Family Writings

Tipps Family History, Introduction

Mary Sue Tipps Mathys

Mom worried that she was neglecting her artistic talent to pursue her genealogical curiosity. Following the trail of information back through the generations fascinated her. She spent hours and hours researching at a time when she didn’t have the internet as a resource. At the time of her death at 60 years of age, she’d gathered information on thousands of Tipps relatives as well as those who married into the Tipps family.

Given that Mom’s research was my primary source of Tipps family history, it seemed right to have the first taste of Family Writing to be her words.

Tipps Family History cover
Woodcut by Sue


For years, I avoided an inquiry into my family history because I was intimidated by, and a bit contemptuous of, those who used pedigree and Southern aristocracy as symbols of superiority.

Instead I agreed with an oft-quoted story of my father’s [O.R. Tipps]. Temple Houston, youngest son of Sam Houston, was an eccentric but successful lawyer famous in West Texas around the turn of the century. During a heated trial, Houston was angered by an opposing lawyer who tried to discredit his legal ability by a snide remark that Temple had an unfair advantage because he was Sam Houston’s son. Temple replied: “I thank no man for referring to me as the son of Sam Houston. If a man is a lion, he will fight his own battles. And if he’s a weakling, no vestige of distinguished ancestry will make him strong.” And since I was a lion…

As another generation begins to make their mark on our society as I enter my later years, the differences between their world and memories of my youth are amazing. Jet planes, nuclear power, television, and the computer (all developed since my birth) have created a world far different from the small town, agrarian-ethic world of my youth.

I was privileged to grow up on the last great frontier of the United States—the vast grasslands of the Great Plains. My parents had come to this area because opportunities for success were there for able, ambitious people with a minimum of cash. And that same story seems to be the real history of the United States.

As a child during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, everyone I knew was poor. Despite the lack of money, people seemed to live a full and active life, and my childhood memories are pleasant. I didn’t realize until later that my father, succumbing to the pioneer spirit of a new start, had left the security of a “steady and secure” job as a county judge of Briscoe County, Texas, to start private practice in Wichita County, Texas. This combination of a new start in the midst of the Depression had earlier motivated my grandparents’ families to come to Texas for a new start, along with thousands of other Southerners during the Reconstruction following the Civil War. By the 1930’s, the huge ranches of the open range operated by the “cattle barons” had almost disappeared from the Texas part of the Great Plains. These men had been replaced by homesteaders who were too busy trying to survive to have acquired culture and status. My family was typical of these homesteaders—hardworking, moral in the Protestant sense, conservative, and with a strong sense of family. None of them achieved “fame,” but I’m glad I knew them.

With a renewed interest in American history during the Bicentennial in 1976, it seemed to me that the real history of the United States of America was not the evolution of the Constitution, George Washington, or the Revolutionary, Civil or two World wars. More accurately it was the story of the people who migrated westward into our vast fertile territory with the freedom, enthusiasm, and technical skills to make it productive.

A little genealogical research into my own family indicated that my forefathers reflect the true history of America. They came “west” to the New World long before the Revolutionary War and represent a good cross section of the people who built this country.

This book reflects a search for the most accurate records of each generation of the family tree. Even the shortest notation in a court record tells much about a person—especially if some indication of the social and economic climate of that era is available. All the data that I used is documented. The interpretation of this data is strictly my own. Since I discovered a new way to look at the history of our country, I have selected those historical facts that seem pertinent or interested me. I then added them to the dry, ancestral facts.

These early Americans had a strong tradition of accurate title to land ownership but were a bit lax on such things as marriages and births. Death certificates were not required until long after the Civil War. So, some of the “begats” are based upon educated guesses using census and other data available in addition to a wide correspondence. So far this subjective approach has generally proven true. This, then, is my personal history. For those who share some common forbearers and are interested, this is written.

Mary Sue Tipps Mathys
16 May, 1984

Over the years, I have cherished, read and reread her Tipps Family History many times.  My book would not be the same without her research.  I’ve felt Mom’s presence strongly throughout these seven years of writing Big Topics at Midnight.

As much as I’d like to, however, I cannot let Mom’s words stand without comment.  As she said in her introduction, “The interpretation of this [genealogical] data is strictly my own.”  When I first read her writing twenty-five years ago, her perspective sounded accurate to me. Since diving into the Big Topics, however, I’ve woken up to the assumptions behind some of her interpretations.  While similar statements are still included in many historical accounts, they are also misleading and inaccurate.

For example, she wrote,  “My parents came to this area because opportunities for success were there for able, ambitious people with a minimum of cash.”  While it’s true that opportunities abounded for my grandfather, they were starkly limited for non-white Americans or for women.  A huge number of Americans were excluded from this aspect of the American Dream.

Mom also wrote that “the real history of the United States of America … was the story of people who migrated westward into our vast fertile territory with the freedom, enthusiasm, and technical skills to make it productive.”  While that was indeed part of the real history of the USA, it was only one part of that history.  US history includes the experience of Native Americans, African Americans and emigrants from countries other than Europe.  Even among European Americans, not all experienced freedom—the Irish and southern Italians were often limited in their access to jobs, housing and respect.  The freedom my family experienced was broader, wider and deeper than the freedom extended to many other Americans.

While Mom’s and my forefathers’(and foremothers’) experience does reflect one part of the “true history of America,” one more rounded than textbook history of political leaders or wars, it is still limited.  For me to remain silent about that reinforces notions that kept me ignorant of our complex connection to the global neighborhood for far too long.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to my mother for her research and writing.  Mom accurately understood that sharing individual life stories was a powerful way to tell the history of a nation. 

My hunch is that my children and grandchildren will one day notice ways that I am still asleep to part of the larger story.  I hope they too will speak up about what they see.

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