Family Headline: April 12th

On this day in 1978, I was born!


Celebrating My 2nd Birthday

Sharing my birthday is David Letterman (born in 1947).

April 12th also has some historical significance – it was the day that marked the beginning of the American Civil War. Shortly after 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the newly formed Confederate States Army (led by General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard) bombarded Fort Sumter, near Charleston, South Carolina.

Painting Pictures Through Draft Registration Cards

We’ve all been there. We are drawn to a particular ancestor but can’t locate a photograph of him. But we are still curious. Do we have the same eye color? The same build? Sometimes one’s features can be “displayed” without pictures. One example of this involves draft registration cards from World Wars I and II.

I do not have a picture of my second great uncle, John Harlan Hunley (6/28/1894 – 7/19/1994). However, he was required to register for both world wars, and I was lucky to find his draft cards.

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World War I Draft Registration Card (June 1917)

The first section of the draft card lists basic facts about the individual (date of birth, birth place, occupation, etc.). However, I am fascinated more by the second section.

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As you can see, the Registrar describes John as tall, of medium build, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the fact that John was missing a toe on his right foot!

John’s draft card for World War II paints the picture about 25 years later:

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World War II Draft Registration Card (April 1942)

Again, John is described as having blue eyes and brown hair, but this time we get a more precise height – 5’11 1/2″. We notice that John has a “light brown” complexion and a scar on the left side of his face.

Although a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes all we have is words. By looking to unexpected sources like draft cards, we have the ability to paint a mental picture of what our ancestor looked like – missing toe and all!

Jacob Neace: The Outlaw

There are times when family history can be quite sinister, and the story of Jacob Neace is no exception. Jacob is the brother of Martha Ann Neace, my 3rd great grandmother and the wife of James Hunley.


Jacob Neace (1867-1897)

It seems that Jacob embraced the spirit of rural Kentucky, where a sense of justice and familial pride dominated societal norms. According to the January 21, 1897 edition of The New York Times, Jacob murdered Deputy Marshal Byrd of Breathitt County, Kentucky on January 15, 1897. On that day, Deputy Marshal Byrd was transporting a prisoner named Sam Neace, who happened to be Jacob’s nephew. It seems that Jacob attempted to stop the Deputy Marshal for the purpose of giving his nephew some money.

Jacob’s trial was held on January 20, 1897 in Lexington, Kentucky. According to The New York Times, Deputy Marshals searched every man in the courtroom for weapons. The search yielded “enough revolvers to fill two flour barrels.”

The article also explains that Deputy Marshal Byrd’s two brothers begged to keep their pistols in the courtroom; however, the Judge explained that he could show no favoritism. According to the article, the two brothers “cried like children when their weapons were taken away from them.”

Jacob was never sentenced as he contracted measles while awaiting trial in the county jail. The measles ultimately developed into pneumonia, which took Jacob’s life. The newspapers say that the case against Neace was pretty strong and that he would have been hanged. Jacob died on February 21, 1897 in Jefferson County, Kentucky.


Newspaper article explaining that Neace “cheated the gallows”

Mahalia Hunley: The Tender One

This is the story of my great grand aunt, Mahalia Hunley. While researching the siblings of my great grandfather Harrison, I was instantly drawn to Mahalia’s unusual name. Apparently, Mahalia means the “tender one” in Hebrew.

Mahalia, who went by “Haley,” was born in September 1889 in Lawrence County, Kentucky. On November 12, 1908, at the age of 19, Haley married George Albert Miller. According to Haley’s daughter Roxie, Haley’s brothers did not approve of George and sent him on a “wild goose chase” from which he sickened and never returned. George died of tuberculosis in April 1911, one week before Roxie was born.

In addition to Roxie, Haley had a son named Kelly Miller, also known as “Dolly.” After her husband’s death, Haley worked in a restaurant in Louisa, Lawrence County, Kentucky. She would bring food to Roxie and Kelly that the restaurant customers left on their plates. On September 29, 1914, at the age of 25, Haley died of a hemorrhage.

After Haley’s death, Roxie and Kelly lived with my great grandfather Harrison in Betsy Layne, Floyd County, Kentucky. However, Harrison had been injured in the coal mines and was unable to keep them. Therefore, Roxie and Kelly were raised by their uncle, George Mullins and his wife Mindy.


My great, great grandfather Silas Hunley and his grandson Kelly Miller. 


Kelly (center) and Roxie Miller (right) as adults. Hazel Daniels, the woman on the left, is Kelly and Roxie’s half-sister. She was raised in Virginia.


Kelly Miller, his wife Myrtle Burke, and their daughters.

Horace Lawson Hunley and His Submarine

This is the story that started it all for me…

This is Horace Lawson Hunley. Horace is a cousin of one of my direct ancestors.

Horace was born on June 20, 1823 in Sumner County, Tennessee. Although born in Tennessee, Horace was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana where he eventually practiced law and served on the Louisiana State Legislature.

Horace was a staunch supporter of the Confederate States of America and sought ways to improve the war efforts. Horace’s love of marine engineering ultimately led to the design and construction of the Pioneer, an early submarine. In February 1862, the Pioneer was tested in the Mississippi River and was eventually transported to Lake Pontchartrain for additional trials. The Pioneer was abandoned around the time the Union Army advanced on New Orleans.

Horace moved to Mobile, Alabama soon thereafter and began working on another submarine called the American Diver. Horace experimented with electromagnetic and steam propulsion but eventually settled on a hand-cranked propulsion system. Unfortunately, the American Diver sank in the mouth of Mobile Bay during a storm.

Yet Horace did not give up. In 1863, Horace began construction on another submarine named after himself – the H.L. Hunley

On October 15, 1863, Horace and seven other crewmen were killed during a mock attack when the H.L. Hunley failed to surface. The Confederate Navy recovered the vessel and returned it to service. Horace was buried at the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina.

On the night of February 17, 1864, the H.L. Hunley attacked a Union ship called the USS Housatonic. However, for reasons not yet known, the H.L. Hunley sank to the bottom of the ocean along with the Housatonic.

The H.L. Hunley was lost until it was recovered on August 8, 2000.


Pictured on the right is Shade Hunley (1886-1919), one of Silas Hunley’s sons. Shade was sheriff of Hazard, Kentucky. He had a metal plate in his head from World War I. Shade was killed in 1919 by a prisoner. My grandfather was named after Shade.