wild west shows), no famous names or places, and no connection to noble houses. This is Isabell's story, and it deserves to be told as much as any other ancestor with a noble heritage or a famous connection.

Everybody has at least one great challenge - at least one ancestor like Isabell, my 5th-great-grandmother - in their tree. You know the type. The one that has no birth record, no marriage record, no death record - nothing, in short, that gives you any idea of what her maiden name was, which is the key to where she came from. The only surviving records of Isabell are four census records (1850-1880), and the scant information that they contain is often contradictory.

The Adkins family in the 1850 census.
 We first see Isabell in the 1850 census. She is 18 years old, married to William Adkins, and has a one-year-old daughter, named Drucilla. They are living in Nicholas County, Virginia (later West Virginia) and William's occupation is listed as "farmer." 

The differences between the 1850 census and the 1860 census tell us a lot about what the Adkins family went through in the ten-year time period. In 1860 the family is still living in Nicholas County, but William's occupation is now listed as "hunter." There is now no Drucilla listed, so it must be assumed that their first child had passed away. They now have three children: James (age 8), Jones (age 6), and Sarah (age 4). There is no real estate value listed, so chances are that they didn't own the home they lived in. From the information listed (and not listed), it seems that the Adkins family's fortunes were low at this time.
The Adkins family in the 1860 census.

The 1870 census shows us some big changes for the family. They are now living in Malden, Kanawha County, West Virginia, and William is once again listed as a farmer. There are now 8 children, but 4 of them (including my 4th-great-grandmother, Hannah) are older than ten years old. It is unclear why they were not listed in the 1860 census, if they are truly the ages listed. Another curious factor is that the 1870 census also lists a daughter, Sarah, as age 4. James would have been 18 and Jones 16 by 1870, so it is conceivable that they were out of the household; but the Sarah of 1860 must have passed away, and the Sarah of 1870 must be her namesake. It must have been so difficult for Isabell and William to have lost at least two of their precious children, and possibly more.

The Adkins family in the 1870 census.
The last record of Isabell that we have is the 1880 census. Five of the 8 children from 1870 are still listed in the household (the oldest three were of the age to be out of the house), and there are two new younger children. There is also a newborn grandson, named John Dent.

These four records tell us a few details about Isabell that help us understand a little bit about her life, even if they don't help us to know who her parents were. We know that she gave birth to at least 14 children: Drucilla, James, Jones, Sarah (1), Lutha, Hannah, Martha, Elizabeth, Catherine, Sarah (2), Lorenzo, John, Lucy, and William. We know that at least two of those children did not survive to adulthood, which must have been a tremendous loss to Isabell and William. We know that Isabell could neither read or write. We know that whoever her parents were, they were born in Virginia. We know that Isabell and William must have died before 1900, because they do not appear in the 1900 census.
The Adkins family in the 1880 census.

After piecing together these details, I set out to try to find out what Isabell's maiden name was. If I only had a maiden name to go on, I could use a combination of paperwork and the DNA results of my great-great-aunt (Isabell's 2nd-great-granddaughter) to connect her to other people with that name in their trees. As already mentioned, there is no birth or death record on file for her, and no marriage record on file for her and William. So I decided to branch out to the marriage and death records of their children, in the hopes that Isabell's maiden name might have been listed on one. I was able to find death records for Sarah (2), Lorenzo, and John, but unfortunately all of them had "unknown" listed for "mother's maiden name." I was also able to find marriage records for Sarah (2), but her parents' names were not listed. I also searched for a marriage record between an Adkins bride and a Dent groom (since Isabell and William had a grandson named John Dent), but there were none that fit the time frame. Finding records for the other children has been a challenge, in no small part because Adkins is such a common name.

So far the results have been discouraging, but I don't intend to give up on Isabell. It's so hard to not look back on these few paragraphs I've just written and think, "Is this all there is left of a life? Is this really all that remains of a wife, a mother of 14, a woman in her own right?" Isabell has been one of my greatest challenges thus far, but I will not despair. Somewhere, there has to be a clue as to what her maiden name was. And when I find it, I will be able to tell the rest of her story, and to preserve it for all the the subsequent generations of her descendants.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Isabell is as follows:

Isabell (1828 - )
5th great-grandmother

Hannah Adkins (1855 - )
Daughter of Isabell

Charles Wesley Hancock (1875 - 1930)
Son of Hannah Adkins

Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900 - 1984)
Daughter of Charles Wesley Hancock

Earnest Zacharias Hunt (1921 - 2008)
Son of Vazzie Angelee Hancock

Phyllis Carolyn Hunt (1943 - )
Daughter of Earnest Zacharias Hunt

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Phyllis Carolyn Hunt

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

Saturday, January 5, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 1 - "First"

Abigail Royal Garrett
This week's #52Ancestors post is dear to my heart because I have the privilege of writing about one of my favorite ancestors: my great-great-great-grandmother, Abigail Royal Garrett (2 Jan 1823 - 23 Feb 1891). Incidentally, this post falls during the week of her 196th birthday.

I chose Abigail for this "first" prompt because she was the ancestor who started it all: the one who made me interested in genealogy. One of my best friends growing up also happened to be my 4th cousin. Because our family has lived in the same neighborhood since Abigail and her husband, John Clifton, moved to the area by 1870, we always knew that we were cousins. However, it wasn't until my third year of college that I began to question exactly how we were related. During a telephone conversation one evening, I asked my cousin (named Garrett - after Abigail, as it turns out) if he knew who our common ancestor was. And as it happened, he did know! His mother had long been interested in genealogy, and had told him how we were related. I got curious and decided to see if there was any information about her online. I came upon this webpage about Abigail's hometown in England, which included a page about her family and about her specifically. When I saw the photo of her and read about her life, it was like a spark igniting: I instantly had to know more. I had to know how I was descended from her, who her parents were, and her parents' parents, and so on.... And the rest, as they say, was history (or, indeed, genealogy).
The Garrett House in Ludham, Norfolk, England

Abigail Royal Garrett was born in Ludham, Norfolk, England on 2 January 1823, to Royal Garrett and Hannah Vincent. The Garrett family was a moderately affluent one, and were well-known and well-respected in their town. According to census records, their income primarily came from farming and owning/operating The Baker's Arms. They had a large house, and several employees.

Abigail had five brothers: Israel Royal, Jabez, Abiathar, Nathan Vincent, and Jethro Littlewood; and three sisters: Dorcas, Miriam, and Merab. (Abiathar ran the local mill in Ludham, and apparently taught the skill to Abigail's oldest son, Royal Jethro Larter, who opened a mill near where Abigail's family settled in Charleston, WV. The location is still called "Mill Creek" to this day.)

John Thomas Clifton
Abigail was first married to John Francis Larter on 20 September 1842. They had four children: James Garrett, Royal Jethro, Miriam Susanna, and Dorcas Hannah. In 1851, John Francis Larter immigrated to America on the ship "Savannah", presumably to establish a home for his family. Abigail and the four children immigrated one year later in 1852, and traveled in the company of John Thomas Clifton on the ship "Christiana". John had a wife and seven children left behind in England; perhaps he intended to do what John Larter supposedly did, and establish a home for them in America before sending for them.

This is where the story gets murky. Several different versions exist, but what is certain is that Abigail did not leave New York City with John Larter. Whether he had passed away, or simply abandoned them, is impossible to know. We also do not know where Abigail, John, and the children lived between 1852 and 1856. What we do know for sure is that they settled in West Virginia by 1856. John and Abigail married on 8 June 1856, despite the fact that John's first wife was definitely still alive in England. On the marriage record, they both referred to themselves as "widowed." They originally settled in Boone County, WV but moved to Charleston, Kanawha County, WV by 1870.

John and Abigail had three children of their own: Hannah, Merab, and Ella. Their life was very difficult, and they often had a hard time even keeping enough food on the table. We know several details about their everyday lives because Abigail brought a lap desk with her from England, and over the years she and various family members saved letters they wrote to each other in it. The lap desk was "rescued" by my Great-Aunt Mary when my great-grandfather, Clifton Kessinger, passed away. Aunt Mary's daughter, the author Linda Lenhardt, transcribed these letters and published them in one annotated volume, along with family stories, poetry, and artwork by various family members, all descended from Abigail. The book is called "Cliftons and Kessingers: Their Kin, Their Letters, Their Stories," and is available on Amazon.

John passed away on 27 January 1879, and Abigail passed away on 23 February 1891. They are buried in the Old Circle of Spring Hill Cemetery in Charleston, WV. The location of their graves is known; however, they do not currently have markers. I have long wanted to have markers placed for them, and I hope to accomplish that goal this year.

In one of her letters, Abigail wrote to her daughter, Hannah (my great-great-grandmother) that

"As I write, the want to see you all grows, worsens. Is it so with you?" 

My answer to that question is yes, absolutely. I so wish that I could have known Abigail. I admire her for her courage, her determination, and her great love for all of her children and grandchildren, which is so very apparent in her letters. I like to think that whatever I have of those qualities comes at least in part from her.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Abigail and John is as follows:

Abigail Royal Garrett (1823 - 1891)
3rd great-grandmother

Hannah Clifton (1856 - 1905)
Daughter of Abigail Royal Garrett

Clifton Kessinger (1872 - 1966)
Son of Hannah Clifton

Harold Warren Kessinger (1920 - 2012)
Son of Clifton Kessinger

Joseph Wayne Kessinger (1958 - )
Son of Harold Warren Kessinger

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger


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