Friday, May 31, 2013

Sepia Saturday: How They Spent Their Summer Vacation

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is circus wagons, one of which advertises birds, beasts, and reptiles.  Oh my!

Whether my ancestors anticipated the circus coming to town is a mystery as there is no photo to document such an occasion.  But judging by the number of photos taken at Ocean View, it is likely they caravanned to the beach every summer. 

The photo album belonging to my great aunt Helen Killeen Parker is a record of the beauty of an unspoiled beach pre-1920, the zany antics of flappers and sheiks, and the pure joy of youth. 

Among the memories captured in sepia are

I am not sure why Helen's friend
 is duck hunting in a sailor suit.

Helen Killeen (Parker) and Unknown
with a dog


Thank-you ,Helen, for this brilliant caption.
"Beach Lizards"

Oh my!

Join the caravan and travel over to Sepia Saturday where a virtual menagerie promises to amaze and delight.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Button Button

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.

Among the many photos left behind by my great aunt Helen Killeen Parker is this photo button.

Photo Button among pictures belonging to Helen Killeen Parker

According to Brett Payne over at Photo-Sleuth, photo buttons were especially popular in the early 1900s.  Many had a pin backing so that the button could be worn.  However, this one is a metal plate 6” across, so most likely it was not worn but displayed on a stand. 

Aunt Helen was born in 1903, so it is quite likely a photo of her.  However, it is just as likely to be someone else, one of her sisters perhaps, since she might have inherited her mother’s or sisters’ things upon their passing. 

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mystery Monday: Searching for Mary Ann

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers encouraging bloggers to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything 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.

The Armentrout family is well-researched.  I have a book 2.25 inches thick to prove it:  Armentrout Family History 1739-1978.  However, my Armentrout ancestor is a mere footnote in the chapter titled “Miscellaneous.” 


Mary Ann Armentrout is my 3G grandmother, wife to Fielding Jollett.  Her story is largely lost due to absence of records.  The Jolletts lived in Rockingham County, Virginia, a burned county.  In June 1864 during the Civil War, volumes of order books, deeds, wills, and fiduciary books were loaded onto a wagon to be taken to safety.  However, Union troops overtook the wagon and set it on fire.  The records were either severely damaged or totally lost in the fire.  An act of assembly passed in November 1884 called for rerecording pre-1865 records. 

If it weren’t for that, we would not know Mary Ann’s father was John Armentrout.  In 1837, Mary Ann and Fielding Jollett sold some land that she had inherited from her father.  Here is a transcript of the indenture from Burnt Deed Book 20:105.  The dashes indicate where the text was unreadable or missing due to the fire:

This Indenture made the 26th day of June - - - - Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty sev- - - - Fielden Jollett and Mary his wife late Mary - - - - daughter and one of the heirs at law of John A- - - - decd of the county of Rockingham and State of Vir- - -  one part and Henry Kisling of the county & state - - - - the other part.  Witnesseth that the said Fielden - - - - Mary his wife for and in consideration of the sum - - - - dred dollars to them in hand paid by the said - - - - the receipt whereof they and each of them do he- - - - acknowledged have Bargained & sold & by these presents and each of them do Bargain & sell alient and Confir- - - - the said Henry Kisling and his heirs and assigns all titles Interest and claim in the Land and - - - - of the said John Armentrout decd and also the - - - - and claimed which may hereafter accrue to them - - - - Real & personal Estate in consequences of either - - - - heirs of sd John Armentrout decd lying without - - - - and to hold the said Interest and claims in the - - - - personal Estate of the said John Armentrout decd - - - - the appurtenances thereunto belonging to him the - - - - his heirs and assigns to the only proper use and behoof - - - - Henry Kisling and his heirs and assigns forever - - - - den Jollett and Mary his wife for themselves their h- - - - tors and Administrators doth hereby covenant - - - - and with the sd Henry Kisling and his heirs - - - - title Interest and claims which they have or - - - - have in the real & personal Estate of the sd John - - - - decd unto him the sd Henry Kisling his heirs & assigns - - - - the sd Fielden Jollett and Mary his wife - - - - and against all persons claiming under the - - - - will of these presents forever warrant and - - - - witness whereof the said Fielden Jollett - - - - have hereunto set their hands & seals the - - - - above written.

Ordinarily I would think such remnants would be helpful.  After all, I learned Mary Ann’s father was named John and she was ONE of the heirs.  She had siblings!  But the problem is every Tom, Dick, and Harry was named John Armentrout. 

In the coming weeks I plan to explore the Armentrout lines of Rockingham County to see if I can come closer to finding those other heirs and a mother for Mary Ann. 

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Where did you get those genes?

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt challenges us to focus on the face.  As it turns out, I’ve been studying a particular photo for quite some time hoping the names of the subjects would be pronounced to me through some divine spirit.

Unidentified couple in photo collection of Violetta Davis Ryan

So far, no spirit and no names.  However, the man’s face has become more familiar.  Where have I seen this face before?

Closeup of man in previous photo

Is it possible he is the brother of these Breeden men? 

Sullivans and Breedens Shenandoah, Virginia
Breeden Boys with Sullivan Girls

Decatur Breeden (1877-1952) married my great grandaunt Victoria Jollett, and his brother John Wesley Breeden (1879-1961) married Minnie Sullivan, my first cousin twice removed.

Decatur Breeden
Decatur Breeden

Compare this unknown with Decatur Breeden:

Am I imagining a strong resemblance?  If not, then possibly this is Joel Vernon Breeden (1876-1940) with his wife Zaida Maiden (1884-1962). 

No doubt my dedication to family history keeps me searching for the source of family traits manifested in the living.  Where did this nose come from?  Whose eyes were these?  What about that chin and that forehead?  So here is a little game.  The rules are simple:  Match the living member of my family to someone from the past by studying their facial features.

Family Quiz

Let’s face it:  there are more fun photos at Sepia Saturday.

ANSWERS:  Aren't they obvious??
1 and B - my nephew is my dad all day long from his facial features to his stance
2 and A - my younger daughter sometimes resembles Violetta in the shape of her face and mouth
3 and D - my sister is Sudie Rucker. Notice the cheek bone, jawline, and chin. 
4 and C - my younger daughter is also like Velma especially her smile but even more so in spirit and style

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Three's a Crowd

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.

from Helen Killeen Parker

My great aunt Helen Killeen Parker must have been amused by this double-exposure because she gave it TWO captions:  Ghost and Three’s a crowd.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Turning the World Upside Down

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt shows a line of children draped across a bar viewing the world upside down.  One photo in my great-aunt Velma Davis Woodring’s scrapbook from her freshman year at Harrisonburg Teacher’s College (now James Madison University – Go Dukes!) suggests the ladies of HTC did their share of viewing the world upside down too:

Velma Davis Woodring and friends 1925
Left to right: Velma Davis,
Leta LeVow, Thelma Haga
Upside down - ??
Velma captioned this photo "On the Dayton Pike
March 28, 1925"

However, nothing turned the 1920s world upside down like the flapper.  A poem in Velma’s scrapbook announces that the modern woman is different from those of previous generations. 

The Flappers Choice

There was a little flapper girl
Who bobbed her hair and skirts;
And she was known in town as one
Of its most vampish flirts.
Her face was powdered – coated,
With a heavy smear of red,
Which came off on the pillow
When at nite she went to bed.
She laughed and smoked & danced
In perfect happiness.
Some people said she’d go to - - - -
Whenever she was dead.
She soon upset their theories
And went to heaven instead.
When St. Peter questioned her
Beside the pearly gate
And asked her what she’d ever done
She answered him quite straight.
He let her in; she took up her harp
. . . .

There the white ink is so faded that I cannot make out the words.  What a pity.  If Velma wrote this, she did Dorothy Parker proud.

Judging by Velma’s scrapbook, bobbed hair ruled the day at HTC.

"Courtney G"
Velma, Bill Porter,
Leta LeVow, Unknown

Bill Porter, Leta LeVow, Velma
Velma Davis (Woodring)

But that wasn’t always the case.  In fact, HTC tried to discourage students from cutting their hair.  Student teachers were expected to keep theirs long or at the very least disguise the awful truth with hairpins and nets. 

Then in 1924 Mrs. Beatrice Varner entered the picture.  The new dean of women was the perfect combination of attractiveness and ability.  She set the example of good taste in dress and standards of conduct.  No doubt the administrators and faculty were confident that under Mrs. Varner’s leadership this flapper business would soon end.

Those thoughts were short-lived, however.  Mrs. Varner attended a conference in Atlantic City, and while there she treated herself to a new haircut. 

Mrs. Beatrice Varner
(from the yearbook 1926)

When she returned to campus, the president of the college just gave up.  From then on students – even student teachers – were allowed to follow the example of the dean of women, a woman who possessed the spirit of the flapper and turned the HTC world upside down. 

Varner House at JMU
Varner House - Built in 1929, the home economics
practice house was named in honor of Beatrice Varner.
I'm not sure how this building is used today at JMU.

If you want to see people standing on their heads and children at play, please visit Sepia Saturday.  Without a doubt, there will be something there that will turn your world upside down.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Women and Their Wheels

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.

Nowhere is the playful nature of my great-aunt Helen Killeen Parker more apparent than in these photos of grown women taking turns posing on a child’s riding toy.  

Lillie Killeen and Helen Killeen Parker
"Our Ford"
Helen Killeen Parker in the front
and sister Lillie Killeen in the back
Portsmouth, VA about 1918-20
Helen Killeen Parker
Portsmouth, VA about 1918-20

Helen Killeen Parker and friend
"Wanta ride"
Helen Killeen Parker in the back
Unknown in the front
Portsmouth, VA about 1918-20

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Those Who Can

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt featuring a chemistry classroom is right on target for Teacher Appreciation Week here in the United States.  Coming from a family of teachers, I’ve always disliked the old expression, “Those who can, Do.  Those that can’t, Teach.”  However, I was happy when some smart person added, “And those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”  OH YES! – you have to have sat through education courses and dealt with administrators to appreciate that brilliant declaration. 

I have written HERE and HERE about my great aunt Violetta Davis Ryan, mostly about her education at the Harrisonburg Normal School (now James Madison University – Go Dukes!).  So today, it’s about Violetta, the teacher.

Violetta Davis Ryan's school pictures
Some school pictures from Violetta's days teaching at Pleasant Hill School

Likely following her graduation from college, she lived at home in Shenandoah, Virginia and taught at a nearby elementary school.  However, in 1930 she began a long teaching career at Pleasant Hill School in Harrisonburg, Rockingham County. 

Originally the school was a typical one-room frame building used for community meetings, but in 1875 local citizens decided to convert it into a school.  Fifteen years later they added a second room and then a third room in 1907.  By 1916, the school population had grown such that a new building was necessary.

The original Pleasant Hill School
photo courtesy of Rockingham County Public Schools

Land was purchased across the street for the construction of a fine brick building.  The Pleasant Hill School operated from 1917 until 1963, and Violetta spent 28 years there.

Pleasant Hill School, Harrisonburg, VA
Pleasant Hill School, Harrisonburg, VA
photo courtesy of Rockingham County Public Schools

The school was used as a training facility for education majors at Madison College (formerly the Normal School and now James Madison University – Go Dukes!).  Violetta supervised countless student teachers.  Because of that role, she was considered part of the faculty at the college.  Her official title was Supervisor of Junior High. 

Violetta Davis Ryan at Madison College graduation
Violetta is second from the left.
That's her husband Dick Ryan
along with some of her graduating student teachers.

In 2004, I received a lovely email from one of Violetta’s former students:

Just wanted you to know that your Great Aunt Mrs. Ryan was the Principal and my 7th Grade Teacher at the old Pleasant Hill Elementary School in the years of 1943-44.  I started there in the 2nd Grade and remember her well.

Further, she used to give me jobs cleaning her house back when I was young, since our family lived on the farm east of Harrisonburg, now the home of the new James Madison University! 

Just thought I would let you know!

[Name withheld for privacy]
Harrisonburg, VA

Sixty years later and he still had fond memories of his seventh grade teacher.  

And that is why those who CAN, TEACH – the hope of making a difference. 


Huffman, Larry.  History of Rockingham County Public Schools.  Rep.  Rockingham County Public Schools, 2001.  Web.   8 May 2013.

Your assignment is to visit as many Sepia Saturday participants as you can.  So run along now.  Don’t be tardy.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sepia Saturday: When Smoking Was Cool

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt shows a happy lady, cigarette in hand.  No doubt she was one of the cool kids. 

I grew up when smoking anywhere and everywhere was widely accepted.  However, smoking was for adults.  When I was in school, most teens who smoked tried to hide it from their parents.  But the more rebellious ones didn’t care.  In fact, they were allowed to smoke out by the smoke stack behind the school.  No doubt a school administrator with a sense of humor set that policy.

Cradock High School, Portsmouth, Virginia 1966
Cradock High School Portsmouth, Virginia
The smokestack is on the left, towering above the school.

Harry Escue and son, Shenandoah, Virginia
Harry Escue on the right.
I believe that is his son Emile, but I'm not sure.

Historically, smoking was the man’s domain.  That might explain why my distant cousin’s husband Harry Escue proudly posed for a formal portrait with his favorite cigar in hand.

My grandfather Fred Slade, Sr. seemed always to have a cigarette too:

Fred Slade, Sr. 1919 Princess Anne County, Virginia
Fred Slade as a young man farming
and smoking on the job 1919
Fred Slade, Sr. 1952 Burlington, NC
Cigarette in the ashtray  
Fred Slade and granddaughter Wendy Slade
I guess Granddaddy wasn't
worried about ashes falling
on that sweet baby's head.
Fred Slade in orange grove
Granddaddy Slade smoking in an orange grove

The same can be said of Granddaddy Davis and my own father, but alas, no proof in photos.

By the 1920s, the first wave of women’s liberation brought women smokers out of the closet.  But in the colleges, women were to be ladies.  At Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University - Go Dukes!), smoking was expressly forbidden.  In fact, the no-smoking rule extended even to traveling for the holidays between home and school although I do not know how that rule was enforced or what the punishment might have been. 

Leta LeVow 1925 Harrisonburg, VA
Leta LeVow 1925
Harrisonburg Teachers College

Yet here is my great-aunt Velma Davis Woodring’s college roommate sitting IN her underwear, ON the dresser IN their dorm room, with a cigarette.  That blurred hand must have just put out the match.   


My mother was also one of the cool college-age smokers.

Mary Eleanor Davis, Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward
Mary Eleanor Davis, Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward
Mary and Betsy have cigarettes.  

In fact, she smoked Pall Mall until a few years before her death in 2005.  When and why she quit is a mystery.  She never announced her intentions to quit.  She never complained about withdrawal or expressed a desire for a cigarette. She just quit.  Out of the blue.  I wasn’t even aware she was quitting.  One day I noticed she wasn’t smoking.  I didn’t hear the familiar inhale-exhale when we spoke on the telephone.  She had quit for good.  Daddy was banished to the garage whenever he needed to smoke. 

He was also known to smoke in the car, the very one Daughter #1 at about age 5 dubbed “a smoker’s car.”  She even informed her younger sister, “We’re going for a ride in a smoker’s car.” 

Slade family Towncar
"the smoker's car"

As for me, I’ve never smoked and have never been tempted to sneak a drag.  I remember watching television the night reporters were all abuzz over the latest research connecting smoking and cancer. I took those reports seriously.

But that didn’t stop us from enjoying candy cigarettes and pretending to smoke.

Mary Jollette Slade
My sister -- too cool for school in those Go-Go boots!
While we loved candy cigarettes, she is holding
a REAL cigarette.  

If you’re ready for a cigarette break or just a break in general, please visit my friends at Sepia Saturday.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.