Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Trunk full of Treasures

How often do genealogists dream of finding a trunk in a relative’s attic, filled with family documents and photos?
 I had the opportunity last month to meet someone (distantly related to me through the Shelton/Franklin lines) who had such a trunk, although in this case, it was a suitcase.

About six months ago, I saw in the rootsweb.archives, a message about the Sheltons that mentioned an “Alice Lockman” who had a family bible! 
Now that got my attention. I decided to try to find Mrs. Lockman by using some tools available to all of us for free on the internet – the whitepages, anywho or pipl.

When I contacted Alice by telephone, I was so pleased to find out that she is a genealogist who has been studying the Sheltons and related families for many years (she is in her 80s.) Sometime during our talk, Alice mentioned that the family bible had somehow gotten lost, but that she had a “suitcase” full of 30 years of research.  This was the first time in my family history research that I had run across the proverbial “trunk” or, in this case, “suitcase” full of documents. I cannot tell you how excited I felt. We had a lively conversation about some of the family stories including  about Glumdalclitch (see my post of May 24,2013.)

After several more telephone conversations, I asked Alice if I might come to visit her and look at her research, and she was excited to share her discoveries. I learned something very important at this time – many times we might feel hesitant to ask someone we don’t know well if we could look at their research. We fear rejection. But we overlook a human characteristic, highly developed in genealogists:  the desire to show what we have done.

I prepared my tools for the trip across several states to look in Alice Lockman’s suitcase. My husband was coming along to help with this task. First, I packed my VuPoint portable scanner in case I need to make copies of documents or photos at Alice’s home. I also packed my digital camera (see my post of Oct 9, 2012 to help in making copies if we had a lot to do. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t overstay my visit and wanted to be respectful of Alice’s time and health.

When we arrived at Alice’s home, she and her daughter welcomed us and we chatted awhile. I was excited to get down to the business of finding family history. Remember that I had not experienced this before -- going through a researcher’s life-time collection of documents. I knew my time was limited so I wanted to make the most of it:

Pat Spears photographed by Bert Schuster, May 2013

I noticed that the collection was actually individual papers and many, many personal letters in their envelopes. 
I wasn’t in a library or an archives, but in a home. So there was no “finding aid” of table of contents. Although I’m a researcher and a born organizer, I saw that this was a big task. Well, I just jumped in. I decided to concentrate on the letters. And this was fortuitous as I found some information that was new to me and vital for my family research.

As I looked at the first few letters, I learned about another researcher of the Sheltons/Franklins/Johnsons, in addition to Hobart Franklin and Kenneth Charles Wilde (see my post from May 24, 2013), one who had corresponded with Alice. This researcher was Richard Gosnell, who was related to the Sheltons through his great grandmother. I found the familiar discussion about Glumdalclitch’s son William Duckworth Shelton Franklin in the correspondence but with a new twist. This passage demonstrates what happens when two researchers "talk" with each other about family stories and try to coax out the "facts" from all the lore:

March 11, 1982, Richard Gosnell to Alice Lockman, p. 1
Here is the above passage transcribed for easier reading:

"In the short time that I have had to review the data, I do have a few questions. First, on the family of Roderick and Sarah Briggs Shelton, I noticed that your brother, Charles, listed a son William. I also noticed that a son William was listed on the interview with "Bud" Shelton....At first I thought that this was a reference to Roderick's son, William Duckworth Franklin by Glumdalclitch, but now I'm wondering if Roderick and Sarah also had a son named William."

In the same letter, I found that Richard was also corresponding with Kenneth Wilde: 
March 11, 1982, Richard Gosnell to Alice Lockman, p. 1

I made another very interesting discovery in the Lockman-Gosnell letters, something that has enriched my knowledge of the way my people lived in Madison County, NC in the early 1800s.
Map of Madison County, North Carolina, June 2007, taken from US Census website and modified by User:Ruhrfisch.

 In Richard’s letter of March 11, 1982, he introduces Alice to a fascinating piece of US history (the scan was not legible so I have transcribed the section below):

“If you could locate a copy of the book, ‘The Child thatToileth Not’  (go to the bottom of this page to access the full text) by Thomas Robinson Dawley Jr. (Princeton University Press 1912), I’m sure that you would be interested in reading it….Dawley was appointed as a special investigator by the U.S. Labor Dept to investigate child labor conditions in southern textile mills and to compare the lives of the children in the mills as contrasted to their former lives in the mountains where so many of them came from. Much of Dawley’s investigation was in Madison County, particularly the (Shelton) Laurel section.” (March 11, 1982, Richard Gosnell to Alice Lockman, p. 2)

There was controversy over the report as Dawley describes in the preface, and it was not published by the government. Because he praised the mills as saving children from the hunger and soul-killing toil of the farm, some people familiar with factory conditions thought he was in the pay of the textile industry. But after much effort, Dawley got his findings published privately. Regardless of the controversy, Dawley’s book gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of both adults and children who lived in the late 1800s in North Carolina. These words from the book paint a sad picture of the life of farm children:

“I seemed to hear the cries of their children from their dismal abodes. My thoughts reverted to their half starved bodies and miserable diet of crude corn meal and fat pork, and I could see their begrimed faces and partially clothed bodies draped in filthy rags.” (The Child that Toileth Not, p. IX)

In the early 1900s, a photographer and social reformer, Lewis W. Hine took photographs of mill workers and farm families in many states, including North Carolina and Virginia.
County Map of Virginia, and North Carolina, 1860, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, Wikimedia.

His work provides a companion to Dawley’s photos that appear in his report. In the photo below, Hines shows child laborers in a North Carolina cotton mill:

Some of the sweepers in a cotton mill. North Carolina, 11/1908, National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Next, we see a female child worker in a North Carolina textile mill:

Two young girls working at the Loray Mill in Gastonia, NC. November 1908, National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, Library of Congress.

 Another Lewis Hine photograph of a farm family in VA from the early 1900s, provides a glimpse into what Mr. Dawley saw during his research.

Part of the family of R.D. Thomas. He and a boy of 15 are working in the Century Cotton Mill, South Boston, Va., 1911 June, National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, Library of Congress.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing I found in Dawley’s book, from a family historian’s point of view, was a reference he made to the Sheltons. Richard Gosnell remarked upon this story in his letter to Alice. Here is Dawley’s description of how Shelton Laurel got its name:

Walking Bear, ca. 1850s-1860s, Antoine-Louis Barye,
 in public domain, Wikimedia.

“My host (Jemerson Tweed) was well informed respecting the early settlement of the country. He said that the first settler in those parts was a famous hunter who came over the mountains in Tennessee from Virginia. He had a pack of dogs almost as famous as himself. As long as there was a bear anywhere in the country, he was sure to get it. The name of this bear-hunter was Shelton. He made his last stand on one of three tributaries to the Laurel River which became the Shelton-Laurel, and which in turn gave its name to that entire section of country, notorious for its feuds, fights and killing scrapes.” (The Child that Toileth Not, p. 170)

But Jemerson Tweed had more to say about the Sheltons, and Dawley faithfully recorded his words:

Cumberland Gap, Oct. 2005, Aaron/ConspiracyofHappiness,

“The Sheltons were said to be a tall, hardy race from England, who preferred hunting and fighting, to settling down in one place, and pursuing the peaceful occupation of farming. The name may be traced down through the Virginia Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee, and it is said that wherever the Sheltons are found to this day, they are known for their fighting proclivities. On the upper Shelton-Laurel in the vicinity of where the original Shelton made his last stand, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the families bear the name of Shelton.” (The Child that Toileth Not, p. 170)

Oh, how we genealogists love oral testimonies! Of course, we have no proof of the accuracy of Mr. Tweed’s reminiscences or of his motives for sharing them, but it is such stories that inject life into the names, dates and place names that fill our family history sheets.

I am in debt to Alice Lockman for allowing me to read her correspondence with Richard Gosnell, to Richard Gosnell for his discovery of Thomas Robinson Dawley Jr.’s book, and to Mr. Dawley for his efforts to record for posterity the conditions of the lives of the pioneer families of North Carolina’s Shelton Laurel.

I leave you with the reminder that you never know what you will find in your research. For that reason, I recommend following every lead that you uncover.
The Detective's Barnstar, 25 February 2007,by  ChrisO
released to public domain by author, Wikimedia
 Even a brief mention of a name in an old message on or can lead to spectacular results if you invest the time and energy into following up.

Categories: document types, genealogy tools, genealogy community

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