Friday, June 18, 2021

Photo Friday - Swimmers

Unidentified friends of Violetta Davis Ryan
around 1920 probably at Blue Hole in Naked Creek
Rockingham County, Virginia

The best antidote to the summer heat!


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

52 Ancestors - FATHER'S DAY: Walter Rucker and Son

With Father’s Day approaching, we reflect on the importance of our fathers. A good father is the best gift a child can receive. A father’s affection and support of our activities and our dreams help build our confidence and independence. We want to make Dad proud. Social media floods us with nostalgic images of father and son fishing or enjoying a game of catch. However, that image quickly fades after reading the numerous news stories about my grandmother’s cousin Frank and his father Walter Newman Rucker.

It was 1916. Frank was just a teenager about 15 or 16. He was one of ten children born to Walter Newman Rucker and his wife Ada Eppard. That year, Frank’s bachelor uncle Charley Eppard was living with them in Shenandoah, Virginia. Living with various relatives over the years, Charley managed to save a lot of money which he kept in a trunk. That money must have been just too tempting for young Frank Rucker.

He stole it. 


from Harrisonburg
Daily News Record 28 Mar 1916

According to news reports – and there were lots of them – Frank took around $600 which included 7 twenty-dollar gold coins. He was caught when A. A. Moore, a 23-year old brakeman for the railroad, was arrested on a charge of receiving money that he knew had been stolen. 

The prosecution argued that Moore helped Frank and his friends Jacob Rothgeb and Martin Luther Kite spend much of the money on a trip to Harrisonburg. Moore made purchases with the gold pieces at both Toppin’s Saloon and at Frazier & Slater’s store.

ads in the Daily News Record

The defense responded by saying Frank told Moore that he FOUND the money and there was “more where that came from.” Moore emphasized that he gained nothing from the money since the purchases of a suitcase and two suits of clothing were for Frank and that he gave all the change back to Frank as well. The prosecution maintained that any prudent man could look at the circumstances and just KNOW that the money had been stolen.


The trial ended in a hung jury, so the judge set another court date. 

from Daily News Record
7 Apr 1916

News reporters covered the case like it was the trial of the century. Spectators filled the court room.

Daily News Record 6 Jun 1916 

Among the material witnesses to be called were Frank’s buddies Jacob Rothgeb and Martin Luther Kite. Both failed to show up. Kite was soon arrested in Maryland where supposedly he had gone to obtain work. As for Rothgeb, the counsel for the defense claimed Frank’s father Walter Rucker had threatened him and that is why he failed to appear.

Walter’s behavior was key to the defense counsel’s strategy. He brought in witness after witness who testified that both Walter and Frank had bad reputations when it came to truthfulness.

Impeaching the prosecution’s witnesses must have worked because the second trial ended in acquittal for A. A. Moore.

headlines - Daily News Record
10 Jun 1916

Walter must not have been too happy about the verdict. He was quoted in the newspaper saying he wanted “to put the stripes on Moore.” 


For the theft, Frank was sent to the Laural Industrial School, a juvenile correctional center north of Richmond, instead of prison. Surely Walter was glad of that.

photo by Calder Loth 2021 at

The Laurel Industrial School was a privately owned and administered institution established in 1892 as a model boys’ reformatory. With its mission to reform the treatment of juvenile offenders, the school housed about 300 boys. They attended classes and worked either in the shops or on the farm. Today the main building is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.


Harrisonburg Daily News Record
26 Nov 1935
The next time Frank’s name appeared in the newspaper, it was in the social columns of 1929 when he and his bride, the former Myrtle Higgs, attended dinners and parties at the homes of Myrtle’s relatives.

In 1935 they moved to Sparrows Point in Baltimore County, Maryland, where Frank had obtained a job with Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Having grown up in a railroad town, having been raised by a father and uncles who worked for the railroad, and having earned his own living as a brakeman for the railroad, it seems unthinkable that Frank would have stepped between rails and been hit by a railroad car.



I can’t help wondering what forces were at work when Frank took his uncle’s money. Was it just an act of a teenager lacking good sense? Did he think his uncle would not notice? Or was he just a bad seed? Was Walter just as culpable for wishing harm to the others? Or was he merely a dad standing by his boy? Unfortunately, Frank Rucker died too soon leaving no children behind to tell a different tale or to wish him Happy Father's Day.

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.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sentimental Sunday


A busy week of people coming and going!

13 June 1903 – birth of Arthur “Woody” Woodring, husband of my grandaunt Velma Davis

14 June 1985 – death of Raymond Clift, son of Sallie Jollett Clift, my great-grandmother’s sister

15 June 1893 – birth of Eliza Jane Knight, daughter of James Mitchell Knight and Leanna Jollett Knight, sister of my great-grandmother


16 June 1948 – death of Clifton Holland, husband of my grandaunt Mae Killeen Holland

Mae, Cliff, Helen (Mae's sister)

16 June 1883 – death of my 2X great-grandmother Lucy Shiflett Jollett

16 June 1936 – death of Johanna Sheehan Hederman, sister of my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh

Possibly Johanna
and children Catherine and John

19 June 1936 – marriage of my grandaunt Violetta Davis and Virgil “Dick” Ryan


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Sepia Saturday: Pepsi Girl Friend

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo taken in a radio station in the 1940s reminded me of a letter that my mother saved from her youth.  

It was addressed to Johnnie Blanks in her care. Who was Johnnie Blanks and why did he use her address? Hold that thought. Let’s consider the letter first.

Apparently “Johnnie” had sent a fan letter and a photo to Betty, the Pepsi-Cola Girl Friend at the local radio station, WTAR, the very first to go on the air in Virginia. Betty must have been an important figure at WTAR. Afterall, she had letterhead and matching envelopes. However, Google searches came back with nothing relevant, either Betty Draper from “Mad Men” or Hallie Eisenberg, the little girl from the Pepsi commercials in the 1990s.

Dickie Blanks in 1946

Johnnie’s description sounds much like Momma’s high school sweetheart Richard “Dickie” Blanks. The postmark on the envelope was 1942 when Momma was just 13. I doubt they were dating that early, but who knows? I have 2 theories about Johnnie’s identity:

  1. Dickie wrote to Betty under an assumed name and used Momma’s address so that his parents would not know.
  2. Momma wrote the letter just to see what would happen – in that silly teenage girl way – maybe hoping Dickie would be listening to the radio.

At first, I thought Betty might have been a disc jockey until I noticed that she SANG “Elmer’s Tune.” Maybe she was part of Pepsi’s sponsorship of the radio program, the voice of Pepsi, so to speak.

Would you like to hear the song? It’s not Betty – it’s Glenn Miller and the Modernaires. The vocals start after 1 minute. The title does not sound very romantic – I can’t help thinking of Elmer Fudd – but it topped the charts in December 1941, just a month before Betty dedicated it to Johnnie Blanks. 


Turn your dial to SS574 for the top hits in Sepia Saturday stories and old photos.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Photo Friday - Lewis Lloyd Jollett

Mary Neville Peluso and Lewis Lloyd Jollett
photo courtesy Ben Marks

Lewis Lloyd Jollett was the youngest son of Louisa Sullivan and Burton Lewis Jollett, brother of my great-grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis. He was born on this day 11 June 1895.

That is some beautiful hair!


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

52 Ancestor - BRIDGE: No-trump

“No trump” – I always loved to hear my Bridge partner bid a no trump hand but it scared me to death to play it myself. I enjoyed the game but never advanced enough to truly understand the intricacy of the bidding conventions and complexity of hand evaluation. 

My parents were very good Bridge players. In their college days, they spent hours playing Bridge. It was THE game in dorms and dining halls and student centers. Lectures took a backseat to a no-trump hand. During their early years of marriage, they continued playing Bridge with their friends. I remember them getting together with Betsy and John Lumsden for Bridge Night, but I have no idea how I entertained myself while they shuffled, dealt, bid, laughed, and calculated scores above and below the line.

Momma and Daddy were not partners.
I wonder if this was Men vs Women.

While Bridge was still a popular game among students at James Madison University when I was there, I didn’t learn to play until years later.  When our girls were young, we sometimes vacationed at Fairy Stone State Park in Stuart, Virginia. My parents joined us a couple times. After the girls were tucked in at night, the cards came out and instruction commenced.

Daddy and Momma 
with Zoe and Jordan 
outside our cabin 
(Zoe had a style of her own - don't judge!)


We were hooked!

Not that we played that often or even that well.

Several couples from Sunday School expressed an interest in playing Bridge, and before you could utter “One peek is worth two finesses,” we had ourselves a dedicated Bridge Club. We alternated hosting each month. One spring we rented a beach cottage together for a weekend marathon of Bridge playing.

Bridge group at Duck, NC
Standing: Barry, Lou and Pat, Sue and Eddie
Seated: Moi, Kathy and Perry
Probably mid 1990s - none of us can remember

When one of the men in the group suddenly died, the club died with him. It was too awkward to leave out his widow or find a substitute.

My mother’s Bridge Club quite frequently needed subs and I was happy to oblige. Everyone contributed a quarter creating a pot of $2.00. The high-scorer of the day took home $1.75 while the low-scorer got her quarter back. As the ladies’ health declined, so did the Bridge Club.

I have not played in years, but I have wonderful memories of evenings spent at two tables of Bridge players.

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.” 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 7, 2021

On This Day - Helen Killeen Parker


a large metal photo button

My grandaunt Helen Martha Killeen Parker was born on this day 7 June, 1903. She was the last child born to John Joseph Killeen and my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Sepia Saturday: Pvt Rucker, Artificer

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo features a soldier looking carefree. My great-grandfather’s brother John Wesley Rucker sporting his uniform and rifle in this photo looks more proud and ready than carefree. Despite the prevailing sentiment of Virginians opposed to war with Spain, he was one of thousands of soldiers who reported to Jacksonville, Florida in 1898, to aid Cuba in its fight for independence.

John Wesley Rucker at Camp Cuba Libre
photo courtesy Linda Pruett

from Fold3
In 1898, John Wesley and Matilda Stockdell had been married 18 years and were parents to teenagers Elizabeth Rucker and her brother Percy Cleveland Rucker. When war became a reality, John Wesley enlisted in Company C of the 2nd Virginia Regiment Infantry and was assigned as an artificer. He was the man charged with maintenance of a military unit’s equipment. In other words, he was basically a mechanic and repairman.  

The 2nd Virginia was sent to Florida in June 1898 and became part of the Seventh Corps under the leadership of Major General Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee. Camp Cuba Libre had been established in May 1898 near Jacksonville to serve as an assembly area in preparation for the liberation efforts in Cuba. 

Fitzhugh Lee
He looks like his uncle Robert E,
don't you think?


In the early days of Camp Cuba Libre, the soldiers had to fend for themselves as supplies were sent elsewhere. Some supplies were sent to other corps already scheduled to deploy; other supplies were deliberately withheld as a way to toughen up new soldiers. The men received only partial uniforms, and they ate with their hands off shingles since there were no forks or plates. 

That was the early days before Fitzhugh Lee arrived on the scene. He saw the horrible conditions and implemented changes that turned Camp Cuba Libre into a model camp. 

Like his comrades, John Wesley Rucker spent his days in drill and target practice. However, the Seventh Corps never saw action. The Peace Protocol was signed in August 1898 resulting in the War Department ordering the release of many regiments, among them the 2nd Virginia. It was another month before any of them left camp to return to their home station. The Regiment was officially mustered out in mid-December 1898.


Souvenir booklet

Souvenir Booklet - 2nd Virginia Regiment Company C
from Historical Society of West Virginia

I don’t know what John Wesley did in the months following, but he left his home in Shenandoah, Virginia on May 1, 1899 to work in the shipyard in Newport News. Within just a week he was too sick to work and returned home where he died on May 29 at the age of 44. 

The obituary does not say but it is possible that he suffered from typhoid fever. The outbreak in the Florida camps had drawn so much national attention that even Clara Barton and Walter Reed visited Camp Cuba Libra to gather information. In fact, more soldiers died of disease in Jacksonville than did soldiers who died in battle.

Matilda wrote her husband’s obituary. One can’t help sensing that the family was devout in their Christian belief.


In loving memory of John W. Rucker, who died May 29, 1899. The subject of this notice was a son of Frank and Sarah Rucker, born July 20, 1854, and at the time of his death was forty-four years, ten months, and nine days old.

He left his home and family on May 1st for Newport News, Va, where he obtained work in the Navy yard. He worked only a week when he was taken down on a sick bed from which he never rose, although brought home and everything that loving hands and kind friends could do was done to relieve his sufferings. He died in three days after he arrived home. Death had marked its victim and nature had to yield to a Power stronger than man’s. While we are almost crushed with grief at the loss of our dear one, we know of this beautiful possibility of his soul’s salvation. Just a few hours previous to his death he said, “The Lord is gathering in his sheaves” and that he did not fear the dreadful hour of death.

His funeral was preached by Rev. Black, taking for his text Amos, fourth chapter and a part of the twelfth verse, “Prepare to meet thy God.”

We laid him to rest in the new cemetery at Elkton, close to father and mother, to await the resurrection day when we hope to meet and clasp the hand of our dear one in the New Jerusalem.

Dear husband, you have left us

Here our loss we deeply feel.

'Tis God who has bereft us,

He can all our sorrows heal.

By his wife

John Wesley's tombstone
in Elk Run Cemetery
Elkton, VA
Ironically, Matilda is buried
in Fields UMC Cemetery
Shenandoah, VA

For more stories of soldiers and carefree photos, please visit Sepia Saturday.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Photo Friday - Tourists


This photo is not in good shape, but I am always drawn to it. Who are these women? Where were they? What is this tourist hot spot?


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

52 Ancestors - MILITARY: Stephen Slade in the Florida Wars

On Memorial Day when we honor those who served our country during the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars, Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and Iraq, we view them as heroes who gave their all. There were some lesser-known wars too, like the Mexican War in 1846 and the Florida Wars, also known as the Seminole Wars.  If anyone even thinks about – or even knows about – the soldiers who fought in the Florida Wars, today’s attitudes and standards would likely prevent them from thinking of those soldiers as heroes.

from Wikimedia Commons
produced by US Marines - in public domain

My 3X great-grandfather Stephen Slade was such a soldier when Florida was just a territory. While Florida’s muster rolls and enlistment records are not complete, it appears that at least by the age of 20 Stephen Slade did what the territory required: enroll in the local militia. The militia were the forerunner of today’s National Guard, civilians who volunteer for military service in the event of war, civil unrest, or natural disaster.

All able-bodied WHITE men between the ages of 18 and 45 were expected to join and attend required drill sessions. Postmasters, clergy, teachers, and judges were exempt. Officers wore uniforms like those of the US Army, but non-officers wore whatever they had and provided their own weapons.

The 1816 Springfield Musket was the most popular weapon
of the soldiers at that time. It had a range of 100 yards
and was not very accurate. 

The number of militia units grew as tensions escalated between white settlers and Native Americans in the 1820s and 1830s. A series of military conflicts came to be known as the Seminole Wars. Stephen Slade was just a toddler during the First Seminole War, 1816-1819. That is the period when Spain agreed to give up Florida to the US after it could not defend the territory against rebellions. A treaty required the Seminoles to leave northern Florida and confine themselves to a reservation in central Florida.

It was during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) that Stephen Slade was of age to be called into action. This war was the result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which was the government’s attempt to force the Seminoles to leave Florida altogether and move west of the Mississippi. 

On 2 January 1835, Stephen Slade enlisted in McLemore’s Mounted Company. In May the following year he enlisted in Colonel John Warren’s Regiment, another mounted company. In January 1837 he was a private in North’s Co 1 of Warren’s mounted regiment but in June he was a Corporal in Co 2 of the East Florida Mounted Volunteers. 

This company was formed under the Act of Congress 23 May 1837 which allowed the President to accept the services of volunteers and to raise regiments of Dragoons, or Mounted Riflemen. At the time, the Company consisted of fifty-one privates, three officers, and eight non-commissioned officers which included the rank of Corporal.

After that Stephen Slade returned to serving as a private, still in a mounted company, under officers Lewis Norton and later Captain Hall.

Early on despite being outnumbered, the Seminoles managed to hold on by using guerilla warfare. The Army and militia responded by destroying Seminole farms and villages. By the 1840s, most of the Seminole population had either been killed in battle, died from starvation and disease, or relocated to Indian Territory. Only a few hundred were allowed to remain in an unofficial reservation.

An uneasy peace between White settlers and the Seminole lasted 13 years. When the Third – and last – Seminole War began in 1855, there is no sign that Stephen Slade took part.

I do not know what battles Stephen Slade saw during his time in the militia, but the Second war cost the lives of 1,500 soldiers, mostly from disease. More than 40,000 regular military, militia, and volunteers served in that war which cost as much as $40,000,000. There is no record of the number of Seminole killed in action or how many died from starvation and disease.

If you want to learn more about the Seminole Wars but don’t want to read VOLUMES, here are some good sources:

Florida Seminole Wars Heritage Trail    

Seminole Wars 


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.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sentimental Sunday


This week marks several important events:

30 May 1865 – My great-grandmother’s sister Laura Jollett Sullivan was born in Greene County, Virginia.

31 May 1978 – My grandmother’s sister Margaret Killeen Sprott died in Norfolk, Virginia.

31 May 1888 – Minnie Coleman was born, daughter of my great-grandmother’s sister Emma Jollett Coleman.

 1 June 1845 – My 3X great-grandfather Leonard Davis Jr. died in Rockingham County, Virginia.

3 June 1930 – My 2X great-grandfather James Franklin Jollett died in Augusta County, Virginia.

5 June 1905 – Alda Clift was born, daughter of my great-grandmother’s sister Sallie Jollett Clift.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sepia Saturday: Death by Fire

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo shows a family rescuing what remained of their household belongings following a fire. Interviews with survivors of housefires always say the same thing: “We lost everything, but at least we’re alive. We can rebuild.” I hope that if such tragedy comes my way, I can be that positive. Several distant relatives experienced the horror of devastating fires.

For several years I have searched without success for the story of a fire that took the lives of two little children, Vernon and Daisey Clift.

George and Sallie Jollett Clift
Vernon and Daisey

Vernon and Daisey were the first children born to George and Sallie Jollett Clift, my great-grandmother’s sister. Whether the house caught on fire or the children were playing near an open fire is not known. However, their little tombstones tell a bit of the story.

Son of
Geo. T. and Sallie
Died Mar. 30, 1897
Aged 5 yrs 0 mos and 15 days
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

Dau of
Geo. T. and Sallie
Died Apr. 8, 1897
Aged 3 yrs 6 mos and 8 days
Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not
for to such is the kingdom of heaven.

Some years later, a similar tragedy struck the Jollett family again. Macile Sullivan, granddaughter of my great-grandmother’s brother Burton Lewis Jollett, was just a little over a year old when she got too close to an open flame. Her clothes caught fire and she suffered extensive burns. Was it from a fireplace in the house? Was there a burn pile outside where her parents John and Fleta Sullivan burned trash and brush? Apparently, her death did not make the newspaper either.

On the back of the death certificate.
I don't understand the request for eye drops.

In 1959 a son-in-law of my great-grandmother’s sister Leanna Jollett Knight died from pneumonia brought on due to 2nd and 3rd degree burns. Ben Shifflett had tried to put out a brush fire when his clothes caught fire.

Ben and Bertha Knight 

This was a real downer, wasn’t it! Let’s hope my friends at Sepia Saturday will have amusing stories of moving households and people with mattresses on their head.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.