Archive for September, 2002

The Unmarked Graves

Sunday, September 29th, 2002

In an old cemetery in the Wichita County, Texas town of Iowa Park, there is a family plot with one marker on it and at least five burials in our six grave spaces. There are three children buried there in Highland Cemetery and two, perhaps three, adults. I’m pretty sure I know who five of those buried there are, and it hurts my heart to think of all but one of the graves being unmarked. That’s something I am determined to change.

The marked grave is that of Sammie Cottrell. This little boy was born on May 5, 1887, and died on April 11, 1892. He was not yet five years old. Had he lived, he would have been an older brother to my grandfather, Clay Rex Cottrell, who was born in Iowa Park in 1898. Their parents were Martin Gilbert Cottrell (1855-1946) and Mattie H. Johnson Cottrell (1858-1912).

Another grave I am sure of is that of Ruth Marie Cottrell. This little girl was born on August 12, 1917, and died on February 22, 1918. She was the firstborn child of Clay Rex Cottrell (1898-1970) and Opal Robertson
Cottrell (1898-1995). Had she lived, she would have been the oldest sister to my mother, Hazel (“Totsy”) Cottrell Geissler (1926-1999).

The third child, I believe, is yet another firstborn. Clay’s sister Nettie and her husband H. Dixon Holley are on the 1910 Wichita County census with their daughter Myrtle, then aged one. Among the questions asked on that census is how long the couple had been married (four years) and how many children a mother had and how many were still living. Nettie answered that she had had two babies; only one was still alive. So there is yet another Cottrell family firstborn gone. And there is a death record on file in Iowa Park for “Mary Holly” who died in November of 1907.

And still another firstborn accounts for one of the adult burials there in that plot. There were five girls born to Martin Gilbert and Mattie Cottrell who lived to adulthood: Effalie, Nettie, Addie, Theo and Maude. Effalie was born on November 6, 1875, and there is a marriage record for Effalie and Hinton Snoddy in Wichita County on May 5, 1898. And then on June 21-22, 1900, there was a census taken in Wichita County, as elsewhere around the United States. Hinton Snoddy is then a 30-year-old widower, living with his mother and siblings. The family story is that Effie died of typhoid as a young bride. Our family records show Effie was buried in the family plot.

And a likely candidate for another adult grave is Louisa Baker Cottrell, born in May 1833. She married G.W. Cottrell, and gave birth to six children — including Martin Gilbert Cottrell and his sister Mary E. Cottrell, who
married John H. Green. Louisa is last seen in the census records in 1910, living with the Greens in Wichita County.

My cousin Mary… my aunt Ruth… my great uncle Sammie… my great aunt Effie… my great great grandmother Louisa. My roots.

None of them will lie in unmarked graves for long. That much, I promise.

Cousin Judy!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2002

And we’ve found another Judy in the Cottrell family! I’m so excited! I had a long telephone call this morning from my second cousin, Judy Pilcher, daughter of Ruby Hodges Straughn and granddaughter of Theo Cottrell Hodges. (And I apologize in advance if I have her father’s name wrong!) Theo (called Aunt Tedd) and my grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell were sister and brother. Judy has much of the family history from her mother and
grandmother and has already started to send photos and other information along. Since my grandfather Clay was the youngest, he didn’t have the same exposure to the history as his older sisters did, and finding Judy and her information is like finding treasure. And she was so surprised and delighted to find she had so many cousins! All the other Cottrell children had one child or two, three at the most. And then along come my
grandparents with their 12 children, raising 10 to adulthood.

We’re so glad to have found you, Judy. Welcome “back”!

Cousin Fred!

Sunday, September 22nd, 2002

We’ve found my mother’s cousin Fred Gottlieb! She always spoke so warmly and lovingly of this tall handsome man who cut short his own honeymoon so he could walk her down the aisle. But we’d lost touch over the years and when I started doing the family tree research, I had no idea where he was. I’d posted a bunch of messages on and looking for info on the family but, until this week, hadn’t gotten any response.

But on Monday I got a response to a message asking about my great grandfather M.G. Cottrell from a woman asking if I knew anything about a Totsy Cottrell who was a member of that family. Do I!!! Totsy was my mother’s nickname! I shot back an immediate reply and asked the woman what her connection was with the family. Her reply was to ask if my mother had been married in Golden, Colorado, in the chapel of the Colorado School of Mines. (My father was an assistant professor there at the time.) By this point I was burning with curiosity and my cousin Paula and I went trolling for info. Turns out the woman — Karen Perce — had posted in the Gottlieb family forums, and I figured she had to be connected to cousin Fred. I was right! She’s a friend and Fred had asked her to see if she could find anything about the family.

We’re all delighted to have made the contact. Paula and I are printing out photos and info for Fred and exchanging info with Karen. And to show him just what he meant to my mother, I will be able to give him copies of the telegrams she kept for more than 50 years — his telegrams to her saying he would walk her down the aisle and to please make him a hotel reservation in Denver. Thanks, Karen…

The lost art of letter-writing

Saturday, September 14th, 2002

I have just spent the last couple of hours reading through letters my late mother saved over the years. Letters from her parents, her sisters, her brothers, cards and notes from nieces and nephews and children and even one old card from her grandmother.

And I started thinking about how we seem to have lost the art of letter-writing in this day and age of the telephone and the computer and what that may mean in terms of history lost.

There is so much in those letters which is folksy and mundane… one day my grandmother wrote that she loved vegetables in their season but felt that the tomatos that year had had all too long a season (and then noting in a parenthetical that the fact that she had canned 90 quarts of tomatos the day before might have something to do with her attitude). There’s quite a bit that’s silly (my grandfather complaining that he was “disgustingly sober” since my grandmother had taken to hiding his “little bottle”). And even some that’s catty (certain of the ex-wives of certain of my uncles were definitely not popular…)

But there is so much there as well that tells private stories of grace and courage and generosity and wisdom. I am particularly awed by letters in 1967-68 from my mother’s eldest sister, my aunt Cladyne, as her husband, my uncle Barrett, descended further and further from an inoperable brain tumor and as she then learned to live without him. Her courage and her grace are in no way diminished by the pain and anguish that comes through in those letters. I have always known she was an amazing lady. I am all the more amazed as I have the opportunity to know more of her though the medium of these letters.

And it makes me wonder just what our children will know of us in the years and generations to come. Will they know of our triumphs and achievements, of our crises and pain, of our courage and our drudgery… or will they see nothing more than a few snippets in the Internet shorthand of “how r u 2day?” I hope it’s the former and, who knows…? maybe it will be in part the blogs like this that create a different kind of record to be passed on and learned from…