This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series. This week’s prompt is FAMILY PHOTO. To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index.
Flipping through my grandmother’s photo albums in 2013, I found a newspaper clipping she carefully preserved. It’s old and yellowed with age, but the article contains the earliest group photos I have of my mother’s family. At the time of the article, my grandparents James Paul Smith and Dorothy Jean Hendry were raising eight children — all age 8 and younger — on their farm in Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
Here’s a transcription of the article:¹
With 8 Children, Aged 2 to 8…’Our Freezer’s Busy’
“We had eight children before the first one started school, and believe me we enjoy every single one of them, too,” says Mrs. James Paul Smith, Northeast Power Co-op member of Liddieville.
Mr. Smith, farming some 50 acres, says he keeps his home food freezer busy. And Mrs. Smith, the former Dorothy Jean Hendry, cans a great deal, too.
“Raising a large family can be fun,” the young housewife commented. “Especially when they all play together so well, and look after each other.”
The youngsters are aged from 2 to 8, with two sets of twins included. The oldest, Gwendolyn, was 6 in June two years ago just before the youngest, twins Katherine and Kenneth, were born in July.
The others are James Paul Jr., 7, Debra Ann, 6, twins Brenda Faye and Glenda Gaye, 5, and Jerry Wayne, 4.
Mr. Smith, son of the late Leo Smith, farms the same land he grew up on and lives in the same house where he was born and reared.
Will your sons be farmers, too, Mr. Smith?
Bypassing the question, he grinned and answered, “I’m sure going to teach them to fish and hunt!”
He recalled how “rough” it was when he was about the age of his children: “There was no electricity available here, at any price. It sure was good to see the lights come on around here!”
Although the clipping doesn’t have the newspaper’s name or a date, my grandmother said it was “from the REA” — meaning the publication sent to members of the local rural electrical co-op. The ages of the children date it in 1960, most likely summer since everyone is wearing short sleeves. I wanted to confirm the source of the article, so I contacted Billy Gibson, Director of Communications for the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives. He confirmed the article was from their historical publication, Louisiana’s REA News. Unfortunately, their archived newsletters were destroyed about ten years ago.
I am so grateful my grandmother kept a clipping. She also has copies of the photos taken that day:
In the photo above, my grandfather is siting on his beloved John Deere farm tractor he called “Sweet Thang.” This tractor is still in the family!
The other photo in the article appears to have been taken in the living room of their dog-trot style farmhouse:
My grandmother also had a third, unpublished photo in her album. This one is taken in the dining room around the large wooden table that hosted over 60 years of holidays at Smith Hill:
After this article was written, my grandparents welcomed three more children: a third set of twins, Roger and Rodney, in 1965, and youngest son Donald in 1966. Yes, that’s a total of 11 children!
My grandfather’s non-answer to the reporter about his sons becoming farmers was somewhat prophetic. Although he continued farming through the 1990s, none of his sons followed him in the family business. He did teach all his children — even the girls — how to hunt and fish. Many meals at Smith Hill featured the wild game he killed — deer, duck, turkey, catfish, alligator gar, and more.
James Paul Smith, Sr. died April 4, 2006, at the age of 81.⁵ My grandmother still lives in Franklin Parish, although now in a nursing home. Their oldest child Gwendolyn, my mother, passed away February 15, 2013.⁶ Most of their children continue to live in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
¹ “With 8 Children, Ages 2 to 8…’Our Freezer’s Busy’,” undated clipping, ca. 1960, from unidentified newspaper; Smith Family Papers, privately held by Dorothy Hendry Smith, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Winnsboro, Louisiana, 2013. Digital image privately held by Jessica Horne Collins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Houston, Texas, 2013.
² James Paul Smith Family on Tractor. Photograph. ca. 1960. Digital image privately held by Jessica Horne Collins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Houston, Texas, 2013.
³ James Paul Smith Family in Living Room. Photograph. ca. 1960. Digital image privately held by Jessica Horne Collins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Houston, Texas, 2013.
⁴ James Paul Smith Family around Dining Room Table. Photograph. ca. 1960. Digital image privately held by Jessica Horne Collins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Houston, Texas, 2013.
⁵ Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13934559/james-paul-smith : accessed 18 Feb 2019), memorial
13934559, James Paul “Hossy” Smith, Sr. (1925-2006), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana; gravestone photograph by Ron Manley.
⁶ Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/105314215/gwen-horne : accessed 18 Feb 2019), memorial 105314215, Gwen Smith Horne (1952-2013), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.