Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How were your rural ancestors connected with a larger world?

Most of us are from urban areas and it easy for us to view rural life, especially the rural lives of our ancestors, as being isolated. In researching my rural ancestors, however, I've come to appreciate how connected they were with the rest of the world.

For example, consider my Pierce ancestors who lived in the rural community of Wilmer, Alabama. Actually, they lived outside of Wilmer, which was not much more than a general store at a crossroads. Their farming community was known as Pierce Level.

In the photo above are (L to R) Wilson Taft "W.T." Pierce (1910-1983), representing Mobile County; George Higgenbotham, representing Jefferson County; and Joe Hardie, representing Dallas County. They represented Alabama at the National Dairy Show in Indianapolis, Indiana, October 10-17, 1925. The photo was taken in Indianapolis.

This photo, from the ACES (Alabama Cooperative Extension System) Records, RG 71: Photographs, 1920s-1960s, shows the kind of activities that the Pierce and other children from Wilmer could take part in. It also shows that the Pierce children weren't isolated from the larger U.S. society in their rural community.

Did your rural ancestors have activities, interests or even subscriptions to publications that show how they were connected with a larger world?

Photo Source: Auburn University Libraries. (

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ever check scholarly journals in your family history research?

Ever think of looking in scholarly history journals for your ancestors?

Although I have a degree in history, I never thought I’d find an ancestor’s name in a scholarly journal.

After all, there was no reason for any of my ancestors to be there. They weren’t famous, didn’t lead an army and hadn’t invented anything. Heck, they hadn’t so much as run for the office of dog catcher.

Yet while reading “Horticulture in Early Arkansas” by C. Allan Brown in The Arkansas Historical
Quarterly (Vol. 43, No. 2, Summer, 1984), my great, great grandfather’s name jumped out at me. There was Francis T. Poore (1811-1871?) listed among people who made a living in horticulture.

I had been reading the article because I already knew the 1870 census listed my great grandfather as a “gardner.” This meant Francis could have been operating a garden, orchard or nursery and growing flowers, fruits, vegetables or ornamental plants for the commercial market. I wanted to know more about that business in Arkansas, so I researched scholarly articles.

In fact, that is the main reason to search scholarly journals—to learn something about your ancestor's work, religion, location or times. It is highly unlikely that you will find an article about an ancestor, but you can find articles on almost any topic that your ancestor might have been involved in.

How can you find such articles? One way is to perform a search on Google Scholar. From Google Scholar, you can search for articles, dissertations, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions.

Through Google Scholar I have found scholarly articles about a Civil War regiment one ancestor served in and a history of the area where other ancestors lived. These gave me great background to write about my ancestors and in understanding their lives and times.

Your search may turn up articles that you can view only with a subscription to the journal. In that case, just write down the title of the article, author, publication title, volume, number and pages where the article appears. Then ask your local librarian to request the article by interlibrary loan. Many libraries also have subscriptions to databases that allow you to see such articles online.

Have you found scholarly articles that have helped in your family history research?

Friday, February 15, 2013

What do you know about the traveling photographer B. S. Partin?

This is believed to be a photo of Cornelius "Neal" Pierce (b. 1874), brother of N. B. "Bonie" Pierce. Written on back of the photo is "June the 1 1901 [or perhaps 1907]."

Neal is wearing what appears to be a tweed suit, waistcoat and decorative bowtie. He looks as though he dressed up for a special occassion, perhaps a wedding or some other event.

The photographer's imprint is "B. S. Partin, Photographer, Mobile, Ala." Note that the photo was taken outdoors.

Partin, or his agents, must have traveled extensively in the rural corners where Alabama and Mississippi touch. The Mississippi Department of Archives has posted other Partin photos on Flickr of the Daisy School community in Jackson County, Mississippi, about 1900.

Do you have any information on the photographer B. S. Partin, his studio and his work?
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Thursday, February 7, 2013

What does your ancestors' first home tell you about their start in life?

This is believed to be the first Wilmer, Alabama, farmstead home of N.B. "Bonie" Pierce (1880-1964) and Julia L. Moody (1886-1965) after their marriage in 1902. That would make the baby in the chair Ina Mae Pierce (1903-1977), their first-born.
Although small, the house appears neat, clean and comfortable, a nice place to begin raising a family.
Do you have a photo of your parents', grandparents' or other ancestors' first home? What does it tell you about their start in life? 
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Friday, February 1, 2013

Did your ancestor serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps?

Men old enough to have served in World War II, may also have served in the Great Depression-era Emergency Conservation Work program, better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). My Dad, Ralph E. Poore, was one of them.

Every state and most communities contain parks or other projects constructed by young men who served in the CCC.

One of President Roosevelt’s New Deal projects, the CCC began in 1933 and ended with the beginning of World War II. Under the program, CCC recruits planted trees, pruned and harvested trees in state, municipal, and private forests. These young men built recreation areas and beautified picnic, camp, and park grounds. The young men also constructed shelter belts, fire lanes, trails and rural roads.

More than 3 million young men joined the CCC and their records are available to genealogy researchers. You can gather a wealth of details about your ancestor’s life from his CCC file in the National Archives.

Ralph Poore at about the time he served in the CCCs.
I learned from my Dad’s records, for example, that he lied to the Mississippi welfare agent who interviewed him as a prospective recruit for the CCC program. My Dad, not yet 17 at the time and living with his parents north of Laurel, Miss., told the relief agent that he was almost 19.

The program accepted only young men between the ages of 18 and 28. My Dad may have lied because his parents and siblings needed the money he could earn—$30 a month, $25 of which was sent home. Recruits retained the other $5 a month for personal expenses.

Or perhaps the recruiter, taking pity on the Poore family, simply entered the higher age himself, because my Dad, at 5-foot, 7 ¼-inch, 111-pounds, certainly didn’t look nearly 19. His application also indicated that he hadn’t participated in activities such as the Red Cross, Boy Scouts or 4-H Club, activities that the recruiters usually looked for in the youth they offered applications.

My Dad didn’t serve in any of the CCC companies in Jones County where he lived. CCC officials sent him, like many other young men, to a camp in another county. He first went to a camp at New Augusta, and later to one near Citronelle, Ala.

You, too, can discover these kinds of details and more in your ancestor’s records.

In your CCC research, start by writing the National Archives and Records Administration, National Personnel Records Center, Civilian Personnel Records, 111 Winnebago Street, St. Louis, MO 63118.

In your letter, explain that you are interested in getting copies of the records of service with the CCC for your ancestor. Provide his name, Social Security Number, and birth and death dates. Also list the Federal Employing Agency, in this case, the CCC.

If you know it, include the CCC’s company number and the federal or state agency the camp was assigned to. Initials, such as “F” for Forest Service or “SP” for State Parks, designated the agencies. If you know the time period your ancestor served, include that as well.

You also need to provide proof of death. A photocopy of a death certificate will do.

You can expect to receive your ancestor’s Application for Enrollment that lists a home address, place and date of birth, education, community activities, last job held, work experience, Record of Service in the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC work record, health exam, and discharge information. In my Dad’s case, these records showed that he had served in more than one CCC camp, which I hadn’t known before.

You can request a search for photographs by e-mail at Provide the same information as in your request for records. Be sure to include your mailing address because a report of the results of the search, which takes two to four weeks, is by regular mail.

You can find out about life at your ancestor’s camp, although not necessarily specific information about your ancestor, by requesting the CCC camp inspection records for your ancestor’s particular camp. To get these records, write to the National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. Provide the same information on your ancestor as in the other record requests.

What you will receive from the National Archives are forms for ordering copies of the files they find. These forms include a brief description of what is in the files, the number of pages and an estimate of the cost of copies. You pay the estimate, but you are billed for the difference if the cost is greater.

A word of warning—these estimates are notoriously bad. In my case I received an estimated total of $25. The final bill totaled about twice that.

These inspection reports include camp commanders’ reports of the activities of the young men, including work and recreation. Of particular interest to me were the mess hall’s daily menus that told me my Dad got hearty meals three times a day. I also learned that the camp inspector found bed bugs in the bunks and ordered them cleaned.

To learn more about the history of the CCC program, an excellent Internet source is the online publication by John C. Paige, The Civilian Conservation Corps and theNational Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1985.

Other Internet resources you should check include: