Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review- Murder and Mayhem: War of Reconstruction in Texas

Historical context is one of the keys to understanding our family history.  I was searching for answers regarding the reasons that my client's ancestor, Isaac O. Meadows filed suit against the City of Bonham, Texas in 1874.  He was elected constable of Bonham on 7 November 1874.  On the same date, James M. Reed was elected Mayor of Bonham and the following persons were elected Aldermen of Bonham: Willis A. Nunnelle, Richard B. Semple, Peter B. Maddrey, Lake C. Wilson, and John R. Russell all of which were named as defendants in this case. His petition to the District Court of Fannin County alleged that he was deprived of his elected position by the mayor and the aldermen and that he was due damages for the income lost and the damage to his reputation.  To find out more about the historical context, I conducted a google search for "Reconstruction, Fannin County, Texas" and came across a recent book entitled, Murder and Mayhem: The War of Reconstruction in Texas. This immediately caught my attention because it might help to explain the nature of the conflict between Isaac O. Meadows and the Mayor and Aldermen of Bonham.

Front Cover of Murder and Mayhem: The War of Reconstruction in Texas
by James Smallwood, Barry A. Crouch, and Larry Peacock
Published by Texas A&M University Press, 2003 - History - 182 pages
IMAGE SOURCE: Google Books

The preview on Google Books was just enough to tantalize and intrigue me and fortunately, the nearby Helen Hall Library had a copy in their stacks.  Both Google Books and the book jacket feature a summary of the book as follows:

In the states of the former Confederacy, Reconstruction amounted to a second Civil War, one that white southerners were determined to win. An important chapter in that undeclared conflict played out in northeast Texas, in the Corners region where Grayson, Fannin, Hunt, and Collin Counties converged. Part of that violence came to be called the Lee-Peacock Feud, a struggle in which Unionists led by Lewis Peacock and former Confederates led by Bob Lee sought to even old scores, as well as to set the terms of the new South, especially regarding the status of freed slaves. Until recently, the Lee-Peacock violence has been placed squarely within the Lost Cause mythology. This account sets the record straight. For Bob Lee, a Confederate veteran, the new phase of the war began when he refused to release his slaves. When Federal officials came to his farm in July to enforce emancipation, he fought back and finally fled as a fugitive. In the relatively short time left to his life, he claimed personally to have killed at least forty people—civilian and military, Unionists and freedmen. Peacock, a dedicated leader of the Unionist efforts, became his primary target and chief foe. Both men eventually died at the hands of each other’s supporters. From previously untapped sources in the National Archives and other records, the authors have tracked down the details of the Corners violence and the larger issues it reflected, adding to the reinterpretation of Reconstruction history and rescuing from myth events that shaped the following century of Southern politics.
This book helps to set the stage for the drama that was unfolding in the Fannin County Court Case. The corners counties of Grayson, Fannin, Hunt, and Collin Counties were very divided in their loyalties.  Unionists and former confederates were struggling for control of local and state government.  Most of the settlers in the corner counties had come from the upper south with a sprinkling of northerners.  Most were yeoman farmers who were naturally suspicious of the plantation owners who advocated secession.  Located on the edge of the Indian Territory, these counties served as hideouts for outlaws and renegades that preyed on the isolated farmers often using the excuse of their political leanings to justify theft and murder.  Unionists had a slight majority in most of these counties.  These Unionists were loyal to Governor Sam Houston who attempted to keep Texas in the union during the secession votes.

Bob Lee made his position clear when he refused to release his slaves after their emancipation in June of 1865.  Federal officials came to his farm in July to enforce emancipation and he was forced to become a fugitive from federal justice.  During his run from federal and local authorities, he personally claimed to have killed at least forty people- civilian and military, Unionists and freedmen. Lewis Peacock was his main adversary and became the target of many of his raids.  Both men eventually were killed by the other’s supporters.

There is nothing in the facts of the 1874 legal case to show that Isaac O. Meadows was a party in this greater conflict which was occurring in Fannin and neighboring counties.  However, he was represented by a legal firm that appears to have been founded by a well known leader of Texas Unionists.

The law firm that filed the petition of I.O. Meadows was described variantly as Taylor and Cox and Taylor and Son.  The petition was signed by L.B. Cox for plaintiff.  Attempts to find L.B. Cox in the 1870 and 1880 census of Fannin County were unsuccessful.  Taylor and Cox may have been associated with Robert H. Taylor, a noted Unionist of Fannin County.   Taylor served in the Mexican War and then returned to practice law in Bonham and farm in the 1850s. The following biographical information was excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online:

As a member of the Eighth Legislature in January 1861, Taylor opposed recognition of the Secession Convention and signed the antisecessionist "Address to the People of Texas." Once Texas seceded, however, Taylor remained loyal to the South. He helped raise three companies of cavalry during the Civil War and served as colonel of the Twenty-second Texas Cavalry…Taylor returned to public life shortly after the end of the war, when, in recognition of his prewar unionism, provisional governor Andrew J. Hamilton appointed him chief justice of Fannin County. He served in that capacity from August until November 1865 and then became state comptroller, a position he held until mid-1866. Taylor was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1866 and sided with the Unionist minority. He was one of only three men calling for Negro suffrage. As Reconstruction advanced, Taylor became an active member of the new Republican party. Governor Edmund J. Davis appointed him judge of the Fourteenth Judicial District in 1870, but for unknown reasons he did not qualify for the position. Three years later, when Davis sought to make him judge of the Eighth District, the state Senate, then controlled by Democrats, refused to confirm his nomination. Taylor served as president of the 1872 Republican state convention, which supported the renomination of President Ulysses S. Grant. The Republican party made Taylor its candidate for lieutenant governor of Texas in 1873, but he and Governor Davis went down to defeat as the Democrats "redeemed" Texas. In 1879 personal popularity enabled Taylor to overcome his party affiliation and win a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, the last public office that he held. He was a member of the Republican state convention in 1882 and served his party as a presidential elector in the election of 1884… Taylor died at his home near Bonham on May 10, 1889. He is buried beside his first wife in Willow Wild Cemetery.
The importance of historical context to family history cannot be overemphasized.  We must research our family history with an understanding of the local events that were occurring around our ancestors.  All genealogists should read the preface that was written by Larry Peacock, one of the authors and a descendant of Lewis Peacock.  What began as an inquiry into the Peacock family history became a mission to set the historical record straight.  After enlisting two noted historians and five years of effort, this impressive book was the result.   I highly recommend the Murder and Mayhem book be added to your reading list. 

Monday, June 20, 2016 - Newspapers Galore! Home Page
I often get asked which is the best newspaper site.  There are so many digital newspaper sites to choose from.The best newspaper site is the one that has the greatest number of stories about YOUR FAMILY.  That is why it is so important to pay attention to the newspaper titles available on a site and the date range of those titles.

  1. in abundance.
    "there were prizes galore for everything"
    synonyms:aplenty, in abundance, in profusion, in great quantities, in large numbers, by the dozen has great coverage for two cities that interest me: Sacramento and New Orleans. Sacramento is my birthplace.  I am doing research for a client in New Orleans.  Genealogy Bank has really good coverage of the Sacramento Bee in the 1950's.  That is a period in which I find many articles related to my family.

Here are a few samples of the articles on the Cimino family in the Sacramento Bee:

This is my parents wedding announcement.  This article is packed with details about family members and where they lived.  George William Kelly was my mother's stepfather and Engle True Mayne was her father.  My grandmother, Elaine Kelly is known here as Mrs. George W. Kelly.  My cousin, Christine Watson was the flower girl and her name was spelled wrong.  Mrs. Bruce Watson is my Aunt Joan.  Using the husband's name was very common in newspaper articles.

Grandpa George was a devoted golfer.  I remember his many golf trophies
were displayed over the fireplace mantel on Parkside Court.

This is the engagement announcement for my Aunt Betty and Uncle Tony Cimino.  Mary Frances Lutzy was Aunt Betty's sister.  My cousins called her Aunt Tiny.

Here is an article about Uncle Tony playing basketball in the Municipal Basketball League.  Lou Borovansky was a long-time friend of his.

This article is about the death of the father of my Grandma Macy Kimes Cimino.   Grandpa Dick had been a widower for three years in 1955.  He would marry Macy a few months after this article was published.  The wedding occurred on 2 July 1955 in Reno, Nevada.  Macy is known as Mrs. Macy Bailey here.  I did not know she was married to Bailey until I found this article.  I remember Clayton Kimes in his older days.  He always wore cowboy hats and boots and a big belt buckle.  Mrs. Gail Burns was better known to us as Aunt Joy Gail.  Her maiden name was Irons.  I did not know that Grandma Macy's father was buried in Sacramento either.

My mother attended this shower and she is listed here as Mrs. Dick Cimino.  Our family would visit with the Chuck  Pratt family over the years.  This shower was for Chuck's sister, Marcia.

My mother was a bridesmaid at this wedding.

I have to ask my dad why he did not attend the Senior Ball with mom.  I remember Mom talking about Mimi Nicolaus and Owen Schermer.  Shirley Spencer was one of her best friends from high school.

There is so much here from the Sacramento Bee that I will have to save New Orleans for a future blog post.  Suffice it to say that the coverage of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is even better than the Sacramento Bee.  I have found articles in New Orleans from the 1880's through the 1980's.

Newspaper articles are a very interesting window into the lives of our ancestors.  Check the coverage for your cities before signing up for the pay sites.  If you need any look-ups in Genealogy Bank, let me know.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Galveston Juneteenth & Father's Day

If you are looking for a way to celebrate Father's Day with your dad, you might want to consider the events scheduled for Juneteenth in Galveston this week. has the following to say about the weekend's festivities:

When you head to Galveston each June, you’ll be coming home where it all began as the island hosts several days of festivities to celebrate Juneteenth – a holiday that originated in this historic beach town.
This year marks the 151st anniversary of Juneteenth, which will be celebrated with parades, festivals, picnics, African-American heritage exhibits, reenactments, concerts and more.
On June 18, the island will host two Juneteenth parades – one beginning at noon at 26th and Winnie and ending at 41st and Ball streets – and the other beginning at 7 p.m. at 20th and Strand, ending at 28th and Avenue Q. Both parades will feature festive floats, entertainers and bands. The evening parade will end with a fireworks show.
New this year, the island will host the inaugural Galveston Crawfish Festival June 17-19 at the Kermit Courville Stadium parking lot as part of its Juneteenth festivities. The event will include crawfish and food vendors, a Kid’s Zone and live music from Zydeco and blues artists. For details, visit
Finally, the Galveston Juneteenth Coalition will host the 37th annual Al Edwards Emancipation Proclamation Reading and Prayer Breakfast at 8:30 a.m. on June 18 at the historic Ashton Villa – the location of the island’s official Juneteenth monument.
Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church will commemorate the first known Juneteenth celebration in U.S. history at 6 p.m. June 19 with its annual march from the steps of the Old Galveston County Courthouse to the church at 2015 Broadway Ave. The public is welcome to participate.
More than 20 events will take place throughout June for Galveston’s 2016 Juneteenth celebration. For a list of upcoming events, click here.
About Juneteenth
Many people think slavery ended on September 22, 1862 – the date Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In reality, many slaves weren’t freed until much later when news of the proclamation reached their towns. The last of those slaves lived in the South and were freed on June 19, 1865 after the Emancipation Proclamation was read on a harbor pier in Galveston, Texas. This date eventually became known as “Juneteenth.” While celebrations were long held in Galveston and various parts of the country in earlier years, Texas lead the way in making Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980.Today, Juneteenth is celebrated in more than 40 states throughout the country.

Texas had its own unique Emancipation Proclamation also known as General Order #3.  Read what the Handbook of Texas Online says about Juneteenth:

JUNETEENTH. On June 19 ("Juneteenth"), 1865, Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued General Order Number 3, which read in part, "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor." The tidings of freedom reached the approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas gradually as individual plantation owners informed their slaves over the months following the end of the war. The news elicited an array of personal celebrations, some of which have been described in The Slave Narratives of Texas (1974). The first broader celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies and to teach freed African Americans about their voting rights. Within a short time, however, Juneteenth was marked by festivities throughout the state, some of which were organized by official Juneteenth committees.

There are plenty of activities in Galveston to choose from this week.  The following images also give more information about the Galveston events:

Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali and Unmarked Graves

The tributes for Muhammad Ali have been flowing throughout the weekend.  His accomplishments have earned him memorials throughout the world.  Television and news reports have centered on his encouragement to others to achieve greatness in their endeavors.  Perhaps Gary Younge of said it best:
"As tributes have poured in this weekend from world leaders and sporting figures, boxing fans and political activists following Muhammad Ali’s death, it’s clear that, from beginning to end, he understood he had a job to do while he was on the planet – inspire people."
As we pay tribute to a great man, let us also take time to memorialize the everyday people who never achieved fame or fortune but whose lives built a foundation to shelter posterity. Many of these ancestors have labored without recognition and their memorials are either non-existent or are fading away. Perhaps the beautiful memorials to Muhammad Ali can inspire us to remember our ancestors and the forgotten people throughout the world.

Gravestones have been used for centuries to serve as a memorial to the life of a loved one.  Many ancestors are unfortunately buried in unmarked graves.  A gravestone was an expense that many families could not afford.  Wooden markers were used on many graves.  Wooden markers are biodegradable and do not survive for very long.  Gravestones can get buried or washed away by flooding. Even gravestones are biodegradable over time.  Photographing and preserving images of gravestones can ensure the long term preservation of the information that they contain. What about the unmarked graves?

One way to find the location of a grave is through the death certificate.  Death certificates for Texas and many other states are available on and  Many wonderful genealogy volunteers are creating "Virtual Cemeteries" on and other cemetery websites by using death certificates to "mark the location" of graves.  Two volunteers that I greatly admire are Lanny Martin and Melodey Hauch that created a virtual cemetery for the Magnola Cemetery between League City and Dickinson.  I wrote about their efforts in this blogpost from 2014:

There are many more volunteers that are involved in similar efforts throughout the world.  The importance of this cemetery preservation effort for genealogy cannot be overstated.  Cemeteries put our ancestors in a geographic and historical context that is essential to understanding their lives.

For example, one of my recent projects has focused on the Brookins and Holmes families of  Smith, Van Zandt and Henderson Counties in Texas.  I was able to locate memorials for members of the Brookins family in two cemeteries: Big Rock Cemetery in Van Zandt County and Stockard Cemetery in Henderson County but apparently there are several more unmarked graves.

The death certificate of Lela Holmes Brookins was one of the starting points for my research on this family:

Lela Holmes Brookins 1881-1951, wife of Nelse Brookins, Sr. and daughter of Milo Holmes

Lela Holmes was born on February 11, 1871, in Texas, the child of Milo Holmes and Rhoda Johnson. She married Nelse D Brookins on June 12, 1889, in Van Zandt County, Texas. They had 15 children in 29 years. She died on September 7, 1951, in Athens, Texas, at the age of 80.

o   The informant on this death certificate was Cora Mitchell; Cora Mitchell is most likely the daughter of Nelse Brookins and Lela Holmes; a marriage record was found for Cora Brookins to Sam Mitchell dated 26 May 1918 in Henderson County. Also found  several census records for Sam and Cora Mitchell
o   The parents of Lela Holmes Brookins were given as Milo Holmes and Rhoda Johnson
o   Lela Brookins was buried in Stockard Cemetery in Henderson County; 
o   Several more Brookins family members are also buried there but there was no memorial on for Lela Holmes Brookins
o   Lela Brookins died in the Memorial Hospital in Athens
o   Her residence was on a farm on Route 4, Athens

o   She was a resident of Henderson County for 60 years which means that she came to Henderson County in 1891.

A Find a Grave Memorial was created for Lela Brookins to record the fact that she was buried in Stockard Cemetery at the following link:

There is a USGenWeb page for the Stockard Cemetery which shows that Lela Brookins is buried there, so presumably there is a grave marker which has not yet been photographed.

I also created a memorial for her father Milo Holmes and linked it to her memorial.  Milo is buried in the Big Rock Cemetery according to his death certificate but there may be no marker.  Here is the link to the FindaGrave Memorial that I created for Mr. Holmes:

The Find a Grave page for Big Rock Cemetery is very informative about the history of the Big Rock community both black and white.  As you can see in the following photograph there are many unmarked graves.

Big Rock Cemetery is the site of the grave of Milo Holmes

Find a Grave page for Big Rock Cemetery

Muhammad Ali is an inspiration to me to memorialize all of America's forgotten heroes.