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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

I’m trying to puzzle out the story of my paternal great-great-grandfather based on a smattering of tantalizing facts. He seems to have led an eventful life in interesting times, and I’d like to know more about him.

The ancestor of whom I speak is John Hubbard Sherrod, M.D. He was born in 1830 in Emanuel County, Georgia, midway between Macon and Savannah.

His connection to the present-day Smiths: Dr. Sherrod’s daughter Martha married a Smith from the next county. Their son was my Savannah grandfather.

This is what I’ve learned about Dr. Sherrod so far…

Family notes say he probably was born in Norristown, Georgia, the son of Mrs. Elizabeth Sherrod, who was born in 1792, maiden name unknown. Nothing so far about his father or any siblings.

In 1851, at age 21, Dr. Sherrod married Elizabeth Moxley of nearby Jefferson County. By the time the Civil War started, John and Elizabeth had three daughters, Martha, Elizabeth, and Susan, born in 1854, 1857, and 1861, respectively.

When and where Sherrod earned a medical degree, I don’t know. Nor do I have information about earlier Sherrods and Moxleys. Considering his profession, I assume the families were fairly prosperous, but were they merchants? Farmers? Owners of vast cotton plantations? All unknown.

When the Civil War began, Sherrod served as a first lieutenant and Adjutant (second in command) of Company C, 38th Georgia Infantry, CSA. According to military records, the unit completed its training in April 1862, at which time Lt. Sherrod tendered his resignation. Whether he joined another unit or simply went home, I haven’t discovered yet.

I do know that he survived the war, and in 1867, he was appointed judge of Emanuel County civil court. He and Elizabeth also had two more children, John and Margaret, born in 1869 and 1871.

During the Reconstruction years, the history of the Sherrod family becomes fuzzier. Elizabeth died of unknown causes, and Dr. Sherrod remarried.

His second wife was Sudie Dunn, also from Emanuel County. The Dunns seem to have been as numerous thereabouts as Sherrods and Smiths.

John and Sudie Sherrod had at least three children: Charlie, Joe, and Jessie. Charlie was born in 1886, when Dr. Sherrod was 56.

Dr. Sherrod continued to practice medicine in Emanuel County, and/or made a living in some other way, for two more decades. Finding out how long he served as a judge is on my to-do list.

John Sherrod died in 1903 at age 73. After some Googling, I located his grave at a small Methodist church cemetery a few miles south of the Emanuel County line in Treutlen County. Last month, I drove down to pay my respects.

Neither wife, I discovered, is buried with him. I haven’t located the graves of either Elizabeth or Sudie, nor have I uncovered more information about them.

However, buried next to Dr. Sherrod are his daughter Elizabeth (by his first wife), his son Charlie (by his second wife), and various other Sherrods and Dunns whose connections are unknown. The head of the family surrounded by his flock, as it were.

Dr. Sherrod’s gravestone is six feet tall and fairly elaborate and imposing, as you might expect for a small-town prominent citizen. A separate granite marker with details about his CSA military service sits in front of the headstone.

I was surprised to find a small Confederate flag, a new one, flying next to his grave. It could have been placed by local Confederate history buffs, or it could have been placed by his descendants in the area. Odds are, quite a few of Dr. Sherrod’s relatives, and my own, live in those parts.

The best parts of Dr. Sherrod’s story, I suspect, are still out there — the War, his life afterward, his medical practice, his family. Maybe I’ll get lucky and ferret out more pieces of the puzzle.

Plenty of mysteries, clues, and threads of evidence are there, waiting to consume my spare time.

Sherrod-1

The grave of John Hubbard Sherrod (left) is surrounded by those of assorted Sherrods and other relatives at Midway UMC Cemetery in northern Treutlen County.

Sherrod-2

Dr. Sherrod’s monument prominently features the Masonic letter G with square and compass. The marble CSA marker at the base was placed sometime after his burial. The crisp, new Confederate flag was unexpected.

Sherrod-3

Martha Roseanna Sherrod Smith (1854-1939), my great-grandmother, was the oldest child of John Hubbard Sherrod. In 1875, she married John Wesley Smith (1845-1918), also a Confederate veteran. Their son was my paternal grandfather, Walter Anthony Smith (1881-1950). To the family, Martha was “Granny Smith.”

 

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Phenom

In 2006, during high school volleyball competition in North Carolina, a kid named Dana Griffin set a record (as far as I can determine) by serving 48 consecutive points.

That’s 48 straight points while serving, not points scored during play. He did it over the course of three games won by his team 25-0, 25-1, and 25-6.

Impressive, yes, with the caveat that in any sport, fantastic streaks happen only at the lower levels. In college and the pros, the talent is too good to allow it.

I mention this because young Dana’s record of 48 points may not last much longer. Don’t be surprised to see it broken by Maddie “Mad Dog” Smith of Jefferson, Georgia.

At age 12, my granddaughter Maddie is a volleyball phenom in the making. On the court, she is steady and effective. She understands the game, plays smart, and gets better every day.

Three years ago, she started playing on a team at the Jefferson Recreation Center, and it quickly became apparent that volleyball is her sport. Today, she plays for her middle school team in the fall, and she plays “club volleyball” in the winter.

Her winter team, Lanier Volleyball Club, is affiliated with the Junior Olympics organization, which prepares girls 10-18 to play in college. Maddie and her teammates are serious, dedicated, and surprisingly good. Many of them, including Maddie, also take private lessons.

Last weekend, Lanier participated in a regional tournament featuring a dozen clubs from around Northeast Georgia. The entourage of parents, grandparents, and other supporters packed the stands, and the noise level was high.

Saturday morning, Lanier won its first game and lost the second. As the tie-breaker was about to get underway, I moved to a spot on the sidelines to take photos. Sports photography isn’t my thing, but I take so many photos that some are always worth keeping.

As I watched the girls practice, a man and woman in their 40s arrived, got settled nearby, and nodded a greeting.

“Our daughter plays for Fayetteville,” the woman said. She pointed at one of the players. “That’s her, number 11. Where is the other team from?”

“Gainesville,” I told her. “My granddaughter is number 16.”

The three of us chatted for a few minutes about the girls, the gym, the weather, and what-not. Then the teams took their positions, and the game began.

Fayetteville served first, and the ball was out of bounds. Lanier was ahead 1-0.

Maddie, who has a killer serve and is the designated opener, approached the line.

She served, and the ball dropped neatly between two defenders. Lanier 2-0.

She served again with the same result. 3-0.

“My goodness,” said the lady from Fayetteville.

Maddie proceeded to serve and score another 12 points straight. Some serves were returned, and several volleys occurred, but each time, Lanier managed to score and retain the serve.

In the end, Lanier won the tie-breaker 15-0. Maddie had served 14 consecutive points.

The couple from Fayetteville walked away without speaking. Maybe they had to be somewhere.

Serving 14 straight was just the beginning. During the next round, Maddie extended her streak by scoring another 24 points in a row. In all, 38 consecutive points served.

After the games, when I rejoined my relatives and the contingent of Lanier supporters in the stands, everyone was abuzz about Maddie’s scoring streak.

“I’ve been around volleyball for years,” said one parent. “I never heard of anyone scoring 38 straight points.”

No, Maddie doesn’t deliver that kind of performance every time. She has served 10 or 15 straight a few times, but never more than that.

And, like all the girls, she has occasional bad days. In fact, later that afternoon, Lanier lost twice and finished the tournament in third place. They were bummed.

As you can tell, I’m proud of my granddaughter and her accomplishments at such a tender age. She has genuine talent and the support she needs to strengthen it. For me, it’s a joy to watch.

Next year will be Maddie’s final year in middle school, but she probably won’t play there. Jefferson High School plans to invite the more promising middle-schoolers to play on the JHS junior varsity team, and Maddie is a prime candidate.

Last weekend, the volleyball coach from the high school came to the tournament to assess the play of Maddie and the other Jefferson girls.

Mad Dog picked the right time to show her stuff.

Serve-1

Serve-2

Serve-3

Serve-4

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Regrets

A time or two on this blog, I’ve mentioned my maternal grandfather, Bill Horne, who died when I was a kid. Based on what I know about the man, I can’t find it in my heart to have a good opinion of him, as hard as I try to be objective.

Bill, you see, walked out on his family when my mother was a toddler. He left my grandmother and my mom when they were living in Macon, Georgia. He started a new life in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and eventually remarried. He died of cancer at age 49.

After he left Macon, Bill had no further contact with his daughter. Mom had no memory of him whatsoever.

Growing up, I knew those facts, but not the reason for his departure. I was curious, of course, but I never inquired. It seemed best to leave the subject alone and move on, as I perceived that Mom had done.

But later in her life, it became clear that she hadn’t moved on. I began to see that the regret she carried was deeper and more profound than I thought. In retrospect, I suppose, it had to be.

Mom didn’t dwell on the matter, but you knew it was on her mind. You could sense the melancholy when the subject came up.

The matter came to the surface one last time in 2002, soon after Dad died.

As the sorting of Dad’s personal belongings got underway, I mused that I needed to start scanning and Photoshopping the best of the old family photos. Digital versions would last longer and could be shared easily with the family.

At that, Mom brought out a small photograph of her father. It was faded and very tiny — about two inches wide and four inches tall.

Mom had four or five photos of Bill, but this one in particular seemed to speak to her.

I can’t know what Mom was thinking and feeling, but the fact is, she spent her childhood not knowing her father, yet knowing where he was.

It isn’t hard to imagine that the photo signified, maybe even amplified, a lifetime of regret, loss, and disappointment.

When she showed me the photo, she opened up more frankly than ever before about those feelings. But I didn’t press her for more details than she wanted to share. I didn’t ask why Bill left, and she didn’t say.

After we talked, Mom asked me to make an enlargement of the photo, in hopes that would reveal Bill’s face in more detail.

A few days later, I gave her an 11″ x 17″ blow-up of the photograph, made on the oversized photocopier at my office. The quality was surprisingly good.

Mom was delighted. She beamed and gushed and shed a few tears. After some thought, she chose a spot next to her chair in the den and thumb-tacked the enlargement to the wall.

With Dad gone, Mom lived alone until she died in 2005. She had plenty of time to contemplate Bill’s photo and all it represented.

I hope it was cathartic. I hope she was able to put some of the old heartache to rest.

bill-horne

Mom’s photo of Bill Horne (1901-1950) fishing on a pier somewhere.

 

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Allie’s House

Last month, in a box of old family papers, I found a letter my dad sent to his brother John in New York in 1980. Inside the envelope were these items:

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houses-2

houses-3

In 1979, Dad purchased two small houses in rural Hall County, which is north of Atlanta, and flipped them. At the time, he was retired from 20-odd years in the Air Force, plus retired from another 20 years in banking. He was working as a realtor, and remodeling the houses was a money-making project.

That’s because, by 1980, Dad had put two of us kids through college, a 3rd was attending, and the 4th was in high school. Financially, Dad had a rough couple of decades.

Where he learned residential construction, I don’t know, but he certainly knew how it was done. Over the years, in addition to flipping the aforementioned two, he built three houses. In the late 1940s, he built and sold two homes in Savannah. In the mid-1950s, he built the family home when we lived in Panama City, Florida.

Although the Panama City house was quite nice, the others were, as the above photos indicate, minimalist. In those times, minimalist was perfectly acceptable.

Dad was in his mid-60s then, and remodeling a house is a  lot of work. After the 2nd house sold, he allowed his career in home construction to end.

I remember the Hall County places pretty well. Several times back in 1979-80, I went there with him to haul supplies, sweep the floors, haul away trash, etc.

Their exact location, however, faded with the years. That area isn’t the same as in the old days. The peaceful country roads are now six-lane thoroughfares. Instead of houses like Dad’s dotting the countryside, there are massive gated communities.

But finding Dad’s letter changed all that. The flyer gives precise directions. I Googled it, found the spot easily, and, of course, made plans to go check it out.

Thus, late last month, 36 years later, I drove to the southern edge of Hall County and turned onto Williams Road. Honestly, I expected to find a subdivision there. Or a shopping center. Or an auto parts store.

Instead, there were Dad’s houses, both occupied, both seemingly in good shape.

I pulled into the driveway of house #2. A woman and a little girl sitting on the side deck watched me with interest. When I stopped and turned off the ignition, the woman disappeared into the house.

The girl was a pretty little thing with curly red hair. She stood at the top of the steps, studying me. A bit defiantly, I thought.

We stood there, looking at each other. Finally, I said, awkwardly, “Hi.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Rocky,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Allie. I’m four, and I go to school.”

“Wow, you already go to school?”

“Yes. I’ve been going to school for a long time. I’m smart.”

(When I hear a kid brag about being smart, I tip my hat to the parents. For the first dozen years of their lives, every kid needs to hear, and believe, that they are smart and special. It promotes healthy development, mentally and socially. It helps kids reach their full potential. In my humble opinion.)

At that moment, the woman emerged from the house. “Allie, leave the man alone. Go inside.” Allie didn’t budge.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said in my best aw-shucks manner, “I stopped because my Dad built* this house a long time ago. I haven’t seen it in years. Do you mind if I take a photo to show my brother and sister?”

“My husband is on his way,” she said. “Better ask him, but I don’t see why not.”

“Rocky, can I be in the picture?” said Allie.

“Honey,” said the mom, “He doesn’t want you in it. He just wants the house.”

“What’s going on?” the dad asked sleepily as he stepped onto the deck. It was, after all, a Saturday afternoon, and a working man deserves to sleep in.

I repeated my request to take a photo, adding that Dad also built* the house next door.

“Sure, no problem,” he said, then turned and went back inside. I felt a sudden urge to yawn.

“Thanks very much,” I called out as I walked back toward my car. I took a few photos, trying to make it quick.

“Hey, Rocky!” Allie yelled from the deck, her mother’s hand on her shoulder, “Take my picture now!”

I tried to imagine how the parents would react if I actually took the child’s photo. Not well, I suspect.

But the mother defused the situation. “Come on, sweetie,” she cooed. “Let’s go inside and have some cake.”

“Okay, Mama! Bye, Rocky!” said Allie with an exuberant wave.

Dad, your houses are doing just fine.

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House # 1.

houses-5

House # 2, Allie’s house.

* Built, remodeled, whatever.

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Back in the 1990s, the genealogy bug bit me, and I spent some time trying to expand the family tree as we knew it at the time.

You can imagine the challenges — the obstacles, the frustration, the dead ends, the false leads — of researching Smiths. I pretty much got nowhere.

All my life, what was known about our family history had been simple and brief: in the late 1700s or early 1800s, three Smith brothers arrived in Georgia, supposedly from North Carolina. One of the three, Archibald, settled in South Georgia. We are his descendents.

The names of Archibald’s brothers and where they settled, nobody knew. Where the brothers came from, we had no clue.

I wasn’t the first Smith to try to solve the mystery. Lots of enterprising folks had tried before me, examining census records, leafing through the pages of courthouse files, digging through the documents of the departed. They all came up empty.

Part of the problem was the Smith factor. Smiths are maddeningly numerous. That’s even true of Archibald Smiths. When I did my search, I found five Archibald Smiths in Georgia in the early 1800s.

In addition, there are crucial gaps in the historic record. As I discovered when doing research in North and South Carolina, census records for certain years are missing. They were lost at various times in accidental fires.

And then, of course, there was the biggest factor of all: in the old days, there was no such thing as Googling. Online research had not been invented yet.

But, ah, online research is now a reality, and it is truly wondrous to behold.

Based on a couple of promising leads, and using Ancestry.com, my son Dustin hit the jackpot. He identified the three Smith brothers and traced them back to Maryland.

We now have pretty solid information about a passel of early Smiths — names, dates, and places regarding parents, siblings, and children going back another five generations.

Most fascinating of all, we may have found the original Smith — the first to arrive here by boat from the old country.

It appears that a James Smith (1620-1693) came here from England (maybe with his parents, maybe as a young adult) and settled in Somerset, Maryland.

James married a local girl, and they had a son, who had a son, who had a son, whose son was our man Archibald.

I’ll spare you further details, because nobody cares about the Jameses, Georges, and Archibalds in someone else’s family.

The point is, thanks to these recent revelations and other data we’ve found online, we know twice as much about the family as my parents, or anyone before them, ever did.

The genealogy resources available online today are staggering. Consider one anecdote.

Recently, I decided to consolidate all of my scattered “family tree” information into a single document. The finished item is 16 pages of cryptic who-begat-whom data, and I’m very pleased with it.

While building the file, I found that I didn’t know the date of birth of my great-uncle Sidney, who is buried in Savannah. Probably, the missing date is in one of the boxes of family papers in my garage, but I wasn’t ready for that step. So I Googled him.

What popped up was this photograph on Findagrave.com:

uncle-sidney

Stunning.

For a long time, I was of the opinion that the most impressive, most amazing, most consequential invention in the last 200 years is the telephone. That was premature.

The winner, hands down, is the Internet.

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I was there. I threw some of the snowballs. I know what happened.

Hold that thought for a moment.

As I’ve documented here a few times, I grew up a military brat, the son of an Air Force officer. From birth to college, I was uprooted every couple of years to move somewhere else.

So it was that, just before I entered 10th grade, Dad was assigned as the Air Force Liaison Officer to 7th Army headquarters, and we moved to Stuttgart, Germany.

It was there, on a wintry Saturday night, that I threw the aforementioned snowballs. Specifically, at a passing car.

Winters at Patch Barracks, the Army post where we lived, were harsh. Lots of snow, lots of plowing, lots of ammunition for snowball fights. It was a commonplace activity among us kids.

Early on, we learned to assess each snowfall by the type of snow it produced. We understood that wet snow is better than dry snow because the snowballs pack more easily and are heavier.

I mention this because, on the Saturday in question, the snow on the ground was a dry snow. The snowballs we made that day were so lightweight and ineffective that your opponents hardly bothered to duck.

Why a friend and I were still outside after dark throwing snowballs at cars, I don’t remember. We had spent most of Saturday at play around the post, and, for whatever reason, the fun continued into the evening.

The two of us crouched behind a row of hedges near the entrance to the family housing for officers. When a car drove by, we let fly with a few snowballs. They would skip off the roof, or plow into a side or rear window, always exploding harmlessly into powder.

I should mention that we never snowballed a car unless it had American license plates. This was the late 1950s, only a decade after the end of World War II. In those days, it would have been imprudent to assail a passing German.

Sometimes, the driver would tap the brakes or the horn, but no one stopped. Clearly, it was just harmless fun by some silly kids.

We, meanwhile, had ducked back behind the hedges to have a good laugh and make more snowballs.

But, eventually, as fate would have it, our luck ran out.

This time, when we pelted the passing sedan with a volley of snowballs, the driver braked suddenly and stopped. The door flew open. A man emerged in a huff.

“Hey, you kids!” he yelled angrily, “You broke my window!”

He stood behind the vehicle, pointing to the rear window. “Look what you did! I heard it crack!”

My friend and I looked at each other. Those snowballs weren’t capable of breaking glass.

Moreover, as the car had passed from left to right, the snowballs struck the side of the car, not the rear. That, I knew with certainty.

This guy was lying. He was trying to dupe a couple of kids into paying for a window that was broken under other circumstances.

And the scheme was working. We were nailed and defenseless, and we knew it.

Meekly, my friend and I came out from behind the hedge. We stood there under the streetlight as the man, a Sergeant First Class of about 40, fumed dramatically about the situation. Then he instructed us to fetch a parent.

I went back to our apartment and found Dad. On the way back to the scene of the alleged crime, I managed to lay out the true facts. Dad told me to keep quiet and let him handle things.

Dad listened in silence to the sergeant’s account of the incident. He didn’t defend us or offer an apology. He presented his contact information and told the man to send him the bill.

On the way back to the apartment, Dad told me he knew the sergeant by reputation. He said the scam the guy pulled was not surprising.

The subject of throwing snowballs at cars did not come up.

Some weeks later, I asked Dad if he had received a repair bill from the sergeant. He had, indeed, and the bill was paid.

“But,” he added with a sly smile, “I got even with him.”

At that, I came out of my chair. This was huge. I was desperate to hear the details.

But, in spite of my best pleading and whining, Dad would not explain.

“Son,” he said, “I’d rather not say. We’ll just let it be my secret.”

Once or twice in later years, I mentioned the incident and tried to get Dad, finally, to come clean.

He never did.

snowball

 

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I am the oldest of the Smith children, and when we were growing up, I was hard-wired — compelled from deep within — to pick on my younger brother Lee for sport. That’s the way of things with siblings in their youth.

Today, that same scenario is playing out with my granddaughter Maddie, 12, who gleefully needles her nine-year-old sister Sarah.

I’ve tried to convince Maddie that she is simply instructing Sarah in the art of taunting — that Sarah will become highly skilled at cunning and trickery and ultimately will have her revenge.

But, just as Cassandra was cursed so that no one would believe her prophesies, I am ignored. Maddie’s continues to tease and torment her sister at every opportunity.

But then, I didn’t listen when I was Maddie’s age, either. Call it irony. Call it destiny. Karma. What goes around, comes around.

And, based on how things are progressing, Retribution Day is not far off.

——————

Last Tuesday, I was on kid-sitting duty for the afternoon. When I arrived, a steady rain was falling. Maddie and Sarah would be housebound, cooped up with me and the dogs, left to pass the time with music, television, and laptops.

Before long, tired of those options, they decided to get out some blankets and make tents in the living room. This is a regular rainy-day thing.

Tents

The girls soon were inside their tents, Maddie with her laptop, Sarah with Leroy, their new Black and Tan Coonhound puppy.

Sarah and Leroy

The TV was off. The living room was silent. I settled back to check the news on my tablet.

Moments later, Maddie’s arm reached out from under the blanket and felt around for her water bottle. She found it and brought it inside the tent.

Moments after that, the arm reappeared to return the water bottle from whence it came. As Maddie probed for the spot, the hard plastic bottle dinged against the hardwood floor, making a loud bonk that interrupted the silence.

“What was that?” said Sarah from inside her tent.

“What was what?” Maddie replied.

“That loud noise. That knocking sound.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Maddie, sensing an opportunity to exploit the situation.

“There was a loud noise! I heard it!”

“Sarah, you’re hallucinating. Leave me alone. I’m trying to rest.”

The room grew silent.

After a brief pause, Maddie reached out from under her tent, held the water bottle a few inches above the floor, and rapped it against the floor. Another bonk ensued.

“There it is again!” Sarah exclaimed from beneath her blanket. “What is it?”

“What is what?” said Maddie.

“That knocking sound! I heard it again!”

“I didn’t hear anything! Hey, Rocky! Did you hear anything?”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth. “Me? No, I didn’t hear anything.”

“Well, I heard it, and I know I heard it!” said Sarah. “Y’all are just playin’ with me!”

“You’re demented, Sarah,” said Maddie.

The room got quiet again. For the next few minutes, there were periodic bonks, followed by the same conversation of inquiry and denial.

Finally, after what turned out to be the last bonk, Maddie slipped up.

“Sarah, something is wrong with you! That sound you hear, it’s just in your head!”

Suddenly, Sarah popped up from beneath her blanket.

“‘That sound you hear’? ‘That sound you hear’?” she bellowed, pointing a finger at Maddie’s tent. “So, you admit it! I’m hearing a sound!”

Quietly, Maddie came out from under the blanket, her hands covering her face. She was busted, and she knew it.

Simultaneously, the three of us began laughing.

The sudden noise frightened Leroy, who wiggled out from under the blanket and scampered off to seek the protection of the other dogs.

Leroy 7-16

 

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