Say the name Ida Whiddon in the Smyrna community of Houston County, Ala., and you’ll get oohs and ahhs from anyone there who still remembers “Miz Ida.”
She’s described as an angel, a saint, the epitome of kindness, and a woman no one ever questioned — you just did what she said.
You get the picture.
Many photographs of this gentle lady survive. They reveal a sparkle in her blue eyes and a smile that says she knows a beautiful secret. I fell under her spell just listening to stories and looking at pictures.
So why is it that such a wonderful lady didn’t marry until she was 55 years old?
She was the daughter of the Rev. Alex Daughety and his wife, Sarah Emaline Dawsey. Alex was a farmer and the minister of the Smyrna Baptist Church. The church was built on land donated by his wife’s father, James J. Dawsey. In other words, she was a part of several prominent families in the area.
Ida was the youngest of three daughters and three sons born to Alex and Sarah. Her two older sisters married before they were 21 years old. The question of why the young, kind and attractive Ida didn’t marry until she was in her senior years has always haunted me.
A recent discovery of a 1975 newspaper clipping may hold an answer. In 1975, a reporter interviewed the 91-year-old matron and drew from her some very interesting memories. One struck me particularly.
“We made our own clothes and cooking oil and had our own chickens and cows, so there was really no need to go to the city very often,” she told the reporter — after she revealed that she was 15 years old when she made her first trip to Dothan in a horse and buggy.
As a genealogy educator, many times I’ve stood at a podium and told students that in pre-20th-century research, always look at neighboring farms to find the boy or girl your ancestor married. I’ve taught them that farmers weren’t mobile, and young people often married for availability, not love.
Even knowing those research “rules,” I still was stunned to read that in 15 years Ida had gone no farther than four miles from her house to downtown Dothan. No wonder she never married — she didn’t get far enough from the farm to meet any eligible young men, and apparently none of the appropriate age lived on nearby farms.
So who finally won Miz Ida’s hand at age 55? She married her older sister’s widower, John Whiddon. John had married Luvenia Daughety in 1893. They were married for 42 years before she died in 1935. John waited four years after Luvenia died, then he married Ida and brought her and her 92-year-old mother (who already was John’s mother-in-law) to live on his farm.
Five years later, Ida’s mother died, and the following year John died. Ida lived alone in that farmhouse for another 37 years. She died at the age of 98.
It would be easy to sit and be sad about her life if you didn’t know her house was always filled with the laughter of the children of various members of the family. Some of my husband’s fondest childhood memories were of times spend with Aunt Ida (in reality she was his step-great-grandmother as well as his aunt). She was devoted to the church her grandfather built. And there was an entire community that worshipped her.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogical methodology questions and event announcements to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She regrets she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching individuals. Past Heritage Hunting columns are available online at tbo.com, search words “Sharon Tate Moody.