Your Stories: From an American Revolutionary War Ancestor to the World Family Tree

Posted September 1, 2015 by Amanda | 2 Comments

We love hearing from Geni users about their experiences in genealogy. Today we want to share the story of Virginia Lee Oldham (Hopper)’s journey uncovering her family history.

Virginia and her husband, William Joseph (Billy Joe)

Virginia and her husband, Billy Joe

She was born in Princeton, Kentucky at the family home on Baldwin Avenue. In 1967, Virginia married Billy Joe Oldham and together, had two daughters, Sara Lee and Heather Jo. Between 1979-1989, Virginia was the owner and instructor of a downtown craft supply store. She was the first person in her immediate family to graduate college and earned a Masters of English/Education from Murray State University in 1998. Today, she is a retired teacher and Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention Specialist.

These days Virginia serves as the President of the Caldwell County Historical Society, is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Friends of the Library.

Although she began taking her first family history research notes in 1998, she didn’t actively pursue her genealogy until 12 years later when she began searching for an American Revolutionary War patriot to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“On the day that we buried my father, Herman Edward, my Uncle Henry told me that my second great grandfather’s name was James K. Polk Hopper. According to him, James was a tobacco farmer who had moved from nearby Lyon County, Kentucky to Webster County, Kentucky. I eventually learned that my second great grandfather’s true name, James C. Hopper. From Internet sources, I found my family history from my fourth great grandfather, John Hopper, to my father.” I found it all on the Fred Feldman Family Tree.  Later I learned that his nickname was ‘Poke.’ I suppose that’s where the James K. Polk originated.”

How she came to discover that her second great grandfather’s nickname was ‘Poke’ was a fluke.

Your Stories: From an American Revolutionary War Ancestor to the World Family Tree

William Talton’s tombstone at Old Blackwell Cemetery in Clay, KY

“Our Glenn Martin Genealogy Library has cemetery books from Caldwell and several surrounding counties. I knew that my grandfather William Talton Hopper lived in Wheatcroft, KY in Webster County and was buried in Blackwell Cemetery in Clay, KY. I had also learned that the F.O.E. cemetery in Clay had a plot with a large Hopper tombstone and one smaller stone with BAIN and dates. I knew that Bain was Talton’s brother. Since there were no other markers, it was reasonable to figure that the stones had been removed and other Hoppers were buried in unmarked graves. In F.O.E. listings, I found the plot number for both James C.’s and my second great grandmother, Susan Catherin Still. The entry in the cemetery book list his name and in parentheses is the word ‘Poke.’”

Your Stories: From an American Revolutionary War Ancestor to the World Family Tree

Hopper’s Tombstone is I.O.O.F Cemetery in Clay, KY

“We’ve all had a good laugh about the different ways James C. may have come to be known by that moniker. I surmise he was prone to taking his finger and giving people a poke to get their attention or to make a point. My Uncle Henry has been gone now for many years. I’m sad that I didn’t get to tell him about his grandfather, James C. “Poke” Hopper. I know he would have thought the story is as funny as I do.”

Virginia continued her search and eventually, had a breakthrough.

“As I continue to look for my patriot, I was fortunate to be introduced to Debbie Atcheley’s research where I learned that though my second great grandmother, Susan Catherin Still Hopper, James C.’s wife, that I was related to Garrett Gray, Jr. also my fourth great grandfather. He was my ARW patriot and I did join DAR.”

After accomplishing her goal of joining the Daughters of the American Revolution, Virginia decided to continue her genealogy quest online.

“Finding myself hooked on online research, after I retired in March of 2014, I began typing in Hopper names from my extensive online research. I was excited to find Blaggrove Hopper from Fauquir County, Virginia and his profile was on I added my profile and decided to treat myself to joining and becoming a Geni Pro and that’s when my family tree – exploded.”

Almost immediately, Virginia found information on her family tree that she never knew.

“I like that once I entered information that I knew, [Geni] made connections that would have taken a lifetime to research. I feel that information I find on Geni is reliable. As for adding information, [it’s] easier to manipulate than some other sites I’ve used.”

Although Virginia is the only researcher of the family, she has found her relatives enjoy learning what she’s turned up.

“They’re impressed with Geni too! My daughters, one surviving brother, and sister are my followers on my profile.”

Virginia has also found Geni’s Tree Matches and MyHeritage’s Record Matches and Smart Matches to be valuable tools.

“I use all three to check on the accuracy of my entries. I especially enjoy seeing entries of great grandparents as far back as 22nd generations. I’m always surprised to see how Scottish and Danish Royalty show up through my Cannon family relatives. My fourth great grandmother Rosanna Cannon Gray’s family contains many such connections. There are also several French ancestors, which is amazing.”

Your Stories: From an American Revolutionary War Ancestor to the World Family Tree

Family tin with a photo of grandmother Price Ann Oliver Hopper Pugh, her obituary in a local newspaper, and a lock of her hair

But not all of her great finds are online.

“Additionally, I have precious handwritten note that Talton sent to my grandmother, Price Ann Oliver, when they were courting. I also have a notice from Metropolitan Life insurance where she was paid a death benefit after Talton died from DDT poisoning at age 45. At that time, DDT was commonly used as a pesticide on tobacco.“

Like many researching their family history, some of her most treasured gems are the ones that tie directly to her family’s past.

“Daddy gave me an old family tin that contained several keepsakes. One of which I believe to be a button off the USA uniform of one of three Hopper brothers and my cousins who fought in the Civil War.”

Now with years of genealogy research under her belt, Virginia has some valuable advice for others interested in learning more about their family history:

  • Talking to living relatives is paramount; but folks must get started before memories fade and relatives pass away.
  • Try to locate family documents, Bibles, marriage bonds, birth certificates, etc.
  • Date each note and document the source.
  • Go to family cemeteries (always been a family past time). Take lots of photos of your relatives’ tombstones. Cell phone cameras take great pictures up close.
  • Attend genealogy seminars if you can find ones that are local.
  • Visit your library and if you’re lucky perhaps you may have a genealogy library similar to the one in my hometown. Take advantage of free help from staff at libraries, they’ve always been willing to help me.
  • Look for and join historical historical/genealogical societies.
  • Perhaps the best advice I could offer is to go online and simply search using what you know. I found by searching with names I found on other websites.
  • Finally, always, always be willing to share what you know.

Thank you to Virginia for sharing her story with us! Do you have a story to share? Let us know in the comments below!

All photos courtesy of Virginia Lee Oldham (Hopper)

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

See all posts by