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Joyce Discovers the "Dockerys of Dixie"

by

Morris Burkett

written January 1997

 
 
 
This story begins with my selection of a Christmas present for Joyce during the winter of 1995. Joyce's children wanted her to pursue trying to find out more information about their ancestry in the wake of their father's death. I also had a passing interest in my ancestry due to the stories evolving from my Mother's lengthy research into the Staples' ancestry. This shared interest in genealogy led to the purchase of the Family Tree Maker, a computer program, as a Christmas gift for Joyce. Initially, I was the main user of the program, since I used it to input the data my Mother had accumulated. This work continued until Joyce and I were sent to Albany, New York -- my new job assignment.

Due to our being in a new place to live, Joyce had much time on her hands after getting the new apartment arranged and in order. Her interest turned back to her Christmas gift, and she began learning how to use it. One of the first things Joyce did was to call the Mormon Church in Albany to talk to them about how to begin her search. Joyce knew the Courthouse in Murphy, North Carolina had burned, but her knowledge of her family ended there. She had heard stories from other members in her family about the difficulties in finding records, so she dreaded the thought of having to dig through scores of old documents for mere threads of information.

Her call to the Mormon Church began an experience of many highs and lows. The first high was the amount of information available from the Mormon Church and the friendly, helpful, and encouraging attitude of the people there. The first low occurred on our first trip to the church library. I added over a hundred years to my Staples' ancestry knowledge, but Joyce's only new information was that the Courthouse in Murphy had burned not once, but three times! After several visits to the church library, she had not found any new information about her family. Totally frustrated, she threw up her hands at the computer and vowed she was ready to quit. The head librarian must have heard this, because she came over and told Joyce to get up and let her try some things with the computer. Joyce gave up her seat to this lady and after a brief moment the librarian asked Joyce to give her a location or place. Joyce responded, "Hanging Dog, Cherokee Co., North Carolina." After the usual laughter over the name, the librarian entered it into the computer. This activity had attracted some attention from other researchers in the library, including myself, so we were all watching these proceedings. Somehow, we all felt something special was about to happen.

Next, the librarian asked Joyce to give her a surname. Joyce had been concentrating on her immediate family's surnames but decided in that instant to take a new direction. Joyce remembered her Great Grandmother, "Ma Nancy" (Nancy Jane Woody Hampton), telling about her mother, and Joyce remembered her saying her name was "Dockery." No one could verify this name in the many recent telephone calls Joyce had made to family members. Joyce has two great aunts still living who are in their late eighties and early nineties. They could not remember if "Ma Nancy"s" mother was a Dockery, but Joyce decided to try the name anyway, for she was almost positive she remembered it to be her great-great-grandmother's maiden name. Joyce told the lady "Dockery," and she typed it into the computer.

Bingo! Up jumped a lot of information about a book called Dockerys of Dixie and how to get in touch with the people responsible for the book. There was much exclamation and celebration in the library. Joyce's disappointments melted away in the joyous atmosphere which suddenly infused the whole library, and the librarian printed the file for her future reference and study.

Later, Joyce was consumed by doubt. Was this really HER ancestors, or was she wrong about the name "Dockery"? She was hesitant to make the call to see if this was her ancestral tree or not, and so she spent a full day looking at the printed document -- practically memorizing it -- before she got up the nerve to call information in Murphy, North Carolina to find the telephone numbers of the author and editor of the book. She didn't find the author's (William G. "Bill" Allen's) number but did find the editor's (Dr. Carl D. Dockery's) number. When she dailed, he was not at home, so Joyce left a number for him to return her call, which he did later that night. Joyce and Dr. Carl D. Dockery had a most pleasant conversation, but Dr. Dockery did not have the answer she wanted. Joyce did, however, get the author's, Bill Allen's, telephone number from him. She was told Bill was an avid golfer, but since the next day was forecast to be rainy, Joyce would have a good chance to catch Bill at home. Can you imagine the nervous anticipation waiting for the time to pass in order to make the call? I don't think she slept much that night while waiting.

The call the next morning to Bill Allen was the best high yet. She began by identifying herself to him -- giving only enough information for Bill to look into his database to see if Joyce was indeed one of the "Dockerys of Dixie." When Bill started telling her about the Hampton lineage which included her great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Joyce exclaimed, "That's my great-grandfather and great-grandmother!" Bill continued with their children, which Joyce verified were her grandfather's. Bill then said, "Hello, Cousin!"

Joyce immediately called me at work, excited about the good news. She could hardly wait until I came home for lunch to tell me more about the conversation she had had with Bill Allen. This day was the beginning of a fevered plan of action which took many directions at once. Joyce bought several books (back copies and current copies of Echoes) and along with them, Bill sent her a picture of John Henry and Phoebe Jane "Cain" (Roberts) Hampton. Imagine, only a week ago Joyce only knew these ancestors' names, and now she had a picture of them!

Tentative plans were made to visit Hanging Dog and Bill Allen. There were many phone calls made to pass on the stories to her relatives, most of which were verified once their memory was tweaked. Some stories were clarified with even more detail, but the amazing thing was the immediate interest from Joyce's relatives. They were all learning, remembering, and living this experience through and with Joyce. Joyce called the Mormon Church and told them of her success in which they had helped so much. They had previously undertaken the challenge to find anything about her ancestors, without success, and were almost as thrilled as we were. I purchased tickets through my company's travel agent, and we headed for home to begin sharing with other family members some of the knowledge and documents we had received from Bill. Joyce also planned a trip to Hanging Dog after my return to New York.

Joyce's trip to Hanging Dog was more of a success than anyone could have imagined. She met Bill and Sue Allen immediately at their home and began an almost dreamlike three day adventure back into the world of her ancestors. Bill introduced Joyce to Winston and Hazel Farmer. Winston is a walking encyclopedia of information about the early settlers and their families who lived in Hanging Dog. In particular, Winston knew all about Joyce's ancestors. While visiting the graveyards of the Hanging Dog Baptist Church and the Unaka Baptist Church, he told her about each person who was a relative, their relationship to Joyce, and stories about their lives. This was overwhelming. Two weeks ago Joyce did not know about most of these people, and now she was trying to learn all their names and what they were like. Even with the help of a tape recorder, it was a lot to digest in a short time. The whirlwind of the experience was so fascinating that, unfortunately, Joyce sometimes forgot to turn on the recorder! Some things were not captured for mental digestion later.

A most intense feeling overcame Joyce while she was visiting Dan's Field on top of Dan's Ridge. This was the home farm of her great (x3)-grandfather Dan Dockery. As she walked up the old wagon road to the field site, Joyce realized she could not focus the camera anymore. She immediately did not know why it quit working and was trying to get it to work when she realized what was wrong. It was not the camera but the tears in her own eyes that were the problem. I cry at TV shows, but Joyce is not an overly emotional person. The fact that she was crying embarrassed her, so to keep Winston and Hazel from knowing, she bent down and began picking up small stones from Dan's Field to take home to other family members. Hazel saw this anyway, and realizing the situation, began picking up stones with Joyce. Winston and Hazel have become very special people to us.

The rest of the trip passed like a dream. Joyce visited the Hanging Dog Baptist Church Sunday morning for service and the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church Sunday night. They were so friendly and nice to her, making her feel welcome and at home, that again uncharacteristic tears came. She was especially moved at the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church where her great (x2)-grandfather, Hanpton, was a founder and the first pastor.

All these memorable events -- and memorable they were -- were relayed to me in New York each night when Joyce called. I can vouch for the intensity of her excitement. Since then, we have gone back to Hanging Dog together, and I have walked along some of the same paths that Joyce enjoyed on the initial visit. The treasure, we discovered, was not only the family history Joyce was convinced she would never uncover, but the many firends we have made. The people of these experiences are so close to us today, that not a day has passed that we do not think of them. We have truly been blessed.

This story would not be complete without telling about Joyce's return to New York. I met her at the airport in the early afternoon and had to laugh when she came through the walkway from the plane. She had on a Hanging Dog t-shirt and was loaded down with a satchel full of books and information, as well as her other baggage. I know it was heavy for I had to carry it for her to the car. I asked her why she hadn't checked the satchel, and sse responded that she did not trust the contents to the airline but wanted to keep it with her at all times. She still does.

NOTE: Many thanks to Joyce (Hampton) Burkett for sending and sharing this story with me! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

This site is dedicated to the memory of my parents, Tommy and Beulah (Cline) Nipper.

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