Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guest Blog: Saga of the Lost USS Indianapolis

When I told told my brother John, we had an ancestor who was involved in the rescue of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, he volunteered (or maybe I politely begged) to write a guest post about the tragic loss of the ship. Today is the 69th anniversary of the day she was torpedoed in seas that were thought to clear of the enemy. In a few days, I'll post about the role our ancestor played in the rescue and how he disobeyed orders to do so and in a moment of pure serendipity, discovering the ship was the Indianapolis, of which his cousin's husband was the commanding officer.

Some of the crew of the USS Indianapolis; photograph provided to Steve
Butler by Sherry Adkins in hopes someone could recognize her uncle, James
McLaurin "Mack" Harrison, who was killed sometime during the loss of
the ship

Over to my brother:

The ultimate fear of any sailor, from the days of the earliest ocean voyages right up to the present day, is to be lost at sea.  To have your ship sink out from under you and to be left alone on the wide ocean expanse is a fate dreaded by all who have ever departed from the security of terra firma.  Such fears became a reality for the crew of USS Indianapolis a few minutes before midnight on the 29th of July 1945.  The cruiser went down fast after being struck by two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58.  Out of a crew of 1,196 it is estimated that 800 – 850 managed to get off the ship before it slipped beneath the waves.  Only twelve life rafts and six floater nets could be released in time—not enough to accommodate all of the survivors.  Several hundred men were thus cast into the dark empty sea with just a life vest to keep themselves afloat.

At least they had a reasonable hope of quick rescue.  Indianapolis had just completed a high speed run from San Francisco to Tinian to deliver parts of the atomic bombs that would eventually end the Second World War.  At the time of its loss, Indianapolis was making a routine passage across the Philippine Sea to Leyte where it was to join Task Force 95.  A year before the Philippine Sea had been the crossroads of opposing fleets and the scene of two massive sea battles (The Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf), but at this late stage of the war the sea was far to the rear of the combat zone.  The submarine that sunk Indianapolis may well have been the only enemy combatant for miles around.  Indianapolis went down about 300 miles from the nearest land (Palau Islands), an easy day’s sail for most ships.  Furthermore, the area was criss-crossed several times a day by aircraft conducting the routine and administrative drudgery of rear area support tasks.  If the survivors from Indianapolis could just get through the night they would surely be rescued the following day.

Unfortunately, their situation was far darker than they even imagined.  Nobody was looking for them!  Indianapolis radiomen managed to get off two SOS signals before the ship went under.  But despite the fact a distress signal was received by at least three stations, no action was taken to either organize a rescue party or even to investigate.  It seems the Japanese sent fake distress calls so often in attempts to lure out American search vessels that SOS signals were routinely ignored unless the ship’s identity could be confirmed by radio contact.

USS Indianapolis on 10 July 1945 off Mare Island after her final overhaul; photo
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Even worse a breakdown in the routine communications procedure for tracking ships at sea meant that nobody noticed Indianapolis’ failure to arrive at Leyte the morning of July 31st.  The movement of warships was obviously rather secretive so the Navy had established a set of communication guidelines regarding departures and arrivals of warships.  Following protocol there had been an announcement over the radio network when Indianapolis departed Guam, but no announcement would be made upon her safe arrival at her destination.  It was typically up to the commander at a warship’s destination to take appropriate action if a ship was overdue.  However, in the case of Indianapolis on this particular cruise things had become confused.  The operations officer for Task Force 95, to whom Indianapolis was to report upon arrival at Leyte, did not know to expect Indianapolis because his staff had incorrectly decoded the message informing him of the ship’s impending arrival.  When Indianapolis failed to arrive as scheduled, the Leyte port director assumed she had been diverted en route, as warships often were, and took no action.  In other words, the Navy had lost a 10,000 ton ship.

The poor souls drifting in the Philippine Sea paid a heavy price for the Navy’s failure to devise a communications scheme to keep track of its ships.  With little fresh water, food or protection from the elements the survivors faced a horrific ordeal.  Hopes for a rescue faded after the first full day adrift.  Several planes were spotted, but try as they might they could not get the pilots’ attention.  The day of their expected arrival in Leyte came and went and still there was no sign of rescue.  As the long days mounted their suffering became ever more protracted.  Even as the tropical sun scorched them by day, the water gradually sapped their body heat so that hypothermia eventually set in.  Dehydration took its predictable toll.  Some fell to prey to hallucinations or gulped seawater to quench their overpowering thirst.  The ship’s oil made eyes sting and open wounds fester.

Although hypothermia and dehydration undoubtedly claimed more victims, the killer that has become inextricably linked to the Indianapolis disaster is the shark.  Big, aggressive oceanic whitetips, which had probably been following the ship, started circling groups of survivors as soon as the oil slick dissipated.  After first consuming those who had died of wounds the sharks then began attacking the living.  Woody Eugene James tells the harrowing story:

The day wore on and the sharks were around, hundreds of them.  You’d hear guys scream, especially late in the afternoon.  Seemed like the sharks were the worst late in the afternoon than they were during the day.  Then they fed at night too.  Everything would be quiet and then you’d hear somebody scream and you knew a shark had got him.
It is impossible to know for sure exactly how many fell victim to shark attack.  Doug Stanton, author of In Harm’s Way, considers that as many as 200 were eaten.  All told 880 men died as a result of the loss of Indianapolis, around 500 of them having died in the water after abandoning ship.  The survivors were finally spotted—completely by chance—by a passing aircraft on August 2nd.  The last man rescued, pulled from the sea the following day, had been in the water for 112 hours and had drifted 124 miles.

USS Indianapolis survivors aboard the USS Bassett; photograph courtesy
of Steve Butler

There is in fact a double tragedy:  the loss of the Indianapolis and the lost Indianapolis.  Captain Charles McVay was convicted for the first tragedy for having hazarded his ship by failing to zigzag.  It was a raw deal to be sure, which was not corrected until 2001 when his name was cleared of any wrongdoing.  Regardless of whether his actions contributed to the disaster or not, the heavy burden of responsibility for the lives of 880 men under his command tore at McVay for the rest of his life.  Egged on by hate mail from victim’s families, he committed suicide in 1968.  The Navy, on the other hand, never properly explained culpability for the second tragedy—why 316 poor men drifted in the open sea for more than four and a half days while nobody looked for them!

Stay tuned for a future post about the part one of my ancestors played in the rescue of USS Indianapolis survivors.

My brother, John, is writing a book about World War II. The sources he used for this post are:

“A Survivor’s Story, In Woody’s Words.”   Netwide Development (accessed June 24, 2014).
Morison, Samuel Elliot.  Victory In the Pacific 1945, History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol XIV (Castle Books, 1960), p. 319 – 330.

Stanton, Doug.  In Harm’s Way—the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of its Survivors, (Henry Holt and Company, 2001).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Barnhill Poorhouse

Margaret Brownlee, or Brownlie, was illegitimate daughter of Esther Brownlee and was born in the Barnhill Poorhouse on 13 Jun 1871. She was adopted by Robert and Margaret (Melrose) Smith family and listed them as her parents when she married my first cousin three times removed, Thomas Riddell, on 4 September 1891.

The Barnhill poorhouse opened in 1853 and was described in 1882 as "a very capacious asylum for the children of poverty and well adapted by its cleanliness, ventilation and position to mitigate the ills of their condition." The inmates were fed "Class C" meals, which were comprised of meal and milk for breakfast and supper and bread and meat broth for dinner.

By 1904 conditions were much different. A report found staffing to care for the infirm was inadequate, the administration of the stores department was incompetent and the steward and his assistant should be dismissed, the day hall was unfit for its purpose, and staff did not work together in a harmonious fashion.

There is a wonderful website -- -- which provides a wealth of information about the laws creating and regulating poorhouses and what life was like for inmates, as they were called.

Barnoy Parish Poorhouse at Barnhill; courtesy of Healtherbank
Museum of Social Work

I was surprised to learn there were no laws related to formal adoption in the United Kingdom, including Scotland, until 1926. Adoptions or wardships were informal affairs.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

52 Ancestors #30: Disabled in World War I

Ancestor Name: James WHYTE

James Whyte was the husband of my second cousin twice removed, Mary Shaw McAlpine. James was born on 24 September 1897 in Livingston, Scotland, to Walter and Margaret (Clark) Whyte.

By 12 August 1913 he was a shale miner, serving in the Army special reserve. On 3 August 1914 he joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Two years laters he was deemed no longer being physically fit for military service due to the effects of a strained heart. On 11 May 1916 he was granted a pension as totally disabled. The report of the Medical Board, dated 29 September 1916:

Snippet of James Whyte's medical report 

States he was wounded in flesh of left thigh on 19 Jun 1915 at Gallipoli Peninsula. The wound has healed and he was up and about when in the middle of August, resulting he thinks from the great heat, he began to have pain in the left side and palpitations. Cause: Strain of active service and excessive heat while convalescent from a wound. Active service conditions straining the heart muscle. After slight exertion, pulse 114 and missing several beats each minute. The cardiac apex is 1/2" outside nipple line, but there is no murmur. Result of active service conditions -- strain. Total at present. A. F. B 103: --"D. A H" Field -- 28-12-14. Invalided Home
M. H. S: -- "Frost-bite feet" Bristol -- 3-1-15 to 6-1-15 "Bayonet S. Seg" Dar 4-6-15 Invalided Home. "Effects of Strain of Heart" Edinburgh 24-2-16

I found it amazing that James had frost bitten feet in January and a year later suffered so badly from the heat his heart was permanently strained. It also appears, if I am reading the medical report correctly, that he had been invalided home once before on 28 December 1914, which was 6 months before the unit shipped out to Gallipoli. Still so many questions!

James Whyte with his wife and sisters-in-law. From left to right: Mary Shaw (McAlpine)
Whyte,  James Whyte, Isabella (McAlpine) McVicar, and  Martha (Hamilton) Finlay. Photo
courtesy of member nclaw

James Whyte married  Mary Shaw McAlpine on 24 December 1919 in Bathgate. He died in Bangour Hospital of a ruptured aortic aneurysm on 8 Aug 1987 at the age of 89. His wife had died two years earlier.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

James Whyte was born on 24 September 1897 in Livingston Village to Walter and Margaret (Clark) Whyte. He served in World War I with the King's Own Scottish Borderers and discharged in 1916. He served in France from 12 May 1914 to 1 January 1915 and in Turkey from 9 May 1915 to 9 October 1915 (according to his discharge record). He married Mary Watson Shaw McAlpine on 24 December 1919 at the St. John's Manse in Bathgate. They had a least one daughter. He died on 8 August 1987 in Whitburn, Scotland, and was buried in Bathgate Cemetery.

On the centenary of World War I, I am writing occasional profiles about the lives of my soldier ancestors, who fought in the Great War. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lives of the First World War Website (Worldwide Genealogy Collaboration)

The Imperial War Museum (IWM), in partnership with DC Thomson Family History, has launched a new website: Lives of the First World War

Lives of the First World War home page

The IWM is a British museum founded in 1917 with the aim of recording the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its empire during World War I. As part of the museum’s centennial commemoration of the war, the new website was launched.  The objective is to create a permanent digital memorial of the 8 million people who participated in the war effort by crowd-sourcing the data gathering and recording of information about individual soldiers.

You may read my occasional posts about my ancestor soldiers who fought in World War I as well as my civilian ancestors whose lives were impacted by the war here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Curing Syphillis: Camp Garraday

I can tell you I never thought I'd be writing about venereal disease on a family history blog. But when I found an ancestor's Young Man's WWII draft card and it said his address was Camp Garraday, Hot Springs, Arkansas, well, it made me wonder. What kind of camp was it; after all, he wasn't yet in the Army? A Google search revealed the very interesting history of Camp Garraday.

The practice of bathing in hot or cold baths to cure diseases dates from prehistoric times. The U.S. government first acquired title to the hot springs in Arkansas in 1818 when the Quapaw Indians ceded the land to them. Fourteen years later the federal government declared the hot springs a reservation for public use.

Hot Springs became known as the place to go to "take the baths" while receiving mercury treatments for syphilis, including Al Capone. Physicians at Hot Springs prescribed ten times the amount of mercury for bathers, which may have had more to do with the cure success ratio than the baths.

When the Public Health Service examined the World War I draft cards, they were astounded by the levels of venereal disease revealed during medical examinations. In response the Chamberlain-Kahn Act was passed and the Public Health Service added a new Division of Venereal Disease. The new division was to work in cooperation with states' to help prevent and gain control of the disease as well as prevent interstate transmission.

A new bathhouse and clinic were planned at Hot Springs, which was to serve as a model for the treatment of venereal disease. Treatment of syphilis changed over time at the clinic. Arsenical compounds, such as arsphenamine, were used in the 1920s, and sulfa drugs in the 1930s.

Administering arsphenamine circa 1925; photograph courtesy of the
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

The Depression brought new challenges as many who came to Hot Springs to be treated were indigent. The Arkansas Transient Bureau was created in 1933, and the bureau quickly built Camp Garraday to handle the influx of people coming to be treated. Under an agreement between the bureau and the Public Health Service, people housed at Camp Garraday could be treated for venereal disease at the clinic. In 1935, 14,946 applicants were examined at the venereal disease clinic.

Lobby of Public Health Service Venereal Disease Clinic in Hot Springs
where patients were registered; photograph courtesy of the University of
Arkansas for Medical Sciences

With the advent of penicillin, patients began to be treated locally and the Free Government Bathhouse closed in 1953. Camp Garraday, which provided domicile for many indigent patients, is now within the boundaries of the Hot Springs National Park and houses the administrative offices of the Hot Springs school district.

I hope you found the history of Camp Garraday as interesting as I did.

Because I discovered the ancestor, who was living at Camp Garraday when he was drafted through an AncestryDNA match, who is obviously still living, I am not including his name or biographical details.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

52 Ancestors #29 -- He Died on a Flanders Field

Ancestor Name: Oswald Dykes Riddell DICK

Sometime after the start of the First World War, Oswald was called up for military duty and served as a Lance Corporal with the 5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. He was killed in action on 21 July 1918. His battalion was attached to the 152nd Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division, which at the time of his death, was under the command of French general Foch, as the Allies counter attacked to repel the advances made by the German during their summer offensive. The Allied victory during the Second Battle of the Marne was considered the turning point of the war on the western front.

I have no photograph of Oswald, but do have a description from his 1906-1908 military service record when he was 18 years old. He was 5' 3" tall, weighed 101 pounds, with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, and brown hair.

I downloaded a book on Internet Archive, The History of the 51st (Highland) Division, 1914-1918, by Major F. W. Bewsher, DSO, MC, which described the action that took place the day Oswald was killed.

"It was arranged that the 152nd Infantry Brigade should take over the 153rd Brigade front and carry out a second attack. The general plan was that the brigade should advance on a one-battalion front, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders leading, the 6th Gordon Highlanders next, and the 6th Seaforth Highlanders in the rear. Three objectives were selected for the attack, the first being the northwest edge of the Bois de Coutron, the second the southern slopes of the Bois des Eclisses, and third the northern slopes. 

The 153rd brigade were to form such defensive flanks as became necessary during the progress of the attack, the 7th Gordon Highlanders on the right and the 7th Black Watch on the left. On the right of the Highland division the 62nd division were to attack with a view to encircling the Marfaux locality from the north while the 9th French Division were attacking on the left, the village of Paradis being the particular stumbling block in their path which they hoped to remove.

The artillery barrage fell, as had been planned, south of the Les Haies-La Neuville road; but as the enemy had closely followed our troops during their last withdrawal, he had been able to establish many machine gun posts close to the jumping off line. The result was that the barrage fell behind the enemy's foremost troops, and the machine gun outposts were untouched.

In consequence the 6th Gordon Highlanders met with the stoutest opposition from the outset of the attack, a storm of bullets greeting them as soon as their advance began. Nevertheless, the troops on the right, with fine determination, brushed back all resistance until they had reached a point which was estimated to be about 200 yards from the northwest edge of the Bois de Crouton. Here the enemy were found to be holding a carefully prepared line of resistance supported by numerous and well sited machine guns and trench mortars.

German dead during the Second Battle of the Marne; photograph courtesy of
Doughboy Center

In spite of the gallant attempts made by the battalion to carry this line, it held firm, the Germans defending themselves skillfully and courageously with rifles and hand grenades. For an hour the 6th Gordon Highlanders tried to come to close grips with them, and drive them from their position, but without results. 

Meanwhile the enemy displayed on his part the greatest initiative, making repeated attempts to filter through gaps in our front line and on the right flank, and ultimately became so threatening on the right rear of the 6th Gordon Highlanders that they were compelled to fall back on that flank to a position some 200 yards in advance of their jumping off line.

On the left the advance was held up after the wood had been cleared for some 500 yards. Paradis had successfully withstood the repeated attempts of the French to storm it, so that the left flank of the Division's attack was again in the air. In consequence, the leading troops in this part of the battlefield also fell back onto the same line as the right flank had done, the 7th Black Watch forming a defensive flank to connect the left of the 6th Gordon Highlanders with the right of the French.

A company of 5th Seaforth Highlanders was also sent forward to fill gaps which had occurred in the center of the 6th Gordon Highlanders' line.

As had been the case on the previous day, the difficulties of the operation where greatly increased by the blindness of the country, it being almost impossible to locate exactly the positions and flanks of advance parties in the wood.

However, by noon, a continuous line had been formed joining the left of the 154th Brigade to the right of the French.

The troops closely engaged throughout the day, and it became necessary to move forward companies from all three battalions of the 152nd Brigade to strengthen the line in places where it was becoming weakened. On the left the successful resistance of the Germans in Paradis had made it necessary to occupy a line which curved around the eastern side of that village some 300 yards from it, while on the right flank the 6th Seaforth Highlanders, after some fighting with enemy machine guns, established themselves on a line facing north some 700 yards south of Espilly.

On the 154th Brigade front no particular incidents occurred. Strong patrols attempted to advance and make ground towards the enemy, but they found him everywhere in strength, and were unable to get forward. For a time the high ground on the extreme right was harassed by machine guns. However, a Stokes mortar from the 154th Trench Mortar Battery was brought into action against them, and after firing forty rounds silenced them. A patrol subsequently found twelve dead Germans in one machine gun nest that had thus been dealt with.

So ended another day of severe fighting."

A postcard showing the school and Belleau Woods after the Second Battle of the Marne;
image courtesy of the George Eastman House Collection

Oswald Dick was 29 years old and was buried at the Terlincthun British Cemetery in Wimville, France.

Terlincthun British Cemetery, photograph courtesy of the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Oswald Dykes Riddell Dick was born on 7 October 1888 in Maryhill, Glasgow, to James Dick and Helen Cowie. His parents were not married at the time of his birth. He was named for his uncle, Oswald Dykes Riddell, Helen's Cowie's sister's husband. On 26 Feb 1906 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, Glasgow Battalion, for a period of 6 years. He attended annual training in 1906, 1907, and 1908. On 27 Jun 1908 he was granted a free discharge. On 31 August 1906 he married Elizabeth Scott in Glasgow. They had four children before Elizabeth's death in 1914: Janet Wilson Dick (born 1906), James Dick (born 1908),  John Scott Dick (born 1910), and Oswald Dick (born 1912). On 17 February 1917 he married Henrietta Riddell, in Glasgow. She was his first cousin and a daughter of his namesake, Oswald Dykes Riddell. Sometime during World War One, Oswald was called up to serve his country and served with the 5th Seaforth Highlanders. The unit was attached to the 152nd Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division. Oswald was killed in action on 21 July 1918 during the Second Battle of the Marne, considering the turning point of the war in the western front. His wife, Henrietta (Riddell) Dick married John Rennie in 1919. They adopted a son, Samuel Dunn (born about 1921) and immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1927, joining Henrietta's mother and several siblings and their families. I have been unable to find any trace of Oswald's children by his first marriage to date.

I have begun adding to Oswald's profile on the Lives of the First World War website, which, though still in its infancy, should be a site anyone researching soldiers in World War I, should add to their toolbox.

My previous posts about World War I may be found on the World War I Challenge page.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Great Cyclone of 1896

Sometimes the news of the times in which our ancestors lived can be fascinating. On 27 May 1896 a series of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes struck the central Midwest. The "cyclone" that hit St Louis and East St Louis was a historic tornado that is still considered the third deadliest and most costly tornado to strike the U.S.

Electric train car blown off a bridge in East St Louis

The tornado spawned from a supercell; it touched down in St Louis first and then crossed the river into East St Louis. At least 255 people were killed in the two cities that afternoon, including 35 at the Vandalia railroad freight yards. Many more may have been killed as several steam ships were destroyed in the Mississippi river and bodies were never recovered.

Many of my ancestors lived in nearby Madison County as well as in St Clair County and East St Louis at the time the great cyclone hit. According to The Great Cyclone at St. Louis and East St. Louis by Julian Curzon published in 1896, "Nearly half of East St Louis was wrecked. The damage was done in a few minutes' time, and how anyone in the path of the cyclone escaped is a mystery to all who passed over the devastated section."

Courthouse in East St Louis

"A law case was being tried in the court house. When the storm clouds began to gather, the foreman of the jury implored the judge to discharge them. The court house at the time was being shaken by the wind. Five minutes after the jury departed for their homes, the courthouse was destroyed by the tornado."

Eads bridge (view from East St Louis)

"The scene from the Eads bridge resembled a battlefield. The dead and dying were removed from the ruins by willing workers, and the burning mills and warehouses lighted their funeral pyres with a distinctness that added horror to the awful scene." Rescuers and clean-up crews found a 2x10 wooden plank driven through a wrought iron plate.

Grain elevator on the Mississippi river levee in East St Louis

"The wind struck the levee just north of the East St Louis elevator about 5:30 p.m. The wharf at Wiggins Ferry was the first to suffer, and it was thrown far up on the levee."

National Hotel in East St Louis

"At the hotels panic prevailed. Women ran from one room to another, and along the corridors, screaming and seeking protection. Men who had faced almost every peril were powerless to comfort them. One glance from the window told them that the storm was one of greater force than any they had gone through or even contemplated. The strongest of them trembled and there were none who pretended they had a reasonable hope of escaping alive."

Martell bridge in East St Louis

"When the dawn came it was possible to see the devastation wrought by the storm in East St Louis. The sky was clear, and the beauty of the morning strkingly contrasted with the scene of desolation that was disclosed. On the river bank, from Kehlor's mill on the south to the elevators on the north, not a house was standing. These huge structures and the cold storage company's plant were badly damaged. The river bank was was lined with the wrecks of boats.

With the river banks as the base, the entire triangle formed by what is called the Island, there is not a whole house standing. Even the Relay Depot had its corners broken and two huge roundhouses were shaved off below the tops of the middle of the locomotives which stood within them."

The newspaper in nearby Troy, Illinois, where many of my ancestors lived, carried a story about the tornado the next day:

Weekly Call, 28 May 1896

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Another Riddell Conundrum

Robert Riddell was born on 5 April 1859 in the Village of Kirkton, East Kilbride, Scotland, to John and Martha (Muir) Riddell. On 15 May 1859 his name was altered to Oswald Dykes Riddell. Oswald married Ann "Annie" Cowie, daughter of William and Mary (Adams) Cowie, on 26 Jan 1883 in Airdrie, Scotland. Over the next 14 years they had seven children -- six daughters and one son. Oswald had an upwardly mobile work career. He began as a farm servant, became a coachman, restauranteur, and by 1915 owned property in Lanarkshire.

Oswald died on 11 February 1935 in Airdrie at the age of 75 of chronic bronchitis and heart failure. The official registration of his death indicated he was a widower, which meant his wife, Annie, predeceased him. And that's where my second Riddell conundrum[1] began.

Oswald Dykes Riddell's death registration from ScotlandsPeople

There is absolutely no record of Annie's death -- at least that I can find.

It happens (though it drives me crazy) so I moved on and began researching Oswald and Annie's children. When I got to son, John, things got interesting...and initially confusing.

John was born on 8 August 1893 in Coatbridge, Scotland. In 1911, he was a waiter at his family's restaurant. Since the 1911 census is the most recent that has been made public, I started looking for a marriage record. No luck. When that happens, I think perhaps the person emigrated and search passenger lists and other related records.

A John Riddell, departed Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 7 April 1923 aboard the S/S Marburn and arrived in Quebec on 13 April. The passenger list said he worked as a barman and his last address was 10 Parkend Street, Belfast. I thought this likely wasn't my John Riddell. But thank goodness for the Canada, Ocean Arrival (Form 30A) record set. It confirmed it was "my" John. His father was listed on the form and I discovered John's sister, Annie, had already immigrated to Canada and was living in Montreal on 746 De L'epee Avenue.

Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924 for John Riddell

When did Annie immigrate to Canada?

Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924 for Annie Riddell

Annie first immigrated to Canada in 1913 and returned to Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1920 for a holiday. The form also provided further confirmation that I had the correct John Riddell (same Belfast address) and another layer of mystery to my second Riddell conundrum. What was Annie (Cowie) Riddell, their mother, doing in Belfast? Was her husband Oswald there as well? If so, why wasn't he listed as the nearest relative? And, most importantly, did Annie (Cowie) Riddell die in Ireland?

Another snippet of Annie Riddell's Ocean Arrivals Form

With so many questions I kept looking. I learned Annie paid for two of her grand daughters to immigrate to Canada in 1926. Annie's address was listed as 2762 St. Catherine Street, Montreal, on their Ocean Arrivals forms. Further searching revealed Annie arrived in Canada on 18 May 1924 aboard the S/S Regina. Her point of contact in Canada was her daughter, Mrs. Lindsay, who lived at 84 Terrace View in Montreal. I do not yet know which daughter married Mr. Lindsay. So the hunt for Annie (Cowie) Riddell's death date continues. Annie (Cowie) Riddell's Oceans Arrival form is so interesting, I'm going to provide a partial transcription:

Name: Mrs. Riddell (Annie Cowie)
Age 67
Are you married, single, widowed or divorced? M
If married, are you accompanied by husband or wife? No
Object in going to Canada: To settle
Do you intend to remain permanently in Canada? Yes

I now believe Annie left her husband, Oswald Dykes Riddell, and died in Canada. What do you think?

[1] My first Riddell conundrum involved Oswald Dykes Riddell and his brother, Robert. It took some time to sort out they were two different people: Riddell Conundrum.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

52 Ancestors #28: Henry Tucker and the Georgia Secession Convention

Ancestor Name: Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr.

Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr. (1805-1883) was my sister-in-law's 4x great grand uncle. He was born in Laurens County, Georgia. According to another Tucker ancestor, Blanche Pitts Smith, "...he joined the state militia in 1836 and fought the warring Creek Indians. He was elected captain of his company and served with distinction…He helped form and served as pastor of Sardis Church in 1840." He was married three times and had 32 children!

In 1860 secession fever was sweeping the state as evidenced by this drawing of of a demonstration in Savannah's public square:

Drawing by Henry Cleenewerck; image courtesy of GeorgiaInfo

In 1861, Henry Tucker was one of two representatives from Colquitt County to the Georgia Secession Convention held in Milledgeville, then the state capitol. He was one of 301 representatives who voted unanimously to secede. His feeling about secession are detailed in Robert Dennard Tucker's book, William Tucker of Throwleigh, Devon, on page 70:

"Livestock being more important to south Georgia than cotton, there were far fewer requirements for slave holdings and fewer concerns among its citizens regarding the prohibitive tariffs and cotton trade restrictions being imposed by the northern [states through their representatives in Congress]. Local sentiment strongly favored remaining in the Union. Rev. Tucker left home inclined to vote accordingly. At the convention, however, he was swayed by the majority and ultimately voted for Georgia to secede from the United States of America. Once committed, his family and neighbors fully supported the cause. Five of his sons fought for the Confederacy. Three served in Company H, 50th Georgia Infantry -- John as an officer, Henry as a sergeant, and Richard as a private. George  served in Company C, 11th Georgia Cavalry, and Matthew fought with Company G, 12th Georgia Infantry. Henry was a fatality and Richard was severely wounded."

Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia. A full size image may be found here

Tucker's name is the tenth from the top in the second column and is listed as H C Tucker from Colquitt. The original ordinance was printed on satin and is held by the University of Georgia's Hargett Library.

With what important historical events have your ancestors been involved?

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr., was born in 1805 in Laurens County, Georgia, to Henry Crawford Tucker, Sr., and Sarah "Sallie" Hunter. In 1824 he married Nancy Sapp in Montgomery County. They had eight children before her death in 1841. He joined the Georgia Militia in 1836 and fought against the Creek Indians. On 10 May 1842 he married Margaret "Peggy" Watson in Thomas County. They had eleven children before she died in 1856. The next year he married Rebecca Bryant on 9 February 1857. He served as one of two representatives from Colquitt County during the Georgia Secession Convention in 1861, voting to secede from the Union. He and his third wife had 13 children. Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr., died on 2 February 1863 and is buried at Bridge Creek Cemetery in Colquitt County, George. 

Thirty-two Children!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Glorious Twelfth

I never thought I was Irish, but I am...sort of in a Scottish type of way.

Every ancestor I have found, who was born in Ireland, was born in the six counties that comprise Northern Ireland. They have all been Protestant, mostly Presbyterian, or similar "flavor." This leads me to believe they were ancestors of the Scots who were "planted" there by King Henry VIII or one of his successors (though not Catholic Mary I). Irish land was confiscated by the British and colonized by Scots from the lowland areas north of the Scots-English border. These plantations changed the demography of Ireland and created large communities with a British and Protestant identity.

Counties in Ireland subjected to plantations (1556-1620);
courtesy of Wikipedia

I believe the partition of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is largely a result of the settlement patterns of the 16th and 17th centuries.

So it looks like I should not celebrate St Patrick's Day, but instead celebrate the Glorious Twelfth, a Protestant holiday held on July 12th each year, celebrating the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and William of Orange's victory over James II at the Battle of Boyne on 1690.

Pardon me while I go celebrate today. I might be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Gift in My Inbox

I discovered in a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) application that used my four times great grandfather, Samuel Beard, as their Revolutionary War ancestor, the name of the husband of Samuel's daughter, Elizabeth "Betsey" Beard. He was Rufus Thomas and together he and Betsey had a daughter named Julia Thomas. As I was searching for information on Julia, I learned she married William Ware Jopling.

Attached to another member's public tree was this wonderful photo:

Jopling Family Portrait courtesy of member ebmayes

I messaged ebmayes and told her about the information I had discovered on the DAR application and heard from her the next day. She is related to William and Julia (Thomas) Jopling's daughter, Mary Elizabeth Jopling, who went by the nickname, "Mollie." I learned her mother actually stayed with the woman who had applied for DAR membership in the 1960s and writes genealogy books! Then I got the best surprise of all.

This copy of the above photograph with Mollie's writing across the top appeared in my email inbox, along with an article which appeared in Confederate Veteran magazine.

Copy of Confederate Veteran magazine article with Mollie (Jopling) Bondurant's
handwriting across the top

The rich genealogical detail in the article is wonderful:

"Jas. W. Joplin, now resident of Elizabethtown, Ky., is eighty-nine years old. He lived in Franklin County, Va., at the breaking out of the Civil War. Although too old for active service, he had six sons fighting for the Confederacy. He assisted in raising and equipping one company and had it drilled on his place. His home was known as Confederate headquarters, and many a soldier was fed and assisted by him.

He was a personal friend of Gen. J. A. Early, and it was at the Joplin home that Gen. Early was concealed after Lee's surrender while Federal soldiers were scouring the country for him, to get the reward for his body, "dead or alive." Gen. Early made his escape from Virginia on "Gray Bill" a noted horse that Thos. M. Joplin rode at the time of the surrender. This horse was captured from a squad of Federal soldiers while Early was attempting to cross the Mississippi River.

Mr. Joplin's sons served as follows: Thos. M. Joplin (now of Franklin, Tenn.) in the first Tennessee Cavalry. He was considered mortally wounded while with Morgan at Lebanon, Tenn., in 1862. He was afterwards scout from army headquarters and was badly wounded again. He was much with Sam Davis.

J. B. Joplin, the second son, (now of Gurley, Ala.) served with distinction in Second Virginia Cavalry with Gen. J. E. B. Stuart until his death, and afterwards with Gen. Fitzhugh Lee. He was wounded at the first battle of Manassas -- and again in the battle of Seven Pines. He participated in all the battles of his command in the Virginia campaign.

Jessee Joplin, (now of Eureka, Mo.) served in Second Mississippi Cavalry, with Forrest at Fort Pillow and all through his campaign; he was wounded twice and is now a cripple from his wound. 

Wm. A. Joplin, (now of Garuthersville, Mo.) served in Thirty-seventh Virginia Cavalry with Col. Dunn; in West Virginia under Gen. Wm. L. Jackson, who chose him as a guide and companion after Gen. Lee's surrender.  They were to join Gen. Early to the Trans-Mississippi Department, but abandoned the undertaking after ten days in the Pines.

J. C. Joplin, (now at Santa Ana, Calif.) served in the Second Virginia Cavalry and was known as one of the bravest and most daring soldiers in his regiment, being always at the front when duty demanded. 

F. M. Joplin (now of Elizabethtown, Ky.) was thirteen years old when the war begun, and participated  with Roanoke College Reserve Company, 1863. He ran away from school in June, 1864, joined the First Virginia Infantry when sixteen years old, and served under Gen. Ewell in front of Richmond and in that vicinity. He was with Gen. R. E. Lee's Army at Appomattox."

Monday, July 7, 2014

An Adoption on a Train

Milton Patrick Riggin was adopted on a train while traveling from Troy, Illinois, to St Louis, Missouri.

Cast of Characters

Harrison "Harry" Riggin, my great grandmother's half-brother, married Nancy Amanda Bullock in 1886. They had five children during the the 13 years of their marriage before Nancy died -- Wesley, William, Harley Carl, Sadie May, and Milton, respectively. Harry worked long hours as a day laborer and apparently couldn't care for his five children.

Two of the three younger children were adopted; Harley Carl, by Frank and Kathy Meunch; and Sadie May, by her father's step-mother, Clementine, and her second husband, William Collins. Harley Carl was living with his uncle Thomas Albert Riggin's wife in 1910.  I never could figure out what happened to the baby of the family, Milton until I investigated a new shaky leaf on

Here's Milton's story by member allysonmt:

"...A man from a St Louis adoption agency came to Troy to pick up Milton. As he headed back to St Louis by train, Milton started screaming and crying very loudly. Fanny Brennan happened to be on the train, returning home to Caseyville from a visit to her brother, who lived in Troy. She had lost three sons over the previous eight years and she asked the man if she could hold the baby. Milton immediately calmed down in her arms and Fanny held him all the way to Caseyville. As she was leaving the train the man from the St Louis adoption agency asked her if she wanted to adopt him. Fanny agreed.  

Milton Patrick Riggin Brennan with a sibling from
his adoptive family; photo courtesy of
member allysonmt

At some point Fanny and her husband, Robert, got word to Harry Riggin and he came to visit his son. Harry remarried in 1903 and had several more children. Milton's older brother William moved to Texas and then to New Mexico. Fifty years after Milton was adopted, he visited William for the first time."

Wilhelmina Frances Kersey and her husband,
Robert Brennan; photo courtesy of
member allysonmt

Milton used the surname Brennan for the rest of his life. He married Grace Helen Murphy and together they had seven children. Milton died in 1965 and Grace in 1985. Milton is buried at Pierce Brothers Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside, California.

I am indebted to member, allysonmt, for her Brennan family photographs and Milton's adoption story and making her tree public to share with other members.

Friday, July 4, 2014

52 Ancestors #27: Revolutionary War Soldier

Ancestor Name: Benjamin Jennings

As those of us in the United States begin our long holiday weekend, celebrating our Nation's independence, I thought it appropriate to highlight another Revolutionary War ancestor: Benjamin Jennings. He was my 4 times great grandfather and was born about 1740 in what is now Chesterfield County, Virginia, and died on July 1815 in what was then Powhatan County. After attending a National Genealogical Society's 2014 Family History Conference session about researching Revolutionary War soldiers, several months ago, I wondered if he had ever been listed as an ancestor on a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) application.

I searched for Benjamin on the DAR Genealogical Research System (GRS) and found him. His Revolutionary War service has been recognized by DAR. I ordered his ancestor case file and received an electronic copy via email.  The file was four-pages long and included a lineage from Benjamin to the applicant, most of which I didn't know about and also gave details about his war service, which I found the most interesting of all.

Benjamin Jennings ancestor file, detailing his Revolutionary War service
in the Virginia Militia and Continental Army courtesy of the
Daughters of the American Revolutions

Benjamin is also listed in several rosters that have been published of Virginia Revolutionary War soldiers, including John H. Gwathmey's Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution and H. J. Eckenrode's Revolutionary Soldiers of Virginia. A visit to the center for Military History website and several other sources have provided the context of Benjamin's service.

In September of 1776 he joined the Captain Thomas Gaddis' company of Virginia Militia and was stationed at what is now Beech Bottom, West Virginia, about 20 miles north of Wheeling on the Ohio River. Their primary responsibility for the four months in which the company was there was keeping lines of communication to Fort Henry, in Wheeling, open and scouting for hostile Indians.

Google map showing location of what is now Beech Bottom, West Virginia
where Benjamin Jennings was stationed when he served with the
Virginia Militia

There is a break in the payroll records for Benjamin from December 1776 to July 1777. At that time he was a private in Captain James Knox's company, which was part of the newly formed Provisional Rifle Corps.  Colonel Daniel Morgan led the corps, comprised of about 500 specially selected riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, chosen for their sharpshooting ability. This unit came to be known as Morgan's Riflemen.

Soon after the formation of Morgan's Riflemen, Washington detached several units and sent them to fight General Burgoyne. From the payroll records, it appears Benjamin Jennings was part of this detachment.

The regiment served under General Horatio Gates, who wrote to General George Washington:

"In this situation, Your Excellency would not wish me to part with the corps the army of General Burgoyne are most afraid of."

Morgan's Rifemen were part of the Battles of Saratoga, which occurred between 19 September and 7 October, 1777, and gave the revolutionary soldiers a decisive victory over the British Army.

Benjamin Jennings is the first Jennings I can find in the United States, who can be definitely confirmed as my ancestor. His parents are unknown at this time. The death of a wealthy commoner in Britain a decade after the Revolutionary War has made for some very "interesting" genealogy theories and has reduced tracing Benjamin's ancestors to near impossibility. What we do know about Benjamin is that he was born about 1740 in Chesterfield County, Colony of Virginia. By the mid 1760s he was married to woman named Sally and living in Powhatan County. Together they had at least six children before Benjamin served in the Virginia Militia and later the Continental Army. During the latter part of the war, the couple had another child. Sally died sometime before 1796 and Benjamin married Elizabeth McGruder on 10 February 1796. They had one daughter. Benjamin died in 1815 and his will was probated 19 July 1815. In it he named all his children, including the surnames of his married daughters.

George Washington Spoke to Him