Sarah Hembree, née Webb, was my great grandmother, on my dad’s dad’s (yes, as in my paternal grandfather) side. As a child, I could list everything I knew about her on one hand: from the only photograph of her I’d ever seen, I have her nose; she had a twin sister; she came from ‘over the mountain,’ whatever that meant; and she died very young, shortly after giving birth. I have wanted, ever since I saw her picture, to know more about this woman I would never meet.
Fast forward to my twenties: my Uncle, John Hembree, and I put together a book of family connections, (that I am currently working to have available online and searchable). I noticed that it focused on the Hembree family heavily. The Webb connections, not so much. A single page in the book contained a handwritten ancestry chart. Dated 1980, compiled by Ellis Couch, III, it listed Sara [sic] Webb as the wife of Isaac Shiloh Hembree, my great grandfather. My Uncle Ellis had included her parents’ names with birth and death dates, AND all four grandparents, first and last names only; more than enough to begin a search!
Now, all of you that are old hands at this search business are probably scoffing at how difficult I am making this sound. But I am 60 years old. When I first started searching for family history, it was to find out the outcome of my great grandfather’s poisoning and the trial that followed. The internet wasn’t even a twinkle in you-know-who’s eye! My first record search was in the basement of the Scottsboro county, AL, courthouse, among the original newspapers of the previous century. No microfiche, no film. Just shelves and shelves of stacked newsprint! It was an exciting (and exhausting!) three days of sorting through some of the most interesting bits of history I’d never known!
Back to Sarah.
Initial steps to searching family history should always start with asking questions of any living relatives, neighbors, and friends. I started with my dad. He referred me to his dad, who we lovingly called Pappaw. Pappaw was born December 6, 1903. Sarah died July 13, 1912. He was eight and a half years old. He told me he didn’t really remember her at all. My dad confirmed that he had not ever heard any stories told about her, but he remembers her name being mentioned during family conversations. Sadly, I waited too long to ask other family or neighbors. Mrs. Hulvey, the closest neighbor, was in her 90’s before I realized she might have information. I interviewed her briefly, shortly before she passed. As with many interviews, I came away with more questions that I never got to ask her.
Fast forward again 30 plus years! Through the advent of the internet, and genealogy sites, I have now discovered census, birth, marriage, taxes, wills, and death records – and more!
I now know a bit more about Sarah.
I know her twin sister’s name. I know that she had an older sister, and several brothers. I know that she and her twin were actually born in Arkansas, while the rest were born in Alabama, when the family moved out to Arkansas for a brief period. After researching the census documents and internet news stories from that time for Alabama and Arkansas, and finding out Sarah’s father had listed his occupation as farmer, I made some guesses, but I’m still looking for evidence to back up my theories.
Sarah was 25 when she married Isaac, a 45-year-old bachelor. The average age of marriage for women in the 1890’s was 22.5. Isaac would have been a catch. He was a fairly well-to-do landowner, from a large family. His family had been settled in the area for almost 100 years at that time. We’ll probably never know if it was a love match, or of convenience. Isaac was known for acquiring property, so perhaps there was an incentive? I continue to research the matter, but the romantic in me would love to find some written records!
Isaac acquired the Hog Jaw Valley White House in 1905, about five years into the marriage. Before that, he and his bride lived in the large white clapboard house at Long Island, site of the infamous poisoning case.
More on record searches:
One of the neatest things I noticed as I researched the census records, was the connections between families, such as the record of older children where the next census would find them married to neighbors. Because of the way census were taken, neighbors up and down the road were easily identifiable. Add in a county or state plat that identified land ownership, and it was easy for me to build up a picture in my mind of how the day-to-day paths and activities brought families into contact. The census records are rich in information: birth locations, ages, servants or other household members, occupations, among other things. The similarities of names, male and female, in the records can point to not so obvious connections, but they can also blur the lines. I go into the records for one thing, such as the name of Sarah’s twin, but my next foray will be the same records, to look for neighbors that might be the family her twin married into, since she is not in the family graveyard. At least, not under Webb. Where did she go? Maybe I have more cousins?!?
Sarah’s Married Life
Sarah and Isaac had several children. The first three were born at Stewart Place, a crossroads in Hog Jaw Valley, according to Ellis Couch’s handwritten Family Group records. I’ll have to do more checking, as this might be the name of the house at Long Island, or it might be Isaac’s brother, Dock’s place, which was at the foot of the mountain, just east of the crossroads.
The first baby, Robert Abb, arrived in September, 1900. My grandfather, John Brown Gordon (named after the famous John Brown) was born three years later. The third child, a girl, Ida Roxie, was born about a year and a half later, in late summer, 1905. She married a McCrary from Fackler, AL.
The other children were born at Upper Place, in Hog Jaw Valley, which I would assume (you know what they say about that!) is the White House that I know and love.
Baby number four was delivered when Ida was just turning two, in 1907. Named after her mother and her maternal grandmother, Sara Emaline would later marry Ellis Einsel Couch, Jr. and become my dear Aunt Emaline. Baby number five was the third boy. As was the family tradition, he received the ‘junior’ designation. Families often waited until several babies had been born before naming a junior, because of the high mortality rates among firstborns. Isaac Shiloh Hembree, Jr. came into the world early in the year in 1909.
What a crazy, hectic household that would have been! Five children, from diapers to a nine-year old! Knowing my family, it’s a sure bet the oldest children were already helping with chores: milking, feedings horses, pigs, and chickens, gathering wood, working in the fields, cleaning house, doing dishes,and keeping an eye on the younger ones! (I started washing dishes at six years old, and there were only four of us!)
The Last Child
Sadly, in early June, 1912, Sarah delivered a stillborn child. She would not recover from complications of that birth, and she passed away on July 13, 1912. She is buried beside her husband in the Harris Chapel Cemetery.
Ellis Couch notes in the records that Isaac remarried on July 25, 1916. No certificate of marriage has been located, and later census records have Mrs. W.J.Holly residing with them and listed as ‘wife’. She had two children of her own, from a previous marriage. That’s another avenue of research, for another time.
As a footnote, while there are many infant graves in the Harris Chapel cemetery, there isn’t one for Sarah’s stillborn child. There’s a faint family rumor that the child may have been laid to rest on the grounds of the family home in the Valley.
Sarah would have turned 38 the year her last baby was born, had she survived. Who was she? What was she passionate about? As I look at the members of my family, I see many things: a commitment to hard work, a no-nonsense approach to life, a hunger to improve their life and the life of their families, but most of all a deep and abiding love and pride in who they are. Sarah was a part of that. Maybe what I see is more Isaac Shiloh Hembree, and later, my own strong Grandmother, Kathleen Lassiter Hembree (we called her ‘Nanny’), but I know that there is a bit of Sarah in all of us, too. I’ll keep searching. I love a good mystery!