Ancestry.com leads to new friends
Jackye Mattson Balegal of Arroyo Grande, Calif., and her daughter Jessica, recently made their first visit to Mississippi County. Even though neither had ever visited the cotton fields of Northeast Arkansas, they felt they had been there through the memories shared by family members who had left Arkansas and moved to California in the early 1960s.
Both agreed they felt a kinship as they stood on the side of County Road 471, south of Dell, looking at the site where Jackye's mother, Clara Ruth Wilson, spent many of her growing up years.
Jackye's grandparents are James Henery Wilson from Tuscumbia, Ala., and Sarah Clementine Sexton (known her entire life as Tiny, as she was the only baby girl of seven older brothers from Tuscaloosa, Ala.) She was known as Tiny by her friends and Momo by her grandchildren.
“She was the most wonderful grandmother to all of us,” Jackye said. “She passed away at the age of 94 in Tulare, Calif.”
Mrs. Wilson, Momo, and her children moved to California after her husband died while the family was living in the Dell area, near Crossroads Baptist Church.
Jackye, who loves researching family history, found a picture of her late Uncle Robert L. Wilson with Tom and Eula Blaylock, longtime residents of the Crossroads community. Jackye's mother said she remembered the couple being family friends and neighbors of her parents.
In hopes to share the image with descendants of Tom and Eula Blaylock, Jackye uploaded the image to her Ancestry.com account. She researched and located the Blaylocks in the 1940 U.S. census and built out their tree adding as much known information as she could.
One day she received a call from Dale T. Blaylock of Yorktown, Vir., the grandson of Tom and Eula Blaylock. Dale T. is the son of Dale and Revis Blaylock of Manila.
“Dale T. had seen the picture and did some research of his own and found my cafe number,” Jackye said. “He reached out to me directly regarding the image connected to his family on my family tree.”
From their conversation, Dale T. gathered information and put his dad, former neighbor of the Wilsons, in touch with Jackye and her mother in California.
They visited on the telephone and Dale was excited to make contact with his old friends. He really did not think they would have the opportunity to meet face to face.
Jackye said she gets one vacation a year and plans with the most family contact in mind. Jackye and Jessica put a lot of miles and a lot of family into their week's vacation. They flew into Montreal, Canada, took a Greyhound bus to Plattsburgh, N.Y., visited with her mother's sister, visited relatives in Saranac, N,Y., hopped on an Amtrak to New York City for a couple days, then flew to Memphis, Tenn. They rented a car and made the trek to Tuscaloosa for the Sexton family reunion. They visited with new newfound cousins she had found on Ancestry.com. They ventured to Muscle Shoals/Florence, Ala., to meet with more cousins she had found and visit graves of her grandfather's parents and siblings.
“We originally had plans to make the Sexton family reunion and do some gravesite visits," Jackye said. “This was planned long before I had located my Grandpa James burial site in Blytheville.”
She also had plans to take a picture in front of her Grandpa James notorious outlaw ancestor Thomas Marion Clark who was buried beneath Tennessee Street in Florence, Ala.
“While making final plans for the trip I realized how possible it was to add a visit to Mississippi County to Grandpa James burial plot in Blytheville and hopefully meet the Blaylock descendants from the picture I found and visit the family farm.”
Alton and Bernice Blaylock still live on the Blaylock homeplace just down the road from the former Wilson farm. Brothers Dale and Alton met Jackye and Jessica and took them to the site of her grandparents' farm located just south of the Blaylock home.
Jackye and Jessica had a short time to visit in Dell before having to get back to the airport but the Blaylock brothers had time to share a few stories about the days spent with Jackye's Uncle Robert and the Wilson family.
Jackye called it “a wonderful turn of events” from one little image shared on the internet.
The picture she posted of her Uncle Robert and Mr. and Mrs. Blaylock was made in the late 1960s. Robert was in the Army and traveling near the area and made a side trip to visit his old friends.
Jackye said she hopes to return to Mississippi County again and continue sharing family stories.
"I absolutely love Ancestry.com," she said. "More than just the DNA aspect, but the public forum for me to post pictures that help others locate lost treasures."
Recently she had been given an original portrait of two young boys in 1921 at a military school. After posting the image she found the son of one of the boys in the picture and mailed it to him.
"He was overjoyed and I was so excited to be able to offer such a historical family treasure," Jackye said.