Pardon me, boy…

It has been ten years since I published the 2nd edition of Gathering Leaves. Back then, I thought then that I had found everything that I could and that I would probably never do anymore family history research. Then fast forward to 2019 when I was contacted by the granddaughter of my maternal grandfather’s half-sister. She surprised me with the gift of nearly 2 dozen photographs of my maternal grandfather and his mother’s family. This cousin and I share the same great-grandfather but have different great grandmothers. So, the people in many of the photographs, some as old as from the 1860s, were not related to my cousin but were relatives of mine. That is what motivated me to revive my website.

Then in July, my mother passed away and it was not too long after that that I discovered that I had free access through my local library to a number of subscriptions sites that are popular with genealogists. That is when I started finding things – some things that were expected and in some cases, I found people not where I expected to find them (see a list at the end of this article).

My latest discovery is something that I found at familysearch.org through at family history dump posted on myheritage.com. I present to you exhibit-A showing that my maternal grandparents (James M. Dobbs, Jr. & Dorothy Kollros) eloped and were married by the justice-of-the-peace in Hamilton County (Chattanooga) Tennessee on 18 July 1925.

My maternal grandfather was born in Dallas Texas in 1901. The census of 1910 shows that the Dobbs family had moved to College Park, Georgia – a suburb of Atlanta. James Monroe Dobbs, Sr. was originally from Marietta Georgia. Indications are James M. Dobbs, jr. attended Georgia Military Academy located in College Park, and that his father taught there. Further, it is believed that Jimmy later attended Oglethorpe University. His family was part of the planter aristocracy that once ruled the south when Cotton was King and everyone believed in the Lost Cause. It is said that Margaret Mitchell knew of the Dobbs of Marietta, Georgia. Now what had been was “gone with the wind” and there was nothing left but “the sound and the fury” and everyone behaved like a “cat on a hot tin roof.”

My maternal grandmother’s family were well off in the 1920s (that is before the crash of ’29). She was born and raised in Louisville Kentucky. When she was born in 1907, both her parents’ families had lived in Louisville for over 50 years. Her mother’s family emigrated from Ireland and her father’s family came from Germany. Both families arriving in the 1840s. Her mother’s family owned and operated a number of factories in Louisville area that manufactured building materials such as wallboard, plaster, and terra cotta. They were what was known as “lace-curtain Irish.”

What was my grandmother doing in Atlanta Georgia in 1925? At the age of 18, the guess is that she was going to school there. I imagine it to have been an all-girls Catholic boarding school.

So, my grandmother was 18 years old in 1925 and my grandfather was 24 years old at that time. She was probably still in high school or may have just graduated and he was probably out of college. Another thing that I have never quite reconciled is that she was raised in a devout Catholic family, while he was raised either Baptist or Episcopalian. When my grandmother was still around, I had assumed that my grandfather Jimmy Dobbs and his family were Catholic (his father had spent a number of years in Latin America and spoke Spanish fluently), so I never asked her about it. When I later learned is that the Dobbs were Southern Baptist going back to at least the first Great Awakening (1730s/40s) and that sometime around 1900 both James Monroe Dobbs, Sr. and my great-grandmother, Helen von Spiegel, had joined the Episcopalian church.

So, what did Dorothy Kollros and Jimmy Dobbs have in common? A love of jazz, cigarettes, alcohol, cards, dancing… in short, they both liked to party.

My grandmother did not like talking about my grandfather, her first husband, the one who left her for another woman. She did describe him as being very handsome and somewhat of a bad boy who like to drink and have a good time. She was in her teens/twenties in the 1920s and she admitted to me once that she was a flapper in those days.

Jimmy Dobbs c. 1925

By the 1960s, there was this image of flappers as being today’s fun-lovin’ grannies who would show you they knew how to cut a rug, but back-in-the-day flappers had a negative image outside of the “smart set”. These were young women in their late teens/early twenties who were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms. As automobiles became available, flappers gained freedom of movement and privacy.

According to WikipediaOne cause of the change in young women’s behavior was World War I which ended in November 1918. The death of large numbers of young men in the war, and the Spanish flu epidemic which struck in 1918 killing between 20–40 million people, inspired in young people a feeling that life is short and could end at any moment. Therefore, young women wanted to spend their youth enjoying their life and freedom rather than just staying at home and waiting for a man to marry them.

In the mid-70s, when I was in my late teens, my grandmother was the only one I could confide in about “stuff” that was going on in my life. When I got my teenaged girlfriend pregnant, my grandmother was the only one that I told. She, in turn, confessed to me of having been a little wild when she was my age. When she told me that she had been a “flapper” back in the Roaring Twenties, I made a lot of assumptions and unfortunately asked very few questions. I now have an image the two of them meeting at one of those notorious “petting parties” of the 1920s. I am not even sure what that means and I don’t think that I want to know. Yet I think that I now understand why she never told me the details of how and where she & Jimmy Dobbs met.

After marrying in Hamilton County Tennessee, where, by the way, there is no waiting period today and so I assume there was none then, they probably went to live with Jimmy’s mother Helen in College Park. Jimmy’s father had passed away in 1923.

This does explain a lot… For example, my mother was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1928. My grandfather’s half-sister, Emmita, lived there. Her husband, a colonel in the US cavalry, was stationed at nearby Fort Jackson. But it was never satisfactorily explained to me what my grandparents were doing there when my grandmother was so close to term and her parents were 500 miles away in Louisville.

Then about 20 years ago, I made an interesting discovery: my great, great-grandmother, Martha Josephine Prothro Dobbs, Jimmy Dobbs’ grandmother ,died at the age of 94. This was a few days before my mother was born. Miss Mattie, as she was called by her children, died at her son’s home in Asheville, North Carolina. It would make sense that Jimmy and Dorothy were heading to North Carolina for the family matriarch’s death watch but had to make a detour to his sister’s home in South Carolina, where his daughter would be born. (One source has Mattie Prothro Dobbs date of death as 9 May 1928; however, she is buried in Citizen’s Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia and her tombstone has the date 11 May 1928, the day before my mother was born).

Shortly after my mother was born, Dorothy, Jimmy, his mother Helen, and my mother moved to Dallas, Texas (Helen’s hometown) where my Aunt Joie was born six-month’s before the stock market crashed and turned everyone’s world upside down.

When the New Deal came along in 1933, my grandfather went to work for the Roosevelt administration and became a Soil Conservation Manager for the US Agricultural Department in Ft. Worth, Texas. His boss was a woman. They had an affair. One day my grandmother’s father has to tell his daughter that he saw her husband with another woman at a restaurant down in New Orleans. My grandparents divorced when my mother was around six years old. My grandmother took custody of her two daughters and moved to Tampa. By 1935, my grandfather had married his boss and they along with his mother were living in San Antonio. My grandmother would not talk much about Jimmy Dobbs but when she did, she would cry.


Correction: I do remember something that my grandmother told me about my grandfather. I remember that she told me about their first unchaperoned date. They went up to Stone Mountain to have a nice leisurely picnic. Stone Mountain is a large park located in the city of Atlanta Georgia. For many decades, it has been a popular spot for romantic picnics. But it has also been a popular spot for other things; things not so romantic.

My grandmother said that when they got there, they laid out a blanket, set out a picnic basket, and were just about to begin their lunch when they heard a loud ruckus taking place just over the crest of the hill. She told of how my grandfather gallantly crawled to the top of the hill and took a peek over the crest. From whatever he saw on the other side it turned him pale as a ghost and he ran back down the hill to my grandmother. Nearly out of breath, he began collecting all their stuff, and then he grabbed her by the arm and said, “We gotta get out of here!”

 She asked Jimmy why they had to leave so suddenly he replied that the Ku Klux Klan was on the other side of that hill and they were burning a cross. He told her: “Considering that you are a Catholic and they hate Catholics we better get out of here!”


Other family history discoveries that I made this past year…

  1. The Mystery of Sophia P. – wherein the author solves a 150-year old mystery (JK, but that sounds cooler than saying that I figured out something had been bothering me for a while).
  2. The Case of Dr. L. J. DeBacker – I learned that my doctor grandfather was a hero of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
  3. My Dad Predicted Obamacare in 1972 – My father gave a speech in 1972 predicting that we would have something like Obamacare by 1984. He was only off by thirty years.
  4. Chairman David Dobbs, a Never Van Buren-er – How my great, great, great-grandfather was chairman of the Democratic Party in Cobb County Georgia but in 1840 he and his fellow Democrats decided to support the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison for president over the incumbent Democrat, Martin Van Buren.
  5. The Third Man – My great, great-grandfather, Col. D. J. Dobbs was made a Confederate prisoner-of-war in the final days of the Civil War and that his brother was a war speculator who required a special pardon from the President.
  6. Where the Hell is Valparaiso, Dobbs? – How my great-grandfather would plant stories about himself in the newspapers.
  7. Just Someone I Used to Know – How that same great-grandfather lied on his passport application so that he could travel to Europe on behalf of the YMCA at the tail end of World War I and during the 1918 pandemic.

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