52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Heirloom

The brooch!

One of my favorite family heirlooms, a beautiful little brooch, has an interesting story attached to it. My grandmother gave this brooch to my mom years ago, but she did not know anything about the brooch’s origins. She found the brooch among my great-great grandmother Jessie Robinson’s possessions after her death in 1966. It is definitely an old piece of jewelry, and although my grandmother knew it was probably significant to Jessie, she had no particular attachment to it. My mom never wore the brooch because the clasp on the back is not very secure, so it sat untouched in a drawer for a long time.

Several years ago, mom was telling me the history behind some other pieces of jewelry, when she saw the brooch and showed it to me. The metal is brass, and it has some beautiful filigree work around the edges. The center of the brooch is a pink stone and a white cameo of a woman with curly hair piled on the top of her head and a ruff around her neck. The brooch is 2 inches long and 3/4 of an inch at its widest. I remember thinking how beautiful and dainty it was and wishing that we knew who it belonged to and how old it actually was.

Cora Preston wearing the brooch.

When I began organizing and scanning family photographs, I found one of my 3rd great grandmother Cora Isabel McKelvey Preston taken by the Poole Art Company in Nashville, Tennessee in the 1880s. Cora apparently loved jewelry based on the beautiful pieces she wore in all photographs taken of her. She showed off large dangling earrings, necklaces, pendants, brooches, pins, and bracelets. In this particular photograph, she wore earrings, a large necklace, and a distinctive brooch pinned to the top of her dress. The brooch looked familiar, and upon closer examination, I realized that it was the same brooch that my mom had in her drawer!


The outline of the cameo and the decoration surrounding it can be clearly seen as well as the decorative ends of the brooch. This photograph solved several mysteries at once:

  1. The brooch belonged to my 3rd great grandmother Cora.
  2. It dates from at least the 1880s.
  3. The brooch must have been one of her favorite pieces. Or, it was her daughter Jessie’s favorite piece of her mother’s jewelry.

I can’t believe how lucky I was to be able to identify the owner and the age of a piece of jewelry from a 130 year old photograph! This experience taught me that taking notice of the smallest details can make all the difference, and now that small brooch is one of my most treasured family heirlooms.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day! In the spirit of today, below is an image of a romantic letter received by my 2nd great grandmother, Jessie Preston Robinson, from an unknown sender in June 1893. She was 17 years old and had just graduated from Fogg High School in Nashville, Tennessee. Although the letter was not signed, Jessie presumably knew the identity of her secret admirer. At the end of the letter, he writes “Since ‘All the world loves a lover,’ I need not tell you who I am, but promise to be an earnest co-worker with you as I trust in you.”

Because she took the care to keep this letter, I assumed it was sent to her by her future husband, Thomas Robinson, who she knew at this point in her life. However, the following statement proved this theory incorrect: “when I recall my mother’s love story … with a man twenty-five years her senior, and could you realize her pride and gratitude – her eager confidence in superiority of age and attainment – you would feel strongly its blessed potency.”

Jessie’s soon to be husband was only three years older than her, and her admirer suggested that there was a significant age difference between them, like that between his mother and her husband. Therefore, the letter was written by someone other than Thomas. Unfortunately, that little anecdote is the only clue to his identity, and it is still a mystery!

Jessie Lois Preston Robinson in 1893, the year she received the love letter.

Throughout the letter, the admirer attempted to convince Jessie that any young lady should be very flattered to have attracted the attentions of an older man who had the means to take care of her. In his words, ” To have been loved nice truly and dearly by a great heart and expanded intellect has not been the happy destiny of many girls, perhaps greater than you or I.” He clearly thought quite highly of himself, and I do wonder if maybe Jessie thought him too full of himself, too old to be attractive to her, or a little bit of both. Even though she did not return his love and married someone else, she did keep the letter. Maybe she thought the letter was a sweet gesture or maybe it came from someone she liked, just not someone she could love.

I do not know how Jessie responded to this letter. Did she send one to him? Did she speak to him in person? It is fascinating to think how different her life would have been if she had decided to marry this older man instead of my great-great grandfather. Many details surrounding this letter have been lost, and I do not expect to ever discover the identity of the admirer. But it does provide an interesting insight into courtship, proposals, and romantic love in the late 19th-century!



52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Name

St. Cunigunde

Researching my German heritage has been a priority for me over the past two years, and one branch in particular has been particularly fascinating. My third great grandfather, William Althauser (born Wilhelm) emigrated from Baden in the 1850s with his mother, Anna Krieg Althauser, and his siblings. They settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, near some of Anna’s siblings who had emigrated in the 1830s. Both the Althausers and Kriegs used traditional names like Anna, Maria, and Katharina, but they also used names that I have not seen in other branches of my family like Verena and Ursula. However, my very favorite name is the quite unusual Kunigunde!

My Kunigunde is William Althauser’s 3rd great grandmother on his father’s side, which makes her my 8th great grandmother. Kunigunde was born Kunigunde Gerwig in Maugenhard, Baden, Germany. Maugenhard is a small town located on the edge of the Black Forest in southwest Germany, about 10.5 miles north Basel, Switzerland, about 33 miles south of Freiburg, Germany, and 20 miles east of Mulhouse, France. Kunigunde was born to Paul Gerwig and Verena Jakob in 1676 and was baptized in Maugenhard on 3 April 1676.

When she was 25 years old, Kunigunde married Andreas König on 21 February 1702 in Opfingen, another small Black Forest town just outside of Freiburg. After examining Opfingen parish records, I found that Kunigunde’s parents do not make an appearance, indicating that they possibly remained in Maugenhard. How Kunigunde met Andreas is not known, and I am also not sure why they were married in Opfingen if Maugenahard was Kunigunde’s home parish. However, there are other possibilities for this. Perhaps Kunigunde’s parents died before her marriage, and she moved to Opfingen to live with other relatives. Maybe her family did move to Opfingen but her parents died elsewhere. I will need to continue researching Maugenhard parish records to answer some of these questions.

Kunigunde’s husband, Andreas, was born in Opfingen to Johann König and Barbara Frei and baptized on 25 November 1682. Andreas was 6 years younger than his new bride, being only 19 when they married. Kunigunde gave birth to 9 children who were baptized in the German Lutheran Church: Barbara, an unnamed daughter, Johann (probably named for Johann König), Andreas (probably named for his father), Verena (probably named for Verena Jakob Gerwig), Anna Maria (who died in 1716 at the age of 5), an unnamed son, Anna (who died in 1715 at 14 months old), and Anna (born in 1716).

The youngest daughter and my 7th great grandmother, Anna, married a local man, Michael Schumacher, on 9 November 1745 when she was 29 years old. Only two years later, her mother Kunigunde died on 24 January 1747 in Opfingen. Kunigunde was 70 years old. Kunigunde’s husband Andreas lived another 15 years, dying in 1762.

But what is the history of the name Kunigunde? It is Germanic in origin, “kuni” meaning “clan” and “gund” meaning “war.” This name was popular in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance periods. Well-known women named Kunigunde or a variant of the name included: Queen Cunigunde of Swabia, Holy Roman Empress St. Cunigunde of Luxembourg, Queen Kunigunde of Bohemia, and St. Kinga of Poland. The most famous woman with this name was St. Cunigunde, who married the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II. She was very involved in charitable works and founded a Benedictine monastery where she retired after the death of her husband. She was later canonized by Pope Innocent III on 29 March 1200.

After learning about St. Cunigunde, I wondered why Paul and Verena chose to name their daughter Kunigunde. St. Cunigunde’s feast day is March 3, so it is possible that Kunigunde was born that day (she was baptized 3 April). Perhaps her parents admired this saint’s devotion to charity, even though they were not Catholic themselves. Maybe she was named for another family member or friend of the family. Whatever the reason, my ancestress was given the name of a strong woman who had genuine concern for those less fortunate than her. And although this name has largely fallen out of use, I think it is quite beautiful!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Invite to Dinner

This is such a difficult decision for me! I would love to talk to so many of my ancestors and pepper them with questions about their lives, their families, and their ancestry. However, there is one person I think I would like to talk to more than anyone else: my grandfather, Jim Robinson.

I am so lucky that my two grandmothers are still living, and I have many of memories of my other grandfather who died when I was in high school. But my Dad’s father, Jim, died when I was almost 4 years old, and although I have a few memories of him, I would love to have a chance to really get to know him now that I am older.

Three memories in particular stick out in my mind when I think of Jim, who I called Papa. When I was 3, my parents took a trip to England, so I stayed with Papa and my grandmother, Mawmaw. I remember them taking me to see some horses at a farm in Nashville. I love horses, and I have always wondered if that stems from this happy memory. We could see the horses from the road, and Papa stopped the car, all three of us jumped out, and I petted the horses. Mawmaw took several photos of Papa and I. I don’t believe my grandparents knew the owner, they just thought it would be a fun, spur of the moment activity.

During that same week, Papa took me down to the small creek at the front of their house to fish several times. I had a very small pole, and the fish were tiny, but it was so much fun to spend time with him!

The last memory I have of Papa is for one birthday, he bought me a pink convertible with a rechargeable battery that I could drive around the driveway. I loved that little car! It would take hours to charge for only about 30 minutes of driving time, but I remember going round and round in that little car with Papa talking to me and watching.

Everyone who knew my grandfather has said that he was unfailingly kind, very generous, and a true gentleman. He had complicated relationship with both of his parents. His difficult childhood led to a challenging adult life, but he selflessly  cared for both of his parents, two aunts, and two grandmothers. He died of heart failure when he was only 63 years old.

Here is a shot list of questions I would like to ask him:

  • What he really thought of both of his parents.
  • What his grandmothers were like, how often he saw them, and how he spent his time when he visited them.
  • Why he did not to go to college.
  • If he knew that his great-grandfather was also a printer in Nashville.
  • How he dealt with the constant media attention.
  • If  he enjoyed owning the little grocery store in Pegram.
  • If he could help me identify some of the unidentified family photographs!

Just to name a few!!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Longevity

While looking at my family tree, I found some ancestors who only lived into their 20s and 30s, some who made it to middle age, and others who lived past 90. I was very surprised how many of my direct ancestors lived past 80, particularly the female ancestors.

I would like to highlight my two most long-lived ancestors that I have found in my family tree: Ann Cochran Dixon, who died at the age of 93/94 and George Christian, who died at the age of 101.

Ann Cochran Dixon

Ann was born to George and Nancy (Henry) Cochran in 1763, most likely in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Two dates have surfaced for Ann’s birthday: April 9, 1763 and August 16, 1763. Her death notice in the local newspaper reported her birth date as April 1763, and her tombstone further specified April 9, 1763. Her granddaughter wrote her obituary, in which she gave Ann’s birth date as August 16, 1763. Although the exact day cannot be determined, all records agree that the year was 1763. Following the death of her mother in 1769, Ann was sent to live with her uncle Reverend John Roan and aunt Anne (Cochran) Roan in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. When her uncle died in 1775, Ann returned to her father in Chester County.

Most of Ann’s immediate male relatives served in the Revolutionary War. Ann’s brother John and father George both served in the militia and as artificers, Ann’s uncle Stephen served as a militia captain and in the Pennsylvania Assembly, and her uncle Dr. John Cochran more notably served as the Surgeon General of the Continental Army and was a close friend of General George Washington. Ann had the opportunity to meet and socialize with Martha Washington during the Valley Forge encampment, who she met through her uncle, Dr. John Cochran.

Ann married Sankey Dixon in 1788 outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sankey was the son of John and Arabella (Murray) Dixon of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Continental Army as early as 1776 and served until he was discharged as a lieutenant on June 3, 1783. He was present for many of the famous encampments and battles of the war, including Valley Forge and the surrender at Yorktown.

The Dixons left Pennsylvania sometime between 1790 and 1792 and settled in the Shenandoah Valley. By 1807, they were living in Knox County, Tennessee. Ann gave birth to seven children – John, Matthew Lyle, Robert, Nancy Henry, Isabella, Mary Roan, and Margaret Ingles – and five survived to adulthood. Sadly, Sankey died in 1814, leaving Ann a widow. In 1822, Ann and her youngest daughter moved to Winchester, Tennessee to live with Matthew.

Ann began to make appearances in contemporary public records during the later part of her life. In 1839 she successfully applied for and obtained a Revolutionary War widow’s pension of $320 a year. Ann gradually became financially independent after receiving her pension for several years, and in 1844 she was able to purchase in her name a house and lot in Winchester. She furnished part of the house with her personal furniture, which included her bed and bedstead, a half dozen chairs, her clothes press, and her clock. She wrote a will before her death and left everything she owned to her daughter Margaret.

Ann led an exciting life and lived to an impressive 93 years (or 94, depending on her birth date). She outlived her husband, all of her children, and many of her grandchildren.

George Christian

George was born in 1769, the son of Colonel Gilbert Christian and Margaret (Anderson) Christian. Gilbert was a well-known frontiersman, soldier, and local official who was instrumental in the formation of the State of Franklin and a good friend of John Sevier, the first Governor of Tennessee. George served as a soldier in some of the Indian campaigns in the early 1790s under the command of his father-in-law to be, Captain William McCormick. In 1803, he married Elizabeth McCormick in Knox County, Tennessee.

By 1808, he and his family had settled in Overton County, Tennessee. He purchased land and participated in the development of the county. While living in Overton County, he wrote a series of letters to Lyman Draper about the early formation of the state of Tennessee, the conflicts with the Indians, and his family history. George wrote his will in 1867, and died on April 3, 1870 in Overton County at the age of 101.


Other Observations

Ann and George are connected in some interesting ways:

  1. They are both my 5th great-grandparents, Ann on my Dad’s side and George on my Mom’s side.
  2. They were both born in the 1760s.
  3. They had immediate family members who served in the Revolutionary War.
  4. They lived in East Tennessee during the same time period. Ann lived in Knox County, Tennessee as early as 1807, if not before then, until 1822. George’s family lived in the same area around the same time period. His father, Gilbert, was buried in Knoxville in 1793, and George married his wife, Elizabeth McCormick, in Knox County in 1803.
  5. They had family members who were involved in Tennessee politics. George’s father was very involved in the State of Franklin, and Ann’s cousin by marriage was Archibald Roane, second Governor of Tennessee.
  6. Finally, both Ann and George migrated farther west into Tennessee, Ann to Franklin County in 1822 and George to Overton County by 1808.

While I have no proof that they ever met, it is fascinating to think that those two had so much in common, including myself!



52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Start

I have loved history as far back as I can remember. My interest was encouraged by my parents who regularly arranged for me to visit to museums and historic sites when I was growing up. But it was my mom who introduced me to genealogy. She and my grandfather were investigating a few lines on their side, and I remember accompanying them to the Tennessee State Archives in Nashville while they researched and to cemeteries while they hunted for graves. I suppose talking with them about our family and hearing stories about family heirlooms brought history home for me. I began to see how my family, or small parts of it, fit into larger historical events. So, about 10 years ago, I began to seriously research my ancestors’ lives.

Genealogical research has been rewarding in other ways as well. It is something my mom and I have in common, and researching has been a wonderful way to spend time together. I love to travel, and thanks to research trips, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S. meeting relatives, exploring cemeteries, and viewing family homes. Last year, mom and I traveled to England to research several lines on both her side and my Dad’s side of the family. We took special tours of churches, visited county archives, and just enjoyed being in the places where our ancestors lived.

I am excited to participate in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge! Even though I have done quite a bit of research in the last two years, I have not written very much, and this may be the push I need. It will also give me a chance to blow the cobwebs off of neglected lines and look at them with fresh eyes. Here’s to a year of discovery, revelations, and hopefully, some interesting posts!