“This old barbaric bagpipe music has magic in it. It transforms the Scot. It reawakens in the depths of their being, even in this century, impressions, moods, feelings inherited from a wild untamed ancestry for thousands of years.”
Michael MacDonagh ~ 1916


By Betsy Cross Thorpe

England, Germany, Ireland and Scotland; Afternoon Tea and Boxing Day, Stout Beer and Lederhosen, Step-dance and Mutton, Tartan Plaids and Bagpipes.

Those are the old countries of my maternal ancestors listed with some of the cultural traditions my ancestors presumably held when they arrived on the shores of this country.  My ancestors did well in the New World. They thrived. Their descendants are many.  However, their old country traditions didn’t fare as well. As far as I know, in my direct line of ancestry, none of the customs, from any of those countries, were passed to future generations.

Take my middle granddaughter and three of my cousins. All four are English afternoon tea enthusiasts, sippers and nibblers, they know an authentic English style tea-room when they see one. Not because afternoon tea is a long-held family tradition, but because it’s something they like to do. And Boxing Day?  All I know about that old English custom is that it has something to do with the 12 days of Christmas and I’m not sure if I’m right about that.

Then there is German beer. I have relatives who enjoy a foamy draft, not as a result of our German heritage, they just like the taste of beer.  Lederhosen? All the boys in my family should thank our far-back grandfather for leaving that piece of traditional old country wear behind when he arrived in Louisiana. However, I can’t help but think how fun it would be to see my brothers decked out German style, in Lederhosen.

 Now for my Irish ancestors and the art of step-dancing.  My only experience with Irish dance was attending an afternoon matinee of River Dance at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville.  And regarding a meal of mutton, I have never prepared it, tasted it or seen it served.

England, Ireland, Germany, memories of my ancestors and the traditions of those countries are lost to me, they are not part of my cultural DNA.

Not so with Scotland. While the Highland traditions of my ancestors disappeared with some unknown generation, the culture of Scotland is familiar to me and my kinship with those long-lost relatives is real.

Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of Outlander on Netflix but of all of the old countries in my genealogy it’s Scotland that inhabits my dreams. The touch of a plaid piece of cloth conjures visions of an unknown grandmother, tartan shawl draped across her shoulders, at home in the Highlands. She is a stranger, yet her blood flows through my veins, her name is a mystery, but I know her well. The sight of plaid reminds me of her existence.

That leaves the bagpipe. A powerful symbol of Scotland, it moves me like no other instrument. It speaks to me, its sounds through the ages. It stirs my soul. The familiar cry of the bagpipe awakens in me a longing to know my ancestors, to call on them in a place and time that is lost forever in the mists of history.

#52ancestorsin52weeks #52ancestorsin52weeksoldcountry


“Extra, extra, read all about it.” Stock street newspaper vendor phrase.


By Gerry Roe edited by Betsy Cross Thorpe

One day in the fall of 1962 my father Henry D. Roe killed a bear.

Drain Enterprise weekly paper reported Henry Roe and the bear

At that time, we lived on Hardscrabble Road, a long country road located a few miles west of the logging town of Drain Oregon.

My father was heading into town when he passed several houses located near a sharp bend in the road. He looked off to the left and saw a bear high up in a tree. He quickly turned the car around and raced back to our house. He grabbed his hunting rifle, told my mother what he was about to do, ignored her pleas not to go back and ran out the door. He revved up the engine of his 1950’s Chevy and sped back to the spot where he first spied the bear.

With one single shot he brought that bear tumbling down from his perch in the tree.

My father learned to fish and hunt long before he moved to Oregon from Mississippi. He often talked about catching catfish in the Mississippi, Sunflower and Yazoo rivers. He must have told me some tall tales because when I was a child, I imagined those catfish he told me about to be big as a whale. He also liked to recall hunting in Mississippi. He told me about hunting with dogs, they hunted Grey Squirrel, possum and raccoons.

Henry Roe October 14, 1944, hunting license Mississippi
Henry Roe November 21, 1945 hunting and fishing license Mississippi

He fished for trout in Oregon, but I don’t think he enjoyed catching them as much as he enjoyed catching the big catfish back in Mississippi. Trout were much smaller than catfish, they were generally so small that my mother could fit one or two whole fish in her black cast iron skillet.

Occasionally my father would go deer hunting with my brothers and their sons. He went on his final hunting trip in October of 1978 with my oldest brother in John Day, a small town in Eastern Oregon some 279 miles from his home in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

They were up in the wooded mountains hunting when he developed chest pains and shortness of breath. My brother rushed him to the hospital in John Day; where he was diagnosed with a Myocardial Infarction. He later recovered to the point that his doctors believed it was safe for him to go home.

My mother and two of my brothers were with him at the hospital. The plan was that I would drive over to get him. But sadly, that wasn’t meant to be. On the morning of October 9, I received a call that he had passed away.

I wish I could have been there to see him one last time, but I am glad that my mother and brothers were with him, that he didn’t die alone. I am also glad that he got to enjoy the company of his oldest son, out in the great outdoors, one last time before he passed.

#52Ancestorsin52Weeks #52Ancestorsin52WeeksNewsworthy


“Every language has a grammar, a set of rules that govern usage and meaning, and literary language is no different. It’s all more or less arbitrary of course, just like language itself.”   Thomas C. Foster


By Betsy Cross Thorpe

I’m a writer. I’ve been writing for quite a long time. One thing my years of experience has taught me is that the quality of my work relies heavily on my consistently following the rules of grammar and style. Consistency is so important to me that before I made my first post, when earlier this year I started contributing to Tales of Our Family, The Roe family genealogy history blog, I looked in on multiple blogs to learn how others wrote about their ancestors. While most of the posts were very good, I was surprised to find that in the field of genealogical writings it is perfectly acceptable to break that universal rule of writing, which is maintain consistency.

From post to post, and sometimes even within the same piece, I found inconsistencies in terms, style, and usage. Titles, terms, and phrases were abbreviated, hyphenated, italicized, and capitalized at will. But it was the multiple ways that writers designated their long-gone great-ancestors that really made my head spin.

Great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, 6 great-grandmother, 6x great-grandmother 6gg-grandmother, sixth-great-grandmother.

I had one overriding question. What is the multi-great writing rule?

I turned to an editor friend for help. She consulted that venerable guide to grammar, style, and usage, The Chicago Manual of Style. Although the manual is the go-to resource for most writers, editors and publishers it doesn’t always provide rules for the specialized terms used in specific fields of study. Unfortunately for the purposes of this blog post genealogy is one of those unregulated fields.

Without a rule to follow I decided that I was free to pick which style to use. I chose from the terms listed above. My only criterion was readability. I eliminated all the options with numeric ordinals, which according to The Chicago Manual of Style could not be used at the beginning of sentences. That left only two other terms to choose from. The first one was awkward to read; the reader would be distracted trying to count all the greats. That left the final example, my sixth-great-grandmother.

In my genealogical writings multi-great-ancestors and relatives will be designated with their generational number spelled out followed by a hyphen, followed by the word great, followed by a hyphen, which will be followed by their familial relationship to me. All in lower case. Unless of course the term is used at the beginning of a sentence in which the first letter of the spelled out number shall be capitalized.

That’s the Betsy Cross Thorpe rule of Multi-Greats in Genealogical Writing and I will consistently stick to it until someone with more genealogical authority points me in the direction of an already-established rule.

#52Ancestorsin52Weeks #52ancestorsin52weeksmultiple



Gerry Roe edited by Betsy Cross Thorpe


Suffering – silently is not particularly healthy but in the days after war it was expected. Unknown

James Rollin ‘Jay’ Isaacs 1942

Let me start by saying that my Uncle Jay was my favorite uncle. His mother, my grandmother, died when he was two. One of his older sisters, my mother, took him and his four year old sister to raise. She was a sixteen-year-old newlywed when they came to live with her. Although he was much older than me, we were raised by the same people. When he said he was going home to visit; anyone who knew him understood he was referring to the home of my mother and father.

Even though he had already left home and joined the Navy by the time I was born in 1946 I know that I was special to him also. I was almost 50 years old when he gave me the birth announcement my mother sent him after I was born. I was very surprised that he had kept it as a special memento all those many years.

Although Uncle Jay never discussed his Navy years with me, I knew something bad had happened. I remember (being told by older siblings) my mother and her older sister whispering and crying over his situation. He was too sensitive for war, he couldn’t take some of the sights that he saw, he missed his ship, he was thrown in the brig. What would he do? Those are snippets of conversations I heard. All I ever got was bits and pieces of the story.

I always wondered if he left the Navy dishonorably. I recently learned from his military history that he didn’t. Quite the opposite. What I found made me proud. After serving in the brig for seven months he was reassigned to another ship. His military history revealed that he received many medals and awards and that he was honorably discharged.

I wish I knew why he felt he couldn’t share his experiences. He had good experiences to share. But I never asked him about them, so I will never know because he has passed away without my asking him any questions. Those of us who have not experienced firsthand the savages of war can not imagine the effects it had on the men and women who served. Like my uncle so many went solo dealing with their experiences.





Philippine Liberation Medal

Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia Clasp

World War 11 Victory Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 4 Stars

#52AncestorsIn52Weeks #52Ancestorsin52WeeksSolo


“Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life.”   Joseph Campbell


By Betsy Cross Thorpe

This post is about one year in the life of Lucas Dawson. He was my grandfather’s grandfather. You can find his name near the middle of my maternal family tree.

The year in question is 1856.

My maternal family tree spans more than three centuries. There are roughly 119,424 days between the birth of the first and the last direct line relative on my mother’s branch of the tree.  At the top is Matthew Rhea who was born in 1693. At the other end is Sawyer Siegrist, born in 2019.

The year 1856 falls in the middle of those two years.

Lucas was the youngest child of Thomas and Mary Ann Kirkland Dawson, farmers who owned a smallholding in the piney wood section of East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. Valued at $1,000, it was one of the smallest parcels of land in the area. They raised dairy cows for milk, chickens for eggs, hogs for meat, grain crops and corn to feed their livestock and family, and cotton to sell.

Lucas turned 12 on April 25.  A Friday. On Sunday it started to rain. It rained for more than a week.  A local publication reported that it was the heaviest rain from all accounts which have been visited on this part of the South for years. Farms, both great and small, were devastated by the immense damage done to young crops. Especially corn and cotton.

This turn of events caused hardship. The damaged fields failed to produce enough cotton to sell or food to last through winter. Countrywomen conserved food. They did so in part by serving smaller portions. Some meals were skipped altogether.  It is likely that Lucas often went to bed hungry.

At this time, newspapers in the South covered outbreaks of Yellow Fever. They printed weekly reports issued by health officials on the islands of Bermuda and Cuba and in the cities of New York, Baltimore, Charleston and New Orleans.

People in Louisiana lived in constant fear of a Yellow Fever outbreak. On August 12, an article in one regional newspaper addressed that fear. Our towns were destroyed and more than decimated by the Yellow Fever in 1853, 1854 and then again in 1855 in the fearful scourges. So now, in the face of three annual epidemics that peopled our graveyards and clothed our houses as with the mantle of sorrow we wait. 

During the epidemic of 1853, in Clinton, the town nearest the Dawson farm the population dropped from close to 2,000 people to 250. Some of those people died, others escaped to the countryside. One person who stayed wrote a letter describing conditions in the town. He wrote that one disadvantage of staying was a lack of food, that farmers who had chickens, eggs and vegetables to sell would neither come nor send anyone to town because they feared contagion. They knew to keep their distance. In spite of taking precautions many country people got sick and died from the fever.

The state of Louisiana had the highest death rate due to Yellow Fever than any other place in the country.

Fear of a fourth epidemic must have worried young Lucas. But fortunately for the people of Louisiana only a comparatively few numbers of cases were reported that year and only a small number of people died.

But 1856 wasn’t over yet.

 On  October 11 Lucas suffered what was probably the biggest tragedy of his early life.  His father Thomas Dawson died 10 days after his 61 birthday. We now know that grief is both real and measurable and that it changes the psyche of a child forever.

 Hopefully his grief made him mentally stronger. He endured hunger, fear of disease and grief the year his father died, but what lay in the future was much worse.  A big war was coming and he would be part of it. Lucas Dawson would soon encounter hardships that his 12 year old self couldn’t possibly  imagine. My hope is that he had some good  years in between and that for a season life was kinder to him.

#52ancestorsin52weeks #52ancestorsin52weeksMiddle


“WIDDERSHINS”—To go in a new direction, contrary to what is expected


By, Gerry Roe

I am a retired nurse. As a person who spent most of my adult life working in the medical field, I have always paid close attention to my family’s medical history. I know that, going back generations, men on the paternal side of my family often suffered heart attacks and the women were prone to having strokes. I have known for years that women on the maternal side of my family have often been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Those are facts of my medical history.

I recently looked at the death certificate of my maternal grandmother Lillie Bell Fowler Isaacs. I’ve had the certificate since the 1970’s when I first started researching my genealogy. Her cause of death is listed as chronic gastritis.  I’ve looked at it many times over the years and have never considered any contributing factors—even though one is clearly listed. Until now.

Premature childbirth! Those words unexpectedly jumped off the page at me. It suddenly occurred to me.  This would have been her 10th pregnancy over a period of twenty-one years.

Her doctor stated on her death certificate that she had been under his care for five months and  was seen by him the day that she died.  I now speculate that her gastritis developed into an ulcer and the that the stress of a tenth pregnancy combined with poor nutrition is what caused her death at the young age of 40.    

Lillie Bell Fowler Isaacs holding James (Jay) and Beatrice (Bea) to her right. Last picture before her death.
Additional picture of Lillie Belle and Jay, this most likely is the one closer to her death. Note how thin she is compared to the previous one.

I don’t recall my mother ever mentioning that her mother was pregnant when she died. Her doctor didn’t say how far along she was or if the prematurely born baby was a boy or a girl.

I had another unexpected realization soon after I looked at my grandmother’s death certificate. My mother was only 16 years old when her mother died.  I created a timeline of events that happened after my grandmother died. It allowed me to see that my mother married my father less than one month after my grandmother died.

Was their marriage an unexpected consequence of her mother’s death or had they planned on getting married at that time?  What I do know is that my 16-year-old mother entered her marriage with custody of her little sister Beatrice (Bea) and her baby brother James (Jay). Her father William Gordon Isaacs also lived with my mother and father. He lived with them until his death which occurred about 15 months later.

Ruby holding brother Jay and brother Frank standing. 1926-1927

This makes me very sad for my mother. I can’t imagine what it was like for her at 16 years old, to lose her mother,  learn how to be married, and take  care of two young children and a grieving father.


Handed Down

“I ordered a package of scraps. I’ll send you some in the next letter.”  From Evelyn Isaacs Combs letter of September 24, 1933 to her sister, Ruby Isaacs Roe

Handed Down

By Gerry Roe/edited by Betsy Cross Thorpe

The threads of quilting run deep in my family. I have a treasured, handed down, bow -tied patterned quilt my paternal grandmother made for mother in 1929. It is displayed in my home. It is made of 320 individual hand-sewn blocks of red, white and black fabric. The most distinctive feature of the quilt is that one corner block is entirely different in design. That personalized block was made from scraps left over from material my grandmother used to make a dress for my mother.

Made by Ary Odell Dawson Roe 1929

My mother was also a quilter. Her mother taught her to make hand sewn quilts when she was young. My mother purchased a White treadle sewing machine sometime after we moved to Oregon in 1946. She used it for mending, quilt-making and to make clothes. She never bought another machine. She used that sewing machine for the rest of her life. .

My mother taught me how, to hand quilt and to sew clothes on her treadle machine. I inherited it from her, it now belongs to me and is one of my most valued possessions.

I took up quilting again later in life—this time around I used an electric machine. I made a quilt for each of my two grandchildren. They are tucked away safely inside their treasure boxes, where they will remain until the time is right for me to hand them down to them. May it last as long and be as treasured as my grandmother’s quilt that was handed down to me.

White Treadle Machine circa late 1940s

#52ancestersin52weeks #52ancestersin52weekshandeddown


“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage.”–Alex Haley

Ruby Elizabeth Isaacs Roe and Henry David Roe sometime in the 1920’s Yazoo County Mississippi


By Betsy Cross Thorpe

On Saturday, August 20, 1927, in Yazoo County Mississippi, Miss Ruby Elizabeth Isaacs age sixteen, wed Mr. Henry David Roe age twenty. Those six facts are the sum of what I know about my grandparents wedding day. As far as I know neither one of them ever talked about their wedding. Not with me, not with my mother, not with my aunt.

At the time of their marriage Yazoo County was recovering from the Mississippi River Flood of April 1927.  The Mississippi River Flood was the most destructive river flood in US history. It claimed the lives of more than one thousand people in Yazoo County alone.

For tenant farmers like my grandparents the aftermath of the flood was devastating. Tens of thousands were left homeless and jobless. Close to a million people were left without food and water.  Times were harder than usual in the Mississippi Delta.  Finally, toward the end of August the last of the floodwaters flowed into the Gulf , and the time for rebuilding the Delta arrived.

Was it by design that my grandparents chose to marry at that time? I choose to imagine that they did.

On that day the Isaacs and Roe lines joined . A new line was formed. Starting with seven children the Isaacs/Roe line now extends down through five generations.

#52AncestorsIn52Weeks #52Ancestorsin52WeeksWedding


“I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” Richard P. Feynman


By Betsy Cross Thorpe

There are many ways to express uncertainty. Some of the most common ways are:

 I’m not sure. I doubt it. I don’t know for sure. It’s very unlikely. I have my own doubts. I don’t think so. I don’t believe this is true. There’s some doubt in my mind about that. I’m not a hundred percent sure.

Then, there is my personal favorite, I don’t know—yet.

For the purpose of this post I am going to use a piece from Tales of Our Family to show how I address an uncertainty when I write about my ancestors. The piece is titled So Far Away.

My Question : What was the name of the young man from my grandmothers past who died in a plane crash when she was a young woman? She spoke of him often but to my knowledge she never said his name.

That was my question.  I hoped to answer it with certainty.

To find the name of the young man who died in the airplane crash I looked on I searched newspapers in Mississippi, from 1920 through 1946. I used the search terms “airplane killed Mississippi.” My grandmother lived in Mississippi from the 1920’s through 1946. The plane crash that her friend died in happened while she was living there.

I found evidence of only one plane crash taking place in Mississippi during that time.   Articles in the Yazoo Herald, circa August 1929 pointed to a tragic plane crash that claimed the life of a young pilot. The pilot was nineteen-year-old Albert Firth.

Was he the boy that my grandmother knew?

I examined my data.

Did Albert Firth live in the right place to have known my grandmother?

Yes. He was born and raised in the town of Holly Bluff Mississippi, the same place that my grandmother moved to when she was a schoolgirl.   The plane crash that he died in happened in 1929. My grandmother was still living there in 1929.

Was Albert Firth the right age to have been friends with my grandmother? Is it possible that he and my grandmother would have known each other?  Is it reasonable to believe they were friends?  

 Yes. He was born in 1910. He was one year older than my grandmother. Holly Bluff was a small town.  In 1920 it had a population of eight hundred and ninety. They were the same age living in a small town. Yes it is quite possible that Albert Firth and my grandmother knew each other. I couldn’t say for sure, but I was almost certain that I had found the name of the person I was looking for.

My aunt, Gerry Roe, then provided additional information.  My grandmother sometimes talked another person that she knew when she lived in Holly Bluff. But this person she mentioned by name. Miss Lurlene Screws. My aunt located Miss Screws on the 1920 census. She found one Miss Lurlene Screws, a person my grandmother remembered well, residing in the home of ten-year-old Albert Firth and his parents.

Her discovery answered the final part of my question, was it reasonable to believe they were friends?

Yes it was. Bearing in mind that Albert Firth and Miss Lurlene lived in the same house, and with all other facts considered I found it reasonable to believe that my grandmother and Albert Firth were childhood friends.

OUTCOME: Although I couldn’t prove that Albert Firth was the boy my grandmother once knew, I could, with the above facts in mind, speculate and write with confidence that he was.

#52Ancestorsin52Weeks #52Ancestorsin52WeeksUncertain

Remembering the Eruption of Mount St Helens 40 Years Later

“I will never forget where I was the day Mount St Helens blew.” Robert E. “Bob” Roe

Remembering the Eruption of Mount St Helens 40 Years Later

By Bob Roe

The fortieth anniversary  of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcanic eruption recently  passed,  On May 18, 1980, I was with my cousin Randy Cross and my girlfriend Becky. We were out in a boat fishing on Lake Ozette, a lake on the Olympic Peninsula near Forks Washington.

It was a Sunday morning; the sky was  blue without any clouds and the fishing was good.

Suddenly we heard boom! Boom! Boom and the fish stopped biting. We wondered why loggers were dynamiting on a Sunday morning, we stopped fishing, reeled in our lines, and motored the boat back to the marina.  When we got inside the marina, we asked one of the clerks who was dynamiting on a Sunday morning. That’s when we learned that the sound, we heard was Mount St Helens blowing its top more than two hundred and fifty miles away.

A television was on in the marina and we saw the destruction caused by the volcano and we were concerned for the hikers and those living in the path of the lava flow.

We loaded our boat onto our boat trailer and headed for home. When we the reached the crest of a hill we could see the ash plume from the volcano rising in the distance.

We later heard of the devastation caused by the volcano, due to lava flow, flooding of the rivers from the snow melt and loss of life.

I remember clearly what I was doing when Mount St. Helens blew. Do you remember what you were doing on the morning of May 18, 1980?

Facts of Mount St. Helens is most notorious for its major eruption on May 18, 1980, the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in US history. 57 people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed.

Postscript of other family remembrances:

Lucy “Gerry” Roe, aunt remembers she was at work at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in the ICU department.  Suddenly a co-worker rushed through the double doors and yelled “Mt St. Helens just erupted.  Gerry’s son (Jeremy) was in Warrenton, Oregon with her sister (Nannie) and brother-in-law (Lee). They were visiting their youngest brother (Alan) and his family.  She called to check on them knowing they were coming back to Springfield later in the day.  She was told they were on their way home via to the coast route due to the sky filled with heavy ash and the sun and blue sky blotted out.  She reported it was a harried few hour until they were safely home.  Her son Jeremy, age 9 remembers it was a Sunday morning and he thought he was getting ready for church.  Alan remembers Nan and Lee being with him but not Jeremy.  He said the sky darken and remembers seeing Lee drive off.  Lee told Gerry when they arrived home how difficult it was driving home with the heavy ash in the air.

JoAnn Self Roe recalls that she was in Yakima Washington when Mount St, Helen’s blew. She recalled that the sky turned black in an instant.  It was very unsettling.