Wordless Wednesday: Ghosts of Christmas Past

Gus and Eva Watkins

Gus and Eva Watkins


JD Watkins

JD Watkins

daughter, Robert & Mildred Gardner

daughter, Robert & Mildred Gardner

Wilma & Harry Sebastian Joy & Chic Watkins

Harry & Wilma Watkins Sebastian
Chic & Joy Watkins


Military Monday: It Was the Worst of Times III

Francis Poteet sent two more letters home to his wife Martha during November 1863.  The first seems slightly more upbeat than before, and Francis addresses his children, telling them to be good and help their mother and that he thinks more of her than anyone else in the world:

“Kinston N.C. Nov 12th 1863

“My Dear Wife and Children I seat my self  this morning to drop you afew lines to let  you now that I am well at this time  hoping these lines may Reach your kind  hands and find you injoying the same  Blessing I Want you to send me sum tobaco  I Rote to Higgins and Sent him word  to doo All that he could and I would pay  him Paid to send me sum tobacco and send  me sum unions sum pork if you had it and  Bake Me sum cakes you now what to  send as Well as I can tell you you dont  now how bad that I want to see you  and My littel Babes I had to stand  gard last night and I hav got the Trimbles  so bad that I cant Hardly Rite I sent you  A ring by Pery Walker that I Made I Want  you to take care of hit till I come home I  Want to see it Again My Dear Wife I want  you to hug and kiss to my littel Children  for me and tell them that I told you to  Doo so for me and I will Doo any thing


Courtesy of the NC Dept of Cultural Resources

“for you that you send word for me to do  if it bee your will for me to Doo it I  want you to Rest easy ABout that that I  Rote to you In the third letter for I never  expect to doo so any More as long as I live  I have shed many ateare sence that time I Rote to  you that if you would forgive me I think  that the Lord will for give me I sent 15 Dollars  By Pery Walker I have forgot whether I Rote  to you whether H.H. Taylor was gon are not  I want you to Read them juste  A few lines to littel Children Mary  Bee good to your Mother and Doo all for me that  She tell you to Doo for I dont think  that she will tell you more than you can  Doo Thomas and Elvizs Bee goo boys and  help your Mother I think more of her than  every body Els in this World May God  bless and save you all is my prayer for  Christ sake I want you to Rite soon when you  git this letter   Francis. M. Poteet to his loving Wife M. A. E. Poteet”

Ten days later, Francis writes home again, apparently responding to a missing letter in which Martha had told him not to run away.  He tells her she doesn’t know hard times.  He is not feeling well and laments that he cannot go where he pleases, not having “the chance of anegro.”  This comment on race from a common man in North Carolina, and an ancestor, was not lost on me.  I wonder if he must be speaking of the free families of color that lived in the Bracket Town area near the Wadkins and Poteet families in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, and not those yet enslaved despite the Emancipation Proclamation which officially went into effect 1 January 1863.   Finally Francis tells Martha he hopes for peace and doesn’t care how it comes:

“Kinston N. C. Nove 22the 1863


Courtesy of the NC Dept of Cultural Resources

“My Dear Wife and Children I seat my self  this Blesed sabath morning to Rite you afew  lines to let you now that I am only tolarabel  well I hav got A very Bad Cold and A very  Bad Cough My Dear Wife I cant tell how  mutch I would give to be at home this morn  ing to go With you to Preachin and stay With  you as long as I live I youst to Read my  Bible till I got tired and then I could talk  With you and go where I Pleased but now  I hant got the chance of anegro you Rote  to me to not Runaway you dont now nothing  About hard times I hant got no letter in  two weeks and it seems to me that it  has bin two months sense I hav heard from  you I cant stay hear if the lord spares  me I will come home the artilery shot  of 16 canons friday morning Sum of thim  Said tha hadant never herd the like sense  tha had bin out sum of them sayes that  tha think that tha will be Peace in A  short time the lord nows I dont I am  in hops that tha will be peace and


Courtesy of the NC Dept of Cultural Resources

“I dont care how it comes it I hav  bin so in my hips that I hardly could go  I went to the doctor to git excused but he  would not excuse me and I said that I never  would go to him any more that I would go  as long as I can and when I cant go no  longer I will lay down any plase I only have  one time to Dy I want you to pray for  me day and night to I have my health to git  home once more and see you I hope the lord  will bless you all and save you if I nown  that I had to stay in the army till the  war ended I would as soon be Ded and I  would any how if it wasant for you and my  littel Children I cant see any peace hear  tell mother that I live in hops that I will  see her once more in this life and I hope  she will live that I may see her O my  Dear wife and children I cant see how to  Rite for my teares I want you to kiss  my littel babes for me and tell them  how it tis for I want you to Rite soon I  must close by say I remain your loving husband  until Death  F.M. Poteet to M. A. E. Poteet  so farwell”

Unfortunately, things were about to get much worse for Francis, Martha and their family within days of this letter. Francis’s perception that Martha didn’t know hard times was quite wrong.  Join me next Monday for their continuing story.

Military Monday: It Was the Worst of Times II

Gemima Poteet Wadkins’ second oldest brother, Henry Poteet, enlisted as a private in Company D, 9th Regiment NC Troops (1st Cavalry), at Camp Vance, 1 October 1863, at the age of 44.  Her brother Francis, a year older than her at 36, enlisted on 2 October 1863.  Amazingly, he enlisted in Co A, 49th NC, the same company his brother-in-law, George Wadkins, had died in at Sharpsburg a year earlier.  When I stop to think about this for a moment, it seems quite morbid and sad.  It seems he is just replacing his dead brother-in-law for manpower.  It had to be hard each time a family sent a husband, son, or brother off to war.  I would think sending him off to the very company your husband or son-in-law died in might somehow be even more difficult.  I read someone who is working to digitize the letters of the Civil War for North Carolina state that the Poteet letters are “by far the most depressing.” The knowledge of his brother-in-law’s death in this regiment-and his older brother’s death so shortly after returning home-may explain why Francis’s letters seem so hopeless. Perhaps he felt a dark shadow of foreboding cast over him even more so than some others.

Francis wrote at least five letters home to his wife Martha Hendley Poteet during his second month away, between November 3 and November 23, 1863.

In 3 Nov 1863 letter, Francis writes to his wife of his wish to desert and that he hopes to see her by Christmas.  It sounds as if he has thought out a plan, discussed it with others and written home about it before but that the letter did not make it to his wife.  It mentions the poor conditions, food, and lack of payment, yet the dress parade every night.  The letter also mentions how he wishes he could see his sister (Gemima):

“Camp near Kingston NC November 3 1863

“My Dear Wife and Children  was <????> the 29 of oct and  was glad to hear from you and  hear that you was better I  am well but not satsfied I  want you to tell Mr <M??d>  to git up that paper and git  evry body to sine it that he  can and I will do all that  I can for him I left Weldon  Monday morning I <mit?> your  letter thare I am at Kingston  I dident git any thing to eat  til Just now I Just thot that  I could not git thare dinner  Come to day about 4 clock you  dont know what I have to  stand you Rote Somthing Sis  I would love to see her and  all of the ballans of you but

“Lord knows whether I ever  will are not Sumtimes I think  that I Will Runaway I would  like for you to Rite to me  about that tha is Eight ar ten  will Come With me any time  that I will you Rote to me  About the first letter that  I Rote I give it to the Surgent  And that is the last of  hit Mooney sent one at the  Same time and his wife dident  git it you said for me to  not Be oneasy about it I aint  oneasy anything only that I dont  now whether I ever will are not  but I think that I will See you  against Christmast I pray to the  lord every day and night  to Spare my life to Come  home and see you all again  I am about thirty five miles  nigher that when I was at  Weldon and I have crowst

“the big Bridg back on this  side it is about forty feete  high from the watter and  about half mile long I dident  now how to cross it if I Runaway  Last night I Just lay out in the  open Old field you Rote that if  I could be at home to go with you  to the shucking that you would  be glad If I could I would give  Ever thing that I am worth  to be with you if I cant be with  you I pray that the Lord may  be with you and help you  as mutch as if I was with

“tha could go noplace Els but  it tis alie for I Cant Come  You Rote that you wood Come  hear to see me if you was  abel I will Send you sum money  as soon as I git it I think that  we will draw in afew days  and then you Can Come and  see me if higgins Comes that  will be A good Chance for you  to Come with him and fetch  me a box of cakes and peaches  and sum good apels I dont  Git more than half nuff to  Eat I have Spent about ten  dollars for sumthing to eat  I giv one dollar for ten cents  cake I must come to Aclose  by saying that I Remain your  loving husband until Death I  could not git my letter it is  now Sunday and I had to  go on Dres parade we go on Dres parade  about sundown every evening”

Click to View 3 Nov 1863 Letter Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

On 8 Nov 1863, Francis writes home to Martha again:


“Kingston NC November 8th 1863

“My Dear Wife and children I seat my self  down this blessed Sabeth Morning to let  you now that I am well at this time hoping  these lines may Reach you and find you  injoin the same blessings I want you to Rite  offin and Rite me all the newse I want you  to see Higgins and tell him that I want him  to doo all that he can and doo it as quick as  he can for it seems to me that I cant stay  hear but it seems that I have to stay it seems  to me that my heart will Breake when  I think of you and my little Children May  god Bless thim and save them is my prayer  tell Mr that I want him to git that  subscripton as quick as he can that I want to  come home and see them it tis lonsom times  hear when I think of my littel children and My  loving Wife that I cant stay hear no longer  but I have to stay but it tis hard for me to  stay if this war was at an end I could come  home if God is mine I am his  the solders says that tha are coming home in

PC1825_0014“March whether tha is peace are not  I have spent five Dollars for tobaco sense  I have come down hear it takes 150 to 200 [$1.50 to $2.00] Dollars a week I thought that Pery Walker  would uv come home before now but he hant  got his furlow yet and I dont now when he  will I have got a littel money now but I  Dont now how long I will have any if any  body would come home I would send you  sum I send you fivty cents worth of stamps  in this letter the reason I dont pay my  postedg tha come to you as quick again as  if I had pade the postedg we are in good  winter quarters nowe tha have Brick chimneys  I want you to Rite to me whether you  have sold Babe yet are not so nothing  more at present only I Remain your  loving husband until death  F.M. Poteet to his loving Wife M.A.E. Poteet”

Letter images courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

It seems with the conditions Francis is living, his mind is often preoccupied with escape.  Will he desert the army and see Martha and their children by Christmas?  What would the consequences be if he does?  Join me again next Monday as we continue to read of Francis’s experiences in his own words.

Elmira Arrowood


Elmira Arrowood Radford & Andrew Radford

As I have mentioned before, every summer I visited the Macedonia Baptist Church at Vein Mountain, North Carolina with my Gran to put flowers on her Daddy’s and grandparent’s grave.  On our journey there, she would tell me the story of how her grandfather gave the land for the church and the cemetery and that most of the people who were buried in it were related to us somehow.  There were only a handful of names represented but I couldn’t figure out how they were linked to the Watkins clan.  Gran and her sisters didn’t seem to know for sure either.

Within the last few months I was researching Gran’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Roxanna Radford Watkins, whose grave we visited there each summer.  I found her death certificate, which named her mother “Mirie Earwood.”   Earwood?  I didn’t recognize the name.  I’ve looked through a lot of censuses and know a lot of names in the small area.  I said the name aloud.  I tried using my best Southern accent.  Ah-ha! Arrowood!!  Minus one syllable.  I have also seen her name spelled Airwood.  So all those Arrowoods buried in the Macedonia Baptist Church Cemetery were probably related to us through Margaret and Elmira but we never knew how.

Elmira Arrowood was born in North Carolina about 1825.  In  the 1850 census she and her new husband Andrew are enumerated right below Levi Arrowood and his wife.  Levi is two years older than her.  Right above their family is Zach and Anna Arrowood.  This leads me to believe Zach and Anna may be her parents but so far I have found no birth or other record to link them to each other.  If this is correct and the ages on the censuses are correct, Elmira may have been a twin.  The oldest child still in the Zach Arrowood household is Elisha who is the same age as Elmira in 1850.   I have only seen one person list parents for her and it was someone else but there is no source listed.  I will need to do more research to determine her parents.

Elmira and Andrew had just married within this year.  They took out a marriage bond 9 January 1850.

Miry Arewood and Andrew Radford marriage bond

Miry Arewood and Andrew Radford marriage bond

In 1851, Elmira and Andrew welcomed their first child, a son, Thomas, who, if my hunch about Andrew’s parents is correct, would have been named after Andrew’s father.  In 1855, George Washington Radford was born.  Sarah was born next in 1856.  Again, if my hunch is right about Andrew’s parents, Sarah would have been named after her paternal grandmother.  James was next in 1859.

In January 1861, my great-great-grandmother Margaret Roxanna was born.  Her father left for war in March 1862.  Elmira and Andrew didn’t have anymore children until Zeb Vance was born in 1866.  Andrue Johnson was born 1868.  Ella came last in 1872.

The 1880 census is the last record I have located for Elmira and Andrew to date.  I have found no death or burial records or any other census records for either so far.  I look forward to spending more time in person in North Carolina to do more detailed research as I feel the research I can do online is exhausted.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Wilma Watkins, friend Joyce, Lois Watkins Myrtle Beach 1946 souvenir photo

Wilma Watkins, friend Joyce, Lois Watkins
Myrtle Beach 1946 souvenir photo

2013-07-27 19.56.48

Lois & Joyce
menu prices sure have changed!

What a great summer!  No, I didn’t travel back in time to Myrtle Beach and get locked in jail.  Nor was I eating country style steak for $0.35 in 1946 or have boys fawning over me on the beach! I was collecting all these new photos to share, thanks to my mom’s cousin who shared quite a treasure with the family this summer.  That’s my Gran, Wilma Mae Watkins, in the pictures, with her sister Lois and a friend, Joyce, the summer of 1946.

Gran & her entourage??

Gran & her entourage??

As you may have noticed I took an unplanned hiatus from the blog this summer.  There were a few reasons for this.  First, the last blog I wrote on my third great-grandfather took a lot of research and was labor-of-love intensive.  I had not spent a lot of time researching anyone else and wasn’t prepared to continue posting on the blog.  In many ways I use this blog as an organizational tool for my genealogy research.  It helps me go back one generation at a time through each family and research each family member as indepth as I can.  I try to share the highlights of their lives here.  The next ancestor’s story was stumping me a little so I held off for a while and went in different directions.  I took more time to research this summer than write.

In addition, my husband, the kids, and I have been making memories of our own, taking trips to the local amusement park among other things.  Best of all my parents, myself, and the kids took a trip “back home” to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for the Watkins family reunion and a bit of a Sebastian one too.  The very best thing about researching family history and writing this blog has been distant and not so distant cousins contacting me when they find it and sharing stories and pictures and sometimes even getting to meet them.

I believe the first family contact I received through the blog was from the son of my great-grandmother, Eva Taylor Watkins,’ first cousin.  We have swapped stories and pictures and I can’t wait to share his grandfather’s (Eva’s brother’s) story someday.  I have also heard from several Bailes cousins and a Comer cousin who tipped me off to a family reunion I knew nothing about.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it down there this year but I’m making plans for next and this cousin shared more great pictures and stories I knew nothing about.  I have also been in contact with a few distant cousins on the Bemis side which is wonderful as I have shared we were so removed from this family due to my great-gradmother’s adoption and untimely death.  And, last but not least, I was contacted by the grandson of my Poppy’s first cousin, still living in North Carolina.  We went for a visit before our Watkins reunion and she shared stories, identified pictures, and took us to my great-grandparents’ grave and former church.  It was a wonderful experience, both to hear these stories, as Poppy didn’t talk about his young life much, and to meet the southern Sebastians as I had not gotten that opportunity before other than once as a young girl which I cannot remember.  We are now in the process of trying to plan a small get together for next summer.  One of the best parts of doing genealogy is gaining family.

If these experiences were not enough, we arrived at the Watkins reunion to find treasures galore! My great-aunt had brought a photo album filled with wonderful pictures of days gone by and a cousin of mom’s had brought a treasure of a scrapbook made by my Great-Aunt Lois.  We sat in the lobby of the hotel, eating peaches from the farmers market and homemade chocolate chip cookies, gently turning the pages of this beautiful book that gave us a glimpse into the lives of the 7 Watkins children, their parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends.  A great-uncle was on hand to share some stories about some of the photos.  Some told stories on their own.  Others had stories dying to be known.  Everyone looked so glamorous.  We decided it was because everyone wore a dress and tie then.  Laughter was heard all night as we reminisced about the fun they must have had and the stories they had shared.

When I arrived at the reunion dinner, one last treasure awaited me.  The beautiful 99-year-old Bible of my great-grandmother, Eva Taylor Watkins, saved by a cousin of my mother’s and given to me.  Inside: pressed corsages, her oldest daughter’s marriage certificate, a letter from a friend, a court document naming Eva Executrix of my great-grandfather’s estate, and my great-grandparents’ marriage certificate. Words truly cannot express the depth of what such a gift means to me.  I will treasure it always a make sure the person who receives it in the next generation understands the treasure it is as well.  

After I got home and looked through the pictures I had scanned at the Watkins reunion, I realized these pictures taken at Myrtle Beach the summer of ’46 might have been like a great last “hurrah” for my Gran and her sister Lois.  My Gran moved to Cleveland and married my Poppy in January 1947.  I know these sisters treasured all their childhood memories as they often spoke of good times growing up with smiles and laughter, yet they kept this little secret to themselves.  I never heard about their trip to Myrtle Beach.  Even when Gran and Aunt Lois took my sister and I to Myrtle Beach many years later, they never mentioned the fun they had their years before.  Maybe it was a special memory just between sisters.

Wilma & Lois Watkins Myrtle Beach 1946

Wilma & Lois Watkins
Myrtle Beach 1946

How about you?  What have you been up to this summer while I’ve been away?  Any great family reunions, family vacations, or family research finds? Let’s catch up in the comments.

Tuesday’s Tip: Time Capsule

I interrupt the regularly scheduled programming, which was finishing the telling of my great-great-grandparents’ stories, to share a website I just came across that I think is just great for placing ancestors in context with the history going on around them:

dMarie Time Capsule

Thank heavens for this find, because besides getting back from Europe three weeks ago and a brick wall in some research for my next blog, I have not had an opportunity to post and you may think I have dropped off the face of the Earth!

Back to the website.  Did anyone ever give you a birthday card showing what was going on the day you were born?  I was always fascinated by those when I was young.  I loved receiving them and giving them to others.  Without actually giving you my birth year, I will tell you bread was $0.28 a loaf when I was born, milk $1.40 a gallon, a car was $4, 950, a house $42,600, stamps $0.10 each, the average income $15, 546 per year, with minimum wage at $2.10 an hour, and gas was an astounding $0.57 a gallon.  Amazing when gas has now reached $4.00 a gallon!

Here’s where I like the site for genealogy research.  As an example, I plugged in the birthdate of my great-great-grandfather Henry Preston Hudnall, who I am currently researching for my next blog entry.  He was born 2 February 1870 in West Virginia.  I found this interesting information about the week he was born:

  • Feb 3: 15th Ammendment for Black Suffrage passed
  • Feb 5: 1st motion picture shown to theater audience in Philadelphia
  • Feb 9: US Army establishes National Weather Service
  • Snakes & Ladders was the “hot new toy” of 1870

An “advanced search” went beyond the week Henry was born and pulled up headlines for the entire month, which showed the YWCA was founded, Mississippi became the ninth state readmitted to the Union, Esther Morris was appointed the first female judge, Hiram Revels became the first African-American Congressman, and the first NYC subway line opened.  Wow. Wow. And wow!

There’s no telling how much of this news reached his family or how quickly, but it’s interesting to see what type of world Henry was being born into and how it was changing.  Prices were not available for this time period.  I haven’t played around with the site enough to see what year they begin, but you can input dates as far back as 1800 to find out what the headlines were at the time.  My grandparents’ birthdates in the 1920’s also brought up top music, books, and more.

Good luck on your search and have fun!

Travel Tuesday: Off to Make Memories and Leave Clues for My Descendants







I will not be posting for at least three weeks and I wanted to let everyone know that I haven’t dropped off the planet…I’m just on the other side of it.  I’m off to make memories my descendants may learn of someday.  Will they find my passport application?  Doing genealogy puts filling out vital records and official documents in a whole new light.  Every time we do, we leave a little clue behind.  Or as my cousin says, people won’t need to do genealogy anymore because they can follow our whole life on facebook.  Another interesting twist to the times in which we live.

Explanation of my travels (in case you’re interested):

My junior year of high school my parents were asked if our family would like to host a foreign exchange student the following year.  After a lot of convincing from my sister and I, they agreed.  The following year, an exchange student came from Germany and we had a blast.  Why am I writing about this on a family history blog, you ask.  Because while other families with foreign exchange students had a fine time or just did not get along at all, our foreign exchange student fit right in with our crazy family.  She truly became like another sister to us, like a daughter to my parents, and a granddaughter to my grandparents.  She returned several times over the course of the years, for business (always making sure to pop in on us) and pleasure.  One year, she came to attend my sister’s wedding; another she grieved at my grandparents’ grave.  The last time we came we gave her an old Christmas ornament of my grandparents and a letter my Poppy wrote to my Gran when he was away during World War II.  This was especially significant to her because of the postmark and all that was going on in her country during that time.

While she has visited regularly, we have never been to Germany to see her.  We promised when she got married we would come for the wedding.  Last year, we got the email!  We quickly began making plans.  We ended up turning it into a three week trip.  After visiting with her in Germany for about a week, we are heading to Paris, London, and Ireland for four to five days each.  We soon heard from her again that she and her fiance had decided to go ahead and have their civil ceremony, but they were still having a church wedding in a castle!  We had booked our plane tickets, made hotel reservations, and purchased train tickets, when she emailed again announcing she was pregnant.  Yay!  We all knew how much she wanted to have children and we are so excited for her.  But the church wedding was off, at least for now.  While we will miss getting to see a German wedding, we will have more time to visit with her and we can have a baby shower of sorts.  Enter passing on family traditions.  My Poppy gave every grandchild born a silver dollar and we are taking one to her for her child.

We are so excited to visit Europe and make these memories with our family and hers.  I will return to blogging as soon as I can when we return.

In the meantime, don’t forget where you came from!