Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Wishes

Living room mantel
So much for interesting posts in December! I will have to pick that up in January... Busy, busy, busy getting ready for Christmas and for a fun week away in the Virgin Islands. More on that soon...but for now...




Click on the pictures for more detail...


Our downsized tree...taller and much thinner

This year's tree turned out to be mostly ornaments from my childhood.
And mostly gold...which would have killed Miss Betty. She was
all about the RED!

One of my favorite things on earth! Miss Betty's creche...
brought back from her European honeymoon I believe.

My White House ornament tree in the dining room

Across the room, on the sideboard, Duke of Gloucester Street
in Colonial Williamsburg is coming together...

My Tiffany & Co. crystal ornament tree

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December "Dots and Dashes"

Picture from the exhibit
I can't believe I posted every day last month!

That was a great challenge and I really enjoyed Family Tree Magazine's writing prompts.

This month I will be on and off the grid, so the posts may be a bit sporadic.

To make up for that, I will try to find unusual and interesting things...and will start today!!

Check out this wonderful online exhibit about The Bureau of Home Economics.

Be sure to read the biographies of the women in charge of the different divisions back in the day... Their resumes are stunning.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Day Thirty: Final Thoughts

Day 30: Write a brief biography of yourself—everything an ancestor might want to know about you. After all, someday your ancestors will want to know as much about you as you do about yours! Learn more about recording your memories in the Story of My Life workbook.

Circa 1960
I, your great-great-great-whatever (granddaughter, niece) was born in the beautiful Commonwealth of Virginia and lived in Virginia Beach for the first three years of my life. My big (only) claim to fame from that part of my life was that I was delivered by Dr. Mason Andrews, who gained fame from delivering the first "test tube baby" in later years.

When I was about 3, my parents moved to South Florida. My father, Allen Steele, was a senior pilot for United Airlines and could live and work pretty much wherever he pleased...and he wanted to be at the beach. So, from Virginia Beach the family moved to Delray Beach, and Dad flew out of Miami. It was a wonderful life, for his two best friends, who were also pilots, lived close by in Ft. Lauderdale. Delray Beach was a magical place to grow up. A charming, sleepy little town, it boasted interesting residents (both full time and seasonal), a gorgeous beach, and easy access to Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Although it was "home" to me in many ways, I still felt the call of my real home...the real South... as I grew older and started thinking about college. Being an 8th generation Southerner, it's just in your blood!

June 1981
I attended Trinity Lutheran School as a child, followed by Atlantic High School. Both were great experiences, but my time at Trinity Lutheran gave me the faith that I have walked with to this day. For that I am eternally grateful...and when I say "eternally," I mean it! I knew that I wanted to go to a woman's college and I hoped to be in or near a big city. One of my mother's best friends was an author named Catherine Marshall. Catherine was a graduate of Agnes Scott College and hearing her stories about matriculating there, plus knowing it was in metropolitan Atlanta, made it #1 on my list. The only other college I even considered was William and Mary in Williamsburg, but Atlanta was the deciding factor. That's where I belonged. And I did...for several years, staying there for five years after college.

College could not have been a better experience for me, and Agnes Scott College was known for its focus on "the life of the mind." Majoring in Theatre and minoring (although ASC didn't have minors at the time) in English, I felt well educated and well rounded. The call of the theatre soon quieted for me, though, and after a little while of working professionally and avocationally, I decided that using those skills...speaking and a different way would serve me well, and allow me to follow my passion. My day job, in the retail side of Tiffany & Co. had always provided me with flexibility and it allowed me to do thing like work with NITA (National Institute for Trial Advocacy), where in January I would teach second year law students at Emory University, calling my seminar, "Theatrical Techniques for the Courtroom."

circa 1984
At Tiffany's, I worked for the most wonderful boss anyone could ever have...John Tipton...and when he heard of my degree and "skills" he asked me to go on the road with The Tiffany Touch presentation, traveling far and wide, informing people about Tiffany's history,
1987 headshot from catalog shoot,
North Carolina
Tiffany Table Manners, Tiffany silversmiths, etc. From there I was asked to be a Corporate Account Executive and spent the rest of my time with the officers of such companies as Coca-Cola, RJ Reynolds, C&S Bank and many, many others. That was tremendously enjoyable and I particularly remember doing the executive gifts for the Coca-Cola 100th anniversary. When I left Atlanta, to find a calmer, quieter life in Charlotte, I started a Corporate Division for a small jewelry and gift store. I acted as Director of Marketing for them and was able to use my marketing/branding/sales experience to start a corporate sales department for them. The company was small and the staff was very interesting. It was very different than what I had experienced at Tiffany & Co., but I was happy to be there as long as I was. My hours were good there and I had plenty of time to get to know Charlotte and its people better.  It wasn't long before my attention turned to the wonderful man I had met through a mutual friend a year after moving. Within a year after that, we were married. Two years later, we had our first child, a beautiful daughter, named after my grandmother and great-aunt. 

July 2000
A new partnership brought us to Richmond, Virginia in 1994, when we were expecting our second daughter. As we were moving we found out that she had something called Edwards Syndrome, and was not expected to live long. She did not. She died as she was being born. (About 20 years later, I learned through and its records that my paternal grandmother also had a child with similar symptoms. Make you wonder about hereditary disease...) In 1996 we welcome our third daughter, who was named after my best friend, whom I had met during my time at Tiffany & Co. But we also gave her a middle name to reflect my ancestors who had come to Maryland circa 1700.

July 2016
The girls grew to be happy and healthy young women. As I write this, the older is married, has her masters in counseling and has just started a wonderful new life. The younger is a sophomore in college and is yearning for the day she will finish college and start her life. They and my husband go back and forth to Florida and the islands with me. The Bahamas and the Caribbean islands bring back such memories for me...not that I spent time there as a child, but they reflect the unspoiled nature of the South Florida in which I was raised. We always come back to Virginia, though...and we always will. We have lived here for 22 years now. It was that long ago that I circled back to the place of my birth. The place that I knew, somewhere deep down inside, that I needed to return to. The place my ancestors came in the early 1600's. The place that all but one died in 1644 during the Indian uprising. A beautiful land of rivers, lakes and mountains. A land I hope to call home until the day I pass over into my eternal real and true home. And there I hope to be reunited with all of you, my precious ancestors, many of whom I only know through family legend and research.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Day Twenty-Nine: A Day In The Life

Day 29: Imagine a typical day for a female ancestor. What time did she wake up, and what did she do throughout the day?

Helen Ragsdale with her class
She would have risen early, perhaps about 7am. School would not have started until 8:30 or 9, so she would have had plenty of time...especially since her school was just down the road. Getting breakfast for herself and for her mother, with whom she lived in the family home, Helen Ragsdale would have done things very properly. She would have laid the table with the right flatware and used proper glassware and china. About the time she was to leave for school, their maid would probably be arriving, so she would clear the table and wash the dishes.

The Anderson Street School:

Helen would arrive at school, punctual as always, and prepare her classroom for her students. Later, when she became principal of the school, her routine would not change much. She would check into her office and then walk the hallways to check on the teachers and their classrooms. Not much got by "Miss Ragsdale." At the end of her busy day, she would return home where either she or the maid would prepare supper (never calling it "dinner"), and would end her day relaxing with a good book or listening to the radio. As she went to sleep, her students would be on her mind, and she would be planning what she could do for them tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Day Twenty-Eight: Sharing A First

Day 28: Imagine your ancestor had access to the internet during his lifetime, and write a Facebook post or series of tweets describing something he’s witnessing in real-time. Is there a contemporary (historical) issue he would feel strongly about or an event he wants to respond to? Or maybe he wants to air a family grievance?

Awesome day today! Flew the first airmail in and out of Statesville, North Carolina. Quite a committee there to meet me. #firsts #flying #May1938 #pursueyourpassion

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Day Twenty-Seven: Favorite Memory

Day 27: Record a memory of one of your ancestors that you want to pass down to future generations—a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. Set the scene: How old were each of you at the time? What happened? Why is this a memory you treasure?

When I was about 5 years old, I was visiting my grandparents in Greenville, South Carolina. At the same time, my Aunt Frances and her baby were also there. Aunt Frances was a beautiful woman...pretty as a movie star and glamorous in every way. I remember that either on that trip or another, she taught me how to make up a bed. To this day, I do it the very same way she taught me over 50 year ago!

On that visit, I also got to spend the night in the room with Aunt Frances and Baby George. It was a slumber party adventure for me, and I felt so grown up! She gave me a little purse mirror to remember her she had gotten on one of her evenings at El Morocco in New York. Aunt Frances had lived since the 1950's and worked for Steuben...She lived in the New York of Breakfast at Tiffany's. I have treasured it every day since then and have it displayed where I can see it and where it will be safe. 

Betty, Frances, and Carolyn Isbell
My Aunt Frances was diagnosed with cancer, around the time of that special sleepover. I remember knowing that she was sick when we saw her the next year. When she came to the door at my great-aunt's house, I did not recognize her. I thought she was someone else. I remember, too, when my mother told me that Aunt Frances had gone to heaven. I was 6 years old, and I sat on Miss Betty's lap and just cried and cried and cried. It is my first memory of actually "weeping." 

Even today, when I think of her, I feel a twinge in my heart. I grieve that her son never got to know her growing up. I grieve that his children only know her by a few scattered stories from those of us who knew her when. But I rejoice that her precious granddaughter, Charlotte, looked EXACTLY like her as a baby...a resemblance that has remained as she has grown into a lovely young lady. I also rejoice that I have been able to share her story through this blog and even through websites such as One day soon I will give Charlotte this precious mirror and I hope that it will be a memory that she will take into adulthood and that she will be able to tell her grandmother's story to her own children one day. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Day Twenty-Six: Movie Magic

Day 26: Pitch a movie about one of your ancestors. What interesting event do you want the film to portray? What kind of film will it be (drama, comedy, science-fiction, adventure)? What actor/actress would play your ancestor, and who would play the other characters? Be sure to give your film a title and tagline. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, write the movie’s preview and “hire” a director.

I am going to write about preparing the pitch as well as the pitch itself. Because I am so fascinated by my great-great-grandfather and his story I would definitely pitch the story of his life, which I already wrote a book pitch for, as a movie. I would adapt the book title, Elisha Robert Ragsdale-Standing Firm, to be more suitable for a motion picture. 

I'm Still Standing: The Robert Ragsdale Story is the story of a life of impossible odds. From childhood to adulthood, his was a story of resilience and hope. Brought to the big screen in glorious high-definition Technicolor and Dolby sound, it is a story that will surely sweep its viewers off their feet. Historic adventure at its finest, I'm Still Standing, moves its protagonist from a childhood in the countryside of South Carolina to the battlefields of Richmond, Virginia, at the height of the fighting in the War Between the States. Epic. Heroic. As inspirational in the 21st century as it was in the 19th.

Suggested casting:

Robert Ragsdale: Dermot Mulroney

Nancy Stanton Ragsdale: Cameron Diaz
John Dunkley Stanton: Robert DeNiro

Suggested direction by Ron Howard

Friday, November 25, 2016

Day Twenty-Five: Catalog Christmas Shopping

Day 25: In honor of Black Friday, review historical resources like the Sears Catalog and “buy” three Christmas presents for an ancestor. Why did you choose those three, and how would your ancestor respond to them?

If I were to buy three Christmas presents for my "ancestors" from the Sears catalog, I would choose the 1940's era and buy for my mother, my father and my grandfather. For my grandfather, I would buy a Sears house kit, because he owned some smaller houses he rented to others. He was always interested in houses, and I think that he would have a ball with these.

For Miss Betty, who probably would have died before she wore clothing from Sears, I would buy some fun day dresses and try to convince her that good design could be found in a number of places.

For my father, I would have bought a portable television set. To be honest, I would have been surprised to find something like this back in the day...but there it is! He loved his "electronics"... He always chose radios and car dashboard that had a lot of dials and doodads on them...

There was always something magical in paging through a catalog at Christmas time. As a child my favorite catalog was the FAO Schwartz book. I spent countless hours combing it for exciting possibilities and cutting out pictures to paste to my letter to Santa!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Day Twenty-Four: Thanksgiving

Day 24: Write about how your ancestors celebrated Thanksgiving. Is it their first in America? What did they eat, and who were their dinner guests? What are they grateful for? Get other family members to collaborate.

My Ragsdale ancestors would have celebrated Thanksgiving in Virginia in remembrance of "the" first Thanksgiving, which Virginians actually celebrated before the Pilgrims of Massachusetts! Because of the 1644 Virginia Indian uprising, which killed all but Godfrey Ragsdale (my 8th great-grandfather) any celebration they would have had in the 17th century most likely would not have included eating with the Indians. As I imagine their meal, I cannot help but think of meals I have had in the taverns of Colonial Williamsburg, where the food is delicious, but has more of a "textured" feel to it. For instance, the Kings Arms Tavern Sweet Potatoes recipe has a "whole foods" feel to it, where the potatoes are not whipped or smooth, like we often think of potatoes today... There is a chunkier, more fibrous element to that delicious dish...and I believe my 17th century ancestor's food would have tasted like that as well. Their Thanksgiving would have been personal and private, as there was no official Thanksgiving Day until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.

For more information about Thanksgiving in Virginia...


Historians note that in the early days, the celebration of Thanksgiving was strictly a religious experience, focused entirely on prayer. It was a solemn affair, not a festival of food, such as our friends in Massachusetts had experienced.

On November 9, 1962 Virginia State Senator John J. Wicker sent a telegram to President John F. Kennedy taking issue with President Kennedy’s 1962 Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, where full credit for Thanksgiving was given to the pilgrims in Massachusetts. Senator Wicker claimed he had already proven to the Governor of Massachusetts the validity of Virginia’s claim by simply displaying the records to him.

In response, Senator Wicker received an apologetic reply from famed Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. writing on behalf of the President. Mr. Schlesinger attributed the “error” to unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff.

The White House mended its ways. President Kennedy’s next Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 5, 1963, stated that “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.” Finally, Virginia was given its rightful recognition and place in history! To put this in historical perspective, Kennedy was assassinated, in Dallas, just 18 days later.

In addition, further historical proof is in the November 24, 1969 Congressional Record (Volume 115, Number 194), which tells the story of The Virginia First Thanksgiving. The Congressional Record gives a glowing review of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival itself. In it, Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. recognizes the officers of the festival and asks to have a Thanksgiving Prayer read into the Record. There being no objection, this was done.

It is interesting to note that on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation. Just five days prior he had received a letter from Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74 year old magazine editor, who had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Lincoln listened, where other presidents ignored her. It was at that point, that the last Thursday of November was set as a national “day of Thanksgiving and praise.” This was during the height of the Civil War. It was a very moving and inspirational proclamation and asked to “implore the Interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of a nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes.” According to “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln” edited by Roy Basler, a year later the proclamation manuscript, handwritten by William Seward, then Secretary of State, was sold and its proceeds were used to benefit Union troops. It is interesting that a document that was meant to bring reconciliation to a nation was ultimately used to fund the Civil war.

In an article written in October, 1986 by Nancy G. Houser, titled “Whose Thanksgiving Is It?,” she refers to other observances of thanks being given, both before and after what we consider to be the “official” first Thanksgiving in Virginia and the New World. All of those observances were spontaneous and were not repeated on a regular basis, as was the Berkeley ritual. The annual Berkeley religious ceremony was performed as a result of specific instructions given by the London Company to do so, it was almost two years before the Massachusetts celebration, which was a one time event based upon the recommendation of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford and was not held because of any official proclamation from England. They held several Thanksgiving’s after that, but not on a regular basis. Massachusetts didn’t even publish a proclamation ordaining such a Thanksgiving observance until 1633, 12 years after their first celebration. The Massachusetts event was a harvest feast with their Native American friends, whereas the Berkeley event was strictly religious.

The story doesn’t end here. A year later in the autumn of 1620, another ship, “The Supply,” brought another 50 adventurers to Berkeley. The Captain of this ship was William Tracy. It is interesting to note that this ship brought over 4 times the number of alcoholic beverages compared to the voyage. Christianity was very important then, so I am not sure why the lack of focus on the second voyage other than George Thorpe, a cleric, was not as involved in the second sailing as he was in the first. It is believed that this group also participated in the second annual Thanksgiving observance at Berkeley Hundred.

On August 28, 1620, eight months after they arrived, Captain Woodlief was relieved of his duties. The London Company was disillusioned and felt like Woodlief was not bringing in enough profits from the venture and his progress was too slow.

When the Woodlief settlers arrived at Berkeley, they spent a great amount of time experimenting in long term profit making ventures, such as planting mulberry trees to make silk, grape vines to make wine and they searched for iron deposits. The Berkeley Company did not believe they spent enough time on activities that would bring quick profits and produce crops and goods that could be sent to England in the short term. Because of that, Woodlief was in disfavor and was told his services were no longer needed. It is interesting to note that in 1619 a law was passed in Jamestown requiring each male settler plant and tend at least ten grape vines.
After Woodlief was relieved of his duties, he moved to land he owned at what is now Jordan Point, across the James River. His home was known as Sion Hill and remained there until after the Civil War.

George Thorpe, who had come to Berkeley in April, 1620, several months after the landing, and William Tracy, a kinsman of Richard Berkeley, were put in charge after Woodlief left. They received commissions from Richard Berkeley and John Smyth appointing them duel Governor’s of Virginia.   Once appointed, the men went about their work, planting crops and shipping goods back to England.

During the winter of 1621 and 1622, the Indians had made themselves particularly friendly to the new settlers. Berkeley Hundred had never experienced any Indian hostility and Captain Thorpe, the cleric, had especially pleased the Indian “King” or chief by building him a new house.  It was built “according to the English fashion.” Thorpe wanted to convert the Indians to Christianity.

Early in the morning on March 22, in 1622, just over two years after the landing, friendly groups of Indians drifted into the settlement at Berkeley Hundred. A myth is that date was Good Friday, but that is not correct. As the Indians approached, the colonist’s fierce mastiff dogs set up a roar, but their masters quickly quieted them. The colonists, feeling good about the religious season, were happy to include their Indian friends in their good fellowship. That morning the Indians milled with the colonists, made friendly small talk, and without warning, snatched up the colonist’s muskets that were set against the wall, took their carving knives, staves, hatchets and any other implement they could find that could inflict harm and then attacked. Eleven colonists were killed that day at Berkeley, many were wounded and others got away. It is said that George Thorpe, who had befriended the Indians, was the first killed and that his body was badly mutilated. Later, it was learned that other groups of Indians had done precisely the same thing, at that exact hour, at other plantations in Virginia. Indian Chief Opechancanough led the massive uprising for 140 miles on either side of the James River. This was known as the Massacre of 1622 and abruptly ended the settlement of Berkeley and the annual celebration of Thanksgiving there, at least until 1958.

Woodlief was in England at the time of the Massacre and his family was at Jamestown, none of which were killed. Jamestown was spared the brutality of the massacre as they were prepared with muskets when the Indians came. Late the night before, the settlers were warned of the attack because of an Indian named Chanco, had been told of the impending brutality by his brother. Chanco told a settler he had befriended who rode across the river and warned the Jamestown settlers. The settlers did not allow the Indians near the settlement and they survived. Unfortunately, they did not have time or the means to warn other plantations, other than those that were close to the settlement. Berkeley was not warned.

Although the Berkeley venture ended at that point, it was the first of its kind in America to experiment with self government and personal independence. We’ve learned many lessons from that.

From the Berkeley Plantation website,

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Day Twenty-Three: Telling The Tale

Day 23: Come up with a pitch for your ancestor’s biography. Is it a sultry tell-all, or just-the-facts? What major theme(s) does it cover? Be sure to give the bio a title and sub-title, and write the book’s summary as it would appear on the back cover.

Elisha Robert Ragsdale
Standing Firm


Elisha Robert Ragsdale: Standing Firm is the story of Robert Ragsdale (1825-1862) of Fairfield County, South Carolina. It is a tragic yet noble tale of a young man abandoned by his family, who suffered the loss of two wives and two children. Finally finding happiness only to have it taken away by the atrocities of the Civil War, Ragsdale lived a long and arduous life in his 36 short years. 
His biography is a fascinating story of courage and perseverance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Day Twenty-Two: Timeline Time

Day 22: Look over your research for an ancestor or family and create a timeline of his life. List the date for each record, where the person or family was located at the time, and what they were doing. Notice any gaps in your research (such as the glaring absence of the 1890 census)? Use those to make a to-do list.

Family Tree Maker Magazine, I love you. I really, really do.... But this is Thanksgiving week. A week in which most of your readers (which I am guessing are women) are SUPER busy getting ready for the BIG DAY...and probably expecting company to boot. Hope you keep that in mind for the rest of the week! This is a pretty big writing assignment, so I am going to go straight to and use their profile feature to pull the information.

When Henry Thomas Steele was born on October 1, 1874, in Iredell County, North Carolina, his father, Benjamin Thomas Steele, was 26 and his mother, Eliza Caroline Mills Steele, was 25. According to the 1880 census, Henry lived in the Chambersburg Township of Iredell County, North Carolina.

Henry married Rhoda "Mae" Dotson on August 12, 1902, in Chambersburg. They had five children in 19 years. Percy Leightell Steele was born in 1903 and Henry Herman Steele was born in 1911 (and died as an infant from pyloric stenosis, which we know from his death certificate). Henry's son, Allen Dotson Steele, my father, was born in 1914. Allen was followed in 1917 by daughter, Rhoda Mae Steele. The last child, who was unnamed, was born in 1922, but died three days after birth. She had (according to her death certificate) spina bifida and other malformations. 

According to census records, Henry lived in Iredell County, North Carolina in 1910. From family records we know that he lived in Statesville in particular and the house he lived in, later known as 644 West End Avenue, was then called 441 West End Avenue. He appears in Statesville in the 1920 and 1930 census rolls as well. He died on May 29, 1934, in Statesville, North Carolina, at the age of 59, and was buried there in Oakwood Cemetery. The cause of death, according to the newspaper was "softening of the bones."

The only gaps I find in research for my grandfather are for the years he was teaching school (before marriage) and the years in which he and my grandmother, when first married, lived in Elmwood, North Carolina.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Day Twenty-One: Too Weak To Write

Day 21: Select an ancestor who served in the military, and write a letter to him or her from the perspective of a loved one on the home front. Ask about his or her health, or the conditions in the war. Read real-life wartime letters for inspiration.

Dear Nancy,

This may be the last letter I write you. I am so sick...and being in a cold, leaky tent doesn't help matters any. Measles turned into pneumonia and now, I can hardly lift a pencil to compose a letter to you. This war, which divides our country, is a horrible thing. Richmond, Virginia is so far away from Fairfield. I miss South Carolina. I miss our boys. But most of all I miss you, Nannie dearest. 

I love you.

Your Elisha

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Day Twenty: Don't Leave Home Without Them

Day 20: Write a paragraph describing three items your ancestor would never leave home without.

Three things that Elizabeth Ragsdale would never leave home without could be summed up as the "3 C's." In her case, this did not mean the "color, cut, and clarity" of a diamond, but rather her "comb, compact, and coin purse." She was always presentable. Always. Even into her mid-late nineties, she dressed "to the nines" to go out to the simplest luncheon. She was the epitome of good grooming!

(More soon on this topic! I think I broke my toe earlier today and it hurts too much for me to concentrate on writing... sorry!!)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day Nineteen: Happy To Forget

Day 19: Identify a major event that happened during your ancestor’s lifetime, and (as your ancestor) write a first-person journal entry describing it. What would your ancestor have thought about it? Would he have found it exciting? Frightening? Frustrating?

John Smith taking the King of Pamunkey prisoner',
 a fanciful image of Opechancanough from
General History of Virginia (1624).
Robert Vaughan - Captain John Smith's
General History of Virginia (1624) en.wikipedia
I am so grateful that I was an infant in 1644, the year of the Indian raid in Virginia, led by Opechancanough. My parents, Godfrey and Mary Ragsdale, who had come to Virginia from England just a few years before, were murdered and, as I understand it, scalped. Hundreds died that day. Hundreds. It was gruesome. I was told that neighbors who escaped the attack saved me and for their bravery, I am eternally grateful.

Sometimes at night, in my dreams, I hear the screams and feel the terror. Are those repressed memories from when I was a baby or just a reaction to the stories I have been told as I have grown? I suppose I will never know, but it is terrifying nonetheless. I wonder if relations between the English and the Indians will ever improve? That I know I shall never know, because age and infirmity are upon me and I do not think I will live through this new year of 1703.

1 January 1703
Recorded this day by
Godfrey Ragsdale, Jr.
Henrico, Virginia

Friday, November 18, 2016

Day Eighteen: Best Friends

Day 18: Who was your ancestor’s best friend? How did they spend their time together? Write a paragraph or two about an adventure they had (real or imagined) based on what you know of their childhood and the time period and place they lived.

Allen Steele and Nate Neely were more than best buddies. Eventually, they became "brothers." Nate married Allen's sister, Rhoda, in November 1940, and thus turned friendship into family. 

The boys were not the same age, but close to it. Allen was born in January 1914 and Nate in November 1915, but that made little to no difference in their being pals. Their "Little Rascals" adventures as children in the 1920's turned into being more like "Andy and Barney" in the 1930's and beyond, although Nate only shared Barney's wonderful sense of humor, not his ineptitude. Nate and Allen both were smart, capable men who would find just as much joy hanging out at the local "filling station" with friends (just like Mayberry!) to getting dressed up to go out on the town. Both would go on to do great things and raise wonderful families. Although separated by many miles as older adults, Nate in North Carolina and Allen in Florida, they would continue their friendship until Nate passed away from a heart attack in 1977. It was a loss that Allen and his family would mourn for many years.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Day Seventeen: The Stanton Cabinet Speaks

Day 17: Select a family heirloom (watch, quilt, Bible, etc.) and write a narrative from its perspective. Where has it been? How did your ancestor acquire it, and what would it have encountered throughout the years? What important family milestones might it have witnessed?

The Stanton Cabinet
I am back home and it feels great. No, more than that, it feels right. Although I certainly enjoyed my time in Richmond, Virginia, it is so good to be back in South Carolina.

My life started in the mid-1800's on John Dunkley Stanton's plantation. It was quite a large plantation, and the house itself was so big that family lore says people could see the smoke from the fire when the Yankees burned it all the way to Columbia! You see, I was the only survivor of Stanton family furnishings, because I was in the kitchen dependency, which was not burned. It must have been a good sized building, too, because I myself am 9 feet tall!

From John Dunkley Stanton, I went to his daughter, Nancy Stanton Ragsdale, and from Nancy I went to her youngest son, John Knox Ragsdale. John and his wife, Minnie, took me to Greenville when they moved in 1907 and I remained in the house on Hampton Avenue until 2001, when the family sold that house. From there I went to Richmond, Virginia, to live with Betty Isbell Steele and then her daughter, Liz. I had the perfect place in Liz's house. I fit into her breakfast room like that particular corner was made just for me! When Liz and her husband downsized, they took me with them and they tried and tried to find a place for me in their new house. But, no matter how hard they searched, they could not find a suitable corner.

Fairfield County Museum

Liz would not be discouraged. It was hard for her to let go of me (which I really appreciate), because she knew I had a story...a story very dear to her whole family. How could my story best be told? She knew there was a way...that there was a perfect place for me. And there was! Here I am today, in the dining room of the Fairfield County Museum in Winnsboro, Fairfield County, South Carolina. I am so happy here and many, many people get to visit me and hear my story. I couldn't be happier, because I am happy at home!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Day Sixteen: Once Upon A Time...

Day 16: Imagine one or more of your ancestors as the characters in a fairy tale or fable. What role would they play, and what is the setting? What would be their fate?

Teacher and students
If I had to put an ancestor into a fairy tale I think I would go to a side branch and not directly up the tree. I would choose my great aunt, Helen Ragsdale. Aunt Helen was born in 1893 in Fairfield County, South Carolina and she moved with her family to Greenville, South Carolina in 1907. She lived in the family home from 1907 until her death in 1999 at 105 1/2 years old. Aunt Helen was a teacher and school principal and although she never married, she had a huge family that was composed of the children whose lives she had influenced over the years. 

Elizabeth Ragsdale Isbell (95), Helen Elizabeth Forman (2)
and Helen Ragsdale (100)
She was a great believer in reading and not only did she read to me, but she read to my daughter (who was named for her) as well. I inherited some of Aunt Helen's early childhood teaching books, which contain wonderful stories and which are precious to me. It is not from those books, however, that I connect her to the concept of fairy tales. I do so because of my own experience with her. Aunt Helen patiently went through untold numbers of readings of The Princess and the Pea with me, her very persistent great niece. She helped me wear out the pages of my little book, as we turned them together, her reading and me raptly listening. As I remember, she was a very patient audience, who humored me as I acted out the story, time and time again. In those reenactments, she was the wise Queen, and I was the Princess who slept on the pile of mattresses, but still felt the presence of the pea. If I could reimagine this fairy tale, I would cast Aunt Helen as the Princess and I would be the Queen...and she would have her very own Prince!