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Traveling 7,000 miles to research southern roots

January 19, 2013

For Starkville Daily News

I met Fran and Art Forland at the October 2012 Oktibbeha County Historical and Genealogical Society meeting. Seated next to strangers, I introduced myself and found two of the most delightful people I had met in a long time and so interested in genealogy. They were from Seattle, Wash. After the meeting, we talked more and I found out that Art was related to General J.A. Glenn whom locals refer to as “Uncle Dolph,” one of the most colorful men in our county who fought in the Civil War when he was 17 years of age. Ben F. Hilbun said, “General Glenn rode the wilderness trails with Nathan Bedford Forrest to engage in numerous bloody battles and returned home and built the foundation of a unique career amidst the stark desolation of an invaded county. He was a farmer, churchman, commander of the Mississippi Department of Confederate Veterans and most beloved citizen of Oktibbeha County.”

Having met Beverly Robinson, our first “woman pilot” in the county, a few years ago, I knew she lived on a portion of “Uncle Dolph’s” estate and had lived with him a number of years. I phoned Mrs. Robinson and gave the Forland’s her phone number and directions to her house so they could dig deeper into their Starkville roots. I saw Art’s eyes light up as I told them about her and he immediately said, “Fran, we have to change our schedule so we can meet her.” They were most appreciative, and since then have kept in contact providing all the information and photos they have researched as well as keeping check on their new-found cousin, “Beverly.” They walked the land together that he walked over a hundred years ago. When Beverly saw Art, she said, “You look just like your uncle, Billy Moore.”

It was also interesting to hear that A.J. Moore (A&M graduate, 1892), Art’s grandfather who was the secretary to the president of Mississippi A & M College, had handwritten letters from Stephen D. Lee and other things to share with Mattie Abraham at the Mississippi State Library Special Collections Department. The Forland’s spent two weeks in Alabama and Mississippi searching for records of their ancestors. All in all, it was a “win-win” situation for the Forlands as well as the town and campus. And, for me, an unexpected personal encounter that I shall always treasure!

Fran was kind enough to write of their venture to find their Southern roots and emailed it to me. If you are new to genealogy, you will find this information beneficial in your search. Fran writes:

“My genealogy research started when I retired in 2002 and had time to go through old family photographs and records. I spent the early years focusing on family from Minnesota, Norway and my mother's family in England. Our family tree became rather lopsided with no information on Art's maternal branch — the Moore family. Since all of the earlier generation had passed on, there was no one to ask and we had little in the way of clues to research Art's southern roots or the families of A.J. and Belle Moore. After the 2003 death of his younger brother in Tucson, Ari., Art found several boxes of old photographs and paperwork. One box was shipped home and one to each of his siblings. These boxes contained items kept by Art's mother Louise Moore Forland and his aunt Dorothy Moore. Digging through a variety of snapshots and birthday cards, we found a few old letters and old photographs in the box sent to our house.

Little was known beyond the names of Louise's parents and the fact that they moved from Starkville, Mississippi to Corvallis, Ore. in 1913. In fact, we only knew his grandfather as A.J. Moore and thought the "J" was for Jerden (due to Aunt Dorothy's continued southern accent). Fortunately, Aunt Dorothy wrote notes on the backs of many of these photos telling who was in the picture and what their relationship was to Art and his siblings. Art recalled different tidbits of information; one comment that the maternal family was from Cypress, another thought Belle was a nickname.

Digging through mountains of old papers, we found a typed draft of recorded interviews with Dorothy and Louise that were done as part of a Living History project in Corvallis. The main scope of the interview was seeking their memories about the courthouse since A.J. Moore had been an elected official. Fortunately, the interviewer was good and patient, letting the elderly ladies digress and natter on about their lives and memories of other things beyond the courthouse and official county activities. These interview notes contained a wealth of clues. They told of A.J. Moore's graduation from the Agricultural college in Starkville and later his work there as a secretary.  The information about the family moving to Oregon and Dorothy being sent to school at Baylor because her father's friend from A & M, Dr. Hardy, was president there. 

Dorothy, being quite the musician, told of earning money to help pay the bills when she took her mother Belle to California for her health. A story Dorothy wrote, of a fictional nature, told of taking the body of a dear one on the train back to the South for burial. A letter written by a J.A. Glenn to A. J. Moore told of how well composed Dorothy was when she visited Starkville and how the friends and family managed Belle’s funeral. The most important bit in this letter was the date — written May 30, 1925 — it provided a clue to the date of Belle’s death. 

I then wrote to several counties in southern California requesting a death certificate for Belle or Isabelle Moore who died in April or May of 1925. We weren’t certain where they were living in Southern California as Dorothy mentioned them being in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Redlands.  Eventually, we received a death certificate. It didn’t provide the exact information or the detail we had hoped for but we did have a few more clues. Isabelle Glenn Moore was born in Alabama. Her age was uncertain about 43. Her parent’s names unknown but maybe her father was Scypfeart.

We accessed some of the material sent to Art's siblings and found more photos and clues. There were photos in the box of Uncle Dolph and Aunt Dora, a large picture of Billy (William) Glenn but who were these people?  Several other old photos noted Uncle Bobby, Bobby Rivas, two very different Aunt Muggies, Belle's sisters Lucy and Alice, Sara Spencer and a huge assortment of photos of friends — or were they relatives?

Albert Jordan “A.J.” Moore’s parents were Jordan and Dorothy Spencer Rivas.  Dorothy Spencer was the daughter of Robert Holderness Spencer Sr. and his wife Sarah who settled in the Starkville area prior to 1834. Dorothy was married to J. Milton Rivas, had two children and widowed about 1865. She later married Jordan Moore. Jordan Moore had been the overseer or farm manager for Sarah Spencer after the death of her husband. According to census records, Dorothy “Dolly” Rivas, widowed and her two children Robert Rivas and Margaret Rivas lived with Jordan Moore.  They married about 1871, as far as I can tell. They are buried in the Spencer family cemetery along with Dorothy’s parents and other members of the family. Dorothy Spencer’s brother Robert Holderness Spencer, Jr. married Margaret Outlaw. While we were not able to visit the Spencer family cemetery during our trip to Starkville, the burial locations are documented and Mattie Abraham has sent us a few photos of the gravestones.

In 2006, I contacted the Oktibbeha Historical and Genealogy Society. Their members, especially Mona Tomlinson, got busy and dug out a wealth of information from the 1899 marriage between Albert J. Moore and Belle C. Glenn and an obituary notice for Mrs. Albert Moore, adopted daughter of W.H. Glenn.

The letter from J.A. Glenn said "Belle was just like a real sister to us" gave us the hint that Belle had been adopted into the Glenn family. A photo was of sister Lucy; some were of Lucy’s children. One had the name Willy Cothrun noted on it. Searching the census records of 1900 and 1910 we started piecing together the make-up of the family around that time.

Separate from searching in Oktibbeha County, I started searching for any names similar to Scyfeart that had ties in Alabama around 1870 to 1900. Eventually, I found an online family tree that mentioned the Cypert or Schypeart family and a book written about them called “Southern Kinsmen.” This book did not exist anywhere I could find, but a dear friend who was a librarian researched it and was able to borrow a copy from the Tennessee State Library. The book noted many spellings of this sir name and included the fact that a couple of the Cypert brothers moved to the Mobile, Alabama area in the early nineteenth century. From this information and doing searches by first names, estimated birth dates and possible last names I located Belle Cypret, her sisters Lucy and Alice, living with parents Thomas and Margaret in Daphne, Alabama at the time of the 1880 census. The absence of the 1890 census is a problem for many family researchers and it covered the critical time when things would have changed dramatically for our young Belle and Lucy Cypert or Cypret.   

There are so many records available through, and various historical or genealogy websites. The census records are invaluable, but we quickly learned to keep an open mind when looking at the various possible spelling of names and items indexed incorrectly due to poor legibility.

Back in 2004, I posted inquiries on message boards. It took a long time, in fact several years, but I have now heard from descendants of Belle's sister Lucy who confirmed we had made the correct assumption that Lucy was adopted by Emma Glenn Williams (daughter of W.H. Glenn) and her husband Benjamin Pope Williams. A descendant of Jordan Moore's brother contacted me in 2009 and provided valuable probate information that firmed up a few assumptions and guesses (Jordan Moore was A. J. Moore's father). Recently a descendant of Belle's older sister who was married before 1880 and remained in Baldwin County, Ala. contacted me from an old post and we have exchanged much research information as we both expand our family trees.

All of this information compelled us to make a trip to Alabama and Mississippi to search for more clues and walk the land where our forebears walked. We found some new information and a few new clues. We now know the time frame of events that led to our Isabelle "Belle" Cypert Glenn Moore being adopted (her father died May 1881 in Mobile, Ala. and was shown as a widower at the time). Unfortunately, we have not solved the mystery of how she and her sister Lucy came to be adopted by members of the Glenn family in Starkville. The search will continue, though we may never know the details since so many old records have been destroyed.

As you proceed with your communications and guidance provided through the Oktibbeha Historical & Genealogical Society and through the museum, please continue to encourage everyone to note names and dates on photographs they have. Also, it is great when someone takes time to write down or record a few memories of what they know or about their families and especially those precious anecdotal bits that help bring our ancestors to life.

I have found an increasing number of people who are interested in genealogy research and they are almost always willing, if not excited to help out. I must add that the warm welcome, help and interest shown by the people in Starkville was wonderful and made us immediately feel we were among a larger family of 'cousins' with a common interest in genealogy and history.

Mary Ann Ready Stafford found us fumbling around in the Starkville library, put us in her car and took us on a driving tour of many of the places we wanted to visit, got us a couple of decent maps and made contact with Mattie Abraham at MSU.

Mattie Abraham helped us in the Special Collection section of the Mitchell Memorial Library and Mississippi State University and found materials of interest to our family.

Ruth Morgan is providing us with some local photos and references to add to our family documents and introduced us to our  'cousin' Beverly Robinson, an amazing woman living on land that had been part of the W.H. Glenn estate, lived with 'Uncle Dolph (J. A. Glenn) and Aunt Dora" and remembered Art's Uncle Billy Moore who returned to Starkville for a number of years in the 1920s and 1930s.

Gail House who made a special trip to open up the Gordo Jail where the Pickens County, Ala. Genealogy society keeps their records. Her assistance helped us locate records about Art’s great great great grandfather Sheppard Spencer, and great great grandfather Jordan Moore Sr. and others in Pickens, Sumter and Green Counties in Alabama.

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