Friday, July 21, 2017

Ollie Von Brooks

Ollie Von Brooks, son of William Henry Brooks and Florence Lee Lankford, was born on February 19, 1896 in Bairdstown, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. He was the oldest child of 13—Ollie Von Brooks, Leila M. Brooks, Waver Brooks, Benjamin Franklin Brooks, Weldon J. Brooks, Calvin Brooks, Jessie James Brooks, Baby Boy Brooks, Nancy Annie Elizabeth Brooks, Evie M. Brooks, Ruby F. Brooks, Alvin Thomas Brooks, and Nettie Lou Brooks. He would be my 2nd cousin 3x removed. Our nearest common relatives are Charles L. Lankford and Miss Moore.

On June 4, 1900, Ollie, his parents, and two-year-old sister Leila lived in a rental home in the 232nd District of Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The census enumerator recorded his name as Olivon. His parents had been married for five years. His father was a farm laborer and neither of his parents could read or write.

On April 22, 1910, Ollie’s growing family lived in a rented farm on Lexington Road in Woodstock, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. Five more children had joined the family for a total of seven children. Ollie’s 78-year-old widowed grandmother Nancy Lankford was living in the home. With this many people in the home now, his mother, sister Leila, brother Waver, and Ollie himself were all having to work on the home farm so were enumerated with the occupation of laborer on a home farm. Although Ollie, Leila, Waver, and Frank were attending school, none of them could read or write. His grandmother was the only person in the home able to read.

About April 1911, Ollie’s mother gave birth to a baby boy. According to Ollie’s sister Nettie, the baby never cried so their parents did not name the baby, probably expecting it to die. He lived three months and four days. On July 14, 1911, the Oglethorpe Echo ran the following news item:
The grim reaper visited the Salem neighborhood twice toward the close of last week and left sorrowing friends and grief-stricken relatives. Taken were infants, one a child of Mr. and Mrs. Jim Adkins and the other of Mr. and Mrs. William Brooks.
World War I broke out when Ollie was 17 years old (July 28, 1914). For the first two years, the United States stayed out of the war. On January 5, 1917, Ollie registered for the World War I draft in Oglethorpe County. At the time, he lived in Rayle, Wilkes County, Georgia, was single, and a self-employed farmer on land owned by Frate Sim in Stephens, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. Ollie was of medium height and build, had blue eyes, and brown hair.

Ollie on the "Lists of Men Ordered to Report to Local Board for
Military Duty, 1917–1918" from

RMS Olympic during her sea trial, Wikimedia Commons;,
public domain, 1911.
Despite the efforts of President Woodrow Wilson to stay out of the war, America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. On July 23, 1918, Ollie was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private at Lexington, Oglethorpe County, Georgia and sent to Camp Gordon located near Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia. According to GEORGIAINFO, Camp Gordon was “one of 16 temporary training camps, the largest in the southern states and the focus of Atlanta’s wartime patriotic spirit.” He served with the 24th Company, 6th Battalion, 157 Depot Brigade, the 3rd Infantry Regiment, and with Company M, 9th Infantry, Replacement and Training Battalion (I hope I got those right!) before being sent overseas to France, travelling aboard the RMS Olympic from Hoboken, New Jersey on September 9, 1918. I was surprised to discover that Ollie was joined on the trip by my great-uncle Luther T. Burnett. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing if they were aware of the family connection. Ollie and Luther were connected by marriage—they had no common relative.

Passenger list for the RMS Olympic showing Ollie Brooks and Luther Burnett, Sept. 9, 1918
(portions deleted)

Relationship calculator showing the connection between Ollie and Luther

Many soldiers became sick with influenza and pneumonia during World War I, with Ollie being one of them. He contracted pneumonia while on the RMS Olympic and was taken to the military hospital upon arrival in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England where he died on September 30, 1918. The U.S. Army notified his father William H. Brooks, who also lived in Rayle. Ollie was buried in grave YIII at Magdalen Hill Cemetery in Hampshire on October 2 with a burial service performed by B. G. McGuigan. The war ended just over a month later, on November 11, 1918.

Register of Burials, Magdalen Hill Cemetery,
Winchester, Hampshire, England
(portions deleted)

The following year, Ollie was remembered during Arbor Day ceremonies in Lexington, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The Oglethorpe Echo ran a news article on November 28, 1919:
Memorials read at Arbor Day ceremonies at Meson Academy last Friday morning at 11 o’clock: Read by Lona McRee—OLLIE VAN BROOKS. Aged 22: born Feb 19th, 1896 son of Florence Langford and Mr. William H Brooks. Died of pneumonia in Winchester, England September 30, 1918.
USS Princess Matoika (ID-2290) under way  in 1919,
U.S. Navy - U.S. Naval Historical
Center Photo #: NH 43123, public domain.
On April 16, 1920, Ollie’s body was exhumed by H.O. order. His body was later placed on board the ship U.S.A.T. Princess Matoika which departed from Southampton, England on May 11, 1920. According to Wikipedia the Matoika also carried “the bodies of 10 female nurses and over 400 soldiers who died while on duty in France during the war.” The ship arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey on May 23, 1920. I haven’t found a record that shows how Ollie’s body was transported back to Georgia but I assume it was by train.

Passenger list for the U.S.A.T. Princess Matoika carrying Ollie's body home to America

Ollie’s body was reinterred at Salem Baptist Church Cemetery in Lexington on June 27, 1920. The Oglethorpe Echo ran a news article on July 2:
The remains of Ollie Brooks arrived home from across the sea and was buried at Salem Church last Sunday. Funeral services were conducted by Rev Coile.

Ollie never married.

Regarding Ollie’s birthdate, when filling out his World War I draft registration card, Ollie listed his date of birth as January 19th, 1895. However, both his tombstone and the November 28, 1919 Oglethorpe Echo news article record the date as February 19, 1896. I have not yet found a birth record.

Additional references:

  • Ollie Von Brooks photo from Find A Grave Memorial# 31365786, added by Lynn Ballard Cunningham, March 28, 2015.
  • Carol R. Byerly, PhD, “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919,” Public Health Rep. 2010; 125(Suppl 3): 82–91.

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