Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fight On, Wonder Boys!: COG 73

A rare window of time has allowed me to participate in the 73rd Carnival of Genealogy. The theme for this edition is "The Good Earth," and it issues the following challenge: Were your ancestors sharecroppers or land barons? Perhaps an ancestor was a logger or a miner. Do you have stories of homesteading? Is there a master gardener in your tree? If your ancestors lived in the city did they keep a square foot garden or escape the city to a favorite park? Tell us about your family's ties to the land!

The very first family line I traced were my Williamsons of Arkansas. They arrived from Tennessee around the time Arkansas became a state and stayed put in the same county for decades and generations. Nice, straight-and-narrow family, active in the church and community, present in many records with a name that's a challenge to spell wrong: they were the perfect family on which to cut my genealogical teeth.

My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Williamson (1786-1861) brought his family to Pope County, Arkansas in the early 1830's. Records from the General Land Office of the Bureau of Land Management show the ownership and location of the land held by John Williamson (and later that of his namesake) as well as other Williamson kin.

With a little homework and the affirmation of two different books, it was determined that the former John Williamson homestead is also the present-day location of Arkansas Tech University.

During my August 2008 trip to Russellville, Arkansas, I found it difficult to picture the homestead as it once was because a thriving university was running on top of it. I did find this old postcard of early ATU however, which helped a bit:

During the tour of ATU, my father and I saw this hall with the Williamson name. We wondered if it was named after our ancestor.

The answer was no. The hall was named for Marvin Williamson.

He was the first student enrolled at Tech in 1910, then he was the band director for decades. That's how you earn your name on a hall, folks. I still haven't figured out if or how we are tied to this particular Williamson, which is odd because I thought I knew about every Williamson in Pope County.

While on the Arkansas Tech campus, we met with someone at the museum. She spoke of an important anniversary coming up in the school's history. I shared with her my records showing that John Williamson once farmed the land on which the school stood. It was a nice meeting, but I got the feeling that my information wouldn't be added to the college's storied history. University students and local residents will only know of John Williamson's tie to the land if they read the right history books.

So to the descendants of John Robert Williamson I say if you're ever in Russellville, Arkansas, stop by Arkansas Tech and get a gander at your ancestral homelands now being occupied by Wonder Boys and Golden Suns.

1 comment:

  1. One of my ancestors did not own the land that a university built upon, however, his house was lost to the campus' encroachment on the town of Morgantown....that would be West Virginia University. When I visit areas where my ancestors lived, I always love to try to find their houses. That one is long gone! Thanks for sharing this interesting story of your ancestors.