The Jenkins
Rappahannock VA
to Mason Hall TN

Martha Alice Jenkins

                                  

Martha Alice, Mrs John Sanford Jenkins, my great-grandmother, was born the 11th of February, 1852 in Hardin County, Tennessee. She was the daughter of and the fifth child of William Thomas Garrett and Caroline Butcher of Cabell County, West Virginia.

All the recollections of my aunts and uncles of their grandmother were that they remembered her hostility toward them, and all children in general. I'm sure they weren't aware at that time in their lives of her experiences with children before she came to live with them in Fairview the last few years of her life. In her defense, I submit what I was able to determine from extensive research of her and her husband's difficult lives using census and marriage records, interviews, and her Civil War Veteran Widow's Pension Application.

Her husband, John Sanford, was married to her older sister, Mahala, before he married Alice. Being married to John, who had chosen her sister first, must have been uncomfortable for both of them. But before his marriage to Mahala, John was married to a childhood friend, Ann Elizabeth Smithwick, in Hardin County in 1866.

John and Elizabeth had three children, Jim, Andrew, and Alma before her sudden death in 1874. Early deaths were not at all uncommon in the 1800s. With three young toddlers to rear, John wasted no time in asking a neighbor, Mahala Garrett to marry. John and Mahala were soon parents of two more, Daisy and Charley. Mahala died before Daisy was four years old. Only then, in 1879, did John ask Alice for her hand in marriage as he just conveniently knew her.

John's son Andrew then died, leaving four children, from two to eleven years of age, for Alice to tend to in her new instant family. The thought of being a newlywed and having others' young children to care for must have been unsettling for her as it was for poor James living with is third 'mother' before he was eleven. It was noted on James' death certificate in 1952 that his mother was recorded as being Mahala Jenkins. Descendants of James researching thier ancestors in the late 1900s assumed the same thing.

John and Alice lost their first child soon after they married. They later had three boys, Tom, my grandfather, Henry, and Willie. Now Alice had seven young children to see after as well as John, who was becoming less able to support them because of his worsening war injuries. Tragedy struck the family again when young Willie died in 1894.

Besides raising her children for about 20 years, from the time she was married, Alice had her sister's and Eliza's kids at home. After she lost two of her own, Alice had experienced more than most mothers.

When they all left home but Henry, shortly after 1900, she went to live with her son, Tom, in Gibson County. Apparently her marriage to John was not going well, she never returned to Hardin County, or Tom needed her help with all his children. Around 1920 she was called on again. Alice went to live with Henry in Hominy, Oklahoma. Henry had just lost his wife and infant daughter and needed a mother to help with his four kids.

By the time Alice returned to Gibson County, Tom was well on his way to having eleven children. Mr Tom had just moved from his first place near Bethpage Church to a bigger two-story home he had bought from his father-in-law, James Bradford on what is now Tom Jenkins Road. Even with four bedrooms and eleven kids, it must have been a busy and overcrowded place for her to live. Uncles have said she did have one of the four rooms to herself though.

At 70 years old in the 1920s, she had helped or raised twenty children, and now living with eleven, had lost two of her own, a widow, and dependent on her son now. It was not the peaceful life one would expect in their final years. Her hostility was understandable.

Martha Alice died at the age of 86 at Tom's home the 23rd of May 1939 and is buried somewhere at Bethpage Cemetery without a grave marker and known only to a few who are no longer with us. I found no death certificate, obituary, Bible entry, or any record of her passing..... except a note in Howard Taylor's farm diary, in possession of his niece in the 1990s, that he attended her funeral on that day. Sadly, had it not been for her application for a Civil War veteran's wife pension, her date of birth would not have been know either. Let us now not forget her life.

 

The StoryTellers

My feelings are in each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve.

To me, doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts but, instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called as it were by our genes.

Those who have gone before cry out to us: Tell our story. So, we do.

In finding them, we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before now and cried? I have lost count. How many times have I told the ancestors you have a wonderful family you would be proud of us? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I cannot say.

It goes beyond just documenting facts. It goes to who am I and why do I do the things I do.

It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference and saying I can't let this happen. The bones here are bones of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It goes to doing something about it.

It goes to pride in what our ancestors were able to accomplish. How they contributed to what we are today.

It goes to respecting their hardships and losses, their never giving in or giving up, their resoluteness to go on and build a life for their family.

It goes to deep pride that they fought to make and keep us a Nation.

It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us. That we might be born who we are. That we might remember them. So we do.

With love and caring and scribing each fact of their existence, because we are them and they are us. We are the chosen.

So, as a scribe called, I tell the story of my family. It is up to that one called in the next generation to answer the call and take their place in the long line of family storytellers.

That, is why I do my family genealogy, and that is what calls those young and old to step up and put flesh on the bones.

Author unknown