Nearly 75 Years Later – A Family’s Unanswered Questions and Unsolved Mysteries Unravel

My Family of Secrets

A year ago, nearly exactly to the day, I wrote a rather long and personal post about my paternal grandparents and great grandparents–the Bolling’s and the Chambers.  From its title you can infer that there were some unanswered questions and mysteries surrounding these people and their relationships that dated back years before I was born and remained at the time of my post.

The Unexpected Christmas Present

Next, on Christmas weekend 2013, 7 months after this post, I had occasion to update it to say that an unknown grand uncle googled his dad’s name and hit upon my post that was about his father (my paternal great grandfather Chambers and half brother to my dad’s mom, Helen). Lo and behold, my grand uncle and his two younger sisters (my grand aunts) reached out to me through a comment to my blog post.  I updated my May 2013 post to express my surprise and total pleasure that a simple post uncovered some unsolved mysteries and untold stories for both families who never knew, but always suspected, that the other existed.

Family Members Meet for the First Time

This weekend was a continuation to our ongoing communications these past 6 months, my grand uncle came from the Pacific Northwest to visit my dad and me.

All of us came away from this surreal-feeling experience with a sense that within blood relatives (DNA, if you will) there are innate features, mannerisms, and instantaneous connections that immediately draw you close to each other and allow you to openly exchange information and stories of family times:

Maynard Chambers and Frank Boling 2014

  • My uncle was stunned by my dad’s physical features, posture, temperament, and even sense of humor that he likened to his dad’s.
  • My dad learned new information about his grandfather who was only a part of his life and family until he was 12.
  • He also learned about his grandfather from the perspective of a son vs. a former wife.  I felt deeply rewarded for my many hours and years of efforts into researching my family’s ancestry and storytelling about the people, their times, and their relationships through my blog.
  • And, dad and I gained a new family member who we will always be grateful to for reaching out to us and sharing intimate life stories that I believe brought a sense of closure to some old family questions and mysteries.
  • There were no whispers, no secrets, a few hardy laughs, and a few tear-filled moments–every moment together a treasure.

An extraordinary weekend–one that we plan to repeat as often as possible!

The Thornton Family’s Fredericksburg Mansion – Part I

My Thornton Family History

The Thornton Family is one of Virginia’s distinguished Colonial families. A large branch in my family tree includes Thornton ancestors and spans 24 generations. My Thornton family members date back to 1314 in Bolling Hall, Bradford, Yorkshire, England when Robert DeBolling (my 16th paternal great grandfather–Generation 2) married Elizabeth DeThornton in 1337, before the two surnames were shortened to Bolling and Thornton.

Fall Hill–Home of the Thornton’s

Fall Hill and the Thorntons

Fall Hill is an early 1700s plantation located on an 8,000 acre land established and patented by Francis Thornton I (1657-1727) around 1720.  It is located near the falls on the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia.   Various members of the Thornton family lived at Fall Hill until 2003 (about 300 years). The present house was built in 1790 by Francis Thornton V (1760–1836)when he married Sally Innes and is located within the present-day town of Fredericksburg.  The architectural design supports the 1790 construction.

Fall Hill MansionThe Thornton family ran a grist mill on the Rappahannock River. Stories handed down over generations say that Francis Thornton III (1711–1749) built the house on Fall Hill to escape the heat of the original house that sat in the lower elevations near the river.

Francis Thornton III married Frances Gregory, daughter of Mildred Washington Gregory, aunt and godmother of George Washington. He served as a burgess, a trustee of Fredericksburg, and Colonel of the Spotsylvania Militia. In 1749, Fall Hill was inherited by Colonel Thornton’s son, Francis Thornton IV (1737–1794). However, he and his wife, Ann Thompson, maintained their primary residence at The Falls.


Francis Thornton V 1767-1836

Francis Thornton V was a Justice of the Peace in Spotsylvania County. Francis V was the last of the direct line of the Thorntons of Fall Hill plantation.  His son, James Innes Thornton, was born at Fall Hill. He moved to Alabama, became its third secretary of state, and established his own plantation, Thornhill. Francis Thornton V died in 1836 without a will. For nine years, until the estate was settled in 1845, Fall Hill was maintained by family slaves. Ultimately, the estate was deeded to Dr. John Roberts Taylor (1803-1884) in 1845. Dr. Taylor was the father-in-law of my 13th cousin, Butler Brayne Thornton.   It was Dr. Taylor who renovated the home in the 1840s.

Its proximity to the Rappahannock River made Fall Hill a strategic point during the Fredericksburg Campaign of the Civil War. Fortifications were built along the river at the house to protect the crossing. The breastworks were built by General Robert E. Lee’s soldiers.  According to long-time resident, Butler Franklin, at one point Lee ordered the mansion destroyed by cannon fire so he could better see the approach of the Union Army across the river. The house survived because the Union Army advance changed its direction.

In 1870 Dr. Taylor’s son, Murray Forbes Taylor, married Butler Brayne Thornton (my 13th cousin), a descendant of Francis Thornton V, which again brought Fall Hill into the Thornton family. Taylor and his wife lived with Doctor Taylor at Fall Hill from 1875 to 1877. In 1877, Murray Thornton and his wife Butler Brayne moved to California where Taylor managed the estate of Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst) at San Simeon, California. To show her gratitude to Murray Taylor when he retired from his job at San Simeon in 1908, Mrs. Hearst purchased Fall Hill for $25,000 as a gift for him. It was Mrs. Hearst’s wish that Butler Brayne Thornton Robinson Franklin inherit the estate.

Except for that period from 1845–1870, Fall Hill has been in possession of the Thornton family. Butler Franklin, who died in 2003 at the age of 104, was the last of the Thorntons to own the property.  Fall Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in June 1973.


Remembering Loved Ones for Their Military Services

Thank You Veterans

Home of the Brave

About 1-1/2 years ago, I wrote a blog post From Everyday Moments May Come Precious Memories where I noted my feelings, ties, and respect for my mom’s grandfather, John Carpenter Ford; her parents, Robert Gideon and Loretta Ford; and her brother, my uncle, John Austin Ford.  The Ford family was intricately involved with me in my formative years.  You know the saying, “It takes a village…”.  Well this was especially true in my life because I spent nearly as many days living with them as I did with living my parents–every chance I could!

Each of these Ford men bravely fought for their country during historic wars and conflicts. And, we can never be sure to what degree their lives and personalities changed because of their individual wartime circumstances and conditions.  And, this is why I so appreciate them placing their lives on the line for us during these incursions.

Our Men Who Served

John Carpenter Ford  (1864-1961)

John Carpenter Ford

My maternal great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford, was born January 15, 1864, (a capricorn like myself), in the midst of the American Civil War, in Wake County, North Carolina (a Confederate state).  The Civil War was the bloodiest war in America’s history taking the lives of about 600,000 men right on their own lands and among their own people! When “Grandpop” or “Pappaw” as we called him, enlisted for a five year stint, he was nearly 25 years old.  According to his military records, he served in Company D of the 17th Infantry Regiment. Reviewing the timeline of Indian Wars and the involvements of the 17th Infantry, his enlistment would have placed him in 1890 in the midst of the Apache Indian War in Arizona and New Mexico, and at the Sioux Indian disturbances in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, November, 1890 – January, 1891.


John Carpenter and Mary Susan (Morris) Ford 1943

My great grandfather lived to be nearly 100 and in 1961 was one of only two of the last surviving veterans of the Indian Wars. Ironically, in 1894, he married my great grandmother, Mary Susan Morris, who claimed to be a full-blooded Cherokee from North Carolina. 



Private Robert “Roy” Ford (center)

????????????????????????John Carpenter Ford’s son, Robert Gideon “Roy” Ford, my maternal grandfather, at age 19 enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. On June 28, 1914, six assassins (five Serbs and one Bosnian Muslim) led by Gavrilo Princip killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.  Just weeks later Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia–adding fuel to the fire that exploded into the Great War. Fortunately, four months after Roy enlisted, World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.  Shortly after his discharge from the Signal Corps in 1919, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served on the “Big Island” on the Central Pacific Ocean from September 1920 until September 1922.


PvtJohnAFordThe Invasion of Italy was fought September 3-16, 1943, during World War II (1939-1945). My Uncle John Austin Ford, was there having enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately following high school graduation.  He was only 19. During the course of the invasion, Allied forces sustained 2,009 killed, 7,050 wounded,  and 3,501 missing while German casualties numbered around 3,500. My uncle John was one of those wounded. Unfortunately, he lost his left eye.  Following his injuries, he was awarded the Bronze Star, and Purple Heart Medals for his valor during the battle.  Uncle Johnny passed away at the young age of 37, leaving a wife, a 15 year-old son, John, Jr., and a 5 month old baby girl, Tammy, whom he loved dearly.

A Hearty Thank You to All Veterans of All Wars and Conflicts for your services to me and our country!


Chi-Town Wedding–The Video, Part IV

Friday – May 16, 2014 – Five Weeks Later…Here’s the Proof of Marriage

Click “Watch on Vimeo” inside the video player screen to see some of the highlights of this very special couple’s special day and the beginning of their new life together.

Joe & Corrie’s Wedding (April 11, 2014) from Bokéh Studios on Vimeo.



Bi-racial Relationships of the 60’s–the 1860’s!

The Year 1868

Last week my genealogical research took me back to my second paternal great grandfather, Lawrence T. “Larl” Boling.  I already knew that Larl married Sarah Elizabeth “Bettie” Tapp in Fredericksburg, Virginia, but when I looked more closely I found that their wedding took place just one week before Christmas 1868–that was the Christmas day when our 17th President, President Andrew Johnson, President Andrew Johnsongranted unconditional pardons for all persons involved in the Southern rebellion (Civil War). And just ten months earlier on February 24, 1868, he was impeached by the House of Representatives.  The Senate tried the case in a trial that lasted from March to May 1868. In the end, the Senate voted to acquit President Andrew Johnson by a margin of 35 guilty to 19 not guilty – one vote short of the two-thirds needed to convict him for breaching the Tenure of Office Act by removing Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, from his cabinet.


WildernessWounded1864It was also only about four years earlier in May 1864 in Spotsylvania, Virginia, on land known as the Wilderness Field, where Sarah’s mother, “The Widow Tapp,” lived with her family when the “Battle of the Wilderness,” (Grant vs Lee) was fought, killing more than 50,000 men.  This battle became known as “The Crossroads of the Civil War.”

In glades they meet skull after skull
Where pine cones lay – the rusted gun,
Green shoes full of bones, the mouldering coat
And cuddled up skeleton;
And scores of such. Some start as in dreams,
And comrades lost bemoan;
By the edge of those wilds Stonewall had charged-
But the year and the Man were gone.
Herman Melville – (from “The Armies of the Wilderness”)

The remains of the carnage were still visible in the Wilderness years after the battle. Photo by Geroge Bell circa 1866. Courtesy LOC


Machywap Taptico: Artwork courtesy of Smithsonian National Archives

Despite their country’s severe turmoil, near the end of 1868, Larl (30) and Bettie (25) started their lives together.  He was from the ancient English aristocratic Bolling family and Bettie’s paternal lineage revealed she was Native American. Somewhat unimaginable for me, when at a time, brothers were fighting brothers over the issues of slavery and the rights of people of color!

The 1600’s

An on-demand book (Wicocomico Indian Nation of the Powhatan Empire – the Tapp Family Native American Heritage) that I am ordering traces the Native American Taptico/Tapp lineage back seven generations to 1678.  My own research has taken me back to my ninth great grandfather, Machywap Thomas Taptico (1630-1689) and tribes that lived along the Chesapeake Bay, the Rappahannock, and Potomac Rivers in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Machywap was the last Chief of the Chicacoan Tribe before it was merged with Wicocomico Tribes in Virginia in 1655-56.  He was selected as Chief of these merged tribes by the English because they thought he was a friend to them and could be easily managed. And, according to the Wicocomico Indian Nation, the English’s selection of Machywap didn’t set well with the Wicocomico and when threats on his life became serious, the English had to provide him protection from his own tribesmen.

And the irony within all of these periods of time, the stories about power, rights, and freedom–the discussion, confusion, and hypocrisy still remain–not only within North America but throughout the world.  Add to all of these facts that archeological studies spanning hundreds of years still indicate that the first people who arrived in North America were Paleoindians and that their presence dates back about 14,000 years–No, it wasn’t Amerigo Vespucci, Columbus, or the puritans that arrived here first and settled the Americas–rather it was indigenous natives. You can look it up for yourself, archaeologists call this period of North American history Paleoindian, meaning ancient Indian.  So this story became much more than one of a young bi-racial couple surviving during the American Civil War era and the legacies they left us. Thus, this story is far from over… 

Update: Chi-Town –The Wedding Weekend, Part III

Saturday – May 10, 2014 – Four Weeks Later…Again From Facebook:

The couple’s not legally married according to the Illinois Department of Vital Records!  Will they have to pay to purchase a new license?  Have they been living in sin because of a clerical error?  The conversation continues on Facebook….but—

It’s just another glitch, a loophole, or as times goes by–another funny family story!




Chi-Town –The Wedding Weekend, Part II

Friday, April 11, 2014

2014-04-12 121On  Saturday, April 12 , 2014, Robert Joseph II’s (our eldest son–age 47, left) eldest son, Robert Joseph III, (nearly 27), wed the love of his life, Corrie, in Chicago, IL.2014-04-12 083  As their story goes, “Joe” and Corrie were among the nearly 13,000 who annually attended Liberty University (the largest Christian university in the nation), in Lynchburg, VA.  However, when they attended Liberty, they were only acquaintances who were aware of each other through coworkers and mutual acquaintances.

Just two years after Joe graduated from Liberty, he relocated to Chicago to pursue what he hoped would be a career in music.  Joe like nearly three quarters (72%) of online U.S. adults1, next posted his relocation to Chicago on the social media networking site, Facebook.  A mutual friend to Corrie and Joe2014-04-12 007 saw Joe’s post and mentioned it to Corrie.   Corrie reached out to her Liberty Alum, Joe, to welcome him to her hometown. And, this is how their relationship began.  Facebook was also the means by which they shared the growth and blossoming of their relationship with close friends and family.  Regardless of where we were geographically, their families and friends were a part of the various communications, pictures, and other interactions.

Family plans for day one of the wedding experience officially began Friday, April 11th in Chicago.  The morning started with Jen (Joe’s aunt) and me exercising in our hotel’s fitness center. Jen exercisng

Our family can be pretty nutty at times, from left to right:  Jen, Michael, Robert Sr, Robert II, Linda, Andy, Joanne

Our family can be pretty nutty at times, from left to right: Jen, Michael, Robert Sr, Robert II, Linda, Andy, Joanne

We were to meet Joey’s fiancé for the very first time in person for breakfast with the rest of the family, but best laid plans sometimes go awry as did these.  So the rest of the family met up for lunch at Joey’s place of employment, The Flat Top Grill, on Wabash and Jackson Avenues in the heart of Chicago.  Here we are touring downtown Chicago:  Jen, Joey’s aunt, Joey’s brother Michael (who had just returned from his tour of duty in Korea), our son Robert and his wife Linda (Joey’s parents), Joey’s youngest brother Andy,  and me. Traffic in and out of downtown Chicago was so bottlenecked that we had to forego the Brookfield Zoo and the groom’s grandmother and aunt made only the last five minutes of the dress rehearsal at the Harvest Bible Church in Rolling Meadows, and missed the dress rehearsal dinner in Schaumburg entirely.  The day had taken its toll on “Grand Hose,” as Joey affectionately calls his grandfather.  Robert Sr. took refuge in the hotel’s jacuzzi rather than trek out with us to what remained of the wedding rehearsal. Needless to say, the day got away from us.  But we envy Chicago its Flat Top Grill chain.  Its ambiance, food, and staff were great (especially the surprise hot fudge and brownie ice cream sundae).  2014-04-12 055And, Jen found her stylishly hot shoes  for a steal in a store only a block away.  Her shoes matched the blue lace dress and gold with blue gems jewelry to a tee .

At the rehearsal I finally met the adorable Corrie for the first time. Jen had first met her by chance at Ohio’s Cedar Point Amusement Park this past summer.  Again, I saw both of their posts on Facebook that said they were arriving at Cedar Point.  I immediately sent them instant messages, they met up and spent the day together.

For dinner, Bob and I ended up eating chips and nuts in bed in our hotel room. Jen ventured back to downtown Chicago in search of a blues club with her brother Bob, his wife Linda, and their son, Michael.  It was then about 10 p.m.  And you guessed it, the blues club our son Bob remembered closed two years earlier. A quick stop at a pizza house, back to the hotel in the suburbs of Rolling Meadows, and lights out at about 1 a.m.

Saturday, April 12

2014-04-12 025Saturday, April 12th, and the wedding was at 2 o’clock only about five minutes away and the reception back at our hotel.  Breakfast for the eminent bride and groom with their parents and brothers.  Buffet breakfast for the grandparents and aunt–we still hadn’t been able to get everyone on the same schedule!  But, when it came time to leave for the wedding, everyone was on time–the first moment since arriving in Chicago where the whole Dickinson family was together! (Jen was taking this photo; Andy was in the groom’s room tending to his best man’s duties.

At last, the moment we all had been waiting for, the ceremony was about to begin.  And, Joey was getting a little anxious because there seemed to be a delay in the bride’s appearance.  Not to worry, she was just waiting for the appropriate music cue from the piano player.


And the bride’s uncle Steve delivered the most beautiful and personal wedding ceremony that I have ever seen.  2014-04-12 078

In fewer than 30 minutes that whole event was completed and the couple had been officially wed. The love and mutual respect that is so apparent between these two is very precious.  I hope that their days together will be as wonderful and I’ve seen in Joe’s parents and my own personal marriage to his grandfather.2014-04-13 015

As for the reception, Joey personally picked out all of the musical selections; the food, the ambiance, the families meeting and uniting for an evening of fun–all in all–their day seemed just as special as they are individually and as a couple.

1 Pew Research Internet Project, August 5, 2013:


1914: My 3rd Cousin’s Husband Proclaimed Mother’s Day a National Holiday

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 11, I thought I would repost my special connection to it, along with’s video that tells the story of the women who rose up in the 19th Century to fight for peace and to reunite families who had been separated by war. Happy Mother’s to all the wonderful and courageous women of the world.

Our Unbounded Heritage: 12th Century & Beyond

A Presidential Proclamation

First Lady - Edith Bolling Wilson First Lady – Edith Bolling Wilson My 3rd Cousin

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson (husband of my third cousin, Edith Bolling Wilson), issued a presidential proclamation that officially established the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers.But, there are two lines of thought about where and when the idea of Mother’s Day was first brought up.

Julia Ward Howe

1) Julia Ward Howe was a prominent American abolitionist, social activist (especially in the women’s rights to vote movement), poet, and the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  She saw some of the worst effects of the Civil War — not only the death and disease which killed and maimed the soldiers. She worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war, and realized that the effects of the war went beyond the killing of soldiers…

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