The Search for Mary (Polly)

Long before I was interested in genealogy, two of my uncles, Billy and Buster, tried to learn more about our family’s history.  There were tales about Mary “Polly,” the unwed mother of our family patriarch (John William Anderson, June 24, 1826 – Nov. 11, 1902) “arriving” in Nelson County, Virginia driving a buckboard wagon with her young son in tow.  Some older family members thought she came from Fluvanna County.  They knew she later married a Fox.  Despite their research, my uncles could never discover much about her origins, and these tales were all I had to go on when I seriously began researching in 1990.

Unfortunately, there are some things I will never be able to find out about the life of Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox, but thanks to courthouse records and genealogy forums on the internet, I have been able to piece together some interesting facts about our elusive great-great-great grandmother.

Mary “Polly” Anderson was born December 19, 1809 in Nelson County, Virginia, to John R. Anderson and Mary “Polly” Thurmond Lyon Anderson.  Her paternal grandparents were Samuel W. Anderson and Jane/Jeane Lyon Anderson.  Her maternal grandparents were William Isaiah Hopkins Lyon and Frances “Sally” Thurmond Lyon.  (I have long suspected that our Mary’s paternal grandmother was related to her maternal grandparents, but I have been unable to prove this.)

When her son, John William Anderson, was born in June 1826, Mary was just sixteen years old.  Did she name him after her father and maternal grandfather?  Possibly, but there’s no way to know for sure.  Neither will we ever know the name of her child’s father (she used her surname–Anderson–as his last name), or under what circumstances she became pregnant at the age of 15….

I do know that when Mary’s maternal grandfather (William Lyon) died in 1811, he specified in his will that what he was leaving to Mary’s mother was not subject to “the controul or paiment of the debts of her husband John Anderson,” and he appointed one of his sons as a trustee to enforce this.  Therefore, it would seem that there was some friction between Mary’s parents–or at least between her father and her maternal grandfather.

In August 1829, at the age of 19, Mary “Polly” Anderson married Woodson B. Fox in Nelson County, Virginia.  Woodson was the son of Samuel A. Fox, Jr. and Elizabeth “Betsy” McGuiry Fox. His parents lived on land along current day Rt. 151 between Afton and Greenfield in Nelson County.

Very early in my research, I investigated a small cemetery in this area.  If I took pictures, they were probably lost in (one of several) computer crashes in the early 1990s, but from what I remember, most of the graves were marked with simple stones.  During a later trip into Nelson County, I was shocked to see construction occurring in the field where the cemetery had been, and before long there was an Italian restaurant (D’Ambola’s) and parking lot there!

To the credit of those who purchased and “re-purposed” this land, a memorial marker was installed towards the side of the restaurant:

While I don’t think it includes the names of all who were buried there, at least they made the effort to remember them.  And as a side note, in 2006 my mother and I got together at the restaurant with an Anderson relative I initially met through genealogy.  We figured that it was a rather appropriate spot to have a mini-reunion!   In 2011, The Blue Toad Restaurant opened in what had been D’Ambola’s.

I don’t know if Woodson and Mary lived on this land with or near his parents, and early census records provided very little information.  For example, the 1830 U.S. Federal Census showed Woodson living in Nelson County with a female household member (“total free white persons – 2”), but where was her son?  John William Anderson would have been about 4 years old then.

In March 1831, Mary and Woodson had a daughter, Elizabeth Ann “Betty” Fox.  I think it is safe to say that she was named after Woodson’s mother, Elizabeth “Betsy” McGuiry Fox.  In the 1840 U.S. census, the Woodson B. Fox household was comprised of one male 40-49 (Woodson), one male 10-14 (most likely John William Anderson), one female 30-39 (Mary), and one female 10-14 (most likely their daughter, Elizabeth Ann, aka Betty).

In 1846, Mary’s son, John William Anderson, married Sarah Jane Rhodes of Nelson County.  She was the daughter of Robert P. Rhodes and Mildred Marshall Rhodes who lived in the Rockfish area of the County, within a couple of miles of the Rockfish Depot. Their marriage license was registered in Albemarle County.

While no military records have been found for John William Anderson, there is a picture of him in a pre-Civil War uniform.  According to sources at the Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, this was the uniform of an officer.

By trade, John William Anderson was a blacksmith, and he was apparently well educated.  While it’s possible that he apprenticed to learn his trade, the details of his education and his military service remain a mystery. (And how did he have the money to acquire as much land as he did?)

The 1850 census provided more information about these families, including household members’ names.  Woodson’s occupation was listed as mechanic, and he was 45 years old.  Mary was listed as 40 years old, and their daughter, Elizabeth Ann (Betty) was 20.

In 1850, Mary’s son and his family were living next to a Clemons (sp?) family who were millwrights.  At one point a mill was on the creek behind the house that became our “home place,” and the mill stones are now on the adjacent property where John William Anderson lived.  During our 2011 family reunion, my cousin took this picture of her young granddaughter sitting on one of the millstones.

As children, we would often find horseshoes in the dirt at the intersection of Batesville Road and Ennis Mountain Road, so this was probably the site of JWA’s blacksmith shop.

I’m not sure when John William Anderson and his family moved to this cabin, but it was their home for many years.  And while hard to believe, my mother and her siblings lived here until the 1940s. (More pictures of the cabin are here.)

In November 1853, Mary’s daughter, Betty, married William Hicks, a blacksmith.  Their marriage license was issued in Lovingston, Virginia.  Their first daughter, Ella, was born in August 1854, and their second daughter, Mary (Mollie) was born in March 1860.  (I first saw these names and dates in John William Anderson’s Bible, and had no idea who they were until many years later.  JWA’s Bible had been passed down to my uncle Howard, and now one of his sons has it.)

The Hicks family was living in Albemarle County in the 1860 census.  John William Anderson and his family were in Nelson County (and a Samuel W. Fox, also a blacksmith, was living with them), and Woodson and “Polly” Fox–now 57 and 50, respectively–were also in Nelson.  In these records, Woodson’s occupation was “miller,” and the census record showed that neither Woodson or his wife could read.  (Again, this makes me wonder how, where, and at what expense JWA was educated…)

On April 17, 1861, Mary’s son-in-law, William Hicks, went to North Garden, VA and enlisted in Company F of the VA 10th Cavalry, Regiment 17.  Sadly, he died at the Winder Hospital in Richmond, VA on July 10, 1862, leaving behind his wife and two daughters.

In April 1867, Elizabeth Ann (Betty), now 36 years old, married Cornelius S. Foley in Nelson County.  Foley, born in County Cork Ireland, was the son of William and Margaret Foley. I haven’t been able to conclusively find anything about Cornelius and Betty after their marriage.  Oddly, Cornelius Foley was a common name for Irish immigrants, so while there are records of men bearing the name all over the east coast, I can’t prove that any are the one I’m looking for.

Three years later, the 1870 U.S. Federal Census was full of surprises:  John William Anderson, his wife, and their five (surviving) children were visited by the census taker on September 15, 1870.   In the very next household visited (in a separate dwelling), his mother, Mary Fox, age 61, was “keeping house,” along with her granddaughters Ella and Mary.  Also listed in the household was John Fox, age 21, whose occupation was “farm laborer.”  There was no mention of her husband, Woodson, and no mention of her daughter or new son-in-law, Cornelius.  This makes me think that Betty left the area with her new husband, entrusting her daughters’ care to her (widowed) mother….

Ella was married just two months later, in November 1870, to John Edward Hall, the son of Hugh Nelson Hall and Eliza Ellen Wallace.  Their marriage license was issued in Nelson County, Virginia.  In July 1872, however, John Edward Hall–listed as a widower–married K. (Catherine) Kilbourne.  John Edward Hall and his second wife Catherine are both buried at Hebron Baptist Church in Nelson County, Virginia, but the grave of his first wife, Ella Hicks Hall, has not been found.  It’s possible that she was buried in Hilltop Cemetery (where her uncle John William Anderson was later buried), but I have not seen/found a grave that would indicate that.

In June 1873, Sarah Jane Rhodes Anderson, the wife of John William Anderson, died at the age of 46.


At some point after that (but certainly by 1880), two of Sarah’s unmarried sisters had moved in with JWA and his three sons who were still living at home.

As a side note, John William Anderson apparently had much love and respect for his sisters-in-law, and in his will, he outlined how they should be cared for after his death.  The only picture I have of these women is one of “Aunt Fanny” (Cynthia Frances Rhodes).

Fanny was buried in the Hebron Baptist Church cemetery.

The other sister who helped care for JWA and his family after Sarah’s death was Cornelia Edna Rhodes.  She was buried in Hilltop Cemetery near her sister’s grave.

Two more of Sarah’s sisters, Mary and Eliza, were buried at Hebron Baptist Church.

It’s hard to tell exactly what happened after Sarah’s death in 1873, but on Tuesday, December 9, 1879–just days before her 70th birthday–Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox was admitted to Western State Lunatic Asylum in Staunton, VA.   (The name wasn’t changed to Western State Hospital until 1894.) The reason for her admission was “paralysis with a duration of two years,” and she was listed as a pauper.  She lived less than 6 weeks after her admission to the hospital, and died on Sunday, January 25, 1880.

While I do not know for sure, perhaps her “paralysis” was due to a stroke. I’ve seen this term before on death certificates from the late 1800s, and I can’t think they all refer to spinal cord injuries…

But if Mary had a significant stroke sometime around 1877, who cared for her during those two years–her teenage granddaughter Mary/Mollie?  Her son’s sisters-in-law?  Was Mary still living in a house near her son?

I first learned that Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox was buried in the Western State Hospital cemetery in September 2015, and on October 12, 2015, my cousin Mary and I went over to see what we could find.  Simply put, it was overwhelming….


Over 2000 men and women are buried there.  In an effort to protect their privacy, the headstones were originally painted with a code number, but the paint has wore off, leaving literally thousands and thousands of anonymous, impersonal unmarked graves.  A few graves have proper headstones, with the decedent’s name and dates on them, and my goal–since learning of my great-great-great grandmother’s burial there–has been to put up a tombstone for her, if we could ever positively identify her grave.

On this day in October 2015, however, my cousin and I came away with many pictures, but with no answers.


Shortly after our visit, my cousin noticed that the plot location was noted on the cemetery listing for our ancestor:  According to records, she was buried in Terrace Row 9, Plot 27.  This was certainly helpful, but it still wouldn’t absolutely guarantee that we would be able to find her grave among the thousands.  So many markers have fallen or are broken, and there are trees growing up through some graves–how could we know for sure?

It took us over 2 years to return, but on March 8, 2018 we went back to the Western State Hospital Cemetery in Staunton. It was in the mid-30’s and windy–and spitting snow!–when we arrived, but we were (almost) dressed warmly enough to begin our search.

Starting with row 1, we walked up the side of the cemetery to row 9.  The first grave marker in the row had fallen over, but the rest of the markers were standing or clearly visible in the line.  And so we counted across to the 27th stone, which should be the plot where our ggg-grandmother was buried 138 years ago….

There was nothing at all remarkable about the stone on “9#27.”  The (whitewashed?) code numbers were no longer visible, and there were no landmarks nearby that would allow us to easily find it again.  And so I made my way back down the hill to get some pencils.  I took these pictures of Mary from my car. (Like I said, it was COLD!)


I picked up a couple of rocks at the edge of the parking lot, and instead of walking straight up the hill, I again started at the side.  Once again I counted 9 rows up and 27 over just to verify that we were in the right place.

It was surprisingly difficult to write on the lichen-encrusted concrete marker–the leads in my mechanical pencils broke after every mark–and what I wrote was off-center and crooked.  But by getting something written on the marker, and by placing the two rocks on top of it and a stick in front of it, we had at least a temporary way to identify what we believed to be Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox’s grave.




One has to wonder why Mary’s son, John William Anderson, did not bring his mother back to be buried in the small family cemetery where his wife and some of his children were buried.  According to a Staunton newspaper from January 1880, it was unseasonably mild about the time of her death, so weather should not have been an issue.

Was there a funeral?  Did any of her family members attend?  Were funerals even held for patients at the Western State Lunatic Asylum, or were the dead carried out under cover of darkness and quietly buried so as to not disturb the other patients?

Were flowers ever put on her grave?

And what became of Mary’s granddaughter, Mary “Mollie” Hicks?  I can find no trace of her in the 1880 census records, but on January 1, 1885 she married Peter Livick in Staunton, Virginia. This image was taken from the January 7, 1885 issue of the Staunton Spectator newspaper:

She was 24 years old and single, and her husband was also single (first marriage for both) and he was 26 years old.  On their marriage license, Mary/Mollie’s parents were listed as William C. Hicks and Betty Fox.

While there are no known pictures of Mollie, this is a picture of Peter Livick:

Mollie and Peter had two daughters, and their first daughter, Cora Lee, was born in February 1885–less than two months after they were married!

Their second daughter, Edna May, was born in September 1888, and Mollie died on September 1, 1889, two days before her daughter’s first birthday….

Mary “Mollie” Hicks Livick was buried in Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton.  I hope to find and photograph her grave as time permits.  Someone sent me this picture, but I can’t remember who.  But since it’s from the findagrave site, maybe I got it from there.

Both Cora and Edna–daughters of Mary “Mollie” Hicks Livick, granddaughters of Elizabeth Ann “Betty” Fox, and great-granddaughters of Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox–went on to marry and have children of their own, as did the children of John William Anderson.  It is mind-boggling to think of how many people could (in the past) and can (right now) trace their ancestry back to our great-great-great-grandmother, Mary “Polly” Anderson Fox.  She deserves to be remembered.

I have left messages for the Community Affairs representative at Western State Hospital and hope to set up an appointment to see the actual cemetery ledgers.  The information there should positively confirm that Terrace Row 9, Plot 27 is the final resting place of our elusive Mary/Polly–long sought, now most likely found.

“Remember me in the family tree; my name, my days, my strife.  Then I’ll ride upon the wings of time and live an endless life.” ~ Linda Goetsch


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And Just How Windy Was It?!

High winds were in the forecast for Friday, March 2, 2018, and the forecast was accurate–it was CRAZY windy!  After driving slalom-like around branches in the road on my morning commute, I arrived at school to find the main entrance blocked due to a fallen tree.  When I drove around to the service entrance, I joined several other teachers who were waiting for another fallen tree to be removed.

I finally made my way around to the back of the art building where I feed the ferals each morning, and I was shocked to see that the heavy wooden feeding station had been blown over!  Fortunately, it didn’t go all the way down the hill, but it’s going to take some doing to get it back where it belongs.

I put the food bowl near the water bowl, and then took these pictures from my classroom:


Mama Cat was NOT impressed….


Look at those ears!  And yes, she had to check it out….



I saw all three “regulars” (Mama Cat, Orange Girl, and Cali-1) during the morning, and even though they were pretty puzzled by this new arrangement, at least they weren’t injured when their sturdy “restaurant” took flight!

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January 27, 2018

Interactive Map of our day trip:

A warm day in January provided a good opportunity to go for a drive.  We started with a plan to head towards Lynchburg on Rt. 29 South, and perhaps get together with some friends there. (You can enlarge each picture by clicking on it. 🙂 )



As we got close to Lynchburg, Wayne gave our friends a call.  When they said they had other plans, we altered ours.  We turned on a new-to-us road, Rt. 130 West.  Lots of pretty views on this scenic highway.





Oh–Glasgow!  This was the first time we’d come here from this direction. 🙂


Blessing the waters of the Maury River.


The Maury joins the James River near the town of Glasgow….


Bluebird right above the rivers.


There’s a nice little park at the confluence. Indeed–it’s a treasure!



Wayne spotted some interesting patterns in the water and started shooting some pictures.  Really love these!



We drove on to Natural Bridge, and it was our first time visiting since it became a state park.  Unfortunately, it was too late in the day to walk the trail to the bridge, so we’ll do that another time.



Driving towards home on I-81 North, I was reminded of the song, “These Old Dark Hills” by Robin and Linda Williams.

Fitting soundtrack for the end of a nice day. 🙂

These Old Dark Hills, Robin and Linda Williams
When day is done and work is through
I seek the old familiar view
Those faithful confidants of stone
Truer friends I’ve never known
These Old Dark Hills
On which sore eyes can rest
These Old Dark Hills
Ridge after ridge to the west
I hear the wind from a distant time
Blowing lonesome through the pines
From when the ancient wilderness
Was free of uninvited guests
Father of the timber and the coal
Mother to the music of my soul
Sister of the quiet and serene
Brother to the land of broken dreams
Oh, their grace and the majesty
Speak silently to me
And hold my gaze lovingly
How I ever long to see

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January 1, 2018

For the last several years, Wayne and I have visited a Virginia state park on New Year’s Day.  This year–with the bitterly cold temperatures and by getting a late start–we decided to stay a bit closer to home.

We drove into Nelson County, on through the communities of Afton, Nellysford, and Beech Grove, past Wintergreen Resort, and then up, up the mountain to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This is one of our favorite drives no matter the season.



I mentioned it was cold, right?


Cold, but incredibly beautiful….


It was even colder when we reached the Raven’s Roost overlook, and it was windy, too.  Brrrr!



We took a quick “selfie” with the wide Shenandoah Valley as our backdrop, then scurried back to the warmth of the car.



The Blue Ridge Parkway curves along the mountain’s crest, sometimes through forests, and sometimes to the top of the world….


While it’s not uncommon to see ice on the rocks during the winter, we were surprised to see what appeared to be a frozen waterfall on the side of a hill.  Usually this area is hidden by leaves.



One of the notable landmarks along this section of the Parkway is Humpback Rocks.  The trail that leads to the top of the outcropping is advertised as a “40 minute walk,” but it’s really a long, hard climb.  I haven’t been up there for years, and yet as cold as it was, some hale and hearty souls were enjoying the view from the summit!


As you near the northern end of the Parkway, there are views to the east of the Rockfish Valley. (The Shenandoah Valley is on the western side of the mountain.)



When we were almost back to “civilization,” Wayne took a last, random shot of the trees.  As I was editing the pictures, I zoomed in and it appears that there were two hawks in the trees.  See the two small spots of orange against the right side of the pine tree?


Before heading home, we made a quick stop in the Shenandoah Valley to drop off some soup bowl “cozies” that I’d made for my cousin, Mary.  Since she enjoys camping, I figured she’d like the fabric!  (If time permits, I’ll try to make some other cozies for our Etsy shop.)


Heading east again, we stopped–as we often do–at the overlook on Afton Mountain.  This view of the Rockfish Valley always reminds me of family, the genealogy research that’s intrigued me for nearly 20 years, and how blessed I’ve been to spend most of my life with these old mountains as companions….


I have to admit that my favorite things about winter are flannel, sweatpants, lots of blankets on the bed, the warmth from our wood stove–and staying inside!–but I’m glad that we spent part of this cold winter day–the first day of 2018–appreciating the beauty that’s all around us.

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Tennessee – November 2017

Whenever we make the 500+ mile trek to Tennessee, we always take advantage of opportunities to explore natural areas.  On a previous trip we visited Percy Priest Lake, and this time we wanted to see Old Hickory Lake, which is northeast of Nashville.

We left home on Saturday, November 18th and started the long drive down I-81 South.



Near Knoxville, TN we turned west on I-40.



We knew the weather was going to take a turn for the worse (indeed–there were tornado warnings that night!), but aside from some rain and mist, we made it safely to our destination by late afternoon.


On Sunday afternoon, we made a quick return visit to Papa Turney’s BBQ at Nashville Shores on Percy Priest Lake.  As “Papa” was telling Wayne about a guitar he’d had made, they were both surprised when Wayne told him that he knew the guy who’d made the pickups for it.  Small (musical) world!

View of the marina from the restaurant:


On Monday, we took the “scenic” route (avoiding the interstate) towards Old Hickory Lake.  Our first stop was at the visitor center at the Rockland Recreation Area on the northwest side of the lake, just west of the town of Hendersonville.




Continuing east, we next went to Henderson Memory Gardens cemetery.

Unlike other mini-vacations that involve cemetery visits, this time it wasn’t for the purpose of doing genealogy research. 🙂


Instead, Wayne left a guitar pick on the grave of John R. Cash, better known as Johnny Cash.  He and June Carter Cash–as well as their other family members and friends–are buried in the Hendersonville Memory Gardens.




After paying our respects to “the man in black” and his family, we drove a little further east to the Avondale Recreation area.  What a pretty place for a picnic lunch!

We’d seen several Great Blue Herons already, but this one was close enough to get better pictures.




After leaving Avondale, we went through the town of Gallatin toward Bledsoe Creek State Park.  There are so many state parks in TN, but this was the first time we’d had a chance to go to one.  We were very impressed with the campground, scenery, and wildlife!







Hundreds of birds were flying back and forth, back and forth across the water, from one group of trees to another.  I’m not sure what the point was, but they seemed to be enjoying it!

As we drove back to our hotel on the south side of I-40, we again noticed mountains in the distance.  I haven’t been able to figure out exactly where these are or what they’re called.  They remind me of our Blue Ridge Mountains.

The map below shows the route we took and the stops we made around Old Hickory Lake.  As you can tell, we really just saw a fraction of it!  (To view an interactive map, click here.)

All too quickly, though, it was time to head back up the road to Virginia.  We left early on Tuesday morning, hoping to get home before dark.





During the last 20 miles or so of the trip, the late afternoon sunlight set the hillsides ablaze with beautiful fall colors.  I always think of my mother when the leaves turn orange, ochre, gold, and rust. Most of my mom’s clothing choices were similar in color to the mountain’s autumn palette, and these tones certainly complimented her dark auburn hair and green eyes….



Both of my parents loved fall–it was their favorite season–and they would have truly enjoyed the things we saw and the places we went on this trip.   Most importantly, they would have loved seeing their absolutely adorable great-grandchild!

Having the opportunity to spend some time with this beautiful little boy, my oldest son, and my daughter-in-law was the real reason for our trek to Tennessee, and the very best part of the time we spent there!



While I certainly wish we lived closer and could visit more often, on this Thanksgiving Day I’m very thankful that we’ve been able to see them as often as we have over the last several months.  And until our next long drive to and from Tennessee, I’ll remain thankful for pictures, videos, and FaceTime! 🙂

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