Published in the December 2008 issue of the SGES Quarterly

J. G. Braddock Sr,

Learning who my ancestors are through genealogical research has been a rewarding experience for me, to say the least. Even more rewarding have been the several unexpected revelations—Jon Ferguson calls them serendipities—I’ve encountered in the process.

In my first foray into genealogy, I researched my father’s side of the family and quickly learned that my 4th great-grandfather, John Cutler Braddock, married Lucia Cook, daughter of James Cook of Effingham County , Georgia . I enjoyed the pursuit of my father’s ancestors so much that when I had gone as far as I could with them, I decided to apply my new found skills to my mother’s side. I got nowhere with Sessions, her father’s side. Her mother’s side was somewhat easier, at least one line of them. She was the daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte “Bone” Clark and Mary Angeline Smith. No record of ‘Bone’s’ father’s name could be found. He may have died soon after Bone’s birth as, according to the 1860 census, Bone’s mother had remarried by the time he was four. I fared better on Bone’s wife. She was the daughter of John Smith and Levisa Bennett. Wading through a Pharaoh’s army of Georgia John Smiths proved to be an exercise in futility. However, through the research of several others, I learned that Levisa was the daughter of Richard Bennett, who was the son of William Bennett, who was the son of Richard Bennett and Mary “Polly” Cook, who was the daughter of James Cook of Effingham County , Georgia and sister to Lucia Cook who married John Cutler Braddock. Lucia is my 4th great-grandmother on my father’s side, and Mary “Polly” is my 5th great-grandmother on my mother’s side, making me my own cousin.

Researching my Bennett genealogy provided another unexpected revelation. After my uncle’s wife died, he married Mary Tison Davis. She had a son, Robert Randall Davis, from her first marriage. Although he was only my step-cousin, we were close friends and playmates when we were youngsters. Some sixty years later, I discovered that his mother, in addition to being my step-aunt, was my 5th cousin, twice removed, through my Bennett line. He became my cousin in addition to being my step cousin. My uncle became also my step-uncle, and his daughter, my first cousin, became also my step cousin.

A misspelled word triggered one of my genealogical surprises. I received an email in January 2006 from a Clay Adams calling my attention to the misspelling of the name of his ancestor, Henry O’Neill, on my South Carolina Loyalists web page.  He explained that he was researching a book on this ancestor, who had gone to Spanish East Florida at the end of the Revolution and had served as a magistrate for the Spanish government until he was murdered in the line of duty by Nathaniel Ashley. I happened to have a book containing a map of the location of Henry O’Neill’s land grant in what is now Nassau County and sent a copy of the map to him. It was in the same area where my ancestors had received grants. I knew that sometime after John Cutler Braddock’s death in 1794, his widow, Lucia Cook Braddock, and her children migrated from Georgia to Spanish East Florida , but I did not know the why, when, and where of their move. In August 2006, while searching Spanish Borderlands index records on the Internet, I found a record dated January 17, 1795 that read: “Arrival of widow Lucia Braddock, family, slaves and possessions and wishes to become Florida resident; sending older son David to St. Augustine, pending Governor decision Howard is letting family stay with Mrs. O'Neill; left U.S. because of debts…”  Margaret O’Neill could have turned them away. She had good reasons to. She had several children still at home, and her husband had been a staunch Loyalist to the British cause while Lucia’s husband commanded a galley for the opposing Patriot side. Yet, she took my ancestor and her four unmarried children in. Clay and I are fast Internet friends now and routinely exchange genealogy information and jokes. He has asked me on a few occasions to do some minor research in our local library. I’ve welcomed each as another opportunity to repay the huge debt of gratitude Lucia’s descendants owe Margaret’s descendants.

The next genealogical surprise, which also involves Clay Adams, was set in motion years ago when my mother passed on to me the family lore that her uncle, John B. Clark, was murdered in cold blood in 1917 in Camden County by his wife’s brother, Herbert Sheffield. I tried in vain for years to locate a public record of the murder. Because new information is added to the Internet everyday, I occasionally searched again, using “Clark,” “Sheffield,” and “ Camden County ” as my search criteria. I recently got a hit on a pictorial type book titled St. Marys and Camden County, Georgia. In it were several old pictures of Sheffields. Herbert, now stooped with age, appeared in one. But the book made no mention of my great-uncle or his untimely death. I sent an email with the web page’s link to two of my cousins who are descendants of John B. and Herbert’s sister Lila. I mentioned in the email that their great-grandfather, Herbert Sheffield, was in one of the pictures. As there were also numerous mentions of the Lang family, I sent Clay Adams a copy of the email. He had mentioned earlier that Richard Lang had been one of the precipitators of the foment that led to the murder of his ancestor, Henry O’Neill. Clay’s response almost knocked me out of my chair: Herbert Sheffield was his 2nd great-grandmother’s nephew. His response also ended my longtime search for information. Included in it was a transcript of an article giving some of the details of John B.’s death. According to the article, he wasn’t gunned down “in cold blood,” as described in my mother’s version. John B. had pulled a gun on Herbert and that Herbert had shot him in self defense. Even more surprising is Clay’s response did not end the revelation. Less than a week later I found on the Internet a transcription of Mary Angeline Smith Clark’s obituary from a 1934 issue of the old newspaper, The Southeastern Georgian. She was my great-grandmother. She was also the mother of John B. I sent an email to the person who had posted the obituary thanking him and asking if he had any old newspaper articles of the killing of John B. Clark by Herbert Sheffield. He responded with a photocopy of a lengthy article giving even more detail. He also revealed that he was the grandson of John B.s widow by her second marriage.

Another unbelievable discovery started out with an email from a Braddock cousin asking, “Aren’t some of your ancestors named Wood, and didn’t they come from the Atlanta area?” I replied that my grandmother Braddock was a Wood and that her ancestors, as far back as they could be traced, which was around the time of the Civil War, lived in Decatur , near Atlanta . My cousin’s email went on to inform me that the previous day’s issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contained an article, “Angel returns stolen Bible from Civil War-era.”  The article told of the Bible of William L. Wood and his wife Elizabeth J. Pendley—my ancestors— which had been taken 140 years ago from the Wood home by a Union soldier during the Civil War, being recently sent to the DeKalb Historical Society in Decatur by a man in Ohio who had it sixty-three years after acquiring it from a descendant of the soldier who had taken it.  I immediately contacted the DeKalb Historical Society and was able to obtain from them photos of each of the marriage and birth pages. The names and dates on them coincided exactly with the research done by my cousin, the late Annie Wood Taylor.

My most surprising revelation, one that gives me a chill of amazement each time I think of it, began 70 years ago when my brother and I were placed in an orphanage after our father’s death. The orphanage was actually the farm of a Mr. Hood in Loretto , Florida , sixteen miles south of downtown Jacksonville . In some aspects, life at Hood’s for us and the other three boys there was good. We were well fed. We learned the work ethic. We attended school everyday, and we were required to make good grades. In other aspects, it was the pits. First of all, we were literally torn, overnight, from the arms of loving, compassionate relatives and thrown into, in our young minds, a hostile environment. We had to perform practically every chore around the large farm and its extensive citrus orchards, starting from before daylight and often times working until after sundown, regardless of the heat or the cold. We were worked as if we were grown men. Yet, the oldest of us was in the sixth grade. I, the youngest, was in the fourth. We almost never got a kind word or a hug or a pat on the back, even for a job well done. But woe to us when our efforts failed to measure up to Mr. Hood’s expectations—he was unmerciful with a switch. If he considered an infraction serious enough, he would end the beating with a threat to send the miscreant to Florida ’s reformatory for boys in Marianna. But as harsh to us as he was, his wife was much harsher. After almost a year, the five of us decided we couldn’t endure the ill treatment any longer and began to plot running away. We decided the best time and place to put our plan in action would be during recess at school. The three-room Loretta Elementary School we attended stood on Loretto Road , with a wooded lot between it and Old St. Augustine Road . Our plan was to casually stroll, one by one, from the school yard into the woods and hide until recess ended. We then would walk Old St. Augustine Road to Jacksonville . Three of us made it into the woods and hid. The fourth came running into the woods yelling that the fifth one had chickened out and was on his way to tell the principal. The four of us hit the road running. I may have been the youngest and smallest, but I was the fastest, especially when scared, and was soon way ahead of the others. Looking back and seeing the three of them already in the clutches of older guys, I ran even faster. I looked back again. Two older guys were gaining on me. I veered into the thick woods and hid in a clump of palmetto shrubs. They stopped close enough to me momentarily to debate which direction I may have gone that I could have reached out and touched them. They then headed further into the woods. As soon as they were out of sight, I hurried to the road and resumed running toward Jacksonville . As I passed a store, two men came out and grabbed me, ending my dash to freedom. Fast forward to 1998, fifty-eight years later, when I was cutting my teeth on genealogy. While pursuing on the Internet the strong possibility that my wife had a drop or two of Minorcan blood in her, I encountered on the Nassau County genealogy web site a web page giving an excellent brief history of Minorcans. I sent an email of thanks to the web page’s creator, Steve Rogero, for putting the information on the Internet. During our several ensuing emails, I learned he was father-in-law of one of my Braddock cousins, that he grew up down the road from Loretto in Mandarin, that he had at one time lived on the road on which Mr. Hood’s farm was located, and that he attended the Catholic school across the road from the three room school I attended. Several days later, I got an email from Steve saying he had talked on the phone with his brother in Ohio and mentioned corresponding with one of the boys from Mr. Hood’s. His brother responded, “I remember those boys, some of them ran away from school one afternoon and you and I heard about it during afternoon recess. We didn’t go back to class, but went in the woods to search for them.”