Monday, February 27, 2017

Cancel Monday's Piano Lessons

There is no denying it: some aspects of genealogy are downright tedious. The constant sifting through documents—made only minimally less painful through the assistance of computer searches—does not make for what I'd call excitement. Even for those of us who love the sport of the search, if it weren't for the power of those "Eureka!" moments, there would be precious little to entice us to return to the task.

Still, if we are to have those gratifying moments, our dues must be paid. Thus, behind the scenes, while I've been waiting for an answer to my queries about any living descendants of the couple who sent that 1936 mystery photo album I found, I've been tramping through the lines of descent for specific ancestors of my own.

My main focus has been the Tilson line—descendants of Stephen Tilson, son of Edmund, an Englishman who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, some time before the birth of his son in 1717.

Among Stephen's grandsons was one named Peleg. By the time Peleg was welcomed into the Tilson family, they had moved on to Washington County, Virginia, where he eventually took a wife—Rebeccah Dungins, according to some renditions, including transcriptions of his 1785 marriage record in Washington County—and raised a large family.

I've already worked my way down the direct line of descent from Peleg and Rebeccah, bringing me through my maternal grandfather's father, but I never intended to stop with the completion of that task. My purpose is to do what once was the norm in genealogy: document all the lines of descent from a common ancestral couple.

Thus began the long process—mostly in hopes of helping me diagram placement of the distant relatives showing up in my DNA matches—of cataloguing all the Tilson descendants, starting from Peleg and Rebeccah Tilson.

Just as I am six generations removed from that couple—Peleg and Rebeccah—it turns out there was another line whose sixth generation removed exploded with newspaper articles concerning that specific descendant. I first stumbled upon this while working my way down the line of descent. Instead of following the line of one daughter—Rachel Tilson who married James Davis and eventually became my third great grandmother—I followed the line of her older sister, Jennet Tilson.

Jennet was born nine years earlier than Rachel, in 1792. She ended up marrying a Tilson relative by the name of Thomas, thus never exchanging her maiden name for a different married surname. Jennet's line of descent seemed fairly predictable: she and her husband Thomas named a son Thomas. That younger Thomas married Susannah Franks and, among others, had a son whom they named John. John, in turn, married Nancy C. Hurst—or possibly Hawkes, though I believe that was a stress-induced error in a subsequent death certificate—and had, in turn, several children of their own.

Among those children was a daughter who was labeled—in the Tilson genealogy book many have relied on, over the years—as Fay M. Tilson. It took a little studying to realize that there was an error in the labeling of that daughter's name. As it turned out, she was actually named Foy Mae—an understandable twist insuring misinterpretation in the compiling of such an immense genealogy.

I count unusual names as a boon to my research. Where it would be incredibly useless to Google a name like John Smith, for instance, trying to locate a woman named Foy would yield far more promising results.

Foy Tilson, as it turned out, married a man who also claimed an unusual name—and, possibly, an unusual life. His name was listed as Stokeley McMillan in the few documents I was able to locate—well, plus reasonable spelling variations. Though he showed up in the listings found on his marriage record and his wife's death certificate, those were the only two places where he could reasonably be found.

I won't get drawn into conjectures about just what might have become of this Stokeley McMillan, but after the birth of his and Foy's only child, he seemed to disappear. Still, with a name like Foy McMillan, our Tilson descendant and her daughter, whom she named Helen, were fairly easy to trace through subsequent census records.

Helen, as it turned out, also had a penchant for the unusual in names. At least, I presumed the unusual name that began to show up as I traced this family belonged to Helen. What I began seeing was the name Mrs. Spinks Melton.

Fortunately for me, that was the name listed for the informant on Foy's death certificate, for the last census record in which I found Foy showed her in the household of someone named Pinks. The handwriting on that 1940 enumeration was nearly illegible, so I couldn't tell whether it said Milton or Melton. It was also hard to decipher the relationship as mother in law. Confirmation via second record certainly boosts the confidence level.

With the gift of yet another unusual name, I decided to take this search to my website of choice for archived newspapers, GenealogyBank. The first thing I ran into was a photograph in the July 30, 1956, edition of the Greensboro Daily News. The caption read, "Mother Awaits Beauty Queen Daughter."

There, in the photo, was a perky woman in starched cotton summer dress, being interviewed at the airport by a local radio announcer. The woman's name was given as Mrs. J. Spinks Melton.

An article in the Greensboro Record the following Wednesday explained the aftermath of the excitement. Upon the arrival of the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. J. Spinks Melton, she had been feted with the honor of being personally welcomed home by the mayor, then escorted through the city by motorcade. An avalanche of congratulatory phone calls and bouquets of flowers streamed in to the Melton home, beginning with Joan Spinks Melton's arrival that Sunday night, prompting her mother—a church musician and piano teacher—to order, "Cancel Monday's piano lessons!"

This flurry of activity followed the momentous announcement—at least to her hometown of Albemarle, North Carolina, a city of barely twelve thousand people at the time—that one of their favorite daughters had just been named Miss North Carolina. Joan Spinks Melton would soon be headed to Atlantic City for the Miss America contest.



  1. A beauty queen in the family -- now surely this balances out the murdering bank robber in the ol' family tree.

    1. Ah, you can find all sorts of types in an extended family tree, can't you?! Don't know if anything will "balance out" that outrageous story of the younger John Syme Hogue...

  2. Related to the earliest ancestor in that line just watched Legacy FamilyTree webinar by Peggy Laurentson on finding people in the 17th century.

  3. I took lessons from Joan’s mother and have often wondered if Joan is still living and is still in Albemarle. Do you have any way to contact her if so?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...