Thursday, November 19, 2009

Setting the Setting

Please note: this is post #5 of an ongoing research problem that involves an old arson case from 1957, in which a house fire occurred, killing my Paw Paw's [grandmother's] brother, Roscoe Martin and all four of his children.  For better clarity, here are the previous posts:

He Had Me at "Detective"
Here's My Plan, Stan
Somehow, Someway, and Someday 
Technological Shores of the Internet

What Was Going On In 1957?
 This was the question I asked myself when trying to place Roscoe and his family in a time and place.  In order to understand what was going on at the time that Roscoe and his 4 children were killed in a house fire that was ruled as arson, we need to understand what was going on in the world as a whole, in the United States, in Vienna, Johnson County, Illinois, and in my branch of the family.  Will this provide any direct answers to who set the fire?  I don't know.  Probably not, but it will help to understand the times.  We have progressed so far in technology, and we get caught up in the "now" that we either forget or we just don't plain know what life was like "back in the day."  Here's a short, but informative video, entitled "The 50's - What Happened in 1957?" from One Special Dream Studio on YouTube that gives us a glimpse of what was going on in 1957: 

Pretty cool, huh?  Both the addition of video to Family Stories and the actual video itself.  [Why didn't I go high-tech sooner?]

Little Egypt
Johnson County, Illinois is located in the southernmost part of Illinois.  The culture of this area is markedly different than the rest of Illinois because the pioneers who settled here were mostly from the south [i.e., Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, etc.]  As most people do, when they migrated they brought their beliefs, their religion, their culture, etc. and set-up shop, so to speak, for better or for worse, in southern Illinois.  The culture in this area is more like St. Girardeau, Missouri and/or Paducah, Kentucky than it is the rest of Illinois.  Quite a few of these pioneers were descendants of folks who were from the mountains ~ first in North Carolina, then in Tennessee.  This area was nicknamed "Little Egypt" in the 1830's.  It's believed that when the the rest of Illinois experienced bad harvests, settlers traveled south in order to buy grain from the southern region of Illinois where harvests were good, just as in Egypt as told in the Genesis 41:57 and 41:1-3.  There are several places in southern Illinois named after places in Egypt, such as Cairo, Illinois [pronounced Cay-row].  Southern Illinois was also a place that had decidedly torn loyalties during the Civil War, and these torn loyalties were the impetus for many family feuds that occurred in Johnson County as well as Williamson County [north of Johnson County].  Furthermore, southern Illinois was an important area for the Union side due to the accessible waterways and for the crops that were grown there, namely cotton and tobacco.  In addition, coal mining and the railroad were key industries here as well.  Below is a map of Johnson, County, Illinois where Roscoe lived and where he died with place markers.  I also included place markers for towns where Nelson and Mary Casteel Martin settled as well as Roscoe's father and grandfather.  Nelson and Mary were Roscoe's great-grandparents that migrated from Wayne County, Tennessee to Johnson County before 1850 and were the subjects of my Saturday Surname post this past weekend.

View Johnson County, Illinois in a larger map

From the Perspective of My Branch of the Tree
So, what was going on in my branch of the family tree at the same time?  My dad had graduated from Breckenridge High School in San Antonio, Texas, married my mother, and had begun classes at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas in 1955.  My parents were living in College Station, Texas in 1957, and had just had their first child the previous year.  My Paw Paw [my father's mother and Roscoe's sister] was living in San Antonio, Texas and my dad's sister had just graduated high school there before the summer of 1957 when Roscoe and his children were killed.  Roscoe's and Paw Paw's father, Joel Arthur Martin had passed away in 1948 at the age of 76 in Johnson County, Illinois and was buried in Taylor Cemetery.

So hopefully this gives us a better idea of the time and place in which Roscoe and his family had been living.  As more family members are found and more details are uncovered, I will add placemarkers to this map.  As I mentioned earlier, I don't know if this will help me find more clues, but it definitely gives me the "lay of the land," and helps to fill-in some details in Roscoe's story.

Sources and Credits:
 Ford, Jeffrey, narrator. The 50's - What Happened in 1957?. Video tribute. Digital video. One Special Dream Studio, 2007. You Tube. : 2009.

Egyptian Area Agency on Aging. The History of Southern Illinois. : 2009.

Adventures in Preservation.  Southernmost Illinois History. : 2009.

All photos in slideshow (courtesy of Photobucket) are privately held by Mrs. Caroline Martin Pointer, Conroe, Texas, 2008.


  1. Bravo! Looks great! Very well done :)

  2. The use of the video and map enhance the visual your words create. I enjoyed it!

  3. Thanks y'all! I was very lucky to find that video. I found it using Google looking for info about 1957. It included the things I had wanted to write about...Gotta remember to look at You Tube from now on...


  4. What a wonderful and informative piece.

  5. This is interesting, Caroline. I confess that I was alive in 1957, but not old enough to remember much of it.

    My great-grandparents settled in Will County, IL. in Lockport. They traveled there from Virginia by covered wagon. Before moving to WI, my grandparents lived in Dwight, IL. I also have ties to College Station, TX. Until last year, my aunt and uncle lived there.

    Good luck with your ongoing research.


Inappropriate comments will be deleted. So keep it clean and be nice.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...