And now to that missing eye: though I have not spelled this out, it has probably become obvious to you if you’ve read the first two installments in this series that it is, in part, an extended essay about the importance of family stories in genealogical research. It’s a foray into understanding how family stories should be handled.
Every family has stories. These need to be handed down, told and retold, because they shape our understanding of family. At the same time, for bona fide family historians, they can become — as we all know — something of a trap. The nice legend of the Cherokee princess somewhere in our family tree quite frequently vanishes like mist over an Appalachian hollow in the light of day, as we subject that story to historical research and dig for documentation.
We mustn’t be afraid to examine our family stories. In fact, we have an obligation to do that, if we want to do real, meaningful genealogy. At the same time, we shouldn’t discard and scorn them, either. They often contain nuggets of truth, treasures that we won’t find elsewhere, until we’ve done extensive research — like the story handed down by a branch of my Nottingham family who went back to England from Virginia, and talked, generation after generation, about someone back in the past who beat a little girl to death with a pair of fireplace tongs.
The story turns out to be gospel truth, and helps establish the link between the Virginia Nottingham family, a Richard Nottingham of Ipswich and London whose son Richard was the progenitor of the family in Virginia, and the ship-building Pett family of Deptford in County Kent, England. The wife of the elder Richard was Mary Pett, whose step-father Rev. Thomas Nunn beat Mary’s sister Abigail to death in 1599, when her cleaning of his wet clothes after he had been riding in a storm displeased him. The autobiography of Phineas Pett, Mary and Abigail’s brother, tells the story in detail, and court documents back up his account. These are stories I’ll tell you in more detail another day.
History is story. The word “story” is embedded etymologically in the word “history.” Good history is a story well told, based in fact, always permeable to newly discovered fact, which may reshape the narrative that has previously been accepted as authoritative. Good family history cherishes family stories at the same time that it prizes documentation, research, and subjecting long-told yarns to factual scrutiny.
Here’s a story my grandmother and her brothers told me about their Uncle Pat Ryan as I was growing up — a story echoed by members of the next generation, who added details as they told it again to me: Pat Ryan and his wife Delilah (née Rinehart) had no children of their own, but adopted a number of orphans and raised them as their own children. When these stories were told to me, I was given specific names: two orphan boys Pat and Lilah raised were Allen Spann and Richard Murdock. The telling of the story of Pat and his wife Delilah raising orphans ran together with the story of Pat’s fabled generosity to beggars, and, in turn, led to another story: when their uncle Pat died, my grandmother and her brothers told me, people from as far away as Little Rock came to dig in the yard and fields around his house, thinking he must have had buried treasure, since he had been lavish in providing for the needs of beggars and orphans.
My grandmother remembered quite specifically, in fact, that her mother Catherine Ryan Batchelor, Pat’s sister, took her and several of the other youngest children in the Batchelor family and lived for a time with Pat’s widow Delilah after Pat died, to assist Delilah in managing their farm — and to fend off the treasure seekers. It was a treat, my grandmother recalled, for her five-year-old self to spend time living in Pat and Lilah’s two-story white-framed house with green shutters, when the Batchelor house was one of those typically Southern shambling double-pen affairs with a dog-trot hallway running through the middle, on which the family would place its dining room table on hot summer days, to catch breezes as they ate their meals. (I suspect, by the way, that the term “dining room table” in these stories misrepresents the kind of table on which my great-grandparents’ family took its meals; there was certainly no dining room in their two pen house, which had — and this was typical as the families living in such houses expanded — extra bedrooms built above and to the back of the two rooms downstairs as need required.)
When I began pursuing family history in earnest and sought to document these stories, I did find quite a bit of documentation to back them up. A 16 January 1893 Grant County court record shows Pat Ryan praying the court that the estate of F.M. Murdock, deceased, be vested in D.R. Murdock, a minor of whom Pat was guardian. F.M. Murdock is Francis Marion Murdock, who married Missouri Curtis, an orphaned niece of Delilah Rinehart Ryan, whom Pat and Delilah also raised. She’s listed in their household on both the 1870 and 1880 federal census.
Missouri was the daughter of Delilah’s sister Sarah Adaline Rinehart, who married Solomon Curtis on 4 February 1860 in Hot Spring County, Arkansas. When both Francis M. Murdock and wife Missouri died not long after their son Daniel Richard Murdock was born on 16 March 1885, Pat and Lilah adopted Missouri’s son Richard. Following Pat’s death on 18 October 1893, his widow Delilah assumed Richard’s guardianship, with her brother-in-law George Batchelor giving bond on her behalf along with J.A. Baxley. When Delilah died on 7 June 1896, Allen Spann, the other orphan Pat and Delilah had adopted along with Richard Murdock, then petitioned for Richard’s guardianship on 19 October 1896.
The stories I was told about Pat and Delilah Ryan’s connection to the orphan Richard Murdock made sense when I heard them, and even more sense when I found all of the preceding documentation, because a niece and nephew of Pat and Delilah — Alice Catherine Batchelor and her brother Moses Valentine Batchelor — married Murdock siblings whose father was, as well as I have determined, a cousin of Francis Marion Murdock. In a double wedding held on 23 September 1900, Alice married Thomas Marion Murdock and Val married Thomas’ sister Mary Murdock. The name Murdock was a fixture at gatherings of my Batchelor family throughout my childhood, and there was much to-ing and fro-ing to see the cousins of those two Batchelor-Murdock marriages in Jefferson County, Arkansas, and McCurtain County, Oklahoma, to which Val and Mary had moved after they married.
But Allen Spann? I certainly heard the name Spann talked about often as I was growing up, especially each year when the Orion Baptist church held its annual homecoming and dinner on the grounds in early June, though none of the stories I heard about that family — who were neighbors of my grandmother Hattie Batchelor Simpson as she grew up in the Orion community in Grant County — suggested that there was any family connection to the Spanns that might account for Patrick and Delilah Ryan’s choice to raise an orphan named Allen Spann. Enter Pat Ryan’s Union service pension file and his widow Delilah’s continuation of that file after Pat died (#1107789, South Division, invalid pension; #586121, widow’s pension).
From this genealogically rich compendium of affidavits discussing Patrick Ryan’s Union war service, the injuries he sustained immediately after the war, and his life up to 20 April 1892 when he filed his invalid’s pension in Redfield in Jefferson County, the town in which my mother was born and raised four miles north of the Orion settlement in which Pat lived, I discovered a fascinating fact no one in my family for several generations seems to have known: this was that Pat Ryan had had a wife prior to Delilah Rinehart. Pat and Delilah married on 9 December 1869 according to an affidavit in the pension file that Delilah gave in Redfield on 17 November 1893, backed by affidavits given by Thomas L. Cole, the justice who married Pat and Delilah, on 8 January 1894 and 15 May 1895.
Pat Ryan’s wife prior to Delilah Rinehart? Her name was Rosanna Spann, according to an affidavit in the pension file, which was given by one Elizabeth Hill on 29 January 1894. Rosanna was, Elizabeth explained, a sister of Elizabeth’s deceased husband (Asa Hiram Hill, though Elizabeth does not name him), and Elizabeth had tended to Rosanna in her last illness when Rosanna died at Elizabeth’s house at Redfield near the end of October 1868. When Elizabeth gave her affidavit in January 1894, she was living in Grant County near Craig’s Mill post office in Saline County.
On the same day (29 January 1894), Pat’s sister Catherine Ryan Batchelor also deposed that she had been present with and helped to nurse her brother Pat when he died on 18 October 1893, and she was also at Elizabeth Hill’s house helping to tend to Pat Ryan’s first wife when that wife (Catherine does not give her name) died about the last of October 1868. She had sat with her body after it was prepared for burial.
Records such as these, filling in details of the lives of families in Grant County, Arkansas, from the late 1860s through the 1870s, are very important for the following reason: in mid-March 1877, the county’s records burned. Practically all county records from the county’s formation in February 1869 perished in this courthouse fire.
In a subsequent posting, I’ll provide more information about Rosanna’s identity: she was the widow of a Spann man who was one of Patrick’s fallen comrades during the Civil War, and the Rufus Allen Spann whom Pat and Delilah adopted was, it appears, related to the family of that Spann comrade — though, according to the stories told to me as a child, Allen Spann was a foundling, an abandoned infant whom Dr. Joseph Marion Reynolds, a neighbor of Pat Ryan, brought to Pat and Lilah to raise after someone left the baby on his doorstep, with an indication that his name was Spann. More on all of this later . . . .
But for now, since I’ve kept you waiting this long to tell you how Pat Ryan lost that eye, here’s the story from Pat’s own mouth, in the 19 November 1892 invalid’s affidavit at the head of this posting. Pat gave the affidavit at the office of W.C. Davis in Redfield, stating that he lived at Orion in Grant County and Redfield was his post office. He indicated that he had lost his right eye and had suffered a wound on the inside of his left wrist, in the following manner:
The above disabilities occurred about the last of October 1865. We had lost fier at my fathers house and I was trying to strike fier with a flint lock gun and the bottle which contained the powder exploded and caused the above named disabilities.
Pat signed his testimony by mark, and it was witnessed by J.M. Reynolds and H.C. Daniels, with W.C. Davis signing as notary. J.M. Reynolds is the same Dr. Reynolds who brought Allen Spann to Pat and Lilah as an infant. His name appears throughout the combined pension file of Pat and Lilah, because he was Pat’s attending physician when Pat died, and gave a detailed description of the injuries Pat sustained in 1865 when, as a soldier visiting his parents, he tried to make a fire for them and lost his eye, part of his hand, and part of his wrist in the explosion that ensued. Pat’s niece Frances Isadora Batchelor married Joseph M. Reynolds’ nephew Lewis Abel Reynolds, connecting the family of Dr. Reynolds to Patrick Ryan’s family through marriage.
This is the third posting in a seven-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and the next posting in the series is here. That posting will end with a link taking you to the next in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.
And, since I’m posting this posting on St. Patrick’s Day, A happy St. Pat’s Day to all readers!
 Grant Co., Arkansas, Probate Bk. B, p. 2. On 18 Feb. 1893, Pat Ryan held Francis M. Murdock’s estate sale at the Ryan farm (ibid., p. 5). On 15 Jan. 1894, a sale bill for the property of Francis M. Murdock was approved. On the same day, W.C.C. Dorough, who had given bond with Patrick Ryan for the guardianship of D.R. Murdock, filed a settlement of his guardianship.
 1870 federal census, Campbell twp., Pulaski Co., AR, post office Little Rock (p. 93, fam. 120/dwel. 121; 2 Aug.); 1880 federal census, Simpson twp., Grant Co., AR (ED 100, p. 232, fam./dwel. 39).
 Hot Spring Co., Arkansas, Marriage Bk. 3, p. 12.
 Grant Co., Arkansas, Probate Bk. B, p. 40.
 Ibid., p. 124.
 Pulaski Co., Arkansas, Marriage Bk. 28, pp. 146-7. The Pine Bluff [Arkansas] Commercial, 20 Sept. 1900, p. 1, col. 5, has a notice of the double wedding, also stating that M.V. Batchelor was 19 and Mary Murdock was 15, and both were marrying with their family’s permission. Though the marriages are registered in Pulaski County, where the couples obtained their licenses, an announcement in the “Redfield Review” column of the Pine Bluff [Arkansas] Commercial, 26 September 1900, p. 4, col. 1, extending good wishes to the two couples, states that they married four miles from Redfield — that is, at Orion Baptist church in Grant County, which is about four miles south of Redfield. The marriage returns for both marriages show that the couples were married by Rev. Louis M. Patterson, pastor of Orion Baptist church.
 Cole is Thomas Lacy Cole (15 March 1840 – 1 Jan. 1914), born in Gibson Co., Tennessee, son of Moses Epps Cole and Elizabeth E. Rodgers; he is buried in the Orion Baptist cemetery in Grant Co., Arkansas. The combined pension files of Patrick and Delilah contain back and forth correspondence from federal officials asking about Cole’s status — Was he a minister of the gospel? Did he have documentation showing that he married this couple? A form in the file dated 15 January 1894 from the Department of Interior Bureau of Pensions ordering a military and medical history is accompanied by a note by Commissioner William Lochren stating that T.L. Cole had testified that he solemnized the rites of matrimony between the soldier and his wife, but had failed to provide information about the capacity in which he acted. Another form from the Department of Interior Bureau of Pensions to the post office at Orion dated 20 April 1895 asks if T.L. Cole was a minister of the gospel solemnizing marriages on 9 December 1869. The file has the reply of Orion postmaster A.A. Cole dated 10 May 1895 stating that T.L. Cole was a duly authorized J.P. in 1869, and among old county papers he finds commissions for the period 1868-1870. Also in the file is a 15 May 1895 affidavit from Thomas L. Cole, given before W.C. Davis of Redfield, stating that performed the marriage on 9 December 1869 as j.p. for Grant County. Finally, on 10 June 1895, E.F. Messenger, Grant County clerk, filed a clerk of court’s certificate stating that Squire Thomas L. Cole was a j.p. in Grant County on 8-9 December 1869, and Squire Cole had testified that he married soldier and claimant on 8 or 9 December 1869.