Our research shows her with two sons, Samuel and Elijah Waters, in the 1850 census in Anderson, S.C. By 1860, still in Anderson, she had another son, my ancestor John B. Waters, born in 1854. In 1870, she and her son John were in Towns County, Georgia.
By 1880, she was living with her son John, his wife Sarah, and their children, Martha and Samuel Jasper, my papa, in the Fair Play District of Cherokee County, Georgia. And there we seem to have come to the end of Melinda’s trail.
I don’t recall ever having heard my grandfather mention grandparents or aunts and uncles. If he knew that his father had two brothers, it was not discussed at the supper table. Papa talked often about working at a sawmill in Towns County, leading me to believe that the family moved back there, at least for a while. But at some point, they relocated to the Murray/Whitfield County area, and that is the “old homeplace” that Papa and his sisters talked about more often.
The house was near the Conasauga River, which forms the boundary between the two counties. I have seen the house and have a photo of it taken just a few years before it was demolished. The story of a tragedy that occurred there was handed down through generations.
Papa’s two little sisters, Mary and Sarah, died when their clothing caught fire from the fireplace. Papa tried to put out the fire, to no avail. His hands were scarred from the burns he received.
It was probably there that my papa met the pretty little girl who lived close by. She was sweet 16 and he was 26. And the rest, as they say, is history, most of it somewhat documented.
But many of us still wonder about his mystery grandmother and her fatherless sons. In my research, I noticed that Papa’s father, whose name was John, and his father’s brother, whose name was Samuel, named their sons for each other. John had a son named Sam, and Sam had a son named John, creating havoc for their descendants. Apparently they weren’t that close to their mutual brother, Elijah!
I have nicknamed these Sams First Samuel and Second Samuel to help keep them straight. In at least one record, First Samuel told the census taker that his father was born in South Carolina. That made me wonder if the three boys knew their father (or fathers), or if First Samuel was just smart enough to figure out his daddy was surely a resident of the state where everybody in the family was born. Perhaps they were one big happy family after all and the father just wasn’t ever home when the census taker came.
We think that brothers Elijah and First Samuel may have gone in different directions, perhaps to West Georgia and/or the North Georgia mountains. We can’t find Melinda’s grave. Did she finally marry someone, thus to be buried with a different name? I guess we will never know those details about our male ancestor, the father of her boys.
Our reunion invitation this year featured a relationship lesson about cousins. It sounds so simple. If two of you share a parent, you are siblings. If you share grandparents, you are first cousins. If you share great-grandparents, you are second cousins and if you share great-great-grandparents, you are third cousins, on down the line.
When the word “removed” is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations. Your mother’s first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. Your grandmother’s first cousin is your first cousin, twice removed. In other words, all of Melinda’s living descendants are cousins.
I have found a new word that seems to fit our gathering better than the word “reunion,” which seems to imply that we were all united at one time. The word “cousinage” fits perfectly. It means “a collection of cousins.” And the only thing the hundreds of us have in common is Melinda — and healthy appetites.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.