Monday, June 17, 2013


Last year, 2012, I  was involved in bringing to the forefront our Kilgore lineage, involving many factual dates centering around births and regrettably, also deaths.  I discovered that the transference of dates is a most difficult task.   First, I saw the need  to consider the source from which desired information was obtained.  In obtaining information from a census or from internet sites such as and RootsWeb, newspaper obituaries,  as well as from the family Bible,  I realized that any source may have errors.  A “seven” looks much like a “one.”  An abbreviation changes a month from  MAR (March abbreviated) to  MAY.  A number is dropped from a date when the 17th day of a month becomes the 7th day of the month.  These examples are only a few that can and did occur.  Certainly, the quest for accuracy is hindered by human mistakes.  In typing and retyping dates, I found that my fingers would go one way while my mind was thinking another.  Even after having someone proof read all our family information for which I was responsible,  inaccuracies were found a month later, and some even later than that.  One  thing I discovered while collecting and posting things about our family, was the fact there was one significant person, more than any other, who influenced our birth records, and that would be the Kilgore family doctor, Dr. Howard J. Sankey of Nauvoo, Alabama. 

present day photo of the Harbin Hotel in downtown Nauvoo
and Dr. Howard J. Sankey's office to the right.
Dr. Howard J. Sankey was a very interesting man.  He was considered a genius by some.  He was a very important man to the people of Nauvoo, arriving there in 1903 at the request of an aging doctor for the Black Creek Coal Company, Dr. Whitfield by name.  Dr. Sankey’s daughter Frances laughs, “His first patient at Nauvoo was a mule.”  The mule had suffered a cut from a barbed wire fence.  

I take time now to disclose some interesting background information about Dr. Sankey, which will help us to understand the man.  The source of this information is found in a book  entitled  “Memories of Nauvoo,” by Margaret Earley Lee.   

Dr. Sankey was born in 1875 down in Russell County in southeastern Alabama, near Columbus, Georgia.  He and his six younger brothers and sisters were schooled at home by his mother.  The Sankey family home was a 1200 acre plantation called “Experiment”, near Hatchechubbee, Alabama, which the Sankeys had owned since 1834.  

All the male Sankey ancestors were either physicians or Presbyterian ministers.  Howard J. Sankey followed suit by completing medical school at the University of Alabama in Mobile.    His formal education was attained  at a small Presbyterian school in Clinton, South Carolina, before studying medicine at the old Atlanta Medical School.  Finishing at the University of Alabama in 1901, he joined the practice of Dr. Matthew Turner at Bladon Springs, Alabama.  This was a resort area with a hotel and cabins for rent, located about 80 miles north of Mobile.  It was here that Dr. Sankey met the Marengo County Whitfield family from Demopolis.  More importantly, it was in Bladon Springs that he met and fell in love with Dr. Turner’s daughter, Frances. 

Photo Courtesty of Frances Sankey Ellis of her parents,
 Dr. Howard J. Sankey & Frances Turner Sankey
who are pictured leaving for their honeymoon
in Meridian, Mississippi before coming to Nauvoo.

This photo is from the book, "Memories of Nauvoo."
They were married in 1904 and he brought his beloved bride ‘Fannie” to Nauvoo.  In addition to a busy practice that included tireless rounds of house calls, Dr. Sankey  managed time to work for the community, as well as to be a father to his four children.  Dr. Sankey and Frances lived in Nauvoo for 45 years, until his retirement in 1949. 

Dr. Sankey was part of some “firsts” in Nauvoo.  He was the first mayor of the town when it was incorporated in 1906.  The incorporation of Nauvoo was largely due to his efforts.  Dr. Sankey was the first person in town to buy an automobile.  It was a one cylinder Brush Runabout, a small two seater shipped in by railroad car to the Nauvoo depot from Detroit, Michigan. The horseless carriage was used to make professional house calls.  In 1912 he bought his second car, a 1912 Model T Ford Commercial Roadster at a cost of $590.00.  Dr. Sankey added a second seat to the car, which was a buggy seat. 
Photo of Dr. H. J Sankey sitting on the running board of his 1912 Model T Ford.  
Pictured from left to right are Dr. Sankey, his son, Howard "Boots" Sankey, 
his son, Ben Sankey (a professional baseball player),Margie Holland (neighbor), 
and his daughter, Frances Sankey.  His Nauvoo home is in the background.
This photo is from the book, "Walker County, Alabama" by Pat Morrison; 
1st published in 2004, reprint 2005, Arcadia Pub, p. 82 
from Arcadia's Postcard History Publications 

Dr. Sankey was a creative, imaginative inventor, accomplishing unusual feats for his day.  He was usually working on some new venture or idea.  He installed a carbide lighting system in his home and office.  He also set up an air-conditioning system for the  Nauvoo “show house”, which was the local movie theater. This was in the 1920’s, long before air-conditioning was common place in public buildings and private homes. Before the “show house” was built, Dr. Sankey showed once a week silent movies on a tall fence on a vacant lot near his office. He did the wood and column work on his house next to his office.  He did everything with excellence.

Present day photo of the "Show Room"
in Nauvoo.  Under the side roof is
the cooling well and the airplane
propellor contrived by
Dr. Sankey for cooling the place.
Entrance sign to the Old Nauvoo Theater
By 1939, Dr. Sankey estimated he had delivered more  than 3500 babies since the beginning of his practice.  Some of those in that count are our relatives--the children of Virge and Sarah Kilgore.   One such person was our Aunt Lois.  Aunt Lois  (McKeever) for many years celebrated her birthday on July 21.  Not until she applied for Social Security did she know there was not a record of her birth on that date.  The state of Alabama Bureau of Records searched and found a record of “a baby girl Kilgore” born on July 14, not on the 21. 

No one knows for sure why the discrepancy.  Joe McKeever, one of Lois’ children, states some possibilities in an article from the Baptist Press News entitled “First Person: What a Glad Reunion, June 19, 2012.” 

 “I’m not sure why, but no doubt it had to do with their being very rural, her being the sixth child in a family of nine children, and the way doctors kept records back then (meaning: haphazardly).” 

Lois’ oldest child, Ronald J. McKeever, states the following explanation. “In all probability, being born at home and Dr. Sankey visiting the home after the birth, they had not named her at the time of  his visit.  Speculate...some time later, Doc’s nurse, who was his wife, said to him...  ‘Doc, you better send those births to Montgomery...they may be important someday’.  He pulled an envelope from his coat pocket on which he had written the info and sent it in.  I betcha a Coke that all kids he reported were born on the same day.  Doc Sankey’s initial was J and Pop (Carl McKeever) had a J after his name and I was given a J.  I believe it all was to honor Dr. Sankey.” 

Dr. Sankey's office displays his examining table
and the scales he weighed the Nauvoo quads on in 1940.

This photo is from the book, "The Heritage of Walker
County," 1st edition 1999, Heritage Publishing 
Consultants, Inc., page 284 
On January 14, 1940, Dr. Sankey was placed in the national spotlight with the delivery of  premature quadruplet babies. This was a rare feat for that day and time, and  Nauvoo was also placed on the national map with the birth of  three girls, Faith Hope, and Charity, and one boy, Franklin,  who were better known as the Short quadruplets. 

During the depression years and the WW II years in rural Alabama, most of the time babies were delivered at home.  The doctor would make the rounds, attending to the needs of the birth mothers.  This was the case for  Granny Kilgore when having her children, as well as her children giving birth to us cousins.  Transportation was always a problem, and living in a rural setting meant that it was impractical to journey to the nearest hospital.  The birth would have taken place before arriving at a hospital 20 miles away.

Anyone born in Nauvoo from 1903 until 1949 was most likely brought into the world by Dr. Howard J. Sankey.  I was among that number. I was born during the year 1944 at home on rural route 3 of Nauvoo, Alabama.  I grew up in that same house, and my mother still lives in that house, although the mailing address  has changed from Route 3 to County Road 21.  I was actually born to Cecil and Beatrice Kilgore  in the middle of the night of December 9, 1944, just before midnight with  sixty-nine year old, Dr. Sankey as the attending physician.   

For many years I celebrated my birthday as a child on December 9th, only to finally give in to what my birth certificate had recorded--December 10.  Dr. Sankey had changed my date by one day because of my coming into the world around 11:45 pm.  Based on what I’ve already shared, I would speculate that there may be other examples within our family where Dr. Sankey bore his influence.  I would be interested in knowing of others who acknowledge that Dr. Sankey was the attending physician who brought them into this world.   

Nauvoo was so fortunate to have this wonderful doctor settle, rear his family, and remain in the town. We have been blessed beyond measure because one great man decided to live among us, and serve us.   He retired at the age of 74 years old.   Based on my findings on, Dr. Sankey died September 2, 1968.  I could not find where he lived at that time, but Birmingham was listed below the date of death.
Present day photo of the front of
Dr. Howard J. Sankey's office in Nauvoo.

Dr. Sankey’s legacy lives on in the many lives of those he brought into this world.  The Virge and Sarah Kilgore family and descendants are an extension of that legacy.  How fortunate we were to have a physician serving us for the entire first half of the 20th century--Dr. Howard J. Sankey, the Kilgore family physician.  

I wish to thank the Carl Elliott Regional Library of Jasper, Alabama and their fine staff for their help in my research of a Walker County historical figure, Dr. Howard J. Sankey of Nauvoo. I want to personally thank, Elizabeth Blanton in the Archives section of the library for her personal assistance in digging through old newspapers and special books, and  Stephen Underwood for emailing me some photos he copied from Walker County historical books.  Their assistance was invaluable.  I also gleaned information from my cousins, Ron and Joe McKeever. All my historical material for the most part came from a very informative book, “Memories of Nauvoo,” by Margaret Earley Lee, Copyright 1991; Treasured Memories, Inc., publisher, pp. 23-26. 



  1. I need to look at my birth certificate and see if I was delivered by Dr. Sankey or Dr. Blake from Double Springs.

    1. I would be interested in knowing, Mary Beth. I believe I was one of the last cousins delivered by Dr. Sankey because he was getting on in years. I don't think Dr. Sankey was used as much for those born in the mid to late 40's. Note he was 69 years of age when Dr. Sankey delivered me. My brother, Mike who is only 2 1/2 years younger than I, was delivered by Dr. Keith of Carbon Hill, AL.

    2. I am related to Dr. Sankey. He is my great great grandfather. My dad is still alive and if you have any questions I will see if he can help you out
      Robert Ellis