Unusual Source – Job Application

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, many people lost their jobs and were struggling to maintain their former lifestyles. My 2nd great grandparents, Thomas and Jessie Robinson, were no exception. My unusual source is a job application that Thomas filled out in 1931 after he had either lost or left his job with the Nashville Bridge Company.

Thomas, in the words of his son, was a self-made man. He was born to Samuel D. and Sallie (Cassetty) Robinson on 18 Feb 1873 in Nashville, Tennessee. Samuel had moved to Nashville just before the beginning of the Civil War. He served throughout the duration of the war and returned home after the surrender. He married Sallie in 1869 at the home of her father, Thomas D. Cassetty, on Spruce Street. Samuel was a very interesting man. He worked for several Nashville newspapers as a typographer for about 30 years and was active in the Tennessee Historical Society, Typographical Union, Frank Cheatham Bivouac, and the Sons of Temperance. He and Sallie only had 1 child, Thomas Henry, most likely named for Sallie’s father and Samuel’s brother who died in the Civil War. Sadly, Thomas lost his mother when he was 13 years old and his father died of pneumonia when he was 18 years old. I think this is what Thomas’s son meant by a self-made man. Thomas lost both parents by the age of 18, his paternal grandparents had been dead for many years, and his maternal grandfather died a few years earlier. He had few relatives still living apart from some of his maternal grandmother and Cassetty aunts, uncles, and cousins. Without his parents, Thomas was alone and had to rely on his relatives for help.

Samuel never purchased property in Nashville. Instead, he lived with his in-laws and rented property throughout the city. So, when he died, Thomas moved in with his grandmother, Matilda Cassetty. His uncle, W. M. Cassetty, offered him a job at the Cassetty Oil Company as a clerk, which he took. After the death of his grandmother, he moved once again, this time to his Aunt Ollie and Uncle John Roberts. He worked for the Cassetty Oil Company until 1897, when he married Jessie, and soon after their honeymoon, they moved to St. Louis. Thomas and Jessie only lived there for a short while, and they were back in Nashville by 1900. Thomas was once again working for his uncle, this time as a traveling salesman.

Nashville Bridge Company, 1909

In 1908, he took a new job as a civil engineer who served as a traveling agent and contractor with the Nashville Bridge Company. He helped build bridges all over the southeast and was the most successful contractor in Nashville. Because of this, he was able to provide his family with everything they needed – beautiful houses in exclusive neighborhoods, cars, jewelry, private schools, and vacations. But by the end of the 20s, Thomas’s life started to take a turn downward. He was not the most upstanding man in some ways, and losing his job after the Depression hit was the first in a series of bad events that eventually culminated in his death in 1937.

He was then in need of a new job, so he applied, or at least filled out an application, for a engineering position with Du Pont. Whether or not he ever sent in the application is unknown, and as far as I know, he never worked for Du Pont. But the application itself is fascinating. Here are a few of the most interesting observations I made about the application:

  1. Like most applications, it asked for personal details like full name, birthday, address, etc. This seems pretty basic, but I saw that Thomas lied about one very important detail: his birthday! He gave it as February 18, 1875 instead of 1873. Thomas was a very meticulous person, I am sure this was not an accident. I wondered if he lied about his age so that he appeared younger than he was to be more attractive to employers.
  2. The application asked for the names of his parents and their birthplaces. I thought this was unusual, but it was helpful genealogically speaking. It helped me connect Samuel Robinson of Nashville to the Samuel Robinson of Winchester, Tennessee and the Cassetty family of Nashville to the Cassetty family of Gainesboro, Tennessee.
  3. The application asked for his previous employment history, which helped me determine when he began working for the Cassetty Oil Company, when he moved to St. Louis, how long he worked for the Nashville Bridge Company, and why he left all of those positions.
  4. The final, and to me, most interesting section, was his educational background. I knew that he was a civil engineer, so he had to have attended college at some point, but my family had no idea where. While in his 20s, he moved to Chicago and attended the Armour College of Engineering. Unfortunately, he did not graduate from the institution because of “insufficient funds.” He finished his degree in Nashville, and to my surprise, he also received his law degree. At one point, he was the only man in Tennessee to hold both degrees simultaneously.

This application gave me so much insight into the mind of my 2nd great grandfather. Sometimes, it pays to keep items that seem insignificant, because very often the opposite is true!


Music – “A Delightful Entertainment”

This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is about music, which is near and dear to my heart. My family is very musical; I play the flute and piano, my brother plays the piano and drums, my mom plays the piano, my grandmother plays the piano, and so did my 2x great grandmother, Jessie Robinson, and her sister Bertha. I know that another 2x great grandmother had a piano, so she likely played as well.

Of all of my family, my great great grandmother, Jessie Preston Robinson, was by far the most accomplished. She played the organ at her church in Nashville for many years, and when she was younger, she often performed at musical events. I had heard family stories for years about her talent, but I didn’t realize the extent until I found some of the pieces she played at recitals.

Jessie was born on 20 January 1876 in Zanesville, Ohio to Charles and Cora Preston. Charles was a molder, and in 1881, he was hired by Phillips and Buttorff Manufacturing Company to be the foreman of their foundry. Charles moved to Nashville, and Cora and their children, Jessie and Walter, followed in 1882.

By 1886, Jessie was enrolled in a music course taught by Mrs. Cleveland, though she had likely been playing for several years. She, along with other piano students, exhibited their skills on 15 May 1886:


A Delightful Little Concert.

There was a delightful little concert last night at the residence of Mr. B. Franklin on Monroe street, given by members of Mrs. Cleveland’s musical class. When it is considered that many of these are children who commenced studying music only last fall, the excellence with which the different numbers were rendered is remarkable. The programme was as follows:

Instrumental duet – “Mountain Glee,” Miss Mary Lee Jones and Miss Jennie Sweeney.

Silver Springs Waltz, Miss Jessie Preston.

Chorus – See Saw Song.

Vocal solo – “Flee as a Bird,” Mr. Percy Cleveland.

Instrumental solo – “Highland Glen March,” Miss Mary Lee Jones.

Chorus – “Come where Flowers Bloom.”

Instrumental solo – “Woodland Echoes,” Miss Maggie Epperson.

Vocal quartet – “Moonlight will Come Again,” Mrs. Cleveland and Messrs. Cleveland.

Instrumental solo – “Blue Mozella Waltz” and “Faust March,” Miss Jennie Sweeney.

Vocal duet – “I Come, I Come,” Miss Edwards and Miss Epperson

Song – “My Cottage Home,” Mrs. Cleveland and sons.

Duet – Heel and Toe Polka, Miss Epperson and Miss Preston.

Instrumental solo – Sonata in E (Lichner) No. 2, Miss Jessie Preston.

Instrumental solo – “Chant de Berger,” Miss Maggie Epperson.


On February 10, 1888, when Jessie was 12 years old, she participated in another performance of her musical abilities as a student of Mrs. Cleveland. She performed “German Triumphal March” by Jacob Kunkel and “Il Trovatore.”

Here is the first page of the “German Triumphal March.” I was incredibly impressed that Jessie could play this at such a young age! It proves how talented she really was.

Below is the sheet music for “Il Trovatore, a musical selection written by Giuseppe Verdi and arranged for the piano by E. Dorn. It is another complicated piece for a young girl to play.

By 1890, Jessie had left Mrs. Cleveland’s school and was receiving lessons from Professor Emmet Coyle. On 7 June, Jessie and other students performed at the Y.M.C.A.:



A Charming Amateur Entertainment at the Y.M.C.A. Last Night.

The pretty auditorium of the Young Men’s Christian Association building was well filled last night by a representative audience of Nashville’s most cultivated lovers of music. The occasion was a piano recital by the pupils of Prof. Emmet Coyle. Mr. Coyle is a young man of marked ability as a musician and instructor. He has already attained considerable prominence in musical circles with a reputation extending beyond the city. Those of his pupils appearing were Misses Sammie Warren, Jennie Sanders, Rosa Rosenzweig, Lizzie Corder, Lillie Veronee, Emma Englert, Nellie Hagerty, Jessie Preston, Hattie Clarkson, Clara Jungerman, Carrie Zickler, Annie Zickler, Sophie Levy, Ray Flattau and Fannie Flattau, and Masters Frank McDonald, Charlie Sanders, Abe Rosenzweig and Arthur Jungerman. The selections were from classic music and, in the main, quite difficult, but the piano work was good, reflecting praise on both instructor and pupils.

The programme was pleasingly varied by several of Nashville’s talented amateurs, whose appearance is always hailed with pleasure. Mr. Tom Norton McClure sang a pretty selection; Mrs. A. H. Stewart rendered Belline’s Bridal Song; Mr. Robert Nichol sang Verdi’s “Evi Tu Che Macchiavi;” Miss Lillie Pearl Levy sang “Madaline,” from White’s composition, and Miss Mamie Geary and Prof. Coyle rendered DeBeriot’s seventh concerto with piano and violin. Prof. Feliz Heinck, of New York, also appeared. He sings a rich and well cultivated baritone which won especial applause. He has been induced to consider location here.

The entertainment was, on the whole, one of the most thoroughly satisfying of the season.


Sadly, Emmet Coyle died in 1891, and by necessity, Jessie would have found a new musical instructor.

Another reference in the newspaper of a performance in which Jessie took part appeared on 11 February 1894:

Jessie was 18 years old when she played the piano in this recital. I just wish it included what pieces she played! An interesting observation for me was that another performer, Jennie Cassetty, was Jessie’s future husband’s first cousin. This is the first time where I have seen a connection between the two families prior to Jessie and Thomas’s marriage in 1897.

Charles Preston is the man on the left holding the violin.

After learning about Jessie’s musical talents, it made me wonder where her musical ability came from. I honestly did not think I would ever learn this, but then I found a photo in an old family album that answered this question: her father! Jessie’s father, Charles Preston, played the violin, as shown in the photograph below. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything further, and I don’t know who the other man is, but it gives a tantalizing glimpse into the Preston’s family life.


It was so much fun to find out that music connects the generations of my family, from the 1850s to the present. And it is very fitting for such a musical family to have lived in Music City! (Nashville)




Travel – Visiting Relatives

Newspapers are such wonderful resources, even more so when they have been digitized. They often contain important glimpses into ancestors’ lives that might not be available in any other resources. In the society sections of The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper, my 2x great grandparents, Nathaniel L. Althauser and Martha (Sears) Althauser appear fairly regularly between the years of 1906 and 1919. The society columns reported when they were visiting relatives or when relatives were visiting them. I have very little information about the everyday lives of Nathaniel and Martha, so these little glimpses in the newspaper give me some insight into their personalities and relationships with their families.

Nathaniel and Martha traveled quite a bit in that 13 year period according to the newspaper, and they probably traveled more than even was reported. The majority of the traveling was between Martha and Nathaniel’s home in Nashville to Pegram Station and to Greenbrier. Martha Althauser was born Martha Sears to Edward Green Sears and Isabella (Kellam) in Pegram Station in 1879. The Sears owned a large farm in Pegram and a beautiful old home with large windows and a porch.

In 1903, Martha married Nathaniel Lyons Althauser in Nashville. Nathaniel was the oldest living son of William Althauser and Mary Frances (Swift) Althauser of Greenbrier, Tennessee. Nathaniel attended Vanderbilt University and by 1906 was the superintendent of the West Station Post Office in Nashville.

Both Nathaniel and Martha were close to their families, so while they lived in Nashville, they often traveled back to Pegram Station and Greenbrier to visit their parents. Sometimes Nathaniel and Martha went together, and sometimes Martha and their daughters Martha and Frances would travel without him. Nathaniel, Martha, and their daughters visited around birthdays and holidays. Other trips were just for pleasure and socializing. Some of these trips lasted just for a day, and sometimes for as long as a month. The Althausers also hosted their relatives at their home in Nashville.

The following excerpts are from the newspaper, giving some details about their travels:

21 April 1906 Miss Willie Sears and Edward Sears, of Pegram Station, are visiting their sister, Mrs. W. D. (N. L. misprint) Althauser on Alabama avenue.

11 May 1906 Mrs N. L. Althauser and little daughter, Martha, have returned from Greenbrier.

25 May 1906 Mrs. N. L. Althauser has returned from Pegram Station.

10 June 1906 Mrs. E. G. Sears, of Pegram Station, is visiting her daughter, Mrs. N. L. Althauser, on Alabama avenue.

13 June 1906 Mrs. E. G. Sears left Tuesday for her home at Pegram Station after a visit to her daughter, Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

1 March 1907 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and little daughter, Martha, are visiting relatves at Pegram Station.

6 March 1907 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and little daughter, Martha, have returned from a visit to Pegram Station.

20 March 1907 Miss Willie Sears has returned to Pegram Station, after visiting her sister, Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

1 May 1907 N. L. Althauser has returned from Sumner County. Edwin Sears, of Pegram Station, was the guest of his sister, Mrs. N. L. Althauser, last week.

24 May 1907 Mrs. Willie Sears is the guest of Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

13 October 1907 Mrs. E. G. Sears, of Pegram Station, is visiting her daughter, Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

23 October 1907 Miss Martha Althauser is visiting relatives at Pegram Station.

11 December 1907 Miss Willie Sears, who has been the guest of Mrs. N. L. Althauser, has returned to Pegram Station. Little Miss Martha Althauser accompanied her home for a visit.

29 December 1907 Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Althauser and little daughter, Martha, went to Greenbrier Saturday to visit relatives.

15 Jan 1908 Miss Lucille Lyles has returned to Pegram Station, after visiting her aunt, Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

29 March 1908 Miss Lucille Lyles has returned to Pegram Station after visiting her aunt, Mrs. N. L. Althauser, in Sylvan Park.

25 October 1908 Miss Martha Althauser has returned from Pegram Station.

16 December 1908 Mr. and Mrs. Althauser and Miss Martha Althauser have returned from a two-weeks’ visit to relatives at Pegram Station.

30 August 1912 Mrs. N. L. Althauser is visiting in Pegram Station.

28 December 1913 Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Althauser and children are spending the week-end at Pegram’s Station.

18 October 1914 Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Althauser and children are spending the week-end with relatives at Pegram’s Station.

29 November 1914 Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Althauser and children spent Thanksgiving with relatives at Pegram’s Station.

30 April 1916 Miss Willie Sears of Pegram is the guest of her sister, Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

21 May 1916 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and children are guests of Mrs. Sears at Pegram for a few days.

4 June 1916 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and children have returned from visiting Mrs. Althauser’s mother, Mrs. Sears.

18 June 1916 Miss Lucile Lyles of Pegram Station is visiting her aunt, Mrs. N. L. Althauser.

20 August 1916 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and Miss Frances and Martha Althauser have returned from Pegram Station where they spent a month with Mr. E. G. Sears.

3 September 1916 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and daughters, Frances and Martha, have gone to Greenbrier to visit relatives.

29 July 1917 Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Althauser and two daughters, Martha and Frances, have returned to Nashville, after spending two weeks with Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Sears.

5 January 1918 Mrs. N. L. Aulhouser and two daughters, Martha and Francis, of Nashville, are with Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Sears.

17 March 1918 Miss Francis Althauser of Nashville spent sunday with her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Sears.

30 June 1918 Mrs. N. L. Aulhouser and daughters, Martha and Frances, of Nashville, are the guests of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Sears.

25 August 1918 Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Althauser and two little daughters of Nashville are the guests of Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Sears.

5 January 1919 Mrs. N. L. Althauser and two daughters, Martha and Francis, of Nashville, are with Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Sears.

After 1919, their travels were no longer recorded in the newspaper as the inclusion of small affairs like these were gradually replaced by more attention grabbing social events. Also, in 1922, Edward G. Sears died followed by Isabella Sears in 1928. By 1918, William Althauser had moved to Nashville to be closer to his children; he died in 1922. The Althausers still visited their Sears relatives in Pegram, especially as Martha inherited part of the farm, though perhaps not as frequently when her parents were alive. William Althauser was the only member of the Althauser family still living in Greenbrier by 1917, so when he moved to Nashville, there was no reason for them to visit that small town.

Very often with ancestors, I have found that I know a lot of details about major events in their lives, but much less about their everyday lives, personal habits, and relationships with each other. I still don’t know many personal details from these traveling habits, but they do seem to suggest that Nathaniel and Martha were close with their parents, and that they encouraged their children to be so as well.










Storms – The Cumberland River Freezes

I am a few weeks behind in my ancestry blogging journey, so this week, I am attempting to play catch-up! My husband and I were able to take a much needed vacation, and part of that vacation was putting anything that even resembled work on hold. While it was fun to take some off, I am excited to get back to genealogy.

This particular prompt was a bit difficult for me. So far, I haven’t uncovered many stories in my family history in which storms play a large part, so I am afraid this post will be a bit short. But there was one weather related incident that I discovered that affected my family in an exciting way.

On 26 January 1940, Nashville experienced an extreme cold snap and the temperature dropped to 6 degrees below zero. It was so cold that the Cumberland River, which runs through Nashville, froze solid. This was a pretty amazing feat! The Cumberland River had frozen over several other times before 1940, including in 1779, 1876, 1893, and 1905. So when it froze in 1940, the newspapers in Nashville ran several articles about how Nashvillians reacted to this exciting phenomenon. People walked, ran, played, and drove cars on the ice despite the safety warnings.

Newspaper photograph from the Nashville Times showing people walking on the Cumberland River.

My several times great aunt Bert, uncle Mike, and some of their friends walked out onto the ice on 27 January to pose for a photograph. Although it was quite cold, in the photograph, aunt Bert looks warm in her huge fur coat. For various reason, I am not able to post the photograph on my blog at the moment (hopefully soon!), but I love how fearless they both were! My 2x great grandmother Jessie, aunt Bert’s sister, wrote a letter to her son on the same day, complaining about the cold weather. The letter doesn’t mention if she was one of the group of friends who went to the river that day, but it is possible that she was!

Eventually the ice thawed, but my relatives kept the fun postcard photograph that forever commemorated the moment.


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: 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!!