December 28, 2014

The Chosen Ones of Family History

James Luther Smith (seated; left)
Henrietta D. Smith (seated; center)
Mary Virginia "Mollie" Blackman Steele (standing; left)

The following poem was originally written by Della M. Cummings Wright circa 1943.  It was re-told by her granddaughter, Della JoAnn McGinnis Johnson.  Below is my adaptation of The Chosen Ones.

The Chosen Ones

In each family there is one who is called to find the Ancestors.
To make them live again.  To tell of their family story.
To feel that somehow they know and approve.

Researching family history is not a cold gathering of facts.
It is breathing life into all who have gone before.
Those who have gone before cry out to us.  Tell our story.  Remember who we were.
In finding them, we find ourselves.

It goes beyond just documenting facts or endless hours of research.
It goes to awe in what our ancestors were able to accomplish.
It goes to thankfulness in how they contributed to what we are today.
It goes to respecting their hardships and losses.
It goes to honoring their perseverance to continue on and build a life for their family.
It goes to pride that they fought to make and keep us a Nation. 
It goes to a deep and immense understanding that they were doing it for us so that we might be born who we are.

That we might remember them.
We are them and they are us.

I have gazed upon the graves of my ancestors.
I have felt the connection between us.
I am telling the story of our family history.
I am one of the chosen ones.
I have answered the call.

It will now be up to the chosen one in the next generation to answer the call.
To step up and continue to tell the history of our family.

December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David
 a savior 
which is Christ the Lord
Luke 2:11

December 23, 2014

Tuesday's Tune - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie back in the 1930s.  Over the years, many different singers have recorded this old time favorite including the Harry Reser Band with Tom Stacks, Tommy Dorsey and Orchestra, Perry Como, The Four Seasons, and Bruce Springsteen.

It was first sung on the Eddie Cantor show in November of 1934 when my mother was eight years old. She loved this Christmas song and sang it to each of my children when they were little.

The version below is one of the oldest and was perhaps one the versions my mother listened to as a young girl.

Christmas 1980

Christmas 1989

December 21, 2014

Sunday's Obituary - Katherine Weeks Barlow

Monroe News Star - 3/27/1959

Mary Katherine Weeks

Born on June 25, 1937

Daughter of
James David Weeks, Jr. and Lillie Casey

Sister to
Lena, Leroy, Johnnie, Maxine, James David, III, Sylena,
George, Claudie, Elva, Casey, and Grady

Husband of
George Barlow

Mother to
George, Jr. and Chester

Died on March 26, 1959
Buried in the New Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

December 19, 2014

December 18, 2014

Thankful Thursday - My Father's Childhood Friend

As most of you know, my goal in establishing this blog was to capture the history of the "old families" from Sicily Island and surrounding communities.  Two of the old families were the Seal family and the Bourke family.

On Monday, December 15, I received word of the passing of Ouida Seal Bourke.

Ouida Seal Bourke - photograph by Amber Bourke Martin

Ouida was born on December 7, 1925 to the marriage of Alvin Lewis Seal and Olga Laura Knight. Her younger sisters were Juanita, Patsy Ann and Carolyn.

She and her sister, Juanita, were close friends of my father.  He spoke of them often with fond memories of their childhood growing up on the Island.

Ouida married Charles "Moe" Bourke who was the son of Elijah Bourke and Ida Mae Ford.  From this marriage five children were born; Linda, Becky, David, Jonnie and Glenn.

I met Ouida one time back in the fall of 1972 when my parents and I traveled to the Baton Rouge area for a high school football playoff game.  We stopped by her and Moe's house before the game for a short visit.

During the process of transcribing my father's cassette tapes made back in the early 1990s, I found story after story after story mentioning Ouida and Juanita.  Last year I found Ouida on Facebook and sent her a friend request.  We messaged back and forth several times and enjoyed discussing her (and my father's) memories of what Sicily Island was like back in the 1930s and 1940s.

She shared the following photograph with me and allowed me to include it in a post about Whitlock's Barbershop.

Whitlock's Barbershop - Courtesy of Ouida Seal Bourke

One of the last messages she left for me was about a recent trip I had made back home.  She said she wished we could visit in person and talk about her memories of my father and Sicily Island.

Although we never had the chance to visit in person, I am thankful for the opportunity I had to share some memories with one of my father's closest childhood friends.

From the online edition of The Advocate in Baton Rouge:
"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."  Matthew 25:21.
Ouida Seal Bourke, age 89, passed away at The Carpenter House on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. She was born Dec. 7, 1925 in Sicily Island, LA and resided in Central, LA.  Ouida was a graduate of Sicily Island High School and LSU and was a member of Magnolia United Methodist Church and the Magnolia Methodist Ladies Prayer Group.  She loved to cook and enjoyed spending time with her family and friends.  
Ouida is survived by her five children, Linda DeLee and husband, Jimmy, Becky Watson and husband, Mike, David Bourke and wife, DeeDee, Jonnie Bourke, and Glenn Bourke and wife Allison; 13 grandchildren; and 21 great-grandchildren.  She is also survived by her sisters, Juanita Nolan and Carolyn Barbay; brother-in-law, Vernon Dennis; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Ouida was preceded in death by her husband of 62 years, Charles "Moe" Bourke; parents, Alvin and Olga Seal; and sister, Patsy Dennis.  
Visitation will be held at Magnolia United Methodist Church, Greenwell Springs, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 18 and from 10 a.m. until services at 12 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 19.

December 15, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - The Stories That Should Be Told, Part 66

The following transcription is from a series of recordings my father made in the early 1990s:
One day back in about 1934, Ouida Seal was going up to spend the day with Nellie [Ballard] Chisum and she wanted me to go along with her.  “Miss Nellie” was married to Big Walling Chisum.  
Ouida Seal Bourke
Photograph by granddaughter, Amber Bourke Martin
She was Ouida’s great aunt through her mother, Olga Knight Seal.  Big Walling and Miss Nellie lived a couple of miles up the road towards Wisner on what we called the Green Place. 
I don’t remember how we got up there but somebody took us.  
“Miss Nellie” had a hammock in her yard.  One end was tied to a tree and the other end was tied to a post.  There was a long rope tied on another tree off in the distance from the hammock.  The other end of the long rope laid across the hammock.  When you got ready to swing, you would just pull on the rope.
That was the first hammock I had seen rigged up that way and to tell the truth, I don’t think I have seen one like that since then.
Old Folks…
Miss Nellie was about fifty-five years old when Ouida and I visited her and saw that hammock.  At the time, we considered that as old.  It doesn’t seem that old to me now being as I’m looking at sixty-five next June.  
In 1934 my mother would have been thirty-four years old.  I’m sitting here now thirty years older than my mother was at that particular time.
It’s funny how the older you get your definition of "old" changes.  I think of so many people who I looked upon as old people.  
Uncle Wes Ogden, who was married to my Aunt Dick [Lucille Steele Ogden], died when he was about fifty-seven years old.  I remember him as an old man.  
Grandpa Steele died at sixty-four and I thought he was old, old.
I remember as children a bunch of us boys and girls were up at Rufus Knight’s filling station back in about 1935.  It had to have been in the wintertime because we were closed up inside the station.  We were all talking and some girl told us she was nine years old.  Somebody else was eleven.  Seems like I was about eight years old at the time. 
One of the little girls asked Mr. Rufus how old he was.  He said, “Twenty-nine.”  I remember I just couldn’t believe anybody was twenty-nine years old.  Twenty-nine years old!  I remember thinking how long it would be before I was that old.  Heck, I’m a good bit more than twice that old now.
Milk Cows and Bitter Weed…
In the late Spring or early Summer, the cows would get in bitter weed as they were grazing.  The bitter weed would just ruin the milk.  One of the most disappointing things was taking a big swig from a glass of milk only to discover the milk cow had been grazing in bitter weed.  
Courtesy of Bayou Momma Photography

As a young boy, I drank milk like most people drank water.  Nothing was better than a cold glass of milk.  I’d come inside hungry and thirsty from playing and make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I would reach into the icebox and grab the cold milk and pour me a big glass of it.  After taking a bite of my sandwich I would take a big swig of cold milk.
When the milk turned out to be bitter I would just be furious.  I’d even blame the ole milk cows!  My mother always laughed at me when I got mad at the milk cows. 
Worse than that?  I remember the time we made some homemade ice cream.  No one realized the milk was bitter.  That was the most awful tasting ice cream I had ever eaten!
Hoe Cakes…
Julia Rogers
Julia Rogers worked for my mother for years.  Every morning at about 9:30 or 10:00, Julia would make a hoe cake.  Anybody around who knew Julia was making hoe cakes would happen to stop by about that time. 
Hoe cakes were made by mixing a cup of plain flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a half a teaspoon of salt together.  A heaping tablespoon of lard was cut into the flour mixture before adding milk or butter milk.  You would add the milk slowly until the mixture could be made into a ball of dough. 
After rolling out the dough to the size of hoe cake you wanted, you would place it in a big cast iron skillet that had been coated with a little bacon grease.  
My wife, Mildred, still makes hoe cakes and I love them!

Note:  Parts 1-65 of 'The Stories That Should Be Told' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of the blog.

December 14, 2014

Sunday's Obituary - O. G. Wynn, Sr.

Monroe News Star - 10/14/1969

Ota Gilbert Wynn, Sr.

Born on April 18, 1885

Son of
Edmund "Edgar" Wynn and Lillie Belle Hellums

Husband of
Kate Ward

Father to
Hazel, O. G., Jr., Coy and Winnie

Died on October 14, 1969
Buried in the Old Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

December 13, 2014

December 12, 2014

December 10, 2014

Wednesday's Child - Lucy Amelia Doniphan

Lucy Amelia Doniphan

Born on February 21, 1870

Daughter of
Dr. Henry Slaughter Doniphan and Amelia Scott King

Sister to
Thomas Scott, Henry Slaughter 1*, Anna, William Slaughter, Katie E.,
Frank Cartwright, Zelia, Eugene A. and Henry Slaughter 2*.

Died on August 6, 1871
Buried in the Old Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

*The Doniphans had two sons named Henry Slaughter Doniphan.  The first  Henry Slaughter was born in 1861 and died at the age of two months.  The second Henry Slaughter was born in 1879 and died in 1964 at the age of eighty-five.

December 8, 2014

Trisler's Forty-one years as Postmistress

The following article appeared in the June 27, 1915 edition of the Oakland Tribune in Oakland, California:

December 5, 2014

December 4, 2014

Destructive Caterpillars Hit Catahoula Parish in 1844

The following article appeared in the October 2, 1844 edition of the Edgefield Advertiser in Edgefield, South Carolina:

December 3, 2014

Wednesday's Child - Eugene Seymore Keenan

Eugene Seymore Keenan

Born on July 30, 1883

Son of 
Edward Farris "Kado" Keenan and Terridell Lee Watson

Brother to
Joel Elias, Lallie Lee "Lizzie", Margaret "Maggie", Charlie and Anna Pearl

Died on August 3, 1893
Buried in the Old Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

December 2, 2014

Harrisonburg Fire, 1924

The following article appeared in the August 2, 1924 edition of the Monroe News Star:

If anyone has additional information on this fire and the businesses which burned please leave a comment below or email me at

December 1, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - The Stories That Should Be Told, Part 65

The following transcription is from a series of recordings my father made in the early 1990s:
Riding down bitter pecan trees…
One of the things I remember doing was going to the swamp with the Juneau boys and riding down the bitter pecan trees.  J. E. was a year older than me and Mickum was a year younger than me.  We spent many a day playing together in the swamps.
Pecan Trees
The bitter pecan saplings were about thirty or thirty-five feet tall and about three or four inches in diameter.   We would wrap our arms and legs around those saplings and climb as far up as we could. 
The saplings were very limber and bent real easy.  We would try our best to make it to the top without them bending. 
Once we got to the top we would bend our bodies forward until the saplings would start tilting then we would ride them to the ground.  Man, what a ride!
The only time I saw one break was when Mickum had climbed to the top of one.  He was about thirty-five feet off the ground and calling out to me and J. E. because he wanted us to watch him ride it to the ground. 
We were busy running around and climbing other saplings.  He held it steady until he got our attention then he hollered, “Watch this!”
Just as he bent forward, the sapling snapped off right even with the ground and there he came.  It was a wonder it didn’t kill him. 
When he hit the ground, his body actually bounced!  We thought he was dead.  After a second or two he let out a wail and we knew he was still alive.
Rubber Band Guns…
Back in the 1930s we had to find ways to entertain ourselves.  We made toys such as bow and arrows and sling shots.  R. G. Price was always good at making bow and arrows. 
R. G. Price - early 1960s
One of the toys I remember was rubber band guns.  We’d take a board and cut out a pistol.  A clothespin would be placed on the backside of the handle.  Rubber bands were made by cutting an old inner tube.  One end of the rubber band would be stretched out over the barrel and the other end would be placed under the clothespin on the handle. 

When we were ready to shoot, we’d mash the clothespin to release the rubber band.  Those rubber bands would knock a dang blister on you if they hit you.  

Note:  Parts 1-64 of 'The Stories That Should Be Told' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of the blog.

November 30, 2014

Sunday's Obituary - Lillie Guice Martin

Lillie Ora Guice

Born on June 3, 1910

Daughter of
Enos Nathaniel Guice and Sarah "Sallie" Elizabeth Armfield

Sister to
Lee Eunice

Wife of
Johnny Lee Martin

Mother to
Willie Wade, Clarence, David Lee, Mildred, Joyce, Carolyn and Dean

Died on January 31, 1961
Buried in the New Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

November 29, 2014

Sports Center Saturday - 1962 Jamboree

The following article appeared in the August 29, 1962 edition of the Monroe News Star:

El Tigre Yearbook - 1963

November 26, 2014

Wednesday's Child - Shirley Faye McCarty

Shirley Faye McCarty

Born on December 29, 1943

Daughter of
Charlie J. "Buddy" McCarty and Emily V. Mason

Sister to
Patsy "Pat" and William "Bill"

Died on August 23, 1944
Buried in the Old Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

Budded on earth to bloom in Heaven

November 25, 2014

Tuesday's Tune - The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a blessed Thanksgiving

"Acknowledge the providence of Almighty God...obey his grateful for His benefits."
~ George Washington

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."
~ Thornton Wilder

"O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!"
~ William Shakespeare

"Reflect upon your present blessings...not on your past misfortunes."
~ Charles Dickens

"I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains."
~ Anne Frank

"Enter into His gates with thankful unto Him...for the Lord is good."
~ Psalm 100:4,5

Nasif Clinic-Hospital Opens in Jonesville, 1959

The following article appeared in the November 8, 1959 edition of the Monroe Morning World:

November 24, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - The Stories That Should Be Told, Part 64

The following transcription is from a series of recordings my father made in the early 1990s:
Something I forgot to mention on earlier tapes when I was talking about exploring the forests and swamps around the village of Sicily Island was persimmon trees.  Every so often we would find persimmon trees in the swamp.  If anyone has ever bitten into a green persimmon, they will know what I’m talking about.  
Green Persimmons
You could bite into one of those green persimmons and it would draw your mouth up something terrible.  I don’t know what was in them but it would almost choke you.  After the first frost of the year, the persimmons would begin to ripen.  A ripened persimmon was one of the best tasting things.  
Ripened Persimmon
My mother loved persimmons.  She’d always tell me to bring her some persimmons if I came across any when I was out exploring.  I always made a special effort to find her some persimmons.
I remember one persimmon tree that was over in the swamp going towards Peniston’s and Brown’s lakes.  It was a great big ole tree.  When I got out of school I would walk over there.  It was a good ways from my house.  By the time I walked over there and made it back home it would almost be dark. 
My mother told me about the time they all went out to Grandpa and Grandma Smith’s house back in 1908 or 1909 when she was about nine years old. 
James Luther Smith
Henrietta D. Smith

James Luther and Henrietta Smith were Grandma Steele’s grandparents.  

She and her sister, Nettie, were raised by their grandparents when their mother, Ginny, died at a young age. 

The Smith family was a big family.  They would all gather at the Smith house on Sundays.  

The Smith house used to sit on some land out behind what is now the cemetery just outside town.
Smith House:  J. L. and Henrietta seated LtoR; Jennie standing

Formerly property of James Luther Smith; farmed by Grandpa Steele

Old Smith house sat at the back of this land
On this particular Sunday, some of the boys and girls had gone out to a persimmon tree that stood behind the old Smith house.  Mother said her cousin Charlie Smith was up in the tree shaking limbs to make the persimmons fall. 
Grandpa Steele
Grandpa Steele was out walking around in the fields he farmed that were right beside the Smith house.  He saw Charlie and all the other children and decided to sneak up on them. 
Once he got close he let out a scream like a wildcat. 
Charlie dropped out of that tree and led the pack of children who were running and screaming to get away from that wildcat. 
Mother said every time Grandpa Steele told that story he would laugh and laugh.

Note:  Parts 1-63 of 'The Stories That Should Be Told' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of the blog.

November 23, 2014

Sunday's Obituary - John Henry Knight

Monroe News Star - 1/31/1956

John Henry Knight

Born on August 14, 1871

Son of
William Bryant Knight and Sarah "Sallie" Myers

Brother to
Thomas, William "Bill" Bryant, Jr., Eula and Ella 

Husband of
Lillie Margaret Ballard

Father to
John Barkley, Margaret "Maggie", Sallie [Fairbanks], Olga Laura [Seal],
Coan Ira, Rufus and Ione Nellie "Babe"

Died on January 30, 1956
Buried in the Old Pine Hill Cemetery
Sicily Island, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana

Note:  I have been unsuccessful in my search for documentation on his half brother, Jeff, and a third sister who are listed in his obituary.  Please leave a comment or email me at if you have information you would like share.

November 21, 2014

Sicily Island Music Recital, 1954

The following article appeared in the May 13, 1954 edition of the Monroe News Star:


Sicily Island Music Recital Is Planned

(Special)---Music and voice students in this area will present a recital at the high school auditorium here Thursday, May 13, at 8 p.m.

Students who will participate in the recital are Betty Peck, Charlotte Stutson, Martha Knotts, Pat Brooks, Tressie Mae Alexander, Mary Knotts. Sharon Flaherty, Martha Franks, Olivia Hinton, Beverly Coney, Delorah Goode and Louise Bingham.

November 20, 2014

Contract Awarded for New Sicily Island High Building, 1930

Ruston Daily Leader - 11/27/1930

Construction of the school was completed in 1931.

Renovation of the school building was completed in 1987.

Sicily Island High School - 2011