Finding family history in 'the minutes'

J. H. Osborne • May 8, 2020 at 8:00 PM

One way I’ve tried to constructively use time amid the stay-at-home period has been to continue to research my genealogy. I’ve known most of the basics for years. But have known little to nothing about some branches of my family tree, especially past great-grandparents.

I signed up a few weeks ago to be a paid member of Ancestry.com, the online tool for tracing family roots and potentially finding long-lost or never-known relatives. I paid a relatively nominal fee to access the site for a limited time. Within hours of having signed up, I’d already found more information about my great-grandfather, Moses Johnson, than I’d ever known before.

Another resource I’ve been finally using is a large collection of “the minutes.” In my head I think “minutes” should be capitalized. I am talking about the minutes of the Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptists. The small pamphlet-like books are mostly minutes of business conducted at the Association’s annual meeting, which I’ve written about before. But the minutes also include obituaries of the faithful who went to be with the Lord in the year since the prior year’s meeting.

My collection of minutes is made up of those handed down to me by my father, his mother, and my maternal aunt Ova Wallen. I have some dating back to the early 1930s. It’s the older copies I’ve been mining for family information, by reading the obituaries therein, to help in my search for family history.

I’ve found solace, oddly, from obituaries of folks I don’t even know because of the beautiful way they were written. Many focus most on the deceased’s faith. At the same time, I’ve found them frustrating in their lack of detail when it comes to identifying the deceased’s family members.

One of my first finds for my own search: the obituary for my mother’s great aunt Florence. I guess that makes her my great-great aunt. This was especially special to me because just last September, Mom and I had the pleasure of meeting descendants of Aunt Florence. I’d written a column saying Mom and I would be going to Kyles Ford to attend the annual memorial services at Willis Chapel Church and at the Willis Cemetery.

We were delighted when we arrived at church to find Dana Strickler and her son Mark Strickler among the congregation. They said they’d read my column and it brought them to the church service and they were planning to go to the cemetery as well. Dana explained she was one of Florence’s descendants. Florence was a sister to Mom’s maternal grandmother Mary. Their maiden name was Willis, both daughters of Willliam and Anise (Delp) Willis. The Willis cemetery, not to be confused with the cemetery at nearby Willis Chapel Primitive Baptist Church, is located behind what was the homeplace of William and Anise (sometimes called Ann, Anna, or Annie). The homeplace and farm are now privately owned outside the Willis family, making our annual gathering there even more special. Dana is a great-granddaughter of Aunt Florence — a granddaughter of Aunt Florence’s daughter Bertha.

I’m not sure what degree cousins that makes Dana and Mom, or Mark and me — and certainly not how many times “removed.” Mom and Dan have spoken by phone several times since and we hope to meet again in person soon.

A note: Mom’s maternal grandmother, Mary Willis, married Moses Johnson, the great-grandfather I mentioned above. And after his death, Mary (sometimes called Mollie) married twice more.

From the obituaries in the Minutes of the Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptist’s, in its 95th annual session, held at Hopewell Church, Bulls Gap, Tennessee, Oct. 2-5, 1947:

Florence Robinson

“Mrs. Florence Robinson, daughter of Wm. and Ann Willis, was born September 15, 1867, at Kyles Ford, Tenn. At the age of 18 she was married to Hiram Johnson and to this union was born four children, Bertha, Alpha, Lura and Mote. She was left a widow at an early age, later in life she became the wife of the late Floyd Robinson and they had 4 children, Anna, Emily, Faye and John Wesley. Of her eight children, four preceded her in death. These being Lura, Emily, John Wesley and Bertha.”

“She professed faith in Christ in her early youth and joined the Primitive Baptist Church at Willis, of which she remained a member until her death. Christianity was a reality to her, which her daily life reflected. Her life was an inspiration to her family as well as to her neighbors and friends.”

“Before death she was an invalid for five years, being bedfast the last 15 months of this time. Her suffering seemed more than she could bear, but she bore it with the same Christian patience that carried her through the many trials she had faced. Although she was unable to attend church during the last years of her life, she requested the prayers of the Christian people and prayer meetings were held in the home many times. She always enjoyed these and her testimony was that she was just waiting for the Lord to come to take her out of her suffering.”

The obituary listed her survivors as: four children (Mrs. Alpha Robinson, Mrs. Mote Peter, Mrs. Anna Munsey and Mrs. Faye Willis); four sisters (Mrs. Minnie Giles, Mrs. Sarah Smith, Mrs. Doshie Wallen; one brother (Milum Willis); 11 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

“Peace came to her on Aug. 12, 1946. Her afflictions were so great that we are glad that she has found that perfect rest which she longed for.”

The obituary was written and submitted by her children.

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