Welcome to the family!

My name is Lori Lyons.

I am the daughter of an English-Cajun man and an Irish-German woman. Their parents -- all born in Louisiana -- were a mixture of Cajun, English,French, Irish and German. Half of them were born in the big city of New Orleans, the other half down the bayou in Houma.

Here in Louisiana, we call people like me a Heinz 57.

For 57 varieties. Or a gumbo... maybe a spicy jambalaya.

I belong to the 31st generation of Lyons descended from Roger de Leonne, the first known of our esteemed line.

I belong to the 12th generation of Lyon/Lyons in America, descended from William Lyon, "The Immigrant", who came to Massachusetts from Harrow, England in 1635.

And I belong to the 5th generation of Lyons in Louisiana, descended from Joseph Lucius Cincinatus Pitt Lyon, who came south from Illinois in 1849.

Some trees point to be being the 15th great-granddaughter of King Ferdinand I and Queen Isabella II of Spain. And the 20th cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II.

I have been putting together my family tree since the early 1990s. It was my grandmother who did all the work. The granddaughter of three different Louisiana plantation owners, she spent much of her free time chasing down relatives.

I would walk into her house and find her slumped over her dining room table, surrounded by books and scraps of paper. Sometimes she was asleep. I found quite a few papers with her pen mark scribbling off the page as she dozed off. I can only imagine what she might have accomplished if she had the Internet.

When she died in 1988, my mother asked me to go through Grannie's papers to see what was there. I spent a weekend hunched over my own dining room table -- and dozed off a few times myself. And I was hooked.

I think we have a fascinating story -- Knights, queens, kings, orphaned children placed on ships to the new world, soldiers, Patriots, plantations, Civil War rebels.

And yes, slave-owners.

I just recently discovered that I am a Mayflower descendant -- the Holy Grail for American genealogists, My ancestors survived the Indian massacre at Jamestown.

I spent my life as a journalist -- a storyteller. It's up to me to tell this one.

Like all good recipes, this will be a work in progress. Feel free to add your own ingredients -- give a little, take a little. And don't be afraid to let me know if you find a mistake. Genealogy is not an exact science.

So come on in. Sit a spell and take a look around. You might be related -- an ingredient in our family gumbo.

If so, welcome to the family!

Lori Lyons
email: thelyonsdin@gmail.com

Friday, July 6, 2018

Dear Grannie,

Evelyn Himel Cross French, 1906-1988

Dear Grannie,

I'm sorry.

I get it now and I am so, so sorry.

How many days and nights did you sit at your beautiful antique dining room table (your mother-in-law's table), surrounded by stacks of papers and books as you searched and searched and searched for the Himels and Frenches and Crosses that fit in your family tree?

How many hours did you pore through those books? How many hours did you spend in every library within 100 miles searching for more?

And how many times did you finally hit a jackpot -- a name, a date, a birthplace, another mother, father, sister or brother -- and, nearly overcome with excitement, go to share it with someone ...

But no one was there?

Or they were, but they just didn't care?

Grandpa was in the den watching some ball game with his eyes closed. Mom was off taking a painting class. Rhett was at Spots. Jo Lee was already off raising her children. I was probably there with you,  but more intent on pretending I was Barry Manilow on the piano (I wasn't) than on your latest find.

And I'm sorry.

Maybe you knew, though. Maybe you knew that I someday I would be the one to take all your boxes and binders home, go through it, become fascinated and carry on your legacy. Maybe I just picked it up by osmosis or something.

Because now I'm the one who has boxes (well, plastic bins) of books and keepsakes and census records and indexes and keepsakes and mementos that just can't be thrown away.

Now I'm the one who stays up until all hours of the morning searching and searching and searching...

Now I'm the one who gets overcome with excitement when I hit a jackpot. Like a few hours ago when I stumbled upon a signer of the Declaration of Independence who is a fourth cousin eight times removed!!!! Or a few weeks ago when I found a connection to The Mayflower. the Holy Grail for genealogists.

I was dying to tell someone!

And my husband was at a ball game.

And my teenager is, well, a teenager. And like me when I was her age, I didn't care. I made her pretend to be excited. (She really wasn't.)

I did get to share it on Facebook, though.

My mama would have been pretty excited for me -- more if it had been her ancestor too,  but it was my dad's side.

But mama went to join you in December, and so many times since then I've wanted to show her or tell her what I found. She would have been thrilled today to see your mama's name on the 1930 census, a nurse shown as the "matron" of the house for nursing students -- listed as "inmates." She would have gotten a chuckle at the notation that, yes, she did own a "radio set." And we could have marveled at your dad's occupation listed on the 1910 census. We knew he was a salesman. But of "tea"?

So, Grannie dear, I thank you for leaving me all of these treasures and this long, winding path to follow. You did take some wild twists and turns that I had to unravel, but I had the internet and you didn't.  I wish you could see what I've done.

But I'm still sorry that I didn't sit down and let you show me, let you tell me, more. That I didn't pay more attention. That I never pulled out a recorder. That digital recorders and iPhones weren't invented yet.

If you're in genealogy heaven with all of your -- our -- ancestors, I hope you're all smiling down on me and getting excited at each and every find I make

And if you can find Deliverance Priest's parents, I'd appreciate it.

Your sleepless and excited grand daughter,


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Death notices

Like so many of my fellow journalists, my writing career began with what comes last -- death notices and obituaries.

I was still in high school when I was hired as the Assistant Society Editor for the Houma Daily Courier in my hometown. Every other Saturday I had to call the local funeral homes and gather the information for the Sunday obituaries and write them up.

There isn't a lot to it.

Most follow a pretty standard formula: Who? Age? What were they (occupation)? When did they die? Where? How (optional)? Who survived them? Who preceded them? When are the services?

The information is usually typed up in a few inches of small type and put in the back of the news section. It's called a death notice. Sold as ad space, they can run up a hefty price tag, though, especially if the deceased had a lot of children and grandchildren.

If the deceased is a prominent citizen, he or she usually gets an obituary. That's a longer news story about the person's life and accomplishments. And it's often free.

Lately we've seen a trend towards more personal obituaries and death notices. Some are funny. Some are sad. Some are downright clever. It's a definite move away from what has become a cookie-cutter formula in the newspaper business.

But it wasn't always the case.

As a genealogist, I read a lot of obituaries and they certainly run the gamut of styles. I came across one recently that read, So-and-so died. Services were held Tuesday. That's it. No occupation, no family members, no survivors.

Then I've seen the flowery.

For as long as I could remember, there was a yellowed old newspaper obituary tucked away in my grandfather's family bible. It's contents were legendary in our family.


It was a shock to all who knew her to learn that Mrs. Patrick J. Murtagh, nee Sutherland, died yesterday afternoon at 1:10 o'clock, and that the cause of death was due to congestive chills.  Her demise was as surprising as it was sudden, as only several hours before it came, she was seen and was apparently in the best of health.  Mrs. Murtagh was a lovely young woman of 20 years, and was universally esteemed for her many sterling qualities by the residents of Algiers. But a little more than three weeks ago, Mr. Murtagh led Miss Clara Sutherland before the altar and there made her his wife.  That happy event was the culmination of a courtship lasting more than three years and occurred on Dec. 17 last.  Since the marriage, they have been boarding on the corner of Pelican and Atlantic avenues, and were hardly in the midst of the honeymoon ere the death angel called the happy bride to another world. She was enjoying good health and her death was wholly unexpected.  Yesterday noon, Mr. Murtagh was home with his wife and at a quarter of 1 o'clock they sat talking in their room.  The topic of conversation was about xxx wife and left the house for his work.  He had not been gone more than five minutes when a messenger was sent after him to tell him that his wife had been taken suddenly ill.  He hurried home and had hardly reached there when the sweet spirit of his wife passed away.

Wow. What a sad story for poor Clara. But we all sure remembered her untimely demise. I also remember being terrified of that "death angel."

Some old newspaper writers editorialized more than others. Here is an obituary for my great-great-great uncle, David French, in the 1902 Mobile Daily Item:

Mr. David French, a well-known carpenter and contractor, died yesterday morning about 6 o'clock at the family residence, southwest corner of Bayou and Charleston Streets, after a lingering illness. The deceased was an industrious man, and was loved by all who knew him. His death notice will be read with regret by his many friends throughout the city. Mr. French was born in Ireland, and came to this country when quite a young man, and when 21 years of age he came to Mobile and has resided here since. At the time of his death he was 65 years of age.

The Daily Register  also recorded his death, including the fact that "many flowers were placed upon his grave."

My first cousin, thrice removed was a popular man as well.

Mr. Ed French died at his home in the city yesterday afternoon after a brief illness. Mr. French was a most estimable young man, and a consistent member of the Presbyterian Church. He had many friends who will be greatly grieved to learn of his death. The family has the sympathy of the entire city in their sad bereavement. The funeral service will be conducted this afternoon from the family residence on Capitol Street by Rev. Hutton and Hill, and the remained will be interred in Cedarlawn Cemetary.
Daily Clarion Ledger, Jackson, MS, Sept. 12, 1907

And you can't help but be sad for poor young Georgie.

After a lingering illness with that dread disease, consumption, Mr. George French died this morning at the home of his parents on East South Street.
The deceased young man was born in Jackson, Miss., but had resided in Vicksburg nearly all of his life. He was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Sam French, and was only about 21 or 22 years of age, just entering manhood. He was a good, kind and generous boy, industrious and exemplary in his habits, and loved and esteemed by all who knew him.
He has been afflicted with this terrible disease, consumption, for some years, but has only been confined to his bed for a few weeks.
Everything that loving hands and hearts could do to ward off death and soothe and alleviate his sufferings was done, but death came to his relief this morning. He died peacefully, surrounded by his relatives at the family residence on east South Street.
He leaves a father and mother and two sisters and a brother to mourn his early and untimely death, and will be sadly missed by many friends."
Vicksburg Evening Post, Tuesday, August 27, 1895

I certainly have written my share of obituaries, for family, for prominent members of my community and for friends. Several years ago, one of my dearest friends asked me to write the obituary for her husband, a policeman who was murdered in the line of duty. She wanted to tell his life story. She wanted me to help her. I also was asked to cover his funeral. When I asked if that was OK with her, she replied, "I wouldn't want anyone else to do it."

Of course I was left to write my mother's obituary just a few months ago, -- no easy task, let me tell you! How can you some up such a fierce and multi-faceted person in just a few hundred words? She used to tell me not to write anything crazy. I didn't.

Lettie Lee French, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and eccentric character passed away Monday, December 4, 2017 after a brief illness. She was 84. Fiercely independent and a mistress of reinvention, she had careers as a comptometer operator, restaurant hostess, hotel night auditor, office manager and hobby shop owner in Houma and New Orleans. She was a talented painter who studied with well-known American artist Henry Hensche. After moving from Bay St. Louis, Miss., to Norco, La., she spent 10 of her final years as a Tarot Card Reader at The Bottom of the Cup Tea Room in New Orleans. She loved her family, her poodle, Lulamae, and the casinos. 

But don't you think for a second that I have left this task to MY husband and daughter. Oh hell no. Mine is already written and ready to go. All they have to fill in is my age, the date and the services.

 And it's going to be expensive as hell.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Historic Treasures

It's a simple fact of life.

Genealogists are pack rats.

Each and every one of us has boxes or plastic bins filled with photographs of people we don't know but probably are related to, boxes of documents listing generations of relatives and ziplock bags filled with crumbling pieces of paper with faded writing.

Most people would have tossed this stuff out years ago.

We're not most people, though.

We are the family historians, the ones who saw some sort of value in these relics of time and elected to keep them.

Some of you are lucky enough to have attics, though.

I have a attic-turned-office where I keep all of my treasures, past and present. I don't often sort through them, however. I only did so recently because a Facebook friend started a group for those folks who still recognize the art of letter-writing or who have a bunch of old letters they don't know what to do with.

She asked me to join. When I did and saw what it was all about I responded, "Have I got treasures for you!"

First I posted a photo of the box of letters I have from my late father. My parents divorced with I was 2-years-old and he spent the next decade or so travelling around the world selling agricultural equipment.

He did love to write letters, though, and he wrote to me often from Rome, Paris, Brazil, Manila, England, Mexico. Sometimes he would draw a little picture, sometimes he would include a postcard photo. He died in 1989 at the much-too-young age of 56, so this is really all I have left of him.

I have lots of left-over treasures from my ancestors too. Like this letter from my great-great grandfather, Joseph Henry French to his beloved, my great-great grandmother, Eliza Janette Howard. It's dated August 24, 1857.

I have things other than letters, too.

I have my grandfather's New Orleans driver's license.

And his elementary school books.

I also have my great grandfather's buttons. He was a railroad conductor for the Southern Pacific Railroad in New Orleans.

And I have dance cards. These date from sometime in the early 1900s and probably belonged to my grandfather's sisters.

This one is empty.

This one is nearly full.

Some of this stuff probably belongs in a museum. The Historic New Orleans Collection, perhaps. 

I worry what will become of it all when I'm gone.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

History takes a long time

As I said before, this is a work in progress.

It has been a while since I've been able to work on this as I have been working. For real. I am now the Sports Editor and all-around news person at a small bi-weekly newspaper in LaPlace called L'Observateur.

That's French.

But on rainy days I will try to continue to update this little blog.

Thanks for your patience.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Making friends

If you mosey on over to the "Cross" page listed just above, and scroll down to the comments section, you can eavesdrop on a little conversation between me and, well, a cousin.

It seems someone found my little genealogy blog, found a connection and left me a piece of this giant jigsaw puzzle called the Family Tree.

And I am thrilled! That's exactly what I hoped would happen when I started this little project.  I hoped that people would find it, read it, find their connection to it and add to it. That's really how this whole genealogy thing works.

I also had a longtime hometown friend realize that we are connected through one of our lines. We are, indeed, cousins.

So, please. Don't be shy. Leave your comments, your questions, your critiques (be nice) and your pieces of the puzzle so we can all put this thing together.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fighting for the Confederacy

There was nothing civil about the Civil War.

And even now, 150 years late, it seems sometimes we're still fighting it -- its causes, its effects and what it all means. It still pits brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. But these days, the battlefields are the various social media platforms where people can exercise their right of free speech -- sometimes too much.

The Confederacy is under fire again because of what it stood for, what it fought for and what it brought to the battle. Mainly, its flag. The Battle Flag, once borne into battle by soldiers from the south, it has become a symbol of hatred and racism.

The flag has always been a part of the scenery in Cajun Country, where I grew up.  It hung on the walls in restaurants and bars in my hometown and others. They were sold at K&B, Woolworth's and the gas station. Boys had them painted on their cars and trucks or flew them from their antennas. Lots of people had them as tattoos. They were printed on beach towels and t-shirts. And not everyone who bought them were racist jerks.

I had one, a giant one, on my bedroom wall. My parents probably bought it at a Stuckey's on one of our many trips to Mississippi or Alabama. I pinned it up next to Donny Osmond, not because I was a racist white supremacist, but because I thought it looked cool. It was just a thing to me. But then, no one ever waved it in my face in anger or hate. I have family members, friends and acquaintances who will die boasting that their ancestors fought for that flag and that it doesn't mean what you (and I) think it means.

When I was in the fifth grade (circa, 1972) our class began to study the Civil War. My teacher, Mrs. Smart, put together a display of photos, faux Dixie bills (also probably bought at Stuckey's) and other historical items. I offered the loan of my flag, which was made the centerpiece of the display. One night after school hours, someone broke into the window of the classroom and stole my flag. I never did buy another one.

But in 2015, that flag means something else entirely to so many people. Hate groups have adopted it as their symbol of white supremacy, brought it to anti-integration rallies, waved it as a message to those born darker than they. They didn't pick up the pirate flag or the flag of China or Japan. They picked up the Confederate flag. And there is a reason for that. What it stood for.

So now, in 2015, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we are fighting a new war over that flag. People are demanding it come down from where it still flies, to this day, over state capitols. People are demanding that statues and monuments to southern heroes from the war be removed or changed or even destroyed. People are demanding that history be changed.

But what about those of us who can't change their history?

I spend a great deal of my free time searching for my ancestors. I know that I had three great-grandfathers who owned plantations and, in at least one case, yes, slaves. I had several relatives who fought on the losing side.

This is Simeon Dupre,

Born Sept. 23, 1939 in Lafourche or Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Died about 1905 in Houma, Louisiana. He was my father's mother's grandfather, one of 14 children born to Jean Mathurin Fortunat Dupre and Azelie Edmire Pitre. (*In a rather odd footnote, his sister, Pauline Carmelite Dupre was my father's, father's grandmother. Yes, my grandparents were cousins. I am not sure if they knew this.) Simeon's grandfather had come to America from France in the mid-1700s and settled in the German-Acadian Coast area.

 He lived somewhere down the bayou in Terrebonne Parish. Census records list his occupation as a farmer. I do not know if he ever owned a slave.  I do know he was a private in Company H of the 26th Regimen of the Louisiana Infantry. His son, Germain Dupre, applied for and received a Confederate headstone in 1931 for his father's grave in Bisland Cemetery.  Simeon's son, my great-grandfather Germain, spoke very little English well into his senior years. I'm guessing his father didn't either.

This is Joseph Lucius Cincinatus Pitt Lyon

Born, 13 May, 1823, Essex County, New York, Died 16 October, 1884, Little Caillou, Louisiana. My father's paternal grandfather.

In 1849, Lucius' family moved to DeKalb, Illinois. But Lucius chose to join his cousin, George Newell, in a move to Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. George was married to Emily Davis Semple of Terrebonne Parish, and they lived on Semple Plantation, which was located near the present day Bisland Cemetery on Bayou Terrebonne. 

George and his family did not stay in Louisiana long, but left for California during the Gold Rush. Lucius stayed behind, however, and worked as an overseer on Woodlawn Plantation in Terrebonne Parish for the Cage family.  It was there that he met his first wife, Elizabeth Drumwright of Boydton, Virginia, Mecklinburg County. Eliza was a friend of the Cages. 

Lucius and Eliza settled in upper Little Caillou in Terrebonne Parish, adjacent to the present Catholic Chapel on Little Caillou.  

On March 21, 1862, Lucius enlisted in the Confederate Army, Company H, 26th Regiment.  He was wounded and captured at Vicksburg, but survived and returned to Little Caillou.   He signed the oath of allegiance to the United States and was released on July 14, 1866.

Lucius was the only member of his family to move south to Louisiana. All the other Lyon family members remained in Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut. It is entirely possible -- probably even -- that Lucius fought against his own cousins.

Lucius lived 58 years and had 7 children by three of his four wives.   He died on October 16, 1894, and is buried at St. Elie Cemetery in Little Caillou.   

(Most of this is from "family legend" --- a.k.a., my Grannie Evelyn.)

This is Oscar Joseph Himel

Oscar Joseph Himel
Owner of Himelaya Planttion in Labadieville
Born about 1850 in Assumption Parish, Louisiana, he had gone to school in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he became enamored of the thoroughbred horses there. He had some sent home. He was but 16 years old when the Civil War began. Too young to enlist, he volunteered to be a "runner" and use his horses to bring messages the front lines. Eventually, he was captured and imprisoned in Thibodaux (my grandmother used to point out the very building). He also suffered a stab wound in his side (by "The Yankees," Grannie said.) Upon his release, his uncle, Clairville Himel, brought Oscar one of his horses, $50 and the deed to Himelaya Plantation located in Labadieville on 750 acres. Oscar kept the plantation, known as "Oscar's Place," until 1904, when it was sold to the Supreme Sugar Company. The land itself is now mapped as "Supreme."

There is, of course, no official military record for Oscar.

Clairville's brother, Lovincy, was a Captain in the 26th Infantry. Also captured at Vicksburg. His brother Pierre Himel also served, as did numerous Himel cousins.

This is William Wallace Cross

Born May 27, 1841 in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, on the family-owned Orange Grove Plantation. He was the son of Benjamin  Cross,  born in Gates County, North Carolina. Benjamin moved to Louisiana in the early 1800s and began acquiring lands which became Orange Grove. He did own several slaves.

Benjamin was not a nice plantation owner and is reported to have treated his slaves horribly. When he died in 1848, he was buried in a family cemetery on the lands. The slaves were so terrified of him, they refused to cut the grass around his tomb.

William was a doctor. He received his Doctorate of Medicine on March 19, 1862, from the New Orleans School of Medicine. He enlisted in the Confederate Army as an Assistant Surgeon, F. and S., 30th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry, on November 13, 1862 in New Orleans. He was captured at Vicksburg and forced into service treating wounded from both sides. He was paroled at Meridian, Mississippi, on May 12, 1862.

There also was, allegedly, a French relative who was believed to have been a bugler in the Civil War. I have no record of that.

 These are the branches of my family tree. They are a part of my history as well as America's. I'm assuming I had Lyon relatives who fought for the North, as well as Lucius, who fought for the South. I had ancestors who fought and died in the American Revolution (and possibly one who died at Bunker Hill), as well as the Mexican-American War. Unlike the famous movie star who chose to try to hide his slave-owning past, I accept mine.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Still a work in progress

Well, at least I've added another name to the list.

Now you can read all about my Lyon/Lyons family and about the Cross family.

If anyone from Google or Blogger can tell me how to get the pages to go on top of the page, I'd appreciate it.