Thursday, November 15, 2012

A second road trip, and some new videos

The wagons headed west this go-round, on an interesting road trip of discovery to Illinois and Tennessee, following the trail of the Gillham family.  Along the way we also found out some information on other families such as the Barnsbacks, Montagues, Kerrs, and Tuckers, as well as some "collateral kin," the Willifords.

We left on October 1st, which is why these installments of my blog and website were delayed until November.  The trip coincided with my 50th birthday, and was in fact a sort of birthday present, since our original plan to travel north to Montreal fell through.  It was a wonderful time to visit the Midwest, with cooler temperatures, wonderful autumn vistas and fewer travelers on the highways.


After traversing the Appalachians in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, we crossed into Kentucky near the Ohio River, just west of Huntington, WV.  It was a grueling 13-hour trip, but it put us in Frankfort, KY, on our first night, in perfect position to visit the Kentucky State Archives the next morning.  The Archives building was impressive and had stacks of information, but, unfortunately for us, we were unable to find much material on any of our ancestors, for two main reasons:  for one, our people settled in Kentucky very early on and headed further west shortly thereafter, and the log of births, deaths and marriages (in most cases) didn't extend back as far as the 18th century.  Second, the records were categorized by county, of which Kentucky has 120, which made it impossible to research individual names found on or in family histories that were not attached to a specific county.  Most of the families that came through Kentucky would ultimately funnel down to the Gillhams, including the Kerrs, Hendersons, Rices, Penistons, Barnsbacks and Minters.
Following a rather disappointing morning at the Kentucky Archives, we were able to spend a delightful evening with Carolyn Waskey Sheldon and her family in Louisville, a short hour's drive from Frankfort.  From there we crossed the Ohio River into Indiana, heading west to Illinois.  We traveled very near the point along the Ohio where in 1790 Indian abductors crossed the river with their hostages, the wife and children of James Gillham, the son of the original American Gillham, Thomas Sr.  (Read more about this here).  Interestingly, the route of the Indians, which eventually led across the Wabash River into Illinois, crossed very close to the area of Spencer County where 20 years later young Abraham Lincoln lived.  Like the Gillhams, Lincoln lived in Kentucky and moved west to Illinois -- and Lincoln's father had made the move specifically because Illinois was a free state, something the Gillhams had helped bring about in 1824.
In Illinois we stayed in Alton, a fine old town on the Mississippi which, despite the ravages of modern urban decay and the Great Flood of 1993, still retains some of its 19th-century charm.  Our main goal was Edwardsville, the seat of Madison County, where we visited the county historical society and archives.  When we first inquired about the Gillhams, the archives director asked, "Which one?  There are hundreds of them.  Maybe we should just bring out the Gillham box," which was a large banker's box containing about 40 folders of Gillham information.  The staff could not have been more helpful, subsequently dragging out books, plats, folios, maps, reference books and directories, and making piles of copies of everything we found that was pertinent to our Gillhams.
The Gillhams truly were one of the first settlers in Madison County, arriving in 1799, almost 20 years before Illinois became a state.  Our ancestors Ishom, son Shadrach and grandson George were all born in Madison County, and were prominent farmers, owning many acres and several large plots of land throughout the county.  One prime plot of land lay along the Mississippi River in a region known as the American Bottom, a five-mile wide strip of fertile farming land that hugs the river from Alton south to the Kentucky border.  On several plats and maps we were able to discern that Ishom's property lay just opposite the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi, straddling a small creek that flowed into the Big Muddy from the east.  It was along this creek in the winter of 1803-04 that Lewis and Clark and their party prepared for their famous expedition to the Pacific Ocean, thus giving credence to the old family story that the Gillham family helped outfit the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Once we made our haul at the archives, we visited Woodlawn Cemetery in Edwardsville, beautifully landscaped along a slope with large old-growth trees and shaded drives.  There we found the resting places of Shadrach Bond Gillham, his wife Hannah Barnsback and five of their children who didn't survive to adulthood.  Next to the Gillham graves was that of Shadrach's daughter Madora, who married into the Krome family.
We then headed west to the town of South Roxana, a rather unfortunate collection of houses situated opposite several mammoth, labyrinthine, smoke-puffing oil refineries built in the 1910s.  On the south edge of town is the Wanda Cemetery, which I had visited in 1974 with my Gillham grandparents and cousin Marshall.  In the cemetery we found the memorial graves of several of the original Gillham brothers, including our ancestor Thomas Jr.  Also there were John, Isaac and James, the man whose family had been abducted by Indians in Kentucky.
The next morning we visited the Lewis and Clark State Park and climbed the huge Confluence Tower (a private 250-foot tower that afforded sweeping views of the Missouri and Mississippi) and then headed south, driving through the American Bottom, crossing into Missouri for a stretch and finally crossing back into Tennessee near Dyersburg.  At twilight we found the Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the final resting place of William Augustus Tucker, the portrait of whom hangs in our dining room in Crosswicks.  Buried next to him was his father, William B. Tucker, and his mother, Elizabeth Murphy.
In the gathering dark we finally arrived in Kerrville, just inside the Shelby County line, and had supper at the Pig 'N Whistle BBQ restaurant, which at one time had been the general store.  My mother and I did some exploring in town until there was no light left, but we were able to find the property on which once stood the famous Little Brown House, a small house built by George Halsey Gillham that remained in the family until after WWII.
The next morning we drove into Memphis to the Elmwood Cemetery, a beautiful old urban cemetery on the scale of Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.  The cheerful director helped us locate the plots of the six family members that I had found in my research had been buried there:  Helen Montague Tucker (wife of William Augustus Tucker), John Kelly Kerr (father of Maria Henderson Kerr Gillham), George Johnson Gillham and his wife Maria, and George and Effie Gillham.  We found Helen's grave with little difficulty, but, much to our amazement, none of the other five had any gravestone or marker at all.  Perhaps one day we can pool some resources form the greater Gillham family and at least purchase a gravestone marking the graves of the two Georges and their wives.
Our next stop was the Shelby County Archives, but first we stopped by the neighborhood that was once part of the Macon Road property, a tract of land purchased by Effie's brother Frank.  Part of this property was willed to Effie (and thus WTG), and after its sale in the 1960s, part of the tract was made into a housing development.  The main thoroughfare through the development is Gillham Drive, with a small cul-de-sac branching off it called Gillham Cove.  Below is a map showing the general area of the development off Exit 12 of Interstate 40 east of Memphis:
At the Shelby Count Archives we encountered Vincent, a very officious but ultimately quite helpful clerk, who showed us on the computer how to locate several plots of family land including that of the Little Brown House in Kerrville.  He also introduced us to a wonderful book entitled An Illustrated History of the People and Towns of Northeast Shelby County and South Central Tipton County:  Salem, Portersville, Idaville, Kerrville, Armourtown, Bethel, Tipton, Mudville, Macedonia, Gratitude, Barretsville and Rosemark, Tennessee (I think the title may have to be shortened for the movie version).  In it is a 30-page or so section on Kerrville that makes many references to our family, especially George and Effie.  I have posted a few photos and articles from the book on the website here
Vincent was nice enough to phone a local bookstore where we could buy the book, so we sped over there, bought the book and a quick lunch at the wonderful in-house bistro, and then raced back up to Kerrville -- my dad had left his hat at the BBQ restaurant the night before, and retrieving it gave us a good opportunity to revisit the town in the daylight.  That evening we drove over to Germantown and paid a visit to Betty Nelson Smith, my mother's second cousin, where we had a delightful dinner and were able to scan about 20 or so photos of our Aunt Allie and the Williford family.
On our trip back east, we stopped briefly in Chattanooga to see the McCallie School, where WTG had gone to high school in 1924-26.  None of the old buildings survive, but we were able to take a quick drive around the "new" campus, which included a gleaming new field house that was donated by alum Ted Turner.  We spent the night at Martha and Jack Waskey's house in Dalton, GA, and enjoyed the bounty of their garden for supper and made some scans from Martha's trunkload of Gillham memorabilia.  After a short stop in Asheville to see Katherine, Bob and Zysean, we made the now-familiar trek up I-81 back to the Garden State.
Prior to our adventure, I spent a day at the van Naerssen house in Treddyfrin, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, and was able to make a large number of scans from Bryant's collection.  I was able to post some of these photos on the website, especially on the pages of PopBryant, and Gartrell.
I also used these scans to put together a page of Bryant's remembrances of December 7, 1941, as well as a page containing the full version of Bryant's history of the Kiser family.
One of my efforts in the project is to include some information and photos from the families of Nancy Penn and Carl Moore, since we have dedicated quite a bit of space on the website to the Gillham family.  I have started an in-law page on the site containing just a few photos, and I am putting out the call for any photos or histories of the Penn and Moore families.  (It's hard to believe that in my whole collection I have only been able to find one photo of Nancy Penn Holsenbeck!)  As soon as Penn Holsenbeck recovers from his recent unpleasantness, I will make the trek up to Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, to rummage through his collection of Penn family memorabilia.
Another reason for the delay in this last leg of the website project has been the transferal of WTG's 8mm films to video.  The promised 6-week transferal soon became 9 weeks because of a backlog of orders at the company's headquarters in Chicago, and we received the video shortly after we returned from our westward excursion.  Of the five cans of film I sent out, the company was able to transfer four of them, and they were sent back to me on a 320-GB external hard-drive.  I then had to format, edit and divide the videos so that they could then be uploaded onto YouTube, enabling everyone in the family to see them.  The videos can now be accessed from here and no where else, since I have tagged the videos as "unlisted," meaning that one can only call up the videos if he knows the exact URLs, and no one may search for the videos on the YouTube site.
The next and final part of the project is the book, which will be cobbled together using text and images from the website, as well as other items in my collection.  Please stay tuned to this blog and the website for further updates!