The House That Will Built – 52 Ancestors’ Theme this week is ‘Close to Home’.

My story is about a house that was home to four generations.

My grandmother was a wonder at helping me with my genealogy questions. She patiently answered questions about her parents, siblings, their children, cousins, anything I happened to ask her. One thing I never thought to ask her about was her house. It just never occurred to me. I knew she grew up in the house she still lived in, and that was enough for me. Until recently.

Grandma on her porch

Grandma on her porch, visiting her home place, after she had to move due to declining health

Several years ago, my then 6-year-old granddaughter went with me to visit my daddy. He was not at his home in the city, he was at his ‘shop’ at the old home place. His shop was a place he had built for the many tools and machines he used for woodworking and small engine repair. He spent a lot of time at his shop, since he was not allowed to have that type of ‘noise’ inside the city limits. The ‘home place’ is located in a rural area of Talladega County, AL.

My granddaughter loved roaming the grounds and playing with his goats. Never too shy to ask questions, she asked her Papaw about the house that stood empty a few yards from his shop. Did it have a bathroom? She needed one. Once inside, she got him talking about the house. Things I had never heard and I was fascinated, and kicking myself that I had neglected to ask about it sooner.

Daddy & Tori

My Daddy and my Granddaughter the day I learned about the house.

Daddy told us that his ‘Grandpa’, Will Miller had built the house for his mother. It was only two rooms, with a dog-trot between them. The ‘kitchen’ area was in another building, away from the house, in roughly the same spot where his shop now stood. Through the years, the house underwent many changes. The dog-trot area was enclosed to make another room. I guess that finally explains to me why there are outside doors to each room, for a total of three in front.

A porch and another small room were added to the back of the house. Eventually, a kitchen and a porch were added to the front of the house. The kitchen and front porch were several inches lower than the original house, making a small step-up from the kitchen into the living room. I remember sitting on that step-up many nights washing my feet in a wash-basin before going to bed when I spent the night with my grandparents.

As a child, in the 1960’s, I remember lying in the feather bed looking at the stars through a few small holes in the tin roof. The holes were big enough to see the light of the stars, but small enough to keep the rain out.

The bathroom was an outhouse that stood quite a few yards away from the main house. A chamber pot resided in the corner of the bedroom, for those emergencies that couldn’t wait until morning.

The outside of the house was formed with planks of wood that were placed vertically instead of horizontally. In the early 1950’s the outside areas of the house, not protected by porch roofs, were covered with a brick-looking pattern of some type of tar paper. That covering remains on the house.

The source of water for the house was a cistern that collected rain water. Water freshly drawn from that cistern was colder than water from my refrigerator. It was extremely good on a hot summer day. A pump in the cistern allowed running water to be installed in the mid 1970’s, along with an indoor bathroom. It was finally time to say good-bye to the Sears catalog in the outhouse. (Thank goodness!)

Back to the ownership of the house. So, my great grandfather built it for his mother (and father), Frances and Jim Miller. Frances died in January 1905, so the house must have been built before that date. In 1910, Jim is living with another son in Clay Co, AL. Will Miller and his family are in another portion of Talladega Co, AL, and he is listed as owning his farm. My grandmother was less than a year old. In 1920, Will and his family are living in the town limits of Talladega. I knew my grandmother lived in town for a while as a child, and I even have the address, which coincides with the 1920 census. I do not know who lived in the house directly after Jim moved in with his son, but it is entirely possible that one of his other children lived there for a while.

From some old photos I have, it appears Will and Belle were living at the home place about 1930. Belle appears to be living in the same place in 1940, Will having died in 1935. Belle died in 1945, and I presume that is when my grandparents moved into the house, and raised their three children there.

My granddaddy died in 1981, and my grandmother, Thelma, lived there until she had to ‘break up housekeeping’, after a fall in which she broke both feet. By this time, her children were grown with grandkids of their own.

Will Miller

Will Miller

Will Miller built the house for his parents, Jim and Frances Miller. When they passed away, Will, his wife Belle, and their children lived there. When Will and Belle both passed away, their youngest child, Thelma, her husband Taylor Gaither and their children lived there. Thelma’s son, Bill owned the house after his parents passed away, and his nephew is the current owner. The Miller land has been divided several times over the course of years, but most important of all, it still belongs to family members.

The house is still standing, although it is in bad shape, and is currently being used for storage purposes.

This article has made me realize that my research into the records of this parcel of land has been spotty at best, and I need to focus my energy into a time line for its ownership.

After all, my father, his mother, her father and his parents- 4 generations- all lived there.

A Most Interesting Deed – 52 Ancestors theme of Good Deeds.

I have a large number of ‘good deeds’ that my ancestor left behind…deeds for land to be used for schools, cemeteries, and churches. Rather than compile those type of deeds into one story, I want to write about the most interesting deed I have found to date.

It does not concern a direct ancestor, but rather one of my great-grand uncles and his family.

I have been searching for my gg-grandfather’s family for several years. I want to prove that John Gaither was not hatched, found in a cabbage patch, or simply dropped on Earth by aliens. There are two men who I believe are his brothers and I have been researching their families in hope of finding a connection.

I did find a connection, but it proves absolutely nothing.

While searching land records in Alabama, I came across a deed from John’s son, W.M. Gaither, dated 1935. He and his wife, Emma, sold some land to a probable relative (what I am trying to prove) named    R. R. (Richard) Gaither, and his wife, Mary. The deed states, “It is agreed as a part of this conveyance that if Grantees sell said tract herein conveyed, then grantors are to have the right and refusal to purchase same.” In other words, ‘I will sell you this land, but if you decide to sell it at some point in time, you have to give me first chance to buy it back’.

I have seen many deeds that span many years, and I have never seen one with a stipulation like this. Maybe he wanted to keep it in the family, if Richard was a cousin, as I suspect. W.M. passed away a few years later, while Richard still owned the land.

In 1942, R. R. Gaither made good on his promise, and sold the land to W.M.’s son. This deed was also a little different, as Richard and Mary lived in Arkansas, and the deed was recorded in Alabama. Since Richard was 87, I doubt he traveled to Alabama, so the sale was probably conducted via the U.S. mail.

Another curiosity is that although Richard was born in Alabama, he was in Oklahoma in 1910, California in 1920, and back in Oklahoma in 1930 and 1940. I wonder why he would buy land in Alabama, when he was living in Oklahoma. Apparently, he was in Arkansas in 1942. The land he bought was not in his home county, where most of his family still lived, it was in a neighboring county. I have found no evidence that he ever returned to Alabama.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the selling and buying of this piece of land, it is still the most unique record of a deed that I have encountered during my 20 plus years of genealogy research.

For Love of His Family

Very little is known about my great-great grandfather. Even his full name is up for debate. I have found his name on legal papers as William M, but on some of his pension receipts, his name is listed as W G Nelson. His son signed for some of them, so I know this is the same man. Maybe one day I will be able to find out what the M and G represent, but for now I meld the two and list him as William M G Nelson.

William was born 12 Feb 1825, Georgia, to Alexander and Cartes Nelson. He had at least three older sisters, and one younger brother. There may have been others. He is listed with his family in 1850 Georgia census. By 1860, his mother has died and the family has moved to Talladega County, Alabama, where he is listed as living with his father and siblings.

When the War Between the States started, William enlisted as a Private in Company G, 46 Ala Regiment of the Confederate States Army in April of 1862, at Opelika, AL. He was a prisoner of war for several months during his service. He was honorably discharged from service on 26 April 1865.

In the 1866 State Census, he is living alone, next door to his brother.

Sometime within the next couple of years, he met and married Nancy Harvell, a young war widow, with five children between the ages of four and fourteen. The exact date of their marriage may never be known, thanks to courthouse fires. The courthouse in Clay County, AL, where they were living in 1870, has burned twice, and very few records remain from that era.

1870 Clay Co

                             1870 Clay Co

William and Nancy had three children together, bringing the total of children to eight. William loved not only Nancy, but her children as well. He raised another man’s children and loved them as his own. My grandmother helped me with my genealogy, and always spoke of her aunt and uncles in a loving way. When I found them on a census with another surname, I was sure I had the wrong family. I asked my grandmother about this, and she said, “Yes, that’s them.” I said, “You mean your grandmother had been married before your grandfather?” She said, “Yes, I think he died in the war.” From the way she talked about them, there was absolutely no difference between the children. The only way a family can survive and be that close, is if everyone loved everyone else.

1880 Talladega Co

                   1880 Talladega Co Living next to his siblings

Although there is no death certificate, there is a receipt for his coffin, dated 9 Aug 1912. His wife was buried on their family land on Germany Mountain, in Talladega Co, AL. It is supposed that William is buried next to her. We know that she had a headstone at one time. Although we have the directions to her grave-site, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to find it. The land has been sold, and is now in the Talladega National Forrest.  There have been pulp-wooders in the area, and it is possible the headstone was destroyed and will never be found.

William spent the last 12 years of his life surrounded by his children and their families. Nothing is better than the love of family.

Cora and Frank Benefield – One Tough Couple

This week, I am combining three themes into one: Tough Woman, Closest to my Birthday, & Plowing Through

Cora Mitti Capehart was a petite woman with a dark complexion, and is thought to have some Native American in her lineage. If she does, that lineage is yet to be found. Cora was born in the late Spring of 1876, in Randolph Co, Alabama, the third of seven children born to William T. and Emily Forrester Capehart. Her birthday was 7 June, and mine is 1 June, thus she has the closest birth date to mine. Not much is known about her early life, although census records show that she and her parents were in Randolph Co. most if not the entire time.

Cora married Monroe Franklin Benefield, son of Caleb and Sarah Sanders Benefield, in 1896. To my knowledge, a photo of Frank has not been found, but several of their children had a ‘husky’ build, so I image they were built like their father. Cora and Frank’s new house was situated between his parents and his older brother. Anyone who has lived that close to family knows it is not an easy feat. During the first four years of their marriage, they had three children, but lost their middle child at 9 months of age. During the next several years, their little family increased by five.

Around 1908, Cora and Frank and all but one of Cora’s siblings, packed up their families and moved to Texas.  I wish I knew the reason behind such a move. The men are all listed as farmers and renting their farms in 1910. Whatever they were raising must have proven profitable, because by 1912, it’s said that Frank owned his farm, had bought heavy farm equipment, and had money in the bank. He had also added another baby to his family making a total of eight children.

Around the last of January or first part of February 1912, Frank was involved in a freak farming accident. He was breaking a team of mules to the plow, probably in preparation for the upcoming planting season. Something must have startled them, for they bolted. Frank was tangled in the roping used to harness the mules, and could not get loose. They dragged him behind them as they ran, trying to get away from whatever had startled them.

Frank was seriously injured in the accident, especially his back. He developed pneumonia and gangrene, and passed away on 14 Feb 1912. He is buried in Bethel Cemetery, Fulbright, Red River Co, TX, and has a huge headstone, that depicts he was a member of Woodmen of the World.

Franklin Benefield's Headstone

Franklin Benefield’s headstone*

Cora was left not only with the enormous task of raising nine children alone, she also had the burden of birthing her last child without her husband, as she was roughly three months pregnant at the time of Frank’s passing.

Over the next couple of years, some of her family took advantage of her lack of business knowledge, borrowing money from her which they never repaid. Other relatives pressured her to return to Alabama, where her parents lived. Cora sold her farm, at a great loss, and with her nine children in tow, returned to her home state.

With three of her children married by 1920, she still had six at home. Her mother passed away in February of that year, and by May, her father was living with her, and in bad health. He passed away in June, just four months after his wife.

She is listed as owning her home in 1920, AL, but is shown as renting in 1930. It appears that she, like countless others, was hit hard by the depression. A single woman, with several dependent children, would be a prime target for anyone with an unscrupulous nature. By 1930, Cora and her two youngest were living in a rented house, paying $1.50 a month.

Although I have been unable to pinpoint the time and cause, Cora broke her hip. Apparently the medical ability at that time wasn’t very advanced, and she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Cora C Benefield

Cora C Benefield*

To add to the unfortunate happenings in her life, it is rumored that one son ‘had to get married’ about 1930, and apparently wasn’t too happy about it. He and his wife had two children before divorcing. He lost contact with the family, possibly going to Cuba, before returning to Florida, where he was located when his mother died. Although he did not attend the funeral, he did send flowers.

Cora passed away in May 1956, just weeks shy of her 80th birthday. She is buried at Forrester’s Chapel Cemetery, on land donated to the church by her maternal grandfather.

I cannot imagine losing a child, traveling across the country, then losing a husband, only to make the return trip across the country, and being the sole support and guidance for nine children.

Cora Capehart Benefield was indeed a tough woman who plowed through the hard times, both with and without her husband.

*Photos courtesy of Cora’s grandson, Bill.

“I Help You”, “I Watch You”, ‘Prize”, “That What I Just Say!”

This week my genealogy has taken a detour. I have been unable to locate some much needed notes this week, due to being unorganized and also having my own personal ‘helper’ most of the week. So, instead of writing about one of my ancestors, I’m writing about one of my descendants. My two year-old grandson to be precise.

Due to illness in his family, I was given the wonderful opportunity to enjoy this young man’s company this week. What a joy it was!

After an hours’ drive, I arrived at his house to be shown (again) every new toy Santa had brought him, (and few he’d had for some time). I saw how well he could build a tower using his blocks. I was also shown how the dog and new puppy like to play. Waiting in the car line at sister’s school, we continue to talk about the cars, trucks, trees, rocks, kids in ‘reen jackets, etc. I tell him, “I love you,” and receive a blank stare in return. Again, I tell him, “I love you”. Another blank stare. I then ask him, “Can’t you say, ‘love you, too’? His reply: ‘I can’t talk!” Gotta love him!

Most two year-olds do not like the dark, and he is no exception. Leaving his house well after dark, he was not happy being without light because, “I can’t see!”  Knowing I had to stop at our local WallyWorld on the way home, I promised to get him a flashlight, and managed to keep him distracted until that time.

Taking a toddler to a dept store at 10 at night is definitely an experience- especially when he wants to walk. After walking the entire store, we manage to arrive at the check-out counters with some groceries, a fruit-shooter, (placed at kids eye level), and the much longed for flashlight, (complete with battery), only to find the only ‘cashier’ open was the self-checkout! Did I mention that I DISPISE self-check outs? Mister Independent immediately went into his ‘I help you’ mode. By the time we left that store, he was a scanning master.

The flashlight worked well most of the way home – BUT about 10 minutes into our 15 minute ride, just as we reached the area with no street lights, he dropped it and it landed where neither of us could reach it, and of course it’s florescent light shown directly above the dashboard, causing my van to look really weird from the outside! Trying to convince him that I could not reach it was bad enough, but realizing that I was somewhat over the speed limit of 40 mph when I passed the police car was really irritating. Thankfully, the police went straight when I turned.

The next three days were filled with lots of wonderful activities.

My little helper has several modes: ‘I help you’, ‘I watch you’, and ‘I do it’.

He knows he can’t help with everything, so if he can’t help, he has to watch. Watch you cook on the stove, watch you stir the pots and pans, look in the oven to make sure it’s cooking, watch you wash dishes, watch you put them away, watch you run his bath water, watch you use the remote to work the TV, watch you use a computer- although he tries to help with that.

He loves to cook and has to help. He always pushes the button to open the microwave, and pushes the number buttons to start it cooking, then pushes the button to open it when the bell sounds. He knows not to touch the hot food, but I still remind him.

He loves chicken nuggets, so we made some at home. He had a blast putting the ‘sugar’ on the nuggets grandma cut up. For some reason he called it sugar instead of flour. I guess it was more fun to say.

'sugaring' chicken

‘Sugaring’ the chicken

                                                        Flour child

Flour Child

We made cinnamon rolls with icing, (which he refused to taste). He is very good at knowing what to do, but needed a little help taking the paper off the roll, then popping it on the cabinet. He placed the rolls in the pan by himself, and used a spoon to spread the icing when they were cooled.

He knows where his table is stored, and this week he learned to open and close the legs so it could stand or be stored.

The only problem we had with cooking all week was the tea disaster. After opening the tea bags, and placing them in the pot of water to boil, he waited patiently to stir the pitcher. The first time went well. The second time did not. While standing on his stool, he was stirring the tea pitcher, which was in the sink so he could reach it. I stepped away to get the camera, and boom! he fell off the stool – the tea pitcher tilted sideways – and tea covered him and the floor! He wasn’t hurt, just scared, and a little upset – that stool was his favorite ‘tool’ at grandma’s, and it had let him down. Oh, well, he got a much loved bubble bath, so it wasn’t all bad.

His favorite cooking activity didn’t involve cooking at all. We used celery, apples, pretzels, chocolate chips, craisins and peanut butter to make ants on a log, snails, and butterflies. Peanut butter was everywhere when we finished – even on the celery. He raked it off the table, licked it off his fingers, his hands, and the spoon, because, “I love peanut butter.” Grandma washed it off his face and out of his hair.

       Snail Snack

Snail Snack

Licking peanut butter

Licking peanut butter

He also helps with everyday chores. ‘I Help You’ mode includes putting the clothes in the washer while naming each piece, pushing them in the dryer while naming each piece, and getting them out of the dryer-“Where’s my pants?”

Drying clothes

His ‘I Do It’ mode involves turning lamps on and off, getting new diapers out of his ‘tootcase’, and placing the bags containing the used ones in the garbage. He also drags his stool where it’s needed- whether it’s the kitchen cabinets to cook or the bathroom sink to brush his teeth.

His daddy gave him some chap-stick before he left home, and he put it in his ‘tootcase’. This visit, he actually kept it there, using it several times a days, and always placing it back inside when he was finished.

Trying to surprise us, he loves to run into the room and yell, “’Prize!”, then laugh. He is indeed a PRIZE.

His new antics this visit still have me grinning. While looking for supper items, he discovered my canned goods cabinet door was open – a place forbidden to him. While I watched, he used the items inside- “I build towers!” With cans of all different sizes, he did indeed build towers. (don’t panic, the medicine bottles contain toothpicks)

Building towers

Building towers

Whenever I told him something he already knew, or didn’t want to hear, he would give me a stern/mean look, and in a deep voice respond, “That what I just say!”

Every time I did something he tried and couldn’t do, he would ask me, “How’d you do dat?” It is so easy to amaze a two year-old. Almost as easy as it is for a two year-old to amaze his grandma!

And even though, he is home today, granddaddy and I are still enjoying the antics of his visit. This morning I discovered the partially filled tea glass I left in the refrigerator last night was frozen. That has never happened before. I checked the temperature control knob, and found it had been turned to the highest point possible! Guess that also explains how the lettuce got freezer burn. Thanks for the laughs, sweet boy!

Next week, I  will combine three themes into one post about my great grandparents; a tough woman whose birthday was close to mine, and her husband who had a terrible plowing experience.

Thanks for taking the time to read!

Where in the World is Luarca Frances???

The theme for this week was ‘Tough Woman’. I decided to go with the toughest woman I’ve had to research and find any information on.

Where in the World is Luarca Frances???

I have so many bits and pieces of information on her…and they lead nowhere! This lady is my great-great grandmother. When I started my genealogy quest for her, I had no idea how much fun, anxiety, exasperation, and desperation would be involved. I am not accomplished at interviewing older people, and the fact that they thought I knew more about the people involved than I did, didn’t help. I got a lot of partial statements, and innuendoes.

I knew my great-grandmother’s maiden name was Pricilla Gurley, so I asked a relative about Pricilla’s mother, and was told her name was Luarca Frances. I asked for her maiden name and was told ‘Gurley’. Thinking she had married a distant relative, I commented, ‘So she was a Gurley and married a Gurley?’ I received a sharp look and the retort, “Don’t make me tell what I don’t want to tell!”  The subject was promptly changed.

I learned Pricilla had two half-siblings from her mother’s last marriage to John Blackmon. Their names were Mollie and William. I learned about Mollie’s families, that she had lost her first husband and then married again. She had passed away about ten years prior to this conversation. Not much was known about William. I had previously found a man named Anderson Gurley, on the census, and asked about him. Oh, he was Pricilla’s half-brother, too. Half-brother??? Then I heard a little about him.

I had only been able to find Luarca in two places: the 1900 and 1910 census, so I decided I needed to take a closer look at her family members that I knew about. There was nothing around her daughter, Pricilla, so on to the next child, Anderson.

1900 Blackman census edited

        1900 Census 

Anderson was listed as a Blackmon, not a Gurley

After checking out Anderson’s family, I was able to track down a daughter and talk to her. She said her father’s name was James Anderson Gurley, and he was named after his father. I had found her parents on a couple of census reports and on one they were listed as Henry and Cleo. After confirming the rest of the family listed, she stated that she had never heard her parents called Henry or Cleo. She said Anderson’s father died when he was 9 or 10, and she did not know anything about his mother, (the lady I was searching for).

1920 Henry (Anderson) edited1920 Henry (Anderson)

(Anderson’s death information lists his mother as Louella Waters)

Luarca’s second daughter, Mollie, was next. I found her place of death and burial, but so far, I have not been able to make contact with any of her family. I did find a family tree with her listed on Ancestry, but it was geared toward her husband’s family.

1910 blackmon lula edited

1910 Census

Mollie was listed as Millie

Luarca’s son, William, was last. So far, I have not found anything on him or his family.

Many years, countless searches, and several conversations later, I have pieced together some information on this ‘tough woman’ to research. She was born between 1858 & 1861, probably 1861. Her name could possibly be Native American. She was related to the Waters family, though it’s not known how. Apparently, her eldest (my great-grandmother) was about seven years old when Luarca married James Gurley, who adopted and raised her. So far, the only marriage license I have found is between Luarca and John Blackmon. Even that has the name skewed, as Luarka Gurley and John Blackburn. It is very possible that she was also married in Clay County, AL, and the courthouse there has burned twice since the dates needed to confirm any other marriage. I have seen her name listed as Louarka, Luarca, Lula and Louella. It is possible that she passed away around 1910, but no death record or burial information has been found to date. In fact, no death or burial information has been found for any of her husbands, either. Talk about ‘living off the grid’!

I recently found that her husband may have been James Iry Gurley. I am currently using that information to search for him, and hopefully find Luarca, as a child. Although I have not given up on finding my g-great-grandmother’s information, Luarca Frances is definitely the Toughest Woman I have ever researched!

 

Patriarch of the Gaither Family

My second 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks blog. The theme is King, but having no proof of royalty in my family (as yet), I decided to go a different path. A King is the head of a country, so I decided to write about the head of one branch of my family.

Patriarch of the Gaither Family

I descend from John Gater of England. In fact, I have three Gaither lines from this same man. Much has been written about him and his descendants. Even with DNA proof of descendandcy, exactly how the relationship develops between John Gater and John J Gaither is still a mystery. I want to focus on the most direct patriarch of my family line.

John Jefferson Gaither was born 24 Aug 1839 in Huntsville, AL. Although his parents are thought to be William and Margrett, more research is needed in that area. Most of what is known about his early years is speculation, circumstantial evidence and family lore that has yet to be proven.

John J & Frances Gaither with their daughter-in-law, Emma.

John J & Frances Gaither with their daughter-in-law, Emma.

I first found John and a lady named Margarett, who was probably his mother, living with the Calvin Bass family. Their post office was Sterretts, in Shelby Co, AL, in 1860. It’s interesting that John Bass, 25, also living with them, is a school teacher and John, 19, is listed as attending school. I can’t help but wonder what type of school John was attending at that age in 1860 and what he was studying. Did he have plans of becoming a teacher, preacher, businessman, merchant, scholar, or simply the best husband and father he could be?

Regardless of his plans for the future, the next few years were quite a change for the young man, as for everyone else in the country. In the fall of 1861, John left his job as a grocery keeper and joined with many other men to fight for their way of life, which was threatened by the Yankees. In the South it’s known as ‘The War of Northern Aggression’. History calls it the Civil War.

John joined the Confederate States Army at Harpersville, Shelby Co, AL, and served as a Private in the 18th Regiment, Co I, AL.  He was sick almost the entire first year of his enrollment, and was admitted to the First Mississippi CSA Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, on 20 March 1862.  Just eight days later, he was discharged due to an enlarged heart and final settlement made.

If not for John’s medical condition, this may well have been the end of his story, and I may not have been born to write it. On April 6, 1862, just days after he was discharged, his regiment was engaged in the first day of battle at Shiloh, Tennessee, where 125 men were killed or wounded out of 420 who fought just in his regiment. His Capt. Peter F. Hunley was among those wounded.

Not to be deterred, John re-joined almost immediately and went to work in the Navy Yards at Mobile, AL. He was there until the end of the war. His pension papers state that although he was also in the Navy, his Regiment never changed and research has shown Army personnel were used in the building of ships.  John was released by Capt. Swopes at Mobile in the Spring of 1865, and paroled at Talladega, AL in May or June 1865.

During the Reconstruction Era of the South, John probably worked several jobs and seemed to move around. 1870 found him in Selma, AL, living in a boarding house and working as a Rail Road Engineer. Shortly after this, John moved to Clay Co, AL, where he purchased land in 1872. There is a possibility that John had a brother, William, who lived in Clay Co, as the land he purchased was close to him.

On Jan. 19, 1873, John married Frances Ester Gunter, daughter of Josiah and Caroline Riddlehoover Gunter, at her father’s house in Talladega. John was 15 years older than Frances, and they wasted little time deciding to enlarge their family. Their oldest child, Oscar was born in Nov, 1873, followed by Archie in Jan 1875, William in Dec 1876, Irvin in Jul 1882, Grover in Oct 1884, Mary in Sept 1887, Joseph in Jan 1890 and Emma in Apr 1893.

Over the next few years, John moved back and forth between Talladega and Clay Counties, residing in Talladega County at his death. Most of the time, they lived near the county line, which would help explain the moves.  John was listed as a farmer on the last two census’ he appears on, but we know from family that wasn’t his only occupation. He was also a circuit-riding preacher, of the Baptist faith.

As in most cases of family researching, there are conflicting dates and places in many areas. John stated in several places that he was born in Huntsville, AL, in 1839. However, his headstone has the date of 1842. On one of his pension application papers, his age is listed as 67, which would make his birth year as 1833.  According to the Elmore, AL 1839 map, the city of Huntsville was in Madison Co, AL. On the 1907 Confederate Census he is listed as being born in Limestone Co, AL. I wonder if he stated that or if he may have said Huntsville, and the recorder wrote the county as Limestone.

In September 1908, John was awarded the SOUTHERN CROSS OF HONOR from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. He received it in a ceremony directed by the Talladega Chapter of the UDC.  The medal is described as “…a Maltese cross with a wreath of laurel surrounding the words “Deo Vindice (God our Vindicator) 1861-1865” and the inscription, “Southern Cross of Honor” on the face. On the reverse side is a Confederate battle flag surrounded by a laurel wreath and the words “United Daughters of the Confederacy to the UCV.” “Only a Confederate veteran could wear the Southern Cross of Honor and it could only be bestowed through the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Money could not buy the Cross; they were bought by loyal, honorable service to the South and were given in recognition of this devotion.”[1]  John was extremely proud of this medal, as he was wearing it when he had his photo taken.

Southern Cross of Honor- front

Southern Cross of Honor- front

John’s grandson, Erie, told about the time he was about 5 or 6 years old and John took him to Talladega in a wagon pulled by an old mule, named Rhody. One of the wagon wheels slipped off the road into the ditch leaving the harness at an awkward angle on the mule. The mule could not easily pull the wagon out of the ditch from such an angle. John worked and fussed with the mule, calling it almost every name in the book, when finally the mule was able to pull the wagon back on the road. They then proceeded to town. When they got there, Erie wanted a certain kind of candy and John went all over town looking for it. He found it, (I think it was licorice), and Erie was happy. It is amazing the things kids remember. Erie was almost 90 years old when he recalled this story, and it brought a huge smile to his face.

John died on 16 Sept 1915 due to Bright’s Disease, (kidney disease), and is buried in Providence Baptist church Cemetery, Clay Co, AL. There are several Providence Cemeteries in Clay Co. This one is just across the line from Woolfork, Talladega Co, AL, near where he lived.

The Gaither’s were fortunate to see all their children grown, all survived John, and all but two survived Frances. They had eight children, at least 66 grandchildren, and more descendants than I can ever hope to find.

Regardless of his mysterious beginnings, John Jefferson Gaither is definitely deserving of the title of Patriarch of the Gaither family. And I thank him most profoundly!

[1] http://www.hqudc.org/Southern_Cross/index.htm