The Indiana connection
She was born, the records say, 146 years ago today, somewhere near Gadsden, Alabama.
That birthplace for Eula (Baird) Livingston Robertson — The Legal Genealogist‘s great grandmother — seems half a world away today, as I sit here in Indianapolis, getting ready to speak at the Indiana State Library’s Genealogy & Local History Fair.
And, even more, it seems to me to be a lifetime away.
Because I have no memories — none at all — of the brief time her life and mine overlapped.
I wasn’t even three years old when Eula died, and I have only what I’ve been told to even be able to say that we ever laid eyes on each other.
To me, then, Eula is for the most part a name in the records. And not even all that many records. There are no birth records for 1869 Alabama, and courthouse fires mean not a lot of other records survive for the area where she was born.
Oh, I can trace her through those most common of records, the census records:
• Eula was recorded in the 1870 census of Cherokee County, shown as eight months old, with her mother Martha, age 17, and Martha’s mother Margaret (Battles) Shew. The head of household is simply identified as “Baird.” No first name. Age 22, a farm hand, born in Alabama.1
• She was on the 1880 Cherokee County census, as 10-year-old “Lular Beard,” shown as the granddaughter of Margaret Shew, who was in turn recorded as “mother of wife” to Martha, wife of A.C. Livingston, the apparent second husband after the death-divorce-desertion-whatever that ended the Baird relationship.2
• Eula was recorded in 1930 as living in the household of her son Fred in Frederick, Oklahoma.7
• And she was still in Frederick in 1940, recorded as a 71-yer-old widow, living in the same house as her brother Arthur Livingston.8
I could add that, around 1950, she went to live with my grandmother, her daughter Opal (Robertson) Cottrell in Virginia, and died there in 1954.9
And listing those facts would usually leave me profoundly depressed. Because, when it’s all a set of dates and places, nothing of the person comes through.
Who was this woman? What did she love? What did she hate? What made her laugh? What brought her joy?
I, myself, can’t begin to answer those questions.
But it warms my heart to know that I am in the same state, today, with someone who does know some of those answers. Indiana is the home of Thelma (Livingston) Dibble, Eula’s youngest and — at age 96 — only surviving niece.
And Thelma remembers Eula. She remembers how, to help support herself after Jasper’s death, Eula took in boarders, among them her many nieces and nephews who came into town from country farms to attend school. And she continued to take them in and care for them as they went on to college — she was in essence the original dorm mom.
She remembers that Eula wouldn’t brook any nonsense — yet cared for all of those kids as if they were her own. She wanted them to succeed. She urged them to buckle down and get ahead.
She remembers that Eula had a soft side, that she scrounged her own mittens and scarf to send a niece or nephew out the door into the cold with a little more protection than the youngster would otherwise have had.
And more than anything else… she remembers that Eula could bake. Bread, in particular. Bread that, Thelma said, was thick and filling and smelled like heaven. That, with butter and cinnamon and a little sugar, was a meal by itself. That, even now, all these years later, makes her mouth water.
I don’t remember Eula myself. But I had cinnamon toast for breakfast this morning.
I’m sure it wasn’t as good as Eula’s.
But for just one moment, on this her 146th birthday, in the state where one person lives who does remember her and her bread, it was as good as it gets.
- 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, Leesburg Post Office, p. 268(A), dwelling/family 15, Baird household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Aug 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 7; imaged from FHL microfilm 545506. ↩
- 1880 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, Township 11, Range 8, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 27, p. 387(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 5, A.C. Livingston household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 6; imaged from FHL microfilm 1254006. ↩
- Bexar County, Texas, marriage license no. 14298 and return, J C Robertson and Eula Beard, 1896; County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio. ↩
- 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Stephens Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 256, p. 216(B) (stamped), dwelling 197, family 199, Eula Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275. ↩
- See Oklahoma State Board of Health, death certificate 3065 (1912), Jasper C. Robertson; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Oklahoma City. ↩
- 1920 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Stephens Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 183, p. 120(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 106, Eula “Robinson”; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1489. ↩
- 1930 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Frederick, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 6, p. 55(B) (stamped), dwelling 265, family 276, Eula Robertson in Fred G. Robertson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 1932. ↩
- 1940 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Frederick, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 71-5, sheet 1(B), household 27, Eula Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 Oct 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 3335. ↩
- Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 6367, Eula Robertson (1954); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Richmond. ↩