Friday, September 22, 2006

Hidden Tid Bits

Genealogy is a fun past time. You can go for months and not find anything of unusual interest - just the steady flow of vital records, court records, census records and so forth. Nothing that makes you go "Whoa!". Not that I don't enjoy logging all those nice little records you can find in the courthouse and online, but you look forward to those discoveries that make you do a doubletake when you find them.

For instance, the day I discovered that my great, great grandfather fought with Custer. That was an eye-opener. Or the day that an uneventful trip to the Bastrop courthouse resulted in the discovery that my great-great grandparents Hodge had divorced, casting unsavory allegations at each other in open court.

This past week I've been reading material that was sent to me by a distant Hodge cousin. Buried in the thick pile of material was a recounting of a Hodge fortune. It seems that a Joseph Hodges died in England in the late 1700s and, his sons having fallen into disfavor due to their support of the American Revolution, stipluated in his will that his vast fortune was to be held in trust for 100 years and then divided amongst those who could prove to be his legitimate heirs at that time. And we're talking serious money here, in the millions of dollars.

Considerable effort was expended by some of my line's cousins to prove their connection to the estate. Letters were exchanged back and forth across the country, comparing notes on stories heard from their elders, and trying to piece together the line of descent. It makes for an interesting story, but I found myself wondering whether such an estate every really existed. When I inquired of my cousin in Kentucky if he knew what had happened, he told me that the money involved had eventually gone to the crown, since all the sons had supported the cause of the American rebels. Bummer. But entertaining to ponder, nonetheless.

Another odd discovery this week involved my Mason line. My great-grandfather's sister lived in Smithville and was married to a man named Ashley. I've pieced together quite a number of cemetery and court records on the Ashley family, but I've never been able to find any information regarding when Mr. Ashley died. Today, while performing various scans in the archives of the Dallas Morning News, I stumbled across the answer. The item I found read like this:

Were Crossing the Track When the Wagon Was Struck
Smithville, Tex. Jan 28, 1899
This evening at 5:30 o'clock William Ashley, James Farris and Charles Farris attempted to cross the Katy track in a wagon ahead of the south bound passenger train. They were struck by the train, killing William Ashley and James Farris and badly wounding Charles Farris. The team of horses was killed and the wagon demolished.

Another item a few days later confirmed that this William Ashley was the same William Ashley who was brother-in-law to my great-grandfather. And to make things even more interesting, the James Farris mentioned was my great-grandfather's (first) father-in-law. Two members of the family killed in a collision with a train and not one word of this event had trickled down through the family to this dedicated historian. It was definitely a doubletake moment. Not only did I learn the fates of two people in my family records, I realized why there were court records on file in Bastrop that awarded large cash settlements to various members of the Ashley family from the MKT Railroad. Until now, I had assumed there had been some kind of real estate dispute. Instead it was the result of a lawsuit filed by William's widow against the railroad.

The family saga is ever expanding and it's fascinating. You never know when you are going to turn up some dramatic episode like this one. Who knows how many more surprises are waiting to be found?


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