I have recently made the decision to write a single book with a series of short stories to include my more positive forays into history/genealogy. Can’t say it’ll make the most interesting reading, but recent shows on television seem to imply these type of stories fill a need in a certain segment of our population.
I have been fortunate enough to help students with their assignments and papers, connect adoptees with their respective families, find abandoned children from Texas-Oklahoma, solve 100+ year old paternity riddles, answer questions from faraway genealogist, write hundreds of history newspaper articles and hopefully inspire some others to write history and/or genealogy. I have also been the scuttlebutt of those who have decided I am the worse historian ever. I’ll let readers decide my value.
This recent attempt at writing has only made me recall some of my less positive stories and made me question what makes historians attempt to do what they do. Some are armchair sleuths like me, professionally untrained with very little college education and others have more education and some extended educations. I will recognize these stories here as I don’t feel they belong in a book.
I’ve been proud to work with historians who relish in being corrected. I learned this early from “walking historian” John Ardis Manry, my predecessor from Plain Dealing who had a law degree and ended up owning the Bossier Banner Progress and publishing newspapers for years. He was influenced to history by his father, James Turner Manry who rode trains and steamships from Georgia and then walked to Bellevue from Shreveport. JTM told stories for years of growing up with “Uncle Remus” of Brer Rabbit fame. JAM relished in helping genealogist in their search for local roots for their ancestors. During one of my few phone calls to JAM, we talked about the 1806 Freeman Cuestis expedition which passed through Bossier and I revealed I had found an inventory of the expeditions equipment. He enjoyed my find and said, “Good, you found a source I never found.” This taught me that being corrected means more historical information for everyone, the absolute goal of any, in my opinion, bona fide historian.
I’ve been proud to work with another highly educated local historian, and together we discovered that local General Kirby Smith, whose name was lent to a fort in Bossier had a cousin named Smith Kirby who also served in the “Great War to Divide a Nation” aka the Civil War.
But, I’ve also been berated by a local judge who declared to me at an auction that “Clif you are wrong. They burned the courthouse at Bellevue.” After copying several sources showing that the building stood for abt 20 years after it was left standing in Bellevue, rented and then abandoned, and photographed, he changed his statement and made the remark, “well I have eyewitness testimony that they tried to burn it. And eyewitness testimony is more credible.”
I did get my feelings hurt when a local lady was doing genealogy research and I joked about the Napoleon-credited-joke that “History is a lie repeated often enough to be true.” and she thought I was suggesting she lie about genealogy. I guess my pride is hurt when anyone suggests that I lie. Must get that from my mother, herself a genealogist and staunch hater of liers.
I have also been dressed down via email by a local reporter when I tried to show him one of his internet findagrave postings was in error. He went into a tirade about how historians are confused about a “fact” that only he seems to recognize (even the mans family). I walked away from that argument amazed that anyone wouldn’t at least want to look at the proof before become enraged and lashing out.
I still believe that Benton was named after Ben Looney and not after Benton, Arkansas and Senator Thomas Benton even after being screamed at over the phone by another writer whose work I admire. And I know when, how and by whom the confusion occurred!
I still am in awe of two Bossier doctors who served in various yellow fever epidemics, Dr. George Hamilton Walker and his son, Dr. William Hamilton Walker. WHM gave his life to treat the diseased of the 1873 Shreveport epidemic. I have written about both men and their subsequent contribution to families in Bossier and Knightly bloodlines in Ireland and England.
In general, I’ve come to the conclusion that historians who have no problem being corrected are worth their weight in precious metal or ginseng. It doesn’t seem to matter their education, wether lawyers, doctorates in history or just dumb rednecks like me, but their desire for more historical information. I am insulted by professionals who call themselves historians but destroy the provenance of historical documents in an effort to “do their job.”
I love it when someone finds a source I was not fortunate enough to find, but I will defend my opinion by presenting the evidence for my historical conclusions. I believe that only adds to everybodies knowledge of history.
I will add that I joke and tell people I will be glad to help them in their genealogy pursuits, but this “who begat whom makes my head hurt.” It is after all their family, not mine.
And I wanted to take the time to congratulate Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington and his staff including Deputy David Faulk in potentially solving the Bossier Doe identity by the absolute brilliant use of a facebook page. First I hope the identity is supported by DNA for the families sake, after all I personally know that while closure is devastating, it does answer questions. And second I have always admired JW and served proudly with him on several boards, including the Hughes House, which he was a leader in saving. JW and the Sheriff’s Dept are far smarter peoples than I am. I’m proud to have voted for him.
Clifton Cardin is a Bossier Parish historian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org