Wednesday, October 28, 2020

52 Ancestors - SCARY STUFF: Do You Believe in Ghosts?

In the days when cameras operated only with film, people paid for the processing of the entire roll regardless of the quality of the picture. It did not matter whether the photos turned out perfectly or a head was cut off or what should have been a precious memory was out of focus, they all cost the same.

Forgetting that a roll was complete, sometimes people took pictures on top of pictures resulting in photos like these:

Aunt Helen and maybe Aunt Mae
about 1919

My grandaunt Helen Killeen Parker recognized that her photo-fail looked like a ghost.

from album of
Violetta Davis
early 1920s

When I first saw this photo from my grandaunt Violetta Davis’s camping trip, I did not realize it was a double until I saw a clear set of legs under the top half of the man on the left.

Getting to the subject of ghosts, not of the photo-fail kind but encounters with the Dead kind, I have never seen a ghost or felt the presence of one the way some people claim to have experienced. My aunt “Scoop” told about her encounter with a ghost.

Aunt "Scoop" and Uncle Orvin Jr.

She and my uncle lived in the house built by my great-grandfather Walter Davis. One afternoon when Scoop was sick in bed, she felt someone gently rubbing her forehead. She said it was Mary Frances, my great-grandmother. Now, was this just the imaginings of a sick woman? I don’t know. I can’t make myself believe it was true, but I hope it was. 

I would LOVE to have a FRIENDLY encounter with the ghost of an ancestor.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Keep It Simple

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is the next letter is our fearless leader’s march through the alphabet: K. K for “Kiss.” The expression about applying the KISS method to any situation came to mind: Keep It Simple, Stupid. And so I shall.


My grandaunt Velma Davis kept a scrapbook during her freshman year at Harrisonburg Teacher’s College (now James Madison University – GO DUKES!). Besides photos, she penned little poems and songs. I don’t know if they are her creations or copied from another source. This one is a gem:


What? No tissue to blot that red lipstick? The back of an envelope must have been the next best option. It looks like a kiss, but not likely. However, in this collection of letters is the ultimate “kiss off” – a breaking-up letter from my mother’s then-boyfriend George. He was quite the gentleman in sending the message “it’s not YOU, it’s ME.”



My girls put me to the test in 2013: planning TWO weddings within months of each other – one in October and one in December.

 Now that’s a kiss!

Please visit the other bloggers at Sepia Saturday where hugs and kisses await.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

52 Ancestors - QUITE THE CHARACTER: Tom Frazier

House in Boonesville, Albemarle Co, VA
where some deserters were kept in the basement 
and then killed near the end of the Civil War.
Tom Frazier escaped from here.
photo courtesy Norm Addington

The first statement in the Thomas J. Frazier lineage posted on the Shiflet Family website says everything about my 2X great-grandmother’s cousin: “reportedly had 32 children.”  He married twice and lived openly with his good friend’s widow. According to legend these three women were not the only ones in his life, and not all were white – not a big deal today but surely scandalous in his time.

Along the Skyline Drive
A gentleman named George Foss interviewed many older residents of Greene County, Virginia to collect the tales that had been passed down from generation to generation. His book From White Hall to Bacon Hollow includes stories of moonshine operations, black magic and witch-women, feuds, childhood games and riddles, and more. Tom Frazier featured in several of those stories, mostly about his dodging the Civil War.

Here is an excerpt of one story told by Robert Shiflett about Linus/Linkus Shiflett and Tom Frazier, both considered war dodgers or deserters during the Civil War:

At various times Tom Frazier had been captured but he always escaped, but when they captured him and Linkus Shiflitt on this occasion they carried 'em to the outskirts of Staunton in a little brick buildin' I have heard Tom Frazier himself, I have set on his knee and heard him tell about it. They were to be shot at sunrise next mornin' and they had the coffins brought in -- pine boxes. So that night when they manacled 'em together, all the guards were asleep. There was only one door to this little brick buildin' leadin' out of it and there's one sentinel at the door. Tom Frazier said that he begged Linkus all night to make a break for it. Tom Frazier's hands were smaller than his wrists so he had slipped the handcuffs off of his hands which freed Linkus as far as bein' burdened with another man. He had nothin' but the handcuffs on his wrist. Tom Frazier told Linkus he'd kill the guard at the door if he would go with him. Said Linkus kept sayin' "No," he was going to trust in the Lord. And Old Man Tom, I know he lacked a lot from bein' a righteous man at the time, but he told Linkus that the Lord helps them that help themselves. "If you trust in the Lord you gonna be shot at sunrise if you don't try to help yourself." And accordin' to his narration, there was a rail fence 'bout a hundred yards maybe from the cabin across open fields. He'd waited till daylight and then the other guards begin to stir and he couldn't go. Linkus still had his fiddle accordin' to Tom. They had heard of his reputation as a violin player -- as a fiddler -- and so, accordin' to Old Man Tom Frazier, they made Linkus set on his own coffin and play the fiddle for 'em. And when they came in to serve breakfast, Tom said all the guards' rifles was stacked in front of the door in the yard. He said naturally he didn't have much appetite so he got up from the table ahead of ev'rybody else and he moved around the table toward the guard standin' in the door. And said he was movin' like he was unconcerned till he got near the door. He knocked the guard down, jumped through the door and made for the woods about a hundred yards away on the other side of a rail fence. And said all of the guards ran out and one by one they grabbed the rifles and started shootin'. He said he jumped to the right, jumped to the left, zig-zagged and bullets was passin' him and he said when he heard six rifles fire he knew that they were out of guns for the time being…. So when they called for the other rifle -- they had to run inside to get it -- he'd almost reached the woods and when he got to the rail fence instead of tryin' to jump it or climb over it, he just dived over the top of it. And he said as he did, the rifle ball busted the top rail right under his stomach but he fell to the other side unhurt. He said while they had the empty rifles -- ev'ry rifle was empty -- Linkus still wouldn't run. And they come back and tied him and shot him. 

Hilda Yates told this story about Tom Frazier:

They'd come to take him to the war and every time they'd get him and start with him, he'd always outdo 'em….The way he got away, he had a little black mare, he said all he had to do was just pull up on the reins and lay his hand behind him and she let into kickin' so fast you couldn't count it…. Said they had him just fixin' to take him and he just pulled up his reins, laid his hand on this little mare and she let into kickin', throwin' her feet ev'ry which-a-way. And those officers scattered and then she just whirled and said she was like a bird -- she was gone. Just sailed away with her. And they said that he got away so many times that they even dug graves and buried logs and said that was the grave Old Man Tom Frazier was buried in. I 'member when old man Tom Frazier died. They caught him I don't know how many times. He got away ev'ry time.

Robert Shiflett told yet another story about Tom Frazier:

Civil War bullets
from wikimedia commons
Tom Frazier was about the only man that survived in this section from the war as a hunted man. They
captured him innumerable times and he always managed to escape. Once they decided to take him to Richmond when they caught him and handcuffed him beside a guard on the train, and Tom picked a seat beside the window. And he was a slight built man, very wiry and strong but of small stature. And so when the guard dozed off, Tom slipped the handcuffs off -- as I mentioned before, his hand was smaller than his wrist; he could expand the tendon in his wrist when they handcuffed him and the handcuffs would be tight, but after he relaxed he could slip them off. So when the guard began to nod, Tom raised the window -- it was hot weather -- and he waited until the train was crossin' the river and he dived off the train into the river. Left the guard sittin' there with the empty handcuffs. He had a bullet -- a mini-ball -- right against his skull, right under his scalp, and I used sit on his knee when I was a kid and looked like I could push that ball back and forth a little ways. Great big lump, there. A mini-ball is pretty good sized bullet, you know. He was a wild character and he was pretty tough all of his life. He was a fightin' man any time anybody saw fit to challenge him....

Tom Frazier was definitely a legend in his own time. I wish I had a picture of this most interesting character.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Jump

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

Did anyone else notice that this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt was used before? Sure was. It was the weekend of June 11, 2016. Since I barely met the challenge four years ago, I had decided to give this week a pass. Then I read Susan Donaldson’s post which inspired me to take a stab at the repeat-prompt.

Jumping rope came to mind. These 2 photos of my parents jumping rope amuse me.

My dad Fred

My dad jumped rope like Mohammad Ali. There was very little space between his feet and the floor, just enough for the rope to slip through.

My mother Mary Eleanor

 Momma was simply being funny trying to appear glamorous while jumping rope.

Judging by the furnishings in this house, in particular the trunk for a coffee table and the absence of our platform rocker, and the fact that these are instant photos from a Polaroid camera, the photos are from the late 1970s.

An increased interest in physical fitness and better health was in its infancy following years of Americans becoming sedentary in front of the television set. Jumping rope was catching on. My parents, husband and I all purchased jump ropes to join the fitness craze.

Don’t ask me how long that lasted.

Hop, skip, or jump over to Sepia Saturday for more fun photos.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 16, 2020

52 Ancestors - PROUD: A Mother's Pride

I grew up knowing that my parents were proud of me. I never heard them say, “We are SO proud of you, darling daughter” but I knew it. I felt it. Proof is in the things they saved from my childhood: a silly handprint on a paper plate; a 4th grade history assignment answering questions about Sir Walter Raleigh; a homemade valentine card. When my mother and I were both teaching English, she asked to use my poetry unit.

Mary Morrison Slade

That is why I was shocked to hear that my great-grandmother (my paternal grandfather’s mother) was not proud of her children. What a sad statement.

I can understand her disappointment in three of her sons Fred, Lester, and Richard – a.k.a. Buck. Fred and Lester had several run-ins with the law and even served time for running bootleg whiskey across the state line from North Carolina to Virginia during Prohibition. As head of the “bootleg syndicate,” as the newspaper called it, Fred was also found guilty of tax evasion and was duly punished.

A good 10 or more years younger than his brothers, Buck was probably not involved in bootlegging. If he was, his name was never mentioned in the newspaper. But he was no saint.

In 1935 Buck gave his mother another crime to worry about. Buck and his friend Lloyd Martin stole a car. For some unstated reason, they entered the backyard of Mrs. Gladys Wilkins which led to a confrontation with some men checking them out. Buck and Lloyd left but returned only to be met by the police who ordered them to leave.

What did Buck and Lloyd do? They fired 5 gunshots into the house, at least one of which went into a young boy’s bedroom. They also shot the windshield out of a patrol car during the high-speed chase through the city which ensued when the policeman called for back-up.

Then just like a scene in a cop show on television, Buck and Lloyd lost control of the stolen car and drove into a ditch. They fled but were quickly apprehended.

Buck and his pal were charged with grand larceny for stealing a car and felonious shooting into the Wilkins’ residence.

from Virginian-Pilot
20 Aug 1935

These reports in the newspaper are difficult for me to comprehend because when I knew the Slade brothers, they were big, lovable men. All were married, had good jobs, and were loved by their children, their sisters, their in-laws. Even today family members share stories about them and laugh about some of the funny things they did. There must have been some good in them that their mother missed. 

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 12, 2020

52 Ancestors - NEWEST: Mary on the Move

STUFF found in the Davis attic

My newest source of information about my parents and maternal grandparents is the pile of “trash” that had been hidden away in my grandparents’ attic for 70 years until the newest owner discovered the secret attic while she was installing new insulation. That she bothered to find me through my blog rather than run to the nearest trash bin is a miracle in itself. Because the contents are priceless, my sister and I gladly took the boxes of stuff despite the dust and probable exposure to asbestos.

Letters Momma saved

Post cards, receipts, train schedules, school notebooks, and such were easy to go through. However, I am struggling to open the stacks and stacks of letters that my mother saved from her college days. The struggle is not due to the volume. The few letters I have read make me almost afraid to open others, afraid of what I might learn. I now know Momma’s best friend Betsy talked “like a sailor,” as the saying goes. She freely spouted off the BIG DADDY of curse words. It was the ultimate bad word in my day and has only in the last several years become a common part of dialogue in movies and television shows. Now I wonder about who that woman was before she became my mother. My mother was all about manners and morals and ladylike decorum.

Like my mother, I wrote to my friends and relatives while I was a college student. After all, what choice did we have then? There was no FaceTime or texting. Unlike my mother, though, I did not save a single letter, not even the letters from my then-boyfriend-now-husband.

It looks like Momma saved Every. Single. One. Some are tied in bundles. At first, I thought they were all from her high school beau, Dickie Blanks. But tucked in between Dickie’s news about Davidson College football and invitations to the dances, there were odds and ends of letters from Momma’s mother informing her that she was sending Momma a winter coat or letting her know she was heading to Shenandoah to visit relatives. In short, there seems to be nothing significant about the organization of her letters.

I will eventually read more of the letters, but for now I will share something I noticed that I had never been aware of before: the addresses of where my mother lived. My grandparents moved from Shenandoah to Portsmouth about 1940 when Granddaddy went to work for the shipyard. They rented in Cradock, a community within the City, and then they built their home on Gillis Road about 1950.

The letters show me that I was mistaken in thinking they always lived at 47 Farragut St, the address that Momma wrote on the inside cover of her high school yearbook. That is where they were in June 1946, the year Momma graduated from Cradock High School.

I'm pretty sure that was a white house at 47 Farragut
when my mother and grandparents lived there.

By August of the same year, they were at 8 Decatur St.

Duplexes like this on Decatur Street were typical 

I need to go through more letters to learn when they moved to 119 Gilmerton Boulevard, but at least by August 1948, that is where they were. I do not have a picture of their rented house or apartment. It took me a while to even find Gilmerton Boulevard. 
A few duplexes along what USED TO BE Gilmerton Blvd.
One may or may not be where Momma lived.
Her address was 119, but these numbers are all 4-digit.

Today there is a Gilmerton Avenue close to downtown Portsmouth and a Gilmerton Road in the neighboring city of Chesapeake. Since the envelope specified “Cradock, Portsmouth, Virginia,” I wondered which road it could be.

The streets where she lived

Then I found an old map laying out the community of Cradock. It turns out that Gilmerton Boulevard was the original name for the road I know as Victory Boulevard. It is a 4-lane highway now.

I was really surprised at this envelope addressed to my Grandfather at 38 Emmons Place in June 1949.


Apartment building 38 Emmons Place

Inside is Momma’s report card from her second semester at Madison College. OH WOW. That would not happen today. College students are viewed as adults with rights to privacy. It matters not who pays the tuition.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “
52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2020

52 Ancestors - OLDEST: Aunt Mary

from Findagrave
Memorial #21972727 by Steve Poole

Probably the oldest member of my family is one that I knew and remember: my paternal grandfather’s youngest sister, Mary Elizabeth Slade Blanchard. Just a short 8 years ago, she died at the ripe old age of 101. 

I have no excuse for having NO picture of Aunt Mary. Several years before she died, my sister and I visited with her to learn more about the Slade side of the family. Did we think to take a picture? NO! But we did enjoy visiting with her and looking at some old photos.  

Mary was next-to-the-youngest of 6 children born to Stephen and Mary Morrison Slade, 4 boys and 2 girls. Her father was a truck farmer, first in Tanners Creek area of Norfolk, then Princess Anne County, now Virginia Beach, and later in the Sleepy Hole district of Nansemond County, now Suffolk.

As a child she loved playing hopscotch and jumping rope.

Shortly before Stephen died, he moved the family to Portsmouth where he worked for the City. Apparently Mary never worked outside the home. In the 1930 and 1940 censuses, her mother and sister were both employed; however, she was not. It seems her role in the family was to cook and clean.

Mary was 33 in 1944 when she married Melvin George “Spick” Blanchard. Neither she nor her sister Margaret had children. Mary said that she thought there was something genetic about that and was very interested in whether my sister and I had children, citing who all in the family did not. Her obituary shows she enjoyed a close relationship with nieces and nephews.

SUFFOLK- Mary Slade Blanchard, 101, formerly of Chesapeake, died February 6, 2012 in her home. A native of Princess Anne County, she was the widow of Spick Blanchard. Mrs. Blanchard was a member of Jolliff United Methodist Church and the Chesapeake Senior Citizens Club. Survivors include her great-niece and loving caregiver, Connie Parkman; a nephew, Leo Slade; three nieces, Shirley Slade, Rosealee Slade, and Mary Ann Flahiff; and church family at Jolliff UMC. The family would like to extend a special thanks to the nurses and aids with Bon Secours Hospice. A funeral service will be held on Friday, Feb. 10, at 1 PM in Sturtevant Funeral Home, Portsmouth Blvd. Chapel by the Rev. Waverly Smith. Burial will be in Olive Branch Cemetery. The family will receive friends at the funeral home on Thursday from 7-8 PM.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.


© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.