Friday, February 1, 2013

Rebecca & Blanche Tansil, From Poodles to Land Disputes

Side one, postcard from Rebecca C. Tansil to James and Virginia Moran, 1935

One of the things I find so fascinating about genealogy is that you never know where something will take you.  For instance, today I'm writing about a postcard that was sent to James and Virginia Moran from a distant cousin of theirs, Rebecca C. Tansil.  The card is postmarked 1935 from Le Havre France. This one card introduced me to Rebecca, her sister Blanche and their nephews William Grigsby, John Emerson and David Cathey Tansil and some interesting family history.  All of the information was gleaned from Census Records, obituaries, death certificates, directories, etc.

Rebecca was the daughter of William Emerson Tansil, a Banker, and his wife Alice (Allie) Elizabeth Cathey. Rebecca was the youngest of their three children having been born Feb. 25, 1900 in Weakley County Tennessee. Her older sister was Blanche Allen Tansil, born July 14 1897 and their older brother William Cathey Tansil who was born October 9, 1895 and by all accounts was known as Cathey.  I suspect that Rebecca's middle name was also Cathey.  In addition I came across a Jess Bell Tansil,  who may or may not be a brother of Rebecca, and is proving to be a mystery that I will explore in another blog post.

Cathey Tansil lived on and farmed 152 acres of land located in Weakley County which was known as the "Tansil Homeplace".   He married a woman named Mary Kate Grigsby and they had three sons; William Grigsby Tansil died in 2001 in Cape Girardeau MO, David Cathey Tansil, and John Emerson Tansil.  These are the three nephews which will come into play later on with Grigsby taking the main role. Cathey Tansil died in July 1894.

Blanche Tansil never married.  She received an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee, a master's from Peabody College in Nashville and her doctorate from the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.  She returned to the south and taught for 17 years at the University of Mississippi where she was responsible for the creation of the Home Economics department.   In addition she had been the Chair of the Home Economics department at the University of North Carolina and taught college courses in Texas and Alabama.  She held many honors for her educational efforts and was a member of many honor societies.  She was also a volunteer for the Red Cross and was honored for her work with that organization. After her retirement in 1963 from the University of Mississippi she moved  to Parkton Maryland and joined her sister Rebecca in the dog breeding and showing arena at Andechez kennels where they focused on breeding miniature white poodles.  Blanche died July 23 1991 in Parkton Maryland.  Her obituary named four surviving relatives, her sister Rebecca and their three nephews Grigsby Tansil of Sharon, TN, David Tansil of Norristown, PA, and John Tansil of Cape Girardeau, MO; along with four grandnieces and a grandnephew.

Like her older sister Blanche, Rebecca Tansil never married and pursued a career in education.  Rebecca attended the University of Tennessee and received a bachelor's degree in 1923.  Like her sister she attended Peabody College in Nashville and received her master's in 1927 and in 1939 she received her doctorate from Columbia University.  In 1931 she became the registrar of the State Normal School at Towson Maryland.  The name of the school would change through the years and would eventually become known as Towson State University. Rebecca played a pivotal role during the transition of the school from Normal College to a four year university. She was awarded the TSU Spirit of the University award in 1990 for her commitment to the university and her leadership example.  After her retirement she joined Blanche in the breeding and showing of white miniature poodles at Andechez kennels in Parkton.  She was active in the Pets on Wheels Program and an honorary member of the Poodle of America Club in addition to being a member of the Maryland Kennel Club, The Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Greenspring Poodle Club. You can read more about her work with animals in this article.  During World War II she enlisted in the Navy and served from August 2, 1944 until July 20, 1946.  She held the rank of commander which at that time was the highest rank a woman could hold.  Rebecca died April 5, 1996 in Parkton, Maryland.  In similar fashion to her sister's obituary Rebecca's also listed the three nephews, Grigsby Tansil of Sharon, TN, David Tansil of Missoula, MO, and John Tansil of Cape Girardeau, MO; along with several grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

Blanche and Rebecca were like two peas in a pod in their zeal for education.  In addition to attending the same Colleges and Universities to pursue careers in education they also enjoyed travelling together and in Dec 1937 they set sail on the S.S. Champlain, French built ocean liner which was sunk by a mine in 1940 off the coast of La Pallice, France.  Prior to that trip Rebecca made the trip to France by herself aboard the City of Newport News in 1935 and from which she posted the above postcard to the Morans.

Blanche A. Tansil and Rebecca Tansil, Appellees v. W. Grigsby Tansil, Appellant
Some of the most interesting aspects of family research are stumbling upon family "squabbles".  During my research of Rebecca I came across a 1984 court case in which the "Tansil Homeplace" land is in dispute between Rebecca and Blanche and their nephew Grigsby.  In May 1971 Blanche was attending the wedding of her nephew Grigsby.  Prior to this visit Grigsby had written to his aunts expressing an interest in purchasing the homeplace. The disposition of the land was discussed at the wedding with Blanche, Grigsby, David and John.  Blanche, who owned 3/4ths of the land, and Rebecca, who owned the remaining 1/4th, thought of the these nephews as the only three heirs to the Tansil land.  David and John had careers and homes outside of Tennessee and had no interest in living on nor farming the Tansil land.  However Grigsby was already farming his own land nearby and had expressed his interest in adding the Tansil land to what he already farmed.

Based on his interest in the farm and the fact that he lived and worked his own farm Blanche and Rebecca executed a warranty deed conveying the Tansil homeplace to Grigsby in fee simple in 1972.    In 1980 Blanche and Rebecca wanted the land back based on what they say was an oral trust that Grigsby had not lived up to. The sisters maintained that Grigsby had assured them he would "properly maintain the property and keep it in cultivation and would not sell the property but would keep the property in the Tansil family, they would transfer the property to him based on these considerations."

Grigsby's version of the original discussion in 1971 indicated that his aunts would not sell him the property but would rent it to him on the same terms they had rented it to his father (which makes me wonder why their brother didn't inherit a share of the farm)  for many years and that upon their death they would leave the property to him.  He said this was satisfactory with him.

In 1972 they transferred the deed in fee simple for "one dollar cash in hand paid, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, and the love and affection we hold for our nephew."

The court could find no evidence that there was a contract and that the motivation to transfer the property to Grigsby was that he would be a good farmer and keep the land in the Tansil family.  The first letter expressing the idea that a "contract" existed wasn't written until March 29 1979 when the sisters wanted reports showing that 75 percent of the land was in cultivation either by Grigsby himself or by renting the land.  Blanche and Rebecca also asserted that he had not fulfilled the contract because he had not built a home on the land.  The court opined that the expectations of the sisters had broadened over the years in respect to what Grigsby would do with the homeplace and that there was no evidence of an oral trust.  Based on that the suit was dismissed.

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