I originally drafted this post for use on Valentine’s Day. But I’ve had my head buried in so many projects this year (beyond Jordan’s Journey) that the writing and research simply didn’t get done in time. Rather than wait until next year, I thought I would finish this and post it now. After all, every day is a day to celebrate love, not just Valentine’s Day, right?
When it comes to genealogy, I’ve often wondered about my ancestors… what were their romances like? How did couples court each other “back in the day?” In our age of speed dating and online matchmaking, things look pretty different for us than they did for our ancestors. Unfortunately, our research often doesn’t shed any light on these questions.
Or does it?
Studying the pages of old local newspapers gives us a few clues here…
News reports of social visits often foreshadowed marriages. An item in the Summerville News from 14 Jun 1893 notes, “T.H. [Thomas Henry] Scoggins spent last Sunday evening at B.F. Dunaways” (Grigsby). It’s such a simple sentence, and it’s funny to think it was newsworthy. But people back then were just as interested in each other’s going-ons as we are today. Why do you think Facebook is so popular?
Thomas Henry Scoggins was the son of Thomas Newton Scoggins and Evaline Clarissa Lawrence and the grandson of William Delaney Scoggins (my 3rd great-grandfather). Less than a year after spending Sunday with the Dunaways–no doubt courting B.F.’s daughter–Thomas Scoggins married Etna Dunaway on 3 Nov 1894. This romance ends in tragedy as Etna’s obituary marks her death on Christmas Day, 1895, leaving Thomas behind with an infant daughter (Grigsby).
Another case like this was reported in the Summerville News on 30 Jun 1904: “Arthur Scoggins and Miss. Mollie Mills spent Saturday night with the Misses Keith’s near Trans” (Grigsby). Mr. Scoggins and Ms. Mills would later marry. James Arthur Scoggins is a son of William Wiley Scoggins and Susan Bagwell and a grandson of Levi Sanford Scoggins (brother of the above William Delaney Scoggins). Mary Mollie Mills is a granddaughter of Hugh Milton Mills and Sarah Lawrence (from the same Lawrence family I descend from).
Sometimes, the news items reveal even less, mentioning only one person by name, such as this entry from 28 Feb 1900 in the Summerville News: “Mr. Horace Barbour visited his best girl here [in Haywood Valley] Sunday” (Grigsby).
Ok… so even at their most revealing, many details are left to our imagination. I’ll give you that. But there are other ways to explore your family’s romantic past.
In the case of more recent ancestors, photos may provide the glimpse into the past you need. The shot at the top of the page is of my parents, high school sweethearts, at the LaFayette High School senior prom in 1966. They’ve been a couple ever since those high school days–a true love story, if there ever was one.
Family ephemera can give an exciting glimpse into the past, too. This Valentine’s Day card is from the Flossie McGregor Love scrapbook. Mrs. Love was a lifelong resident of Villanow and compiled a scrapbook collecting a variety of newspaper clippings of both national and local interest. She also collected other clippings and ephemera, such as this Valentine’s Day card. It doesn’t reveal anything of immediate general genealogical value. But it’s an exciting glimpse into the past. Dated 1939, the Valentine is not romantic but an expression of platonic love sent to Mrs. Love from Marjorie Kay Buck, daughter of famed radio personality “Cousin” Louis Buck. The scrapbook doesn’t reveal whether the Bucks knew the Loves personally or corresponded with them as fans. But either way, it’s an interesting expression of platonic love. It might seem mundane, but when you stop and think about it, who even sends Valentine’s cards anymore? Looking at a Valentine relic from 1939 seems a bit more unique then.
And, perhaps most importantly, don’t forget those family myths and legends. You may not have a way to back up these stories–or you may find documentation that makes you doubt the story as it has been told. But it’s all part of the game, and even these stories are part of your trip into the past.
In the end, yes, it can be a challenge to learn much about our ancestors’ romantic lives. But never underestimate the power of minute details. One tiny bit of information is often all you need to unravel the rest of the story. Don’t be afraid to let your imagination join the fun when all else fails. I’ve spent countless hours wondering how various ancestors lived out their love lives: the romance, the drama, the sex (yes, our ancestors were as randy as we are today–don’t fall into the trap of romanticizing a “purer” time before us)! The experience of love is a gift, and this is a part of our past that is too beautiful to let it be forgotten.
Valentine’s Day the next time you think of your friends, family, and lovers… remember your ancestors, too. For, in the end, love is all you need.
Special thanks to Nelda Scoggin Reynolds for her ongoing assistance in working with the Grigsby transcriptions, helping to unravel new connections, and identifying people in the tree.
Grigsby, David & Delores, comp. Summerville News 1891-1903. This document was dictated from copies of the Summerville News on microfilm at the Summerville Library in 1987 and later transcribed.
Love, Flossie McGregor, comp. Scrapbook containing newspaper clippings and other ephemera documenting events and people of the Armuchee Valley and surrounding regions and items of national importance. Compiled circa 1940’s and 1960’s. Collection of Jim Pope.