- [S9] Smoky Mountain Historical Society Newsletter, Smoky Mountain Historical Society.
Confessions of a Southern Yankee/Hi Cuz
In The Beginning
This is a story, a true story, about a hanging, about a family lost, about a new family found, and it’s also a love story. At the end some of you may be a part of it.
This story begins with a 14 year old boy-----who lived up north in a big city. He was standing in his front yard looking up at the clear midnight sky. The crisp night air was filled with the sounds of exploding fireworks, horns blowing, and neighbors yelling, “Happy New Year.” ------------------------1943 was born.
The lad’s thoughts turned to a Christmas gift his parents had given him-------a leather bound autograph book. He would use it for collecting autographs from his classmates who, at the end of January, would all graduate from 8th grade. The custom of mid year graduations is still practiced in many big cities.
He thought about what his mother had written as the first to sign his book. “Hitch your wagon to a star, crack the whip, and there you are.”
Looking at the stars he wondered where he would be next New Years Eve----- where he would be ten years down the road, and being of a girl minded age ----he thought to himself , “Somewhere out in this big world is the girl I am going to marry. I wonder who she is and where she is at this very moment.” He seemed sure that girl would be from some other state-------but where?
Springtime--------two years later a new girl came into his Sunday school class. “Wow!” This lad thought to himself, “What a cute chick. And wow again, listen to her southern drawl and how she rolled her eyes at us guys. How lucky could we all be?”
He soon learned she came from Atlanta Georgia. A real ‘Georgia Peach’. His goal? -----To win over that “peach” as his “steady”. Perhaps she was that lifetime partner. The pursuit was on and shortly he won out over the other guys.
All went well until for some reason that southern gal suddenly dumped him. Maybe she was mad because he wouldn’t give her a “good night kiss” after each date. Since her father was a theologian on the faculty of the nearby McCormick Theological Seminary, he was afraid she would tell “daddy” that the fresh kid had kissed her. What an embarrassment. How would he explain? What would his family think? What would the church think? No way was he going to disgrace anyone for a kiss. How times have changed since the mid 1940s.
That lad was so crushed by the jilting that he swore to never again let a “Southern Belle” turn his head. So severe was the jilting that for the next two years he stopped dating.
World War II
World War II was hard on this lad’s paternal grandfather who had come from Germany in 1892. “Grandpop”, as he was called, only kept in touch with his sister, Marie, who lived in Dresden Germany.
During the war, letters seldom came. When they did come, Grandpop would translate them with the teenager listening intensely. One day the radio blared that the city of Dresden had been blown off the map by the allies and many were killed. No more mail came from Marie. Two weeks later Grandpop died in his sleep.
By New Years 1948 he was back into the dating game. Then with school about to let out for the summer he was eager to get a job and of course make up for lost time with the young ladies. But not so fast,--- his mother had a great idea. Reservations had been made at a hotel in Gatlinburg Tennessee near some mountains. Dad was all for it-------but not that young man.
How awful. All the good summer jobs would be gone by the time he got back. On the other hand it might not be such a bad deal. Being city bound most of his life; he had never been away from home except years before to Grandpop’s summer cottage in the woods at Spring Lake, Michigan. And having never seen a mountain except in picture books or movies, this might be neat.
Getting to that place named Gatlinburg was not simple. Since his parents had no car it was left to the Greyhound and Trailways bus companies to do the driving. The night before leaving he got home around 3 am after taking one of his girl friends to her senior prom, borrowing her dad’s car. So he was not in a very chipper mood as they left that northern city at 9:30 am.
After bus changes at Indianapolis and Cincinnati they pulled into the last large city named Knoxville. There they transferred to a Trailways bus and headed for Gatlinburg. As the bus came over a crest in the road suddenly the father and his son’s breaths were taken away---when from the front seats---opposite the driver----they had their first view of the Great Smoky Mountains. Why----there were mountains of big mountains. Wow!!
Catching The Love Bug, Again
A travel weary family stepped off the bus at Steele’s Drug Store and lugged their baggage up the street to a place called The New Riverside Hotel, and checked in about 11 am. Lunchtime they dragged themselves in to the dining room and were promptly seated for the first of a week’s meals. Up comes this young petite waitress who stands at attention, puts her hands behind her back, and recites the menu. After the order was given she walks off without writing it down.
“Well,” he half-heartedly jested to himself, “never saw this before. Either this hotel can’t afford order books of they can’t write here in the south”. He still wasn’t in a good mood.
Still smarting over having to come to Gatlinburg and missing the gals up north he starts checking out the girl territory in the dining room which consisted of about six to eight waitresses of all sizes and shapes. Nothing to brag about to the guys back home, except maybe “his” waitress. Besides he had already learned the hard way to stay away from those southern gals.
What a boring week this was going to be. The biggest excitement he found was sitting in the creaking rocking chairs on the front porch------rocking away amidst the gossip of the senior citizens who seemed to be the only guests at the hotel. What a bore--- bore--- bore.
The only salvation occurred three times a day when luckily that same sweet gal always waited their table-----and----- with each passing day he couldn’t wait for the next meal to come----not that he was particularly hungry ------but------because each time that petite young lady got prettier and prettier. She was actually “cute,” and that southern Tennessee drawl seemed more enchanting than the Atlanta, Georgia, drawl.
It got to the point where after meals he’d sit in the hotel’s backyard waiting for the waitresses to walk by on their way to the dormitory the New Riverside had to house the girls. Hopefully his waitress would stop and chat a bit----which she usually did-----but only briefly. She was playing, hard to catch.
Quickly came the bitter end. His last night in Gatlinburg. What would he do? How would he be able to get better acquainted with the girl who was increasingly turning his head, and maybe his heart?
That last night-----Saturday night----started horribly. She wasn’t around after dinner. Without seeming too obvious he got up the courage to ask one of the girls where she was. The reply was that, “She’s out with her boyfriend.”
“A boyfriend!’ he thought, “How could she?” It never dawned on him that she’d have a boy friend. So the only thing to do was wait in the lobby and hope she would come through on her way to the dorm. Hopefully no boy friend would be in tow----and hopefully not so late that she wouldn’t stay up to talk a bit.
He was relieved when she came in the lobby---- alone---- about 11:30. She coyly wandered in his direction. A conversation was struck up and that started it---------sparks must have been flying.
By midnight the desk clerk, another waitress and these two “newly acquainted” were playing the card game of “Hearts.” All during the games “he” and “she” were playing footsy under the table until the other waitress decided to call it quits around 5 am.
Who won at the game of Hearts?----who cared? The real winners of the hearts were these two young lovers, although they didn’t yet fully realize it.
As breakfast ended that last morning they exchanged addresses with the promise to write. When he got home a day later the first letter had been written. It was promptly answered. Thus began a courtship by mail. Winter vacation she visited him in the big city and during the summers he would visit her in Tennessee.
On August 25, 1950 they were married by Rev. Joel Carr, in the Pigeon Forge Baptist Church. The Maid of Honor was Ruth Shields Ownby who along with her husband, Estel Ownby, sponsored the wedding. Their sweet six year old daughter, Sarah, was the flower girl. The bride was escorted down the aisle by her brother, Claude Shields. And away the bride went to that big windy city, Chicago, to start a new life. And the groom gained a wonderful family of in-laws which he came to love dearly.
As many of you know or have already figured out----I am the lucky guy that came to Gatlinburg in 1948 to meet that delightful young lady, Jeanette Lee Clabo (Shields), who is still my bride of more than fifty years.
Losing A Family
Now let’s jump forward to the early 1980’s. My parents had retired to Florida. On one visitation mother gave me a letter written in 1945 after World War II from my great aunt Marie to Grandpop. In German-----it had never been translated. Enclosed was genealogy of the von Beschwitz family going back to the early 1700’s.
I was born a Beckwith. My father changed his name from von Beschwitz since it was difficult for others to spell correctly on legal papers and he wanted a more American sounding name. Not an unusual practice, even today.
To be sure the precious genealogy information would not be lost I made three copies at work, one for each of our three sons. Then off I drove to Peoria, Illinois, on a very cold February day to a three day business conference. The brief case, containing various documents along with the genealogy, was left in the car. Returning to the car three days later I found it had been broken into and the brief case was gone. Original copy and the three extras. Gone---Gone---Gone.
After getting a translation of the letter, Marie had informed Grandpop that the family was living out in the country when Dresden was bombed, and all were safe. But the von Beschwitz name may have come to an end since the remaining men had died of old age, were not married, to old to start families or were killed in the war.
Having learned this some 40 years after the fact, who would I write for another copy of the von Beschwitz genealogy? It was still gone.
This infuriated our youngest son, David, who was determined to find that family somewhere. Thus he embarked upon a mission of building the genealogical tree from both his dad’s and his mother’s side. Never again was the family going to get lost.
Finding his mother’s Tennessee roots was not difficult because they are so deep and there are so many, even in this room today.
The genealogy of my grandparents was almost as easy. My maternal and paternal grandmothers and an aunt had all kept good records. But on my German ancestry----it was a big blank past “Grandpop”.
David was still determined to find a link with Germany. With the use of the Internet he began building and expanding, line by line, the genealogy. Except--- for that name of von Beschwitz. Even the Latter Day Saints data base in Salt Lake City turned up nothing. Result, FAMILY LOST.
As David got deeper into genealogy some interesting things began to come up. One evening he phoned and said, “Dad, guess what? I found some smut on the family.” Now this sounded kinda interesting.
“Dad, your great great grandmother, eight generations removed, on July 19, 1692----was hung----in Salem, Massachusetts.” Rebecca Towne Nurse was one of the first to be hung during the Salem witch trials. She was a 72 year old invalid who had to be carried to the trials. But that’s another story except to say that after more than 300 years her home is still standing as a historical landmark in Danvers Massachusetts.
An Amazing Discovery
In March of 1994 David learned about a new search engine on the Internet which was supposed to be the best yet. So about 11 o’clock one evening he types in the name of “von Beschwitz” and low and behold, up comes the name of an Esther von Beschwitz, a student at the University of Toronto in Canada. He quickly bangs out email----but let’s hear about it from David as this story is posted on his web-page.
“Quickly, I shot off a message to the address explaining what little I knew about my Beschwitz ancestry and how the precious ancestry was lost. My heart quickly raced with anticipation of a response. I then went to Who is Where <http://query1.whowhere.com/jwz/name.wsrch?name=von+beschwitz&org=&match=inexact>to see what I could find on this e-mail address and found the following eloquent entry:
"I am studying at the moment at the University of Toronto, until I move to Germany in July. There I will attend the University of Bonn at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. Being the child of a Diplomat, I have been around half the world, including the States, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Iceland, and now Canada. I have met many important political figures and am therefore very interested in history and world politics. As my journey in life goes on, I am awaiting many more challenges and adventures. I encourage everybody to travel and to see the world, because only then you will be able to recognize the significance of other nation's culture's and ideals and will be able to expand your knowledge and morals in general."
“Before I finished reading this entry, my computer barked, "You've got mail.” Quickly, I opened my mail program and there appeared a message with a subject line that will forever be etched in my memory: "Hello lost cousin!” I was so excited I let out a shout that caused my wife to come running fearing I was hurt.
Evidently, my search paled when compared to my German cousins. They were searching for our family for fifty years making seven trips to the States. They knew my father's name and birth date but the change to the "Americanized" and more common Beckwith name complicated the search.”
While another story unto itself let it be said that our new found German connection came down here, and along with our sons and their families and Tennessee family we had a good old southern type “reunion” picnic. And the German genealogy was restored.
A New Family
David’s passion for connecting his families together resulted in his setting up a genealogical web page on the Internet. Named the Smoky Mountain Ancestral Quest, it began as a project to identify Jeanette‘s ancestors.
He started recording every name that had a connection. He soon realized, that this project was developing into more than just genealogy research. He was recording the Smoky Mountain culture and linking it all together. He came to the realization that much of the unique culture was disappearing.
In May of 1995, David attended a McMahan reunion at the Blue Mountain Mist Inn. He brought with him printed copies of what he had on Archibald McMahan <http://smokykin.com/mcmahan.htm>'s descendants. Soon he was getting barraged with requests for this document, but he only printed 17 and found it economically and logistically unfeasible to publish more. He posted it on his first genealogy web page. The response was overwhelming with a new cousin contacting him on a weekly basis.
The web site now contains 65,565 entries and is visited daily by over 100 visitors who upload more than 10 megabytes of data. He gets, on average, over 40 queries and connects with 2 new cousins a day. His personal home computer now has nearly 92,000 entries and grows daily.
Knowing the importance of Internet communication, David volunteered to set up a web page for this society. The SMHS Board accepted his offer. I recommend both of these Internet sites to your viewing. The Internet address for the SMHS is found on the title page of our Journal.
On November 23, 1996 David attached a counter to both his Ancestral Page and the SMHS page. Every time someone visits the page a record is kept which can be found at the bottom of the home page . As of my preparing this presentation the SMHS site has been visited over 55,000 times, and the Ancestral page more than 255,000 times.
My New Family
Now comes the most unusual part of this story-------the discovery of a family totally new to me. As I said earlier, I am privileged to have the greatest in-law family possible. I love every one of them. But that is a family by marriage----by law----thus in-law. But not by blood, Or at least so I thought.
David placed his entire genealogy data base on my computer. While exploring through it one day I found a menu button which said, Relationship Calculator. I quickly discovered that when I entered two names------if they had a connection in the data base-------the program would find it and tell me what the relationship was. So being bold I put in my wife’s name and my name. It worked! The program said, “THEY ARE SPOUSES.” What a wonderful discovery!
But a moment later it changed and said, “Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith and Jeanette Lee Clabo are 26th cousins 1 time removed. Their common ancestors are Henry Prince Of Earl of and Ada De Warenne (Warren).”
What a mind blower!! My wife was my cousin!! Sure glad she was distant!
Many of you will recall that the Society’s September 2000 picnic was moved to a different Sunday to join with the annual convention of the National Society of Ogle Families which met that year in Gatlinburg. Since Jeanette is related to the Ogles we felt a special reason to attend.
About a half-hour before going I sat down at the computer to see if I were related to William “Billy” Ogle who was touted by the National Society as the key descendant. Another mind blower!!! It said he and I were also distant cousins. Excited with this discovery I began over the next few days and again before this story to hunt up as many of the historical family names in Sevier county that I could think of. Maybe they too are my cousins. Of course for those of us who believe in the literal translation of the bible we are all cousins starting with Adam an Eve.
I have cousins galore in this Smoky Mountain Country. What did my mother instinctively know when she insisted we come to Gatlinburg in 1948. What if some other waitress had been assigned to our dining table? What if that waitress didn’t come in to the lobby that last night and played “Hearts” till 5 am? What if the von Beschwitz genealogy had not been stolen and David did not get interested in genealogy?
The world is filled with what if’s--- I like to think the good lord was shining down on me that night in 1943 when I looked up to the stars and recalled what my mother had written,
“Hitch your wagon to a Star, Crack the whip and there you are.”
The whip was cracked and here we are this afternoon-----I would like to introduce to you some more distant cousins of my new family. But I’m not sure which of you to introduce first so you will have to help me out------
If you or your parents, grandparents have any of the last names I will share with you would you please stand. These are some of the names I found related to me as distant cousins.
Robert James "Bob" Parton and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 7 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Aileen Whaley and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 2 times removed.
Roy Glenn Cardwell and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 4 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Edith Faye Huskey and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 6 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Otha Estel "Estel" Ownby and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 4 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Belle Whaley and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 5 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Westley O. Reagan and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 2 times removed.
Louisa Watson and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 3 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Martha Geraline "Gerri" King and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 4 times removed.
Jeanette Lee Clabo and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 5 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Charles Ernest Maples and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 4 times removed.
Claude Edward Galyon and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 6 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Donald Jack Brackins and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 4 times removed.
Robin Charles Smelcer and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 5 times removed.
Amos McCarter and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 5 times removed. Their common ancestors are William II De Warenne (Warren) [Earl of Surrey] and Isabel Elizabeth De Vermandois.
Arra Examine Trentham and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 2 times removed.
Albert Newton Huff and Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith are 27th cousins 2 times removed.
Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith and William B. Ogle are 24th cousins 3 times removed.
Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith and William H. Bohanan are 27th cousins 2 times removed.
Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith and Joel Carr [Rev.] are 27th cousins 3 times removed.
Robert Milton "Bob" Beckwith and Aaron A. Proffitt are 25th cousins 1 time removed. Their common ancestors are Henry Prince Of Earl of and Ada De Warenne (Warren).
(Of 46 persons present more than half stood up. Some persons could claim more than one family name.)
- [S116] Birth Certificate.
Name Robert Milton Beckwith
Event Type Birth
Event Date 09 Jul 1928
Event Place Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States
Registration Date 19 Jul 1928
Registration Place , Cook, Illinois
Father's Name Milton Miles Beckwith
Father's Birthplace Chicago Illinois
Father's Age 26
Father's Estimated Birth Year 1902
Mother's Name Marjorie Mateer
Mother's Birthplace Joliet Illinois
Mother's Age 24
Mother's Estimated Birth Year 1904
Certificate Number 30899
- [S112] Census, 1930.
name: Robert M Beckwith
event date: 1930
event place: , Cook, Illinois
marital status: Single
estimated birth year: 1929
relationship to head of household: Son
father's birthplace: Illinois
mother's birthplace: Illinois
enumeration district number:
family number: 377
sheet number and letter: 17A
line number: 41
film number: 2340229
digital folder number: 4584295
image number: 00290
Household Gender Age Birthplace
head Milton M Beckwith M 28 Illinois
wife Marjorie Beckwith F 26 Illinois
son Robert M Beckwith M 1 Illinois
- [S112] Census, 1940.
name: Robert Beckwith
titles & terms:
event year: 1940
event place: Ward 44, Chicago, Chicago City, Cook, Illinois, United States
marital status: Single
race (standardized): White
relationship to head of household (original):
relationship to head of household (standardized): Son
estimated birth year: 1929
residence in 1935: Same Place
enumeration district number: 103-2799
family number: 65
sheet number and letter: 61A
line number: 24
nara publication number: T627
nara roll number: 1009
digital folder number: 005459765
image number: 00681
Household Gender Age Birthplace
head George Von Besch Wetz M 73 Germany
wife Maude Von Besch Wetz F 68 New York
son Willard Von Besch Wetz M 36 Illinois
son George Beckwith M 32 Illinois
son Milton Beckwith M 38 Illinois
wife Majorie Beckwith F 36 Illinois
son Robert Beckwith M 11 Illinois
- [S58] Marriage Certificate.
29362 ROBERT MILTON BECKWITH JUANITA LU CLABO