Story Security

My parents and all of my aunts and uncles have now passed away, and I am now the senior  generation of my family.  Instead of looking to my elders for information, I am now the one who has the knowledge about the olden days, of how we lived without electronics and instant gratification. While I am still on this earth I hope I tell or write down everything I know for the benefit of future generations.

Because I know how it feels to be curious about the stories of my forebears, to know that no matter how desperately I  about long to hear  about their lives I will likely never know more than I do now. To wonder why some relatives moved from Missouri to Arkansas, or who sewed the ruffled dress worn in a black and white photo, or even the circumstances on the day a picture was taken, is normal I believe. Knowing our stories makes us feel more  connected to those who came before us and worked  through many hardships to make a decent life. Stories make us feel secure.

Recently a friend of mine who has an interest in genealogy started a family tree for me on  I wasn’t sure if the family tree  would lead to anything I didn’t already know, but at least I would have some things recorded for my children. Imagine my surprise when my friend received an email from a cousin on my Father’s side! I remembered meeting her, Sherry B., once at my grandmother’s house long ago. ( It was  so long ago that girls were wearing baby doll bathing suits, and Sherry’s grandmother, my Auntie Vera, was trying to sew a row pf lace across the top of Sherry’s bathing suit because she thought the neckline too low.)

We always knew more about my mother’s side of the family than my Father’s, because my mother’s family all lived here, while my Father’s was from Arkansas. We knew that our  Father became an only child when his sister Betty Jo, aged five, died of meningitis. Shortly after my parents married my Father’s father died at the age of 53 from a heart attack, leaving only my grandmother and my Father in Memphis. My Father told us very little about his family or growing up years. I had a few pictures of my Father as a child, but the accompanying narratives died along with him.richardson (1 of 1)-5

When our cousin Sherry B. contacted me through, I was delighted to find she lived not too far away and was willing to come to Memphis to share any pictures or other information she had. Last Saturday my two Memphis siblings and I met Sherry B.  for lunch. We were all eager to share whatever snippets of information we knew about that side of the family. I mentioned that my Father used to have a notebook that had belonged to our great grandfather John M. Richardson.I had actually seen it but did not know what happened to it after my Father’s death.

“Wait a minute,” cried my brother John, who is named after the man. “I think I’ve seen that at my house!” And he raced off to get the book while the rest of us repaired to my house for decaf and further discussion.

Soon my brother arrived with the notebook, which was bulging with pictures of people we had never met. The notebook itself appeared to have been used by J.M. Richardson to record finances and work hours.

And to save beer recipes.

And to save beer recipes.

Every time a new picture was gingerly removed from the book and passed around, it was like Christmas morning. Thankfully my grandmother, or someone, had written on the backs of most of the pictures. That was a gift in itself.

John Michael Richardson

John Michael Richardson

Eventually the picture passing slowed, though it never quite stopped, for we were mesmerized by these people, these faces, these lives, but we were at last able to pool our respective information. As far as tracing back many generations, we were all stuck at a frustratingly recent place, that of our great  great grandfather John Michael Richison. We can find no evidence of his beginnings.

J. M. Richison died in the Civil War and his body was never found. His widow, Anna Doyle Richison, remarried to a man named Crow. We know nothing more about her except that she is buried in Ash Fork, Arizona.

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

My great grandfather Richison/Richardson fought in the “Indian Wars”richardson (1 of 1)-30 and married a divorcee named Hannah Dow. At some point in his life he changed the spelling of his last name; we do not know why.  In addition to Hannah’s daughter Irene, the couple had four more daughters: Rheba Vivian,

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Vera, Tora,

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

and Blanche Anna, my grandmother.

My grandmother

My grandmother

Tora died at age ten.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

J. M. Richison/Richardson  worked for the railroad,richardson (1 of 1)-31 but at some point the family moved by covered wagon to Ferndale, Arkansas, where Richison may have farmed crops or lumber.richardson (1 of 1)-8

The girls grew up. Rheba married and moved to California where her sons supposedly still live. Vera, Sherry B.’s grandmother,  married but divorced after having three children,one of whom died at the age of nine.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

At some point  Vera, likely for financial reasons, sent her children out to work and board with area farmers. Vera worked as a nurse’s aide, became a Seventh Day Adventist, and never remarried.

Blanche graduated high school, married and had two children.



The death of her daughter Betty Jo cast a pall over her marriage. As an adult I once asked my Father where his sister was buried and he said he did not know.

Before Betty Jo's death

Before Betty Jo’s death

That broke my heart, to think of a five year old’s grave going untended through the years. My guess is that sad things were just not discussed.

We continued to share and muse as we perused the pictures from the book my brother realized he had had in a box for many years. I think each one of us learned some things we had not known before, but many questions remained unanswered. Why the name change from Richison to Richardson? Why the move from Missouri to Arkansas? Why did our forebears tell us so little while they were alive?

No, we don’t know those answers and likely never will. But at least we share the bond of looking and wondering right along with Sherry B. There is a kind of security in that.

Looking forward to our next visit!

Looking forward to our next visit!



10 thoughts on “Story Security

  1. I love this! I love family history and find it so fascinating, even when it is not mine. A woman in my writing group found an old diary with loads of her family history, and she has been using it as inspiration for her writing. Think of all the “historical fiction” tales you could weave with what you do know about your ancestors. I think it is amazing. I can’t tell you how deeply I felt a connection to my roots when my husband and I traveled to Ireland two years ago and visited the graves of my great, great grandparents. I do wish I knew more about them than I do, but I guess we can learn the lesson to keep what we know about our families alive for our kids and grandkids. It’s great that you have put all this here for safekeeping for future generations.

    • You lucky thing for being able to find their graves! And yes, the historical fiction opportunities abound. When we don’t know their stories we can simply fill in with one of our own. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. How absolutely wonderful! I love seeing the internet lead to such happy things, and I am so grateful to you for putting all of this together for us! I love that picture of grandaddy–he looks just like himself! It is sad that some things are lost, and I am sure sad things were not discussed. I am just glad we know as much as we do know. Thank you again!

    • Doesn’t that picture of Grandaddy look just like him? I have many more to show you when you come. I could have waited to post until we get everything scanned but I JUST DIDN’T WANT TO WAIT!!!!!

  3. Great stories and great photographs. I’m the one doing all of the history in my family. Have tracked down some great photographs, unearthed some great stories, and am faced with some mysteries to crack. It is never ending, but rewarding. I have a much richer sense of where I have come from now.
    Oh-and name changes: I think it happens due to illiteracy the further you go back, people filling in forms, signatures,etc, on their behalf. I was stumped for a while looking for a Wolfenden, turns out, after many generations, they used to be Wolfendale.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Andy. I too think the name changes are from illiteracy as well as convenience. No doubt that has caused many historians lots of anguish. Good luck on your own family history; you’ll never regret doing it.

  5. This may not help, but MTM’s family changed their last name from Meagher to Maher, because the latter was how people pronounced it. Doesn’t explain the additional of syllables to your family name, but the change is a more common version.

    I have a close friend with family in greater Memphis/across the river in Arkansas, and now I’m wondering whether you’re related. Her maiden name is Kersey.

  6. Wow! This must be a thrill like no other. What a fantastic find! I love going through old photographs and have pasted a few old ones of the family on Facebook. Some of them are me in various stages of dorkiness. I wish had more and I wish I knew more about my family, but because my father moved away from the village to the BIG city of New Delhi in the early 1940’s he completely lost touch and of course we kids too.

    The only time I visited the ancestral property was in 1994, when all of us were gathered for my mother’s funeral and my brother-in-law organized a day trip for us. We drove a couple of hours to a serene village surrounded by lush fields of mustard, I believe, which I am told once belonged to us and are now being tended by assorted cousins that I have never met. I was 34 years old and that 1 hour in the village is the only time I visited the house in which my father was born.

  7. I believe Hannah E. Richardson was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas. The headstone bears John M. Richardson’s name and birth, but not death, so it is quite likely he is not buried with her. (See Find a Grave # 58855459)

    On Family Search there is a marriage record for John M. Ricardson to Hannah E. Dow on 28 December 1889 in Brandenburg, Meade County, Kentucky. Parents were not named.

    I also came across this genealogy
    This looks like Hannah E. Dow was the daughter of George Dow and Emily Benham.

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