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The losses in the calendar

We call them, today as in the past, the dog days of August.

And most of us today, The Legal Genealogist included, use that phrase to mean the days of summer that are so hot that even the dogs just lie there panting.

That isn’t, of course, where the phrase comes from at all.

It actually comes from the fact that the ancient Greeks and Romans noted that around the time when Sirius — the Dog Star — seemed to rise just before the sun, it was “the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe.”1

So it’s a time many of us would look at with dread.

For me, when that calendar ticks over from July to August, it’s almost a relief.

Because that July calendar — in my family — is painful to see.

Some years ago, my cousin (and fellow genealogist) Paula began producing truly wonderful gifts for the family at Christmas: calendars with all of the family birthdays displayed. The images for each month are family photos and, this year, not just family photos but bits and pieces my grandmother wrote describing her life at that time of year.2

It’s spectacular.

It’s a treasure.

And — occasionally — it hurts.

Like the calendar entries for the month of July.

Oh, not the description by my grandmother. The July selection from her writings is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face:

How close we are to heaven when we are seven!


I slip with my tin pail down a country lane — and once again I taste luscious juicy wild Blackberries — damp and cool with dew.


The rushing brook where me and my brothers caught bright fish with a bent pin — and all the world was new and ours.


Seven —


And mumps — a pet rabbit — and kittens and dolls. A grandmother loving me — her first grandchild — and school — Times Tables. Uncles who sang and played guitars (Noel, Lon and John Livingston).


Our new home in Oklahoma (not really Oklahoma but The Indian Territory for it was not yet 1907 — the year Oklahoma became a state).3

See what I mean? A treasure.

But the birthdays shown on that July calendar?

They hurt.

Because so many of those July babies are no longer with us.

July 6th. Marianne Cottrell Epps, born Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas, in 1936.4 My mother’s younger sister. Elegant — when she wasn’t being impish or sassy or brash or impish and sassy and brash. Gone in 2007.5

July 10th. Jerry LaStone Cottrell, born Midland, Midland County, Texas, in 1934.6 My mother’s younger brother. Jerry of the banjo and the guitar. Jerry of the big grin. Jerry… Gone in 2016.7

July 13th. Susan Gayle (Hodges-Payne) Demitry, born Louisa, Virginia, in 1954.8 My cousin, Marianne’s daughter, another laughing vibrant soul whose laughter was silenced by cancer in 2014 when she was just 60 years old.9

July 31st. Cladyne Cottrell Barrett, born Colorado City, Mitchell County, Texas, in 1921.10 My mother’s oldest surviving sister. A fiendish bridge player — even online — and the family matriarch after my grandmother’s death. Gone in 2009.11

So many July babies, gone.

Yes, it’s almost a relief to turn the page to August.

Only to find that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ruth Marie Cottrell. First-born child of my grandparents. Born, we think, in Tillman County, Oklahoma.12

She was just a little more than six months old when she died,13 a so-called “failure to thrive” baby. We have so little to remember Ruth by… the story of how tiny and perfect she was… a grave marker that reads, “Our Darling.” Yet never forgotten. My grandmother’s obituary reads, in part: “preceded in death by … Ruth Marie…”14



  1. Becky Little, “Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?,” National Geographic News, posted 10 July 2015 ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Through the years,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Jan 2017 ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  3. Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, handwritten undated note, reprinted on 2016 Cottrell Family Calendar, in possession of the author.
  4. Entry for Marianne Cottrell, No. 243, 6 July 1935; digital images, “Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997,” Ancestry ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  5. See Judy G. Russell, “Marianne,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Jul 2012 ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  6. Texas State Department of Health, Birth Certificate No. 54941, LaStone Cottrell, 10 July 1934; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  7. See Judy G. Russell, “Saying goodbye,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Dec 2016 ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  8. Entry for Susan Gayle Payne, 13 July 1954, Louisa, Virginia; database and index, “Virginia, Birth Records, 1912-2014,” Ancestry ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017). Her name at birth was Susan Gayle Hodges; it was later legally changed to Payne.
  9. See Judy G. Russell, “Missing those we’ve lost,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 11 July 2015 ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  10. Texas State Department of Health, Birth Certificate No. 42942, “Ula” Cottrell, 10 July 1934; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin. Her name was Eula Cladyne; nobody ever called her anything other than Cladyne.
  11. Judy G. Russell, “The comfort of being held,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 July 2016 ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  12. The birth of a female Cottrell child is recorded in the Oklahoma State Vital Records Index on that date, when my grandparents were living in Oklahoma. However, Oklahoma birth records are sealed for 125 years and we can’t get our hands on the record to be sure this is the record of Ruth’s birth. See Oklahoma State Vital Records Index ( : accessed 12 Aug 2017).
  13. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell. See also Dutton Funeral Home (Iowa Park, Texas), Record of Funeral, Baby Cottrell, 22 February 1918; digital copy privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  14. “Cottrell,” obituary, The Central Virginian, Louisa, Va., 17 Mar 1995.
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