Friday, February 28, 2014

A Different Kind of Senior

It was grand celebrating those glory days when the seniors of Fort Meade High School had graduated in 1919. And it’s been quite as grand to relive those reunion occasions, thanks to the letters and newspaper clippings my grandmother had saved among her special papers.

Along with all the newspaper clippings that Rubie McClellan Davis’ friend Zemla Doke Griffith sent her from Fort Meade, Florida, Zemla had included a long and newsy letter.

Personal letters like this are not the type of item people are accustomed to receiving in our current times. While Zemla’s letter was postmarked October 20, 1983—not very long ago—it does still reach back to a world that many people now would find foreign. Got friends who went to the hospital or lost a job? Now, we think nothing of posting that on Facebook or even Twitter, so everyone in our circles would know.

Perhaps only fifteen years ago, the way to share such personal news would be by email—or at the least by picking up the phone and calling, even if it were long distance.

But thirty years ago? Back in 1983, when this letter was written, there were still many people who held to the notion that it would have been extravagant even to pick up the phone to chitchat, if it involved a call between, say, Ohio and Florida.

So consider a letter like Zemla’s the 1983 equivalent of Facebook—all lumped together in one huge post.

What did she talk about? News, of course! Important stuff—at least to folks like Rubie and Zemla. The latest on what’s been happening to anyone and everyone they knew in common from the “good old days” when they were all together in high school—the mighty senior class of Fort Meade School.

When that subject had been worn out—hoping, of course, that coming in the reply would be more tidbits to keep the conversation going—the topics would head toward other familiar areas, like family, neighborhood, hobbies.

After discussing the news from classmates Elizabeth Morgan and Marie Alderman—or anyone else who had recently been in touch—Zemla responded to what my grandmother must have written in a previous letter. I’m not at all surprised to discover that Rubie’s eyesight had been a topic of correspondence. By that time, Rubie most likely had had her cataract surgery—which brought with it an outcome she never found quite matching her expectations. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my grandmother regret what had become of “my eye-uhs,” as she would call them in her distinct version of a southern accent. Apparently, the “new things that have come out” that Zemla was championing were the very things my grandmother was bemoaning.

The reference Zemla made to “your daughter” concerned Rubie’s oldest daughter, my mother, who after being widowed had sought work in the education arena just as the then-recent economic downturn had caused many school districts to lay off large numbers of teachers. My mother, after selling the family home in New York, had found a position teaching in a private school in Los Angeles—a radical change from the public school environments back home. Discovering an associate had recently been appointed principal of a private school in Minnesota, she signed on at that less-urban school setting, moving yet again, halfway across the continent. Finally, tired of being so far removed from family, she resigned herself to return home to Columbus, Ohio, where her parents and sister still lived. Until she could find a teaching position, she made ends meet by doing restaurant work along with those ever-hopeful gigs at substitute work in several school districts in the area. It was likely at that point that my grandmother had made mention of her daughter’s circumstances to her confidante, Zemla.

Keeping in mind that, in 1983, Rubie would have been eighty four years of age, and her husband Jack nearing eighty six, it’s no surprise to hear Zemla offer her condolences for Jack’s declining health. All these classmates and their spouses—at least, among those whose spouses were still alive—were likely experiencing similar circumstances. No matter how well they seemed to be doing, it was a slower and more circumspect “well” than it had been back in 1919, the year they were the mighty seniors just about to graduate from high school.

Zemla Griffith letter to Rubie Davis sixty four years after they both graduated high school
She [Elizabeth Morgan] said she had a letter from Marie [Alderman] and she had just lost a sister. That made 5 deaths in her family since the first of the year. Marie has had some problems with her heart but seems to be doing better now. She is not as active as she was though. I hear from her occasionally.
            I am so sorry you are having so much trouble with Jack in such poor health and your eyes so bad. Do hope the doctor has been able to improve your vision by now. It does seem with all the new things that have come out you could get some relief. Hope everything is better for you.
            I hope your daughter can land a permanent teaching job. I think she is wise to do as much substitute work as she can get. I really don’t see how she holds up to two jobs though. Teaching is so hard and so is restaurant work.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guessed Right

Granted, there were many papers tucked in the packet that included the letter from my grandmother’s friend, Zemla Doke Griffith, about high school reunions and class gatherings in Fort Meade, Florida. While much of the material was organized and kept in one separate package by my grandmother, Rubie McClellan Davis, apparently one stray page escaped my attention until just last night.

It was a list, in order, of names of the members of the student body of 1912 as they appeared in the photograph commemorating that recognition night at Fort Meade High School in September, 1983.

When I first shared that photograph from an undated, unidentified newspaper source, you may recall that I had my guesses regarding the identity of the former Zemla Doke, my grandmother’s good friend (and evidently the official “Class Grumbler” for the Class of 1919).

Once quick glance at this page added to Zemla’s letter to Rubie confirms just which face matches up with her name—and gives us the opportunity to know the names of the rest of this group posing for their picture. Hopefully, just like you and me, someday some of their descendants will be searching for more information on them and will find this entry from Zemla gives them a peak into a bit of what went into the day to day lives of their ancestors, too.

Group picture:
Front row L to R.
Annabelle Lewis Wiggins
Maude Lightsey Jones
Zemla Doke Griffith
Maud McAuley (Don’s wife)
Edith McAuley Allen
Jeanette Rivers
Eva Rivers Sexton

Back Row L to R.
John “Buck” Enzor
Austin Clifton
Fred Bobbet
Lawrence Adams
Don McAuley
John Wingate
E. C. Botts
Wylie Rivers

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Graduating Class

Seventeen young scholars were in the graduating class in the ceremony held at the Fort Meade, Florida, high school on May 2, 1919. Granted, it was a small class by today’s standards, given the size of American public schools and the populations served by most school districts.

Fifty eight years later, as many as could of that original group found their way back to Fort Meade for a reunion. I know my grandmother was there—the items I’ve been sharing over the last few days were keepsakes I found among Rubie McClellan Davis’ personal papers years after her passing. This reunion was one of the highlights of her later years.

By the time of this reunion, Rubie was seventy eight years of age—admittedly, two years older than some of her classmates, as we’ve already noticed—but still quite energetic and involved in her community far to the north of her Florida hometown. This event sounded like it had the makings of the perfect road trip, and Rubie and her husband Jack Davis took the opportunity to make the drive from their home in Columbus, Ohio.

At the point of the reunion, according to the report run by the local newspaper, there were still eleven members remaining of the original seventeen graduates. However, The Fort Meade Leader noted, only six members of the class were actually able to attend the event. These six were joined, at the reunion dinner, by special guests with links to those early school days memories. Incredibly, among those honored attendees were a faculty member from the high school at that time, a member of the preceding class, and a student usher from the 1919 ceremony who graduated the following year.

The October 7, 1977, front page article—complete with photograph—was careful to list not only those in attendance, but the names of each class member from the original graduation program.

With all those details in The Fort Meade Leader, it’s no wonder that my grandmother brought back a copy of that entire edition of the newspaper!

Class Motto:
Now we try a boundless sea.

Class Colors:                                      Class Flower:
Emerald and Gold                                 White Carnation

Class Roll:
         Marie Alderman                                   Pauline Hancock
         Nolie Bryan                                          Joseph Hudson
         Lucile Brice                                          Rubie McClellan
         Zemla Doke                                         Elizabeth Morgan
         Claire Davis                                          Bernard Meek
         John Doke                                            Patrick Nugent
         Bill Enzor                                              James Singleton
         Lottie Hollingsworth                              William Williams
Marian Yearwood

G. H. Williams, Principal of F.M.H.S.
Gertrude Scott, Senior Teacher

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Younger Year

It was 1977, and the Fort Meade High School Class of 1919 had chosen this opportunity to join together for an October evening. The occasion of their dinner celebration was to commemorate the fifty-eighth anniversary of their high school graduation.

Though she lived far from Fort Meade, Florida, at the time, my grandmother, Rubie McClellan Davis, and her husband Jack were able to attend this special event. Jack and Rubie had made this a part of a grand itinerary, turning their travels from Columbus, Ohio, into a road trip that took in all their favorite sights—as well as adding a few new stops like Disney World.

high school reunion dinner seating place cards designed from reprint of original 1919 commencement exercises program
The crowning event, of course, was Rubie’s high school reunion. The dinner event, hosted at the home of her good friend Zemla Doke Griffith’s son and daughter-in-law, included all sorts of memorabilia inspired by that graduation ceremony so many years ago. Even the seating arrangements for the meal were marked by index-card-sized place cards which turned out to be reprints of the very graduation ceremony program from 1919.

The year of graduation itself may have brought up questions in the mind of anyone following these posts about my grandmother, who was born in 1899. If you do the math, you’d realize that Rubie’s June 13 birthday followed close after the May date of her 1919 graduation—and would have made her just shy of twenty years of age.

For someone used to current standardization of public schooling, when just about everyone begins first grade at the age of six—or will soon attain that age, if their birthday occurs in the autumn months before the school district’s official “cut off” date—it seems unusual to realize that this student would be two years older than the norm upon graduation.

There are some reasons for this.

First, in the earlier years of the previous century, not everyone started first grade upon reaching the age of six. In several states, parents enrolled their children when they deemed their children appropriately ready to begin formal schooling. Thus, a first grade class might have some students who were six and other students who were seven or eight.

Then, not every student in that century completed all twelve grades of formal schooling. Many left school after completing the elementary grades, or midway through the course of high school study, to find work to help support their family. Take a look at the census records for some of those early decades to see when your own ancestors left school to get a job or take up greater responsibility on the family farm. The earlier you go in our country’s history, the less likely it was to see any given student attain the rank of high school graduate.

Because the general public didn’t see public schooling in the regimented way we currently are accustomed to, it was not considered detrimental for a student to enter the process at a later age.

That was exactly what happened to Rubie. Instead of enrolling her in first grade upon attainment of what we consider the customary age, Rubie’s parents—at least, according to family lore—chose to keep her at home until her younger brother, Charles, was also able to enroll at the Fort Meade school. Rubie then became not only student, but escort and personal nanny for her little brother.

I suppose my grandmother resented that decision. From my aunt, I learned that my grandmother tried her best to conceal the year of her birth, offering instead the year 1900 to mitigate the otherwise obvious fact that she was two years older than “everyone else” in her class.

Of course, if she looked at it all in the reverse, she would have realized that indicating, as graduate, that she was a member of the class of 1919 would have been her ticket to appear younger than she was.

We seldom think of such advantages when we are younger.

Reprint of the graduation program for the class of 1919 at Fort Meade High School in Florida

The Senior Class of

The Fort Meade High School

Commencement Exercises

Friday Evening, May Second
at eight thirty o’clock

High School Auditorium

Monday, February 24, 2014

Class Grumbler

Senior classes over the decades have had traditions of bestowing pet labels for specific individual members, as well as their official mascots and class insignia.

It was fun to find this tear sheet, a reprint of the graduation program on May 2, 1919, of the Fort Meade, Florida, High School. While some schools in more recent years saw their senior class designate members who were “class clown” or “most likely to succeed,” for their program, the class of 1919 chose someone to read the Class Will and the Class Prophecy.

I found the reprinted page from the original graduation ceremony among my grandmother’s personal papers. It took a while to piece together the story of the event, as it was saved in the same general place as the items I’ve just shared with you over the last few days on the special commemoration of the student body of 1912.

A little explanation is in order here, once you realize that we are talking about the Class of 1919 instead of the Student Body of 1912. The program I’ve posted below comes from an earlier event, which my grandmother, Rubie McClellan Davis, was able to attend. This event, too, came with its own set of memorabilia—not sent by mail from a dear friend as the later event had been, but brought back home to Columbus, Ohio, after a wonderful trip down memory lane in Rubie’s childhood home in Florida.

The event I detailed in previous posts seemed to be all-inclusive in its reach, hoping to bring in anybody who had attended the Junior-Senior High School in the year 1912. This reunion I’m describing now occurred on Wednesday, October 5, 1977, specifically for the graduates of the class of 1919.

You might be—as I was—tickled to see the official designation for Rubie’s good friend who had shared letters with her of so many mementos of the Student Body of 1912 event. Zemla Doke was listed on the graduation program of May 2, 1919, as the Class Grumbler.

Wonder what she grumbled about…

part of the 1919 graduation program for Fort Meade Florida HIgh School



May 2, 1919



March…………………….Miss Florence Ley

Invocation……………………..Rev. E. F. Ley

Piano Duet…………….Evelyn Keen and Inez Prine

Class History…………….Nolie Bryan

Class Grumbler……………Zemla Doke

Class Will…………………..Lottie Hollingsworth

Vocal Solo……………….Miss Theresa Yearwood

Class Declaimer……………….Lucile Brice

Class Oration………………….Bernard Meek

Class Prophecy……………Elizabeth Morgan

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Showing Some Official Appreciation

What is the first thing people do when they spot a list of names, from the event they just attended, in the newspaper? Look for their own names, of course. It’s that fifteen minutes of fame syndrome.

A special event held to recognize the 1912 student body of Fort Meade Junior Senior High School in Florida merited its own newspaper article shortly after the event was held in September, 1983. Since my grandmother, who should have been part of that occasion, lived too far away to attend, her fellow classmate, the former Zemla Doke, had tucked a clipping of the article into a letter she sent to her friend Rubie McClellan Davis, by then living way up north in Columbus, Ohio.

I found that letter years after Rubie’s passing, among the possessions later kept by my aunt, Rubie's youngest daughter. The letter, as we’ve already seen, was full of news, as well as mementos of the 1983 event.

Including a newspaper report.

As my grandmother’s proxy, even I looked for her name in that newspaper list of high school classmates from 1912. At first, I was puzzled when I couldn’t find it in the newspaper clipping Zemla sent.

Then I remembered that Zemla and Rubie had discussed this strange omission in their letter. For whatever reason, Rubie was not listed among those attending the Fort Meade, Florida, school in that particular year.

The newspaper report regarding the event in September, 1983, honoring the representatives of that 1912 class, must have been yet another something Zemla hoped would help her friend feel a bit more like she had been among those in attendance.

“These grads might be in their 80s,” the article began, “but they’re bright, bouncy as teens.”

All sorts of local officials were on hand to greet the class members—making me wonder what the occasion commemorated. It wasn’t an event in May or June—typical graduation months. It wasn’t the anniversary of building—or even tearing down—the former high school. And yet, there was official fanfare, presentations with proclamations, and even a copy of the class photo from 1912, in front of the old school, for each attendee.

I never found a copy of that old photo in my grandmother’s belongings. At first, I thought, perhaps she didn’t care to save it—odd, though, since she had so carefully assembled all the rest of Zemla’s packet of memorabilia and saved it through the rest of her life.

Then I remembered: she wasn’t even counted in the list of those names. While Zemla did her best to make it seem like Rubie was there with the rest of them, some things take official involvement before they can be made possible.

            Student Body Appreciation Week may not be too special in many places, but in Fort Meade it is, especially when the student body is students who attended the school more than 70 years ago.
            “I do hereby proclaim the week of Sept. 18 through 24, 1983, ‘1912 Student Body Appreciation Week’ in Fort Meade.” With those words Fort Meade Mayor W.J. Loadholtes welcomed 14 visiting former Fort Meade High School students, now mostly in their 70s and 80s, but looking as bright and bouncy as teenagers for the unusual reunion at Fort Meade High School last week. All were members of the school’s student body in 1912.
            Also present to honor the group were City Manager Bob Bullard, several members of the city commission, representatives of the Polk County School Board and former School Board Member Dan Moody.
            Moody expressed his appreciation and admiration of the former students as examples of the results of an education in Polk County. He assured them that Polk Schools are “doing exactly what they are designed to do—educate young men and women.
            “Polk County students attain the highest possible honors in colleges and throughout their lives,” he added.
            The guests of honor were given copies of the mayor’s proclamation and framed reproductions of a photograph of the entire student body taken in front of the school in 1912.
            The 14 former students attending the reunion represented nearly half of the 30 located and invited by FMHS principal Tom McDonald.
            Those present were Lawrence Adams of Arcadia; Edith McAuley Allen of Orlando; E. C. Botts, Zelma Doke Griffin [sic], Jeanette Rivers and Eva Rivers Sexton of Tampa; Austin Clifton of Sebring; John Enzor and John Wingate of Winter Haven; Wiley Rivers of LaCrosse; Don McAuley, and Fred Bobbett, Maude Lightsey Jones and Annabelle Wiggins of Fort Meade.
            Unable to attend, due to distance, previous commitments or other reasons were Ralph Botts, Naomi Griffin Drane, Julia Griffin Enzor, Inex Prine Garrard, Marion Herring, David Hill, Lena Hill, Walter Lightsey, Lucille Wingate Long, Mary Wingate Martin, Clem Moseley, Quessie Nobles Pierce, Mrs. S. L. Nobles Townsend, Pearl Prevatt Walker, Gordon Wilcox, Billy Williams and Warren Williams.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Made the Paper

Zemla Doke Griffith was evidently a dear friend to my grandmother, Rubie McClellan Davis. She sure didn’t want Rubie missing out on any of the fun. When it looked like the Fort Meade Junior Senior High School was going to hold a reunion in 1983—without Rubie—her friend Zemla made sure to share every moment with her.

In addition to a letter packed with details of latest class members’ news, Zemla included a copy of the bulletin from the evening event plus a newspaper clipping.

Undated and unsourced, the clipping included both a group photograph and a nice write-up. Since the article is of a good size, I’ll cover its contents in tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, I’ll share the photo below.

Unfortunately, the caption doesn’t label the participants, so I have no idea who each of these people might be—other than knowing that they make up part of the list of the student body members of 1912 I posted yesterday from the September 22, 1983, program.

I do have my guesses about which one might be Rubie’s friend, Zemla—seated in the front row, third from the left. Remember, I mentioned that this wasn’t the first reunion Rubie had hoped to attend. There was another program from a previous decade which Rubie had carefully tucked away among her special papers. That package—which we’ll get to, soon—did include a labeled photo. When we get to that point, I’ll refer back to this picture and see if you think I guessed correctly. Your eyes are almost certainly guaranteed to be better than mine!

Class of ’12: Members of the student body of Fort Meade High School in 1912 joined the class of 1984 recently during special festivities at the South Polk County school. Fifteen members of the school’s 1912 student body attended the special reunion and another 15 sent regards, according to FMHS principal Tom McDonald.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Fighting Miners Head Back to School

For whatever reason, 1983 was the year—at least in Fort Meade, Florida—to commemorate the Class of 1912.

At least twenty eight of the class members of 1912 were able to attend the special event held in their honor on the evening of September 22, 1983. Along with them were official representatives of the school district, duly listed on the front page of the event’s program.

Recognition Night
Student Body of 1912
Fort Meade Junior Senior
High School

September 22, 1983

School Superintendent: R. Clem Churchwell

Southwest Area Superintendent: Billy D. Brown

School Board Members:
            Claude Ridley, Chairman
            Nancy Simmons, Dist. 1
            Dan Hutchison, Dist. 2
            J. J. Corbett, Dist. 3
            Ted Aggelis, Dist. 5

These school officials were joined by representatives of the community in welcoming those class members of 1912 still able to gather together in the city that evening.

The only reason I know that is because of the long-standing friendship and correspondence between two school chums—one who made it to the event, and one who did not. Zemla Doke—now Zemla Griffith—had returned to her childhood home in Fort Meade to attend this special event, and then to send some mementos of the occasion in a letter to her longtime friend and former classmate, Rubie McClellan Davis.

“Back to School” Night
Honoring Student Body of 1912

Welcome………………………….Carl Newsome
Student Council President

Invocation………………………Rev. Lawrence Sthreshley
First Presbyterian Church

Remarks…………………..Dan Moody
Former School Board Member

Proclamation……………W. J. Loadholtes
Mayor of Fort Meade

Introduction of Students From Fort Meade
School — 1912…………….Tom McDonald

Presentations………………Clifton Mains
Deputy Superintendent

Closing Remarks………………Carl Newsome

Benediction…………..Pernell Cornelius
Youth Pastor
Peaceful Missionary Baptist Church

Open House and Refreshments

“Home of The Fighting Miners”

It was interesting taking a look at the list of attendees for the event. While not one of the names mean anything to me—other than as classmates of my grandmother, Rubie Davis—it was fun reading through the list and mentally constructing family constellations, wondering if Edith McAuley Allen and Don McAuley were actually siblings, or just coincidentally carried the same surname during their school years. Were Jeanette Rivers and Wiley Rivers brother and sister? Were John Enzor and Julia Griffin Enzor childhood sweethearts?

Honored Guests
Student Body of 1912

Lawrence Adams
Edith McAuley Allen
Fred Bobbett
Clair Botts
Ralph Botts
Austin Clifton
Naomi Griffin Drane
John Enzor
Julia Griffin Enzor
Inez Prine Garrard
Zelma Doke Griffith
Marion Herring
Maude Lightsey Jones
Walter Lightsey
Lucille Wingate Long
Mary Wingate Martin
Don McAuley
Clem Moseley
Quessie Nobles Pierce
Jeanette Rivers
Wiley Rivers
Eva Rivers Sexton
Mrs. S. L. Nobles Townsend
Annabelle Wiggins
Gordon Wilcox
Billy Williams
Warren Williams
John Wingate

I know lists like this can make for dull reading, other than the mind games we construct for ourselves as we peek at ephemera from days gone by. However, by typing in these lists and posting them online—as many in the blogging world who participate in amanuensis memes do—we dig into all the forgotten records of the past and add to the plethora of digitized resources which, having been found, allow other family history researchers to add yet another tiny sliver of life to the portraits of their own ancestors.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Brand New School

When Zemla Doke and Rubie McClellan were classmates in Fort Meade, Florida, perhaps they weren’t aware of the future ahead of them in their long lives to follow—nor of the fact that their school-age friendship would continue for the rest of their lives.

How different life must have been for each of them, Rubie marrying a man from Tennessee and living in or traveling through almost every state in the union except for those in upper northwestern and northeastern reaches of the continental United States. Zemla married a man in Fort Meade, raised her family there, and moved, only later in life, to a nearby city in Florida.

And yet, upon the occasion on September 22, 1983, of a “Recognition Night” for the student body of 1912, Floridian Zemla—now Mrs. D. E. Griffith—was among those remaining of that celebrated student body still able to attend the festivities.

Zemla didn’t forget her school-days friend Rubie. Enclosed in one of her customary letters was a copy of the special evening’s program. Rubie, in turn, tacitly demonstrated to me, her granddaughter, what the token meant to her: she saved it, letter, program and all, among the few papers passed to her daughter upon her passing in 1993.

The back cover of the program outlined the history of the school itself. Reading the notes, I realized the photo included with the program—to my eyes today, what looked to be an old, outdated building—represented a new facility when Zemla and her classmates walked in the doors on the opening day of school in 1912.


            The Ft. Meade School was built in 1912 at a cost of $25,000. An additional structure was added in 1915. These buildings were in continuous use until 1968, at which time the student body was moved into the current facility on Edgewood Drive. The original structure was torn down in the late ’60s and was located on the campus of what is currently Lewis Elementary School.
            The cornerstone and the bell from the original structure have been made into a commemorative marker in front of the present high school. The Student Council of 1982 installed a time capsule in a structure made from the bricks of the original school.

* * *

Refreshments and guides compliments of the Student Council.

This program is sponsored by the Fort Meade High School Advisory Committee and the Student Council.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reunion Time

Sometimes, in doing genealogical research, I think I’ve “got it made” when I run across an unusual name to work on. Couple that with a limited geographical location, and I figure I’m sure to find the person I’m seeking, easily.

That, however, is not always how it goes.

Trying to find Zemla Doke Griffith, the woman who wrote the letter we began reading yesterday, is not turning out to be as easy as it seemed—even after uncovering details on the woman in her own letter.

Zemla is not a name I’ve ever seen before. Evidently, neither had the census enumerator for Fort Meade, Florida, in 1920: he marked her in the record as “Zemlar.”

Well, that was close enough to find her in her father Lacy B. Doke’s household. With her mother’s name written as “Milie,” seventeen year old Zemla was joined in that census record by siblings Mary, Thomas, John and Moses.

That didn’t do it for the previous census, though. Even with that full set of family names, I could not find Zemla—or even "Zemlar"—in the 1910 census, and she was evidently not yet born at the time of the 1900 census. It didn’t matter how I tried spelling either her given name, Zemla, or her surname, Doke. I tried searching under her father’s name and even her brother John’s name—just in case the opposite happened and a name as common as John would do the trick.

Apparently, from all the material Zemla had inserted in the envelope along with her letter to her friend Rubie McClellan Davis, she was sharing news of a special gathering of the class at the Fort Meade High School in 1912. Since Rubie, my grandmother, lived in Columbus, Ohio, at the time of this 1983 letter, it must not have been a good time for her to make the trip back down to Florida. After all, by this time, she would have been eighty four years of age. And her husband’s health was beginning to decline.

She had, however, in her style of organizing, filed this letter along with ephemera from a previous high school reunion which she was able to attend—all of which I’ll share over the next few days, as well as what I can find about those who were named in the clippings, programs, and other memorabilia Zemla sent to her Fort Meade school-days friend from so many years ago.

            I am enclosing some things I thought you would be interested in. I really can’t understand why you were not in the school in 1912. I thought you were here when real young, however I don’t remember you until High School. I was in the 5th grade that year and Marie Scaggs was my teacher. There were three of my class besides myself here for the re-union. They were Lawrence Adams, Don McAuley, and Austin Clifton. I am sure you will remember some who were here. It was a real nice affair and I enjoyed it.
            I had a letter from Elizabeth recently. She is still going strong. I marvel at how well she does. She had just returned from a trip to Atlanta with her daughter. She said she had a letter from Marie and she had just lost a sister.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Rubie’s Mailbox

I found a letter to my grandmother among my aunt’s papers, and it looked, from all the details stuffed inside the envelope, like something I ought to save.

It wasn’t a particularly old letter. Written in 1983, it was addressed to the last home where my grandmother lived in Columbus, Ohio.

The envelope was addressed to “Mrs. Jack R. Davis,” which I didn’t find particularly unusual, seeing the letter was coming from Fort Meade, Florida. That old fashioned, proper Southern mode of address—well, except it didn’t strictly include solely initials—still lived on among these old friends.

The letter was from a school chum from so many, many years ago. I had always wondered about this schoolmate’s name, having found it written in my grandmother’s unique hand in her address book.

Tell me: if you had seen a name written like this,

what would you have said that name was?

I was thankful that the woman had sent a previous letter with a return address label, which my grandmother had, thankfully, stuck in the address book right above that mystery name.

The woman’s name was Zemla. Not too many around with a name like that!

In October, 1983, Zemla started her letter off routinely enough. Following a greeting, she shared the latest news with her friend. (Since it’s a recent enough letter to refer to people still living, I’ve omitted that portion of her note.)

One of the first details that made me value the discovery of this letter is that it addressed my grandmother as Rubie, not Ruth. For all her adult life, my grandmother had gone by the first name Ruth. I had never known her by any other name. It was quite a surprise to discover that her parents had named her something other than Ruth, and to actually, here, find an example of her childhood friend calling her by that other name.

                                                         Thurs, Oct. 20th
Dear Rubie,
            You said for me to write before Christmas but I’ve almost waited too late. I’m still at Carl’s in Ft. Meade trying to keep the home fires burning.

But it was what followed that opening section that I thought would be a fun project to share here. Actually, as far as I can figure out, it introduces two such projects. And, if I can get some of these names accounted for, it might be an interesting chance to delve into life in Fort Meade, circa 1912. For, as Zemla continued on the second page of her letter,
I am enclosing some things I thought you would be interested in

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cousin Bait, Sixties Style

Without social media, without online genealogy forums, without even copy machines to make handy extra duplicates of letters or articles, how did genealogy writers of the last century—forget that, even just fifty five years ago—get the word out about their publications? Or even about collaborative efforts?

Nowadays, we are awash in technological tools to help us spread the news about our research goals and projects. We can tweet about them, blog about them, text about them, email them. We can post them on Facebook, Google Plus—even post pictures about them on Pinterest. We have online collaborative arenas where we can share our genealogical work for free on everything from good ol’ Rootsweb to the latest iteration of We can even pay good money for the chance to post our data on genealogical sites where others are sure to find us. was just the beginning.

But after he published his book on the Genealogical Data of the Broyles, Laffitte and Boyd Families in 1959, Dr. Montague Boyd of Atlanta, Georgia, was quite limited in how he could announce his latest venture to all his distant cousins.

As it turned out, Dr. Boyd evidently used a mimeographed form letter to do the heavy lifting for him. And he relied on the good will—and a lot of word of mouth—of many others to finish off the work.

I was fortunate to stumble upon a copy of Dr. Boyd’s March 1960 letter to my grandmother, found in my aunt’s belongings, where the letter had been parked ever since my grandmother’s passing in 1993. Dr. Boyd’s request to my grandmother, which you may have read yesterday, was scribbled on the back of the form letter I’ve included below.

When I read his postscript, added to the bottom of this form letter, along with his plea to those receiving the note to spread the word among their relatives, I realized just how different it would have been, back then, to accomplish the networking aspects of genealogical data-sharing we take so much for granted in our own times. We have so many systems at our disposal for assembling networks of people who might be supportive of our projects. The very use of the term, “Cousin Bait,” reveals a casual consideration of the ease with which we can attract the attention of interest groups such as distant relatives.

I used to publish a newsletter back in those days of sending manuscripts off to the printer—after the tedious process of dealing with the typesetter and poring over final proofs—then waiting a seemingly interminable time until the printer, having missed his promised deadline, finally turned over the finished (and pricey) copies. I can certainly relate to Dr. Boyd’s dilemma.

I wilt, also, when I consider—in terms of the time of his 1960 letter—his postscript apologizing that “I find that I shall have to do over” a part of that project. How incredible it seems, in light of all those handicaps (that they saw merely as the way things were), that many books of genealogical data were produced at all—and that any were completed without subsequent discovery of errors, for which was incurred yet another tedious process of rectifying the said discovered errors.

How incredible it seems, correspondingly, that we, in this age of such technological conveniences, haven’t produced quantum multiples of genealogical reports to pass down as our contribution to the published heritage of generations yet to come.

Letter concerning 1959 publication of a book on the Broyles family genealogy


            A limited number of copies of the genealogical data, collected by me over a period of several years, has been published. My sister, Mrs. Elinar S. Trosdal (Lucy T. Boyd) of Savannah, Georgia, has paid for the multilithing and binding.
            The publication can be sent to any member of any of the above families without any cost, except that for the envelope, the postage, and handling (addressing, loading, and mailing), in all only one dolar.
            I began a study of my ancestors, the Broyles, Laffittes, and Boyds, having in mind the preparation of some simple outline for myself and for my immediate family. But, in time, it seemed desirable to add much more data than I had intended, and I would like now to have all of my relatives have if possible one or more copies of the collected information.
            A Family Tree of each family is also available – a blue print with blue letters on a white background. The actual cost of the blue print for the Broyles Family, with the mailing tube, and the postage, etc., is $1.14. The Laffitte and Boyd Trees $1.00 each.
            I have only a limited number of addresses of members of these families, so I hope that those of you who received this letter will send additional addresses to me, or notify those who do not receive a letter that the books and blue prints are to be had without cost.
            To obtain copies please send your request, enclosing the amount of payment necessary. Print your full name and address – (1) on the back of the envelope, and (2) in the letter. I shall use the envelope to have the publication and the blue prints addressed and sent, and I shall keep the letters in my files.
            The books and blue prints will be sent out in batches, not singly, so that there may be some delay in their reaching you. If you do not receive the data within a few weeks please write to me again. I shall not have time to acknowledge the receipt of all the letters. But I shall certainly send the book and the blue prints if I receive a suitable request.
                                                         Montague Laffitte Boyd, M.D.
                                                         2560 Habersham Road, N.W.
                                                         Atlanta 5, Georgia

P.S.   I find that I shall have to do over the Boyd and Laffitte Family Trees. I shall complete them as quickly as I can, within a week or two, at least.

envelope for 1960 letter from Atlanta Georgia to Columbus Ohio regarding the publication of a volume on the Broyles family genealogy

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Your Grandmother’s Beta Version

Once upon a time, there was consumer expectation that, when a new product was brought to market, it was error-free and all possible malfunctions had been worked out of the system.

Then there was software. Computer programmers discovered that, if they applied some cool-sounding term like “beta” to their product, they could get away with selling the general public on becoming unpaid guinea pigs for their newest release.

Somehow, in the world of genealogy, we haven’t yet reached the plateau of beta testing nirvana. When we receive a book or a printout on a family’s genealogy, we expect it to be expertly-researched, footnoted, duly documented in every which way to Sunday’s genealogical gospel truth.

In other words, no beta testing for us family historians.

And yet, we now have so many advanced opportunities to engage in genealogical crowd-sourcing. We could, feasibly, issue our family trees as proposals from the perspective of our research as it stands at this point in our process of discovery, and invite collegiate review of our work—a thought I’ll pursue in more detail tomorrow.

For the low-tech genealogical writer in 1960, however, things wouldn’t have gone quite the same. Take, for instance, a book revered in circles of those researching the widespread Broyles family in the United States. The Broyles family from Germany, having emigrated to the New World as early as the 1700s, happens to be one segment of my own roots. One of the first sources I became aware of for research into this line was the very book by Montague Boyd that I mentioned yesterday.

Apparently, at its publication in 1959, Genealogical Data: Broyles, Laffitte, and Boyd Families was not the authoritative and exhaustive work it may have been envisioned to be—at least, if we can read between the lines on a brief letter scrawled by the author on the back of a printed sheet we'll look at tomorrow, mailed to my grandmother in Columbus, Ohio, on March 12, 1960. “See if you can make any changes or additions in it for me,” requested Dr. Boyd from his location in Atlanta, Georgia.

I have no idea whether my grandmother ever got a copy of the book to “look it over carefully.” I never found a copy of Montague Boyd’s work in my grandmother’s property, though her Aunt Nellie recommended it enthusiastically. When I found her papers—saved among her daughter’s personal belongings at her passing—the letter below was still carefully tucked inside its envelope, along with the undated note I posted yesterday from her aunt, Nellie Broyles Jones of Johnson City, Tennessee.

For some people, the interest they take in genealogy may be keen, but often it is fleeting. It takes a lot of work to assemble a genealogical project of any sort—even if it was a “beta version” issued in 1959 seeking low-tech updates by snail mail in 1960.

                                                                                    Mar 11, 60
My dear Mrs. Davis
            Mrs. Nellie B. Jones gave me your address. I had the wrong street etc in Columbus, Ohio.
            I wish that you would get one of the books of genealogical data and look it over carefully and see if you can make any changes or additions in it for me.
                        Kind regards
                                    Montague Boyd


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Not the Only One

Do you sometimes get the feeling you are the only one in your family interested in discovering your roots? I often felt that way, especially as a young person, beginning without any guidance or training, merely trying to collect family members’ oral reports of their memories of older relatives.

As I mentioned the other day, I was so surprised to recently discover that, at one point, my own grandmother, Ruby Broyles McClellan Davis, had taken an interest in genealogy, herself. At the time of the letter she received in 1969 from her aunt, Nellie Broyles Jones, I was still quite young, but I had already been seeking out books in my local library to somehow teach myself how to go about doing genealogical research.

Several years before that letter, apparently, my grandmother had been writing other letters of inquiry. As it turns out, one source book for Broyles family genealogy—the Broyles, Laffitte and Boyd Families, published in Atlanta in October, 1959—had been discovered by Aunt Nellie shortly after its publication. Nellie wrote my grandmother, advising her to purchase a copy of the book, presumably to help answer any family history questions my grandmother might have had. As we’ll see tomorrow, my grandmother must have followed up by writing a letter of her own to the author, himself.

This letter from Nellie seems to have been written on impulse. Without any opening salutation, without any signature or date, it seems like an afterthought dashed off in a hurry. It possibly accompanied another letter—but where that item might be, I haven’t been able to locate it yet. This onion-skin-thin page was tucked inside the envelope containing a different letter, dated March 2, 1960, from a return address listed as Atlanta, Georgia. We’ll try to decipher the contents of that follow-up letter tomorrow.

Nellie Broyles Jones writing to Ruby Davis regarding a genealogy book on the Broyles family
            Ruby send $1.14 to Dr. Montague Boyd for one those books on the Broyles. It tells you where they started from. Our forefather was from Germany. Dr. is your Great uncle Edward Broyles grandson. He was raised in Savanna Ga. They were rich + he a prominent M.D. I knew him when we were young.
            I got one book + so has my boys. Its very interesting if any one is interested. In the west and around you—maybe—you’ve a plenty kin. I’m going to communicate with some of them, just to see.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines in Your Roots

undated three dimensional Valentine card sent from a daughter to a mother in Chicago Illinois
You would think no American—well, at least among those comprising the “female of the species,” as my grandmother would put it—could forget what day today is: Valentine’s Day.

Or, as my college-aged daughter prefers to dub it, “Singles Awareness Day.”

Of course, those significant-date-challenged American males can console themselves with the fact that, around the world, Valentine’s Day may be celebrated on July 6 and July 30—depending on which Saint Valentine one is celebrating in the Eastern Orthodox Church—or, in Brazil, on June 12. So, if you find yourself in this unfortunate date-challenged category, you have a legitimate excuse of up to one hundred sixty six days to be late with the appropriate card and gift.

In my family, though, Valentine’s Day takes on an additional meaning. I can’t approach this day on the calendar without giving this other meaning some reflection. No, it isn’t exactly owing to the feast day for Saint Valentine—although, given a bygone era and an “Old Country” location, this would be the date for celebrating instead of the actual day of any mid-February birthdays.

Perhaps that was the tradition that my grandmother, a Polish immigrant, had in mind when she named her firstborn son Valentine. Born in the first half of the month of February over one hundred years ago now, my father very likely was raised to celebrate his saint’s day rather than acknowledge his own date of birth.

three dimensional Valentine card standing uprightGranted, a name like Valentine is a rarity now, especially as a given name for a boy. Even though it is a name derived from the Latin which carries the meaning, “strong and healthy,” it doesn’t seem to fit our culture’s image for the successful adult male. Yet, according to the Social Security list of popular baby names through the years, Valentine managed to squeeze into the top one thousand names given to newborns up through the year 1955. In the year of my father’s birth, Valentine ranked 547 in popularity, as names went for baby boys in 1905. Since the time Social Security began collecting data on name ranks—beginning with the oldest applicants to the program from November, 1935, onward—the best ranking the name received was for those born in 1894, when the name Valentine ranked 366.

Valentine as a surname may have had a better go at the name popularity game. While I don’t have any Valentine surnames in my own roots, I did take a look at data for prevalence of the name. Surprisingly, the surname Valentine showed the strongest in the British Isles and its former colonies—particularly Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Speaking of the British Isles, another website maps the surname’s frequency by county in both the UK and Ireland—you can test that out for yourself here.

Musing over all that brings me to a question: do you have any Valentines in your roots?

Photographs of Valentine cards: above, a scan of an undated three-dimensional card sent from Patricia Stevens Kelly Murnane to her mother, Agnes Tully Stevens. The front of the card reads,
To a Wonderful Mother
A warm and loving Valentine
That's meant for you alone
To thank you for the kindness
And the thoughtfulness you've shown
It was signed in red ink, "Lovingly, Pat." Below, a photograph of the card, unfolded to display three separate layers, standing, with the page containing the verse becoming the base of the card.
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