Unusual Documents for #Genealogy Research

Photo of John Jurdan Cooper and Arminta Stephens Cooper.

Photo posted to FindAGrave by Little Robert (Cowper). It also appears in “The Heritage of Baldwin County.”

Sometimes genealogical discoveries come in the most unexpected places. I was researching my G3 grandmother Arminta Stephens – or sometimes McKenzie – and I came across an unusual account offering new clues about her family. It started with a Google search for her stepfather, Daniel McKenzie. That’s how I stumbled across a medical report detailing her childhood brush with yellow fever.

The “Report on the Epidemic Yellow Fever of 1853” was compiled by the New Orleans Sanitary Commission. Dr. N.B. Benedict attended Arminta and her neighbors in September of that year, at their homes “in the pine woods, in the vicinity of a place of summer resort named ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Freeman’s,’ situated on the Eastern shore of Mobile Bay” in Baldwin County.

Dr. Benedict’s ten-page report goes on to describe the general landscape and the clearing where the McKenzie home stood. The same clearing also held two other houses, and the disease struck all three.

The fifth case occurred in the second house described – that of Daniel G. McKenzie – in the person of his daughter, Araminta Alice, aged twelve years; born in Coffee county, Alabama; resident, the last four years, at this place; a remarkably fine, healthy, and interesting child.

Aha! Now I know where Arminta was born, as well as where she lived in the early 1850s. Scanning through the rest of the article, I also found reference to her little sister, who also survived.

The seventh and last case was that of a second daughter of Mr. McKenzie, named Francis Jane; born in Stockton, Ala.; brought here when five weeks old; present age four and a half years; never but once at the bay shore, a year or two since, and never in any house in its vicinity.

Just before I would have moved on, a sentence caught my eye that suggested I should pay a little more attention to the other cases in the neighborhood. It was in a description of the first house struck by yellow fever that summer: “On the 19th, the family and the neighbors (who were all near relatives of the patient) were found perfectly beside themselves with panic.”

The three families were related! Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t find it necessary to explain the relationships, but he did list several members of each household.

The first house the doctor visited belonged to the Stevens family. A child named Michael Elliott was the first to fall ill. Dr. Benedict describes him as “an orphan boy of six years; born in Florida; of a half-breed Indian and a white woman, and brought to this vicinity while an infant. He was a bright little fellow, with an eye and complexion resembling the Indian.”

The next case was that of H.M. Stevens; a native of South Carolina; age 26 years; had resided constantly here for four years.

The third case was that of Mrs. Frances Stevens; the mother of H.M. Stevens. She was born in South Carolina, in 1791, and had resided here constantly for four years. She described herself as “A Methodist, living in slavery and sin, and working herself to death.”

The two remaining cases, of the seven in that neighborhood, were in the home of William H. Croft. His four-year-old daughter Melissa Ann recovered. So did his nephew, Thomas H. Stephens, who fell ill after digging a grave for little Michael. Thomas, the doctor wrote, “until now, had resided with H.M. Stevens, in the house where all the deaths had happened. Born in Barbour county, Alabama; aged, seventeen years; resident here four years.”

I found a couple of marriage documents for Daniel McKenzie and his wife Catharine or Katherine Webster Stephens. They wed in 1849, when Arminta was about five years old. Census documents show she was born in South Carolina. The next step is finding Arminta’s father and his relationship with the Stevens/Stephens family who lived next door in 1853. The only clue I’ve found so far is that a “T.H. Stephens” stood up with John Jurdan Cooper when he married Arminta in 1857.

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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 three cats and a husband.
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