The Braggs hiked to four dikes that an ancestor had built to dam up the fall and winter rainfall for spring planting. Bragg’s great-great-grandfather, George Washington Bragg, had built them in the bottomlands that his mother had received as a homestead. The land is located near the old Edwardsville-Jacksonville Highway and is now part of the Talladega National Forest.
The dikes are made of large stones, and one of the walls was about 10 feet high and about 60 feet long. His ancestor’s efforts to build the dikes show their determination to succeed. They had hauled the stones, his father told him, from the farmland as they uncovered them when plowing.
Bragg knows first hand about determination. On July 5, 2007, when he was building the ceiling of a workshop in the back of his Heflin home, he dropped straight down and drove his right leg into the floor below. Doctors wanted to amputate it more than once, and he had nine surgeries during his recovery, which took about ten months. During the long wait, Bragg decided research his family tree – a longtime goal.
Bragg’s grandfather had told him many stories from his childhood, and Bragg wrote them down. His father had photographs, and Bragg reproduced them for a book he planned to compile. He began his research on ancestry.com and was amazed at all that he learned. As of now, Bragg has traced his ancestors back to the 1500s in England and Ireland. Closer to his own time, though, Bragg discovered that his family’s property in Edwardsville was obtained in the 1850s, just after Cleburne County had gone from being Indian territory to being a part of Benton County. Back then, it also included Calhoun County. Edwardsville, at one time, was the county seat.
Bragg learned that, in the mid 1800s, a couple named John and Elizabeth Bragg moved from Spartanburg, S.C., with their four daughters and three sons. One of those daughters, Mahala, 18, signed to obtain 640 acres of land that had a creek running through the bottomland. By age 19, Mahala was pregnant and gave birth to a son, George Washington Bragg, who kept her family name. The father, a Burgess, intended to marry her, but he had to leave in 1861 to fight in the Civil War. He was killed in one of the earliest battles, but Bragg can find little information about Burgess’s military service nor his death. Mahala, likely with the help of some of her brothers, developed a farm and turned it over to George. He built the dikes, married Mary Elizabeth Howell, and had a family of his own. Bragg has a family photo taken on the porch of the Bragg home. He has identified several of the family members, and he also has found six unmarked graves in the Edwardsville Cemetery. Cemetery records showed him where the six are buried, and soon he plans to erect markers on their graves.
“I am proud that Mahala is my ancestor. She was called ‘Big Granny,’ and George’s wife was called ‘Little Granny’,” said Bragg. “Big Granny must have been a strong-willed, strong-bodied woman. She never married, and she is pictured in the photograph I have with the family.” Also, Bragg has proof of the character of George. He found an obituary in The Cleburne News that ran on June 30, 1927. “The county never produced a more noble or honest citizen,” read the obituary. “He never intentionally harmed or wronged anyone.”
Steve is proud that he was able to see the dikes, and he proudly shows off the 11 X 18-inch memory book he has compiled. It is full of family trees, census records, photographs, personal stories, and more.
“There are good things that came out of my accident,” said Bragg. “One is this project, and another is that I have been able to give a testimony to God for using my life and giving me purpose.”
Email Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org.