Friday, March 30, 2012


It’s my belief that all women are goddesses. A few years ago, I began jokingly referring to myself as a ‘goddess.’  Not with the capital ‘G’ in the theological sense, of course, but more along the lines of someone associated with charm, sisterhood and motherhood, as well as being connected to love and to home; in short, an Earth Mother.
As we end this month of celebrating Women’s History, I believe that the ‘goddess-hood’ of all women should be honored, especially that of those women in our own histories who lived lives that we in the modern world cannot even fathom.  Those women were true goddesses.  They set up hearth and home (sometimes over and over again), had numerous children, travelled over unknown frontiers, kept the faith, lived life to the fullest, and hopefully loved to the depths of their being.
I’ve always been particularly fascinated with one ancestor of mine.  Based on what details I’ve learned about her, I feel a connection that I cannot explain that reaches out over the decades that separate us.  I believe that she lived the life I described above in every way possible and died as a result of a deep and abiding love.
Nancy Henrietta Browning McReynolds was my fourth great grandmother.  She was one of at least eight known children born to Edmund Browning and Mary Ann Murphy Browning. She was born in 1755 in Culpeper Co., Virginia, and her nickname soon became “Haney.” Her name was written clearly as Haney McReynolds in her father’s will dated April 19, 1807, in Caswell Co., NC.
Edmund and Mary Ann moved their family from Virginia to Caswell County sometime by the end of the late 1770s. At some point after that move, Haney met a young man named Joseph McReynolds. Family historians claim that she wrote many letters to him over the course of his years of service during the Revolutionary War.
Joseph McReynolds was born on December 12, 1762, in Caswell County.  He was seven years younger than Haney, but that age difference didn’t seem to matter to either of them. Joseph distinguished himself as a young soldier who fought in the battles of Guilford Court House and Eutaw Springs, among others.  The letters from Haney must have been a godsend to him, helping to sustain him during those hard times.  Clearly, a strong relationship had been forged between the two young people.
Joseph and Haney married after his return from war sometime around 1783 in Caswell County, NC.   They began their family there in Caswell, where their six children were born: Samuel (who was also my fourth great grandfather – don’t even ask; that’s a whole ‘nother story!), Edward, Mary “Polly” (also my fourth great grandmother – what a family!), Margaret Henrietta “Ritty” (my third great grandmother), Tabitha, and Joseph, Jr.
By the year 1802, when Haney was in her late 40s, Joseph moved his family to Sumner County, TN.  Haney had to leave her already established home, following her love to create a new home in a frontier area that had seen more than its share of Indian raids and massacres.  I cannot even begin to imagine how hard that must have been to actually build your own house and then make it a home for your family, always wondering how safe you would be from possible attacks. The McReynolds family lived in the Station Camp Creek area north of the Cumberland River near Gallatin in Sumner County for nearly 30 years, when once more Haney would have to move to follow her husband and family. 
At least one of her sons, my Samuel, had moved to Posey County, Indiana, and Joseph purchased land there in 1831.  By 1832, Joseph, his 78-year-old wife, Haney, their daughter, Ritty and her husband Archibald Wallace and family, loaded themselves into several wagons and began the trip from Sumner County to Indiana.
As they were nearing their destination, the wagon which carried Joseph and Haney overturned in the cold, icy waters of Barr Creek, just south of Cynthiana in Posey County.  They managed to get Haney to the shore, where she died from shock, never having reached her newest hearth and home. I, personally, never cease to mourn that fact.  She most certainly endured many hardships over the course of her life, but I console myself knowing that the hardships were mixed with love, excitement, and adventure.  What a brave lady she must have been!
Her body was taken to Samuel’s home, which was not far from there.  Nancy Henrietta “Haney” Browning McReynolds was buried on land that had been donated for a cemetery and a church and which would become Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  There is no marker there for her, but Joseph died in 1840 and actually has two markers; the older original one and a newer DAR marker.
A couple of years ago, I found a bumper sticker that had the words “Back off – I’m a Goddess” on it.  I had to have it - not to put on the bumper of my car, but to hang with affection in my computer area at home.  I keep it there to remind me of my belief that the true essence of womanhood is the connection we have with each other; that power we have over our homes, our loves and our lives; that bond of sisterhood we share. Women are clearly all goddesses.
Well, at least I’m pretty sure I am, and I know that Haney was.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Elizabeth Virginia "Bobbie" Sanford
I’ve always loved the word “sassy.”  My brother used to play with words (a habit we shared) and would alternate between calling me “saby bister” (instead of baby sister) and “sassy sister.”  I was much happier with that second label, since there was never any doubt that I was one sassy kid. Now, I’m not talking about someone who would “sass” or talk back to others in the colloquial term. I’m referring to a person who is usually cheerful, who loves life, and who has a pretty good sense of humor. That’s me, I think, and I’m sure those were traits I inherited from several of my female ancestors, but especially from those in my Sanford line.
My Aunt Bobbie was sassy for sure.  She was wonderful. She was so funny and full of life, and she was the one adult to whom I always felt connected as I grew up.  I’ve never been quite sure why I didn’t connect in that same way to my mother and my maternal grandmother. They had their own strengths, and I loved them both dearly, but I was not like them in the least.  I definitely was like Aunt Bobbie. She and I could share jokes and thoughts in ways that I was never able to do with my mother and grandmother. I absolutely adored her.
Elizabeth Virginia “Bobbie” Sanford was born on March 23, 1907, in Meridian, Mississippi, to Alonzo Orlando “Lon” Sanford and his wife, Dorothy Elizabeth “Libbie” Zeigler Sanford – my great grandparents.  She was the “saby bister” of the Sanford family.  Her oldest sister, Ruby Beulah, had been born in 1890, and her other sister (my grandmother, Lorena Grace) was born in 1896.  They were followed by her two brothers, Emile Francis in 1898 and James Alonzo “Lonnie” in 1902.  Even though there were a number of years between the three sisters in the family, they were all very close.  Sadly, Ruby passed away in 1931, a fact that weighed heavily on the remaining sisters.  I know that because I remember them talking about her so very often, and I could always tell how much they missed her. She was, after all, the ‘big sister’ and oldest of them all.
Although the Sanford family traveled from Meridian to Coldwater, Mississippi, and then to Helena, Arkansas, and Memphis (often back and forth between them all), it seems that Bobbie spent much of her youth in Helena, Arkansas. She got her nickname because she was the first one in her neighborhood to get her hair cut short, a fad which most adults were sure would go away, since most women back then let their hair grow long.  This new short haircut was typically cut to the jaw level with bangs and was called a “bob.” Everyone in the neighborhood started calling her “Bobbie,” and the name just stuck with her for the rest of her life. I can’t even imagine how much courage it took for her to take that daring step because even her own sisters didn’t cut their hair until a while later when it was more acceptable. But she most definitely did, and that’s what I call some sass!
Aunt Bobbie married Wayne William Johnson in 1935 and had one son, Carl Wayne Johnson. I was lovingly named after him by my mother, who also adored her Aunt Bobbie. The Johnson family lived in West Memphis, Arkansas, and some of the best memories of my childhood include the times that my brother and I were allowed to stay overnight with them. She was always so much fun to be with.  I remember in particular how she would get us to sleep at night by telling us stories in the dark and ‘drawing’ pictures in the air with her cigarette!  Now, I know that’s so politically incorrect in this day and age, but it was so much fun back then!  I can still close my eyes and see those lighted cigarette tips swirling about in the air and how much fun we had watching them and listening to her stories.

Unfortunately for my Aunt, her marriage ended in divorce after her son was grown, and she found herself in need of a job in order to support herself. This happened in the 1960s, and she became a nurse’s aide at the old TB Hospital in Memphis. I would often happily take her to work with my newly-acquired driver’s license and would even pick her up sometimes at night.  I asked her one time why she wanted to work at the TB Hospital, and she told me that she felt the need to do that because both of her aunts had died of TB.  I had never even heard about them and remember wondering who they were. But of course, being young and (looking back) evidently not so very bright, I never asked.  I would have to do a great deal of research later in life just to find out about theirs.
Throughout all of her troubles, Aunt Bobbie kept that great sense of humor – at least always with me. She traveled with us when my Mother took me to college my freshman year, and she was there for me at the birth of my first child in 1968.  In 1971, I was sitting next to her at a table in a visitors’ lounge at Baptist Hospital in Memphis.  We were all there to visit my grandmother, who had been ill.  Aunt Bobbie was laughing and joking as usual, when all of a sudden nothing she said seemed to make sense.  I remember that she continued on with this gibberish and even began pointing her finger at different places on the table. She had suffered a stroke, of course, and never really recovered.  She died on August 21, 1971.
I not only adored her, but I greatly admired the way she handled all of the problems in her life – with a strength that included her great sense of humor and upbeat spirit. That was a strength that I would personally lean on and attempt to emulate later in my own life.
She was fun and vivacious, as well as loving and caring.  She was only 65 years old when she died, and I’ve often wondered what she was saying or thought she was saying at that table when she had her stroke.  Whatever it was, I know that it was definitely something uplifting or funny.
Sassy to the end…no doubt at all.        

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Still Learning...

Carla Lee - around age 19

A funny thing happened on the way to the blogosphere yesterday….I got sideswiped. Yep, that’s right. I was caught unawares, as they say, by the fact that I know so very little about what I’m actually doing here on my blog.  I had worked several days on the piece honoring my Mother and actually had it ready to post two days ago.  How hard could that be?  Right?  Oh, ye who know so little.
One thing I did know was that it would be best to compose my article on my computer’s Word program so that I could work on it and perfect it before copying and posting it.  So, after making sure that I had every word correct, I was determined to do that yesterday morning. I had essentially tried to do the same thing the day before, but adding the photo was way too intimidating for me.  Whenever I put it in, it kept appearing at the bottom, and I didn’t know how to change that.
Being the clever girl that I am, I went to Google and looked for tutorials. None of them actually said to me what I wanted to hear, but it suddenly dawned on me that I needed to put the photo in first and maybe then the words would wrap around it.  Eureka – it worked!  So after reading my piece once again, I posted the photo, put in the article, hit preview (everything looked fine), then hit publish.  Neat. I had published a blog with a photo!
Not too long afterwards, a friend and ‘follower’ texted me to tell me how much she liked the tribute to my Mother. (Thanks, Wanda!)  Being so happy that someone had liked it, I went back to proudly read it again.  Wait a minute…what?  A critical word was missing.  That little word ‘to.’  What had happened?  Had I not proofed that piece a million times?  So back I went to my original work on my computer, and there it was, right where it was supposed to be.  Why didn’t it ‘copy’ along with the rest of words?  Did it just not want to be here?
Well of all things!  (...and so much for ‘pride.’)  I knew that I needed to change that mistake immediately, and that’s when all of the problems began.  Instead of just going in and simply adding the word, I decided to copy the paragraph again to see if the word would copy with it.  Big mistake. Not only did it not copy the word, the whole font was bigger in that paragraph than the rest of the piece.  What followed was like a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie. Change the piece; preview it; see the mess. Over and over, everything kept changing. Oh, lordy.  What had I gotten myself into?
I was actually having a slight panic attack at that point. I knew that as soon as I had published it, people would be notified that I had posted a new blog.  So if you are a ‘follower,’ there is no telling which version you actually saw if you visited my site right after notification.  I’m pretty sure that there were at least five.  What’s on there today certainly does not appear in the same form that was originally posted yesterday.  The photo never got back in the same place, and I was too afraid to mess with it anymore after I finally got the font to appear as the same size in the whole piece. If anyone ever asked the question, ”How much more damage can you do?” -  they never knew me! I can mess up with the best of ‘em.  And all for that little word ‘to.’  Humph.
In all of the things that I lovingly said about my Mother yesterday, I didn’t mention the fact that she was a perfectionist.  Her daughter is not. I spent years thinking something was wrong with me because I didn’t do things as well as she did or like the same things that she liked.  It finally dawned on me one day that I was just different, and that it was okay.  She, of course, knew that.
I can hear her laughing right now.  “You still have much to learn, little one.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Very Special Woman in My History

March is “Women’s History Month.”  First celebrated officially in 1987, the month-long tribute grew out of a week’s celebration first begun back in 1982.  As an American history teacher, I always tried to make sure that my students worked on projects that would celebrate the lives of important women in the history of the United States during the month of March.  That was often fairly difficult to do because so few women were mentioned in the history books back in those early days of observing the place of women in the history of our nation.

Evelyne Wallace around 15 years old
On March 18, 1991, I participated in my first Women’s History Workshop, learning new and exciting strategies designed to help me teach women’s history to my students.  I remember sitting at a table in a huge auditorium when an unknown man walked up to the open doorway and just stood there as if he were looking for someone. I had a feeling of unease as he kept standing there, wondering if he were looking for me.  I don’t know why I thought that, for of course he wasn’t.  Keep in mind that this was before we all had cell phones that are able to instantly connect us to anyone and everyone, so it was entirely possible that the man was looking for someone to give them a message.
He stood there for the longest time, never entering the room, and when he finally left the doorway, I tried to shake off that uneasy feeling.  Unfortunately, a small part of it stayed with me for the remainder of the day, which in some ways helped prepare me for what I learned when I got home.  That was when I found out that the strongest and most important woman in my life was gone.
My Mother, Evelyne Frances Wallace Love, was born on January 10, 1919, in Helena, Arkansas, to Baxter Halstead Wallace and Lorena Grace Sanford.  Baxter was a soldier, and upon returning from World War I, he apparently felt unready for a wife and family.  He left Lorena and their small child and headed west for California and a new life.  I’ve often felt great resentment about that, but I know that their lives would have been completely different had he stayed, and that I would probably not have even been born. That old saying that ‘things work out for the best’ is apparently very true in this situation!
My Grandmother and my Mother both became even stronger women because of their need to 'just get by' during the days of the Great Depression.  Mother had to drop out of school in the ninth grade so that she could go to work to help out with the bills.  While in school, she had written poetry (some of them even appeared in our hometown newspaper), had been an excellent artist, and had developed a love of reading that she passed along to her daughter.  People who met her later in life could not believe that she didn’t have a college degree.
I won’t go into all of the details of her life right now, but I did want to make sure that the most important woman in my own history was honored on my blog during Women’s History Month.
During the workshop on that momentous day back in 1991, we were asked to make a list of the most important men we could think of in American history.  The facilitator had to stop us after about two minutes because we were all still writing down names, and the lists were growing so long.  Then she asked us to begin a similar list of women.  Needless to say, many people became bewildered after writing down only a few names.  What an interesting and original way that was to get us to realize how few women we had ever learned about in our history classes and how important it was for us as teachers to remedy that fact.   I never forgot that lesson, nor will I ever forget that day. 
Looking back, I’m pretty sure that the unknown man standing in the doorway had indeed come for me.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My First True Entry into the 'Genealogical Blogosphere'

When I set up this blog back in August, I was fairly convinced that I would make entries on a regular basis.  Why bother to have a blog if I didn't do that...right?  Right.  Sure.  I guess I didn't take into account that little thing called 'life.'  Since I'm now retired, I was pretty sure that I could easily do this.  Nevertheless, I didn't take into account the fact that I am still working two days a week at my old job, and that life truly does interfere with our 'best-laid plans.'

Today, however, is a new day, and I have a newly-found desire to put my thoughts on genealogical issues 'out there.'  Now, you might ask what kind of expertise can I actually add to that already rich equation? The answer to that is simple: nothing; nada; zilch.  Nonetheless, I can add my thoughts on certain historical issues and events, and in particular, I can write about my own family and my endeavors to find out about their lives.  My degree in history and my years of family history research should count for something - I hope!  So bear with me as I begin the process...

I actually began my journey into family history research back in the mid-1970s, when I found a document that my Father had written tracing our family back to General Thomas Gage of Revolutionary War fame.  I was so excited to find that. I had already been teaching history for a few years and couldn't believe how wonderful it would be to share that with my students.  But wait....what?  This guy Gage was on the wrong side! He actually sent the troops to Lexington and Concord.  Oh, my.  I couldn't be related to him, could I?  I was pretty devastated, I must say.

I had also heard all of my life that my middle name was Lee because we were related to the famous Lee Family of Virginia; General Robert E. Lee, in particular was my cousin.  I never believed that for one minute.

I tried on and off for years to connect Hannah Gage, my fourth great grandmother, to General Gage. She was purportedly his daughter, which is what my Father had indicated in that perfectly drawn and filled in family tree that I had found. I hadn't been able to find the connection, and I thought it was my own poorly done research.

It was not until the early 1990s that I began my serious quest for the truth about these two family stories.  I went once again to libraries and researched once again the children designated as General Gage's sons and daughters.  No Hannah was ever listed.  What could have possibly happened to her?  Hmmmm.  I finally found an article that had been written in the 1800s about one of her grandsons.  The article mentioned that she was of English descent and was related to General Thomas Gage.  Well!  So much for family 'legends.'  She was most certainly not his daughter.  That's when I first realized how easily family stories could be passed along - incorrectly.

I also began to research the Lee family about the same time, and was truly shocked to find that I am a descendant of Richard Lee, 'the Immigrant,' and his wife Anna Constable, through their son, Charles Lee.  Robert E. Lee is my fourth cousin, five times removed.  Whoa - what a shocker that was!

So all of my life I had believed the family story that was not true and didn't believe the one that was

Did I say that I had a degree in history?