Category Archives: Family connections

Families – The Famous and the Infamous

When tracing your families’ roots you never know what you will uncover. In my search I have found both the famous and the infamous.

When I first started researching the Crittenden branch of my family tree (my grandmother is Eliza Jane Crittenden), one of my cousins asked if had found out anything about those cousins of my grandmother who were shot by a sheriff in Wagoner, Oklahoma.

Of course, I started digging for information about these supposedly notorious cousins. It was easy to find the story – Dick and Zeke Crittenden shot to death by Belle Starr’s son in Wagoner, Oklahoma on October 24, 1895.

I was in the early stages of building my family tree so it wasn’t as easy to find out how, or if, they were really cousins. As Crittendens, we were probably related somehow, but how?

As I built the family tree, the connection came to light. Dick (Richard) and Zeke (Ezekial) were indeed cousins. They are my second cousins, once removed. They are the grandsons of my great grandfather Moses Crittenden’s brother, James Crittenden.

Dick and Zeke are half-brothers. Their father is Aaron Crittenden. As regular readers of my blog know, I am currently in Oklahoma on a genealogy fact finding trip. While here I went to the Hulbert Cemetery to pay my respects to my notorious Crittenden cousins of the wild west of the 1890s.

Dick Crittenden Headstone Closeup

Dick Crittenden Headstone Closeup

Zeke Crittenden Headstone Closeup

Zeke Crittenden Headstone Closeup

These brothers fill the roles of both famous and infamous.
The Famous
Dick Crittenden was a U.S. Deputy Marshal commissioned in the Western District of Fort Smith, Arkansas. On July 18, 1894, he and his brother, Deputy Marshal Zeke Crittenden, and Deputy Sequoyah Houston and posse tried to capture the Cook Gang.

They tracked Bill and Jim Cook, along with Cherokee Bill to the Fourteen Mile Creek in the Cherokee Nation, where there was a gun battle. Sequoyah Houston was killed and the posse fled, with the exception of Dick and Zeke Crittenden.

Jim Cook was wounded several times before the outlaws fled to Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. According to the stories that I found the Crittendens caught up with Bill Cook in Fort Gibson but Cherokee Bill again escaped.

There is a photo in the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library with the following caption. “Shortly after his capture, Cherokee Bill posed with his captors at Wagoner, I.T. Left to right: (5)Zeke Crittenden, (4)Dick Crittenden, Bill, (2)Clint Scales, (1)Ike Rogers, and (3)Bill Smith.”

The Infamous
“Deputy U.S. marshal Ed Reed (Belle Starr’s son), living in Wagoner, was called on to deal with with two drunks who were shooting up the town on October 24th (or 25th), 1895. The two law-breakers were Dick and his brother Zeke Crittenden, former lawmen and survivors of the shootout at Fourteen Mile Creek in 1894. The two brothers had wounded a Wagoner resident named Burns in their drunken shooting spree.

One version of the story describes Reed encountering Zeke Crittenden on the street and telling him to surrender his gun. Zeke fired at Reed and was killed with return gunshots from Reed. Dick, at the other end of town, learned of his brothers death and rode to the scene of the shooting. Upon seeing Ed Reed, Dick opened fire. Reed returned fire, mortally wounding Dick Crittenden, who died the next morning. The brothers were buried under one headstone in a small cemetery near Hulbert, only a short distance from the site of the Half-way House on Fourteen Mile Creek.”
[Outlaws and Lawmen of the Cherokee Nation by Dee Cordry]

Dick and Zeke Crittenden Headstone Hulbert Cemetery

Dick and Zeke Crittenden Headstone Hulbert Cemetery

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Finding Gems for Further Research

Yesterday I came across an obituary for my grandmother’s half-sister’s husband. For those not engrossed in genealogy and the quest for information about their ancestors, that may seem like an obscure find not worth investigating.

I am going to use it as an example of how each piece of information is worth exploring for further hints. I have formatted the obituary in italics with my research notes interspersed throughout.

The Checotah Times Checotah, Oklahoma Friday May 1, 1925

The newspaper citation itself tells me that my some of my ancestors had connections to Checotah, Oklahoma.

W.B. Beck pioneer citizen of McIntosh County answers final summons Monday.

Following a long illness of only a few days duration, death claimed the life of W.B. Beck at his community home East of Checotah Monday afternoon.

The news of his death was a great shock, to the majority of our citizens as he appeared in good health the last time he was in the city about two weeks ago. Mr. Beck was one of the best known citizens of McIntosh and was indeed a pioneer in point of residence having located here in 1969. He was a lifelong Democrat and always took an active part in party affairs and held the honor of being McIntosh County’s first representative in Oklahoma legislature. He was a man who was a friend to his neighbors, never forgot a friend nor betrayed a trust.

I will be traveling from Fort Smith to Warner Oklahoma later this month. McIntosh County is just west of Warner. I now know that a stop in McIntosh County and a visit to the museum and court house there may provide some information and possibly photos about some of my ancestors.

William Billingsley Beck was born at Corinth Miss. January 26, 1847 and his early life was spent in that state. With his parents he moved to Texas in 1860 where he resided until the beginning of the Civil War. He enlisted in the cause of the Confederate Army and served until the close of the war.

Next is the first piece of information that mentions a blood relative, Malinda J. Crittenden, my grandmother’s half-sister. Malinda’s father is my great grandfather, Moses Crittenden.

On September 6, 1866, he was united in marriage to Miss Malinda J. Crittenden at Dallas, Ark. He was married under the Cherokee law prior to 1875 thereby sharing the full citizenship with the Cherokee by blood and was the first white male to serve in the Cherokee Council, beinq elected to the body in 1898.

I did not know that my great Aunt Malinda was married in Dallas, Arkansas. A search on the internet provides a map showing Dallas as just south of Mena, Arkansas. On my genealogy trip later this month I am spending two days in Mena, Arkansas. My great grandfather Moses was granted a land patent in that area in 1860. While there I plan to go to see that land. I also plan to spend some time at the Polk County Court House in Mena researching what happened to the land when Moses left for Oklahoma.

I am hoping the local museum will have photos from that time period and may provide me with some context for what life was like for the first Cherokee families to arrive in Arkansas. This information about the marriage of my great aunt in Dallas, Arkansas provides more facts on which to base my research.

In 1868 he located near the present site of Westville, where he resided for nearly a year, when he moved to this county, which has been home.

The first week of my trip will be spent in Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation Capital. Westville is a short drive from Tahlequah. I will search the museum in Westvilee for photos of my great Aunt Matilda or other members of her family.

Besides the wife, deceased leaves one daughter, Mrs. Eliza Caughran, and two sons, Tom and Carol to mourn his loss. He is also survived by 15 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.

This is the most important piece of information for me. A search for Eliza Beck Caughran at Ancestry.com provided me with a photo of her family. I also now know that there are grandchildren and great grandchildren, and probably great great grandchildren, some of whom are most likely still living. Someone posted the photos of Eliza Beck and of her family.

Edith Eliza Beck Coughran and her family

Edith Eliza Beck Coughran and her family

I can now search for current records that might lead me to identifying those living relatives. My hope is that someone in the family has photos of my great grandfather Moses Crittenden and other relatives. They may also know family stories passed down about the family’s early days in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

During his early manhood, Mr. Beck united with the Methodist church. He was also a member of the Checotah Lodge, I.O.O.F., and several other organizations.

The Methodist Church and the Checotah Lodge are two more places where I might find some historical records related to my family.

Funeral services were held Tuesday afternoon at Twin Grove Cemetery, in charge was Rev. E.A. Davis, pastor f the Methodist church” assisted by Rev. E.A. Spiller pastor of the Baptist church. The beautiful Masonic service was held at the Grove in charge of the local lodge. Internment occurred at the Twin Grove Cemetery East of Checotah.

I have added Twin Grove Cemetery to my list of cemeteries to visit on my trip.

Every piece of information that you discover, no matter how minor it may appear, is like a mine waiting to be searched for those gems that will illuminate details about your ancestors just waiting to be discovered.

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Finding Family

In a post last month I mentioned meeting a Crittenden cousin through my blog site. That cousin is the great, great granddaughter of my great grandfather.

What a surprise it was to receive an email from a reader who had seen my great grandfather Moses Crittenden’s name when reading the About Me tab on my blog. She told me that Moses was her great, great grandfather and that she had been researching that branch of her family tree for years.

I had been posting to my blog for a couple of weeks and only a few readers had found the site at that point. It still amazes me that one of the first readers of my blog would end up being a cousin that I did not know existed. She is my second cousin once removed as her father and I share a great grandparent, Moses Crittenden.

This connection is especially meaningful to me. In my blog “Finding the Unexpected”, I talked about a son that my great grandfather had when in a relationship with Emily Crittenden, who was his brother-in-law’s slave.

The relationship between Cherokee settlers and their slaves is a complex one. It is hard for me to accept that any of my ancestors had slaves living in their household. I know for some of these connections there were loving relationships that were defined by the expectations and culture of the times and not by the truths of the relationship itself.

For others they were relationships based on power and dominance. I have no context for the relationship between my great grandfather and Emily Crittenden. I do know that their son Anthony Crittenden was my grandmother’s half-brother and my mother’s uncle.

I knew less about Anthony than my grandmother’s other siblings and half-siblings because the only record I could find was his grave marker in Warner, Oklahoma. I had already decided to visit that cemetery when in Oklahoma next month and see if I could find information about his descendants and his life.

Anthony Crittenden Headstone

Anthony Crittenden Headstone

My connection with his great granddaughter has provided information about Anthony’s descendants that I thought I would be searching for over the next several years.

Most of Anthony’s family has lived in Warner Oklahoma for the past several generations. Many are buried in the same cemetery with Anthony. My newly found relative and her father, my second cousin, are currently living in Warner and I will meet them next month.

The greatest treasures to me in my online searches are photographs. I now have two additional photos of Anthony Crittenden, and one of his mother Emily Crittenden. My cousin emailed photos of the photos in her album. I will scan copies of the originals while in Oklahoma and add them to my online family tree at Ancestry.

You never know what surprises are waiting for you in your quest for finding family

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Tracing my Grandfather – Who was James R. West?

I started this journey with very little information about my grandfather.

James R West

James R West

From my mother’s birth certificate I had his name listed as Jas R West. I knew that he had lived in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the time that he was married to my grandmother.

My mother remembered that he left the family when she was about two years old and that he came to visit her in Tulsa for one day when she was about nine years old.

James Richard West in Tulsa about 1929

James Richard West in Tulsa about 1929

The only other piece of information that I had to go on was that my mother had found out that he died in 1951. My recollection was that he died in San Jose, California. My sister thought it was Montery, California. With only this information to go on I started doing research on ancestry.com.

What I found was that there were many James Wests in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the years that my grandfather was with my grandmother, 1903 to 1922. A check of the 1920 census in Oklahoma showed my grandfather and grandmother and their four living children as being born in Oklahoma. It also stated that both my grandmother’s and grandfather’s parents were born in Oklahoma and that my grandfather was 44 years old.

Searching with that criteria I could not find a James R West that matched. I decided next to search on FindaGrave for cemeteries in Monterey County. I found internment records for a James R West at Garden of Memories Memorial Park, Salinas, Monterey County, California, USA (I also found that John Steinbeck was buried in this same cemetery).

Headstone James R West

Headstone James R West

Next I sent for a copy of the death certificate for that James West. The date of birth and death, plus location, made this seem like a match for my grandfather. However, the death certificate said he was born in Kentucky, while the 1920 census, one of the few records where I was sure I was looking at the correct James West, said he was born in Oklahoma.

That same census also said that my grandmother’s mother and father were born in Oklahoma and I knew that was incorrect. It also said that three of my mother’s siblings, that I knew were born in New Mexico, were born in Oklahoma. I surmised that the census taker had just put Oklahoma as the place of birth in every birth place related spot for this family.

James Richard West with Unknown Person Roswell New Mexico

James Richard West with Unknown Person Roswell New Mexico

ames Richard West, son James Edward West, Eliza Crittenden West around1905 in Roswell, New Mexico

James Richard West, son James Edward West, Eliza Crittenden West around 1905 in Roswell, New Mexico

So, I started looking for a James West born in Kentucky in 1875 whose father was named Dave West and whose mother’s first name was Sarah (information also on the death certificate). I searched and searched and found nothing that was a match.

I then changed tactics and started looking in the 1890 census for any West families, in the county where my grandmother lived before her marriage to my grandfather, that showed a James West about 24 years old.

I found a few, but none with a mother named Sarah and a father named Dave. I found none where James West was born in Kentucky. I did find a family. with a mother named Sarah and a father named Benjamin, where the eldest child was named David. On this census, James was born in Alabama but it was the correct year. I put this census in my records as a long shot possible match, but my best possibility so far.

Fast forward several months when I have all of my relevant census data for 1900 printed out and sitting in front of me. Evidence that I had the correct family was sitting right in front of me.

The census page for the family that I thought was a possible match for my grandfather in the 1890 census, no longer had the elder brother David on the census. However the family listed next to my grandmother’s family on her census page showed David West as the head of household. This David West was the correct age to be the elder brother of the Benjamin West household. David was now living in a separate household with a wife and children of his own.

This made me study both census pages more closely and I realized that both of the census pages were from the same neighborhood. At last I was 90% certain that I was looking at the correct James West and had found my grandfather’s family.

Now that I was on the right track, there were many discoveries over the next few months that confirmed beyond any doubt that this was the correct family.

The big lesson learned here? Those of us searching for our roots are always looking for the “official” documentation that proves the connections in our family tree. But the truth is, those official documents often have errors.

In this case both the 1920 census and my grandfather’s death certificate had conflicting information about my grandfather and much of the information in both of them was incorrect. How does this happen?

A tired census taker realizing the answer to most of the questions about place of birth for this family is Oklahoma, just writes that in every blank space. A woman, who has lived with someone for a few years and met when they were both in their 70s, provides the data for the death certificate to the best of her ability. An older brother gets listed as the father, a state that as near as I can tell this family never set foot in, is listed as the place of birth.

Records are a valuable source of information. But don’t forget to look at the big picture. When you look at the families living next door to your ancestors on the census what does it tell you? Does looking at the census page before and after your family’s shed any light on the mystery you are trying to solve.

Finding your family roots much more resembles solving a mystery than collecting data and organizing it.

Good luck in continuing to solve the mysteries in your family trees.

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Tracing my Cherokee Roots – Getting Started

My Cherokee roots pass down from my grandmother, Eliza Jane Crittenden West. My grandmother did not share her family history or her childhood with us. As I research her life and the history of the times, I have a better understanding of why she found it hard to discuss.

I decided in the 1990s, many years after my grandmother had passed away, that I would trace my grandmother’s roots and the story of her and her family.

While visiting Cherokee, North Carolina during that period I purchased a book, “Cherokee Roots, Volume 2: Western Cherokee Rolls” by Bob Blankenship, that listed my grandmother’s Dawes number and a Dawes number for my mother’s eldest brother James West.

This was before the days of digital files on the internet. I wrote to a few places trying to find more information about my grandmother and the Dawes Rolls and did not receive any responses.

In 2009 I made a promise to myself that I would finally commit to doing the research needed to learn more about my grandmother and her family. Although there was not as much information online as there is now, there were many more resources available than in the 1990s.

My first search for information led me to the web site for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, where I had found my one piece of information many years before. Based on recommendations in their genealogy section I purchased a book from their online book store, “History of the Cherokee Indians” by Emmet Starr.

Emmet Starr’s book has a section titled, Old Families and Their Genealogy. In that section I found many Crittendens listed as descendants of the Downing family. Once I determined that my great grandfather was Moses Crittenden, this genealogy section allowed me to trace his lineage back to Major Downing.

Eliza Jane Crittenden

Eliza Jane Crittenden

I then started looking for more information on Moses Crittenden in my original book, “Cherokee Roots, Volume 2: Western Cherokee Rolls”. In addition to listing the names on the Dawes Rolls, the book includes the 1851 Old Settler Roll, 1852 Drennen Roll and the 1909 Guion Miller West Roll.

I found my great grandfather and his family listed in the 1851 Old Settler Roll. This gave me the first bit of information about my family’s migration from North Carolina. This roll lists the names of Cherokees who were already residing in Oklahoma when the main body of the Cherokees arrived in the winter of 1839 as a result of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. So now I knew that my Crittenden ancestors migrated some time before 1839.

These pieces of information were the first roots for building my Ancestry family tree.

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Home is Where Your Second Cousin Thrice Removed Lives

I have mentioned before that my mother’s father left the family when she was about two years old.  Trying to find out more about him and his family was part of my genealogy quest as mother knew nothing but his first and last name.

My mother had about a half dozen photos of her parents early life which she passed on to me when I started researching our history. My goal was to find out more about who my grandfather was and to research my grandmother’s Cherokee ancestry for my mother’s 90th birthday. While searching on ancestry.com I came across a photo someone captioned as Grandma Brewer on Ancestry. Grandma Brewer’s parents appeared to be the same as my grandfather’s parents.

I wrote the person who posted the photo and she wrote back saying I should call someone named John from whom she got the photo and provided me with his phone number. I looked up the area code location and saw that he lived in the area where my grandmother was raised and where she lived for a while with my grandfather.

Something told me this was going to be a big breakthrough and I anxiously dialed the number. Through this call I met my cousin John who is the grandson of my grandfather’s sister. We formed an instant connection and have exchanged hundreds of emails in the past three years.

Sally West Brewer and Eliza Crittenden West, Our Grandmothers

Sally West Brewer and Eliza Crittenden West, Our Grandmothers

Last October I went to Tahlequah Oklahoma to continue research on my grandmother’s Cherokee heritage and met with John on the first day of my trip. During my time in Oklahoma John’s cousin (and mine) hosted a huge family barbecue where I met more than a dozen relatives I never knew I had. They shared many family stories/legends about my grandfather, known to them as Uncle Jim. Most had only seen him once or twice but had numerous family tales as he was a somewhat notorious character.

The info I have found on my grandmother and grandfather is a source for many future stories. However, I wanted to share two small tidbits that are were so meaningful to both my cousin John and me.

In our email conversations John told me that he had inherited a rolling pin from his grandmother when she died. It is the rolling pin she used to make numerous pies and cookies at large family dinners which were held every Sunday until she died and attended by all of John’s aunts, uncles and cousins. On this rolling pin an aunt had tied a note, “carved for your grandma on her 10th birthday by her then 15 year old brother Jim, her favorite brother”. Jim was my grandfather.

Me and cousin John with Rolling Pin

Me and cousin John with Rolling Pin

The second very emotional connection was that John asked if he could see a photo of my grandfather when he was young. I said I had only a few photos from that time that I had not looked at in a while but I would go through them and see what I could find. In those photos was an old oval photo of my grandmother with another young woman. On the back my mother had written, “mother with Aunt Sally”. This photo was of my grandmother and John’s grandmother as very young women. They would have been sisters in law. I scanned and sent the photo to John who called me in tears saying he had no photos of his grandmother as a young woman.

Me and cousin John with our Grandmothers

Me and cousin John with our Grandmothers

This family journey has been astounding and I have found amazing things. Including the fact that my grandmother, who we were always told had “some Cherokee blood”, was raised as a Cherokee and never stepped foot out of Indian Territory until she married my grandfather in 1903. Her father was an Old Settler who migrated to Arkansas and then Oklahoma under the New Echota treaty.

The facts I have gathered are interesting. However, what is most meaningful is the connections that I am making.  I saw a cartoon on Facebook a while back.  The caption was “Home is Where Your Second Cousin Thrice Removed Lives”.

After my trip to Oklahoma, and meeting John and other extended family members, a piece of my heart is there.  I am looking forward to returning in a couple of months and making more memories.  Watch in the next couple of weeks for a post about a cousin I just met through my blog site.  She is one of my Crittenden cousins and I cannot wait to meet her in person.

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Finding the Unexpected

About a year into my research on Moses Crittenden I had a good overview of the basics. He was born in Georgia in 1825. He died in Wagoner, Oklahoma in 1899.

He had been married to Eda Quinton and together they had eight children. After Eda died Moses married Margaret Howell, my great grandmother, and they had nine children, including my grandmother Eliza Jane Crittenden.

The basic information makes a great foundation for research. For me, what I am always searching for is the story of their lives. What is the context of the time in which they lived? Who were they as people? And each photo that I find is like a treasure.

One lesson I have learned in my years of family research is that when you think you have the facts part completed, there is usually a surprise around the corner. Previous marriages and families that you never knew about or finding that the family that raised the person, while having the same last name, was actually their aunt and uncle and not their parents, are a few examples.

While at the Cherokee Family Research Center within the Cherokee Heritage Center at Tahlequah, Oklahoma I came across a family genealogy on the Crittendens.  It had been researched a few decades earlier and was a great find for looking into extended family and family connections.  There are many branches of the Crittendens so I was delighted to find a detailed chronology of my grandfather Moses’ life.  Included were details on the Old Settler Roll, the 1880 Cherokee Roll and other information that I had not yet located.

I was most interested in an entry listed as taking place about 1853.  The notation was short:

Met Emily Crittenden b. 1838 I.T.  d. 1908 OK.

I was perplexed about why the author of the document would think it worth mentioning that in 1853 Moses met his relative Emily.  Then I read the footnote stating that Emily Crittenden was a slave and belonged to Elijah Phillips and Sidney (Moses’ sister) Crittenden Phillips.  The only other information was that she was buried in Proctor Cemetery in Adair County, Oklahoma.

Those of you less naïve than me may have already figured out that “met” was the language of the times for “had sexual relations with”.  It was not until I read another note about the birth of Anthony Crittenden that I figured this out.

Anthony Crittenden

Anthony Crittenden

Anthony Crittenden (son of Moses and Emily) was born in Polk County, Arkansas about 1854 and died April 9, 1909. He is buried at Bennett Cemetery in Warner, Oklahoma.  I was very lucky to find a photo of Anthony in a family tree on Ancestry.com  He is one of only three Crittendens from this generation of whom I have a photo.

He applied as Cherokee by blood before the Dawes commission but was denied since he had been a slave of Elijah Phillips and was enrolled as freedman through his mother Emily (Crittenden) Weaver.  I am as interested in finding out more about Anthony and his descendants as I am all of my grandmother’s siblings and half siblings.  Anthony and Emily are two of the people I hope to find out more about on my next trip to Oklahoma.  I will definitely pay my respects to both by visiting the cemeteries where they are buried.

Anthony Crittenden Headstone

Anthony Crittenden Headstone

Finding another great uncle that I did not know that I had is but one of many surprises I have found on this journey.  What are some of the surprises that you have encountered?

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