Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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07 May 2006

"Oh, for a Touch of the Vanished Hand" by Dana M. Mangham

"Oh, for a Touch of the Vanished Hand": Discovering a Southern Family and the Civil War by Dana M. Mangham; Review by Carolyn Earle Billingsley; Journal of Southern History, Vol. 69, No. 1 (2003 ): 185+.

Review of All Our Relations by Lorri Glover

All Our Relations: Blood Ties and Emotional Bonds among the Early South Carolina Gentry, Review by Carolyn Earle Billingsley; Journal of Southern History, Vol. 68, No. 4 (2002).

Will of Agnes Keesee, 1829, Sumner County, Alabama

Will of Agnes Keesee (nee Agnes Terry)
Written 10 February 1829; copy of original will #191 from Sumner County,
Tennessee Archives, transcribed by Carolyn Earle Billingsley, 7 April, 1999:

I Agnes Keesee of the county of Sumner & State of Tennessee This day I make my last will feeling my Self in a reasonable State of mind I make this will in preference to all other will aforesaid or maid this my Will and Testament in the name of God the great Savior of the universe hav I desolve my Soul to and my body to it's mother dust and may this my last Will be done I pray.

That is first I leave all of my cattle & hogs & sheepe and carrage & corn & pork & some other property to pay my dets [debts] doues [dues] & de mands, where in then
1 I give in to George W. Sanders one cart and all my farming tools
2 Then I give unto Mary Sanders one Burow & one bed and all of my bedclothes, one [spinning] wheel & cards, two pots, one oven one table
third I give unto Bedience ball [Obedience Ball--Agnes's daugher Obedience "Biddy" Keesee married James Ball; and perhaps also had a daughter named Obedience] a [Deske?] one cittle [kettle?] and one roan mare
Fourth I give un to Janie Ball one cupboard
Fifth I give unto Roady Ball one looking glass & towel
Six I give unto Champnes Ball one Arm cheer [chair]
Seventh I give unto Thomas Keesee one dollar
Eight I give unto George F. Keesee one dollor
Ninth I give unto Champness Keesee one dollar
10th I give unto Louisa Smith one dollar
11th I give unto Patiance Smith one dollar
12th I give unto Rody [Rhoda] McNight one dollar
13th I give unto Agnes Lyings [Lyons] one dollar
14th I give unto Nancy Henry one dollar
15th I give unto Robert Sanders one dollar

This is my Will given to my concent and I appoint George W. Sanders and James Ball my AdminisStraters for wich we Set our hands an Seals this the 10 of Feb. 1829

Test [Dick?/A. R.? Mills?--faded copy here] her {Seal} Agness Keesee X mark {Seal} Test H. K. Shockly George W. Sanders {Seal}

State of Tennessee

Sumner County Court May Term 1829

The last will & testament of Agnes Keesee decd was [entered?] in open court for probate & was duly proved by the oath of Andrew? R Mills one of the subscribing witnesses thereto & ordered to be recorded [therefor?] James Ball one of the Exors therein named appeared in court & agreed to take upon himself the [?] of the execution thereof & together with [Ande/Andrew?] R. Mills his security entered into & acknowledged their bond to the governor & his successors in office in the sum of five hundred dollars conditioned as the Law directs & took the oath of Exor [in both cases, this word in this document seems to be Exor with " over the r] forscribed/prescribed by law & at the same time rendered into court an account of sales or a part of the sales of said decedent which is ordered to be recorded

A Copy Test

A H. Douglass Clerk

[See more on Keesee at]

Robert Scott Davis: Tracing Your Alabama Past

Review by Carolyn Earle Billingsley

Billingsley to discuss book at Batesville's Old Independence Regional Museum

Billingsley to discuss book on social, family history at museum

At noon on Wednesday, April 19, [2006] Old Independence Regional Museum will present its second springtime Brown Bag with a Book program. Historian and professional genealogist Carolyn Earle Billingsley will discuss and sign copies of her book, Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier (University of Georgia Press, 2004.) The book, a pioneering work in the fusion of social and family history, traces the migration of a network of families across the South from the Revolutionary era until the Civil War.

The author’s personal story is no less interesting than her book. A resident of central Arkansas since 1973, Billingsley spent the 1970s and '80s playing the role of suburban mom to her four children. In 1990, she enrolled at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock as a 41-year-old freshman. Graduating four years later with a B.A. in history and minor in German, she received a two-year Fulbright Scholarship to study German translation and Austrian history at Karl-Franzens Universist├Ąt in Graz, Austria. Following her study in Austria, Billingsley received a graduate fellowship to attend Rice University, where she served as an editorial intern at the Journal of Southern History and the Jefferson Davis Papers. She received the M.A. and Ph.D. in history at Rice.

Communities of Kinship is Billingsley’s revised dissertation. In addition, she has published extensively in the field of family and local history. Billingsley currently resides in Alexander, Ark., where she works as a professional genealogist and independent historian and manages her family’s land.

Bring a sack lunch to the museum (380 South 9th St.), relax, eat, and listen. Old Independence Regional Museum will provide free water and soft drinks.

Beginner's Guide to Family History Research

Read this popular guide by Desmond Walls Allen and Carolyn Earle Billingsley free online at Arkansas Research.

Review: Communities of Kinship

Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier
Alabama Review, Jul 2005 by Glover, Lorri

Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier. By Carolyn Earle Billingsley. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004. xi, 215 pp. $49.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8203-2509-0. $19.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8203-2510-4.

Before earning her Ph.D. in history, Carolyn Earle Billingsley worked as a professional genealogist. Communities of Kinship blends her two crafts, and with this monograph she seeks to reveal how genealogical methodologies can advance historical analysis of southern families and culture. Billingsley argues that kinship lay at the center of antebellum southern life but remains under-analyzed by scholars studying the history of the region. According to her, only by expanding their use of genealogical approaches can historians fully appreciate the power of kinship in virtually every aspect of antebellum southerners' lives.

Billingsley begins her book with an extensive exploration of the terms and theories of kinship, pointing out that while historians occasionally invoke kinship in their descriptions of the early South, they seldom rigorously reconstruct kin networks in the way that genealogists do. Few scholars, she maintains, go beyond marriage records or surname matches in their analyses of kin. And without using genealogical approaches, she posits, scholars can never fully appreciate extra-nuclear family bonds. These ties to a wide array of consanguine, affinal, and even fictive kin mattered far more in the antebellum South than in the North or in contemporary America, according to Billingsley, because fewer public institutions existed in the early South. Family, broadly conceived, fulfilled a host of functions-practical, political, and spiritual-and formed the foundation of life for most antebellum whites.

In order to test these theories, Billingsley traces the kin ties of the Keesee family, from which she is descended, from their Tidewater roots in the eighteenth century through the erosion of their family power in the postbellum Southwest. Thomas Keesee was born in Virginia in 1778 and died in Arkansas in 1861. In the intervening years, he and numerous members of his nuclear and extended families moved to Tennessee, then Alabama, and finally Arkansas. Some of his descendants eventually migrated to Texas. At every move, they traveled with and settled near kinfolk. Thus the repopulation of the Southwest by whites depended on kin support. Neighborhoods and kin networks became synonymous, as migrating southerners lived physically surrounded by relatives. On occasion, members of the family separated, with some migrating farther west and others remaining behind. But "none of their moves or changes took place outside of a group of kindred" (p. 71). Billingsley includes a number of charts of neighborhood ties and migratory maps to convey visually the information collected in her database of the Keesee family and to reinforce the point that kinship drove westward settlement. Kinship similarly lay at the heart of religious identity. As with communities, kin and congregation usually overlapped on the southern frontier. Although members of the family changed denominational affiliation, they seldom did so without kin influence.

Deeply immersed in family ties, the Keesees appear in Billingsley's narrative as acquisitive and upwardly mobile. They sought inclusion in the planter elite and achieved that status by cooperating with their relatives and pooling their resources. Members of the Keesee network understood that economic and political power went hand in hand in the early South, and they used their kinship ties, particularly strategic marriages, to rise in their communities. Kinship identity, argues Billingsley, informed social status. An individual might not own substantial land or slaves himself, but he could claim a planter identity by virtue of his family membership. Kinship thus enabled the Keesees to expand onto the southern frontier, to build communities and congregations, and to join the ranks of the dominant planter elite.

Much of this, Billingsley's final chapter explains, came undone after the Civil War. Confederate defeat ended slavery and thereby undermined the wealth and power of planter families such as the Keesees. Moreover, the South experienced greater institutionalization after the war, and larger numbers of banks, schools, and government agencies made kinship less vital in the postbellum era. Although the ideas in this chapter, as with the earlier ones, will not appear terribly innovative to most southern historians, the rigor of the research methodology is impressive.

Billingsley will probably not succeed in convincing scholars to elevate kinship to a "category of analysis complementary to and potentially as powerful as race, class, and gender" (p. 1). But her work does reveal that the Keesees (and probably all southern whites) defined family broadly and relied on kin extensively. She argues convincingly that genealogy offers some useful and underutilized tools for professional historians.

Lorri Glover

University of Tennessee

Copyright University of Alabama Press Jul 2005
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved