Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

February 20, 2014

Life stories learned

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Joe L. Francis started writing the story of his family because he didn’t know anything. His father had always told Joe and his brother, Thomas, that all his family was dead.

So, Joe and Thomas made a trip to Kerens where they found their grandparents’ graves, William Henry and Rhoda Coats Francis, along with that of an aunt and an uncle named Jack.

They also found a local man who recalled the Francis family, and it was he who turned them onto the family scandal.

Uncle Jack, he told them, had killed their grandfather and been tried for murder in Corsicana back in 1903.

From there, it turned into a 10-year puzzle that had to be solved. Joe started really digging into the family history in 2003, and found a publisher last year.

Using census records — and in the case of Jack Francis, court records and newspaper accounts — deed records and birth and death certificates, probate records and others, Joe tracked his father’s family back to 1733, and eventually turned it into a book.

A copy of “Revolution to Revelation: Captain Henry Francis and Descendants, 1733 to 2013,” was donated to the Corsicana Public Library Wednesday by Joe Francis, a way of thanking the staff and volunteers of the library and the genealogy department for their help along his journey.

“It was frustrating and challenging,” Francis said, of the decade-long process.

He also turned up some surprises, including a wagon journey across the great plains, a professional gambler, a pro baseball player, a Revolutionary War hero, and more.

The process also turned up dozens of living cousins and relations that he never would have known otherwise. The connections of both blood and friendships were amazing, Francis said.

“There’s just been weird things,” he said. “Those kinds of stories that just give you goosebumps.”

Lea Murray, president of the local genealogy society, nodded.

“We call those genealogy angels,” she said.

Francis also offered some advice to people interested in tracing their own family histories.

“Be persistent,” he said. “Never throw anything away, and if you think there might be any chance of you writing anything about it, write down the source and page number.”

Francis said it was only later that he decided to write the book, and then had to redo some research to get the source information accurate.

“If you like puzzles or mysteries or ever thought about being a detective, and these are two of my passions, then you’ll love genealogy,” Francis said.

Francis spent his career working for local governments in Plano and Wichita Falls before retiring. He now lives in Mineola, to be nearer to his wife’s cardiologist.

“When I started out my only intention was for my descendants, but after I got into it I got inspired,” he said.

“I’m not an author,” Joe said. “I felt so deeply about this, not knowing anything about my family.”

And Jack Francis? He was acquitted after the jury decided it was self-defense. He was later killed in an oil field accident. Two of his children ended up in the Corsicana State Orphan’s Home.

“If you don’t know a single Francis, or don’t care to, it’s still interesting for the history,” Joe Francis said.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” to this article? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com