Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Guitar Finally Fell Out of my Family Tree

I've always thought it would be interesting to find out I was distantly related to someone famous. I have cousins who are related to Elvis Presley (and they even have the last name to prove it) but until now, no one from the entertainment world has jumped out of my tree and started singing.

Malcolm Yelvington
I’ve recently been researching the Yelverton family and received an email from a distant Yelverton relative, Mickie, who let me know that I have a famous cousin too. Had Elvis Presley not decided to walk into Sun Studio that day in 1954, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll could have been Malcolm Yelvington.

Malcolm and I share a common ancestor in Hardy Yelverton who was his fifth great grandfather and my sixth.

Malcolm Yelvington and the Star Rhythm Boys
Malcolm was born near Haywood County, TN in Covington on Sept. 14, 1918 and was the youngest of eight children. As a young boy, he learned to sing and play the guitar after one of his older brothers taught him a few chords. In the late 1940s he began playing with Reece Fleming’s band, The Tennesseeans at The Memphis Gem Theater. Later he played with the Star Rhythm Boys and the band was a big hit in honkey tonks and clubs around Covington. Malcolm had a deep baritone voice that some compared to Ernest Tubb.

Although the rest of the band lived in Covington, Malcolm lived in Memphis and wanted to play the clubs and bars there.

According to Wikipedia, Malcolm and guitarist Gordon Mashburn arranged to meet Sam Phillips in 1953. Sam thought they had potential although he didn't like the country sound of some of their songs. He had them audition a large number of songs until he found one he thought may work (If you are an Elvis fan, that will sound familiar).

Finally, they recorded "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" which was a blues song written by Sticks McGee. Phillips thought it was a great mix of black and hillbilly music and liked the fact that it was different.

Unfortunately, their record was the next one released after Elvis’ “That’s All Right.” The country radio stations thought "Drinkin' Wine" sounded too black and the black radio stations thought it was too country.

Malcolm recorded other songs but eventually gave up on a recording career and concentrated on raising his growing family. In 1961 he had a religious conversion experience and dedicated his life to God. Malcolm joined Decatur Trinity Christian Church in Bartlett, TN where he remained a member for the rest of his life. He became a welder for Buckman Laboratories in Memphis and continued to sing as a member of the gospel group, The Carpenter’s Crew.

In the 1980s, music historians discovered Malcolm's music and, along with a resurgence in popularity and appreciation of rockabilly, he found himself once again a popular artist.

Malcolm with a European fan

Malcolm later toured Europe and one of his live concerts was released on a CD in 1991.

He also began recording again at Sun Studio and released his first full-length album at the age of 79 in 1997.

In one of his later interviews with documentarian Devin Miller he said, “I would like to be remembered as a Christian man who sang rockabilly music.”

He died in Memphis in February 2001 at Baptist Memorial Health Care and was buried in Covington.

Check out this interesting story about Scottish rock 'n' roll fan Graham Knight
who sent a Sun check to Malcolm Yelvington when he was ill.
To find out more, you can watch a great short film about Malcolm created by Devin Miller in 1997. It includes Malcolm’s story in his own words.

Amazon sells some of his music in re-released compilation form including, "It's me Baby, The Sun Years Plus."

You can read more about the Yelverton Family on

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Envelope Please...and the winner is me.

If you're like me and are into genealogy research then you know just how fun it is to receive from a relative an envelope in the mail that contains photos, obits, or other information. I got to open just that this week, sent from a friend of my family, Carolyn, who is also from Haywood County, TN and someone with whom  I share some common ancestors.

The items she came across and sent to me belonged to her mother and much of it is in reference to members of the Watridge family.

This is an interesting line for me because both my paternal grandparents are descended from William and Milly Thompson Watridge. Hey, don't judge. Haywood County was a small place.
William and Milly Watridge had a son named James who was the father of Martha Jane Watridge, the mother of Will Williams, the father of Lloyd "Bo" Williams, the father of Bob Williams, the father of me.

William and Milly Watridge also had another son named Daniel who was the father of Zula Zera Watridge Castellaw, the mother of Elizabeth Williams, the mother of Bob Williams, the father of me.
The enveloped from Carolyn contained some really interesting items that will help me flesh out some of the Watridge and other families in my tree and fill in some missing dates.

Here are a few of the items that were in the envelope:

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William Conner Watridge
This is William Conner Watridge. On the back of the photo is stamped:
W.W. White
Drawer 1112
Birmingham, ALA

Conner's parents were Champ and Maggie Watridge and their other children were Finis, Joe, C.C. Camilla and Aurelia.

William Conner, who is pictured above, was likely there when his father's leg was cut off.

"Champ had a peg leg. He lost one leg when he and his boys were cutting wood or logs, and a tree kicked back on him and pinned his leg to the ground. There was no one there but his boys. He instructed them how to free him and all the time cautioning them not to panic. They lay a crosscut saw across the tree trunk and proceeded to saw off a section of the tree trunk...Finally, the boys freed their dad and got him to a doctor. The leg had to be amputated because it was so badly mangled."
"Nicholas Cobb Descendants, Neighbors and Relatives 1613 - 1983" by Joe H. Cobb

Conner died at the age of 76 on June 4, 1979. He is buried here at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in the Hillville Community of Haywood County.

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Many of the visitations and funerals I have attended have taken place, like Conner's, at Brownsville Funeral Home in Haywood County. This is the style of the commemorative sheet that is distributed at the funeral home.

These are really helpful in connecting family lines or filling in missing dates and it's always interesting to see who preached their sermon and who was chosen as pallbearers. In addition to Conner's above, Carolyn's envelope included one of these for:
Betty Brantley Sullivan, Sister of my grandmother, Virginia Brantley Lovelace
Buried at Zion Baptist Church Cemetery, Haywood County, TN

John T. Carlton, Sr., Husband of my Great Aunt Marie Lovelace Carlton
Burried at Lebanon Cemetery, Haywood County, TN

Finis Rye Watridge, Son of Champ Watridge
Buried at Holly Grove Cemetery, Haywood County, TN

Irby Watridge, Brother of Maggie Watridge who was Champ’s wife
Buried in Harmony Cemetery, Haywood County, TN

Mrs. Alva Bruce Watridge, Wife of Irby Watridge
Buried in Harmony Cemetery, Haywood County, TN

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It's really great to get old obituaries from newspapers like this one. They tell so much about a person and are loaded with information. Joe Watridge was another of the sons of Champ Watridge and Conner's brother. You can read his obit and discover a lot about him including things like the fact that he worked for the G. D. Dodson Ford Motor Company in Humboldt, TN in 1928 and later opened his own service station.

Unfortunately, someone at the paper misread what the family had written out and the obit includes, "Mr. Watridge was proceeded in death by two brothers, Comer and Finis Watridge..." rather than the correct name, Conner.

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I suspect this photo of students at Centerville School at the Holly Grove community in Haywood County must have appeared in the "Brownsville States Graphic" at some point. I really need to locate a good copy of this photo because it contains so many of my ancestors including Fowlers, Cobbs, Brantleys, Lovelaces, Booths, Watridges, Joyners, Williams, Marburys, Manns, Whites, and Outlaws. I have never seen a photo with so many of my ancestors in one spot. If you know where I can find a version closer to the original, please email me.

For more information on the Watridge Family, check out their page on

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Should I Go to Church This Morning?

As an American, it's easy to take freedom for granted. I have never had to decide if I should go to a protest and risk my life or stay home and play it safe. I can go to whatever church I want to or I can skip this morning and watch First Baptist on TV and no one is going to pound on my door and haul me away to prison.

When reading about the protests in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, I look in their faces and wonder about their lives and what traits and similarities they have with the colonists and patriots who fought for American independence from England during The Revolutionary War.

In the last 16 weeks, hundreds have been killed in Syria and just yesterday more than 400,000 poured into the streets to demonstrate.

And from just a few weeks ago:
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces fired on thousands of protesters Friday, killing a teenage boy and at least 15 other civilians as accounts emerged of more indiscriminate killing and summary executions by the autocratic regime of President Bashar Assad, activists said.

The three-month uprising has proved stunningly resilient despite a relentless crackdown by the military, the pervasive security forces and pro-regime gunmen. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad desperately tries to maintain his grip on power.

"What is our guilt? We just demanded freedom and democracy nothing else," said Mohamed, 27, who spoke to The Associated Press from a refugee camp in neighboring Turkey where nearly 10,000 Syrians have fled.
I have been able to find a few revolutionary patriots in my family tree and Independence Day is certainly a great time to remember them and all those who stood up and fought for their own rights as well as for freedom for those who would come after them (that's us).

Thomas Littleton Joyner - My Fifth Great Grandfather
Born in Northampton, NC in 1762, during the Revolutionary War, he fought as a private in the North Carolina militia. He also furnished supplies for the army and is listed in the DAR database as having served 84 months.
More about Thomas and the Joyner Family

Mary Kerr Dougan - My Fifth Great Grandmother
Mary was wife of Thomas Hill Dougan. He played a part in the early years of the revolution but died in 1769. While I have not been able to find much about her, she was close friends with Martha "Mattie" Bell who was very active in the war. My fifth great grandmother is mentioned in a quote about the women of the war in "Reminiscences of Randolph County" by J. A. Blair:
"The name of Mary Dougan, Elizabeth Balfour, Jane Millikan, Ruth Farlow, Nancy Clark, Mattie Bell and others should be held in lasting veneration as the heroines of Randolph County in the struggle for liberty and life. It was these noble women and their compeers who molded opinion and shaped the thought and sentiment that directed the march of progress."
More about Mary and the Dougan Family

Charles Lovelace - My Fifth Great Grandfather
According to "Revolutionary Patriots of Frederick County, Maryland, 1775-1783" by Henry C. Peden, Charles Lovelace served in the militia of Maryland. Several years later he settled land in Rowan County, North Carolina and was one of the earliest settlers of that area. It's not certain if it was before or after their marriage but, at some point after his father died, his mother married his wife's father, Thomas his father-in-law was also his step-father.
More about Charles and the Lovelace Family

Colonel Leonard, Thomas and Horatio Marbury - My Seventh Great Uncles
Leonard served in the Revolutionary War for seven years as a Colonel. He fought in the Georgia Militia at the Siege of Savannah in September and October 1779. Colonel Leonard Marbury was present at the Battle of Brier Creek on March 3, 1779 and is mentioned on the Georgia Historic marker at the battlefield.
“On February 28, 1779, General Bryant, left in charge of the American forces, moved the camp up the creek, for security, to near this spot…He ordered Col. Leonard Marbury to take a position at Paris` Mill, 14 miles up the creek… Col. Prevost led the main force of the British army, about 1,500 men, up the west side of Brier Creek…he soon encountered Col. Marbury's Dragoons, cutting them off from Ashe`s forces. He captured some, while others succeeded in getting safely across Burton`s Ferry.”
His younger brother Thomas served in the Revolutionary War as a private under Col. James McNeil.
The youngest brother in the family, Horatio was active in the Revolutionary War and in 1796 began working in the secretary of state's office. In 1799, the legislature elected Marbury as Georgia's second secretary of state -- a post he would hold for twelve years under six different governors.
More about them and the Marbury Family

John Jr. and Hardy Yelverton - my Sixth and Fifth Great Grandfathers
John Jr. was likely living in Chowan County, NC when the war began in 1775. He was 54 years old and although he was very wealthy, at least one document lists him as a "cord winder" which is the trade of shoe making. His DAR application lists his service as "rendering material aid." Perhaps he made shoes for the soldiers? His son, Hardy's DAR application lists his service as "oath of allegiance to make land entry." Both were settlers of the Wayne County, NC area.
More about them and the Yelverton Family

I will go to church this morning and include a prayer of thanks for all those who came before and have allowed me to have the life I have.

This afternoon I'll put our American flag out on the porch and think about all those around the world who are fighting and risking their lives to have the freedom that I too often take for granted.