In the News – 52 Ancestors – Week 13 (2019)

Preparing for a presentation about using newspapers to enhance genealogy research, I searched for my husband’s great grandfather, Martin Luther Jones who lived in Decatur County, Georgia.  One of the first hits I found for him was a classified ad offering a $500 reward for the capture of a Walter Williams.

$500 Reward

“$500.00 Reward,” The Bainbridge [Georgia] Democrat, 21 December 1882, image 4, col. 2; digital images, Georgia Historic Newspapers ( : accessed 30 March 2019), South Georgia Collection.

To say the least, that tidbit piqued my curiosity and the hunt was on. Who was Walter Williams? Who were the other four people listed with Jones in offering the reward? What were their relationships to Jones and Williams?

Fortunately, there is an excellent (and free!) website with digital newspapers for Georgia at  Scouring the digital images and records, I found a story that has led me to begin writing a book. Because I am in the process of writing, I don’t want to give details, but I will tease you with some of the events. See if you agree with me that this is a story for the big screen.

  • Stealing from a family member
  • Bribery
  • Blackmail
  • Perjury
  • Murder for hire
  • Confession and turning state’s evidence
  • $6000 bond posted for murder suspect
  • Jailbreak
  • Accused skipped bail and fled from town before trial
  • Two fugitives on the run
  • $500 reward offered for the capture of one of the fugitives
  • Pursued by sheriff for ten years
  • Alias used for at least five years
  • Mole in sheriff’s department
  • Suspects finally located and captured in Arkansas
  • Extradition back to Georgia
  • Prison break attempt resulting in death
  • Finally tried in Georgia

But I can’t tell the end of the story because I want to save that for my book!

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Family Photo – 52 Ancestors – Week 8 (2019)

I have so many interesting family photos that it was hard to choose, but I narrowed my choice to two photos. My mother’s family photo is interesting to me because my mother, who was the baby in her family, reminds me so much of my baby sister at that age. Another treasure is the smile on the face of one of my aunts.

Dukes family - all 10 kids

Family of O. Lem and Rubanner Fletcher Dukes – Columbia County, Florida, about 1933

The other photo is from my father’s family. I had seen the photo itself  with a note that this was “Grandpa Damato’s family from Italy.” Several years ago, we had a first cousins’ reunion at which time a cousin by marriage gave me a box she had received from our uncle. The box was our grandfather’s tailor box in which he carried tools and fabric when he met clients away from his shop. At the time I received the box, it contained family memorabilia. Among the photos inside was the one that appears below. The photo was in the mat (which I had never seen before) with the name of the photographer and the location – T. Circolo, Montecorvino Pugliano, the village where my great-grandfather was born.  A search for the photographer has not yet yielded any results. No other identification was on the photo. The subjects in the photo are unknown, but presumably related to my great-grandfather who immigrated from Italy in 1881. I don’t know whether they were his paternal (Damato) or maternal (Della Corte) relatives. Regardless of who the people are, I’m sure they are related in some way. I also love how the youngest girl is smiling. She actually reminds me of my youngest granddaughter.

Damato family - Montecorvino-copy

Family photo of unknown family (probably Damato or Della Corte) taken by T. Circolo in Montecorvino Pugliano, Salerno, Campania, Italy.

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Surprise – 52 Ancestors – Week 6 (2019)

Imagine my surprise when I discovered my paternal great-grandfather, Philander Bennett, was a political figure. I had no idea that any of my ancestors were interested in, much less involved in, politics at any level.

A search on for “’Philander Bennett’ Coalton” resulted in Annual Report of the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of Ohio for the Year Ending November 15, 1894 [Columbus, Ohio: The Westbote Co., State Printers, 1895], and also the same report for the years ending in November 15, 1895, November 15, 1896, and November 15, 1897.

SecofStateOhio1894-CoalTwnshipTrustees-Philander Bennett-p165

Annual Report of the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of Ohio, for the Year Ending November 15, 1894. (Columbus, Ohio: Westbote Co., State Printers, 1895), page 165; digital images, GoogleBooks ( acccessed 11 February 2019).

SecofStateOhio1897-CoalTwnshipTrustees-Philander Bennett-p171

Annual Report of the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of Ohio, for the Year Ending November 15, 1897. (Norwalk, Ohio: The Laning Printing Company Press, 1898), page 171; digital images, GoogleBooks ( acccessed 11 February 2019).

Philander Bennett, resident of Coalton, Jackson County, Ohio, was a Republican trustee for Coal township. He actually served two successive terms, the first ending in April 1896,1 and the second ending in April 1899.2 This discovery was surprising because Philander was a coal miner – not a prestigious occupation or profession that would suggest to me a public servant as a township trustee.

During his tenure as trustee, Philander and his fellow trustees faced several serious local issues as found in newspapers of the time.

  • Scarlet fever epidemic – December 18933
  • Wind, rain, hailstorm that flooded the streets and carried away all in front of the flood – June 18944
  • Cloud outburst that caused a flash flood that swept many houses away and left other homes uninhabitable – July 18965
  • Diphtheria outbreak of 40 cases that required a quarantine of the entire town – August 18966
  • Typhoid fever was contracted by seven of the nine Coalton baseball club members who drank from a contaminated well. The team had won the county championship that season. – September 18977

Several coal miners’ strikes occurred and were ended. The most harrowing of the strikes lasted from around November 1896 until the end of January 1897. The following appeal was made for help for the families of the miners.8

Then I found an article dated 1908, the dread of every genealogist. “[A] fire Tuesday at Coalton, a mining village of 1,000 inhabitants, destroyed the police station, the fire apparatus building and several other business structures, including the mayor’s office. All records of the village government were burned.”9 All my hopes of finding township minutes which might have given more clues to the man Philander Bennett were dashed after reading this article.

I received two obituaries for Philander Bennett by email. Although I have never seen a photograph of Philander, these obituaries shed a little more light on the man and his public service.10

1909 Nov 13 - Jackson Herald - Jackson Co OH - Philander Bennett - received in email on 5-17-20131909 Nov 24 - Standard-Journal - Jackson Co Oh - Philander Bennett - received in email on 5-17-2013

Although there is much more to the life of Philander Bennett, including his service in the Civil War, his role in politics was the biggest surprise to me.


  1. Annual Report of the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of Ohio, for the Year Ending November 15, 1894. (Columbus, Ohio: Westbote Co., State Printers, 1895), page 165; digital images, GoogleBooks ( acccessed 11 February 2019).
  2. Annual Report of the Secretary of State to the Governor of the State of Ohio, for the Year Ending November 15, 1897. (Norwalk, Ohio: The Laning Printing Company Press, 1898), page 171; digital images, GoogleBooks ( acccessed 11 February 2019).
  3. “Scarlet Fever Epidemic,” Democratic Northwest (Napoleon, Ohio), 21 December 1893, p.1, col.7; digital images, ChroniclingAmerica ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  4. “The Storm at Coalton, O.,” The News-Herald (Hillsboro, Ohio), 5 July 1894, p.3, col.4; digital images, ChroniclingAmerica ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  5. “Terrible Results of  a Cloudburst at Glenroy, Coalton and Other Points,” Marietta Daily Leader (Marietta, Ohio), 8 June 1896, p.1, col.5; digital images, ChroniclingAmerica ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  6. “Quarantined,” Marietta Daily Leader (Marietta, Ohio), 4 August 1896, p.1, col.5; digital images, ChroniclingAmerica ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  7. “Seven Cases of Typhoid Fever,” Marietta Daily Leader (Marietta, Ohio), 13 September 1897, p.1, col.4; digital images, ChroniclingAmerica ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  8. J. M. Ervin,, “An Appeal on Behalf of the Miners of Jackson County, O.,” broadside, 1897; digital image, OhioMemory ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  9. “Disastrous Fire at Coalton,” Marion Daily Mirror (Marion, Ohio), 6 May 1908, p.2, col.1; digital images, ChroniclingAmerica ( : accessed 11 February 2019).
  10. “Sudden Death,” Jackson Herald (Jackson, Ohio), 13 November 1909, unknown page and column;  “Another War Veteran Mustered Out,” Jackson Standard-Journal (Jackson, Ohio), 24 November 1909, unknown page and column; digital images received by email from Donna Scurlock, 17 May 2013.
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At the Library – 52 Ancestors – Week 5 (2019)

I loved the prompt for this week as I am a recently retired youth services/genealogy services librarian. I used to joke that with those two responsibilities, I took care of “womb to tomb” library needs!


Santa Rosa County Genealogy Library – Milton, Florida

My “At the Library” post today involves two libraries! A discovery I made about my husband’s grandfather at the genealogy library where I worked led me to another library. I knew that George Chatraw, an upstate New York native, took a vacation to Atlanta where he met and married Rosa Jones in the boarding house where they both lived at the time. Rosa was a south Georgia native with a traditional Protestant background – probably Baptist or Methodist, and George was Catholic. They were married on 30 March 1911 by Catholic priest, Robert F. Kennedy, pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church in Atlanta, with dispensation because of mixed religion.

marriage record - chatraw--jones

Church record for marriage of George Chatraw and Rosa Jones – Immaculate Conception Church, Atlanta, Georgia. Note: George is shown to be “ex loco Canada.” His father was French-Canadian, but all records for George indicate he was born in New York.


Marriage license of  George Chatrow [sic] and Rosa Jones who were married 30 March 1911

The newlywed couple immediately moved to Schenectady, New York, where George resumed his job as a machinist at the General Electric plant for a few years. Childless, they moved to Iron City in southwest Georgia where their first child, Earl, was born in 1916. A bad crop year sent them back to Schenectady where George again resumed his old job. Their second son and my husband’s father, Elmer, was born in 1918 in Schenectady. In the summer of 1921, they packed up and permanently moved back to Iron City where they later had another child, a daughter, Margie.

george chatraw with earl and elmer-2

George Chatraw with sons, Earl and Elmer, about 1921

There was a shortage of Catholic churches in the 1920s in south Georgia. Although Catholicism may have been George’s preferred and familiar religion, apparently church attendance at any Christian church was better than none. I have not discovered whether he actually converted to Protestantism, so I need to do more research in church records in that location.

George’s son, Earl, bought a computer at age eighty and shared the family history with me by email. This is his recollection of his father’s religious activity. I have left the punctuation exactly as he wrote it.

Just west of the house and on the west side of the farm was a dirt road that crossed the railroad running north and south, on this road south of the railroad about a mile an [sic] a half was a free will Baptist church, north of the railroad on this road about a mile and a quarter was a holiness church, these churches only had a preacher once a month, Iron City methodist church that Dad was a member of had a preacher twice a month, the two Sundays that the preacher was there Dad went morning and evening. The Sunday that the other two churches had preaching, Dad went there morning and evening, if he did not have to teach Sunday school at Iron City, if Dad had to teach Sunday school at Iron City he went to evening services at the other churches, he had friends and neighbors that went to all of these churches that he loved and cared for, in those days we did not have telephones and this was the only way people could find out how their neighbors was getting along. You see Dad said that the name on the church made no difference to him because all of the people was trying to get to the same place, and it made no difference which way he went so long as he got there.

Now for my discovery at the library. While looking at the county history book Cornerstone of Georgia: Seminole County 1920-1991, I looked in the index for Chatraw. I found the name George Chatrow [sic] in the article “Memorial Quilt” on pages 127-128. The article was about a quilt that a young man had donated to the library in memory of a former history teacher who had given him the treasured quilt in her last illness. This is what the article states about the quilt. “The quilt was made by Iron City citizens in 1929 as a project for the Baptist and Methodist churches. Names of each contributor were hand-embroidered on twenty pink and black cotton broadcloth squares and lined with matching pink cloth. It was hand quilted.” Then the article lists each square number and the contributors; names were duplicated if multiple contributions were made. In squares 1, 15, and 16 was the name Geo. Chatrow. I called the Seminole County Public Library in Donalsonville, Georgia, to see if the quilt is still there, and it is framed and hanging on the wall. They so kindly agreed to email me a picture of the quilt with George’s name in one of the squares, as seen below.

whole quilt

1929 Quilt. Photo by Ralna Pearson, courtesy of Seminole County Public Library – Donalsonville, Georgia.

quilt square 4

1929 Quilt with “Geo. Chatraw” embroidered in one of the squares (about 11 o’clock in the rays of circle). Photo by Ralna Pearson, courtesy of Seminole County Public Library – Donalsonville, Georgia

We currently have in our family possessions a Bible that belonged to George Chatraw with an inscription dated 1916. We plan to pass the Bible on to a great grandson of George who is a minister.


Bible belonging to George Chatraw. Inscribed as “George Chatraw Iron City, Ga – Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year. 1916”

My discovery at the genealogy library in Florida verified the story Uncle Earl told about his father’s connection and commitment to the local churches in Seminole County, Georgia.

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I’d Like to Meet – 52 Ancestors – Week 4 (2019)

Dorothy Dow is the great aunt I would love to meet because nobody ever seemed to know anything about her. I have only seen a few photos of Dorothy – most of them when she was a young girl in group shots, and another when she was probably in her forties at an unidentified location.


Identified by multiple surnames in various documents, Dorothy remains a mystery in the family tree. The last location I have found for her is New York which doesn’t help in discovering anything else about this lady. Another problem in identifying her is that there was a famous Dorothy Dow during the 1940s – 1960s who was an American classical soprano. Searching newspapers in New York for Dorothy Dow yields lots of hits, but mostly for the famous Dorothy.

This is what I know about Great Aunt Dorothy.

  • She was born 23 July 1904 in Saginaw, Saginaw County, Michigan, to Ed E. and Bell Dow. In the birth register, she is listed as Dorethy Daw.
  • She appeared in the 1910 census with her family in Saginaw, Saginaw County, Michigan.
  • Around 1914, she moved with her family to Palatka, Putnam County, Florida.
  • In the 1920 census she was a sixteen-year-old living with her family in Ortega, Duval County, Florida.
  • In the 1921 Jacksonville, Florida, city directory, she was listed as a pkr [packer] for Jax Cracker Wks, and resided on a houseboat at the foot of Dora Street, which is where her parents lived.
  • The 1922 and 1923 Jacksonville city directories listed her as residing with E E Dow whose house was at the foot of Dora [Street].
  • On 9 January 1923 she applied for a marriage license to Robert Surles in Duval County, Florida. She stated her age as 21, born in Michigan, and living at Foot of Dora Street. Robert, 26 years old, was a machinist, born in Georgia, and resided at 1918 Hill Street. Both Dorothy and Robert signed the application.
  • An infant Surles, unnamed, was born premature on 11 January 1923 and died on 12 January 1923. The informant was Robert Surles who listed himself as the father, and Dorothy Dowe was listed as the mother. The name of the undertaker is illegible.
  • Presently, the years of 1924-1939 are a mystery, with the possible exception of a 1930-31 Jacksonville city directory. Both Dorothy and Robert seem to have disappeared during this time. There is a Dorothy Dow listed as r[esiding at] 619 Edison Av. There is nothing else to identify if this is Dorothy Dow, daughter of Edward and Bell Dow. No occupation was listed for her. There are no other Dows listed as residing at that address. Why would she use her maiden name again? Was she separated or divorced from her husband?
  • No Surles are indexed in “Florida, Divorce Index, 1927-2001” at
  • A search of Jacksonville city directories for years 1924-1939 yielded no results for Surles or Searls.
  • No likely Robert Surles candidate could be identified in the 1930 census indexes at or
  • Robert Surles died in Oveido, Seminole County, Florida, on 19 May 1936 and was buried in Americus, Sumter County, Georgia. His obituary made no mention of a wife.
  • A Dorothy Ruth Dow married William John Wilson (born in Lowndes County, Georgia; age 67; engineer; no address given) in Duval County, Florida, on 6 July 1939. She stated her age as 44, and her birthplace as Saginaw, Michigan. The signature appears to be the same as on her marriage application to Robert Surles. Interestingly, there is a “Please Do Not Publish” note on the marriage application.


  • In her mother Viola Bell Dow’s obituary (26 September 1941), she is listed as a living daughter – Miss Dorothy Dow – living in Jacksonville. Was she estranged from her family, and did they not know of her second marriage?
  • In the 1942 Jacksonville city directory, a Dorothy Wilson (no spouse or occupation) resided at 411 W 7th St which is same address as Edward L. and Mary W. Wilson; Edward was a mechanic at Hal Lynch Motors, and had been born in Georgia. No Dorothy was living with Edward and Mary in the 1940 census. The 1942 marriage application for Dorothy Wilson to Clyde Kennedy on 24 October listed her as the daughter of Edward L. Wilson, born 26 November 1923 in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Her signature on the marriage application slants left, and is definitely not the same as Dorothy Dow on the other two marriage applications. Therefore, this Dorothy Wilson is not the same as Dorothy Dow Wilson.
  • Also, in the 1942 Jacksonville city directory, John (mechanic) and his wife Dorothy are listed living at 829 E. Ashley Street.
  • A search on of “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995” and “Ohio and Florida, City Directories, 1902-1960” for Dorothy Dow, Dorothy Wilson, and John Wilson did not return any reasonable candidates with the exception of the 1942 result stated above.
  • In the 2 April 1954 obituary of her sister, Flossie Dow Damato, she is listed as Mrs. Dorothy Dow, a living sister residing in New York, New York.
  • That is the last reference I have found of Dorothy or her whereabouts.

I would so love to meet Great Aunt Dorothy who, as far as I know, never had any other children than the infant daughter she lost as a young mother. I would like to be able to tell her story for her, so I will continue to pursue the search.

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Most Unusual Name – 52 Ancestors – Week 3 (2019)

rubanner dukesI don’t have to go far back on my family tree to find the most unusual name in my ancestry. The name belongs to my maternal grandmother, Rubanner Fletcher, who was born in Florida in 1889. I asked my aunt one time if she knew where her mother got her name. My aunt had asked the same question of her mother. The following is the account my aunt gave.

She said there was a couple who came by their house when Aunt Sally was born. She must have been just born.   This couple suggested they name her Rubanner.  They said, “We’ve already named her Sarah Elizabeth.”  And so Mamma was the next one to come along, and so they named Mamma Rubanner.  She said the couple just came by; she didn’t say if they were neighbors or if they were traveling or what.  They weren’t around when Mamma was born, but they remembered they suggested the name Rubanner.

It would be interesting to know the identity of this, obviously, very influential couple in the lives of my great-grandparents. But I suppose they shall forever remain an enigma. I never heard of my grandmother complaining about her name, so maybe it was not important to her.

Apparently, not everyone was enthralled with, or could believe, her name. My mother said my grandmother was lovingly called “Banner” by her siblings. In the censuses, she is enumerated as Rubonner (1900), Ruby (1910), Rubanner (1920), Rubona (1930), Mrs. O. L. (1935, Florida State census), Rubamer (1940), and Rubanner (1945 Florida State census).  Her marriage license lists her as Rubella!

A search across all collections in yielded only two other people with the exact spelling of “Rubanner.” Interestingly, both were contemporaries of my grandmother; one was a woman born in 1884 in Louisiana; the other was a man born in 1887 in Kentucky. There were more similar names (not my grandmother) in the Ancestry search results list than I expected – Rubannar, Rebanner, Ruebanner, Rubaner, Rubanie, Robanner, Rubenner, Rabanner – and these are just from the first fifty results.

One year at a family reunion many of us shared our memories of our mother and grandmother, Rubanner Fletcher. Here are some of the comments:

She had the patience of Job and the gentleness of a dove.  – one of her six daughters

No one has ever had a better mother-in-law.  I couldn’t have loved her more if she had been my own mother.  – one of her four daughters-in-law

A time or two when Ovedia was sick, I called and she said she was packing her suitcase. She said she was waiting for transportation. – one of her six sons-in-law

William Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet, penned the phrase, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s how I feel about my grandmother. It didn’t matter that she had the most unusual name I had ever heard. It was the character of the woman who bore the name that was more important to me. This special lady was as kind a person as you will ever meet, never had a mean word to say about anyone, and loved her children, grandchildren, and God dearly. It’s so appropriate she was born on Valentine’s Day.

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52 Ancestors: Week 4

Invite to Dinner

This week’s prompt is to tell what member of your family tree you would invite to dinner. I would throw a dinner party! All of my great-grandparents would be invited, which would make for an interesting assortment of guests – farmers, coal miner and railroad man, tailor, homemakers, immigrants, Catholics and Protestants.

There are so many questions I want each of them to answer. For Ed and Viola (Bennett) Dow: Did you really bring your family and belongings from Michigan to Florida in two railroad cars to settle on land you purchased sight unseen? For Joseph and Angelina (Previti) Damato: Tell me all about the Jacksonville Fire of May 1901 and how it impacted your lives. For James Ball and Laura (Lee) Fletcher: Why can’t I find your death certificates when you died in the 1920’s? For John and Alice (Allen) Dukes: Tell me about my grandmother when she was a young girl newly married to your son.

I would also invite my parents to the dinner so they could ask questions they would like to ask them. My mother never knew any of her grandparents, and my daddy only knew his grandmothers.

I’m sure there would be some interesting conversation overheard – especially if I strategically arranged the seating!


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