How I found my great-great-great-great grandpa – #Genealogy

On April 6 2015, I saw #NationalTartanDay trending on Twitter. I’d been told some of our people came from Scotland, and I had a couple of hours, so I thought I’d figure out what my family’s tartan is.

Seven months later, I still haven’t figured out for sure what clan my people belong to, but I have made some progress in the family tree. The line I’m most proud of is on my maternal grandmother’s side. I knew her name and her parents’ names, but that’s all I could remember. Here’s how I identified my great-great-great-great grandfather, born in 1774.

I started building my family tree on It’s a free website and it has a lot of research tools built right in.  It’s a collaborative site, meaning that when I typed my Pap-pa’s name in, it recognized him and started filling in branches based on research done by other family members. Mam-ma’s side, I got nothin’.

Mollie and Billie Stevens' gravesite. Photo by Doug Lindsey posted on

Mollie and Billie Stevens’ gravesite. Photo by Doug Lindsey posted on

I filled in her parents’ names, and started looking for documents relating to them. I found a photo of their headstones in Clopton Cemetery here in Pensacola. That gave me their birth and death dates.  I also found U.S. Census records from 1910, 1930, and 1940. The 1910 Census included my Mam-ma who was just a toddler. I remembered that Grandma Stevens’ maiden name was Pittman, but I couldn’t remember her parents’ given names. I did recall that Mam-ma grew up in Muscogee, a community in North Escambia County. My next step was to find census records for that part of the county and start looking for Pittmans.

I found one for 1920: E. Pittman, a widow with three adult sons and a boarder. Of course, her daughter Mollie was already married and in a home of her own, but when I saw the sons’ names, I knew I was on the right track. I remembered hearing about Uncle Medrick and Uncle Tom when I was growing up.

Excerpt from U.S. Census of 1920.

Excerpt from U.S. Census of 1920.

I wanted her parents’ names, though, and it wasn’t much to go on. The first initial E, her age, and that she was born in Alabama. It did give me an idea: I could look for Mollie and her brothers’ names. All that information, sketchy though it was, lead to my next discovery, the 1910 Census.

U.S. Census of 1910 listing the Pittman family.

U.S. Census of 1910 listing the Pittman family.

But wait — she’s 48 in 1910, and yet the 1920 form says she’s 50. Or maybe they’ve tried to change that 5 to a 6. So, how old is she really?

Portrait of Isaac Pittman in the possession of my mother.

Portrait of Isaac Pittman in the possession of my mother.

I had asked my mom if she remembered her grandparents’ names, and she drew a blank. Later, though, it came back to her that her grandfather’s name was Isaac Pittman, and she even has a picture of him.  The 1910 Census lists a son named Isaac (badly misspelled — and did you noticed Medrick’s name was spelled differently both times?), but it all seems to be coming together.

I still had no clues to help me find Elizabeth’s parents.

Then I found a death certificate. The actual image is not online, but the transcript gives her full name, her age, her husband’s name, her father’s name and birthplace, and a birth month and year. It took me a while to find this because the last name is misspelled, and so is Isaac’s first name. Turns out, her dad’s first name is, too.

A transcript of Mosella Elizabeth Pittman's death certificate.

A transcript of Mosella Elizabeth Pittman’s death certificate.

At that point, though, it was the best clue I had, so I started hunting for an Ira Thompson in Alabama. In the 1870 Census, I found a Thompson in Baldwin County, where Elizabeth had been living in 1910, and he had a daughter named Betty, who’s about the right age. But his first name is Ory, not Ira. Now, I don’t know how literate Elizabeth’s sons were, who were filling out the death certificate, and I don’t know how well they knew or remembered their grandfather. Ira’s fairly close to Ora. So, this could be the right family.

1870 Census listing the family of Ory Thompson with a daughter called Betty.

1870 Census listing the family of Ory Thompson with a daughter called Betty.

The next record is pretty much a clincher. In 1880, Ory’s daughter is married. She’s now going by Elizabeth Pittman, and her husband, Ory’s son-in-law, is named Isaac Pitman.

1880 Census for Ory Thompson family listing Isaac and Elizabeth Pittman.

1880 Census for Ory Thompson family listing Isaac and Elizabeth Pittman.

One mystery remains. Her death certificate says her full name is Mosella Elizabeth. I haven’t found anything else that says Mosella. Elizabeth is a pretty common name. And add to that, the 1910 and 1920 Census forms ask for the birthplace of each person’s parents. Medrick and the other children list their father’s birthplace as Alabama. Yet the 1880 Census says Isaac was born in Mississippi. Am I looking at the right family or not?

Then I found it. The piece that puts it all together. A marriage bond issued by the State of Alabama to Isaac Pittman and Mosella E. Thompson. They were married at the home of O. Thompson — that would be Ory. They were married on April 15, 1880, just a couple of months before the Census that showed them living in Ory’s household.

Marriage record for Mosella E. and Isaac Pittman.

Marriage record for Mosella E. and Isaac Pittman.

That’s settled then. Now, on to the next generation: Ory’s parents. I looked through old court records for Baldwin County and found an estate record giving Ory’s name as Origen Thompson. All the kids’ names matched up, so I was confident that I found the right person. When I searched Census records for Origen Thompson in Baldwin County, Alabama, I found him living in his father’s household.

The 1850 Census shows Origen Thompson living in his father's household.

The 1850 Census shows Origen Thompson living in his father’s household.

So, my great-great-great-great grandfather is William Thompson, born in South Carolina around 1774. Sadly, that’s all I know for sure. Google helped me find a discussion of his family that gives a wife’s name of Annie Odom or Odem, but I haven’t found any documents proving that. Prior to 1850, only the head of household is listed on the Census form, so that’s no help for finding who his parents are. A later Census lists Ory’s parents as being from Georgia. so perhaps they lived there for a time. I will continue to search for information, and new documents come online all the time, so I have every hope that someday I’ll find my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, too.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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