Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Journeys in Genealogy

Genealogy is interesting to me.   It is always fascinating to see how connected people are and to read about many of the stories I have come across in my own family tree.  I largely began my research into my own family history about 4 years ago.  My biggest regret is that my father died two years before then and so I wasn't able to share with him what I have learned about his family.  When I started the first record I had to go by were the names, dates of births and deaths that my mom had recorded in their family Bible.  Thanks to ancestry.com, familysearch.org, findagrave.com, and many other resources I have come along way since then.  I have around 5,000 people in my tree currently.

The first connection I was most interested in researching was my great grandfather on my dad's paternal line, Julius Honesta Stevens.  In the family Bible, I didn't have any dates for him, but on his grave, he has two dates of birth.  One is 1836 and the other is 1837.  I'm still not sure exactly which is correct, but I lean towards 1837 because in the 1900 census there is also a month listed, January 1837.  I haven't been able to find a death certificate for him though I did run across an obituary for him which stated that he died on his farm near Indian Rock and that he was a member of Indian Rock Baptist Church.

My older brother had obtained a few years ago, his Confederate pension records.  From that I learned that he had served in the 17th Mississippi Infantry, Company I under R H Cooper.  I had also learned from that he had lived in Marshall county, Mississippi and that he had enlisted at Cockrum in June 1861 and that he was captured in April 1865.  I also knew from those records that he first came to Texas and lived in Johnson county in 1897 or 1898.  I have since learned from other Confederate service records that he was captured on April 6th, 1865 at the Battle of High Bridge in Virginia and that he was taken to Point Lookout prison in Maryland.  He was released on June 30th, 1865 which was also the same day that the last prisoners were released from Point Lookout. 

I am glad he didn't have to be there too long, because from what I've read, Point Lookout was the Andersonville of the North.  A very bad place, where the guards would torment, beat, and often shoot prisoners at random and where the prisoners would have to resort to eating rats to supplement what little food they got.  http://www.plpow.com/Atrocities_OutrageAtPL.htm  Apparently it is debated whether it was worse than Andersonville or not, but to say it was a bad place to be is an understatement.  There were men, women, and children there.  There were both blacks and whites who were imprisoned for serving the Confederate cause.

Going over the history of his regiment, I was surprised to find that they had  served in many battles including Gettysburg.   It amazes me how he was able to survive for so long through the course of the war only to be captured three days before Lee's surrender.

 From his obituary, I learned he died on April 4th 1912 and from the death certificates of his children, I learned that his wife's name was Liddie Dora Watterson.  I knew the Liddie Dora part from the family Bible and from her grave.  My brother had also obtained a copy of a mortuary warrant from when she died in 1924 that gave some more information.

Now even though I had found out much of that beforehand, I still had trouble determining who his parents were.  I knew from an 1880 census that his mother went by the name of E S Fellows although it looks like Fellon.  I will go over how I determined it was actually Fellows in just a moment.  I knew that he had been born in Johnston county, North Carolina because that was on his tombstone and it was in the census records that he had been born in North Carolina.  I had thought that since he had named his oldest son, my grandfather, William Harry Stevens that that may have been the name of his father or something similar.  I had posted a query on a message board asking for information and someone suggested a marriage had occurred between a William Henry Stevens and an Elizabeth Smith Allen on December 20th, 1834 in Johnston county, North Carolina.  I then found the marriage bond for such a record.

This made sense, but I was needing more evidence to link William Henry Stevens and Julius.  I did some research on William Henry Stevens and found that he had a brother named Julius Alexander Stevens and that Julius Alexander had a son named Hannibal Honestus Stevens.  I was sure at that point that I was on the right track because of the name of my great grandfather, Julius Honesta Stevens.

I then took the ancestry.com DNA test as well as some of the FamilyTreeDNA.com tests, and the 23andme.com test.  What I found only confirmed my links even more, because I had 4th to 6th cousin matches with ancestors going back to Jacob Stevens and Belinda Jernigan who were William Henry Stevens grandparents and thus my fourth great grandparents.  I also found matches to Elizabeth Allen's ancestors as well.  The most recent 4th cousin match descended from William Henry's father's other son Needham Bryan(t) Stevens.  William Henry Stevens's father was a Henry Newton Stevens.
I learned that last part about who William Henry Stevens's siblings were through someone who had sent me copies of pages from a book that listed many of the Stevens from that  part of North Carolina.

Now at some point in the 1840's William Henry Stevens and his family moved to Mississippi.  What is interesting is that his brother, Julius Alexander Stevens also moved to the same part of Mississippi.  After 1844, William Henry Stevens disappears.  I think it is likely that he died sometime between 1844 and 1850 because by the 1850 census in Desoto, Mississippi we find E S Stevens raising her children alone.  In the 1850 census we see some sibling for Julius.  One is a William Stephens(possibly William Henry Stevens, Jr.), another is a sister, E Stephens (who in the 1860 census is listed as Elizabeth C R Stephens), and then there is a male about the same age as Julius listed as M Stephens(possibly Milton).  At the time, it wasn't uncommon to confuse Stephens with Stevens and given that Julius's mother is listed as being illiterate in the 1880 census that maybe why.  In 1857, there is a record for a Mrs. E. S. Stevens marrying an L J Fellow.  In 1860, we have the Fellows living next door to Julius and his sister.  I haven't found an 1870 census record for Julius yet, but I did find one showing his mother, Elizabeth Fellows living with his uncle Julius Alexander Stevens.  Then comes 1880 and we have Julius living with his mother.

Julius didn't get married until he was 57 in 1894 and my grandfather was born in 1895.  Julius and his wife had six children.  His mother died in 1897 and is buried in the same cemetery as his uncle.  It was at that point that he moves to Texas at first to Johnson county and then finally to Upshur county.

One of Julius Alexander Stevens's children who is also named William Henry Stevens also moved to Upshur county about the same time.  Now since he was cousins with my great grandfather, I'm sure they knew each other and I wonder if one followed the other.

I should note that in the 1850 census, I said there was another male listed as an M Stephens and the reason why I think his name might be Milton is because Julius named one of his sons Milton.  I have no other record for the M Stephens though.  I later determined from other family trees that Julius's sister was Elizabeth C P Stevens and that she married Captain R H Cooper who Julius served under.  Captain R H Cooper also provided answers for a deposition for my great grandfather's pension.

As you can see I've found out a lot, but this only focuses on one part of my family history.  I've found out much about other branches and perhaps I will share some about them soon.  I would encourage everyone to begin a journey into your family history to see what you find.  I would also recommend taking a DNA test as well because that can go a long way to helping you  confirm links.  I recommend ancestry.com, because it is easier to go through and compare family trees there.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Amazon Fire Phone 4 out of 5 stars

There are some things that work really well on the Fire phone and then there are other things that could be improved on.  Overall, I was favorably impressed by Amazon's initial foray into the smartphone market.  There are a couple of things that Amazon does better than Galaxy at least on the S3 in my opinion.  That is what I had prior to getting the Fire phone.  The first is the voice assistant.  It does a really good job of recognizing what I'm saying even when I'm speaking in a low voice.  The second thing is navigation.  Normally when I would use the navigation on my S3, I would have to look at the screen to see if my next turn was on the right or left until I was almost right on it.  With the Fire phone, it told me to keep left or keep right farther out from where I would have to make a turn which I thought was pretty cool.  Some other great features include the unlimited storage in the Amazon cloud, the optical image stabilization in the camera, the fact that if you have a Kindle Fire it will automatically sync the content you have on it with the Fire phone, and it does the same for Audible.  One other great feature is Mayday which allows you live video chat or text chat with an Amazon rep within 15 seconds who can provide remote on screen guidance.  Firefly is nifty.  I tried it on a couple of things and it recognized them.  One was a bottle of Cool Water cologne and the other was a vtech cordless phone system.  I had to hold the phone over each item in a certain for it to recognize them though.   Being Amazon's first phone, I wasn't expecting to be blown away, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things I mentioned above.

Now for the things that Amazon could improve upon.  The first thing is the lack of a back button.  To go back you swipe up on the phone, but that doesn't always work so well especially if you are on a web page, because it will usually take you to the bottom of the web page before it will take you back.  Another item is the side menus.  The side menus are supposed to slide out when you tilt the phone left or right.  You can also access them by swiping left or right.  I haven't had very good success with tilting.  That being said that is more of a minor issue because you can still access them by swiping and most of the options are in the app menu anyway.  I believe Amazon could resolve these issues fairly easily in a future software update.

Some things I would like to see in a future Fire phone would be a larger display and a removable battery.  The 4.7 inch display is okay, but not as wide as the S3 and the phone feels small if you've been used to using an extended battery with an S3 like I was or if you use a Galaxy Note.  I have my doubts about how well the device will sell because if you are used to the Galaxy phones or an IPhone, then it may take a little getting used to.  Also when I picked up my phone at the AT&T store on the first day it was released, they told me I was the first one that had purchased on at their store which I thought was kind of funny given that all of the sales people had Fire t-shirts on.

Hopefully Amazon will address some of these flaws in future software updates and in future devices.  I think it is a great device with a lot of potential.

*Update...I did speak to a Mayday rep about the issues that I had noticed.  She indicated that they were going to be releasing a software update at some point so hopefully that will correct some of the initial bugs I had noticed with the tilting and going back.  I have to say that Mayday is definitely one of the best features for that reason alone.

**Update...Apparently for some things it just takes getting the gestures right.  I found that when I swipe up and to the right in a diagonal direction that the back action works slightly better.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Three PlaysThree Plays by Ayn Rand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains three plays written by Rand. They are all basically murder mysteries. The first two stories would have caused me to give the book 3 or 4 stars, but the last one was the best and it is why I gave it a fifth star. The last one, "Think Twice" is more of a classic who done it type of mystery. It is curious that it was the only one that was never produced, but it would actually make a pretty good movie in my opinion. As to why it has never been produced, that likely has more to do with what is said in the final scene.

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AnthemAnthem by Ayn Rand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book about a dystopian future where people are given numbers to mark their identity rather than names, where everyone's life is largely mapped out by society all for the purpose of the same society. It is a good short introduction to Rand's views on collectivism and the dangers they pose. It is a good read.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Review of "We the Living"

We the LivingWe the Living by Ayn Rand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. The fact that she shows the protagonist going for the villain over the hero is interesting. I know Rand's favorite was the villain, Kovalensky, but I could relate more to the hero, Andrei Taganov. I found that I could relate more with him in the end than even the protagonist, Kira. Kovalensky, I found to be a worthless scoundrel. It's defintely worth a read for both the story as well as the view of what life was like in the early Soviet Union by someone who had actually lived there.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

President Indecisive

Is it just me or does it seem like Obama is incredibly indecisive?  For one his dithering on Syria, for two his unwillingness to do much to combat the ISIS threat in Iraq and thirdly to really win in Afghanistan.   What is up with these containment policies?  The goal in Afghanistan seems to be more about containing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda than it is about defeating them.  Does that really work?  Isn't the purpose of war to defeat your enemy rather than to allow them to regroup and keep attacking you?  I don't know.  Of course, it would help if we would take the war to Waziristan, because the Pakistani government has proved to be less than trustworthy in dealing with that region or in stemming the flow of insurgents from that area.  The President doesn't seem to have much of a stomach for long term warfare.  Yet do we really have much choice?  I would argue that there is merit to the argument that we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here.  Wasn't that the lesson of September 11th? 

With Obama having dithered around on Syria for so long, that has resulted in a largely stalemated situation there.  He didn't want to go around the UN on it because he didn't want to be another Bush, but while I'm not quite sure the original decision to go into Iraq was the best one, I do agree with W in that sometimes you can't wait around on the UN.  The delay in action in Syria also largely contributed to the rise of extremist Islamic groups in Syria and likely contributed to the rise of ISIS which now threatens Iraq.

So the other day, I read that Obama has said there will be no ground troops in Iraq.  Yeah, good job telling the enemy what our limits are.  On top of that, the next day I read about a group of American contractors being surrounded by ISIS.  Hmm.  I would think that would at least call for some limited use of ground forces to rescue them.

I gave Obama kudos for giving the green light on the mission that killed bin Laden and I agreed with his decision to assist in Libya.  However, since then his foreign policy has been inept at best.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


I came across this article posted to a Facebook group I belong to:  http://www.salon.com/2014/06/05/forget_christopher_hitchens_atheism_in_america_is_undergoing_a_radical_change_partner/.  My thoughts on it is the author has mixed up secular humanism with atheism.  Although in some ways I can understand why.  Secular humanists are rapidly trying to be the voice of atheism in America.  Yet they don't speak for me as well as many other if not most atheists.   Many atheists will say they are secular humanists without really knowing much about it.  I consider myself a humanist in a general sense and I am secular, but the problems with organized secular humanism is that it is dominated by leftists who are pushing a social justice agenda.  They have little tolerance for dissenting viewpoints.  I am friends with some who identify themselves as secular humanists.  The problem is that social justice as a term doesn't really mean anything or it means a lot of things that I disagree with.  They tend to embrace every naive liberal idea out there like we should do more to help the poor and by more I generally mean through governmental policy, they don't like capitalism, and they tend to be tree hugging environmentalists. 

The atheists the author refers to in the article I mentioned above, I tend to disagree with on many subjects.  I know many other atheists who disagree with them as well.  I've tended as a result of these people imposing themselves on the atheist community to largely avoid organized atheism as a result.  Atheism is simply lack of a belief in a deity.  There are conservative, libertarian, and liberal atheists.  There are also Laveyan Satanists and Objectivists who are both atheistic and yet they don't try to say that their beliefs define what it means to be an atheist.  That is what I find most insulting about the above article in that it uses what some atheists believe and insists that that is what atheists in general believe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thought Nazis

I once considered myself a  liberal, but no longer do.  Nor do I consider myself a conservative.  The problem is that I have many liberal "friends."  One thing, that I've noticed is that the liberals are much more judgemental on a personal level.  They can be downright nasty if you disagree with them about something.  It is so awful that it has made me reconsider what I put out there when it comes to my opinions.  When I was a liberal, I never experienced the kind of vitriol from conservatives that I do now from liberals.  I realize that not all liberals are like that, but some are.