in SGES Quarterly December 2005 Volume 46, No. 196
It is amazing what we sometimes find when we venture down a road we haven’t been on before. I was dragged kicking and screaming 14 years ago down one I didn’t want to travel and am still being amazed at what I’m finding along its way.
The trip down this road started the morning Valerie announced I was to go with her to the library and help research her family genealogy. Although she had for several years been filling one steno pad after another with notes of her Humbert family, I had managed to keep myself unencumbered with her “hobby.” Her tone of voice that day, however, told me unmistakably that I could dodge the bullet no longer. I discreetly turned my face away from her and grimaced wryly.
stemmed from the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about genealogy and
didn’t care to know. I had always assumed it was a complicated subject
capably pursued only by professional genealogist who had extensive
training in the subject. Besides, after my father died when I was five, my
mother remarried and we moved from the Braddock stronghold of North
off to the South Carolina Room of the Charleston County Library we went. I
quickly learned that my assistance was not a one-shot involvement. Over
the next few weeks we visited the South Carolina Historical Society, the
Charleston Library Society, the
Totally ignorant of research methods used by professionals, I developed my own. At each research facility we visited, I started at the first book on the first shelf and worked my way to the last book on the last shelf, checking each book’s index for Valerie’s family names. In books that had a sparse index or none at all, which were many of the older ones, I flipped slowly through them as my eyes scanned their pages for the names she was researching. It is surprising how many pieces of vital information I found in this manner.
While checking a source for Valerie’s family names, out of nothing more
than curiosity, I also checked for Braddock.
On my very first outing I found the name of Captain David Cutler Braddock
in a book of
I began photocopying each page on which their names appeared and filing them chronologically in a 3-inch binder. Before long, I had filled it up and had started on another binder.
William Lyford had a son, William Jr., I found mention of the son and of
David Cutler Braddock in The Georgia
– South Carolina Border, a book by Dr. Louis Devorsey, professor
emeritus of geography at the
Cutler Braddock’s origin became one of my primary goals. Guessing that
his middle name and that of his son was a family name, I added Cutler to
my search list. Not one Cutler was mentioned in any of the old
exhausted sources in
One of the high points of my research occurred at the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Athens where I got to hold in my hands the actual letter, with the wax seal still on it, that William Lyford Jr., a devout Loyalist who had been run out of Georgia at the start of the Revolution, wrote after the end of the war vainly requesting permission to return to Georgia.
clearly evident during my research that a mutual animosity existed between
the colonies of
origins are 200 miles apart, Valerie’s in
four years of research, which became intense almost to the point of
obsession after my retirement from work, I had accumulated four and a half
3-inch binders of information. Filing the copied pages in chronological
order, I found them to be like dots that at first were too distantly
spaced for a discernible picture to be seen. The more pieces of
information I found, the closer the dots grew. Soon, definite lines began
replacing dots, telling a clear and surprisingly detailed story of the
four captains. I began seriously entertaining the idea of making a book of
their many exciting exploits but decided that, besides not being a writer,
I lacked one vital ingredient. I knew the ultimate end of three of the men
but not the fourth. I knew from a copy of William Lyford Sr.’s will that
he had died in the
With no place left to research to occupy my time, I began keying my mass of information into my PC. Massaging it into a readable story as I went was no easy task for me as I had not been the brightest kid on the block during my high school years, especially in the intricacies of grammar and punctuation. Thankfully, I had Valerie to give me advice. I also had my daughter Debbi, who had edited theses to help work her way through college, to look over my shoulder and keep reminding me, “Keep it scholarly, Daddy.”
through the keying in process, an item in the magazine section of our
local newspaper revealed that actor Sean Connery lived in Lyford Cay, an
exclusive residential resort on
did come to
He also hired
a researcher to comb the Bahamas Archives for records of my four men. The
voluminous and exciting information that began arriving almost daily in my
mailbox provided me a conclusion to William Jr.’s part of the story and
much more. I learned the birth dates of William Lyford Jr. and his sister
Mary, David Cutler Braddock’s wife; that he and his nephew, John Cutler
Braddock, had participated in Colonel Andrew Deveaux’s famous raid that
drove the Spanish from Nassau and that both men had received two grants
each for their services; and when and where William Jr. died. The most
surprising thing I learned from the information Arthur Hailey sent was
that William Lyford Sr.’s father-in-law, William Spatches, was once
president of the
While I was in the midst of keying in all the new information Arthur Hailey had sent, he invited me to take part in a lecture he was giving on William Lyford Jr. at the resort. I was to say a few words about William Lyford Sr. Lyford Cay would pay all the expenses for Valerie and me. Completely forgetting I suffer from extreme stage fright and panic at even the thought of standing up in front of people, I blurted out that I would be glad to take part. We stayed a week, spending the first two nights being royally treated at the Lyford Cay Club Hotel and the remainder at the Hailey’s guest house next door to their home. We dined with the Hailey’s every evening and were made to feel as if we were among old friends. The lecture went off without a hitch. As superb as he was as a writer, Arthur was equally superb as a lecturer. And I surprised myself by giving my six minutes worth without missing a beat. By the time I got up to speak, my mind was so intoxicated with getting to meet and chat with the Governor-General of the Bahamas and other dignitaries before the lecture began that I forgot all about my stage fright. The lecture was later deemed the most successful and best attended ever given at Lyford Cay.
One of the highlights of our visit was getting to see the still-standing tabby walls of the house in which William Jr. and his family had lived two hundred years earlier. I added a picture I took of it to my book.
gave the same lecture again three years later, and I was again invited to
take part. Valerie and I were able to enjoy another nice week in the
In the early stages of my book, I named it On Both Sides of the Revolution because the story took place before, during, and after the Revolution and John Cutler Braddock and William Jr. were on opposite sides. I used in my speech at Lyford Cay the old aphorism, “In the olden days they had wooden ships and iron men; today we have wooden men and iron ships,” in describing the breed of mariners of William Sr.’s day. As I said the words, “wooden ships and iron men,” during my speech, I immediately knew what the book’s title would be.
After entering all the information Arthur sent me, I printed the book out, all 300 pages, and had Valerie proofread it. I then had my daughter Debbi edit it. The two of them came up with enough corrections and suggested changes that it took me a week to make them. I soon had the book ready for publishing. I had keyed it in in camera-ready format so that all a publisher had to do was photograph the pages and print the book from the photo plates. This saved me the added expense of the publisher having to key in and format the book’s text. Now to find a publisher. I found a list of them in a reference book at the library and picked out about 30 who published historical type books. I wrote each a letter and included a couple of sample pages. I received four responses, each saying generally the same thing: “We are not doing that kind of book at this time.”
I could have thrown up my hands at that point and said, “What’s the use.” But I was determined to see it in print, not because I could say I had published a book, but because I knew the story of the four mariners was worth sharing. Back to the library I went to look for books that told how to self-publish. In a surprising short period, Valerie and I learned and carried out the legal and other formalities necessary for starting our own publishing company, VJB Press—V for Valerie, J for Jerry, B for Braddock. We also fathomed the mysteries of getting the book copyrighted through the Library of Congress and an ISBN number assigned to it.
Now that we had a publishing company, all we needed was to get the book printed. Back to the library I went and compiled a list of book printers. I was shooting for getting a good quality book with hard cover and dust jacket I could sell for no more than $20.00.
I received a quotation from every printer to whom I had written and
learned that the cost of getting a book printed is predicated on the
number of copies—the more, in increments of a hundred, the less the
price per book. Prices per book, based on 500 copies, on the quotations
ranged all the way up to $45.00 each. Only one printer quoted a price low
enough to allow me to sell for $20.00. However, the price was so much
lower than the other quotations that I didn’t think they could deliver a
quality product for the amount. While again on the verge of giving up as a
lost cause getting my book published, I received a handsomely made history
Thomson-Shore gave me the option of their designing the book’s jacket or my having someone locally design it. Either way would be an additional cost of over $100. I suddenly became a book jacket designer.
An advance copy of Wooden Ships – Iron Men arrived from Thomson-Shore early in July, 1996. I soared into a state of ecstasy as I pulled the culmination of five years of blood, sweat, and tears from the envelope and laid my eyes on it for the first time. Physically, it was an attractive book by any standard. I immediately sat down and began reading it. I had read it in bits and pieces while writing it but not all the way through after completing it and making corrections and changes. I was a sick man long before I reached the last page. I could not believe the number of typographical errors it contained: missing or wrong punctuation, 1970 instead of 1790 in one place, left-out words that changed meanings of sentences, etc., etc., etc. After two almost sleepless nights of agonizing over what I was going to do with 500 books riddled with errors that were barreling down the road on a truck somewhere between Michigan and Charleston, I reasoned that they contained more than enough previously unknown history of Braddock ancestors to make them worth the price. I decided I would make an errata sheet and stick it in the back of each book. I had seen a few books with such sheets in them during my research. After preparing the errata sheet I was surprised at how short the list looked. The first book I distributed was to Arthur Hailey. He called me after receiving it and chided me about the errata list and advised me to leave it out as most people give little thought to minor errors they encounter in books. So much for the errata sheet. For the large number of books I’ve sold, the 1970 for 1790 error is the only one someone has mentioned.
As part of
getting a copyright and an ISBN number from the Library of Congress, I had
to send them three copies. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from
Virginia Steele Wood, a Senior Reference Librarian and Specialist in Naval
& Maritime History at the Library and author of several historical
books of coastal
satisfaction of getting your book published when no one else would even
look at it and gaining a little admiration from a few for having done so
is about as far as the benefits of being a self-publisher go. Getting it
sold is completely your responsibility. Not even the merest thought of how
I was going to sell them crossed my mind when I made the relatively quick
decision to self-publish. Only when I wrote that big check to the printer,
draining my savings, did the full reality that selling the books rested
fully on my skinny little shoulders hit me. I couldn’t sell dollar bills
for fifty cents. It was back to the library to get a list of newspapers in
the Southeast. I wrote a letter to almost every one of them, offering to
send a copy of the book if they would mention it in their paper. Only one
took me up on the offer, but what a result it brought! Beth Gay gave it a
generous mention in her genealogy column, Hunting
weekend after receiving the books, Valerie and I drove to
In years past I
had seen a Braddock Hardware in Yulee. It was only a stone’s throw off
our route as we headed back home from
homeward journey we stopped by St. Simons to visit an uncle. Emboldened by
the ease of the Yulee sale, we stopped at a bookstore on the island and I
made a pitch, holding the book up for the owner to see. He took it, turned
it in his hand as he studied the cover, flipped through a few pages, then
announced he would take two. Even more emboldened, we tried another
bookstore on the island and got the identical reaction, except the owner
took only one book. On the way out we sold a copy to a bookstore in
As soon as we
arrived back in
I learned very quickly that unless you are a famous author or a celebrity, a book signing can be a dull, drawn out, disappointing few hours of watching people walk on by the table and chair the store has set up for you as if you were part of the furnishings. After a while, from sheer frustration, you start trying to get passersby’s attention by holding up the book and saying, “Hey, here’s a great book on maritime history,” or some like comment. Most smile, politely nod their heads, and pass on by. Of those who stop long enough to engage in a little dialogue, most listen to your spiel, ask a question or two, then move on. Some ask you question after question or get you to tell them half the book, making you think you have a sure sale, then move on without their hands going anywhere near their wallets.
The mention in
the Florida Times-Union brought
an invitation to tell about the book at the annual Braddock/Higginbotham
names and addresses of numerous Braddocks from a rip-off Braddock
genealogy book I had ordered from an ad I received in the mail, I sent a
flyer to over a hundred Braddocks in
It sometimes pays to know someone who knows someone. The Atlanta Journal was one of the many newspapers from which I received no response earlier to my letter seeking mention of my book. Braddock descendant Alex Williams, a retired judge and historian of sorts, was so pleased with the copy he had ordered that he called his friend Ken Thomas who writes a genealogy column for the Atlanta Journal, resulting in a generous mention of the book in his column, which resulted in several sales.
I sent a copy
to my old alma mater,
I signed up for the Internet and, with some instructions from one of my sons, soon had a web page advertising the book. With the number of family history hunters using the Internet for researching their genealogy growing exponentially, I immediately began receiving orders from fellow descendants who hit on the web page while searching for their Braddock ancestry. However, the best sources of sales proved to be people who had already bought the book wanting more copies for other family members and people who had seen relatives’ copies.
reunions involving Braddocks are held in
I had earlier been invited by the Hilton Head Historical Society to make a presentation about David Cutler Braddock, for whom the southern tip of the island and a nearby cove are named. As soon as I returned home from my Braddock/Stokes disaster I wrote the Society informing them that, because of a fear that the same thing would happen again, embarrassing them and ruining their meeting, I was withdrawing my commitment. I received by return mail a clipping from the Hilton Head newspaper announcing I was to speak at the Society’s next meeting along with a letter from their president informing me there was no way I could cancel. I called him and stipulated that I would come only if Valerie were seated so that I could easily see her. My daughter Debbi surprised me by arriving moments before the meeting started. Between being able to see their two faces smiling up at me and Valerie having rehearsed me, rehearsed me, rehearsed me, I didn’t miss a beat and was able to deviate from my script several times without losing my place.
All the while, Arthur Hailey continued publishing William Lyford’s story in monthly installments in the Lyford Cay newsletter from my research material and would send each article for me to edit and approve. Not many people who failed high school senior English in high school get to edit a world renowned author.
Although I had
become completely fascinated almost to the point of obsession with
Braddock history, I had found little interest in the genealogical side. In
researching my book I learned that John Braddick had married Mary Cutler,
daughter of John Cutler who had come from
It is only fitting that I comment further on the amazing Braddock genealogy the late Margaret Hodges compiled. She published it long before the advent of the Internet, which has made it possible for many people, using sophisticated search tools, to pull together a comprehensive family genealogy in one sitting. She did her research the old fashioned way: traveling week after week to numerous repositories of public and historical records and painstakingly poring for hours over old ledgers, newspapers, and microfilm. Several family members, including me, who pursue our Braddock ancestry have built our databases on the genealogy she labored so long and hard to compile. Her daughter, Jean Mizell, is expertly carrying on her mother’s work.
who bought copies of my book included genealogies of their limbs of the
Braddock tree with their orders, and others who bought it were asking how
they fit in, I began a Braddock genealogy database, initially populating
it with information from Helen Hodges’ genealogy. My interest in
genealogy grew with each addition I made to the database, especially when
the addition revealed a surprise. One surprise was learning that a
plainclothes juvenile officer who almost arrested me for swimming in
As my database grew, I became interested in the genealogy of my ancestors other than Braddocks. Through family records I traced my mother’s ancestry back to Levisa Bennett. Further research revealed that Levisa’s grandmother was Mary “Polly” Cook, sister of Lucy Cook, wife of my ancestor Captain John Cutler Braddock. So, their father, James Cook, was my 5th great-grandfather on my father’s side and my 6th great-grandfather on my mother’s side, making me my own cousin. Tracing the Bennetts farther, I found that my father’s brother’s wife, step-son, and son-in-law are my cousins on my mother’s side.
In addition to
helping sell books and enabling me to meet many cousins in places far and
near, the Internet web pages I created to advertise Wooden
Ships - Iron Men have brought
me some interesting opportunities. Anne Higham, a serious Lyford
researcher in England who saw these web pages, not only ordered a copy of
the book, she continually sends me copies of old letters, charts, and
documents concerning my ancestors she finds in the British Public Records
Office. After seeing my web page, Gail Swanson, a
one of my web pages, the Marshes of Glynn Chapter of the Sons of the
American Revolution at St. Simons Island, GA, invited me to make a
presentation commemorating the capture of three British men-of-war by
effort, the Marshes of Glynn Chapter of the Sons of the American
Revolution succeeded in getting approved a historical marker commemorating
the April 19, 1778 victory by the Georgia Navy.
In light of my initial concerns about my book’s errata, not least among the pleasures I’ve found along this road Valerie had to drag me, kicking and screaming, onto are the several favorable reviews the book has received, including one by writer Arthur Hailey. All of them were complimentary enough to use in my flyer and Internet advertisements. But a copy of Wooden Ships – Iron Men I sent to the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Society resulted in the review I treasure the most. Written by the Society’s president Jon Ferguson, it appeared in the Society’s quarterly. I was so impressed with the review and articles in their quarterly that I decided to join. I also opted to subscribe to Heritage Quest Online through my SGES membership. Within weeks, I found enough information about one of my early ancestors through Heritage Quest Internet to write an article and have it accepted for publishing in the SGES quarterly.
I don’t know how much longer I will have the exciting and pleasurable adventure of traveling this road onto which Valerie dragged me, kicking and screaming; however, I do know that the only way to get me off it now is to drag me kicking and screaming.
Another thing I know is this road didn’t just happen, nor did the many repositories of historical and genealogical documents and records I’ve encountered at the road’s every turn, nor did the ever-increasing ease with which these documents and records can be accessed—I recently put together a genealogy of my cousin-in-law’s ancestry without leaving the chair in front of my PC. People built this road, most of them volunteer “road-builders.” In the infant days of family research, these road-builders scraped a crude two rut road of family information through a wilderness of ignorance by starting to accumulate genealogical and historical records. Over the years, they built buildings and founded libraries and started archives and formed societies in which these records could be housed and in a way that people could come and access them with relative ease. They made themselves experts of genealogy to make the researcher’s job easier. They started quarterlies and news letters to reach beyond the walls of their repositories. They started conducting lectures and seminars and training classes. They worked diligently to improve ease of access by transcribing paper records to microform, CDs, and web pages. Gradually, these road-builders transformed the rut road into a superhighway along which researchers can move with ease and speed on their way to compiling their family histories.
My boss of over thirty years, who had retired the year before I did, told me the week before I retired 10 years ago that I would be bored to death with retirement. I couldn’t have written a better script for my retirement years than what I have been living out on this road on which I was dragged kicking and screaming. I sometimes shudder when I think that I almost said no.