Hughes' Views & News

Discovering my rural Alabama heritage

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on November 27, 2012

During Thanksgiving week, I traveled from my home in Durham, N.C., to Birmingham, Ala., to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my girlfriend, Kelley Grogan, and the family of my brother, Brian.

Left to right: Dylan Hughes, Gloria Hughes, Arley Hughes Jr., Tom Hughes, Mary Bess Paluzzi (Associate Dean for Special Collections at the UA Libraries), and Brian Hughes.

Our agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 20 included a trip to the Hoole Library at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where we donated a collection of 64 letters that my grandfather, Arley Hughes Sr. (1891-1969), wrote to his parents, brothers and sisters in Kennedy, Ala., while he served in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. The library plans to make the letters available on their website later.

After we concluded our business at the Hoole Library, we visited Arley Sr.’s grave, which is in Evergreen Cemetery, across the street from Bryant-Denny Stadium. He graduated from the UA School of Law in 1917, and then got married, before he was drafted into Army service. After returning home from WWI in 1919, he lived the rest of his life in Tuscaloosa.

My grandfather’s headstone.

My father lived the first several years of his life in this house at 828 11th Ave.

While in Tusaloosa, we also visited two home sites where my father, Arley “Bill” Hughes Jr., had lived while he was growing up, and a third home site where my mother, Gloria Breland Hughes, had lived. Only one of these homes was still standing. The other two survived a massive tornado that struck Tuscaloosa in April 2011 but have been demolished since then.

On Wednesday, Nov. 21, we went on a self-guided tour of several cemeteries where ancestors of ours are buried. First we visited four cemeteries in the rural area where my grandfather grew up, in the countryside outside Kennedy, a small town of a few hundred residents. Then we visited two cemeteries in Reform, Ala., a larger rural town where my grandfather’s wife, Virginia Ellen “Virgie” Doughty (1896-1978), grew up.

Shown here are me (at left), my father, and my brother, Brian, standing behind the headstone of my 2nd great grandfather, Thomps Hughes.

Our first stop was at Ashcraft Corner Memorial Cemetery, next to Ashcraft Corner Baptist Church. For me the highlight of this cemetery was seeing the grave of our first direct line Hughes ancestor to settle in Alabama, James Thompson “Thomps” Hughes (1831-1919). Thomps was the grandson of our earliest known Hughes ancestor, Andrew Hughes (1755-1843), who was born near Lancaster, Penn. but lived most of his adult life in the old Pendleton District in South Carolina.

Next we visited the Wesley Chapel Cemetery, which is on a dirt road (Wesley Chapel Road) and deep in the woods, about 2.5 miles from Ashcraft Corner Memorial. Here we found several graves of ancestors of ours named Wilson, a family that our Hughes line has been associated with since the 1700s. One example of this association: Thomps Hughes’ mother was Margaret “Peggy” Wilson (1801-1848), who married Thomps’ father, Elisha Hughes, in South Carolina in 1819.

Hulda Hughes Wilson (1833-1865) was a sister of Thomps Hughes. She married John Wilson (1828-1862), who was her first cousin.

We found additional examples of the Hughes-Wilson association at the next cemetery we visited, the Old Wesley Chapel Cemetery (aka, Wilson Cemetery) on Junkins Road, outside Kennedy. There we found the graves of two of Thomps’ sisters, Hulda Hughes Wilson, and Adline Hughes Wilson. Hulda, Adline, Thomps and their younger brother, William M. Hughes, were orphaned after their mother died in 1848 (their father, Elisha Hughes, had disappeared several years before). Custody of the orphans was awarded to their uncle, William M. Wilson, in Anderson, S.C. in June 1848. But by 1850 Thomps, Adline and William were living in Pickens County, Ala., in the home of their older sister, Harriet Hughes (1825-1906), and her first husband, John W. Hamby (1822-1862).

Here are a few more examples of the Hughes-Wilson connection.  James A. Wilson (1805-1876) is also buried in the cemetery on Junkins Road. James A. Wilson’s son, John Wilson (1828-1862), was the first cousin and husband of Hulda Hughes Wilson. James A. Wilson also had a daughter named Elizabeth “Eliza” Wilson (1829-1904), who was the grandmother of a fellow named Arley Hughes Sr., who was, you may recall, my grandfather. Another son of James A. Wilson, named James Harvey Wilson (1837-1900), was the first cousin and husband of Adline Hughes Wilson.

Our next stop was the Kennedy Express, a gas station and convenience store with a little restaurant inside. While we had lunch there, the clerk told us about a another Wilson Cemetery nearby, which we set off to see after lunch. This cemetery, like the one at New Wesley Chapel, was on a dirt road deep in the woods.

The headstone of James Harvey Doughty, one of my great grandfathers.

Then we drove to Reform (pronounced “REE-form”). First we visited Arbor Springs Cemetery, and then we visited Graham Memorial Cemetery,  which is close to Pickens County High School. Many of my grandmother’s Doughty relatives are buried at Graham Memorial. Arley Hughes Jr. was a school teacher in Pickens County before he went to law school in Tuscaloosa. In fact, he met his wife, Virgie Doughty (my grandmother) when she sent him a letter inviting him to apply for a teaching job. She wrote the letter on behalf of her father, James Harvey Doughty, who was highly active in the civic life of Pickens County.

What did I learn from this trip? It gave me a better understanding than I have ever had before about what life must have been like for my earliest Hughes ancestors in Alabama. They lived on a small farm in an area that even now seems to me very remote, rural and sparsely populated, although it’s only about an hour’s drive from Tuscaloosa. According to my father, the same trip took my grandfather two days by horse and wagon in the early 1900s.

The city I grew up in, Mobile, is in the same state, but the world of my childhood there in the 1960s and 70s was in many ways an entirely different planet from the world my grandfather grew up in. This trip taught me, in a very visceral way, that I am not that far removed from my rural Alabama heritage.

“Oh it was grand!” A World War I soldier’s account of Armistice Day

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on November 11, 2012

This head shot of my grandfather was taken in 1917. It was part of a composite for his graduating class from the School of Law at the University of Alabama.

My grandfather, Arley E. Hughes Sr., wrote the letter below on Nov. 11, 1918 to his younger sister, Lela, then 22 years old. At the time he was 27 and stationed in France, where he was serving in Sanitary Squad No. 59 of the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry (“Wildcat”) Division.

I am posting my grandfather’s letter here, on the 94th anniversary of Armistice Day, because it gives us a firsthand account of an extraordinary day in history as experienced by an ordinary soldier, who wrote the letter to tell the story to his family back home in the small, rural community of Kennedy, Alabama.

In addition to Lela, my grandfather’s letter makes reference to his brother, Eli; to another of his sisters, Ethma, and to his wife, Virgie (my grandmother).

Dear Sister; — The Armistice with Germany is signed and these French and our boys too are in a frenzy of excitement. I’ve never seen people so overjoyed. And I myself am unspeakably happy.

This P.M. flying machines of 3 or 4 countries and of several types flew over us and did all kinds of fancy stunts. Oh it was grand! They would dip right down to the ground and mount to the skies again next minute. They showed how recklessly happy they were.

Lela, words won’t convey an idea of what a flash of color and flags you can see on the streets tonight. See we are in a good big city. The railroad stations are even gay with all the Allied flags, St. cars, autos and every-body.

The next thing is: When will good old Uncle Sam start us home? I won’t complain at all makes no difference if I have to stay till spring. But I do hope I come home earlier.

Lela, Uncle Sam has provided wonderfully for us. We have fared far better than some civilians back home. And honestly I have more and better clothes than ever before in my life. (Tho I bought for $5.00 a tan leather coat the other day. I could not buy the same in civil life for 3 times the money.)

Lela, I weigh 67 kilos or 147-lbs. So you see I am well fed. Eli and I both are over our “flu”

Say, I got a lot of German souvenirs today from Germans. Got 56 coins, 8 pieces of paper money, 1 canteen, 1 match case, 1 match box, 7 identification tags, several buttons, 1 medal, and a few ornaments.
The match box has the iron cross on it.

Eli got four or 5 purses and pocket books, a watch, watch case, belt and some money.

Now you’ll be surprised to know that we were trading for another and consequently we got half our purchase without a pennie’s monetary cost.

These Germans would crowd around us like kids. They were crazy for a cigarette. They were so happy because of the cessation of war! One who spoke good English told me in convincing terms how glad they were. He gave me his photo. I’d also got a few others.

Lela, let Ethma and our kin all read this letter. Also send it home if you are writing to homefolks in a day or so.

Listen, I’d give anything almost to see my Virgie to-night. Oh, how happy she is, I know! Homefolks all I guess!

Lela, I make extra in my trading. Have more money than I used to. But of course I don’t make over $2.00 a day. May make $4.00 or $5.00 out of today’s trading.

Your big “bud,”


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