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An extraordinary insight

In The Legal Genealogist‘s family history, it is a signal event that we can ever say for sure where an ancestor was on a specific day.

Oh, an ancestor who fought in a particular battle in a particular war, yes.

oct1st1903ltrOr occasionally a place of birth or a place of death.

But an ordinary day in an ordinary life?

A rare thing, for sure.

Rarer still is the occasion when we can say for sure what an ancestor was thinking on a specific day, his ordinary thoughts about ordinary things.

And one of those very rare combinations occurred 113 years ago today.

We know where my second great grandfather Gustavus Boone Robertson was that day. And we have a small insight into what he was thinking.

It was on that day, 113 years ago today, that G.B. (as he was called) sat down and began a letter.

“Oct 1st 1903,” it reads at the top.

“Sulphur Bluff Texas.”

That’s a town in Hopkins County, Texas:

… at the junction of Farm roads 69 and 71, eighteen miles northeast of Sulphur Springs …. By 1885 the town had a steam gristmill, three cotton gins, three churches, a school, and an estimated population of 250. A bank opened after 1900, and by 1905 two local public schools were in operation with a total enrollment of ninety-six. The town continued to prosper during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and by 1925 the population had reached 300.1

In other words, a very small town in small-town Texas.

The letter was addressed to “Mrs. Marry I & A Hendrix and … all children.” In other words, to daughter Mary Isabella (Robertson) Hendrix and her husband Amos and their children, then living in Hall County, Texas.2

And it goes on:

We received your letter last night was glad to hear from you and hear that you were all well this leaves us all well Your ma’s arm is about well but she cannot use it like she could before but is better than not to use it at all She cannot dress her self or comb her hair She cannot get her hand to her head. Cotton crop is short in this country Corn is tolerably plenty we are just making a living and nothing over all the connections is well as fare as I know have no news to write Parrish is well Willy is at our house and Fanny’s now …3

The letter breaks there. It isn’t clear who the writer meant by “Parrish.” Mack Lee Parish had married a Robertson daughter, Nancy Arminta Robertson, in 1874,4 and had been left a widower with two children when she died in 1895.5 In context, Willy is probably Willie Parish, Nancy Arminta’s daughter.

“Fanny” was a Robertson daughter. Fannie Boone Robertson married, first Thendas Stroud in Delta County in 18876 and after his death married second John F. Harrison in Hall County in 1890.7 The Harrisons were living in Hopkins County in 19008 and 1910.9

There is part of the letter that we think we have lost because it picks up again without continuing the comment about Fanny. But oh… oh what we get in the next fragment…

We are sorry you cannot come and see us we want to see you very bad we are to old to travel around much I will be 76 years old next month the 7th day Your Ma was 71 years old the (8?) day of last month so you see we are getting old and no acount Your Ma weighs 180 lbs or over we do know what we will do we have not rented any place yet Japs Post office is Perkins OK Teritory.10

The letter breaks off again there and the rest of it is clearly written by someone else, most likely the youngest daughter Lillie, then a widow.

But let’s see here what we got just in those few lines.

First, we got G.B.’s birthday: subtract 76 from 1903 and we have him born in 1827. And an exact birthday — the 7th of November.

Then we got the closest we can get to the exact birthday of my second great grandmother, Isabella (Gentry) Robertson: subtract 71 from 1903 and we have her born in 1832. And the 3rd or 5th or 8th of September.

And that last sentence?

Well, Jap is the nickname for Jasper. The youngest son, indeed the youngest of all 11 known children. Jasper Carlton Robertson was my great grandfather, and we knew he’d been in Oklahoma early — he was a successful bidder in the Big Pasture land opening in 1906.11

But this puts him there earlier than that: this puts him in Perkins, Oklahoma Territory, by October 1903.

It’s just an ordinary letter, from an ordinary man in an ordinary time.

And it is such an extraordinary piece of my family history.


SOURCES

  1. J. E. Jennings, “Sulphur Bluff, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association (https://tshaonline.org/handbook/ : accessed 30 Sep 2016).
  2. See e.g. 1900 U.S. census, Hall County, Texas, Justice Precinct 2, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 2, p. 28(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 214, Amos M Hendrix household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1641.
  3. Letter, G.B. Robertson to Mary Isabella (Robertson) and Amos Hendrix, 1 Oct 1903; digital image of original in possession of family.
  4. Delta County, Texas, Marriage Book 1: 84, marriage license and return, Parish-Robertson (1874); County Clerk’s Office, Cooper.
  5. See “Voices in the Wind,” Cemetery Records of Delta County TX (Cooper, TX: Delta County Genealogical Society, n.d.).
  6. See “Texas Marriages, 1837-1973,” database, entry for F.B. Robertson and Thendos Stroud, 16 Mar 1887, Delta County, Texas; FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Sep 2016).
  7. Hall County, Texas, Marriage Book 1, entry for Mrs. F B Stroud and J F Harrison, 7 Aug 1890; County Clerk’s Office, Memphis.
  8. 1900 U.S. census, Hopkins County, Texas, Justice Precinct 5, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 55, p. 190(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 74, James F Harrison household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1646.
  9. 1910 U.S. census, Hopkins County, Texas, Justice Precinct 2, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 59, p. 203(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 1, John F Harrison household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1564.
  10. Letter, G.B. Robertson to Mary Isabella (Robertson) and Amos Hendrix, 1 Oct 1903.
  11. Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), land patent no. 123635, 7 Apr 1910; “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch/ : accessed 278 May 2012).
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