Do you ever take the opportunity, in researching your DNA matches, to discover the stories of the distant cousins who link you to your matches? Although I've finished working on the Broyles family, my Twelve Most Wanted research goal for January, behind the scenes, I'm still working on bringing down the lines of descent in my family tree on the collateral lines of those Broyles ancestors. Sometimes, I run across stories which I just have to share. I'll take this weekend's two opportunities to tell you about a couple distant cousins I discovered along this research trail.
When you come across a distant cousin's story through research, do you ever get a strong feeling about that cousin? Sometimes, that feeling can be positive, but this past week, I worked on one Broyles descendant whom I have to admit stirred up some negative feelings. Take this as true confessions of a Genealogy Guinea Pig, but in the end, I'm happy I got to "meet" this cousin.
First, let's set the stage—at least, genealogically speaking. We'll begin with a man born in 1851 called Asbury Churchwell Latimer. With a name as distinguished-sounding as that, you might think he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
That was not exactly the case for this man. Born in Abbeville County, South Carolina, he was fourteen years of age when the Civil War drew to a close, leaving the entire South in an impoverished state, and his own family unable to provide him with a decent education. Thus, he chose the practical approach, threw himself into farming and business to make a success of himself.
Asbury Churchwell Latimer chose, despite these financial challenges, to marry early. He chose as his bride one of my distant cousins descending from the Broyles family of my fifth great-grandfather's daughter, Jemima.
This Broyles descendant, Sara Alice Brown, just happened to be a niece of Georgia governor Joseph Emerson Brown. Whether, in the midst of raising the family of five children which she bore to him, Asbury's wife ever talked politics, I can't be sure. But by 1890, when he was nearly forty years of age, Asbury Latimer decided to turn his attention to running for office, becoming a congressman for his state and eventually their senator. It is from the memorial remarks at his sudden passing while in office in 1908, still available to read online now, that I draw much of the information on his early life.
That, however, is not the cousin I wanted to talk about today. Remember, this is only setting the stage, genealogically, for the one I want to mention.
As I worked my way through the descendants of "A. C." and Alice Latimer, I started first with researching their oldest, their only son whom they named William Carroll, after Alice's father. Perhaps owing to his father's political influence, son William chose to go into the legal profession, moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to establish his own practice. He must have been quite successful, for he married a beautiful daughter of a socially prominent family of Paducah, Kentucky—think thoroughbred racing—and raised four children in Atlanta.
All went well until, like his father before him, William Carroll Latimer died in 1927 before reaching the age of fifty. His oldest child, whom he named after himself, lost a father when he was only seventeen.
Perhaps I should have gone more lightly in my judgment of this distant cousin. After all, that kind of loss can have repercussions throughout life. Besides, it didn't help my prejudiced position to accidentally assume that the two-year-long marriage I discovered between a woman and "William C. Carroll"—ending childless in divorce so soon afterwards—was a document belonging to William Carroll Latimer when it really should have belonged to William Craig Latimer. Not the right guy.
Like his father before him—perhaps because it was the thing a son was expected to do—the junior William Carroll Latimer went into the practice of law, and soon claimed a socially prominent bride from among his mother's circle of acquaintances back in Kentucky. While strikingly beautiful, and eventually the mother of his firstborn child, William's wife became, before the next ten years were up, his first wife. William married again, returning to the social scene in Kentucky for a second bride, and subsequently fathering another two children.
If it were only for chasing genealogical details through documentation, a story like that would have left me disappointed in this newly-discovered cousin due to my own point of view. Thankfully, though, there were ample newspaper reports and other resources to tell some of the rest of this man's story.
Although William was well into his thirties—not to mention, married and a father—at the beginning of the second World War, he chose to leave his job to join the war effort. Gaining "duration leave" from the company where he was employed, he joined the Army Air Corps, as he had long since left his work as an attorney to train as an airline pilot.
One of those thoughtful but unnamed lovers of history who decided to archive an article from the news output of the old Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama, was the first to help me see this distant cousin with a more three-dimensional view. From a news clipping there in Mobile from October 18, 1942, I learned that First Lieutenant W. Carroll Latimer spent his time as a test pilot, including running such World War II machines as the "Airacobra" for which his six-foot-two frame seemed an unlikely fit.
Back to his regular job with Eastern Airlines after the war, Carroll Latimer piloted such more decidedly docile routes as New York to Miami. However, if you remember the times during the late 1960s in which such routes ran the risk of sudden, unplanned itinerary changes to Cuba, such became the case for Captain Latimer.
Headlines in newspapers, such as this one from South Carolina, noted one such hijacking in February, 1969: "A fat man with a sick father in Havana hijacked a jetliner Monday." Pulling out a gun and informing a steward of his intentions, the man convinced the cabin crew of his argument and the pilot, our cousin Captain Latimer, complied.
That move, of course, brought complications—more than the kind we might assume. In such hijacking cases, according to one report on the incident, the Cuban government would allow the pilot and crew to return home on the "pirated" craft, but the Cuban policy was that all the passengers be retained in Cuba until another plane be sent from the United States to retrieve them. This involved busing the passengers to another airport location ninety miles away from Havana for their return flight home.
It wasn't until I found the story retold in his own obituary that I began wondering whether Carroll Latimer had decided, once on the ground in Havana, to trade his pilot's skill for his attorney's training in negotiations. As his family shared in his obituary,
Once on the ground, he refused to leave his passengers and after much deliberation with the Cuban Government, became the first pilot to fly a hijacked plane, with all its passengers, out of Cuba and back to the United States.
I'm not sure why discovering stories like this helps me appreciate my distant cousins as the real human beings they are. But they do. They've convinced me to become a fan of searching the Internet for family names, checking newspaper archives in hopes of finding tidbits like these, looking in unexpected places for the kinds of details which range far from the traditional Birth-Marriage-Death routine we regularly document. Yes, that framework is important—after all, we need to make sure we've identified the right ancestor—but the joy of genealogy, in my opinion, still finds its spark in discovering the stories.