Donated family photo
The Sams Family
Madison County, N.C., resident Betty Clark has been delving into the history of the Sams family, pictured here at a reunion in 1939.
Working crossword puzzles or solving a Sudoku puzzle can keep one’s mind sharp, but for Stan Smith, a more satisfying challenge comes in helping other people solve their genealogical conundrums. Just as the television show asks “Who Do You Think You Are?,” Smith helps others answer that question from 1 to 4 p.m. every Friday as he volunteers at the N.C. Room of the Haywood County Library in Waynesville.
“Sometimes we win; sometimes we don’t,” Smith said.
Smith is an active member of the Haywood County Historical and Genealogical Society and celebrates every new piece of information he can unearth for someone. One such recent success story began with a phone call from a man in California who was searching for information about his great great-grandmother. He believed she had been a slave on the Robert Love farm in Haywood County.
“The way we found her is that I went to the deeds office. Because slaves were considered property, there were records. Her name was given and the first names of her children,” Smith said.
After Smith told the man he had found his ancestor, the man flew in from California to view the records at the deed’s office for himself. He was thrilled with the discovery, and it has fueled his interest in searching for other relatives.
In a different case, a man was disappointed after seeking Smith’s help to prove his Cherokee ancestry. He was convinced he had Cherokee blood because his cousin is Cherokee, but he found out that wasn’t the case.
Smith’s investigation showed the cousin was really a second cousin. “What this means is that instead of having the same grandfather, they had the same great grandfather,” Smith said. “The cousin’s grandmother was the source of the Indian blood.” She was not in the lineage of the man seeking confirmation.
Traveling the Back Roads
While Smith is a native of Vermont and spent his career working as a chemist, he has more knowledge of Haywood County and Western North Carolina than many natives. After retiring to Waynesville fourteen years ago, he joined the Haywood County Historical and Genealogical Society and he also collected information for the 2000 census.
“I was an old guy with a pickup truck, so they sent me into all the back hollers,” he said. “I sat on a lot of porches and talked to people. It was a wonderful learning experience.”
He gained additional knowledge of the area when the genealogical society published a book about the cemeteries of Haywood County. The previous book had been written the old fashioned way with such references as “stop at the third gum tree” or “walk through a pasture.” The society undertook the task of modernizing the information and finding cemeteries that were beginning to disappear due to growth or changes in landmarks.
“I took GPS readings at every cemetery in Haywood County. This again took me into the backwoods,” Smith said. “I learned a lot more about Haywood County than most people learn in a whole lifetime.”
Madison County resident Betty Clark has seen her fair share of cemeteries too, as she works to fill the blanks on family trees on both sides of her family. She also pores over obituaries from the past because they often reveal details that she can’t locate elsewhere.
“There’s a woman named Jan Plemmons who has written several books on Madison County history,” Clark said. “She went back through the local News Record and made copies of all the obituaries that were printed from 1904 to 1935. Not everyone’s obituary was in the paper as it is today, but I’ve found invaluable information in her publication. Sometimes I’ve been able to find out the cause of death, names of surviving kin and even the name of the pastor who held the service.”
The 72-year-old Clark grew up in the Grapevine section of Madison County and began taking notes of things her grandmother told her about their ancestors. After her grandmother died in 1966, she began gathering information from her mother. Through the years, raising a family took center stage for her attention, but she got back to her genealogy research in the early 1980s and worked with cousins to create an annual reunion at Grapevine Baptist Church. It’s set this year for the third Saturday in October and welcomes descendants of the Sams family. Clark carries a remote scanner with her to the reunions so she can easily scan in new information and pictures.
After one of the first reunions, Clark found out that a Dr. Crawford Sams, who was a professor at Berkeley University in California, had researched and published a book on the Sams family. She made contact with him and he sent her a copy of the book.
“It really started me on my way,” Clark said. “It gave me a lot of names and birthdates. His book brought it to my great grandparents level.”
Preserving the Past
Clark has used various methods of research throughout the years—she joined the local genealogical society and has spent time in libraries and courthouses, as well as made personal contact with distant relations. She also finds that genealogy research is becoming much easier through the use of computerized databases.
“I have a subscription to Ancestry.com,” Clark said. “You can view raw data of the censuses. This year they opened up the 1940 census. It’s not indexed yet, but you can still find some names. There are also so many public records you can access from your computer. It’s easy to do this from home.”
She also researches local history as she follows her lineage. Her goal is to not only find out who her ancestors were, but to learn what life was like for them when they were living in Madison County.
Clark wonders if her three children will continue her interest in genealogy, but she does take pride in the wealth of information she has uncovered for them if they ever take it up as a hobby. At this point her grandchildren seem more interested in finding out about the past than her children do. She tells them, “You can’t date anyone in school until you check with me. They may be your cousin.”
Clark continues to work diligently to document everything she can about her lineage. She and her sister have promised each other that they will label every family photo and make copies for others. She’s happy to share her research and the photographs she’s gathered and says most people who conduct genealogy research are usually very generous with sharing with others.
“If I had no other responsibilities I could work on genealogy eighteen hours a day and I wouldn’t get tired of if,” Clark said. “I think it’s a pretty good hobby.”
Strong mountain roots: My genealogical story
Years ago when I was working as Director of Communications at Mars Hill College, Darryl Norton, manager of the campus bookstore, sat down next to me in the cafeteria one day. Jokingly I said, “You better tell me who you’re related to so I don’t talk bad about any of your kin folk.” He laughed and said, “I’m just related to the Carters and the Garrisons.” I said, “So am I!”
My maternal grandmother (Bessie Garrison Shuford) grew up on Sugar Creek in Democrat near Barnardsville. Such is life in the North Carolina mountains where the Scotch-Irish heritage is deep in some places and distant cousins may wind up unknowingly sitting next to each other at lunch someday.
At that time, Richard Dillingham served as Director of the Southern Appalachian Center at the college. He pulled out genealogy research on our families and to show us where our trees crossed. We were cousins down the line—I can’t remember how many places removed, but he provided proof of a similar heritage, no less.
I’m very lucky in my quest to fully understand who my ancestors were. Much of the painstaking information gathering has already been done for me and I can read back through volumes of pages detailing marriages and births and anecdotes about those who came before me. While my maternal grandmother’s family has a strong Scotch-Irish ancestry, my maternal grandfather’s family (W.A. Shuford) hailed from Germany.
Johan Jerg Schuffert, born in Langendselbold, Hessen, Germany in 1689, ultimately moved his family to Pennsylvania in 1733 and then to Western North Carolina in 1755. At some point in America, the name Schuffert changed to Shuford, and Johan’s son, Johannes Schuffert (John Shuford) became the father of the Shufords in North Carolina.
There’s even more readily available genealogical information on the side of my paternal grandmother, Lucile Chandley Midyette Hardee. A search for one of my most famous ancestors yields a multitude of information and pictures online. General John Sevier served under George Washington in the American Revolution, became the first governor of the State of Franklin (this area later became a part of N.C.) and became the first governor of Tennessee. He served six two-year terms as Tennessee’s governor and is the man for whom Sevierville, Tenn. was named.
I also have a copy of the Sevier family history, handed down from my grandmother, with her hand written notations on relevant pages.
General John Sevier is my great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather. He had ten children with his first wife and eight with his second wife. My lineage comes through his ninth child (Rebecca) with his first wife, Sarah Hawkins. Sarah died shortly after the birth of her tenth child.
Breaking it down, I know all the names of those relatives between General Sevier and me:
• General John Sevier (b. 9/23/1745 d. 9/24/1815) married Sarah Hawkins (b. 1746; d. 1780) and had 10 kids.
• Rebecca (ninth child of John Sevier and Sarah Hawkins) (b. 1777/78; d. 11/17/1799) married John Waddell on February 26, 1795. They had two children: Sarah Rebecca and John.
• Sarah Rebecca Waddell (b. 4/25/1796; d. May 1883) married (1815) Abraham Haire (Hare) (b. 1795 d. 1883). They had at least four children.
• Elizabeth Hare (b. 9/30/1825; d. 1900) married John Chandley on May 21, 1842. They had 10 children.
• Mitchell Alexander Chandley (b. 2/26/1845; d. 5/16/1926) married Ruth Eucebie Tweed on January 31, 1867. They had eleven children.
• Everet Orlando Chandley (b. 7/2/1881; d. 6/24/1940) married Pearl Goode. They had two children.
• Lucile Chandley Midyette Hardee (b. 6/9/1909; d. 2/17/1989). This was my grandmother. She had two children: my dad, Ray, and a daughter, Frances Anne (b. 11/1/1931; d. 7/6/1948)
And that brings my family tree from General Sevier to me.
Even cooler, I can go back in time as I investigate General John Sevier’s ancestry. His father, Valentine Sevier, was born about 1702 in London, England. He died December 30, 1803 in Tennessee.
Valentine’s father, Don Juan Xavier, left France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) by Louis XIV. He moved to London and changed Xavier to Sevier.
The family lineage includes a tie to St. Francis Xavier who was born April 7, 1506 in the castle of Xavier in the French Pyrenees. He died in 1552 and was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1622. He’s considered a patron saint of Roman Catholic missionaries in foreign lands.
Being able to connect the dots so far back on one track of my family history fascinates me and simply whets my appetite to find out more.
Get started tracing your family tree
Wondering how to begin tracing one’s family tree? It might be as simple as sitting down for a chat.
“If you’ve got any relative living—preferably a little white haired lady—go talk to her,” urges Stan Smith of the Haywood County Historical & Genealogical Society. “Some of those people can just sit and spin out a genealogy. It’s nice when you run into somebody like that.”
Make sure to take lots of notes when talking to relatives. Even better—get them on video responding to questions about their parents, grandparents, cousins and other family members.
Nancy Price, creator of ClickAmericana.com agrees. “The best place to start is to consider what resources you already have on hand. Think family photo collections, scrapbooks, files and written or oral family histories.”
If one doesn’t have any relatives to ask, or even if so, take advantage of services at area libraries and genealogical societies. The North Carolina Genealogical Society (ncgenealogy.org) maintains a list of genealogical societies in WNC on its website. The Tennessee Genealogical Society is also a treasure trove of information (tngs.org).
Smith volunteers his time each Friday afternoon to help people with their genealogical questions at the North Carolina Room of the Haywood County Library. There are many resources available including costly databases that may not be practical to buy on an individual basis.
“Ancestry.com is one source that costs a lot of money to subscribe to, but we have the library version on our computers at the North Carolina room that people can use any time,” Smith said.
Colleges also may have archives and genealogical books for the public to browse through. Peggy Harmon, Special Collections Supervisor at the Ramsey Library on the campus of Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, N.C., says the public is welcome to come and browse through their offerings as they search for ancestors.
“Usually people come in with a family name and ask if we have a book pertaining to that family,” Harmon said. “We recommend going to the index of the genealogy books we have. The census is another good source for genealogical information and a lot of people haven’t thought of that.”
Also, as you are tracing the past, start making it easier for future generations to know about you. This means getting that box of old photos out and labeling them with names and dates, preserving documents and writing down your own history.
“I am very much an advocate of scanning or photographing anything that might be helpful to me now or may be of interest for future generations,” Price said. “It’s really an easy, inexpensive way to save and organize things. When you digitize old photos and documents, you’re preserving the records and keeping the data safe in case of loss or damage. You can also easily share them with family, friends and the world at large.”