Writing, Genealogy and Serendipity: Permelia

Permelia“I saw a photo once,” my 91-year-old grandmother said, “of three girls in an oval frame. They had red tinted hair and were very pretty. That’s the only picture of Permelia I ever saw.”

My great-grandmother, Permelia Hanks Dunn Duval is a cypher. Born shortly after the Civil War to a 58-year-old CSA colonel and his second, exhausted, wife, she moved through the pages of history without leaving much of a trace.

Part of it was her name–Permelia, after her grandmother Permelia Cunningham Dial. When found in census records she’s called “Amelia” or even “Melia.” She married twice, buried one husband and her oldest son, and then had four others by my great-grandfather, Ballard Bennett Duval.

My grandfather scarcely knew his mother–she went into a tuberculosis sanitarium when he was a child and never came out.

I have no personal stories about her, much less a photo.

But since my grandmother described the photo she saw circa 1933, I’ve wondered and searched and turned up nothing.

Until, possibly, today.

I’ve been writing a novella the last couple weeks called An Inconvenient Gamble, which will release in June 2013, part of The Texas Brides Collection (Barbour). My story is set in 1867 Neches, Texas and features my actual great-great-grandfather Colonel J. S. Hanks.

I wrote the final chapters today.

This morning before I started writing, I got an e-mail from one of my Duval genealogy pals, Carol, with a link to some picture on the Anderson County Genealogical website. Carol knew of my “auxiliary” family lines and asked if perhaps these photos were meaningful to me.

How do you think I reacted to this one?


Permelia had two full sisters–one older, one younger. Fannie was born in 1860 and Permelia, 1867. Louezer was the baby and born in 1870. That would be Melia on the right, if this is a photo of the Hanks daughters. 

Tantalyzing. Without a description on the back, though, how will I ever know?

The website had other photos, including one of the same girls with what could be an older brother:


The Hanks girls had two older half-brothers, Claudius born in 1854 and Nathan born in 1856. Do you think the four children in that photo could be the three girls and maybe Nathan? Do they look far enough apart in age to you?

I’m not so sure. 🙁

One more photo and this one does have a description: Bells, Poseys, and Dunns.


I know I’m dealing with relatives here. The three Hanks girls’ older half-sister, Isabella Hanks, married TJ Posey. Frances and Permelia married brothers TR Dunn and Ben Dunn. I’ve already mentioned the Bell connection. One of the women in this photo may be my great-grandmother and another may possibly be her mother, Louezer Dial Bell Hanks Ezell.

Any guesses?

I’ve looked and looked.

Melia had one son by Ben Dunn. I only see one definite boy in this photo on the left, unless the baby is a boy. We know the woman in the middle is Elizabeth Shelton–she’s marked. (Lizzie was born circa 1858, how old does she look to you? Knowing the year the photo was taken could narrow some of the guesses).

The closest woman to the boy sits with her back  to the camera.

How could she do that to me!

This is the closest I’ve ever come to possibly seeing my great-grandmother’s face (and maybe my great-great-grandmother’s face!).

It will have to do for now.

But what a fun day to arrive in my in-box.

Oh, and the log cabin at the top? That one’s marked–Grandfather Hanks’ old house, probably the one JS Hanks built when he moved to Anderson County, Texas in 1845.

I just love the serendipity which comes from genealogy and writing. How about you?

(Please! Label your photos!)

Leave a comment


  1. Gilda Weisskopf

     /  July 13, 2012

    Having gone through many of my family’s photos and just this past Sunday several of us went through a huge box of my husband’s family photos, I totally agree: LABEL YOUR PHOTOS!!!!! How exciting it would be to see great or great-great grandma or grandpa. Michelle, you have the gift for recording family history. Excuse me, I have to go write! Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Susan Manchester

     /  July 27, 2012

    This history of your family is fascinating! I am experiencing much the same thing studying people that birds are named for.

    I am wondering if the the Texas Brides Collection is going to be a Romancing America anthology. Who are the other authors involved in this collection? The whole thing sounds great.

    I see that you have a Heartsongs book coming out around 2/13, called Bridging Two Hearts. I wanted to say, “Welcome to the Heartsongs family!”, and welcome to the Barbour novella family as well! Will Bridging Two Hearts be part of a series?

    • Thanks for the welcome, Susan!

      I was a last minute fill-in on both these projects so I don’t know the answer to your questions. Among the nine writers in the Texas Brides Collection is Kathleen Y’Barbo.

      Bridging Two Hearts tells the story of a massage therapist at the Hotel Del Coronado, terrified of the Coronado Bridge, who falls in love with a Navy SEAL who isn’t afraid of anything– he thinks. It’s a stand alone, but any SEAL story could always be sequeled! 🙂

      I’m pleased to have the opportunity to publish and have enjoyed the writing of both books. This has been fun!

  3. Susan Manchester

     /  July 29, 2012

    I lived most of my adult life right across from Coronado, and for several years before I moved, I was affiliated with the Navy there, and drove across the Coronado Bridge frequently. In fact, one of the times I was delivering sailors to the base there, I jumped out of my car, and ran over to shake hands with Dick van Dyke, one of my favorites. I surely do hope that there are some sequels to this wonderful story!

  1. 20 Years of Searching to Find a Face | Michelle Ule, Author

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