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Updated: Saturday, 27 Oct 2012, 9:34 AM CDT
Published : Friday, 26 Oct 2012, 6:45 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - The farmer
The Sept. 27, 1908, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram carried a dispatch from Dresden, Tenn.
The article reported on a bizarre event that took place in that far northern corner of the Volunteer State, involving a farmer by the name of Jim Swift.
Seems the farmer was “constitutionally averse to baths.” After suffering sudden pain in his loins while working in his fields, someone advised the farmer to bathe his feet in cold water, the article noted.
Sure enough, the pain immediately vanished, but Swift, upon withdrawing his feet from the water, noticed they were now quite numb.
“An operation was performed and both legs were removed at the knees. It is not expected,” the report noted, “that Swift will survive.”
It was clearly a bad day for the aforementioned agriculturist, but learning about the article kicked off a most enjoyable Tuesday evening this week for this Jim Swift.
You see, back in September, a member of the Austin Genealogical Society contacted me and asked if I might volunteer a side of my family for society researchers to explore. It seems the nonprofit organization was eager to get the word out concerning the work it does in assisting people with their family tree investigations.
NBC, at the time, was running a series called: "Who Do You Think You Are?" The program revealed genealogical backgrounds of various celebrities, and the AGS thought it might be fun to do something similar for a society program.
The network wound up canceling the series, but that in no way deterred the AGS from its mission.
Just over a year later, I found myself before an audience that included my brother, Tom Swift, for the report.
I had suggested the society pursue the family line on the side of our father, William Dewey Swift, the son of Walter and Dorothy Swift, poor northern Tennessee farmers, who lived only a county or two away from the unfortunate farmer Jim Swift (who may or not be related, as it turns out).
You see, my mother’s (Elizabeth Fitch Swift) family tree is already well-documented, revealing ancestors who rode on the ship, Mayflower . But nobody knew squat about the Swift folks.
So AGS researchers went to work. They scoured birth, marriage and death records online. They sought out newspaper stories. They scanned pension applications and Census data. During regularly scheduled trips to genealogical libraries in Salt Lake City and Houston. They pored over every available record, looking for clues to the names of people whose various conjugal relations ultimately produced a long-haired TV news reporter in Austin, Texas.
The work paid off. I already had photographs and names to go with them, of my grandparents and both sets of great-grandparents. I also had a photo of one set of great-great-grandparents, but they were nameless in my family records.
Now, they are nameless, no more. My great-great-grandfather turned out to be a well facially-hair-endowed fellow with the patriotic name of Thomas Jefferson Swift. And his wife, well, it turns out she was a member of the Tennessee Crockett Family: Emily Carrie Crockett.
Immediately, the AGS researchers wondered if she, and therefore me, were related to the “King of the Wild Frontier,” himself, Davy Crockett, once a member of the United States Congress and a defender and casualty of the battle of the Alamo during the Texas revolution.
“We tried our best,” said researcher Jane Schwendinger, “and…there is a probable connection.”
The investigation also took my dad’s confirmed family line back farther than I had ever seen it go before. Thomas Jefferson Swift, for example, was the son of James Thomas Swift, born on an unknown date in Kentucky. James Thomas married Susanna Moore, who had been born in Tennessee on Dec. 2, 1796.
Indeed, the AGS discovered one family line that went all the way back to a woman named Margaret who was born in Ireland in July of 1734.
Eventually, though, the researchers just had to stop. They were running short on time and in any case, the whole idea was to simply get me started, as a way of helping other people realize what might be possible for them. Now, it is my job to keep the work going.
So the next day, just for fun, I typed, “Swift Montgomery County Tennessee” and Swift “Dickson County Tennessee” into a search engine. Suddenly, I was staring at a page that included not only the days on which Thomas Jefferson and Emily Carrie Crockett Swift died, but also how they met their demises.
Then, I learned that similar, though slightly different versions of the same stories were included in, “Swift, Trotter, Crockett, Scott Family Lines of Descent,” the book the AGS put together, complete with meticulous sourcing, to chronicle its work on my family.
It seems my great-great-grandmother, Emily Carrie Crockett Swift, burned to death in an accident at her Montgomery County, Tenn., cabin in 1841. Five or six years later, her husband, Thomas Jefferson Swift,
appears to have been hauling a wagon load of tobacco to nearby Clarkesville, Tenn. (later the birthplace of most of my uncles, aunts and cousins). The unfortunate man evidently took a tumble off the wagon and broke his neck.
Such tales only point to the remarkable satisfaction that can come from a concerted effort to reach beyond the veil of history that clouds who we think we are.
For those who want to poke around behind that veil for themselves, the Austin Genealogical Society stands ready to help. The organization offers member meetings and programs, workshops, seminars and research trips. All of the activities are open to the public.
There is so much to learn, including that those who are constitutionally averse to bathing should think twice before putting their feet in cold water.
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