52 Ancestors #19 Martha Ellen Rodgers


This challenge is set forth by No Story Too Small,

and this week’s challenge is “There’s a Way” which I’ve translated into “travel.”

Years ago I came across a cousin born 4 April 1853. Her father and my 3rd great-grandma were siblings. She was the middle child of five born to James Rodgers and Martha Sanderford in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. When the Civil War began in ’62, her father was too old to serve, so he safely stayed home with her. Yet, things don’t always turn out for the best. The winter of ’62/63 saw a typhoid epidemic in the county and her parents died within days of each other. She was nine. Her name was Martha Ellen Rodgers, known simply as Ellen.

James daughter Martha Ellen Rodgers Meek

Due to all of her uncles fighting the war, she and her siblings moved in with her aunt Mary. Mary had four children of her own and her husband had just been killed in the war 31 December 1862. I can imagine how devastated the family was at that time, and probably hungry and scared.

When the war ended, Ellen was transferred to the custody of her only surviving uncle, Hays Rodgers, who packed up the family and moved to Alabama. The journey there would have been by ox-pulled wagons and would have taken a week. For someone who had never been more than a mile from her childhood home, this must have been quite an adventure. There was also another aunt living in Alabama at the time, Elizabeth, and at some point, Ellen moved in with her.

When I found Ellen had returned to Mississippi alone in 1875, I didn’t understand why, but soon found out that Aunt Elizabeth died that year at the young age of 36. I assume Ellen returned home to stay with her aunt Mary, as she was only 22 years old. The only way to travel from AL to MS at the time was by wagon train as most of the railroad lines were still under repair from their destruction by Sherman’s army. Traveling alone with a bunch of people in a wagon train must have been quite an experience.

The next record of Ellen is found ten years later in 1885. She appears in Texas and is married to Sam Houston Meek. How did she end up there? I found her two brothers had moved there at the end of the war with some other family members (apparently the children were separated), and she probably went out to visit them. One of her brothers was married to Sam’s sister, which explains how she met Sam. From my research, I found the travel from MS to TX would have involved three trains and about ten days. Imagine a young woman traveling alone on three different trains across the 1800s wild west.

Ellen and Sam were only married five years. She died in childbirth at the age of 37. She is buried at Pleasantville Cemetery in Nolanville, Bell County, Texas.

Her story is told in detail in my book An Orphan’s Heart.

rodgers martha ellen rodgers meek, dau of james rodgers

October Ancestry Challenge – Martha Ellen Rodgers

oct ancestry challenge-001 October Ancestry Challenge 2013

23 posts – 23 days – 23 ancestors

Ancestor #19 – Martha Ellen Rodgers 

Martha Ellen Rodgers is my cousin. Her father and my 3rd great grandmother were siblings.



James daughter Martha Ellen Rodgers MeekShe was born in 1853 in Lauderdale County, Mississippi to James Rodgers and Martha Sanderford Rodgers. She had a five-year-old brother and a two-year-old sister, and two more children would follow. She grew up in a farming community, surrounded by loving grandparents and more than a dozen aunts and uncles, along with their respective spouses and children. Her father and a slave named Bill built the log home she grew up in. Her childhood was ideal.

In 1861, Mississippi seceded from the Union and Civil War broke out. Though she had many uncles go off to fight in the war, her brothers were too young and her father was too old, so they remained safely at home with her.

But all would not remain ideal, as during the fall of 1862, a typhoid epidemic invaded her community, killing her grandparents, many aunts, uncles, and cousins, and both of her parents. Her father died October 12, 1862. Her mother died a few short weeks later.

She was nine.

Her given name was Martha Ellen Rodgers, but she was simply known as Ellen.

Hays Rodgers Jr and wife Lucinda GrahamShe and her siblings were placed in the custody of the eldest male in the family, their uncle Hays Rodgers Jr. (photo with wife Lucinda), but he was off fighting in the war, so she was raise for a time by her aunt Mary Ann Rodgers Carpenter (Ancestor #17). When Hays Jr. returned home from the war, he sold his farm and moved to Alabama. Ellen went with him. Her other aunt, Aunt Elizabeth Rodgers (photo with husband George), was also there, and when Aunt Elizabeth died in 1875, Ellen returned to Mississippi. rodgers elizabeth and husb george malon graham, daug of hays g

She stayed in Mississippi for a while with her two sisters, but eventually went to Texas. Her two brothers had moved there years earlier, and I imagine she only went out for visit, though the thought of a young woman traveling alone in the 1800s seems dangerous to me. When she got there, everything changed for her.

When she arrived, she met her brother’s wife’s brother, Sam Houston Meek. She and Sam married in 1885. They had twin sons in 1886 who both died. Then they had a daughter Olive Lee in 1888. When Olive Lee was two, Ellen had another girl in 1890, but the baby girl died, and sadly, Ellen died of complications within the week. She was 37.

rodgers martha ellen rodgers meek, dau of james rodgersShe is buried in Nolanville, Bell County, Texas at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

My book, AN ORPHAN’S HEART, is her story.

Saturday Snippet – May 11, 2013

The following is a snippet from my book “An Orphan’s Heart.” It is the second in the Okatibbee Creek Series and is the true story of Ellen Rodgers, an orphan who grows up in search of the only thing that matters to her…love.


Set up: 1884 Texas. While Ellen visits her brother Willie in Texas, she meets and falls in love with his brother-in-law, Sam Meek. They have been staying at Sam’s house for weeks following the death of his mother, but now it’s time to go back to Willie’s, which is nine days away by wagon, and she is sadly forced to leave Sam behind.


While the sun rises, I help Mollie pack the rest of the girls’ belongings into the wagon. When I return to the house for my bag, I stand in the middle of the parlor, looking around for the last time. This is a beautiful home, and strangely, I will miss this place more than any other I have known.

When Sam enters the back door, everything stops. I stare down at the floor and will myself not to cry. This is not my first loss. I am a big girl. I will get over it. I will get over him.

I look up and see in his face the same pain I feel in my heart. I can’t bear it. I want to pull him to me and take away his sorrow, but that will only cause us both more pain, so I simply say, “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Meek. I hope to see you again.” I nod and turn to walk out the front door. I climb up onto the wagon and tell Willie I’m ready to go. The girls start chatting excitedly, and the horses pull away.

With every mile, my resolve is crumbling into little pieces. I reach up and hold the golden heart around my neck. I have finally found the love I was looking for, and with every moment, I’m getting farther away from it. My chest is aching. I take a deep breath and vow that I will never care about anyone ever again—not that I could. When you love someone as much as I love that man, no other love can ever fill your heart.

After an hour of staring at the horizon, I swear my body is going to fall apart from the pain. I don’t know how I’ll get through the rest of the day, much less the rest of my life. I think I hear someone call my name, but over the horses’ clomping, the wagon’s creaking, and the chattering of the girls, I know I’m just hearing things.

A few moments later, however, a black stallion gallops past us and cuts off our horses. Willie yells, “Whoa!” and yanks back on the reins as we narrowly avoid a collision with the stallion and its rider.

It’s Sam!

He jumps down from the steed, apologizes for stopping us, and runs around to my side of the wagon.

“Ellen! I can’t let you go. Please don’t leave.”

I burst into tears.

Willie stands up in his driver’s seat. “Sam, you know it’s not acceptable for her to stay with you. She is a proper woman and you are a single man.”

“Then I shall fix that.” He backs up a couple steps and kneels down on one knee. He removes his hat and places it over his heart. “Ellen, will you please do me the honor of becoming my wife?”


An Orphan’s Heart” is available in Kindle, Nook, and paperback.

“An Orphan’s Heart” new video trailer

My new book, “An Orphan’s Heart,” is currently at the editor, who is going to perform a modern-day miracle and turn my rough edges into a diamond.

I ♥ My Editor!!!

When I get the manuscript back, I will proof, proof, proof, format, format, format, then I will proof some more and finally, format again. Then we’ll call it done. It will be available around May 1, 2013 in Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and other eBook formats. The paperback will follow within a few weeks at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Create Space.

Somewhere on page 154, you’ll undoubtedly find a typo. Somewhere around page 97, you’ll wonder if the timeline is going where the author meant for it to go. That’s the way of the writing world. No matter how careful you are, you will miss something. No matter how much you love it right now, you will look back in a few years and wonder how you had the bravery to release that piece of crap into the world and the audacity to call yourself a writer. But, that’s how you know you are improving. You can look back on everything you’ve ever done and know you would do it better if you had a second chance. Too bad. One chance is all you get.

That being said, here’s the new video trailer for my fabulous, tear-jerking new novel,

“An Orphan’s Heart.”

It is the second book in the Okatibbee Creek series. If you read the first story,

“Okatibbee Creek,”

and shed a few tears, I am warning you now, you’ll need a whole box of tissue for this one.

♥♥♥ Hearts Through History Blog Hop ♥♥♥

Happy Valentine’s Day! Welcome to the Valentine’s Blog Hop!

24 Authors have united to tickle you with their favorite historical mushy anecdote. You can hop from page to page and enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings. At the end of this post is a list of participants to help you hop from site to site.

You can also win prizes on each page. Be sure to comment on each page to win great stuff.


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Whether medieval times, tudor times, the old west, or today, nothing is as exciting as the promise of new love!

This is an excerpt from my new book, “An Orphan’s Heart.”

Texas 1884. Ellen has just arrived at her brother’s house for a visit and is playing with his daughters.

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I am so wrapped up the little girls, I don’t even notice him sitting quietly at the table.

“Ellen, I’d like to introduce you my brother. This is Sam Meek.”

The man rises from the table to greet me, and I am immediately taken aback by his rugged good looks and his warm smile. Our eyes meet and lock. Suddenly I feel as if I’m drowning in a pool of green—the richest green of a mountain side, the darkest green of the deepest water. Everyone and everything disappears. The only thing I see is him.

He offers me his hand. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“And you, sir,” I take his hand and feel the warmth of electricity flow through every vein in my body. I pull my hand away from his heat and just as quickly regret the action. I wish to feel it again, but there is no way to touch him again now. I glance down and admire his tan forearm covered half way by his rolled-up shirt sleeve. “I am very sorry about the loss of your mother,” I offer my condolences as I try to compose myself.

He doesn’t respond for a moment. I look back up at his face and he gazes deeply into my eyes. “Thank you. It is very sad for all of us.” He doesn’t pull his eyes away. We are locked in eternity.

Mollie brings some coffee to the table, breaking the spell Sam Meek has created, and she motions for us to have a seat.

“Would you like something to eat?” she offers.

“No, thank you,” I shake my head, finding it hard to take my eyes off the stunning creature in front of me.


“No, I’m fine, but thank you,” he says, not breaking our gaze. “I’m going to have to get to sleep in a little bit. I’m exhausted.”

I feel myself sink into the chair but have no idea if I’m actually sitting. The thought of him leaving the room is disheartening, and I am surprised a man I just met is having this kind of effect on me.

“So, how was your trip?” he turns his attention toward his coffee cup as Mollie fills it.

“It was amazing. When I was younger, I traveled through a small town in Alabama that had a train station. I was so enchanted by the women in their fancy hats coming and going, I vowed to myself I would someday travel on a train to a distant place.” I smile. “And here I am.”

“Sounds nice.” He takes a sip of his coffee, watching me over the brim of his steaming cup. His voice sounds like silk.

I can’t take my eyes off of him. I watch the way he sips his coffee. I watch his strong, callused hands place the cup back down on the table. I watch his tongue lick a stray drop from his lips. I watch his tanned throat as he swallows. He is stunning.

“Did you sleep on the train or did you stop somewhere?”

“I spent the night in Mobile and New Orleans, but the rest of the trip was on a sleeper train that had bunks. The rocking motion of the train was actually very soothing.” I sip the strong, bitter coffee then glance at him as I place the cup back on the table.

“Well, I’m glad you had a good journey.” He stands. “I’m sorry to interrupt our coffee and conversation, but I really need to get some sleep. I can hardly keep my eyes open.” He is breathtaking. “It’s going to be a long day tomorrow with the funeral and all.” He grabs his hat from the side table. “Relatives have been coming into town all day.” He nods to me. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Ma’am. I’d love to speak with you more about your journey, and I will see you again tomorrow.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Meek.” His movements are exquisite, like a stallion running through a field, like an eagle catching his prey, like a…

“Please, call me Sam.” He grins, showing the slightest dimple under the dark stubble on his cheek. His eyes sparkle in the firelight.

I nod and smile. I’m sure I’m blushing, but I can’t stop staring at him.

He bids a good evening to Mollie and Willie, and just as instantly as he appeared, he is gone.

I’m speechless. My heart is pounding in my ears. My palms are sweating. I can’t seem to catch my breath. I wish I could follow him. I look down at my coffee cup and shake my head. When I look up, Mollie and Willie are both staring at me. I blush with embarrassment.

“Well,” says Mollie, “You two seemed to have hit it off rather nicely. I’m glad you are here, Ellen.” She smiles.

I nod my head and sheepishly glance toward the closed door, wishing Sam would come back into the room with an excuse that he forgot something.

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“An Orphan’s Heart” coming May 2013 in paperback and eBook.

Click here to visit and LIKE “An Orphan’s Heart” facebook fan page to stay up-to-date 

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There are currently two books in the Rodgers family series – “Okatibbee Creek”  and “An Orphan’s Heart.” To win a free copy of either book please comment below. The books will be in eBook form in the format of your choice. Two winners will be chosen. Winners will be chosen and notified February 20. “Okatibbee Creek” will be delivered by email immediately. “An Orphan’s Heart” will be delivered by email on or about April 30. Winners will be posted on this page on or about February 20. Comments are set to moderation, so it may take a short time for your comment to appear.

FEBRUARY 20, 2013 UPDATE: Winners are Faye Johnson and Anna Belfrage. Congratulations! Please check your email and claim your prize.

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Thank you for stopping by. Please hop over and visit other authors! 

  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  4. Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
  5. Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
  6. Rosanne Lortz
  7. Sharon Lathan
  8. Debra Brown
  9. Heyerwood   (Lauren Gilbert)
  10. Regina Jeffers
  11. Ginger Myrick
  12. Anna Belfrage
  13. Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
  14. Nancy Bilyeau
  15. Wendy Dunn
  16. E.M. Powell
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  18. The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
  19. Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
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  24. Stephanie Renee dos Santos

Dear Historical Fiction Writer: How Much Is True?

Dear Historical Fiction Writer: How Much Is True?

That is the question historical fiction writers are most often asked. It takes a huge amount of time researching the characters and documents for a historical fiction novel. The obvious items are names, dates, and places, but the not-so-obvious are social questions. What was going on in the world at the time? What about the town? The family? Fashion? Industrial? Politics? Agriculture? Relationships? Economic status? These specifics are very time consuming. There are too many questions to speak of generally, so let’s narrow it down a single person and see if we can make sense out of the documents of one person’s life.

In the historical fiction novel I am currently working on, “An Orphan’s Heart,” we know the following about Ellen Rodgers. She was born in 1853 in Mississippi. In 1860, the census shows her living with her parents and four siblings in Mississippi. Her parents died within a month of each other in 1862. Ellen was nine. The 1870 census shows her living with her aunt Elizabeth Rodgers Graham in Alabama. The 1880 census shows her back in Mississippi, living with her two sisters. There is no 1890 census because it was burned in a fire, but I did find a relative who sent me a copy of Ellen’s 1890 obituary. Ellen died at the age of 37 in Texas.

There are a few social ideas we can deduce about the above facts:

1)      Children at that time in history would usually be left in the custody of the eldest male family member. Ellen’s parents died in the middle of the Civil War. Since Ellen ended up with her aunt, we can assume any male who would have taken custody, if there was one, was probably off fighting in the war.

2)      Travel to Alabama and back to Mississippi would have probably been by wagon. Her locations were 110 miles apart. Ox-pulled wagons traveled 10-15 miles per day, making the trip 7-10 days. Horses moved faster, perhaps 6-8 days. Indians were not too apt to steal horses in the area like they were out West, and there was a river to travel along to have a fresh water supply, so it they had them, they probably used horses.

3)      The most logical way to get to Texas in the 1880s would have been by train. Travelling the route from Meridian, MS to Mobile, AL, to New Orleans, LA, to Houston, TX, and then up to Runnels County would have been probable through a combination of three lines; The Mobile and Ohio RR, the Louisiana Western RR, and the Houston and Texas Central RR, and would have taken about five days. It would have involved changing trains, staying over in towns, layovers for supper, and sleeper cars.

There are more than a few personal questions:

How did Ellen end up in Alabama in 1870? Why did she go back to Mississippi? Why and when did she go to Texas? Why did she die so young?

Those answers lie in other members of the family.

Probate documents show Ellen was indeed in the custody of her uncle Hays Rodgers. He returned home at the end of the war in 1865. About 1866/67, he moved his family to Alabama. His sister, Elizabeth, was already living there. That’s how Ellen ended up in Alabama. She arrived at about age 13 or 14 and was 17 in the 1870 census. But why did she go back to Mississippi?

That answer lies in Aunt Elizabeth’s records. Elizabeth died in 1875. There is it. Ellen has now lost another adult she probably considered a mother. Sometime before 1880, she went back to Mississippi. Perhaps her uncle escorted her, perhaps she traveled alone.

Also, back in 1866/67, her two brothers went on a wagon train to Runnels County, TX with their maternal uncles. That is Ellen’s connection to Texas. But, when did she go and why? And, how did she die there at the young age of 37?

The answer to that lies in Mr. Sam Meek and Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Bell County, TX.

Ellen’s brother was married to Sam’s sister. When Ellen went out there, either to visit or to live, she naturally met Sam. They were married in 1885 (making her arrival there about 1884ish). Ellen and Sam had twin boys who were stillborn in 1887. They had a daughter in 1888. And they had a second daughter on August 5, 1890. Ellen died eight days later on August 13, 1890. Since there were no medicines to fight off infection in those days, she more than likely died of complications or infection following childbirth. Sadly, the baby died a couple months later in October. They are all buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

Now, we can weave together the life of this young woman. Here’s where the “fiction” part comes in. What kind of personality would you give Ellen? Would she be strong? Shy? Bold? Reserved? As the author, it would be your choice. How about her aunt Elizabeth? What kind of house did they live in? How about her relationship with Sam? You can examine his family and come to your own conclusion about what kind of man he was. You can look at the historical time, locations, house styles, economy, but the final call is yours. Who stood vigil at Ellen’s death bed? What happened to the surviving daughter? That question requires more research. Would you research further or would you end the story with Ellen’s death? Is there a moral to the story, something to be learned, a reason for her short life?

So, there you have it. How much is true? All of it…and none of it. Was she strong? Shy? Bold? No one will ever know. Does she have an interesting story? Yes. Is it worth giving her a personality to tell her story? Yes.


Available at Amazon

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The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged in The Next Big Thing.

The Next Big Thing is a blog interview for authors to give everyone a sneak-peak at a work-in-progress.

Authors writing more stuff…Yay! Okay, let’s get busy.

What is the working title of your next book?

“An Orphan’s Heart” — planned release date Spring 2013.

Working on the cover….


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I finished writing a historical fiction novel called “Okatibbee Creek,” where Mary Ann finds herself alone during the Civil War, raising her four children and her brother’s five orphans. One of the orphans was Ellen. While I was researching the orphans (yes, “An Orphan’s Heart” is also historical fiction), I found that Ellen moved around a lot by herself, and I was intrigued with a woman traveling alone at that time in history. I also found that she had only one child who lived until 1986 and died at the age of 98. Ellen and her daughter spanned U.S. history from the Civil War until relatively recently, which I can’t quite wrap my head around. I ended up speaking on the phone with the daughter’s grand-daughter, who is currently 73 years of age and living in Abilene, TX. After that, I was hooked on telling Ellen’s story.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Zooey Deschanel for the lead and a bearded Matt Dillon as her husband.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ellen, with the broken spirit of an orphan and the soul of a gypsy, travels alone across the late 1800s rugged and dangerous United States, searching to ease the loneliness that fate has burrowed into her heart and hoping to find the only thing that is truly important…love.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I self-publish under Lori Crane Entertainment, Inc.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took about five weeks. I worked on it every day. I tend to write just the story, then go back a second time and describe the people and environments. I go back a third time and add color, description, more conversations, and connect all the dots. Usually somewhere in the second pass, the story changes direction. I don’t know why that always happens, but I get more clarity of the plot and the characters after the initial rough draft is completed. The fourth time through is my author edit. I then send it to a real editor, and when I get it back, I can freshly see the holes and connect even more dots. Then the proofreader. Then I go through it about three more times in different formats. By the time it’s finished, I never want to see it again.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t know a specific work, but I imagine any female character trying to make it on her own, especially with the flavor of the Old West.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I love genealogy and am completely in awe of my ancestors. I laugh, cheer, and cry as I give them life through their documents and records.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is the second book in the Rodgers family series. The first, “Okatibbee Creek,” will be released in paperback and Kindle December 2012. If you fall in love with those characters like I did, you will also want to read “An Orphan’s Heart,” to continue the love affair. (Shameless plug: There will also be a third book in the series, “Elly Hays,” coming Fall 2013.)

Now, I’m off to tag five more authors to write posts of their own about their Next Big Thing. Stay tuned for details once they have all agreed…

Tracing Your Roots: Courtesy 101

I’ve traced my family for over 30 years. I currently have 8548 people in my family tree, including 16 great great grandparents, 26 third greats, 36 fourth greats, 49 fifth greats and 61 sixth greats – there’s more, but I won’t bore you any further. At one point, part of my tree opens up and the male side dates back to 1190 England, and the female side dates back to 70 B.C. I have family from England, Ireland, France, Scotland, and places so far back, they aren’t even on the map anymore. I am passionate about my records and my new discoveries.

Do you want to know what my BIGGEST pet peeve in the whole world is??

My biggest pet peeve is getting messages and/or emails that say things like: “Please respond and let me know who you are and why you are tracing my family” or “Please transfer my uncles memorial page to me because he is my family” or “Thank you for posting headstone photos of my family.”

Yeah. My My My My. Let’s make it clear. If you have ancestors, you are probably not the only one in your family tree. The above comments need responses from me including, “I am tracing my husband’s family, not yours”, “The man is also MY uncle”, and “I drove 14 hours one-way to visit that cemetery and posted headstone photos of MY family, not yours, but you are welcome, I guess.”

One of my biggest pleasures is finding distant cousins all over the world, but not when those cousins send rude emails.

I’m currently working on a book about a cousin who was an orphan. My third great grandmother raised her deceased brother’s five orphans for a while. One of the orphans has a great story, so I’m writing a book about her. She lost her parents at the age of nine in 1862 in Mississippi. She is found in the 1870 census living with her other aunt in Alabama, and found in the 1880 census living back in Mississippi. She is then found in 1890 in Texas, married with an infant daughter, and died that very same year at the age of 36. My questions were, “Why did she go back to MS? and “How did she end up in TX?”  I did find the answers to my questions, but still wanted more information. Through some family searching (emails to a cousin of a cousin of a cousin), I ended up on the phone with the infant daughter’s GRANDDAUGHTER, who is 73 years old and living in Abilene, TX. She told me all about her family and her grandmother, but she did not know anything about her orphaned great grandmother or the family line before that, so we filled in a lot of family history for each other. She emailed me a photo of the orphan and a four-page hand-written letter from the orphan to her brother, dated July 1890, a month before she died. And I emailed her stories of the family along with a photo of the orphans grandfather, her THIRD great grandfather whom she never knew existed.  It was amazing. We are cousins connected 150 years ago. Wow!

So, lesson to be learned:

If you contact someone about their family research, do not say “MY family,” because if they are researching and have records, it is more than likely their family also, and you never want to be rude to your cousins.

Class dismissed.