Family Artifacts on eBay: I Bought the 1845 Alexander Hendry Letter!

Last fall I found my first family artifact on eBay: a letter written by my 4x-great-grandfather Alexander Rose Hendry in 1845! It was expensive, so I attempted a transcription with just thumbnail photos and eBay’s zoom functionality. Although challenging, I managed to figure out a fair amount of the letter’s contents.

I’ve thought about that letter many times over the past year, still wishing I could own it myself. Then a few weeks ago, I wrote a check for one of my son’s extracurricular activities for the same amount as the eBay listing and thought to myself, “Isn’t genealogy my extracurricular activity?” And I bought the letter. Of course, frugal me contacted the seller at her brick-and-mortar storefront and negotiated a slightly better price — and then spent all the savings on museum-quality archival sleeves.

These photos show the condition of the Alexander Hendry 1845 letter when it arrived from the eBay seller on 23 Sep 2019.

The Hendry letter arrived in the mail today, and I cannot explain the thrill it is to hold a letter written by my own ancestor! It is fragile, but in wonderful condition for being almost 175 years old. I’d originally thought the letter was two individual sheets of paper, but Alexander actually folded a paper roughly 11 inches by 17 inches in half and wrote on it booklet style. He then folded it into ninths and closed with a wax seal. The seal did not survive to the present day, but I can see where it was from an oily imprint on the paper. Some tape holds together the edges that formed the envelope. This tape prevented me from fully transcribing the letter from photos, but it is more transparent in person. I’m hoping I will be able to decipher more of the letter now that I can examine it more closely.

But, for now, I’m avoiding manipulation of the paper. Rachael Altman, archivist with the Carnegie History Center in Bryan, Texas, will be helping me encapsulate it when she’s in town for the Texas State Genealogical Society (TxSGS) conference next month. We met at TIGR 2019, and I’m so glad she’s willing to lend her expertise to this project. I plan to take photos of the process and document here — and maybe write an article for Stirpes, the TxSGS quarterly, about it also.

Charles Nathan Riles & Landrum Cheek Ryals: Tracing Cousins for Clues About My Great-Grandparents

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Cousins.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index.)


My great-grandfather John Thomas Horne lived with his grandparents John Johnston and Malinda McCauley Johnston for a majority of his life. His first cousins, once removed Charles Nathan Riles and Landrum Cheek Ryals also lived in his grandparents’ household and seemed to have remained nearby throughout several moves around Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

I know very little about John Thomas Horne and his wife Georgia Smart after 1900. Therefore, I’ve examined records for Charles and Landrum more closely to see if their movements can shed any light on my mysterious great-grandparents.

Continue reading Charles Nathan Riles & Landrum Cheek Ryals: Tracing Cousins for Clues About My Great-Grandparents

Jane Tucker: Correcting an Earlier Mistake with Tutorship Records

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Mistake.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index.)


I made my share of mistakes as a baby genealogist. I trusted others’ trees blindly and didn’t bother to cite my sources. But as I built my family tree, I began to question its accuracy — and then I learned about evidence analysis. I discovered the importance of original records and basing my research on solid evidence. A year after beginning my genealogy journey, I scrapped my tree and restarted with better methodology.

One mistake I discovered was an incorrect mother for my 2x-great-grandfather Cicero Edward Hendry. I connected him to his step-mother Mattie Viola Thomas instead of his biological mother Jane Tucker. It was an easy mistake to make, as Jane never appeared on a census with her children or husband because of the gap between the 1880 and 1900 U.S. censuses. And in my early years of research, I relied heavily on census data. As my skills improved, I added probate and court records to my research, and those records — specifically tutorship records — are what tell the story of Jane Tucker, my 3x-great-grandmother.

Continue reading Jane Tucker: Correcting an Earlier Mistake with Tutorship Records

Ogden School Days: A History of Liddieville’s Community School

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is School Days.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index.)


Ogden School sits in the middle of the Liddieville community — right at the intersection of LA-135 and LA-870 in Franklin Parish, Louisiana. Once the center of community life, this beloved school educated three generations of my family.

I attempted to count just how many of my family members attended or graduated from Ogden, but I quickly lost count. Here was my best attempt:

  • I attended Ogden from kindergarten through 8th grade (1986-1995).
  • Both my parents spent all their school years at Ogden — my dad was Class of 1965; my mom, Class of 1970.
  • My grandfather James Paul Smith, Sr. attended all grades at Ogden and graduated in 1943.
  • My grandmother Ethel McMurry also attended Ogden, possibly from 1922-1932, according to 1940 census data.
  • 8 of my great-aunts and great-uncles attended or graduated from Ogden.
  • 13 of my aunts and uncles attended or graduated from Ogden.
  • At least 7 of my first cousins attended Ogden.
  • My first cousin, once removed Charles “Cuz” Horne taught high school science and coached basketball at Ogden in the 1960s. He was also a Franklin Parish school board member and a parish school administrator.

And even more relatives and extended family members had connections to Ogden. If their last name was Horne, Johnston, McMurry, Ritchie, Smith, Wiggins, or Wright — they’re probably my family! I can also claim a few Ogden cafeteria workers, janitors, and bus drivers.

Ogden is special to me both for its place in my family history and because I spent most of my school years there. I also watched as our community fought to keep Ogden open during school consolidation in the 1990s and mourned as it died a slow, bureaucratic death in the years that followed.

Continue reading Ogden School Days: A History of Liddieville’s Community School

James Smart: Yesterday’s Antebellum Farm is Today’s Agricultural Research Station

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Work.  (To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


Growing up in rural Louisiana, I’ve always been surrounded by agriculture. Both sets of my grandparents were cotton farmers, so I haven’t been surprised to find generation after generation of farmers in my family history research.

But our family’s farming history hasn’t been one of sweeping plantations and large-scale operations run by slave labor. For the most part, my ancestors had small family farms — fathers and sons working together to provide just enough for their immediate needs. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was their way of life.

My 4x-great-grandfather — and also possibly my 3x-great-grandfather, but that’s another story — James D. Smart, was one of these small-scale antebellum cotton farmers. Ironically, the land he owned in Louisiana is even used for agricultural research today.

Continue reading James Smart: Yesterday’s Antebellum Farm is Today’s Agricultural Research Station