Lin-Manuel Miranda Forgot Someone.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Family Legend

Prompt: Is there a tale that’s been passed down in your family? Have you proven (or maybe disproven) it? Perhaps you have an ancestor who was legendary (or should have been.)
Le Marquis de Lafayette in portrait and as portrayed by Daveed Diggs in the musical “Hamilton.”

Long before Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier ever came to the shores of America or met Alexander Hamilton or had been given the title of Marquis, he had been studying and preparing for his role in the American Revolution. He did so in consort with a close friend: my fifth great-grandfather*.

Michael Antoine Garoutte did not find his way into the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” nor the annals of the American Revolution, at least as a major actor. And perhaps he should have. But in the words of George Washington, singing in the musical’s number History Has Its Eyes On You, “You have no con- trol who lives, who dies, who tells your sto- ry.”

…an argument could me made that [my fifth great-grandfather] be added to the ensemble My Shot, adding another voice to the refrain, “Hey yo, I’m just like my coun- try, I’m young, scrap- py and hun- gry, and I’m not throw- ing a- way my shot.”

A likeness of the dashing young Monsieur Garoutte.

Lafayette and Michael Garoutte grew up in great privilege, each of their families being members of the French nobility. Although Garoutte prepared for the priesthood, the death of a sibling caused him to change his career plans. Garoutte joined Lafayette at military school.

The two young men read with great interest news of the growing insurrection across the Atlantic. They enthusiastically joined fellow countrymen, and signed up to fight on the Colonists’ behalf. Barely out of their teens, I can vividly imagine these impassioned, starry-eyed youths eagerly and somewhat naively yearning to go into battle, much like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s personifications of the exuberant, ambitious Lafayette and the idealistic, head-strong title character.

In the show’s number Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down), Lafayette and Hamilton reference their shared status as industrious foreigners, declaring, “Immigrants: We get the job done.” That same assiduous zeal is heard in the number My Shot. A case could be made for adding the character of Michael Garoutte to this ensemble with its repeated refrain “Hey yo, I’m just like my coun- try, I’m young, scrap- py and hu- ngry, and I’m not throw- ing a- way my shot.”

The Garoutte family crest

Born April 12, 1750, in Marseilles, Michael Garoutte was the son of Sir Antoine Garoutte–an Admiral in the French Navy–and his wife, Lady Anne de Lascours. The Garouttes were related to both King Louis XVI and to Marie Antoinette. Additionally, members of the Lascours family served in the King’s court. Michael’s family must have been supportive of their son’s decision to join his friend and go to America: his father provided three of his own ships for Michael’s journey as well as $90,000 in gold to contribute to the Continental government.

Perhaps I’m predisposed to this imagery because of having seen “Hamilton” numerous times, but I’m imagining a scenario something like this: Two filthy rich men of royal lineage, neither burdened with responsibilities, both feeling footloose and fancy free and ready to take on the world. The world is their oyster, essentially. It’s easy for me to imagine them exclaiming, “Yo, let’s DO THIS! “Let’s go join the REVOLUTION!” and high-fiving each other.

After arriving in America, Garoutte set to work using his fleet to overtake British Merchant vessels and British Navy vessels. He subsequently took the seized goods to Little Egg Harbor, in southern New Jersey, and from there the goods were transported over seventy miles—across New Jersey, across the Delaware River and into Pennsylvania, finally reaching their destination: Valley Forge. Garoutte also secured artillery for the Continental military.

For his part, Lafayette made his way to Philadelphia, making connections and coming to the attention of both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Not long after his arrival, Lafayette was made a member of Washington’s staff.

It was not at sea but on land that Garoutte sustained a war injury. On October 6, 1778, the Battle of Chestnut Creek (near present-day Port Republic, New Jersey) took place. Shortly thereafter, Garoutte and a band of British and French members of the Colonial Army set out to rescue a colleague who had hidden in an inn there following the battle. On the way, Garoutte and his comrades were ambushed by enemy soldiers. (Some reports say the soldiers were Hessians–Germans who fought for the British. Other reports say that they were a mixture of British and French sympathizers.)

A sword fight ensued, leaving Garoutte with a severe head wound and toppling him from his horse. His comrades presumed he was dead and they fled, leaving the body.

Some time later, James Smith, a Quaker innkeeper, happened upon the body of Garoutte. Smith was returning from Valley Forge, having taken supplies to General Washington. Upon further examination, Smith determined that the Frenchman was still alive and proceeded to gingerly load the wounded man into his cart. Smith took him home with him, and his daughter nursed Garoutte back to health.

On October 26, 1778, in Pleasant Mills, New Jersey, Michael Garoutte married his caretaker: Sophie Smith.

Michael “married a strong-minded Quakeress who denied even one of his twelve children to the church of his fathers.”

While Michael’s family approved of his military pursuits, one wonders if his marriage had their blessing. Notes in the original church records state that Michael “married a strong-minded Quakeress who denied even one of his twelve children to the church of his fathers.”

Notations of dates of family births and deaths in Michael Antoine Garoutte’s bible, an heirloom currently in a New Jersey descendant’s possession.

Michael Garoutte’s and Lafayette’s paths diverged after the war. Lafayette returned to his native country; Sophie and Michael Garoutte remained in southern New Jersey for the rest of their lives. They had thirteen children. Michael ran a tavern–The Lafayette.

Sophia Smith Garoutte passed away in 1817. As a widower, Michael travelled by foot many miles–to Tennessee and back–staying with various daughters and their families until, it would appear, he had worn out his welcome. His writings express a bitterness toward his children’s families, and he appears to have departed their homes feeling disgruntled about his treatment. Tales passed down through the generations by his descendants describe the elderly Garoutte as moody and volatile. He supposedly dismissed family members on occasion, telling them that he was “talking with Lafayette.” These anecdotal stories might suggest that he suffered what we now refer to as Traumatic Brain Injury.

Michael Garoutte continued to receive money from his estate until 1820, but he never received a pension for fighting in the war nor payment for the money he had loaned the Continental Government. The records of his loans were lost to fire, and Pension Bureau records show that his pension request had been denied because his service had been on his own private ships and not those of the Continental Government.

Born into great wealth and social stature, Michael Garoutte died penniless, ostracized from family, and perhaps suffering with some form of dementia.

“Marie Antoinette being taken to her death” by William Hamilton

As sad as it might be to contemplate the poverty, isolation, and health issues that Michael Garoutte experienced late in life, it is likely that his parents, siblings, and their descendants met an even worse fate as nobility during the Révolution Française.


*Note for members of my family:

The Garoutte family figures into our family in the following way: Michael Garoutte’s granddaughter Sophia Garoutte (1823-1863) married John Laney (1817-1894) who is my father’s great-great-grandfather.


Addendum

As Americans, we view the American Revolution with two hundred forty-four years’ hindsight and easy access to countless and diverse accounts of this entire period of our young country’s history. I personally suspect that Lafayette’s and Garoutte’s motives in backing the Colonists were altruistic ones. After all, France stood to benefit at least indirectly should Britain’s status and power be diminished at the hands of the Americans. That said, several considerations–their families’ and their country’s support, their extreme wealth and royal pedigree, their luxury of time absent of any obligations to dependents–compel me to at least acknowledge that the two could be seen as poster boys for white privilege.

I mention this not to disparage the Colonists nor the subjects of this post, but in the interest of impartiality.

Allow me to explain.

As I was writing this post, I found it impossible not to think about the recent insurgency at the United States Capitol building. While so much of what I saw disgusted and horrified me, one particular aspect kept haunting me: the jarring disparity between how officials and law enforcement have recently responded to peaceful protestors of color versus how officials and law enforcement responded to the violent, destructive, murderous actions of largely white male perpetrators that took over the Capitol last week. Many journalists have also pointed out the privilege on display.

I had intended to write only the addendum above to openly acknowledge the privilege of both the subjects of my post and of last week’s insurgents.

As far as I am concerned, that is where any similarity ends.

But then I saw this:

I find it deeply disturbing to find it necessary to rebut parallels drawn between last week’s acts of sedition and the American Revolution.

Last Wednesday, we watched hour upon hour of live television coverage of myopic, delusional Trump supporters–many wearing clothing with racist and anti-Semitic references–savagely beat and hurl weapons (including a fire extinguisher) at police and journalists, chant in unison their objective to hang the Vice President, erect a noose and gallows, and trespass and defecate upon and desecrate the residence of our first branch of government.

This was no peaceful protest that “got out of hand.” The action was premeditated, carefully planned and synchronized. The actors came wearing tactical paramilitary clothing, vests, and gas masks. They came with guns, pipe bombs, flash cans, bear spray and mace, zip ties, and other crude weapons. They came to Washington, D.C.–as they pointed out–at the invitation of the President. And, once there, they marched to the Capitol building with a mandate from the President and his minions to show no weakness. Further, they came with the intent to “capture and assassinate” elected officials, calling this a “test run” for more insidious and sinister activity planned for the future.

These people were not interested in dialogue or discourse. Their intentions were to scare and intimidate and, in some cases, to kidnap and murder.

Their collective grievance? A “fraudulent election”: a myth that those at the very highest level of government knew to be untrue. A lie that would have gotten no traction had the President and spineless, self-interested, cowardly members of Congress publicly and unequivocally contradicted it. A fabrication that had been successfully debunked and about which far more time than was necessary was spent discrediting.

Each of these “patriots” had the privilege of voting in November. They just didn’t like the fact that their candidate lost.

Bald-faced entitlement, pure and simple.

In contrast, the Colonists were subject to the self-serving whims and arbitrary decrees of a King. The early Americans respectfully made entreaties to the Crown expressing their desire for self-rule. When diplomacy did not work, those voiceless and powerless subjects of a monarchy rebelled.

©Jessica Griffin/Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Photographer

Lafayette and Garoutte had beaucoup bucks, their fathers’ sailing vessels, and they came to the fight with fistfuls of cash. Similarly, the thousands of participants in last week’s sedition had the luxury of time and disposable income. This was evident in their ability to spend time and money traveling to Washington, D.C., staying in hotels, taking taxis, paying for paramilitary gear, weaponry, flags and souvenirs, using expensive smartphones to take selfies and videos of themselves, and taking days off from work to participate.

They brought their privilege to Washington, and they left Washington with the same privilege. They had not been openly fired upon, injured, and–at least at the time–were allowed to walk away from their spree of terror unscathed.

Lafayette and Garoutte and the Capitol seditionists demonstrated their privilege by their very participation in the American Revolution by the former and the “Save America” activity by the latter. Said another way, each group essentially participated in what was–for them–a “boutique” cause.

It is my opinion that any other similarities drawn between the events of 1776 and those of January 6, 2021, constitute a gross false equivalency.

Beginnings

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge: Week 1

PROMPT: Who inspired your first search? Who is at the beginning of one of your ancestral lines? Who are you beginning to research this year? 

Anna Young Williamson

The genesis of my interest in researching my family tree was my daughter who would invariably ask me prior to every St. Patrick’s Day, “So we are Irish, right?” My response was always the same, “Well, yes. I know we are part Irish, part Scottish, and part English.”

I got tired of hearing myself give this vague half-answer and, shortly after that holiday in 2012, I created a family tree on Ancestry.com and began asking pertinent questions of living relatives.

Technically speaking, she inspired my first search. But she is obviously a descendant, not an ancestor. So I will instead profile an ancestor who was certainly one of the first I began to research: my great-grandaunt, Anna Young “Toosie” Williamson.

Anna Young “Toosie” Williamson was the youngest daughter of David Wilson “Dave” Williamson (1846-1908) and Ann M. Young (1851-1934). She was also the last of their children to be born in Scotland. A sixth child was born, according to family lore “on the boat,” but his birth certificate indicates that her younger brother–my great-grandfather Dave Williamson (1888-1974)–was born in Crawford County, Kansas.

Anna Young Williamson’s Birth Certificate

Anna Williamson was born on December 30, 1885 in Hamilton–a large town in South Lanarkshire in the central Lowlands of Scotland.

Both Anna’s father and his brother William were miners in Scotland. Presumably, word reached the Williamson families in Scotland that mining companies in Southeast Kansas were hiring. Documents indicate that William was the first to immigrate to America. He departed Scotland and arrived in the New World in May of 1886. Anna and her extended Williamson family came to Kansas in August of the following year.

The families settled in Cherokee County, Kansas, where Anna’s father, uncle, and many of her brothers and cousins worked in mines in Scammon, Mineral, Chicopee, Pittsburg, and other mining towns.

The Williamson Family shortly after their arrival in America. Ann is the child to her mother’s right.

There could have been any number of reasons for the family to have chosen to come to America, but one factor, at least for the second family group, could well have been the fact that Udston Colliery–located in Hamilton and very likely William and David’s employer–was the location of a terrible disaster about a year after William left Scotland. On May 28, 1887, seventy-three miners died in a firedamp explosion. This is said to have been Scotland’s second worst coal mining disaster.

Unfortunately, both Anna’s uncle William and one of his sons–Anna’s cousin–James Grierson Williamson–each died in separate mining accidents in Kansas.

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 01 Sep 1893
The Cherokee Sentinel – Cherokee, Kansas – 09 Feb 1900. The accident described did prove fatal: James died about six weeks later.

Anna never married. She lived out her life in Crawford County. At one time, she served as a servant, exchanging housekeeping for room and board.

Anna “Toosie” Williamson and the author ca. 1967

She made frequent trips back to see family in Scotland. On one of her visits, she brought back a kilt, sporran, blouse and velvet jacket, and tam in my size. I think you can see the look of pride on my face dressed in my new Scottish regalia.

The author’s daughter in the same traditional Scottish clothing.

My daughter also had an occasion to wear the ensemble when she and I shared a bit of our ethnic history for her pre-school class’s series of International Days. We had great fun helping the class make shortbread, using the Williamson family recipe. And my amateurish attempts to play the bagpipes brought peals of giggles from the young audience.

I was fortunate enough to have known my great-grandaunt, but she passed away a few years after this photo of her was taken.

Anna Williamson and her love of her homeland inform my research every day, and she was certainly the inspiration for a recent video I made featuring Gaelic music.

Challenge Accepted!

Although I am NOT happy with the way in which Céspedes left my New York Mets, he WAS an awesome player, and he DID wear number 52 both with the Mets and, previously, with the A’s.

Every year about this time one sees advice for keeping one’s New Year’s Resolutions. Invariably, these pieces all contain a variation of something along the lines of, “Don’t be vague. Make your goals specific. ‘I want to do more of [fill in the blank] in the coming year,’ is not nearly as helpful as, ‘I want to aim for doing [fill in the blank] once each month/week/day in the coming year.'”

Having been furloughed since March with a return to work not coming until September at the earliest, I initially fantasized about all of the personal stories I would glean from my family tree during this downtime. While I have certainly done a lot of research on my tree, I have not yet created any posts detailing any ancestor(s)’ life/lives or written about intriguing information I have discovered in the course of adding citations and records to my Ancestry tree.

Well, along came Amy Johnson Crow. I have been on her mailing list for quite some time, but a newsletter she sent last month caught my attention. She has (again) issued a challenge to those on her mailing list to participate in her initiative 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I promptly signed up and joined the Generations Cafe Facebook Community.

Joining others in this initiative will no doubt keep me on track. Doing this much writing will definitely be a challenge, but the rewards for taking this on should be well worth it!

Watch this space for much more activity in the coming year!

Memorial Day 2020

While members of my immediate family have served in the military, only distant members of my family–none of whom I ever met–have died in service to their country. For that, I am extremely fortunate. Knowing that, I endeavor every Memorial Day to highlight an individual in my family tree who did make this ultimate sacrifice. I spend time researching the individual in a more detailed way than time usually allows. I like to think that the time I spend learning more about these individuals’ sacrifice and sharing that information with others serves as an homage.

Sergeant Major Billy Ray Laney 1939-1967

Today, I did some research and discovered a wealth of information about the harrowing Vietnam War experience of a distant cousin (5th cousin 2X removed): Billy Ray Laney.

A particular special operation in which Billy Ray was involved later became the subject of numerous military investigations that went on for over thirty years. I have read several reports that have included the testimony of one of Billy Ray’s surviving comrades in which his comrade describes Billy Ray’s fatal mission. While Billy Ray’s status remained “MIA” for over ten years, further investigations involving DNA did eventually produce more answers for the Army as well as for his family.

The Montgomery Advertiser
Montgomery, Alabama
Sat, Sep 02, 2000 · Page 16
The Anniston Star
Anniston, Alabama
Fri, Oct 06, 2000 · Page 9
The Montgomery Advertiser
Montgomery, Alabama
Fri, Oct 06, 2000 · Page 15

Billy Ray Laney’s widow and three children were ultimately able to properly bury his remains. Memorials to him are erected in his native Alabama and, since 2009, at Arlington National Cemetery.

New Baptist Church Cemetery – Houston County, Alabama
Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, Virginia

 


 

The details surrounding Billy Ray Laney’s fatal mission can be found in a piece written by Maggie Ruth for the website History.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On This Day: Birth of Clifford Lee Harding and Aubrey Nichole Laney

Clifford Harding was born October 17, 1942, in Iola, Kansas, and resides in Lawrence, Kansas.

Aubrey Laney was born October 17, 1991, in Plano, Texas, and resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Clifford is my uncle. Aubrey is my niece.

Siblings Clifford and Sandra Laney in Iola, Kansas – September 1943

My Uncle Clifford and my mother, his older sister, Sandra Joyce Harding (b. 1938), grew up in a very small town in southeast Kansas: Iola, in Allen County.

He and his family moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in the late 1950s.

He took up farming with his father, and he eventually took over the Harding family farm and manages it to this day.

He has been married and divorced three times and has an adult daughter, Kathy Lee “Katy” Harding (b. 1987), from his third marriage.

Clifford continues to work the land, spend time with his beloved dogs, and follow KU Basketball.

Aubrey and Kevin Hammett – October 2017

Aubrey Laney is proud of her birthplace, especially because her husband has ties to Texas as well. However, she and the rest of my brother’s family did not remain in that state for long. They returned to Oklahoma where my brother and his wife began their married life together. Aubrey graduated from Owasso High School and earned a Bachelors degree from Oklahoma State University.

Members of the Laney Family in Texas: Standing, L-R Sandra Joyce Harding Laney (my mother); Garry Bruce Spector (my husband) and Susan Diane Laney Spector (me) pregnant with Melanie Beryl Spector. Seated, L-R: Chelsea Dyane Laney (my niece), Scott David Laney (my brother), David Arthur Laney (my father); and, on Scott’s lap: Aubrey Nichole Laney. Photo taken by Pamela Means Laney (my sister-in-law) in Texas in the summer of 1997.

She was married in Waimanalo, Hawaii, on May 29, 2018, to Kevin Hammett. They are expecting their first child—a boy—in December.


A family heirloom was recently passed along to Aubrey and Kevin: an infant coat and hat crocheted by her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Williamson Laney (1915-2005). The set had been made many years before to be given as a gift. It would appear to have been saved for the perfect recipients!

On This Day: Birth of Jean Linton

Jean Linton was born October 15, 1921, in Denison, Kansas. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Jean Linton is my 1st Cousin 1X removed.

Jean Linton Hemphill at a granddaughter’s wedding in 2012

Jean Linton and her younger sister Frances Linton (born in 1924 and also still living) were the children of William Roy Linton (1881-1964) and Vida Cathcart (1890-1994)—my great aunt.

Jean left the farm of her childhood to attend Geneva College in Pennsylvania. It was there that she met the man she would marry: Willard Edgar Hemphill (1915-2003.) Like so many of my ancestors, it was a shared membership with the Reformed Presbyterian Church—with which the college has an affiliation—that figures into the story of how they met.

Willard and Jean Linton Hemphill

On May 18, 1943, the couple made Geneva College history as the first married couple to graduate together.


Jean Linton Hemphill, surrounded by her husband and three sons

The couple raised three sons, all of whom attended Geneva College. One of their sons became a pastor and served Reformed Presbyterian congregations in Shawnee, Kansas; Selma, Alabama; Westminster, Colorado; and Laramie and Casper, Wyoming, before recently retiring.

Vida Cathcart (Jean’s mother) holds her young half-sister, Ina Vera Cathcart (my grandmother)


Unfortunately, my personal contact with Jean has been minimal, largely due to distance. However, following the completion of my Masters degree in 1987, my first professional job was a one-year post as interim oboist with the Con Spirito Woodwind Quintet, which was at that time an ensemble-in-residence at Duquesne University. During my year in the Pittsburgh area, my mother and maternal grandmother, Ina Cathcart Harding (1911-2002)—Jean’s aunt—came from the Midwest to visit me. The three of us visited Jean at the Reformed Presbyterian Home where she resides today.

Because of the Internet in general and social media in particular, I have been able to get vicarious glimpses of Jean in recent years through the social media posts of one of her granddaughters. And in the process of researching this post, I happened upon a gold mine of information about Jean’s life in this beautiful tribute to Jean’s late husband, written by another of her grandchildren.

(It would appear that the Hemphill DNA is associated with high academic scholarship and a talent for writing!)

By all accounts, she is in good health and good spirits as she celebrates her ninety-eighth birthday!

On This Date: Marriage of John Wesley Laney and Cordelia Paris

John W. Laney and Cordelia Paris were married on October 15, 1877, in Greene County, Missouri.

John and Cordelia Paris Laney were my great great-grandparents.

John Wesley Laney’s father, John Laney–my 3X great-grandfather

John Wesley Laney’s father, John Laney (1817-1894)–my 3X great-grandfather–and his brother, George Marion Laney (1829-1893), had relocated to Greene County, Missouri, from Greene County, Tennessee in 1848. Cordelia’s father, John James Paris (1837-1884) was born in Kentucky, but sometime before marrying Cordelia’s mother–Rebecca Angelina Hampton (1836-1874)–he had moved to Greene County, Missouri. Rebecca was born in Tennessee, but had come to Greene County, Missouri, as a teenager.

The two were married and raised a family in Greene County, Missouri.

Marriage License of John Wesley Laney and Cordelia A Paris(h)

The couple had five children, the youngest of whom was my great-grandfather, Ernest Arthur Laney.

Interestingly, it appears that following John Wesley’s death, Cordelia married his older brother, Rev. Samuel F. Laney, who had become a widower four years earlier.

Rev. Samuel F. Laney and his first wife, Sarah Shockley Laney
The Monett Times – Monett, Missouri – 16 November 1917
Rev. Samuel Laney fought in the Civil War. (His brother John Wesley was too young to serve.) Samuel served the Union Army with the 8th Missouri Cavalry Volunteer Regiment, Company F.

John Wesley and Cordelia Paris Laney are buried together in Maple Park Cemetery in Aurora, Lawrence County, Missouri.

Rev. Samuel Laney and his first wife Sarah are buried together in Concord Cemetery in Ridgely, Barry County, Missouri.

On This Date: Death of Rachel Agnes “Aggie” Curry

Rachel Agnes Curry

Rachel Agnes Curry was born July 9, 1875, in Bloomington, Indiana; she died October 14, 1957, in Oskaloosa, Kansas.

Rachel Agnes Curry was my great-grandmother.

Agnes Curry and her family moved from her birthplace in Indiana to Jefferson County, Kansas, when she was five years old. She was one of six children of James Faris Curry (1842-1921) and Matilda Russell (1846-1913) who lived to adulthood.

At the age of thirty-one, she married Thomas Mathews Cathcart (1863-1947)—my great-grandfather. Tom Cathcart’s first wife—Lizzie Wilson (1859-1902)—had died as a result of illness, leaving him the sole parent of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old.

I do not know how he dealt with this loss and the extra burden that came with it, but I have to believe that marrying Agnes improved both his and his young children’s spirits and enabled my great-grandfather to more easily focus on farming.

In 1911, Agnes and Tom added another child to their family: Ina Vera Cathcart (1911-2002)–my grandmother.

My great-grandfather, Tom Cathcart, with the two children from his first marriage—Mark and Vida (standing); his second wife, Agnes; and their daughter, Ina—my grandmother.

Sisters: Agnes (78) and Vera (74) – October 1953

The last ten years of her life were spent without Tom, and the last three years of her life were spent at a home near Oskaloosa.

She wasn’t far from her daughter, Ina, though, as well as other family members. Three months before her death, she was fêted for her eighty-first birthday.

The Atchison Daily Globe – Atchison, Kansas – 18 Jul 1957
The Winchester Star – Winchester, Kansas – 25 Oct 1957
The Winchester Star – Winchester, Kansas – 18 Oct 1957

Agnes Curry Cathcart is buried, alongside Tom, in the cemetery alongside the Reformed Presbyterian Church In Winchester, Kansas.

On This Day: Birth of Robert Beattie Cathcart

Robert Beattie Cathcart was born on October 2, 1820, in Rocky Creek, South Carolina.

He was my great great grandfather.

Robert Beattie Cathcart was one of nine children born to John Cathcart (1789-1864) and Mary Harper (1789-1873), who were each born and raised in County Antrim, Ireland. The couple and their two small children immigrated to Chester County, South Carolina, in 1816. Robert was one of the couple’s seven children born in America.

Upon coming to America, the Cathcart family was welcomed into a growing community of Covenanter immigrants who had settled in South Carolina. These Scots-Irish believers and their ancestors had escaped religious persecution in the United Kingdom. They found religious freedom in the New World, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, the young country was becoming more and more polarized with regard to the practice of slavery. Many Covenanters found it increasingly difficult to reconcile their church’s and their own personal opposition to slavery with residing in communities where many others did not share nor appreciate their abolitionist beliefs and for whom the practice of slavery was considered essential to their existing way of life.

I have written previously about other members of my family who were Covenanters who elected to relocate to Bloomington, Indiana, another Covenanter enclave.

Suffice to say, my numerous Covenanter ancestors faced difficult choices as the country moved ever closer to civil war.

The very first generation of my Cathcart family to have emigrated from Ireland had been Robert’s grandfather, James Cathcart, Sr. (1763-1861) and his wife Nancy Jane Beattie Cathcart (1765-1845)–my 4X great grandparents. They left County Antrim, Ireland in 1816, accompanied by their eight children, the oldest of whom was John Cathcart–Robert’s father. John and Mary Harper had been married several years and had two small children at the time that they immigrated. Robert and his other siblings were born after the family’s arrival in America.

South Carolina Flag of 1861

It is possible that James Cathcart, Sr.’s brother, John Cathcart, Jr., immigrated to South Carolina as well; we know that his children did so. James’ brother Samuel Cathcart, Sr. (1778-1861) remained in County Antrim, but several of Samuel’s sons–James’ nephews– immigrated and remained in South Carolina.

Sons of Samuel Cathcart, Sr.--nephews of James Cathcart, Sr.-- who stayed in South Carolina as did their descendants.  The brothers were born in Bushmills, County Antrim and died in Columbia, South Carolina.

Pictured, left to right:
Robert Cathcart: 1811-1865;
George Hume Cathcart, Sr.: 1813-1859;
John Huey Cathcart, Sr. (in Citadel uniform): 1826-1908

James Cathcart, Sr., and Nancy Beattie Cathcart and seven of their children chose to remain in South Carolina. The eldest–Robert’s father John–did not.

In 1847, several years after his mother’s death, John, along with his wife Mary Harper Cathcart (my 3X great grandparents) and their nine children (including Robert) moved to Randolph County, Illinois, joining a burgeoning Covenanter community there.

Jannet White Mathews and Robert Beattie Cathcart on their Wedding Day – 23 Jan 1851 – Chester, Illinois
The original Bethel church, erected in 1834, where the Cathcart and Mathews families worshipped.

Robert was a young man by now, and it was here that he met a young Irish immigrant: Jannet White Mathews. Both the Cathcart and Mathews families descended from Scottish Covenanters, and both families were members of the Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Eden, Illinois. Robert and Jannet were married in 1851.

As I detailed in a previous post, the Cathcarts’ life in Illinois was marked by tragedy with the couple having to bury five of their children there. Partly in the interests of removing his despondent wife from a place associated with such loss and grief, Robert and Jannet and their five surviving children relocated to eastern Kansas, settling on a farm near Winchester.

The family’s faith and the church community had been the center of their lives in Illinois, and Robert wasted no time becoming an integral part of efforts to organize and expand the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in their new home. Shortly after the family’s arrival, Robert was chosen for the office of ruling elder. He served the congregation in that capacity for more than thirty-two years.


Robert Beattie and Jannet Mathews Cathcart and their adult Children. Winchester, Kansas, ca. 1895.
The Winchester Star – Winchester, Kansas – 16 Feb 1900 (Note the advertisement for corsets in this photocopy of the print edition!)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Winchester, as it looks today.

Robert Beattie Cathcart, along with many other members of my family, is buried in the cemetery alongside the church he helped to organize. I have numerous living cousins who worship in this very church to this day.

On This Day: Birth of Omar Weldon Laney

Omar Laney was born October 1, 1911, in Joplin, Missouri.

He was my paternal grandfather.

Omar Laney was the only child of Ernest Arthur Laney and Norma Ethel Lewis, both natives of Missouri.

He attended Joplin High School, where he was a member of the ROTC.

He was married for a few years to Juanita Calhoun with whom he had a son, Billy Gene Laney. The marriage ended in divorce.

On September 6, 1936, Omar married Elizabeth Ann Williamson, my grandmother, in Joplin.


My father was born in June of the following year.

Omar Laney and infant son David (my Daddy) ca. 1938

The time the young family would have together was relatively short. When the U.S. entered World War II, Omar joined the Merchant Marines, spending long periods of time away at sea. He travelled all over the world, as you can see from the various ship manifests below.


I’ve always loved this photo of my Dad and his mother and her mother-in-law. This photo was taken on the streets of New York sometime during the war. I’m guessing that the three family members pictured here had travelled from Joplin, Missouri, and met my grandfather’s ship upon its arrival and were sight-seeing during his short leave. A camera buff, Omar probably took this photo.

I love how the photo captures the determined look on my grandmother’s face as she clutches my father tightly to her body. I read her expression as (1) a protective mother, perhaps fearful of dangers that might befall her child in bustling New York City, and perhaps (2) an anxious mother and spouse, knowing that her time with my grandfather was going to go by far too quickly and that all too soon he would be shipping out again. It’s also interesting for me to note how very young she appears in this photo.

Jayhawk Ordnance Works, built during World War II, was a large ordnance plant producing ammonium nitrate. From the story at left originally printed in an employee publication, it appears that Omar worked at Jayhawk prior to his military service and that he returned to visit while on furlough.

After the war, the former military chemical plant was privatized, and at one point it was the world’s largest producer of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the world.

From a timeline of the history of MRIGlobal

After the war, my grandfather returned to Joplin where he lived all of his life except for a period of ten years when he and my grandmother resided in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was employed as an engineer for Cooperative Chemical Association.

My grandfather passed away in 1985 at the age of seventh-three, just before I graduated with my undergraduate degree

He lived to see the first member of his family—his son—graduate from college. And he lived to see my brother and me grow to adulthood.

My granddad and me, ca. 1963

I never thought about it before writing this post, but maybe my granddad’s vehicles—of which he was very proud—had something to do with my favorite color being red…??

My grandfather and me ca. 1964

I will always remember those times that I made him laugh and just how how subtle that hard-earned chuckle was—just like my Dad’s laugh. And, like my Dad, he had a little twinkle in his eye when he smiled or when he was thinking of playing a prank. He had many interests and had many dreams and aspirations that were sadly just out of reach for him, mostly for health reasons.

I will treasure always my memories of my grandfather, particularly at those holiday gatherings that I know he loved so much. I will also treasure the memory of the special effort that he and my grandmother made to attend the recital I gave as a senior in high school.

And just maybe I will think of him the next time I’m in need of a new vehicle and debating about a color choice!