Tuesday, January 11, 2011


William Goff with wife Elizabeth
on their 50th Wedding Anniversary
   Remember the game of "telephone" that you used to play when you were young?  You would sit in a circle and someone would whisper a word from the first person to the next.  The secret word would be passed around the circle in a whisper until it got back to the beginning.  The last person would announce what word had been whispered into her ear.  Then the first person would tell everyone what word he had whispered in the beginning.  The words were almost never the same and sometimes the changes that had been produced in the telling from one person to the next created great laughter!
   I am beginning to think that family stories might be a little like the game of "telephone."  The stories are told from one person, or one generation, to the next; sometimes even with a whisper; and by the time a few years have gone by the story has changed so much that sometimes we don't even remember what the original tale was like.  Could this be what happened with the story of my great grandfather Goff and his father?
   Every time I saw a "shaking leaf" on ancestry.com connected with William Goff or his father Thomas Goff I sent a message to the owners of the tree and asked them if they knew what happened to the siblings of William Goff after their mother died and they were put in the orphanage; no one ever responded...until I looked in my ancestry message box last week. The reply that I found was stunning...
My Thomas was a carpenter at Buckner's Orphanage. While working there his first wife, Annie (last name unknown to our family), died from complications due to childbirth with son John, Thomas was left with 8 children so he hired Annie Laurie Elam, a resident at Buckner's, to babysit and tend his children, Annie Laurie loved baby John so she and Thomas married. Annie Laurie proceeded to have a large family of her own, the oldest James being my husband's line. Annie Laurie's orphanage papers came from Buckner's files. Annie Laurie often spoke about being at Buckner's and telling this info to her children. If your William is of this family he was not an orphanage resident except that his father worked there.
I kept wondering how my family could have told this story so differently...but I liked this version so much better!  Then I got an email from the Goff family member...

I am excited to make contact with Thomas's first family. My grandfather James was from Thomas's second family. He and my grandmother talked about Willie as an older brother. I can promise you that they all lived around each other and were not placed in an orphanage except for Thomas's work there. My great grandmother, Annie, was the baby sitter for the first family and would have had no reason to do that if they were confined to an orphanage. My grandparents always talked about the first family as brothers and sisters.
I emailed a family member who is also interested in genealogy and she called these kind long lost family members and they talked for an hour!  Meanwhile I felt such lightening of joy for my great grandfather; yes, he still lost his mother at an early age, but maybe his father didn't abandon him and his siblings as I had believed.  I felt so relieved to know this.

I wondered how my branch of the family could have such a different version of the story.  I still don't know the answer to that question.  I started by searching for information on Buckner's Orphanage in Dallas and expected to find an old historical reference.  What I found instead was a link to a huge international organization that still exists.  Not only is it still in Dallas but it has missions around the globe.  In reading about the founding of the original orphanage it appears that the original Mr. Buckner was quite progressive for his time, seeing a need to meet the needs of orphans, African Americans, the elderly and women.  Not only that but he gained support of multiple denominations and religions.  Whether my great great grandfather was merely employed there or whether this organization helped my great grandfather when his mother died, I'm glad that these type of people were there to help in their time of need.  It appears that they were very ahead of their time in thoughts and actions.

Later that week I got another email from my distant cousin telling me about some old letters from Goff cousins in Ireland.  I started reading them, just out of curiosity. 

   While blithely reading along the middle page of the normal news that relatives might send I was stopped in my tracks with complete surprise as I read the sentence saying, "We used to hear from Hazel... from Nevada & Virginia Gough from Joplin but we never hear from any of them now. Hazel has married since & perhaps Virginia too." Yes, Virginia had indeed married, and in 1948 when this letter was dated she had just given birth to my mother, so she was probably pretty busy! VIRGINIA 'GOUGH' (or Goff) from Joplin was my Grandma!  I could not believe that I had just discovered my very own Grandma in the writings of some distant cousins from Ireland on someone else's family tree!  

Virginia Goff, my grandmother

Kate Whelan and Alice Goff
Cousins in Ireland

Not only was that delightful to discover my grandmother in an unsuspected place, but knowing that these distant cousins in Ireland were writing to the sons of my great great grandfather Thomas's 2nd wife and talking about my grandma who was the daughter of a son of the first wife, lends credibility to the idea that the whole family knew each other and was in contact with each other.  I think that means that my newly found cousins on ancestry are probably right about my great grandfather and his siblings not being abandoned by their father.  This has been a week of very promising discovery!

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