52 Ancestors Weeks 4 & 5 – The elusive Billy Thomas’s

I was able to find out a lot about my 3rd great-grandfather, Renatus/Rhenatus Thomas.  With a name like that, there weren’t that many records to sift through.  Plus my grandmother remembered his name and his wife’s name and all his children’s names.  Easy peasy.


Not so with Renatus’ father and grandfather, the elusive Billy Thomas, Jr. and Billy Thomas, Sr.

According to notes prepared by two of Renatus’ sons (George Washington Thomas and John Thomas) in February 1922:

Billy Thomas, Jr. was a carpenter and mill-wright by trade.  He set out on a western trip in quest of better business conditions, but when he reached the vicinity of Jackson Creek [Richland County, South Carolina] he had to strike camp for several weeks on account of the illness of his little son, Rhenatus. 

The lad did not improve in health sufficient to warrant his father in resuming his trip westward, so he began to do carpenter work in the neighborhood and as favorable were the conditions for employment, that he gave up all the thoughts of journeying westward and settled for life at the present site of the old Thomas cemetery.  However, Billy Thomas himself is buried in the old Medlin Cemetery, near an old oak tree (now dead).

He also built the old Joel Medlin house which is still in use as a dwelling.  Thus it was thru fate and disappointment of Billy Thomas, Jr. that the present Thomas generation became Southerners instead of Westerners. Rhenatus Thomas was born near Wilmington, NC.  [According to census records, though, Renatus was born in South Carolina circa 1799.]

The brothers also said:

Billy Thomas, Sr., father of Billy Thomas, Jr., who was the father of Rhenatus Thomas, who was the father of John Thomas, came direct from France and settle in Habana, Maryland. [There is not a place in Maryland called Habana…then or now]

Billy Thomas, Jr was married to Polly Ralston near Fayetteville, NC and reared the following children:  Rhenatus, Tempey, Betty, Dorcas and Polly.

You’d think with knowing all that would make it doable to find the Billys.  Not so. In fact several of my distant Thomas cousins and myself have looked for records in Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina and really can’t find much of anything about the Billys.

We don’t believe Billy Sr was French, but that he was on a ship that left from France. There is a Renatus Thomas in Maryland at the time that the Billys would have been there, and with an uncommon name like Renatus you might think they are related.  Still, none of us have found any connection between that Renatus and the Billys or our Renatus.

Thomas Cemetery-3

Thomas Cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina


I do know the location of the old Thomas Cemetery.  Some of the Thomas family is buried there.  Some broken stones exist, too, probably belonging to Renatus and his wife.




Thomas Cemetery-6

Broken headstone at Thomas Cemetery







I’m pretty sure of the location of the old Medlin Cemetery, too, but the area is densely wooded and the cousin who checked it out didn’t find any stones at all.

For now, the Billys remain elusive.  I am leaving that mystery for my descendants to solve.


52 Ancestors Week 3 – Florrie the Late Bloomer

Florrie Martin Duckett cropped

Florrie Martin circa 1920

My Aunt Florrie Martin Duckett (born 22 Feb 1894) was the sister of my maternal grandfather, Joel Daniel Martin.  Florrie was the 5th of 14 children born to Adolphus Burdine Martin and Elizabeth Patience Lee Martin. Aunt Florrie and my maternal grandmother, Florrie Jane Thomas Martin, were the same age and got along well.

Aunt Florrie is always easy to recognize in photographs because one of her eyes wandered – a problem easily fixed nowadays, but not so in the early 1900’s. From what I know and remember of Joel Daniel’s other sisters, only Florrie was soft-spoken. I have to wonder if self-consciousness about her eye made her timid.

At the time of Adolphus’ death in 1917, all of Florrie’s older siblings had married and started their own families except one who died as a child. Of the nine siblings younger than Florrie, five were married and/or on their own by about 1920 and two had passed away. Florrie and the remaining two siblings, Stella and Gary, continued living with their mother.

Back Stella Martin and Gary Martin, Front Lizzie Martin and Florrie Martin,circa 1927,SC

Stella and Gary in the back, Lizzie (mother) and Florrie in front, circa 1929


In the 1920 US Federal Census, Florrie was a spinner at a cotton mill in Winnsboro, SC (about 30 miles north of Columbia, SC). Her mother was the head of house on the census with Florrie, Stella, and Gary as her dependents.

In 1930, Florrie was the head of the household on the census with her mother, Stella, and Gary as the dependents. Florrie, Stella, and Gary all worked at a cotton mill, but now the family lived and worked in Camden, SC (about 36 miles NE of Columbia, SC). Florrie was about 35 now, Stella 24, and Gary 19.

Being single and 35 years old in 1930, Florrie had probably resigned herself to never having a family of her own and just being the old maid aunt to her many nieces and nephews. But that began to change the very next year.

I don’t know how Florrie met Hebron Sylvester Duckett (1861-1940) or what brought them to marry. He was a 69 year old widower with grown children and she was nearly 36. He had children, probably some even older than Florrie. Was he lonely? Did he love her? Did she think this was her last chance at having her own home and family? I’ll never know.

Florrie and Hebron were married on 17 Feb 1931. Their only child, a girl named Lydia after Hebron’s mother, was born on 13 Sept 1933. In just a few years’ time, Florrie went from ‘maiden aunt’ to ‘wife and mother’.

Lydia Duckett Fallin 1930's

Lydia Duckett Fallin, 1930’s


Hebron died 30 Sept 1940, leaving Florrie to raise Lydia by herself.  I know Florrie and Lydia stayed in the Columbia area for a while which is where the family was living in the 1940 census, but they also lived in Baltimore for a time. One of Florrie’s sisters lived in Baltimore, too.

Lydia came to settle down in Manassas, Virginia where she married, had children, and worked as a nurse. Florrie lived with them, probably helping take care of the children and working here and there, too. As Florrie aged, she eventually became so feeble that she had to live in a nursing home. Florrie died on 2 Feb 1997 at nearly 103 years old.

Hubert and Eva Martin 50th Anniv-Hubert and Florrie Martin Duckett

Florrie and one of her brothers, Hubert, in 1970


I saw Aunt Florrie many times at family get-togethers and when she would come and stay a few days at my house to visit with my maternal grandma. (My grandma lived with my family.) When Aunt Florrie was in her 70’s she still had long, long hair that she kept in a braid and wrapped in a bun on her head. It never looked that long all wound up on her head, but when she took it down I was always amazed at how long it was.

Aunt Florrie was sweet and soft-spoken and always kind. And she had a pretty smile. Agnes Jeffords Jacobs, one of my mother’s first cousins, remembers that ‘Florrie would come and visit at her house sometimes and bring her daughter, Lydia, with her.’ Agnes remembers that Florrie always talked sweet and was always positive.

Click here to learn more about the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge


52 Ancestors Week 2 – Boy in a man’s body

My father’s half-brother, Ralph L. Heiser, was born 15 Jun 1923. He and my dad had the same father (Daniel Wilbert Heiser) but different mothers.


Ralph was ten years younger than my dad, and they didn’t know each other well. You see, Ralph was raised by their father and his second wife, but my dad was raised by the first wife’s parents. (That’s a story for another week.)

I don’t think I ever called him Uncle Ralph but simply Ralph. I always knew he wasn’t a regular grown-up but more like a boy in a man’s body. It was much later in my life that I came to understand what made Ralph that way.

On one of our rare visits to Jacobus, Pennsylvania to visit my dad’s father, I noticed there was fair or a picnic or something going on in the field behind the church across the road from my grandfather’s house.

I’m sure I asked my mom about going, but what I remember was my grandfather’s reply, “Ralph can take her. Everyone knows him. She’ll be alright.” Amazingly my mother let me go.

Ralph Heiser, half-brother of Charles Leroy Heiser, ca. 1940's cropped

my uncle, Ralph L. Heiser

Such freedom I felt as I walked across the field with this man-child. I barely remember anything about the event at the church.


What I remember is Ralph – his almond eyes and his easy laugh. He wasn’t tall like my father or grandfather, but still I felt safe with him. I stayed right with him, and he stayed right with me. It was like being with a big brother or an older cousin. Warm feelings still come to me when I think of that day.

Ralph died 14 Feb 1968 at age 44. I was eight years old, and I remembered enough about him to be sad about his passing. He’d had a very high fever and went into shock. An autopsy was performed, but the cause of the fever wasn’t identified. The doctor suspected a kidney infection.

My dad said that Ralph had hallucinated when he was sick, that he mistook a hose for a snake. I imagined Ralph in my mind, the man-child that he was, screaming and pointing at a hose thinking it was snake and how frightened he must have been.

Daniel W. and Ralph L. Heiser tombstone cropped

Daniel W and Ralph L Heiser gravestone

Ralph and my grandfather are buried side-by-side in a cemetery in Jacobus. They share a stone, but the death date for Ralph is wrong. It says 1958 instead of 1968. I still don’t understand why people don’t have gravestones corrected when the date is wrong.


More details about the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge can be found here.

52 Ancestors Week 1 – Clarence and the Outhouse

Clarence Price (29 Jun 1867 – 24 Sept 1912) was the third of four children born to Charles Thomas Price (1833-1902) and Mary Ellen Howard White Price (1828-1910). Clarence was my great grand uncle on my father’s side. He lived a seemingly ordinary life…up until his death, that is.

52ancestors-2015First, the basics…Clarence was born in Montgomery County, Maryland and lived there his entire life. Clarence was listed in his father’s household in the 1870 and 1880 US Federal Census.

Clarence married his first cousin Ida Madora Price (1868-1927) on 11 Oct 1893 at the Washington, DC home of her uncle, Jim Carlisle. A notice of the wedding was in the Montgomery Sentinel newspaper. * Clarence and Ida had a son, Wilford Price, in March 1899. Wilford passed that same month for reasons unknown.

The couple was living in Montgomery County in 1910 according to the census, and Clarence worked as a merchant in a grocery store alongside two of his wife’s siblings who were also his first cousins.


Clarence died on 24 Sept 1912 at 45 years old. According to the death certificate he died of carbolic acid poisoning by suicide. His suicide was also noted in the Montgomery Sentinal.* Not so seemingly ordinary anymore, is he!

When I was researching this family line in the 1980’s, I became acquainted with Mrs. Elgin of Poolesville, Maryland. She was the wife of Charles W. Elgin, Sr. who was the mayor of Poolesville at that time. Mr. and Mrs. Elgin were active historians of Poolesville and graciously helped many people with researching that part of Montgomery County.

According to Mrs. Elgin Clarence was working at his uncle’s store, and he was caught stealing money. Instead of facing up to what he’d done, he locked himself in the outhouse and drank carbolic acid (aka phenol).

From what I’ve read carbolic acid poisoning is a terrible way to die. Perhaps it was just the first thing he could get his hands on.

When I told my father this story, he wasn’t surprised. Dad was raised by his grandfather, Montgomery Price, brother of Clarence. Dad said that whenever Clarence’s name came up, everyone looked embarrassed and ashamed and the subject was changed quickly. He said he knew it had to be something bad.

*Excerpts from the Montgomery County Sentinel newspaper can be found at the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville, Maryland.

Photo By Valag.  Here’s a link to it:  Valag 

Merry Christmas to All


Our tree this year.

It’s December 24th, and I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If you do not celebrate Christmas, then I wish you a merry celebration for whatever you are celebrating.

2015 will bring a few changes to my website and blog. For one thing I will be participating in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.I will say more about the changes in next week’s blogpost.

Pearl Harbor attack through young eyes

My mother, Gladys Martin Heiser, lived in Washington, D.C. before and during World War Two. From her memoir concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor:

On one Sunday, while listening to the radio, we heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and we would be going to war. Needless to say, it had a very sobering effect. Our minds raced trying to figure out the many changes our lives would take. Our immediate concern was for the military and families stationed at Pearl Harbor. I had a brother on the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier. We heard later that some of the aircraft were not in port, including the Hornet.

Carlisle Entzminger Martin_cropped

My mother’s brother, Carlisle Entzminger Martin, who was on the USS Hornet and the USS Iowa


The Hornet escaped the attack that morning, only to be sunk by Japanese planes later. My brother’s life was spared again and he was transferred to the USS Iowa where he remained until the end of the war.

Talented Tuesday – Florrie Thomas Martin

1978 Martin Family Reunion Florrie Thomas Martin-2

My grandma, Florrie Thomas Martin


My grandma, Florrie Thomas Martin, was a multi-talented lady.






She spread herself around to her children and grandchildren by passing along items she’d crocheted, quilted or embroidered.


Crocheted poodle. Grandma made and sold many of these.









Embroidered table decoration.





Nancys Quilt

A quilt top made by my grandma.



Florrie Jane Thomas Martin (middle) with crochet tablecloth that she made and donated to church,Vienna,VA 1959

Grandma in the middle with the tablecloth she crocheted for her church.








She shared with those outside of the family, too. Grandma crocheted a tablecloth for her church’s new fellowship hall, a tablecloth to be used for weddings and such.  My wedding reception was in that church’s fellowship hall, and my grandma’s tablecloth was on the table where my wedding cake sat.

Thankful Thursday: Mom and her siblings

Last weekend my sister, my daughter, and I traveled to Tennessee for the 50th anniversary celebration of my cousin, Chet, and his wife Carolyn. In all, seven of the twelve of us first cousins were there. Some of us hadn’t seen each other in years, but that doesn’t matter one bit. My heart was filled with joy as I hugged each one of them and shared smiles and stories.

Children of Joel Daniel and Florrie Thomas Martin circa 1930 or 1931-cropped

Mom and her siblings. My mom is the girl in the middle.

Many people don’t know their extended family members like aunts, uncles, and cousins. Not the case in my family. My mom was one of eight, and even though her siblings lived up and down the east coast she (and they) made the effort to visit back and forth.

Martin siblings - Gladys, Millie, Jerry and Bobby  pre-1994

Mom (front left) and 3 of her siblings


I am thankful today for my mom and her siblings for staying connected through the years and over the miles. Their love for each other trickled down to my cousins, my sister, and me. I am blessed to have this bunch of people as my family.

Follow Friday – That Online Tree is NOT a Source


For Follow Friday, I suggest this blogpost from The In-Depth Genealogist (That Online Tree is NOT a Source).  It’s a much needed reminder about citing our sources and being careful about the information we attach to our family trees.  Family of trees clipart

If you don’t already follow The In-Depth Genealogist, I recommend you do.  Timely and accurate information with every blogpost.