August 16, 2011

Georgia reunion, Family graves, research and a presentation, part 1.

Geri Murphy, Jeff Smith and Jeanie Schaffner
at the graves of Soapy Smith's grandparents
Dr. Ira Ellis Smith and Ellen Stimpson Peniston
(Click image to enlarge)

In 2007 I went to Coweta County, Georgia to give a presentation on Soapy Smith for the Newnan/Coweta County Historical Society. Plans soon evolved into a small family reunion and a grand tour of family research. Starting March 23, 2007 I had 1-1/2 days to do and see everything I wanted. When I got back home I remember that I was in great back pain and that I slept for 13 hours straight.

Besides the presentation and seeing and meeting family members I had a places I really wanted to see. One was the Dr. Ira Ellis Smith mansion where Soapy was born. More on the mansion in the next post. It seems that the hardest place in the world for me to get answers from, let alone a response, is from Coweta County, Georgia. Before my planned trip there I could never get a response from anyone there in the county or the historical society. Once my presentation was scheduled I had plenty of free flowing correspondence. The trip opened a whole new world of family information while I was there, but once I returned home that flowing well closed up tight as a snare drum once again. Since 2007, although I have written many times, I have not received a single response, just as before.

One of the main places I really wanted to see was the Oak Hill cemetery where most of the early Smith's are buried, however, for decades my family searched unsuccessfully for the Smith graves known to be there. We knew they were located at the Oak Hill cemetery but the cemetery records were wrong as to the location. Long ago sections of the cemetery were renamed and numbered but the changes were apparently never properly recorded and the old location information was discarded. Generations of family members, including my aunt and uncle searched the cemetery grounds in vain. I could only hope that I might be more successful.

Before I arrived, Dan Dietz, vice president of the historical society, and his wife Donna began compiling a history of the Smith's in Coweta for me. They knew I wanted to try to locate the graves while I was there so Dan and Donna went hunting on their own. They found that the Peniston family of Coweta was connected to the Smith's so they at least located those graves for me. While looking around the Peniston plots Dan happen to look on the other side of some bushes and completely by accident he stumbled onto the "lost" Smith plots. The graves were found while I was on my way to Georgia from California so I was unaware of the find until I arrived. As per our conversations once I settled into my hotel room I called Dan for the planned visit to the Oak Hill cemetery before dinner to see if we could locate some of my descendants. I had already been up since 3 am and was very tired but I knew having only 1-1/2 days I could not afford to waste a minute. Within fifteen minutes of getting into my hotel room Dan was driving me to the cemetery in a nice two seat topless sports car.

Jeff during his Soapy Smith presentation

We spent about 1-1/2 hours talking and looking over the Smith family graves in the cemetery. I think I took about 50 photographs I was so excited. Dr. Ira Ellis and Ellen Peniston Smith were there, along with several of their children, their wives and grandchildren. That time spent in the cemetery was golden. I would have gone home happy if I was forced to cancel the rest of my trip. There are photographs of graves in the links to other posts pertaining to this blog at the bottom.

l to r: Jeff, Jeanie, Danny, Christina and Geri.

At 7 pm that night the historical society set up a dinner meeting at one of the local restaurants in Newnan, which turned into a family reunion. It was there that I had the pleasure of meeting my cousin, Geri Murphy, the vice president of the Soapy Smith Family Trust for the very first time. I also got reacquainted with Jeanie Schaffner, another cousin, whom I had not seen in several decades. With Jeanie were her children, Danny and Christina ("Tinni"), who I had never met before. At the time Jeanie lived in Newnan and Christina  was offered a position at the Male Academy Museum. The only one missing at the dinner that I was looking forward to meeting was Ellen Rafeedie, a family member who has done great work in the genealogy department. After dinner I was driven back to the hotel and finally got some greatly needed sleep.

Jeff swindles family member Christina during the presentation

My family and I made plans for the following morning to meet at the cemetery so they could see the Smith plots. I was too excited and drove out  a little early to the cemetery to have some time alone with our rediscovered ancestors. Dan, from the historical society decided to join us and we spent 1-1/2 hours researching and admiring the graves.

Jeanie studies the artifacts in the Smith Room
Male Academy Museum
(Click image to enlarge)

At around 10 am we all traveled over to the Male Academy Museum where Dan gave a personalized tour of the city's prized collections. The museum is housed in a 19th century school house. Each room is devoted to a particular section of Newnan's history, dating from 1828 to the 1950's. The main attraction for us was the Smith room which contained artifacts brought to Newnan by covered wagon from Virginia by Dr. and Mrs. Ira Ellis Smith. There were also artifacts and belongings from Ira's children who made their homes in Newnan and Coweta County. Unfortunately, my medication made my hands shake and most of the photographs I took in the museum came out very blurry.

Family heirloom at the museum.

Lunchtime we held court at the Redneck Cafe' where family member, Ellen Rafeedie met up with us. Ellen brought several copies of her latest version of the family tree and we spent the better part of 2 hours talking. Ellen is a great historian and story teller and has my full admiring respect as a historian.

We left the restaurant with a 2 pm appointment at the Smith plantation house where Soapy was born.  I'll talk about that in an upcoming post.

That night I gave my presentation at the Depot History Center to around 100 attendees. I was well received and met several more distant relatives I did not know existed. Afterwards Geri, Jeanie and I went out to eat and then over to Jeanie's loft. I never did slept well that night. I had maybe an hours worth before I had to make my way back to Atlanta for my flight home. I surely hope I have the opportunity to return one day.

August 8, 2011, June 3, 2011, May 29, 2010, April 16, 2010, April 6, 2010

Early Smith family in Coweta County: pp 19-27.

1923: 20 members of the Denver Blonger gang are arrested in a raid that ends Blonger rule in the city.

Jeff Smith


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