It started with a phone call, and it ended with some 50 notebooks full of local genealogical information that are now available to the public.

Volunteer Norma Clayton fielded the initial call from John Tayloe of Rural Hall. Would the Jackson County Genealogical Society be interested in accepting a large genealogical research collection compiled by a cousin of his wife’s?. He went on to describe notebooks full of information on familiar names, including Norton, Coward, Zachary, Nicholson and Rogers, which had been painstakingly put together by one Trudy Hampton Adams, a granddaughter of Jonathan David Coward, known to those familiar with area history as one of the “Noble Nine” community leaders instrumental in founding what is now Western Carolina University.

Norma was intrigued, and she told John that the Society would most certainly be interested.

Several phone calls and emails later, John and his wife Judy appeared at the JCGS office with 10 large boxes crammed full of Jackson County’s past. That was in June; now, after weeks of sorting and filing, the Adams’ donation has been incorporated into JCGS’s other collections and is available for viewing in the Society’s research library.

Born Mary Gertrude Hampton, Trudy was born in Sylva but lived most of her life in Alabama. She died July 10, 2007, in Birmingham. Her mother was Annie Lou Coward (born May 10, 1893, in Cullowhee; died April 9, 1971, in Birmingham). Annie was the daughter of Jonathan David Coward and Martha Lou Ellen Norton. Jonathan’s sister, Sallie Jane Coward, married William Preston Campbell Norton, another of the “Noble Nine.” Annie’s grandparents were Nathan Coward and Jane Rogers Coward, and William Norton and Susan Zachary Norton; her great-grandparents were Col. John Zachary and Sarah Roberts Zachary, Barak Norton and Martha Nicholson Norton, David Rogers and Polly Berry Rogers, and Jonathan Coward and Martha Hudson Coward.

Annie married William Oscar Hampton (born Nov. 9, 1892, in Hornbeak, Tennessee; died Aug. 7, 1947, in Alton, Illinois) on April 7, 1922, at the home of Annie’s parents. Hampton, a career educator who earned his doctorate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was apparently employed at what was then Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School (now WCU) at the time he and Annie were married. In addition to Trudy, born Sept. 13, 1923, Oscar and Annie Hampton had another daughter, Martha, born Aug. 15, 1926, in Chapel Hill.

After learning all this and seeing Trudy’s meticulous research into her Jackson County ancestors, I wanted to know more about Trudy herself. The Tayloes put me in touch with Trudy’s son, Casey, who said his mother’s passion for genealogy grew out of her interest in her Coward forbears and from attending the annual Coward reunions. Trudy edited the Coward newsletter, he said, and also managed the large Coward family tree that was displayed each year at the reunion, which most recently was held at the WCU picnic shelter.

“Every year she asked for help to fill in the blank spots,” Casey said.

Trudy was educated at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama, and worked as an assistant to one of Birmingham’s premier orthopedic surgeons before she married Robert Abner Adams on Aug. 28, 1949, in Wilton, Alabama. According to Casey, his parents met when Bob Adams, a newspaper photographer, was sent to take a photo of Trudy because she had won some sort of award. Trudy taught herself how to use a computer back in the floppy disk days, and learned to use the Internet to further her family history research.

“When it came to genealogy, it had to be right,” Casey said, recalling a childhood spent following his mother through cemeteries and into courthouse basements in search of elusive deeds and marriage certificates. Casey, who now lives in Atlanta, also remembers summer visits to the mountains for the Coward and Norton reunions.

“The Jarrett House was our go-to hotel every year,” he said. “We’d take time to drive along the (Blue Ridge) Parkway – I’m a mountain boy at heart.”

Thanks to Trudy’s painstaking research, and the generosity of her family members for preserving and sharing it, many local residents will be able to fill in some of the missing gaps in their own family trees.

Items from the Trudy Adams Collection are available for on-site research in the JCGS office, located in the Courthouse Wing of the Jackson County Library, and open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The Genealogy Office will be closed Monday, Aug. 21, on the day of the solar eclipse, and Monday, Aug. 28, when the entire Library will be closed for staff training.

For more information, call the Society at 828-631-2646.

Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.