The dramatic soap opera from last week's post of the everyday lives of my ancestors in Arkansas appears to have brought some readers to 'pins and needles': it certainly has fed my need for suspense. But for those who missed the 'All My Ancestors' episode, I will provide a short summary.

Obtaining numerous probate, marriage and land records from the wonderful personnel at the county courthouse in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I was 'knocked off my feet' to learn that my great great grandfather Clark Mathews had a criminal record. Asked if I would like the record mailed to me (an indictment), I responded with a quick 'absolutely'!

Feeling quite stunned with the thought of having an ancestor with a criminal past, my mind began to wonder what the contents would reveal, bringing days of imaginative guesses as to the alleged crime: Perhaps a white-collar crime such as unpaid taxes, forgery or maybe something even more tantalizing such as an official charged with embezzlement.

As the days slowly passed, my creative mind provided increasingly imaginative thoughts. And suddenly the large but very thin yellow envelope arrived at my door. Gently pulling the paper out, I quickly placed my magnifying glass over the document and began reading the following out-loud:

'Washington Circuit Court, State of Arkansas vs. Clark Mathews: Indictment.'

'The Grand Jury of Washington County in the name and by the authority of the State of Arkansas, accuses Clark Mathews of the crime of Larceny committed as follows:'

'The said Clark Mathews in the County of Washington in the State of Arkansas on the tenth day of October A.D. 1886; one bushel of turnips of the value of one dollar, the property of Jack Pollack, then and there being found unlawfully and feloniously did take, steal or carry away against the peace and dignity of the State of Arkansas.'

Screaming for my neighbors to hear, I yelled: 'What!, are you kidding me?' 'A grand jury indictment for a one dollar bushel of turnips?!!!'

And then, turning to the next page I read: 'State of Arkansas vs Clark Mathews leaves the State of Arkansas by his attorney and by leave of the court, elects to enter his nolle prosequi herein. It is therefore considered by the Court that said defendant be discharged.'

In a non-legal interpretation, at the time the indictment was issued, my ancestor was no longer residing in Arkansas resulting in the dismissal of the Grand Jury charges. Most likely an accusation resulting from a dispute with a neighbor, my 'black sheep' ancestor escaped with no prosecution and little fanfare. However, his alleged dastardly criminal past provided days of genealogical suspense and a very loud 'Wa Ha Ha!' echoing within the walls of my house.

As a result of my experience with the more 'seedy' side of genealogy, I discovered the very interesting and rich research details ancestral criminal records can reveal. And if Grand Juries in the 19th century investigated and released indictments as petty as a misplaced bushel of turnips, imagine how numerous the criminal record files are in the dusty archives of little county courthouses. More importantly, the genealogical usefulness of the records can provide the family historian with information such as: Date and location of ancestor, possible names of relatives bringing forth charges, court pictures of ancestors and many more. I learned my ancestor was no longer living in Arkansas in 1886, which leads me on another hot trail.

Look for your notoriously criminal ancestors at Black Sheep Ancestors, and Ancestor Hunt's Prison Search. Their dastardly deeds may provide you with 'bushels' of genealogical information.
Clark Mathews: 'Turnip Thief'
Keep searching for answers,

Recently hearing of the cancellation of two iconic soap operas, my reaction was one of immediate shock and disappointment. Although years since I had viewed either show, I felt a glimmer of nostalgia thinking back to my youth when my daytime world was wrapped up in the anticipation of Ericka's latest steamy romantic love. Yes, I admit my years of mindless soap opera addiction have long since past, but for 'All My Children' viewers, genealogy can provide for stiff competition.

Never feeling my research is complete, I have recently taken the task of peeling back further details of my ancestor's lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Records for ancestors on this part of my family tree have never been easily accessed on-line, so I have dug further into their history by contacting the folks at the county courthouse in Fayetteville. As I have focused on each individual ancestor, increasingly captivating court record details have arrived by mail at my door. And the operatic plot thickens as each new juicy tidbit is revealed.
Fayetteville Arkansas Historic Courthouse
The first dramatic genealogical episode opened with the discovery of my ancestor Wesley, a small man with a big heart, losing his first wife and young children to the ravages of a brutal, bloody war. After becoming emotionally drawn in to poor Wesley's saga of death and despair, I turned the pages to discover he had fallen madly in love with the beautiful raven Mary Jack, daughter of Judge Abraham Jack, a well respected elder in the burned out, war torn community of Fayetteville. Wesley and Mary soon established a solid foundation in a small hamlet 30 miles north of Fayetteville, where they began purchasing land and building their family.

Feeling relieved (and a little bored) with Wesley, Mary and Judge Jack's comfortable southern life, I again contacted the Fayetteville courthouse for the next 'All My Ancestors' episode: Details on Clark and Isabella Mathews, the soon to be in-laws of Wesley and Mary Jack.

Land records for the Mathews were quickly discovered but odd 'goings on' began to creep into an otherwise uneventful story. Clark, the tall, mysterious gentleman from the big city of St Louis, suddenly 'quit claimed' all of his property into his wife Isabella's name. And then further documents were found with his wife being forced to relinquish her property to the county for unpaid takes...and suddenly I discover Isabella is signing court records with a different last name!

"Wow, this is getting good'! I'm thinking, wondering what next week's episode will reveal. I call my courthouse contact to ask if any further documents on Clark and Isabella have been located and she blandly stated; 'well, no probate records were found...but are you interested in the criminal record for Clark Mathews?'

Dun, dun dun....(soap opera music, you get the picture).

'What do you mean his criminal record?' I ask with wistful anticipation.

'Oh, it's an indictment'!

'Yea, I definately want that." I quickly responded.

And so while my neighbors are staring at their televisions, desperately channel surfing for the latest attempt at dramatic entertainment, I anxiously wait by my mailbox for this season's genealogical finale of death, divorce and indictment in Fayetteville. Days of soap opera watching have been tossed aside to reality televsion, but my genealogical reality provides endless days and nights of suspense and intrigue.

Begin your genealogical soap opera by contacting your ancestor's county courthouses for marriage, divorce, land, probate and...criminal records. You will most likely discover that next season's ratings will go through the roof!

Keep searching for answers

Yesterday I took a quick summer genealogical trip to visit my ancestors in the upper west side of Manhattan, the booming city of Columbus, Ohio and the bustling Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri. I
made my departure sometime around 5:00 p.m., arriving back at my home in Oklahoma in time to complete our evening supper.

As I swept through tree-lined streets of upper Manhattan in the Washington Heights neighborhood, I felt a flutter of anticipation that moved from my head down to the tip of my toes: That 'wow' feeling all family historians experience from time to time. I glided around corners of steel buildings on further past stoplights, arriving at west 143rd street, now vacant from years of population change.

Quickly saying my goodbyes to my Irish Rolston ancestors, I spun upwards to make a leap west to Columbus, Ohio. As I glanced downward onto the neighborhood where my paternal great great great grandmother lived, I toured several landmarks close to her home. Living on the edge of the German Village of Columbus, I passed through a lovely small residential community of brick homes and streets. Old German breweries now converted into condominiums and shopping centers provided a nostalgic backdrop to my ancestor's life in the middle 1800's. I strolled past apartments and darted through alleyways to catch a glimpse of great great great grandmother Delia's home where she lived for over thirty years.

And then feeling a need to buzz over to Missouri before my family in Oklahoma began calling me home, I landed firmly in the middle of a very busy, car jammed area of the business section of St. Louis. As I stood on the downtown street, I found myself in the middle of an intersection with tall towering buildings to the right and long, wide streets of concrete pavement. Stretching my neck to look down north 7th street where my great great grandfather Clark lived, no houses or apartments were found, only commercial buildings. And so I moved upward out of St. Louis and back toward Oklahoma, landing right were I left: my kitchen table.

As genealogists, we begin to feel a desire to see, hear and experience what life was like for our ancestors. Learning the histories of their communities and the events during their lifetime can provide us with a deeper sense of who our ancestors were. And making a virtual visit to their home sites provides an inkling of where they lived and what they came from. Of course a hundred years of city and community growth changes the visual setting, but grabbing a glimpse of the area of an ancestral home without leaving your own can make for a genealogical whirlwind day.

Google Earth is a fun, free and very easy to use time travel device for any family historian. And with the increased digitalization of city directories, a genealogist can board the virtual train and make numerous ancestral visits within a few head spinning minutes. I found my great great grandmother Euceba's Manhattan address off of her 1900 US Census. And my great great great grandmother Delia's 1879 German Village address was downloaded from a Columbus, Ohio directory; both from My ancestor, Clark Matthews, was found in the Kennedy's 1860 St. Louis city directory on Genealogy St. Louis.

As I peered around the corner of my ancestor's street in upper west Manhattan, I hoped to catch a glimpse of great great grandmother Rolston standing in the window with her apron neatly in place, mixing a cake for evening supper. But the vision was unfortunately not there, leaving it to my ever-eventful imagination: A quick virtual genealogical trip on an otherwise lazy afternoon.

Keep searching for answers,

My mother, Jennie Maxine Capps
It was a perfect April Sunday afternoon. The air outside had a sweet smell of honeysuckle and the stream of filtered sunlight lay softly along the carpet. Stacks of newly folded blankets and sheets were still sitting on the chair, waiting to be spread out once more for another long night's stay.

Sitting back on the sofa, I glanced toward my mother and noticed she seemed more alert than she had been over the last few days. As I now think back on the moment, I can't recall how the conversation began. But with a voice much firmer than she had several days before, mother began to describe a different time in her life. Her story weaved memories of her childhood, living with her grandparents in the family home.

Words flowed of her description of her paternal grandmother; a woman I had little information on. Discussing relationships with generations past and making remarks not previously heard. Little vignettes of lives intertwined and quickly captured for me to hear. I watched my mother tell her story, sentences spilling easily from her mouth as she caught a glimpse of memories held close to her heart. And I felt captured in another time, visually seeing my mother much younger, living a life long ago.

The afternoon passed too quickly and my mother's energy soon melted away as she fell back asleep. It was one of my last memories of my mother; leaving me with yet another resource for future family history exploration.

As the writer of the family, mother composed a little booklet about her life with her maternal grandmother Jennie. Over the years, several booklets followed provided for family members on holidays, birthdays and I gave them a quick glance but nothing more. At other times through the years, family trees were presented and mementos handed out. I gradually began to develop a stronger interest in the family keepsakes and histories but they were always tucked away in cabinets, no longer in sight.

And then one day after my mother passed, I started a little journey to learn about my grandfather. Many years since, the family tree has blossomed and the stacks of family records are overflowing. I tap away on my computer, searching through every genealogical website found. But my greatest research source by far, has been the little stories left behind by my mother.

Perhaps knowing I would some day finally listen to her, mother left hand-written vignettes about her life. Descriptions of the day her father died and her feelings of ambivalence toward her grandmother. Little sayings her grandmother passed to her; some with hints of wisdom and some with humor. Names and dates of ancestors neatly filed away, waiting to be noticed. Precious memories that provide new discoveries each time they are read.

On this Mother's Day and the weeks ahead, give both you and your mother a priceless gift: A tool for recording her life. A journal or tape recorder left with questions and open-ended prompts for exploration and story telling. Here are a few to get you started:

*What favorite memories do you have of your grandparents?
*Describe your family holidays: What did your family do for Christmas, Fourth of July and which holidays were your favorites?
*Try to remember stories passed down from your parents and grandparents about their childhoods.
*Describe what life was like for you and your family during World War 11 or the Wall Street Crash.

And for many more interview questions and prompts, I found these sites to be helpful:, Family History Questionnaire and Rootsweb.

These are only a few examples, you can fill in with your own but it will no doubt open doors unknown. A treasure chest full of memories providing genealogical possibilities not found on any website or in any library: A gift given to your mother that will keep giving back to you.

Keep searching for answers,


I am quite embarrassed that I had not properly prepared a post for this week. Expecting to be out of the States and across the pond at this time, I knew there would be little time for trivial story-telling.

You see, my dear fellow researchers, my mind has been focused on a more enlightening and royal event: The wedding of William and Kate. No, I am not describing a commoner's day set aside in front of the 'tele', watching a taped recording hours after the ceremony. My assumed plans, for the last several months, have included my presence at the royal parties of the week along with a prime seat at Westminster. But alas, after months of standing by my mailbox, anxiously waiting for that gold stamped envelope to float my way, I have sadly come to accept the truth: Elizabeth, the poor dear, forgot my address!

Yes, the queen is no longer in her prime and neither is her memory so it would be proper of me to forgive her forgetfulness. But then I wonder: 'Is Elizabeth still sitting on her high horse, snubbing my obvious blood relation to her family?' Having descended from my 11th great grandfather, Claude Hamilton, 1st Lord Paisley of Scotland, can the queen really be so petty as to look down on my Hamilton lineage, the one sent away to Ireland?'

Hinted in previous posts, I have always sensed I was born misplaced from royalty. Understanding this, I have come to accept there will come a time when the Windsors will discover my absence and send a carriage to have me retrieved. But as the months have crept closer to my dearest Wills wedding, I have been forced to face the reality that my carriage may never pull up to my door. And my tiara will continue to remain as always, under glass.

As a newby genealogist several years ago, I began my family tree on My list of ancestors grew and as I clicked further onto names of 'alleged' ancestors into the 1600's, then on to the 1500's, I began to see I was adding names with titles such as Duke, Earl and Sir. I began to sense a tingly feeling moving from my head down to my toes (my toes were most likely expecting to be instantly fitted with glass slippers) and I had an epiphany: 'I knew it!', I exclaimed. 'I knew I came from royalty!'

But after my romantic head settled, my very annoying practical sense took control and I realized without real proof, the Dukes, Earls and Sirs were ancestors only in theory. And as much as I felt certain my true blue blood heritage had been uncovered, I gave way to boring rationality and placed all royals aside.

As my common middle class days passed, I continued on my search, finding proofs of more recent and 'down home' ancestors and establishing a well-documented family tree. I became more grounded in the nuts and bolts of genealogy and developed an obsession with proving each ancestor with records. I even chuckled at others with trees full of unverified names and I became so bold as to delete un-established ancestors off of my own tree, actually reducing rather than adding more names.

But as I studied names unverified and sent them into the trash, I suddenly found myself looking straight into the Dukes, Sirs and Earls. As I reached to click on 'delete', my finger froze: 'What if the Duke really is my 11th great grandfather?' I thought to myself. 'And what if new records are uncovered tomorrow?' 'Besides, records are discovered every day and if dearest great grandfather Duke is no longer on my tree, how must I claim my rightful heritage?'

So with that, my romantic self won a valiant battle of wills and the Dukes, Earls and Sirs continue to sit regally on my family tree. The tiara is still sitting, untouched under glass and I have been composing a note to poor dearest Elizabeth with a reminder of my new address for future royal reference (Harry's wedding can't be far behind).

You know, I really must make my driveway more carriage accessible.

For a fun website to search for your royal genealogy, go to the Royalist.

Keep searching for answers,

My carriage awaits!