The lantern in the cemetery

The month’s Genealogy Blog Party is all about the strange…the question being ‘What is the strangest thing you’ve found in your genealogy research?’

For me, it would have to be the story of the lantern in the cemetery.

My sister, Joyce, and I were fortunate that our maternal grandmother, Florrie Jane THOMAS MARTIN, lived with our family when we were growing up. Subsequently, everyone visited at our house. My mom’s seven siblings and their families, her great aunts and uncles, and cousins galore were in and out of our home all year round.

Joyce and I heard many stories again and again which we never tired of. One of the most memorable is the one about the lantern in the cemetery.


Not THE cemetery…just an old cemetery

My grandfather, Joel Daniel MARTIN, was a tenant farmer, and there was a cemetery down the hill from one of the houses they lived in while tenant farming in Virginia. The cemetery could be seen from the front porch. I don’t know the size of the cemetery, but it was probably a small one since it was a family cemetery on private land.

My mom and her siblings said that sometimes their dogs would get to barking and carrying on, and then take off running to the cemetery. About the same time a lantern could be seen going through the cemetery, swinging back and forth as if someone was carrying it. But there was no person to be seen.Lantern

Once in the cemetery the dogs yelped and cried like someone was beating them with a stick. Then they would run back home like something was chasing them. The dogs looked pretty panicked when they came back, according to my mom and her siblings.

This happened more than once, too. I never heard of my mom or her siblings going to the cemetery to see what was going on down there. From what I know about my grandfather, I’m sure he forbade them to go. He would have believed it was best left alone.

This story is one of favorites, and it still gives me chills.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

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Laura and Amy Thomas: spinster sisters

Jessie “Jess” THOMAS (1843-1932) and his wife, Mary Ann DAVIS THOMAS (1840-1919), had eight children, mostly daughters. Jess was a younger brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, James S. THOMAS (1828-1912) which makes Jess my 3rd great uncle. His children are my first cousins, thrice removed.

As was common in those days, Jess’ daughters all lived at home until they married. But two of the daughters never married.South Carolina_public domain

Early lives

Laura Ellen THOMAS was born 14 Nov 1874. Her sister, Mary Amy THOMAS, was born 22 Oct 1877. Laura and Amy, as Mary Amy was called, lived at home with their parents and siblings in 1900. Jess was a planter, and the family lived in the Columbia Township of Richland County, South Carolina. He was also a planter in 1880, also in Richland County.


NOT Laura…just an average housewife

In 1910, the girls were still living with Jess and Mary. Jess was a butcher in a market now, and they rented a house at 116 Gervais Street in Columbia. Laura didn’t work outside the home, but Amy was a saleslady at a dry goods store. According to the census, both girls could read and write. Mary was 70 now; Jess was 67.

Mother passes away

Come 1920, Mary had passed away, and Laura (now 46) had become the ‘lady of the house’ taking over maintaining the household and looking after everyone else including Jess. Jess wasn’t only housing the spinster sisters, but also daughters Corrie and Maud and their families. Amy (now 43) was a fitter in a store. The family rented at 1102 Oak Street in Columbia; two other daughters of Jess, Nannie and Susan, lived close by at 1106 Oak Street with their own families.

In 1930, Jess and the same children and grandchildren from the 1920 census were still renting at 1102 Oak Street. Nannie and Susan and their families continued to reside at 1106 Oak Street. Laura continued on as the manager of the home while Amy now worked as a seamstress at a department store. I’m sure she was thrilled just to have a job during in the Depression.seamstress_cropped

A close family

Jess passed away in 1932. The close knit family continued to rent the same houses with the same people living in them except that one of Nannie’s children was living with Laura and Amy, or at least she was at their house when the 1940 census taker came by. Laura continued on as the home manager and was named as head of the household on the 1940 census. Amy continued working as a seamstress.

Sometime between 1940 and 1945, Laura and Amy and the crowd moved to 1525 Maple Street in Columbia. On 14 June 1945, Laura passed away suddenly at home from an acute coronary occlusion. She was 70. Her death certificate listed her occupation as housewife. Her family clearly recognized her contributions as the home manager.

The sisters pass away

On 15 May 1951, Amy passed away at home (1525 Maple Street) from Stokes-Adam syndrome, a heart arrhythmia problem she’d suffered with for 10 years. She was 73.


The Thomas’ stuck together like these meerkats

Laura and Amy were both members of Washington Street Methodist Church in Columbia. Both are buried at Elmwood Memorial Gardens in Columbia.

The family sticks together

Other family members continued living together at 1525 Maple Street until at least  1964. I was struck by the closeness of these sisters whether married or unmarried. It looks like they supported each other through good times and bad times. Even though neither Laura nor Amy married and had their own families, they had extended family aplenty so they weren’t alone.

Note: the googlemap pages show a different address in the upper left, but I did enough checking to be sure the houses shown are the right ones.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

Living History: Turpentine Farming

My great-grandfather, Jeremiah Daniel Thomas (1858-1946); my 2nd great-grandfather, Daniel B. Grant (1846-1900); and my 3rd great-grandfather, Jeremiah Grant (1815-1892) were each turpentine farmers at some time in their lives. These men farmed turpentine in Chesterfield County, South Carolina.

my great-grandfather, Jeremiah Daniel Thomas

If you have southern roots from North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, or Georgia; then you may have ancestors who work on a turpentine farm, too.






Below is an excellent YouTube video about turpentine farming.



Set up for living history demonstration by Bryan Avery and his team of living historians.

The narrator, Bryan Avery, gives presentations about the turpentine industry with his “Greatest Naval Stores Show on Earth”.  At these shows, Bryan and his fellow historians demonstrate much about the turpentine industry that was once prominent in the south.

Watch the video and learn about the work our ancestors did on turpentine farms.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

Clagett Pyles: a most efficient and popular man

Clagett PYLES, my first cousin thrice removed, was born 27 December 1859 in Poolesville, Montgomery County, Maryland. His father was Richard T. PYLES, a successful merchant I wrote about here. I previously wrote about three of Clagett’s half-siblings as well: Joseph T. Pyles, Richard G. Pyles, and Lottie Pyles.Maryland sign






Clagett’s early life

Clagget’s mother, Laura HAWKINS PILES passed away when Clagett was five and his sister, Nannie, was four. Clagget’s father married again to Laura’s sister, Fannie, who raised Clagget as and Nannie as her own along with the five children she had with Clagett’s father.

Richard, Clagett’s father, made sure his children were educated. Clagett attended St. John’s Academy in Annapolis. According to his obituary in The Frederick Post, soon after graduation, Clagett ‘was appointed to the State Tobacco Warehouse in Baltimore. In 1884 he passed the Civil Service examination and received his appointment in the Custom House in Baltimore.’City of Baltimore sign

Friends in high places

Clagett was appointed to this position by the former governor of Maryland, Edwin Warfield, who was in charge of the Naval Office at the time of Clagett’s appointment. The Post reports that Clagett was intimate friends with Warfield. Clagett ‘also enjoyed the friendship of President Grover Cleveland.’ I imagine Clagett came to know the president through his association with Warfield.

Clagett worked as the chief liquidating clerk at the Naval Office at the U. S. Customs House in Baltimore for 27 years. The Post reports that ‘at the time of his death he was one of the most efficient and popular men in the service in the city.’

Family is important to Clagett

Clagett married Mary MIDDLEKAUF PYLES (1871-1937) in Baltimore in 1892. He was 32 years old. Clagett and Mary had two sons and a daughter between 1893 and 1898. I couldn’t find Clagett in the 1900 census, but I found him in 1910 living in Baltimore in a rented house on Lanvale Street.

Clagett loved his family and faithfully visited his family in Montgomery County including his stepmother, Fannie, and his half-siblings Percy and Lottie. Clagett’s sister, Nannie, and Nannie’s husband, Thomas O. White, owned the family home in Barnesville in Montgomery County.

Clagett takes ill

In late May, 1911, Clagett took a month’s leave of absence because of an unnamed illness. He went to Nannie and Thomas’ home to rest and recover, but ‘his illness took a turn for the worse and he died’ there on 30 July 1911. His address at the time of death was 1625 North Calvert Street, Baltimore. I believe his house is one of the ones behind the tree.

Clagett is buried at Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville, Montgomery County, Maryland, along with his father, two sisters, and two brothers.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

The young sons of Devann Brazell Strickland

A few weeks ago I wrote about Devann BRAZELL STRICKLAND’s death in 1925 from eclampsia following the c-section delivery of her son, James William STRICKLAND.

Devann left behind her husband, Wylie STRICKLAND (1879-1957), and five children including the new baby, called William.

Sixteen-year old Mary (1909-1968) and ten-year old Oscar (1915-1981) could look after themselves, but newborn William and his 4-year old brothers, Willis and Wylie, could not. Perhaps Wylie, Mary, and Oscar tried to take care of the young ones. Perhaps extended family did, too.South Carolina_public domain

The boys apart from the family


Whatever was tried, the magnitude of the effort overwhelmed the family. On the 1930 census, the three young ones were living at the Columbia Children’s Home in Columbia, South Carolina. Father Wylie, Mary, and Oscar were together, and Wylie was a produce salesman in Columbia.vegetables-1

I don’t know what transpired between 1925 and 1930 or how long the boys had been at the children’s home, but this wasn’t the end of their family story.

And back home again

I was happy to see that in 1940, the entire family was together again in one home. The 1940 census indicated that they were together in 1935, too. In 1940, Willis was an inspector at a bottling plant while Wylie, the son, and William attended school.

Full lives for each young son

The three young sons each went on to live full lives. Each one fought during WW2: Willis in the Army, Wylie in the Army Air Force, and William in the

Willis Melton STRICKLAND married Margaret LEWIS, and they had three children together. Willis worked several jobs but mostly worked as a truck driver. He lived in Columbia all of his life, and he died at the VA hospital in Columbia on 31 Jan 1977. I don’t know where he’s buried.

Wylie Langford STRICKLAND was in and out of the military several times, serving during WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. He lived in many places over the years. Wylie married Eva Lena GOODING (1923-2008), and they had one child. They last lived in Hardin County, Kentucky. Wylie died there on 11 Feb 1998. He is buried next to his wife at North Hardin Memorial Gardens in Radcliff, Kentucky.

I know the least about James William. STRICKLAND Aside from serving in the Navy, I don’t know what work William did. I know he was living in Charlotte in 1977 when Willis passed, and I know he was married to a woman named Jean. I also know that William passed on 23 March 1994 in Valdese, Burke County, North Carolina. I don’t know where he is buried, though.

What about the others?

Reading through the 1930 census list of children in the Columbia Children’s Home saddened me. Some of the children there were babies, and several were sibling groups like Willis, Wylie, and William. Probably Wylie, the father, had no choice but to take the boys there, and I want to believe that he visited them while they were there. He obviously didn’t abandon them since they were living back with him in 1935. Some of the other children in the home weren’t so fortunate. I think I’ll write about a few of them later this year.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved


Lula Martin: bullet or typhoid?

Lula Devere MARTIN is my 2nd cousin, twice removed. She was the daughter of Hack MARTIN (1851-1932) and Charlotte HARRISON MARTIN (1854-1913). Her grandfather, William MARTIN, was the brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, Phillip MARTIN.South Carolina_public domain

Early life

Lula was born in October 1887 in South Carolina. In 1900, she lived with her parents and siblings in Wateree Township, Kershaw County, South Carolina. Lula’s father was a farmer who owned his farm free and clear. Lula and her siblings attended school and all could read and write.

MARTIN Lula Devere nee Martin_cropped from group shot

Lula Martin, photo courtesy of Glenna Kinnard

Lula marries

In 1907, when Lula was 20, she married Jesse Allen MARTIN, Jr. Jesse was her first cousin. They were married at the Edgewood parsonage by preacher Peel.

The two lived at 1906 Taylor Street, Columbia, South Carolina. 1906 Taylor Street is now commercial property.

Lula passes away

On 29 December 1907, Lula died. Below is the death notice from The State newspaper entitled Sad Death of Bride.

Martin Lula MARTIN death notice cropped


South Carolina didn’t issue death certificates in 1907. Two family versions exist about Lula’s death. According to someone in the Harrison family, Lula was cleaning house and swept a bullet into the fireplace. It exploded and killed her. The other family version claims she died of typhoid. Both versions are believable.

Lula is buried at Salem Methodist Church Cemetery on Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.

Several years later, Jesse married Addie Mae CARMAN, and they had four children together.

A special thanks to Glenna KINNARD, distant cousin and fellow Martin family researcher, for telling me the story of Lula and sharing photos of Lula with me.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

Genealogy Blog Potluck Picnic

I was invited to an old-fashioned, end-of-summer Genealogy Blog Potluck Picnic.  Bring a dish (my favorite genealogy resource) to share, the hostess said. South Carolina_public domain

Of course I’m going, and here’s my dish: The Richland County Library (South Carolina) website 

The Richland County Library website has fantastic resources for family history research. To name a few:

An online obituary index for Columbia, SC area obituaries. Copies of obituaries can be requested via email, too.

South Carolina Historical Newspapers Collections. If you have a library card, you can access the newspapers yourself including printing on your own printer. I have an out-of-county library card, and I use this resource regularly to read and print articles and obits.

The Otis Prince surname files. A collection of nearly 2000 surnames Prince researched while writing books and articles about Richland County history. If the file is small enough, the librarians will even scan the pages and send them to patrons via email.


This is by far my favorite resource. The website is easy to use, and the staff is always helpful and polite when I call them. I have yet to visit this library in person, but it’s in my plans.
Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved


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Devann Brazell: C-section patient

I am drawn to those ancestors that died young. Their stories often show how far medical science has come or how the human experience hasn’t changed through the decades (or centuries). Throughout time people killed died for lack of antibiotics or I.V. fluids. People committed suicide. They murdered, drove too fast or recklessly, and more.

Who Devann is

Devann BRAZELL died young. Devann was born in April 1887, the daughter of John D. BRAZELL (1855-1932) and Letsie Ann LOVETT (1857-1937). She was in the middle bunch of John and Letsie’s ten children.

Devann’s maternal grandmother, Harriett FUTRELL LOVETT (1837-?) was the sister of my 2nd great-grandmother, Margaret FUTRELL MARTIN (1832-1928). This makes Devann my 2nd cousin, 2x removed.South Carolina_public domain

In 1900, Devann’s father, David, was a farmer in Richland County, South Carolina. David owned his farm free and clear.  Devann was 13 in 1900.

Devann marries & has children

Devann married William Wylie STRICKLAND (1879-1957) sometime before 1909. On the 1930 census, Wylie, as he was called, reported that his first marriage happened at age 22. If Devann was that wife, she was 14 at the time of marriage. But Wylie and Devann didn’t have any children until 1909, so I wonder if Wylie had a wife before Devann. No proof either way. And I can’t find Devann or Wylie in the 1910 census.

In 1918, Wylie reported on his WW1 draft registration that he and Devann lived in Dentsville, Richland County. Wylie was a farmer.Farm-1

On the 1920 census, 41-year old Wylie and 33-year old Devann lived on Assylum Road in Killan, Richland County. Wylie was a farmer, and he owned his farm free and clear. They had two children, Mary and Oscar.


Devann has two sons in 1921, Willis and Wylie, Jr., who were born about 7 ½ months apart. Then in 1924, Devann became pregnant again. Devann and Wylie lived at 418 Pall Mall Street in Columbia now. (In the 1930 census, Wylie is a produce and vegetable salesman. He was probably doing that in 1925, also.)

418 Pall Mall Street doesn’t appear to exist anymore, but you can see the neighborhood here. Some of the houses are probably ones there where Devann and Wylie lived there.

Pregnancy problems

I don’t know when Devann began having problems with the pregnancy, but on 11 March 1925, 38-year old Devann had a c-section delivery of another son, William. William was said to be full term.

Devann had toxemia of pregnancy, now known as eclampsia. The cure for eclampsia is delivery of the baby, but this didn’t cure Devann.


Her kidneys failed without the supportive measures and medicines available today. Devann died two days later on 13 March 1925. In a few weeks I’ll write about what Wylie and his life as a single parent.

Devann is buried at Macedonia Baptist Church Cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina.

Read more about the history of c-sections here.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

Ella Grant: the last tragedy & the first

For the last four weeks I’ve written about the tragic young deaths of the Gardner family – Benny in 1920, Walker in 1922, Mattie in 1923, and Baxter in 1933.  But before any of their deaths was the one in 1918.South Carolina_public domain

Ella’s early life

Ella GRANT was born 22 September 1864 in Marlboro County, South Carolina. Her parents were Jeremiah GRANT and Anna Jane GRANT. Ella was the 11th of their 12 children.  Ella is my 3rd great-aunt, as she is the sister of my 2nd great grandfather, D. B. Grant.

Her father, Jeremiah, worked many jobs in his life including carpentry and farming, but in 1870 he was the probate judge for Marlboro County.Courtroom gavel


The family lived in Bennettsville in Marlboro County. Annie, as Anna Jane was called, was quite the businesswoman. She bought and sold lots of property in Marlboro and Chesterfield Counties.

Ella marries John

In 1879 when Ella was 14, she married John C. GARDNER (1854-1935).  John was a farmhand at the time. In 1880, John and Ella lived in Cheraw, Chesterfield County. Her parents and two of her brothers are on the same census page as Ella and John.

Children came along starting with Robert in 1881, who died as an infant. He was followed by six children born over the next 16 years, all of whom lived to adulthood.Train public domain

In 1900, John worked as a railroad contractor. The family lived on Lyttleton Street in Camden, Kershaw County, South Carolina. Ella kept house and the younger children, while the older ones worked at a cotton mill.

In 1910, the family lived on King Street in Buffalo, Kershaw County, South Carolina.  John was a house carpenter now. Ella kept house. Fifteen-year old Walker worked as a laborer for a blacksmith, and Mattie attended school. The other children had their own homes.

The first tragedy

Antique Ford_flickr_must attribute

Antique Ford photo by GSV, found on Click on photo for more info.

Walker, Ella and John’s son, was in the National Guard when he was called up to go to France in 1918. On April 6th, 1918, John and Ella, along with daughters Bessie and Mattie, traveled to Camp Sevier in Greenville, South Carolina, to visit Walker before he shipped off.

John and Ella’s neighbor, a Mr. FIELD, went along and was driving John and Ella’s Ford. According to The Herald and News of Newberry, South Carolina, there was ‘a bad place in the road and the Ford took to the ditch.’  Here is the newspaper account of the accident:

Gardner Ella nee GRANT article about death-5 cropped portion








It was not determined what exactly happened, but it was reported that ‘the car must have been going at a pretty lively rate.’ I have to wonder if the passengers were telling him to slow down before the accident.

This  is Mattie’s accident

This is the accident where Mattie was hurt and reported killed by mistake. The retraction the next day said it was Ella that was killed. That was all I knew until this week when I found the long newspaper article about the accident.

More loss and heartache to follow

So much heartache in one day…Walker knows he’s leaving for war and may not come back at all, and then his mother dies on the way to see him off. Who even knows if he was able to attend her funeral. Was he able to see any of his family before he left for France? I don’t know. John loses his wife, and now his son is shipping off maybe never to return. And the other children lose their mother and know they may lose their brother, too.

I’m sure they were all relieved when Walker made it home, and they had a few years peace before Benny died followed soon by Walker and Mattie, and then Baxter a decade later. Poor John, to lose his wife and then three of his children in a five-year period of time.

This is the last of my stories about the Gardner family, at least for now. These five stories have been enough.

Ella Grant Gardner is buried at Mt. Elon Cemetery in Hartsville, Darlington County, along with John and four of their children.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

Billy Thomas, Jr.: into the pool with you

This month’s Genealogy Blog Party is a pool party where we get to toss a difficult ancestor into the pool.  I’m up for that. Although I have many difficult ancestors to choose from, the top of the list is the elusive Billy Thomas, Jr.Maryland sign

What I know…actually what I might know

Billy Thomas, Jr. is my 4th great-grandfather. He came to South Carolina from Maryland in the early 1800’s according to some family history notes from his grandsons.

He was planning on going ‘west’ but settled in South Carolina instead. The notes say that Billy’s father, Billy Thomas, Sr., came to Maryland from France, not that he was French, but that the ship he took came from France. The grandsons’ information is all believable but so far not provable.South Carolina_public domain

Billy supposedly married a woman named Mary (who went by Polly) in Fayetteville, North Carolina on his way ‘west’ but their son, my 3rd great-grandfather, had taken ill so they stopped in South Carolina and ended up staying.

I think I found Billy in the 1810 census, but again, it’s not conclusive that it’s him. I can’t find a Billy Thomas in the 1820 census in the likely county or the surrounding ones, but I found a Mary Thomas living next door to Renadus Thomas, my 3rd great-grandfather, in the 1830 census. Is this Mary his mother?  Good question.  Did Billy died between 1810 and 1820? Another good question.

I found a Polly Thomas in the census for that county for 1840, but unfortunately the census was rewritten in alphabetical order so who knows if that Polly lived near the aforementioned Renadus (written as Renatus in the 1840 census).

Capitol Hill Question Mark (Washington, DC)

Capitol Hill Question Mark (Washington, DC)

Mary/Polly is missing from the 1850 census and beyond.  Dead? Living elsewhere? Just missed being counted? Who knows.

Billy is supposedly buried in The “Old” Medlin cemetery in Richland County, South Carolina. One of my cousins in South Carolina checked out the likely location for this cemetery. It’s densely wooded, and he didn’t find any stones. And no records have been located for this cemetery.

Mistaken identity?

Finally, there is a William Thomas who died in 1840 and was buried in Davidson County, North Carolina. Several researchers on that large website we all have a love-hate relationship with have decided that William Thomas is this Billy Thomas.

I’m not buying it, but it would be easier to prove that he’s not my Billy Thomas if my Billy Thomas would have left something behind like a will or a bible. Or if he’d married someone with a less common name than Mary/Polly. Or if he’d written down the names of his parents, etc. Or if Sherman hadn’t burned the courthouse in Columbia, South Carolina.

I may never know

Short of hiring a researcher, I don’t know that there’s much more I can do to find him. Instead of doing hiring a researcher, I will throw Billy in the pool and let my kids and grandkids figure out the life story of Billy Thomas, Jr.

Copyright © 2016  Nancy H. Vest   All Rights Reserved

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