We had always heard about my husband’s family history, family stories, where his parents were from, what his parents’ parents and their ancestors did for a living… but the reality has been an exciting “adventure into ancestor land.” We walked in their footsteps, looked at their homes, went into the church where they worshiped, probably ate where they dined, and touched their graves.
On a recent trip to Apalachicola, armed with some information gleaned from family stories, history and the internet, we traced the footsteps of his great-grandfather, George Henry Whiteside and his brothers. His mother’s parents, William Peter Brunson and Mattie Kilby (Whiteside) Brunson passed away when Cordelia Noelle Brunson (Gray), “Mom” was rather young. After her parents passed, “Mom” was sent to Atlanta to live with her Aunt Anna Wallace (Whiteside) Nichols. Mom later attended a teacher’s college in Athens, Ga., married Frank H. Gray and had six children and traveled as a Army wife. She told stories of her younger years as a girl growing up in Apalachicola, her loving family, her innocence and privilege.
Our first stop was the municipal library where we found a wealth of information and photos. For the first time we saw a photo of my husband’s grandmother, Mattie Kilby Whiteside Brunson and Mrs. W. H. Whiteside, who were members of the Philaco Woman’s Club.
Looking into the eyes of his ancestor grandmother, tears welled in my husband’s eyes. No, we had never met her and don’t even know what she was like… but she contributed to his gene pool and later, to our son’s gene pool. We were extremely fortunate to speak with the knowledgeable librarian who said the historical librarian would be there the next day. We left our telephone number and the place where we would be staying. We drove by the ancestral home to see what it looked like. We then headed for the cemetery to see if we could find the final resting places.
The Chestnut Cemetery for some reason didn’t fit; it did not feel right. The ages of the stones appeared correct, but we just didn’t think we were in the right area. We then went to the Magnolia Cemetery. We were told by the librarian that the Magnolia Cemetery had been relocated after the original resting site was flooded. We spent hours looking for a gravesite, which we knew was somewhere because we had a “web” picture of it. Where could we find the grave markers and other information?
We went to lunch, probably drove the same area where our ancestors walked, sat and ate. We enjoyed the abundance of oysters and shrimp, something else his ancestors would have eaten. As we talked, we devised a research plan; we needed a telephone book to locate additional information. We needed to locate the courthouse, hopefully to obtain more information. So, we returned to the hotel where I would make some calls.
Luckily there was an “old fashioned” printed telephone book in the room. First, we contacted the courthouse to determine if there was a lot and plot number for the cemetery. Would a funeral home have this information? The lady we spoke with was extremely helpful and knowledgeable, but we would have to call back the next day.
At this point, “the ancestors” hit me in the head! I don’t know why I didn’t think about this earlier. On the photograph of the markers from the internet there was a name of the photographer. Ding, ding, ding, ding! We found the photographer’s name, looked her up in the traditional phone book and learned she is a reporter for the Apalachicola Times. We then phoned and made “initial contact” with Lois Swoboda.
Ms. Swoboda was gracious and extremely helpful, taking her personal time. She met us at the cemetery to show us the grave site, initially having trouble finding it herself. Trees and sometimes surrounding landmarks change, but after about 30 minutes…voila!
At the same area we walked past at least 20 times the day before, the markers they were, as huge as day. She found the markers of the Whiteside’s and the Brunson’s. Hurrah! The grave sites were located and in relatively good shape.
My husband lovingly cleaned the markers which had not been visited in years. A marker indicated that George Henry Whiteside had enlisted in 1861 at age 17, in the CSA (Confederate States of America). Additional research confirmed he was later sent to the Confederate Naval Yard in Columbus, Georgia, to be with his brothers, Captain Samuel Judd Whiteside and their younger brother, Thomas J. Whiteside, who was 12 at the time of the beginning of the Civil War.
Ms. Swoboda gave us useful and accurate information to help with our research, for which we were thankful. She took us by the original family house located on Sixth Street. This “Whiteside” house was occupied by the family prior to moving to the second house, located on D Street, which is where “Mom” lived as a child. The second house was the one we found listed on the internet as the “Whiteside” house, looked vacant. We would have loved to have been able to enter this house to feel the presence of my husband’s mother and her family. If those walls could talk, what would they say, what history would they tell?
The next day, we went back to the library where we learned more information. We were provided with files and books to look through. This historical librarian had a long history in Apalachicola, filled in the blanks with information and sending us in the right direction. We already knew that the Whitesides were well known, respected, had an ice house, and went to Trinity Episcopal Church and where they lived.
We visited Trinity, which was open. There was an “awe” in the feeling of those who entered those doors before us. We reflected about the times the Whiteside and Brunson families gathered, worshiped, probably walking around the same pews where they sat for Sunday service.
We then visited the John Gorrie Museum State Park. Dr. Gorrie, a friend of George and Samuel Whiteside, was the Florida physician and inventor who developed a mechanical refrigeration and ice making. Through research, Gorrie proved that malaria was carried by mosquitoes, observing that patients did better when it was cooler, which in turn, lead him to figure out a way to cool the rooms. The museum was informative. After viewing the museum, I am of the firm belief that the United States should have a “Dr. Gorrie Appreciation Day” and I thank Dr. Gorrie every time I walk into my cool house or have a ice cube to cool my drink. However, unfortunately, he never saw his invention in full use.
After Dr. Gorrie died, Samuel Whiteside went to Savannah, Ga. to open the Gorrie Ice House, while George W. Whiteside, with investors, opened the Ice and Canning Company on Water Street in Apalachicola.
But, where was the Whiteside “Ice and Canning Company” ice house located? We were referred to Delores’s Sweet Shoppe restaurant where we met another long-time resident and local historian, Delores Roux. She was able to tell us where the ice house once stood. She said that the ice house caught fire, leaving only one wall in place. Armed with the correct location and knowing where the wall still stood, we were able to locate the area and take some photos… in our ancestors’ footsteps. She said that she knew Frank Whiteside and we learned a little more about what Frank was like and the Whiteside family.
We now had names and dates, but who were these ancestors? What were they like? We will have to do further research to determine where the piece of the puzzle fits.
It was time to leave our adventure into ancestral land. We learned as much as we could in two short days. We met wonderful, helpful people who went out of their way to help us with information. We purchased books and t-shirts. Armed with names and dates, we would now continue our research with books and on line. Names, birth dates and death dates are always nice but family stories are even better. Who were the people behind the names?
As we drove out of town, we saw the KOA Campground at Eastpoint, once owned by Frank and Faith Whiteside. The sign was barely standing, once proudly announcing “visitors welcome.” We would have loved to have stayed and chat awhile, to walk the same path, but time was short and we will have to visit again.
Now, armed with additional information and books, we are learning about where the Whitesides began and when the name died. Yes, every beginning has an end. With the help of historians, our son will have written information to tell his children about the Whiteside/Brunson long history, fighting in the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, what they stood for, and what they fought for.
We will return one day, hopefully soon, to once again enjoy fresh fish, shrimp and oysters. In the meantime, we will research and collect more family information, photographs, history and stories from where our ancestors walked in Apalachicola.
Months later, research continues as we search genealogy sites. The family tree grows with each new name and date we find through additional research. We have learned of more books written about the history of the areas which include ancestor names.
A recent book, “Apalachicola Ice” was written by Faith Whiteside Bingham, wife of Frank Whiteside. Mrs. Bingham passed away, and her daughter, Robin Ingram, completed the project and had it published in August 2012. The book can be purchased at the local bookstore, Downtown Books.
Once again, we sincerely thank each and every person who took the time to help us along the way…. to walk “in the footsteps of my husband’s ancestors.”