On This Day in 1852

A quiet life. An almost uneventful life. A nondescript life.

On this day in 1852, Martha Jane “Mattie” Mercer was born to Amos Windham Mercer and Amanda Sylvester. She was somewhere in the middle of a dozen kids, 8 boys and 4 girls. Her father was 52 years of age when she was born. Her mother was 23. Hmmm. The family made their home in Clarke County, Mississippi, and Mattie lived her entire life there.

At the age of 21, she married Andrew Jackson “Jack” Crane on 4 Dec 1873 and had three children: Ella Jane 1874, Minnie Lee 1878, and my great grandpa Amos Bolivar 1881.

There is nothing outstanding in the genealogy records – no loss of large numbers of family members due to war or disease, no records of still-born infants, no legal records of incarceration, no newspaper clippings, no higher education, nothing out of the ordinary. It seems she lived a quiet life in the same small town she was born into.

After 32 years of marriage, her husband died in 1905 at the age of 53. The subsequent census records show she lived with her daughter Ella, where she remained for the rest of her life. She never remarried. She died at the age of 93 on 28 Nov 1945.

She is laid to rest at McGowan Chapel Cemetery in Clarke County, Mississippi, just down the road from her home. Even her tombstone is nondescript, only referring to her at Mrs. A. J. Crane.

Rest in peace, Grandma Mattie.

mercer martha jane mattie mercer

This story brought to you by On This Day: A Perpetual Calendar for Family Genealogy

On This Day in 1836

On This Day in 1836 my 3rd great grandmother Sarah Ann Elvira Dollar was born.

Don’t you find the name “Dollar” to be a little strange? Well, her father was Ambrose Dollar, her grandfather was Reuben Dollar who came to America from Wales and fought in the Revolution, and her great grandfather was Edward Dolier – probably French Doh-lee-AY or Irish D’Olier. Either one of those makes more sense than Dollar.

Sarah Ann’s mother was Jemima Clearman, whose father was Jacob Van Clearman, whose father was John William Clearman from Germany.

Well, that’s just a crazy European mix, isn’t it?

Let’s go back to her dad’s side for just a moment. This is the transcription of the sworn statement of Dr. J.M. Dollar, the great grandson of Reuben Dollar.

betsy-ross-flag-usa-united-states-of-america-americaGause Texas, August 4th 1913
This is to certify that my great grandfather Reuben Dollar told me of fighting in the Revolutionary War when I was a boy. He came from Wales and fought in the war. He returned to Wales and was disinherited by his father for having fought against the British Crown. After which he returned to America and settled in Edgefield S.C. He died in Miss. in 1858 at the age of 113 years.
Signed J.M Dollar
State of Texas:
County Of Milam:
subscribed and sworn to before me this August 4th. 1913
J.R. Fraim, Notary Public, Milam co. Texas

I find these old records fascinating!!

Anyway, back to Sarah Ann…

pickensShe was the 6th born of 8 children, half boys, half girls. She was born March 11, 1836 in Pickens County, Alabama. Pickens County is right on the Mississippi border, and at some point between 1840 and 1850, the family moved west to Mississippi. At the age of 17, on October 6, 1853, she married William Lafayette Brown, Jr. in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. Keep in mind, the above Patriot grandfather was still alive until 1858 and died in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, so he might have been living with them. If not living with Sarah Ann and her husband, at least with a nearby family member.

Sarah Ann gave birth to her first child at the age of 18, James Floyd Brown in 1854. He was followed by John Ambus Brown in 1857, Angeline Brown in 1859, William Harrison Brown in 1860,  Sarah Elizabeth “Bettie” Brown in 1862, Warren Brown in 1865, Franklin Carlton Brown in 1867, Charles Berry Brown in 1871, Pinkney Earlie Brown in 1874, and Martha Catherine Brown in 1877.

Do you notice anything strange about those birth dates?

Page 1When the Civil War broke out in 1861, her husband was about 25 years old. Yes, he went to fight for the Confederacy. As a matter of fact, he was a sniper who guarded Mississippi bridges in the area. At one point, he was captured by the Union. He escaped. He went back and allowed himself to be captured again to help others escape, which he/they did. After that, he had a bounty on his head for the rest of the war.

It doesn’t look like the war or the captures between 1861 and 1865 stopped him from visiting home at least a few times. Obviously he stopped by the house long enough for some hanky panky. The girl born in 1862 was my second great grandmother. Her birthday is the same day as mine, November 19.

One thing for sure, these people didn’t back down from a challenge! I look forward to doing more research on the Dollars and Clearmans very soon.

Sarah Ann died in Mississippi July 18, 1915 at the age of 79.

Happy birthday, Grandma Sarah Ann!!

brown william L and Sarah A at goodwater cemetery

This post brought to you by “On This Day,” a perpetual calendar for family genealogy.

My Family Tree Held Together with Tape

I’ve been talking for years and years about painting a cool family tree in my house and putting family member’s pictures on it. I’ve researched trees, both stick-on vinyl types and painted ones. I’ve looked at wallpaper. I’ve investigated some artists. I’ve counted the number of ancestors I have pictures of and realized it needs to be a pretty big tree and will cost an arm and a leg to buy that many frames. I also realized that that many frames probably won’t fit on one wall. And for clarity, the pictures probably need to be all different sizes. I don’t know how to make this look good.

Planning how to put it together, I couldn’t make heads or tails of how to display the pictures. Mom’s family on one side and dad’s on the other? That’s logical. But we’re not just talking immediate family. I want to put most of the pictures I have, and that goes back to my 4th greats, not to mention the paintings of my family in the 1600s in England. Do I put grandparents lower and greats higher and so on? What if I have more on mom’s side than dad’s side? Also, I’m from Mississippi, so some of mom’s side intertwines with some of dad’s side. LOL.

After a whole year of staring at the blank wall in my office, one day I just grabbed a quart of paint, a handful of paintbrushes, and started painting.


tree 1The tree is about a foot wide at the bottom, so I started with a big, fat paint brush and some really scary black paint. I aimed for the middle of the wall, fighting with the corner of my desk that was too heavy for me to move. Next, I grabbed the next size smaller brush and started painting random branches. This is the point where my trophy husband came home from work, walked into the office, stared at the wall for a minute, shook his head, and walked out. Yeah, I know it doesn’t look that great, but just wait! I’m an artist. You have to trust me. Then again, he’s been here before. Poor guy.






tree 2Step two. I used a smaller paint brush to extend the branches and then another smaller one. Starting to look like a tree, no? A little skimpy, but still, a tree! It’s going to need to be a lot bigger than this for all my pictures. I’m thinking taking it all the way to the ceiling and as wide as it’ll go.









tree 3Step three. I used even smaller brushes. The tree’s getting bigger. Of course I’m climbing across my desk and standing on a chair to reach this high, so I have to keep getting down and backing up to make sure it’s symmetrical. I don’t want it perfect, but I do want it to at least look like a healthy tree. My knees may be getting a little tired. Trophy husband’s also asking about dinner. Umm, I’m in the middle, you’ll have to order a pizza. Poor guy. But in my defense, he already knew we were having pizza when he came home and saw the beginning of the tree.







tree 4Step four is a smaller brush and a smaller brush. Need. More. Branches. My arm is getting tired now.












tree 5Step five is the smallest brush I could find, like one of those out of a paint-by-number box. I’m not sure the branches go as small as I want, but my next step would be to use a Sharpie. I don’t think trophy husband would approve, and I’m not sure you can re-paint over a Sharpie. Sounds like that might be a problem if this thing doesn’t turn out.

I stared at it for a while, wondering if I should make it even bigger, maybe take it across the ceiling. For art, that would be cool, but for a family tree, I don’t know how I’d put pictures up there. I decided to stick with the wall.





tree 6Step six. The next day, I randomly taped pictures to the wall to figure out how I wanted to display the photos I have. It’s kind of looking cool just doing it randomly.














tree finishedStep seven. After living with it for a couple days, I decided to stay random. I also decided to not frame anything. I like the freedom to add and move the pictures as needed. I used two rolls of cellophane tape.

So, there it is.

My family tree.

Painted by hand and held together with tape. That seems fairly philosophical.

There are over 9000 people in my family tree. Thankfully, most of them weren’t photographed.


Witch Dance

I’ve been working on a new book called Witch Dance. I went down to the real place and took this photo at a nearby location…

bynum mounds photo

Here’s what my amazing book designer came up with, using MY photo. He’s awesome.



Just south of Tupelo, Mississippi on the Natchez Trace lies a place of mystery called Witch Dance.

When Thomas and Margaret Speedwell took their twins to Witch Dance for a weekend camping trip, they never imagined they would be pulled into a vortex of witchcraft, tragedy, and karma. One of the girls goes missing; the other won’t say what happened on the other side of the hill.

The tragedy pulls together a cast of characters from Margaret’s childhood and beyond – Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, Toltec ancestors, the extinct Hopewell tribe.

With the help of a childhood friend, a concerned newspaper reporter, and visions by a strange old woman, a two thousand year old mystery begins to unfold, uncovering missing children throughout generations. Who is taking them? Could it be the infamous witches of Witch Dance?


Here’s an unedited snippet…unedited being the key word there. You, my friends, are the very first to get a sneak peek! 🙂


Emily and Sarah squealed as they raced each other toward the pair of small hills that sat at the edge of a field. No tree or bush grew on top of the mounds. They were simply two barren knolls of smooth earth, offering neatly manicured grass and clear views of the surrounding land. These hills, historically known to be the ancestral burial grounds of the Hopewell Indians, are today known as the Bynum Mounds, a minor tourist attraction on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The six-year-old girls raced to the hills as fast as their legs would run. This was nothing new. They raced everywhere. They’d done so since before they learned to walk, crawling faster and faster to beat the other to the prize at the end of the race. Born mere minutes apart, they held the typical sibling rivalry, vying against each other for the prized possession, the favorite toy, or the brightest crayon. But, their favorite competition was racing to the next spot, always endeavoring to be in the lead.

Margaret and Thomas Speedwell had driven down the Natchez Trace from Nashville for a long-overdue getaway with their girls. They arrived yesterday, excited for their weekend camping trip at a place just north of the Bynum Mounds—a campground called Witch Dance.

Witch Dance sounded like a fun place to spend the weekend. It sported an elaborate history, rumored to be the place where witches held their eerie rituals and ceremonies. Legend has it that witches danced around bonfires, and where their feet touched the ground, no grass ever grew again—even until this day. The sign at the entrance stating the legend about the witches was a popular place for souvenir photos by the people who frequented the site – families, ghost hunters, and the curious. The Speedwell family didn’t come down for a ghost hunting expedition. This weekend was simply a chance for Margaret, Thomas, and their girls to shed the stress of their everyday lives and have a little fun.

“I wish they wouldn’t run ahead like that,” Margaret grumbled from the parking lot.

“It’s okay. Let them run,” Thomas replied. “We can see them from here.”

Thomas sensed his wife’s tension, marked by a crease of concern peppering her forehead. He gently reached for her hand as they strolled from the parking lot toward the mounds, following their daughters. The lack of shrubbery and trees made it easy to keep an eye on the girls, but the clear line of sight didn’t help Margaret relax.

“But they always run; through the grocery store, the playground, the parking lot. I’ve scolded them a million time, but I can’t get them to stop racing, no matter the punishment for disobeying.”

Thomas squeezed her hand. “You should let them run as much as they want. Someday they’ll win medals in track or become world-class cross-country runners.” He chuckled softly, attempting to lighten her mood.

Margaret puckered her brow. Thomas knew his carefree tone of voice wasn’t going to make her concerns disappear. He knew she wanted her girls to be proper ladies, not sweaty athletes.

He felt her stiffen when they heard Emily shriek and they both watched the girls run up to the top of one of the hills.


Emily shrieked as Sarah grabbed the back of her pink shirt, attempting to catch up, but the material slipped from her fingers. Emily stretched her arm back for Sarah to grasp, and they both laughed as Sarah grabbed on and Emily pulled her forward. The curly-headed blondes crossed over the ridge on the top of the hill and began their descent down the other side when they suddenly stopped in their tracks, their eyes wide at the vision looming in front of them.

On a perfect late summer day with a clear blue sky and bright sunshine, a large cloud rested on the other side of the hill. Not a puffy white cloud—more like a menacing shadow. It slowly swirled and circled about a foot above the ground as if some imaginary wind was trying to create a tornado, but there was no wind, not even the slightest breeze. The shape and movement resembled the twister the girls had seen in the movie with Dorothy and Toto, but there was no dirt or debris or witches or houses in the vortex, just blackness.

The girls froze and squeezed each other’s hands. Emily wanted to scream, but she could only open and close her mouth like a fish washed up on a beach. No sound came. It was as if the shadow had sucked all the air out of her lungs. The black maelstrom quickly increased in size and volume as the whirling winds began to howl, starting first as a low hum and growing louder with each passing moment. The hum grew to an ominous sound, simultaneously emitting an ear-piercing shriek and a low agonizing moan. The girls instantaneously released each other’s hands and covered their ears against the painful sounds. The turbulence continued to expand, growing larger and larger as it moved closer to them.

Even with her hands over her ears, Emily thought she heard human voices mumbling something beneath the roar of wind. She narrowed her eyes and cocked her head as if doing so would make the voices clearer. She couldn’t take her eyes off the vortex, but she felt Sarah reach for her arm. Sarah took a step forward, trying to pull Emily forward with her, but Emily pulled back and Sarah’s fingers lost their grip. Emily didn’t want to go forward. As a matter of fact, everything in her gut told her to turn and run in the opposite direction. Run back to her mother, back to her father, back to safety. She sensed a great wickedness in the sight before them, something evil in the whirling darkness. She knew a malevolent presence lurked inside of the shadow. It watched them from the blackness, wanting them to come closer. Sarah grabbed a handful of Emily’s shirt and pulled harder. Emily pulled back again. She turned to run, the pink cotton material of her shirt, again, slipping from Sarah’s grasp. Emily ran back the way they had come as fast as her legs would carry her. She was certain Sarah would follow. Sarah always followed.

The moment she reached the top of the hill, the roaring stopped. The sound of the whirring, the voices, the wind instantly vanished. She saw her parents casually strolling, hand-in-hand, toward the hill. Why weren’t they running? Didn’t they hear the horrible tornado that almost devoured their children? Emily turned around to look for Sarah, but there was nothing behind her but the bright, sunny valley below. The tornado had vanished. There was no sound, no vortex, no Sarah.

Emily collapsed like a rag doll.

Stuckey’s Bridge on the Travel Channel

maxresdefaultThe Travel Channel has a show called Most Terrifying Places in America. They’ve been on for a couple seasons now, and they’ve finally gotten around to the most terrifying place I know of – Stuckey’s Bridge.




I was born in Meridian, Mississippi, near the bridge, and heard the creepy legend of the man locals refer to as Ole Man Stuckey my whole life.

Legend has it he was a member of the notorious Dalton Gang, but he was so evil, he was kicked out. He found his way to Lauderdale County, Mississippi where he opened an inn on the Chunky River.

At that time, the river was used to transport goods and produce down to the gulf. Ole Man Stuckey was known to pace the old bridge every evening at dusk, waving his lantern, and offering travelers a warm meal and a soft bed.

In 1901, the Virginia Bridge and Iron Company began rebuilding the 50-year-old wooden bridge. During the project, they discovered bodies buried on the banks.

The townsfolk were suspicious about the creepy man who ran the inn and rounded up a posse to go find him. The mob took him down to the bridge, tied a noose around his neck, and hung him from the new iron rails of the bridge.

His body dangled over the river for five days. When the sheriff cut him down, he splashed into the river below.

Strangely enough, the ghosts around Stuckey’s Bridge today don’t seem to be the victims. The ghost seems to be Ole Man Stuckey, himself. Unexplained lights are witnessed. Footsteps on the bridge and loud splashes into the water below are heard. An apparition of a man walking across the bridge, waving a lantern, is occasionally seen.

28277124_10156046534958326_2362995188662457275_nWe taped the episode for the show last week, and in typical Stuckey-style, there were a few strange occurrences while we were there. A couple phones when crazy for a few minutes. A drone used to take footage of the river and the bridge crashed. We all heard it splash into the water, but when we ran onto the bridge to look over the railing for it, we saw it up in a tree. I wonder what the splash was…

I’ve written three books about the legend (available at Amazon, click here). That’s why they asked me to participate in the show. It was fun to go back home for the day, and I loved being out there again. It’s a cool place and it was a beautiful spring day! I’m very grateful my part of the show was wrapped up before nightfall.



Here’s my cousin dressed up to play the part of Ole Man Stuckey! This picture was taken long after I skedaddled out of there by Stuckey Bridge Canoe and Kayak


Sweet Dreams…

MLK Day and the Fiery Cross

We must meet hate with love.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.


(photo of MLK removing a burnt cross from his yard in Atlanta, Georgia 1960)

If I found this symbol of hatred in my front yard, I would probably call anyone who would listen, post it all over social media, get the police involved, and generally throw a fit. Then, I would pack and move, which is exactly what the haters wanted to happen.

MLK didn’t do any of those things. Look at his body language. He doesn’t show hatred, anger, or fear. He seems very calm, though undoubtedly very perturbed. He hasn’t even told his small boy to “go back into the house,” as he refused to cower from the danger that obviously existed.

Though we all know MLK was quite an incredible man, my thoughts on the photo revolve more around history. What does religion, Jesus, crosses have to do with racism? Where and when did cross burning start?

The first recorded instance I could find is in the poem The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott, published in 1810.

In the third part of the poem, a burnt cross was used to summon Scottish clans to rise up against King James. In the poem, the chieftain made a cross of wood and lit it on fire. He then killed a goat and extinguished the fire with the goat’s blood. The burnt cross was then carried by a messenger to a nearby village. The messenger spoke only one word, the place to meet. The village would then send a messenger to the next village and so on. Any man who failed to show up at the appointed battle was to meet the same fate as the goat and cross.

This, however, wasn’t something new the author created. Using a “fiery cross” or a “bidding stick” was the common way to rally people to an assembly as far back as the 1500s, and commonly in the 1700s to rally Scottish clan members to arms. It was even used with Scottish settlers in Canada during the War of 1812. All of the above examples were never a form of racism, only of communication.

The burning cross became a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan when this public way of rallying supporters was adapted by them in the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. They used cross burning as a rallying cry, but this time, it was not to stand up against monarchs or battling neighbors. This time it was accompanied by hymn singing and prayer and was used to rally supporters to create/maintain white supremacy. It became an anti-Catholic, anti-Jew, anti-immigrant, prohibition symbol.

By the 1950s, the Klan and its burning cross was more focused on an anti-black rhetoric. This is where they lost me. I hate to leave you here, dear reader, without the answers, but I have yet to find why this symbol was used to show hatred by placing it on black people’s lawns.

Please let me know what you think.


Historic Stuckey’s Bridge to get fresh coat of paint

An historic wooden bridge spanning the Chunky River in Clarke County is getting a fresh coat of paint Saturday because of recent vandalism.

Source: Historic Stuckey’s Bridge to get fresh coat of paint

Stuckey's cover_webThis above story is the bridge featured in my book, “The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge.”