Did curiosity really kill the cat?


That old adage used to hush up young and inquisitive minds popped in my head as I tried to determine where I was “really” going as I dug deeper into researching the life of Joseph Thomas Webb (b.1865 d. 1955).

Laughing because I’m anything but a young mind, I did begin to have some doubts, and the term “floundering” was probably the most accurate description of how I felt.

I should be thrilled with the “My Life” document J.T. left behind. (Oh and I am)  But  I felt I needed to know more about the life & times of this man, outside of his own words.

Curiosity kicked in as I tried to imagine the size of the communities the Webb’s moved to as they left Birchwood, TN to Bolivar, MO, then onto Cedar Creek, AR and finally Rudy, AR.  Time to jump into the Census Population reports.    Often overlooked,  the Census is not just a tool to locate your ancestors household. There is a wealth of data available that can shed great insight into your family research from the various reports derived from the Census. ( Which can be found here: http://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html)

The numbers played out like this

  • 16,659   1870 – Hamilton Co., TN (no data for unincorporated Birchwood)
  • 635          1870 – Bolivar, Polk Co., MO
  • 942          1870 – Cedar Creek, Crawford Co., AR
  • 1,067      1880 – Cedar Creek, Crawford Co., AR
  • 483          1890 –  Rudy, Crawford Co., AR
    • 1890 – Cedar Creek population dropped to 519 as the town of Rudy was growing.
  • 450         1900 – Rudy, Crawford Co., AR
  • 583         1910 – Rudy, Crawford Co., AR

Conclusion, nothing really telling. (sigh)  There was the normal population growth spurt in Cedar Creek and then the move of many residents over to Rudy a few miles away as the town grew with the Frisco railway came to Rudy.  Reality…not the nugget I was looking for in my research.  Enter “floundering”.

Knowing  J.T. Webb owned  a grist mill, cotton gin and saw mill in  Rudy in 1890 is both documented in family history, historical publications and online history sites for Arkansas.  Time to hit the newspaper archives!


Searching Arkansas, still brought no great insight into the details of life I was seeking.  I searched epidemics, natural disasters and any challenge I could think of that  J.T. might have encountered where he lived.  Then serendipity!  As I broadened my search to Tennessee, a headline caught my eye, “1867 Chattanooga Flood, Greatest on Record”.  While J.T.’s family didn’t live in Chattanooga, they did live in the same county, Hamilton.    Details of what was deemed the “greatest flood” the Tennessee River had crested 58′, flooding not only the city, but far into the Valley and beyond.  A NOAA report and newspaper articles from the time describe the flooding as reaching from the Ohio River  to the Atlantic, staring in  Richmond, Virginia going all they way to Mississippi.

Birchwood, TN was just 35 north, up the river, from Chattanooga.  It became clear as I read on that this region was severely devastated.  Log homes were swept away as families fled to the mountains. People were stranded on their roofs, some rescued, others not as fortunate.  This tragic flood led to Congress acting and creating the Tennessee Valley Authority to help prevent the repeat of such monumental flooding.

J.T. would have only been about 2 years old at the time, but for his parents Benjamin Franklin Albert Webb, his mother Jenette “Jane” Clingan Webb and his 7 older siblings this must have changed their lives drastically.  In addition to the destruction of homes and farms, railroad tracks were washed away and bridges collapsed. They were  cut off and surrounded by water.  Left to their own survival skills and the collective efforts of neighbors as they  joined together to escape, survive and rebuild.

I must say I felt guilty for my genealogy serendipity.  What a tragic disaster that affected so many lives, land, livestock and wildlife.

forest-path-1081805_1920 I wonder how my Webb ancestors survived and did that flood have an impact on their decision to move to Missouri and then onto Arkansas?

Somehow as you research beyond the person,  learning of the circumstances around their lives and the challenges they faced, there is a deeper respect and bond that evolves for those who have come before us, and the paths they travelled.


For more details on the historic 1867 Chattanooga Flood, this NOAA document is very insightful:  http://www.srh.noaa.gov/rtimages/mrx/presentations/ChattFloodof1867.pdf