It is interesting to see the spread of a new technology reflected in my great-grandfather’s journal: in this case, the electrification of the Bells’ farm in Kempsville, near Norfolk, Virginia. A little less than a century ago, this was a project one could undertake oneself.
9 October: Bought truck today for $793 and turned in the old one for $200.
Estelle and I bought light fixtures today for the new Delco system which we installed this week.
My grandfather did not have a lot to say about his mother’s brothers. Perhaps because the Jackson family was relatively prosperous when my great-grandparents married, my great-grandmother led a more settled life than her brothers, none of whom, my grandfather once said, “amounted to much.”
At an earlier stage in my research, I was surprised to find my great-great-grandmother living in Phoenix in the household of one of her younger sons; indeed, this sojourn proved to be brief – but long enough for Jennie Jackson to appear in the 1920 census, far from her residence in New York. Continue reading High tide→
My great-grandfather was a man of few words, at times, as when he made his sole reference to a new office: “Elected to the [Norfolk] City Council tonight.” A more typical effusion occurs nine days later, when he notes the “Early cabbage [is] looking good.”
1 April: Bought an Overland car.
3 May: Went with Hotel Ass[ociatio]n to Cape Henry for Oyster Roast.
By 1917, my great-grandfather’s farm in Princess Anne County, Virginia, was up and running, with actual profits registered. The weather remained a preoccupation:
3 February: Coldest day in eighteen years.
10 February: Fred’s yew [sic] had two lambs[;] she disowned one and had to [be forced to] nurse.
23 February: Little Frances sick in bed with measles.
4 March: Inauguration Day – President Wilson’s second term… Fred served at communion today at the nine o’clock service and the 11 a.m. service. Frances recovered from measles. Continue reading ‘Stopped by rains’→
I have a vivid memory as a boy of the time my mother’s father showed me a healed wound in his leg. While he was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, with the Purple Heart (among other medals) to show for it, this scar – deep enough for a child probe with a finger – came from a shooting accident when he was not much older than I. The idea that my grandfather had ever been an unruly boy – his childhood inconceivably remote in the early 1970s – fascinated me, and, anyway, boys love the squeamish and the gross: this evidence of time’s passage, long-healed, formed a Proustian memory, sending me back to a hot summer’s day and a moment’s connection with my beloved grandfather. Continue reading ‘Planting watermelon’→
Of my four grandparents, it is my maternal grandfather whose background seems most mysterious. He and his parents duly appear in Norfolk (Virginia) city directories and censuses, but much of the personal – the quirks and the quotidian – seems missing from the life he led before he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1919.
His father, J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944), has, if anything, been more of a cipher. It was his father, also John Francis Bell (1839–1905), who appears out of thin air, hailing from Isle of Wight County and establishing himself as a contractor in Richmond. Frank Bell went south to Norfolk, where he met and married my great-grandmother, Minnie Estelle Jackson (1876–1935). Frank Bell seems as solid as Estelle’s father, the roguish O.D. Jackson, proved transient, and he became a leading figure in Norfolk, managing hotels, winning election to the City Council, and helping to found the Rotary Club. Continue reading The weekend farmer→
The birth of the newest member of the British royal family affords the chance to review all of young Archie Mountbatten-Windsor’s ancestry – from his paternal ancestors, well-covered in a range of sources, to his maternal forebears in America, about whom much remains to be learned. In the following ancestor table, Christopher C. Child and I have used some recent sources on the British royal family for Archie’s paternal grandfather’s family; Richard Evans’s The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales (with some updates published at Vita Brevis) and Burke’s Peerage for the baby’s paternal grandmother’s ancestors; and a variety of sources for the family of Archie’s mother, the Duchess of Sussex.
The birth of Queen Elizabeth II’s eighth great-grandchild – the first child of HRH Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and the former Meghan Markle – offers a 2019 gloss on names and titles in the British royal family.
During the First World War, the rulers of Germany and Great Britain were first cousins – and King George V of Great Britain had no agreed-upon surname. Whatever the family name was, it was German. This situation led to a wholesale renaming of the royal family (as the House of Windsor) and the ceding of assorted German titles for equivalents in the British peerage system. Continue reading Title trouble→
Following up on Patty Vitale’s recent post on her Uncle Dominic’s war photography, I can offer another take: photos created by Private Richard Bowers Oliver (1913–1985) at Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, during the Second World War.
Oliver seems to have been the camp’s official photographer, a member of the Public Relations Office. While much of his work covered the camp’s daily life, there were occasional celebrities to be seen, as when Cab Calloway (1907–1994) paid Camp Wheeler a visit. Continue reading Miniature works of art→
She was once a by-word for her beauty, with “a curious kind of popularity, more like that of a French princess in her hereditary province, in whom her people claimed a sort of ownership, than the simple admiration of republicans for a fair being highly favored of fortune. If a child had a pet kitten or a bird of remarkable beauty, it was fondly named ‘Sallie Ward.’ If a farmer rejoiced in the possession of a young lamb or heifer which he wanted to praise to the utmost degree of comparison, he would recommend it as ‘a perfect “Sallie Ward.”’ She was the ideal of all that was pure, and sacred to young people who saw her only at a distance in her father’s carriage, or walking, attended, or at church.”
Sallie Ward Lawrence Hunt Armstrong Downs, to give her her full array of names, was one of the most famous of the antebellum belles, the prototype of a beauty that, a generation later, would be captured by the still and then the moving picture camera. Continue reading “A perfect ‘Sallie Ward’”→