Friday, November 30, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Swimming Hole

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is a photo of a footbridge in Mosman Bay on the north shore of Sydney Harbor.  People stopping to chat, some boaters, and a dog bring life to the scene. 

So why did these young people cross the footbridge?

Violetta's friends on a footbridge
Friends of Violetta Davis
early 1920s

To get to the other side, of course!

So they could do this:

Friends of Violetta Davis Ryan
Violetta Davis Ryan far right

Where my great-aunt Violetta Davis and her friends were swimming that day is not easy to determine since she didn’t bother to identify the Who, What, Where, When or Why.  

A favorite swimming hole for those living in Shenandoah, Virginia, was “Blue Hole.”  But that seems to be the popular name for any spot in the river wide enough and deep enough for people to swim.  There were at least three Blue Holes where Violetta and her friends could seek relief from the heat of summer.  The closest was in nearby Naked Creek near Elkton, Virginia. 

Blue Hole near Elkton, Virginia
scanned from Shenandoah:  A History of Our Town and Its People

Judging by that rock outcropping in both pictures, I think they were right here in Naked Creek bringing life to the otherwise quiet swimming hole.

A simple CLICK will serve as your footbridge to more interpretations of today’s theme at Sepia Saturday.

In response to the request for more information on Naked Creek, please click HERE for an update.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Fingers up! Toes in!

Wordless Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks family historians to create a post in which the main focus is a photograph or image.

Velma Davis Woodring July 1925
Velma is in the dark dress.
July 1925

This is the perfect photo for Wordless Wednesday because I have no idea what these girls are doing.  My great-aunt Velma Davis and some college friends are on the front porch of her house in Shenandoah, Virginia.  Maybe they’re just being silly.  Velma loved to take crazy pictures.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mystery Monday: You're right; I'm wrong

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

In a recent Sepia Saturday post, I made light of my great-aunt Velma’s use of the term “scabs” thinking she was simply looking down her nose at some unsavory neighbors.  Several readers – no, make that MANY readers – called me on it, noting that the term “scabs” is used to denote workers who refuse to join a labor union or those who cross the picket line to take a striking worker’s job.

OK OK, you’re right.  As it turns out there was a nationwide railroad strike among the shopmen in 1922 (same year as Velma’s letter to Violetta) when the Railroad Labor Board announced that hourly wages would be cut by seven cents.  It was the last straw in an ongoing feud over a number of issues including working conditions and outsourcing of shopcrafts to avoid the pay, pension and benefits that would have gone to railroad employees.  NOTE: this affected the shops only, not operators’ unions that represented engineers, firemen, and conductors.  Just the shops.  And Shenandoah, Virginia was a major town along the Norfolk & Western line.  There were lots of shops. 

N & W Railroad Strikers 1922
Railroad Strikers in front of the old hotel 1922
Shenandoah, Virginia
scanned from Shenandoah: A History of Our Town and Its People

The railroads employed strikebreakers to fill vacancies caused by the strike.  Hiring “scabs” only increased the tension and hostilities between the railroad and striking workers.  In fact, the National Guard and US Marshals were on duty in seven states.

President Warren G. Harding proposed a settlement but with very little benefit for the labor unions, so railroad companies rejected any notion of compromise.  Eventually the strikes died down as local shopmen made deals on the local level.

Jacob P. "Jake" Hockman
Jacob "Jake" Hockman on the right
scanned from Shenandoah: A History of Our Town and Its People
I still don’t know how the Hockmans figured in the story of the scabs and the potential firing of Paul Hockman.  His father Jacob “Jake” Hockman owned a lumber and coal yard.  No doubt he supplied coal for the railroad as well as local businesses.  

Paul Hockman could possibly have worked for the railroad, but I have not looked in sources beyond what is easily available on Ancestry.  In 1920 he was only 14 and not working, but by 1930 he was managing his father’s lumber and coal yard.  

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Violetta and Velma

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt featuring a portrait of two little girls reminds me of the unmistakable sister bond that has revealed itself in so many generations and in so many lines in my family.  The close connection my great-grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis shared with her five sisters spilled over into the life-long friendship between her daughters Violetta Lorane Davis Ryan and Velma Hilda Davis Woodring.

“Violetta and Velma” – that’s how we always said it, never “Velma and Violetta,” and rarely just one name at a time.  That’s how close they were.

Violetta and Velma Davis about 1910
Violetta and Velma Davis
About 1910
Violetta and Velma Davis about 1914
Violetta and Velma Davis
About 1914

Davis sisters at home 411 Sixth Street, Shenandoah, Virginia
I love how Velma captioned the picture:  Sis - September 1928

When Violetta went to college, she and Velma no doubt wrote many letters to one another, most of which went into the “round file.”  However, for some strange reason this little gem was spared.  It shows a sweet relationship in which 14-year old Velma asks a favor and spreads a little gossip. 

Shenandoah, Virginia
November 14, 1922

Dearest Violetta,
I guess you will be surprised when you read this to see who it is from.  Don’t look at the mistakes as I am writing this in a hurry.

Whew, we have no exemptions from exams this year.  I think it is terrible don’t you.  I think they are going to be uniform.  The teachers are not sure.  I hope our own teachers make them out tho’.

Mother said to tell you to get you a dress and hat.  She said to get something that would wear good.

There is not much news around this joint now.  Everything is dead.  Mama let me play basketball.  I play on the 2nd team as this is my first year.

Violetta would you mind getting me something.  I need a pair shoes real bad.  I want grey oxfords with black trimmings if you can get them, size 5 ½ kindly wide.  Or get something pretty I can wear some grey stockings with.  Getting something you think is pretty.  And send them to me if you aren’t coming home soon.

And can you get me a Matthews music book Grade 2 and send it at the same time.

I started taking music from Mrs. Olliver last week.  I like her real well for a teacher.  She sure did give me a hard lesson.  I take it this eve.

I don’t know how you would get the things we send you if it wasn’t for Mr. Foltz do you.  He certainly is nice.

I think the scabs over at Hockman’s come down and talk to Thelma and Mrs. Hockman right often.  I saw one down there last night talking to them.   I know Claude S was embarrassed yesterday.  He was talking and said, “There are going to fire Paul [Thelma’s brother] and Edward and some others just as soon as they can and put some of the other men

back to work.”  Then someone pointed Thelma out to him and he looked real funny.

As I don’t know anything else I won’t tell you anymore.


Hmm, I imagine Violetta winced at some of those grammar errors.  And at the "scabs" visiting their good neighbors.

As much friends as sisters, Violetta and Velma just had fun together.

Picnic with Dick and Violetta Ryan, Velma Woodring, Mary Frances Davis
Dick and Violetta Ryan, Velma Woodring
Mary Frances Jollett Davis on a picnic
I guess Woody took the picture.

Velma Davis Woodring and Violetta Davis Ryan
Velma and Violetta about 1947 or 1948
I don’t know why they are dressed alike here. 
Such was not their habit, as far as I know.

It is generally believed that Velma took a job teaching in Korea because she did not approve of one particular fellow and his low-class wife that Violetta not only befriended but also defended and supported.  (Scabs!)  The truth is, nobody in the family approved, but we couldn’t all go to Korea!  

Even then, their love and friendship remained strong. When Velma became ill with cancer, she returned from Korea, sold her home in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and moved into one of Violetta’s apartments so that Violetta could help take care of her. 

That’s what sisters do.

Check Sepia Saturday for Girls, Girls, and more Girls.

EDITORIAL NOTE:  Because of the many comments regarding the "scabs" mentioned in Velma's letter, I did the due diligence and looked into the possibility of a labor strike.  You can read the follow-up HERE.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Blessings

Wordless Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks family historians to create a post in which the main focus is a photograph or image.

Dinner at Grandma Davis' 1964
I wrote on the back of this photo: Grandma should not have
walked in front of the camera.
Left to right: Grandma Lucille Rucker Davis, Uncle Orvin Jr (Davis),
Aunt "Scoop" Davis, just a sliver of cousin Barbara Davis,
me with that fine perm, cousin Glenn Davis

For lack of a photo, I’ve been forced to cheat.  This is actually a Christmas dinner at my Grandma’s house, but our Christmas dinner always looked like a Thanksgiving dinner:
  • Turkey
  • Dressing – both traditional and cornbread
  • Gravy
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Collards
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Pumpkin pie, Apple Pie, Coconut cake

I wish for you this holiday
Good company
Good food
Good times

Happy Thanksgiving!  

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Book 'em

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt of a library full of boys reading inspired me to take a good look at some old textbooks passed down from my great-grandfather and grandfather.

Literature and history books belonged to my grandfather.
The little math book belonged to my great-grandfather.


Ray's Practical Arithmetic
My great-grandfather proudly wrote his name on several pages of his arithmetic book.  “Walter B. S. M. Davis.” 

Arithmetic book belonging to Walter Davis

But he was not the first to use it.  The inscription “A. N. Davis” suggests at least one older brother of the 15 Davis children used the book too:  Amaziah Nathaniel.

Amaziah Nathaniel Davis
Amaziah Nathaniel Davis wrote his name
on several pages of the arithmetic book.

The book was Ray’s Practical Arithmetic, Part Third.  The Ray’s series was one of the most respected textbooks of its day because it emphasized “real life” math that students could apply to practical pursuits of running a farm, a business, a household, even a grocery store.  Early on the series was praised for beginning with the basics using concrete items like blocks and marbles in order to prepare students to be able to visualize the abstract later on when higher level critical thinking was required.  Ray’s almost exclusive use of word problems is credited with improving students’ reading comprehension. 

Ray's Practical Arithmetic
This textbook is very unappealing by today's standards.
No colorful charts.  Very little "white space."

Dr. Ray believed education could help students develop high moral character.  So his math problems often showed honest men and women hard at work plowing fields, planting and harvesting crops, building, buying and selling, being generous and sharing their goods.  

Look at some typical math problems:
  • If 16 men build 18 rods of fence in 12 days, at the same rate, how many men can build 72 rods in 8 days?
  • When cloth costs $4.37 ½ per yard, at what price per yard must it be sold to gain 33 1/3 percent?
  • What is the value of 1 pound 3 pennyweights of gold ore at 3 cents a grain?

Although Dr. Joseph Ray died in 1855, his arithmetic books are still in use today, especially among homeschoolers.  However, I’m not sure how the homeschoolers feel about the explanation of pints, barrels, and hogsheads required in beer measurements.   But I must admit, the explanation of apothecary measurements could be helpful to today’s drug dealers who might need to know how to answer this one:
  • What will 1 pound 1 dram 1 ounce of opium cost at 4 cents a scruple?


History of Virginia textbook belonging to Orvin Davis
I don’t know how much American history was included in my high school history textbooks, but only once did we make it to World War II.  How far did the teachers of my grandfather Orvin Davis get exposing him to American history? 

His book is about the size of a 5”x7” photograph and just about ¾” thick.  The last chapter is entitled  “The Reconstruction Period 1865-1890.”  

I guess there’s something to be said for being born early. 


Literature textbook belonging to Orvin DavisStepping Stones to Literature: A Reader for Fifth Grades is one ambitious collection of works by such people as Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cowper, Sir Walter Scott, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and John Ruskin.  JOHN RUSKIN!!!  Has anyone read Ruskin?  I have.  Hopefully my grandfather at age 10 was exposed to some lighter weight Ruskin than I got in graduate school.  Good grief.

Page from the textbook

The introduction to the book says it all:  “…its authors aimed to include nothing but good literature …. The tendency of the day is to scrappy reading.  It is fostered by newspapers, periodicals, and compendia of literature; and it is hoped that these Readers will help to combat this unfortunate tendency, and lead to the reading of good books.”

As textbooks always do, this one gives teaching suggestions, especially on ways to improve oral reading.  The authors are not shy about saying Americans have poor speech habits and “disagreeable voices.”  They deem it a “national defect.”  They even recommend calisthenics to improve students’ carriage, breathing through the nostrils, drilling for proper enunciation, using a dictionary to assure proper pronunciation, and learning to incorporate the right inflections to express the feeling of the written word. 

So noble.  But these are fifth graders. 

Here is what fifth graders did to their books even in 1910:

Textbook of Orvin Davis

Textbook belonging to Orvin Davis

The message has been erased for the most part, but it says, "Look on page [?] and you will see my sweethearts name."

Flipping pages, I found this on page 25: 

Textbook belonging to Orvin Davis

On page 300, there's this message saying "She ran away from me and nobody knows where she is." 

Textbook belonging to Orvin Davis

So who was she, for crying out loud??  Hrmph.  I thought books held the key to all knowledge. What a let-down.

Looking closely at these very old books (over 100 years old) makes me rethink the rural one-room schoolhouse.  I always assumed those poor kids probably got a second-rate education because the school couldn’t afford to do any better.  But I see now that Rockingham County and Page County in Virginia provided the best textbooks to be had in their day. 

Stand up straight, breathe through your nostrils, and turn the page to Sepia Saturday where you can read more about books and libraries, with feeling, of course.  

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Fun in the snow

Wordless Wednesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks family historians to create a post in which the main focus is a photograph or image.

Friends of Lillie Killeen, December 1945
December 1945

Judging by the smirk on this woman’s face, she’s not overly scared of that rifle.  I don’t know who these people are – just friends of my great aunt Lillie Killeen.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday: The Knights

Tombstone Tuesday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers which asks bloggers to create a post including an image of a gravestone of one or more ancestors; it may also include a brief description of the image or the ancestor.

My great grand aunt Leanna Jollett Knight and my great grand uncle James Mitchell Knight are buried in the Evergreen Church Cemetery in Greene County, Virginia.  The prettiest stone church is just across the street from the cemetery, which is enclosed by a low wall made from the same stones.  The surrounding scenery is breathtaking no matter the season. 

Evergreen Cemetery, Greene County, Virginia
photo by Jan Hensley

James Mitchell Knight tombstone, Greene County, Virginia
photo by Jan Hensley
Leanna A. Knight tombstone, Greene County, Virginia
photo by Jan Hensley

James M. Knight                                                              MOTHER
May 9, 1866                                                                      Leanna A. Knight
Feb. 16, 1942                                                                    Born
                                                                                            Mar. 14, 1867
                                                                                            Sept. 20, 1936

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Census Sunday: James Mitchell Knight

Last Sunday I wrote about Ulysses Jollett’s widow Sadie and my inability to find her in the 1940 census.  Fortunately finding Leanna Jollett Knight’s widowed husband James Mitchell Knight was a snap.

click to enlarge

James Mitchell Knight (75) was living as a widower with one of their eleven children, son James Frank Knight (37 – probably incorrect age) and family including James’ wife Maggie (47), son Edward (20) and daughter Margrette (15).  Mitchell was listed as UNABLE to work and had lived with his son in White Hall in Albemarle County, Virginia, at least since 1935, the year before Leanna’s death.   At the time of the previous census, Mitchell and Leanna had been living on their own farm in Nortonsville, Albemarle County, Virginia.

James Frank owned his house valued at $700 and was a farmer.  His son Edward was a farm laborer, likely working for his father who was listed as an EMPLOYER. 

No one in this family had much education.  Mitchell, his son James Frank, and grandson Edward each had completed only 4 years of school.  Maggie completed 6 and Margrette only 3.  Based on an earlier census, I believe Margrette’s age is incorrectly recorded as 15 but should be only 10, which makes 3 years of school appropriate.

Will Sullivan, Decatur Breeden, Mitchell Knight, Sadie Jollett, Walter Davis, Jack Coleman, James Franklin Jollett
Jollett spouses with James Franklin Jollett at a reunion
about 1928
Will Sullivan, Decatur Breeden, Mitchell Knight, Sadie Jollett,
Walter Davis, Jack Coleman, James Franklin Jollett

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Smooth Operator

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt depicts a row of switchboard operators at work.  A scene like this was quite familiar to my aunt Beverly Ann Slade “Betty” Anderson.  Why? Because she was part of the legend of women who said “NY-un” (9) and “FY-vuh” (5) when speaking to telephone customers.

From the very first day on the job in 1952, Aunt Betty loved working at the “toll board” or “cord board,” as it was called, as an employee of Southern Bell in Burlington, North Carolina, and then later at C & P Telephone Company in Portsmouth, Virginia. 

C & P Telephone Company
High Street Portsmouth, VA
The telephone operators were on the third floor.
from Google Maps
C & P Telephone Office
The woman in the back is operating the
switchboard from which she connected
calls to the desks in the business office
of C & P Telephone Company.
photo courtesy of Beverly Anderson

The basis of the job was quite simple:  just insert one or both cords to make the connection. But the challenge came when there was no direct connection.  The operators had to use a map to figure out a route and then call another phone center to serve as a link in a chain of connections. 

Telephone Company newspaper 1968
An article in the company newspaper 1968
shows male operators at the toll board
courtesy Betty Anderson
The job at the cord board took on a competitive edge when several calls came in at the same time requiring the same connections.  Operators would shout out the time their call came in.  It was a system of “first come - first served.”

Aunt Betty was not intimidated by supervisors (like the one in the prompt) who carefully watched and monitored every operator’s performance.  If the light came on, the operator had better answer in 30 seconds.  If a customer was on hold 60 seconds, the operator had better get back to the customer to say she is still trying to connect.  Lord help the operator if she was caught listening in on someone’s conversation.  Operators’ pay was directly tied to their good customer service.  

And the pay was good:  $20 a week.  An operator who worked a full day got two 15-minute breaks plus lunch.  Those who worked a split shift had a 15-minute break during each shift.  When Aunt Betty worked the split shift, typically 8:00-12:00 and 4:00-8:00, rather than go home, she opted to take advantage of the employees’ craft room where various workers took turns running craft classes.  Betty’s favorite was ceramics.

Beverly Anderson and antique switchboard
 In costume as part of some historical celebration,
Beverly Anderson is pictured here
 with an antique switchboard
 that was most likely used in an office.
photo courtesy of Beverly Anderson
With her record for good service and many awards for perfect attendance, it is no wonder that Aunt Betty advanced through the company.  (Yes, the phone company gave awards for perfect attendance.)  At various times she was an operator, a supervisor, a teller in the business office, and service manager handling either business customers or retail customers.

Beverly Anderson 1968
This photo of Aunt Betty
appeared in the company
newspaper  in 1968
when she was
featured for conducting
a training session on how
women can protect themselves
against crank callers.

When she retired, she had 50 people reporting to her.  Ever modest about her success at the phone company, Aunt Betty always insisted she was at the right place at the right time.  Sometimes she felt inadequate or even unworthy supervising people with far more education than she had.  But a strong work ethic and good common sense carried her far beyond her little stool at the cord board.

Beverly Anderson and Wendy Mathias
Aunt Betty and me Christmas 2009

If you want to connect with other smooth operators at Sepia Saturday, it's TOLL FREE.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.