While I am not a trivia aficionado, I do enjoy the odd bit of interesting information. I found several blogs on a neat site called Mental Floss – “Where Mental Junkies Get Their Fix.”
The first deals with beauty tips from 1889. Now I understand why the women’s hair in those old photos wasn’t shiny and fresh looking. The beauty gurus for 1889 advise “Water is ‘injurious’ to the hair. Instead, wipe ‘the dust of the previous day’ away on a towel. You can also brush your hair during any long, idle breaks in the day. 30 minutes is a good hair-brushing session.”
And forget facial skin care, washing your face is a no-no. Take a look at these fascinating and at times disgusting tips at
For those of us with Appalachian roots, we have strong women in our ancestry. When I read this article from the Bristol Herald Courier about Martha Mitchell, I thought about my mom and her sister, Rosie. They grew up poor, but survived and thrived because of their toughness and their faith.
Martha W. Mitchell, 81, of Abingdon in Washington County, VA was trapped under overturned lawn mower for five hours before she freed herself by digging out. She broke her pelvis and two places, and her ankle was crushed, but didn’t go the hospital for 2 days after she freed herself.
So here’s to all the strong women of Appalachia.
In case that link expires from the Associated Press, here is her story. It deserved to be preserved as a tribute to all our grannies, sisters, mothers, aunts, and others who show the grittiness that is a part of our heritage.
By Allie Robinson | Bristol Herald Courier
For Martha W. Mitchell, mowing the lawn on a Saturday afternoon was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s rained so much in the past few weeks, she said, it has been a fairly regular chore.
Mitchell, 81, would steer her red lawn mower around and around her yard, and then drive up a small slope by a building at the edge of the lawn.
It was there, on July 28, that the trouble started.
Mitchell, who lives alone on her family’s homestead about a half-mile off North Fork River Road and several hundred yards from the closest neighbor, was pinned under her lawnmower for about five hours. She dug herself out with a tool made from an old bucket handle, and dragged herself to the house, where she stayed for two days before calling an ambulance service to come get her and take her to the hospital.
Today, after a week spent at home, Mitchell thanks God for bringing her through her brush with death.
On this particularly Saturday, however, Mitchell was just about to quit mowing when she decided to address a little patch of grass by that building, which is slightly up a slope from the rest of the yard. It was about 12:30 p.m., she said.
“I went up through there and then the motor started racing,” she said. “I cut the switch off and it still wouldn’t stop, even after I cut the switch off.”
Not yet panicking, Mitchell put the mower in reverse and started to back away from the slope, but the brakes had quit, she said.
The large, red riding lawnmower wobbled unsteadily then tipped over, toppling the octogenarian and pinning her underneath it. Mitchell estimates the machine weighs several hundred pounds.
Her left foot and leg were caught beneath the heavy mower, and Mitchell was unable to lift the machine. Her head was stuck lying near some debris, and she was on her side, unable to gain enough leverage to wriggle out.
“I thought I was totally trapped,” she said. “I have (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and I couldn’t holler and I started to pray. I said, ‘Lord, give me a strong voice to holler for the neighbors,’ and I did holler. But after about an hour, a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Nobody’s gonna come, Martha.'”
She was afraid she’d die there, with no one to hear her cries for help, burnt to a crisp after the lawnmower exploded. She thought she heard gasoline dripping from the tank, which she had recently filled, and could smell smoke.
“I said, well, it’s an awful long way for the Lord to come down and help me,” Mitchell said. “If I’ve ever prayed, I prayed then.”
Her face was in the sun, she said, and, fearing she’d get sunburned, she prayed for a cloud. One appeared almost instantly, she said.
“Well, boy, I got encouraged,” she said.
She asked God for some rain, as her mouth was parched from yelling for so long.
“It started to pour rain, and that’s the God’s truth,” she said.
She fashioned a saucer out of an old jug and was able to collect rainwater in it, Mitchell said.
She started to cast about for a way to free herself, having decided that no one was going to come to her aid.
“There was a 5-gallon bucket by my head. I started to try to tear it up, and saw the handle was metal,” Mitchell said. “It’s got an end like a claw. I got it out and bent it in half.”
And she started digging.
“I started digging and digging a trench like a gully by my leg,” she said. “I kept digging. I was there five hours.”
She finally got the trench deep enough to push her pinned leg into it and wrest it out from under the mower.
“I don’t know where I got the strength,” she said. “When I got out, I crawled and dragged myself (to the house, about 20 yards away). My clothes were wringing wet.”
Mitchell took a bath, dragged herself to bed, collapsed on it, and passed out. She stayed there for two days before the pain – turns out she broke two places in her hip on either side of her artificial hip, broke her pelvis and crushed her ankle – became too much to bear.
“It was two days of suffering, untold suffering,” she said. “I was even about to drive myself. But finally . I called an ambulance.”
The Valley Rescue Squad in Saltville, VA., picked her up Monday, July 30. A paramedic there confirmed the squad had transported Mitchell to the hospital, but couldn’t talk about Mitchell’s specific injuries.
“(The doctor) said all my innards were very badly bruised,” Mitchell said. “And I broke my pelvis very badly. I never knew it was so painful.”
Mitchell returned home a week later, and is on the slow but painful mend.
One of 15 children, she grew up on the land where she now lives, and said her two living brothers, in Abingdon, have been concerned about her. She hasn’t yet told her daughter, five grandchildren or great-grandchildren, as she expects to heal soon on her own, and then will be more receptive to visitors.
She’s an independent woman, Mitchell said.
An independent woman, who is now a firm believer in God and miracles, although she’s gone to church all her life.
“If I had any doubts, I’ve got none now,” she said. “There ain’t no doubt about it, I’d have died there. Many a time I’ve come close to death but never was I so sure that I had death right in my face.”
Several months ago I got a phone from Hawaii about one of my family branches. It turns out the caller was a distant cousin who had questions about why her ancestors on the 1920 and 1930 census for Virginia were listed as being white. The oral tradition is the family had Native American ancestry. Coming from a multi-ethnic society and culture in Hawaii, she didn’t understand why Virginia didn’t have a variety of categories to describe racial or ethnic make-up. I had to explain to her the history of how a president, scientists, and social reformers robbed people of their identity at best, and having any descendants at worst.
In today’s world where diversity is celebrated, we need to remember this wasn’t always the case. Twentieth century reformers, including President Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Sanger, supported the betterment of the human race through eugenics, the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. It fell into disfavor only after the twisting of its doctrines by the Nazis. But many people don’t know that it was American eugenicists who influenced the Nazis, and forced sterilization of “inferior persons” was widespread in the United States until the 1960’s. Eugenics with its goal of selective breeding, had racism at its core with people of color being considered inferior and undesirable.
One of the major players in the eugenics movement was a Virginian, Walter Ashby Plecker. He was the first registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, serving from 1912-1946. He drafted and lobbied for the passage of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. It institutionalized the one-drop rule, meaning any person with “one drop of black blood” was considered black no matter how many generations in the past. It recognized only two races, “white” and “colored” (black). This went beyond existing law, which had classified persons as white who had one-sixteenth (equivalent to one great-great-grandparent) or less black ancestry.
The result of this act and Plecker’s influence as the vital statistics registrar is that people with Native American or with mixed-racial ancestries wanted to “pass” for white rather than be recognized as “colored” and have to live with segregation and Jim Crow laws that made people of color second class citizens.
The truth is that there was more racial mixing between white, black, and Native Americans than people wanted to recognize. Plus the definitions of who was considered white changed. For example, in 1822 Virginia, a person was considered legally white with up to one-fourth African ancestry (equivalent to one grandparent). This later became one-sixteenth (equivalent to one great-great-grandparent) and eventually the one-drop rule of the Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which was adopted by many other states as well.
The irony is that free persons of color in colonial America were not uncommon. Paul Heinegg’s Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware and Maryland, 1999–2005, is a ground-breaking study on free persons of color in early America.
He found that 80 percent of the people listed as “other” or “free Negroes” and “free people of color” in North Carolina in censuses from 1790-1810 were descended from African Americans free in Virginia during the colonial period. Those were born mostly of relationships freely chosen between white women, free or indentured servants, and African or African American men, indentured servants, free or slave. Such relationships indicated the fluid nature of society before slavery became defined as a lifelong racial caste. Because the women were white, their children were born free. In addition, some slaves were freed as early as the mid-17th century, so after 150 years had generations of descendants by 1800, the turn of the 19th century.
Many free African Americans, along with European-American neighbors, migrated to frontier areas of Virginia, North Carolina, and then further west. Such families sometimes settled in insular groups and were the origin of some isolated settlements, which have long claimed or were said to be of American Indian or Portuguese ancestry.
Some Americans of mixed European and African ancestry claimed Mediterranean, Arab or Native American heritage to explain skin color and features differing from northern Europeans. They were trying to find a way through the binary racial divisions of society, especially in the South, where slavery became closely tied in the colonial era to the foreign status of people of African descent, which prevented them from being considered English subjects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, most free people went by appearance. If they looked white, were accepted by neighbors and fulfilled community obligations, they were absorbed into white or European-American society.
Along came Plecker and the eugenics movement. Those who had passed for white, or were accepted as white, had that racial designation, but for Native Americans, or those who had an oral tradition of Native American, they had no separate identity under this either-or system. Plecker did not recognize that many mixed-race Virginia Native Americans had maintained their culture and identity as aboriginal persons.
He believed there were few “real” Indians left, as they had intermarried over time with other ethnic groups, plus he thought “colored” people were attempting to pass as “Indian.” He ordered state agencies to reclassify most citizens’ claiming American Indian identity as “colored,” although many groups of Virginia Indians had continued in their cultural identity, practices and communities. Their identities were often recorded as Indian in church records, for instance. Specifically, Plecker ordered state agencies to reclassify certain families whom he identified by surname, as he had decided they were trying to pass and evade segregation. This was legal in the South until federal legislation of the 1960s.
Among other effects, Plecker’s policy caused a contemporary problem: members of eight state-recognized Virginia tribes struggle to achieve federal recognition because they cannot prove their continuity of heritage through historic documentation, as required by federal laws. Plecker’s actions in the twentieth century altered records and for decades destroyed the evidence for many individuals and families of cultural continuity as Indians.
So for Virginia’s Native Americans, they were the victims of identity theft. For some families, the only way to reclaim their heritage is to test their DNA. Plecker could erase or alter the records, but he couldn’t erase what was in their genes.
I can finally stop beating myself up over my misadventures with Jabez Whitaker. Dick Eastman, one of the premier genealogists on the Internet, has a recent post on his newsletter about a similar experience. You can read about it at this link:
If you don’t already subscribe to his free newsletter, you should. It is a gem. And for a reasonable cost, you can get his Plus Newsletter.
The following material comes from Dr. Melton P. Meek’s book the Descendants of Thomas Whitaker etc. mentioned in my previous post and James Jones Descendants and Intermarriages 1612-1996 unless otherwise noted.
Richard Whitaker, Jr. was the son of Richard Whitaker, Sr. and Elizabeth Cary. He was born in Halifax County, NC (previously part of Edgecombe Co.) around 1762 and died in Lincoln County, TN the 20th of August, 1833. He is mentioned in his father’s will in 1789 and was left the home plantation of 350 acres. He was co-executor of the will along with his brother Cary. [Meek, Whitaker, p. 160] Court records indicate he migrated to Lincoln Co. TN after 1816. [Meek, Whitaker, p. 174] Dr. Meek then provides the court record examples as proof.
Richard, Jr. married Nancy Ann Peete, the daughter of Dr. Samuel Peete on 1 Nov. 1787. They had three daughters, Mary, Nancy, and Rebecca. Nancy Ann is mentioned in the will of her brother, Dr. William Peete who died in 1788.
The majority of his life was lived in Halifax and Northampton County North Carolina. Richard, Jr. was active in the spread of Methodism. His father, Richard, Sr., built Whitaker’s Chapel, an Anglican Church, in 1740. It was abandoned by the Anglican clergy during the Revolutionary War, and the Methodists took it over.
Richard, Jr. organized Rehoboth, the second Methodist church in Northampton County NC in 1798. Bishop Francis Asbury ordained him as a deacon on March 4, 1804. Asbury also preached at Whitaker’s Chapel at least three times, in 1786, 1789, and 1804. In fact, Bishop Asbury mentions visiting Richard, Jr. and his wife in his journal. “December 4, 1786: Thence to Northampton County [North Carolina] …. I rode to see Richard Whitaker and his wife after several years absence. I felt truly solemn when I found myself at the old house where the father and mother died. I remember well what passed when I was there past – the distress of the doctor [Dr. William Peete] and his kindness to me in the year 1785.” [Source: Journal of Rev. Francis Asbury: bishop of the Methodist Episcopal …, Volume 2 By Francis Asbury, Eaton and Mains, pp 323-324]
“We do know from Asbury’s journal that he also preached several times at Rehoboth Chapel in Northampton County. While the building itself was not erected until 1798, the church or society had its beginning in the home of Richard Whitaker, probably as early as 1785. Asbury visited in his home several times.” [Source: Our church, Then and Now: A History of Seaboard Methodist Church, 1880-1958, The Committee on Church History, Seaboard Methodist Church, p.13]
On the other hand, his father-in-law, Dr. Samuel Peete, was a staunch supporter of the Anglican Church (Church of England). He supported St. George’s Parish in Northampton County based on information contained in the Vestry Books and letters from Rev. Charles Edward Taylor who began serving in 1773. “The thanks of the vestry be given Dr. Samuel Peete of this county for his Generous present of a chalice and salver for the use of the parish.” Dr. Peete also donated prayer books. [Source: Northampton Parishes, Henry Wilkins Lewis, Jackson, NC 1951]
Revolutionary War Service
Richard was a Revolutionary War veteran, Pension application S3596. “State of Tennessee Lincoln County: On this 16th day of October in the year of our Lord 1832 personally appeared in open Court …Richard Whitaker a resident of the County of Lincoln and State of Tennessee aged he believes seventy years … He volunteered in Halifax County State of North Carolina…for the term of three years his Captain was Richard Kerney his Lieutenant was Robert Brantley. They were sent to several little towns in North Carolina as spies to watch and see if they could learn the movement of the British and also as guards to keep the British from taken [taking] possession of said towns. Applicant says that he was born in Halifax County North Carolina he believes from the best information it was in the year 1762 he has no record of his age. After the war he moved to Rowan County North Carolina [This is were the confusion with Richard Whitaker-Rachel Bentley begins] where he lived until he moved to Lincoln County Tennessee where he now lives. George W. Jones an acting Justice of the peace for the County and State … deposeth and saith that he [Richard] volunteered in Halifax North Carolina for the term of three years in the latter part of the month of March 1781 it was a few weeks after the great battle that was fought at Guilford N.C. Sworn to & subscribed before me this 27th of March 1833
S/ G. W. Jones, JP S/ Richard Whitaker, X his mark
[Veteran was pensioned at the rate of $80 per annum commencing March 4th, 1831, for 2 years
service as a private in the North Carolina militia.] ”
Richard and Nancy Ann (Peete) Whitaker’s Children
Mary Whitaker ( (10 Aug 1788-8 Dec 1880) married Rev./Col. Carter Jones, the great-great-grandparents of Dr. Melton P. Meek, the noted Whitaker genealogist. Rev. Jones was a Methodist minister. They are both buried in unmarked graves at Oak Ridge Methodist Church in Warren County, MS where Rev. Jones was the first minister.
September 8, 1853
Rev. CARTER JONES, “familiarly known as Col. Carter Jones,” died Warren Co., Miss., July 31, 1853 in his 66th year; born Northampton Co., N.C., but moved to Miss. in 1837; fought in struggle for Texas independence; joined MEC 1820; was a local MECS preacher. [Methodist Episcopal Church South] [Source: GENEALOGICAL ABSTRACTS FROM REPORTED DEATHS THE LOUISVILLE AND NASHVILLE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE AND THE NASHVILLE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE 1852-1856, Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith, ©Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1997, p. 44]
Nancy Whitaker, born 16 Mar 1790 in North Carolina, married James B. Grant.
Rebecca Whitaker born around 1794, first married Dr. William Goosley and than Charlton Yellowly
I urge you to consult Dr. Melton P. Meek’s books to get the 411 on the Richard Whitaker, Jr. of Halifax County, NC. There is no reason to confuse him with the Richard Whitaker who married Rachel Bentley. I wish I had. It would have saved me two years of wasted research.
I have broken more rules of genealogy research than have ever been made. Some of them were because I didn’t know any better, and others were because of my wishful thinking and hardheadedness.
My worst offense has been spending two years working on a branch that turned out to be not mine after all. My time was consumed with not time or thought to posting on my blog. Just look at the date on my previous post! All because I thought I was related to someone relatively famous and with a lineage that would have ancestors who signed the Magna Carta, married into the powerful families of England, and even went back to William the Conqueror and Charlemagne.
This is a cautionary tale to other family historians. You can’t cut corners. You have to check your facts and have as much documentation as you can before you make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Dr. Melton P. Meek, the pre-eminent genealogist on the Whitaker Family of Holme-in-Clivinger, Lancashire, England, gently reminded of this. Bless Dr. Meek for finally setting me on the right track and to Joye Boardman for graciously sharing the correct information.
How did I get so far astray? Well it’s the fault of my 4th great grandfather, Richard Whitaker. He had the audacity to be living in North Carolina at the same time as another Richard Whitaker, who was born around the same time and lived in Halifax Co. NC. The Halifax Richard was the son of Richard, Sr. and Elizabeth Cary. These Whitakers could trace his ancestry back to Jamestown and Jabez Whitaker, who married Lady Mary Bouchier, whose illustrious ancestors went back to Charlemagne. Jabez’s father, Dr. William Whitaker, was a famous cleric in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and his half-brother, Rev. Alexander Whitaker was the minister who converted Pocahontas to Christianity and then performed her marriage to John Rolfe. As a former history teacher, I was seduced by all of this. Besides, as I looked at hundreds of web resources with convincing historical data, many researchers had this lineage as credible.
As Lee Corso, my favorite college football analyst says, “Not so fast, my friend.” My Richard may have been in Halifax County, but he settled in Rowan County, and later Lincoln County North Carolina. He married Rachel Bentley, and ended up being grafted onto the wrong branch because of name, geographic proximity, and confusion.
I corresponded with Dr. Meek, who is THE authority on the Richard > Jabez > Dr. William Whitaker line whose family originated in a Lancashire hamlet with the quaint name of Holme-in-Cliviger. His book, The Descendants of Thomas Whitaker of Holme-In-Clivinger Burnley Lancashire, England 1400-1996, is considered to be the Bible on this branch of the family. Dr. Meek and I were exploring the possibility that Rachel Bentley was Halifax Richard’s second wife, since we knew his first wife was Nancy Ann Peete.
In the meantime, I was in a frenzy of research, locating the ancestral home in Lancashire, and learning about Dr. William Whitaker’s contributions to the Protestant movement and to Cambridge University. I corresponded with the parish church in Holme-in-Clivinger, and received wonderful photos from a local photographer of the ancient church, the countryside, and the pub. My nonagenarian mother, who is like Betty White on steroids, was ready to make a pilgrimage to the homeplace in Holme-in-Clivinger. I use the term nonagenarian because my mother is quite sensitive about her age, but if you don’t know the meaning, just look it up to get what decade her age is. I don’t want to be disinherited, and after all, she does have the legendary mountain Whitaker temperament.
Then I got the email followed by mailed written documentation from Dr. Meek with the proof that Halifax Richard never married Rachel Bentley and my Richard was a different person entirely, not related to the “famous” Whitakers. It dawned on me with stunning clarity. I had been careless, going after a quick fix, following the crowd, sharing shoddy information and not following good genealogical practices. Dr. Meek gently showed me an experienced genealogist in action, working slowly and methodically. By the way, Dr. Meek and my mother are close in age, and are good role models in mental activity and having a zest for life. They are what I want to be when I grow up.
Now I was back to square one. Where had my Richard come from? What about the descendants of his 11 children with Rachel? I found an out-of-print publication, Richard Whitaker of North Carolina and Washington County, Virginia by Joye Boardman. I contacted her about getting a copy, but she didn’t have any more. She kindly emailed a text copy and it provided excellent information along with documentation. We began corresponding, and I encouraged her to make her information available on the Internet so that others wouldn’t make the same mistakes I had. She said she didn’t have time or expertise, but graciously gave permission for putting her research on my AppalachianAristocracy.com.
The moral of this story is wishful thinking and conjecture are no substitute for research and documentation in doing your family history. The other lesson learned is experienced genealogists can be our best teachers if we let them. Family history is more than collecting names and filling in the missing blanks on a pedigree chart.
OK, I know on this social media thingy you are supposed to post frequently, like every 24 hours or so. At least that’s the impression I had from watching the movie Julie and Julia. I got the message, but I was so hungry from watching Julia Childs cook that I baked a pan of brownies (from a mix) because I didn’t want to take the time to do her chocolate mousse cake from scratch. As if I had the ingredients anyway, and I was scared to use eggs because of the e-coli scare. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Oh, wait, I had to use eggs in the brownies didn’t I?
The problem is I can’t do routine. My Facebook wall is filled with all these wonderful tidbits from my friends who share so many details of their lives. Twitter is like Internet Haiku, so I doubt I’ll ever tweet.
So I really appreciate the wonderful comments about Emeline Chambers, and I feel sort of guilty about posting only once a blue moon. However, most times my family, work, and family history research come first, with the latter having me go off on quests and tangents.
My last quest almost landed me in hot water with a bunch of relatives. If you really want to find out what they were up to and they lived in Virginia, you can access chancery court records in a digital format from the Library of Virginia. I knew that one side of my family had their own wing on the Tazewell County Court House, but my discovery of this resource has provided the proof of my tongue-in-cheek quip. The most exciting discovery was an 1876 case against my great-great-grandmother, Nancy Petts Whitaker, after her husband was killed by marauders during the Civil War. I had not been able to find her in the 1870 Census either in Tazewell Co., VA, Morgan Co. KY, or McDowell Co. WV. But the court case is there, I have downloaded it, and just have to take the time to transcribe the 116 pages. The clerk transcribing the records definitely needed a class in remedial penmanship.
So if your ancestors lived in Virginia, you will do well to check out the Chancery Court Records at the Library of Virginia. You will be amazed, amused, and perhaps appalled at what you find.
I promise I will try to do better at posting short snippets about the things I am finding, like a bit of proof from government sources that Shawnee Chief Cornstalk may be my 7th great-grandfather. I always wondered why I had such a love for Native American jewelry and art, having collected it since I was a teenager.