Who's Who of Crow Creek Valley
Jim W. Willis
Last Name: Willis
First Name: Jim
Middle Name: Wood
Nickname: Jim Devil or Big Jim
Born: March 16, 1887
Died: December 15, 1978
Burial: Greenwood Cemetary, Rescurrection Gardens, Chattanooga
Place of birth: Crow Creek Valley
Last place of residence: 84 Woodgate Road, Ringgold, GA
Mother: Annie Woods
Father: Mike Willis
Spouse: Laura Mae Garner, married 43 years
Other information: He was a very kind, hardworking man, his son-in-law saying he never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He worked 50 years for the N.C. & St L. Railroad as a telegraph operator/station agent and loved to do Morse code. I remember sharing the porch swing after lunch with my "Papa" waiting on the afternoon train to come in the summertime. He loved genealogy, flowers, and could whistle like a train was coming. He loved to go down to the fishin' hole and of course he always took along an empty bucket so he could fill it with rich creek dirt and take back home for his flowers! I remember helping to gather eggs and then drive down to the old Willis homeplace to exchange them for the best country butter I ever tasted.
When Jim Willis worked at the telegraph office during the night, inbetween trains when he had nothing to do he would open the cover of the Sears, Roebuck catalog and use the catalog as a pillow! When he prepared to leave at the end of his shift he would tear off the sheet he had slept on - in case it left a "grease spot" as an indicator of his nap!
Name of person submitting this information: Granddaughter, Pat (nee Prince) McKeel (Kathleen GA)
Most people who research their family roots in Crow Creek Valley owe
an enormous debt to Jim Willis. The following information was written
By Felix G. Matthews in 1986.
WILLIS LEAVES NO STONE UNTURNED
By: Felix G. Matthews
(From "The Crow Creek
Scene" Tennessee Homecoming '86)
Jim W. willis who died in his upper nineties a few years ago, and who
was a Railroad Operator in Sherwood, Tenn. for over half a century worked
tirelessly for thirteen years, some before he retired and msome after
he retired to compile the records of the first eighty families to settle
in the Crow Creek Valley and in an area reaching out into the adjoining
counties and states. First he wrote down all the information about all
the families he ever knew or thought he knew. Then he made a chart of
this information which bore missing links or connections in the families
so chartered. From here he determined if he were related to any or all
of the people here he knew. To his surprise, before he had finished
his mission, which was of course many years later, he found that he
was directly related to over six hundred of them, one way or another.
Naturally this helped to make his urge to carry on more pronounced and
he continued his investigations into the then unknown of the first families
to settle in these parts.
As in the beginning, this work went on year after year, until all the
information which could possibly be found from any source had been gathered
together.It was all a huge stack of names, dates of births and deaths,
dates of marriages and travels, memories of old and young people alike.
Mr. Willis took nothing for granted byt considered every detail large
or small, for what it might be worth to his endeavors to learn more
about the people he always liked, whether they were his relatives or
not. Mr. Willis himself was a man with a blazing and shiningpersonality,
and if he ever had any enemies, nobody ever knew who they were.
He never believed any person who has passed on and whom he had not
personally been acquainted with ever lived, was born, married or died,
unless his investigation showed that a statement of these facts was
either made by a reliable person (Relative) or it was found on a tombstone,
in or out of a cemetery, a Bible Record, and old post-marked letter,
a Land Deed, a Petition, court Record, History Book, or from the County,
State, or U.S. Census Bureau. It took at least one of these methods
of record and sometimes all of them, to convince Mr. Willis of the facts
he worked so hard to obtain about the people who have passed on from
Once he said to me, "You don't realize how little or nothing most
people know about their own families and their families ' histories.
The results you somtimes get or don't get in a personal interview with
a person about his family or relative or of the history of one of his
neighbors is in many, many cases, somewhat appalling."
Mr. Willis knew one man's opinion about records was not sufficient
proof alone. That is why he spent up his savings traveling from county
to county and from state to state to collect information and old records
about the first families to settle in this great area we enjoy today.
He paid many Genealogists six dollars an hour to double check the information
he gathered to be sure it was correct in every detail. So he would leave
no stone unturned. Mr. Willis corresponded with the relatives of the
families who first settled in this area in every state in the union
and seven foreigh countries to verify some questionable detail about
family records. Some weeks he would receive a bag of mail to be analyzed
and chartered nito its proper place, with the other mountains of records
he had to contend with. It all had something to do with the people who
lived here before or who are living here now, between Sewanee, Tennessee
and Bolivar, Alabama. Suffice it to say, if it had not been for Jim
W. Willis, his ingenuity, pleasant personality, and untiring labor,
many of us today would not know the facts we are privileged to know
about the ancestors of our relatives and friends, who they are, where
they came from, where they went, and what happened to them.
Mr. Willis donated to me copies of the records of the Ake, Anderson,
and Matthews families, and possibly to some other families as well he
gave copies of their records. Mr. Willis told me that he had turned
over to the National Archives (*Tennessee
State Library and Archives) all the records he gathered of the 80
families he first chartered and completed as best as possible from the
facts that he was able to verify. But many of the family records were
piece-meal, leaving many questions about some of the people unanswered
*Mr. Willis loaned his material to the Tennessee State Library and
Archives for microfilming. This is MF1119 - James W.
Willis papers. Franklin County, TN & Jackson, County, AL, 1925-1980.
2400 items. TSLA. 4 reels. 16mm. The originals are housed at the Franklin
County Historical Society, P.O. Box 130, Winchester, Tennessee.