Blog 2022 05 01 2022 Don’t let facts get in the way of a good family story

I am writing this from Chattanooga where I had the honor to be a key-note speaker and give two additional presentations at a family convention.

This particular family originated in Essex County, Virginia in the mid-1700s.  From there, the family migrated in three distinct directions, north towards New York; straight west to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; and southernly to Georgia, and then on west to Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.  However, they have an interesting family story about an incident that occurred with one of the family members who originated in Georgia as many of the children began moving west.

I will not retell the exact story here but what I wanted to point out is that the story of this one sibling born about 1827 and had served a tour in a Georgia regiment during the Civil War fled west with his family after his initial tour to presumably avoid further service.  At the same time, several brothers moved to two different places in Louisiana, and cousins moved to Arkansas and Texas.

The interesting thing is, that the story of this one individual’s alleged crime and escape from prosecution has been passed down through the generations to this very day.  While some details are a bit different from family branch to family branch, it seems plausible that all or portions of this tale are true.  Whether they can determine exactly where in Texas this incident occurred and then find records from during the Civil War may be what will separate fact from fiction.  But still, it is a pretty good story and as I stated, the interesting thing is that descendants of his, his siblings, and cousins who lived near him in Chattooga County, Georgia all passed the story down.

So most of my blogs are about finding facts and proving our cases but with family stories, that is not always possible.  Take one that concerns how my father and his older brother, Ralph, ended up in Chicago.  My grandfather, Joseph Henry Thomas (1890 – 1982) [i], was a farmer as was his father, grandfather, back to our progenitor who moved us to Georgia around 1754.

According to a story that my grandfather told me, he wanted to go to medical school.  He had a successful uncle after whom he was named, Joseph Henry Thomas.  Uncle Joseph was a prominent lawyer who went on to be a state circuit judge and granddad asked his uncle to help pay his way to medical school.  His uncle stated he would be happy to pay for him to attend law school.  A few back and forth, and granddad realized the only school that his uncle would help fund was law and he did not want to go.

In 1926, my great grandfather, General Jackson Thomas, died. [ii] He left, 9 children, one of whom was a minor and living with her mother.  A couple of his sons were living and working in the shipbuilding industry in Brunswick, Georgia.  By 1932, no one had bought the old farm so granddad did and began to farm it, something, remember, he did not want to do.

Therefore, he urged all of his children to get off “the farm” and do anything but farm.  My father, born in January 1931, was close to his brother who was born in April 1928.  Both were intrigued by electronics where the radio had been the leading form of mass entertainment and televisions were just beginning to hit the market.  So they decided that Ralph would go to Chicago first and obtain training and dad would follow once he graduated High School in 1948.  However, Ralph died while riding my father’s motorcycle early on the morning of 19 September 1950 when an allegd drunk driver collided with him.

Dad decided to continue the plan and stay in Chicago and pursue a career in televisions where he worked for a while at a Zenith factory and then as a repairman.

There is no ‘evidence’ that pertains to uncle Joseph refusing to pay for my grandfather to go to medical school and there is no ‘proof’ that he urged the kids to not become farmers.  The only proof is what granddad told me and what my father told me about why he and Ralph went to Chicago.

Nevertheless, we need to remember them, write them down and pass them along to our kids.

[i] Bleckley County, Georgia, Certificate of Death/State of Georgia, State File Number, Death Certificate of Josephe Henry Thomas, Bleckely County Probate Court, Cochran, Bleckley County, Georgia, copy in author’s possession.

[ii] Glynn County, Georgia, Georgia, Georgia State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Registered No. 3280, Death Certificate of General Jackson Thomas, Glynn County Probate Court, Brunswick, Glynn County, Georgia, copy in author’s possession.