#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Identity

This post is adapted from a letter I wrote to my mom’s brother about my research into their maternal grandfather’s family.

When I started researching the family tree, I knew the name of my great-grandfather Billie Stevens from hearing him talked about and from going to Clopton Cemetery. I didn’t know his parents’ names or anything about him, other than that he died when my mom was a little girl.

Billie Stevens

J.W. Stevens was born October 5, 1884, according to his wife Mollie Pittman Stevens’ Bible (in possession of my cousin Cassandra Schansman). His World War I Draft Registration card records his birthday as October 5, 1880. (WWI Draft Card available on FamilySearch.org)

The U.S. Census of 1910 records his name as William J. Stephens, birthplace Alabama, parents both born in Alabama.

The U.S. Census of 1920 gives his name as J. W. Stebens, birthplace Florida, parents both born in Alabama.

The U.S. Census of 1930 lists his name as J.W. Stevens, birthplace Alabama, parents both born in Alabama.

The Florida Census of 1935 gives his name as J.W. Stevens and his birthplace as Florida.

All U.S. and Florida Census records are available on FamilySearch.org. I have not found any of the family in the 1900 U.S. Census. The 1890 U.S. Census, as genealogists know, was destroyed by fire.

The first record I found naming Billie Stevens’ parents was his death certificate; the informant was Willie Cook, his daughter. It gave the names Bill Stevens and Mollie Reed (Death certificate is available on FamilySearch.org).

As I began searching, I found one record that seemed to be his parents. William A. Stephens and Mollie Reid were married in Conecuh County, Alabama, on July 26, 1883 with the consent of Mrs. Nancy Reid.

Using that information, I found U.S. Census records and FamilySearch family tree profiles for James T. and Nancy Reid living in Conecuh County beginning in 1850.  Mollie, also known as Mary, was born around 1855 – that’s consistent through all the Census records I have for her. I don’t have a specific birthdate.

I wasn’t positive at that I’d found the right couple. I am sure now for several reasons.

I have quite a few DNA matches to descendants of James and Nancy Reid’s other children.

We know that Billie’s mother remarried Charles Muterspaugh. They had a daughter named Charlotta Rhea “Lottie” Muterspaugh, born December 5, 1894. The only marriage record I found for Charles Muterspaugh was to Mary R. Gilmore, wedding date 19 March 1891, in Escambia County, Florida. The 1910 Census says Charley and Mollie had been married for 19 years, which matches that date. But where did Gilmore come from? I found a marriage on March 7, 1889, in Conecuh County, Alabama, between J.C. Gilmore and Molly Stephens. The justice of the peace noted that he performed the marriage at the home of Pink Louis – aka Pinkney Lewis, Mary Reid’s brother-in-law.

But the big questions is, who is William A. Stephens (or Stevens) and what became of him? I have two possibilities.

There is a Wm. Stephens in the U.S. Census for 1880 living in Conecuh County, Alabama, with his mother Melviny Stevens. He is 18 years old, putting his birth in around 1862. According to the information recorded in the Census, he was born in Alabama, his father was born in Georgia, and his mother was born in Alabama. Melviny is age 42, born in Alabama, father born in Georgia, mother born in South Carolina. They are living a couple of houses down from John Henry Stephens and his wife Margaret. John Henry is 21 years old, born in Alabama, father born in Georgia, mother born in Alabama.

In the 1870 Census, William Stephens, age 5, is living with his mother Vina, age 26, and brother John Henry, age 11. In 1900, we find a William M. Stephens in the household of John Henry Stephens. William is identified as brother to the head-of-household, divorced, birthdate given as February 1872.

There is also, in the 1880 Census for Conecuh County, a William I. or J. Stephens, age 20, so born in Alabama around 1860. He’s living with his father Benjamin Stephens, age 65, who was born in Georgia to parents born in Georgia. His wife Mary A., age 45, was born in Alabama to parents born in South Carolina. The other children are Martha A., Benjamin F., Sarah T., James T., Bamy,  Mary E., and Maggy.

I haven’t found anything yet – document nor DNA – to confirm which William is ours. There may yet even be another William in the area that I haven’t found yet. Right now, I’m researching a Stephens DNA match that leads back to Ethel Almitty Stephens Freeman, who appears to have lived in Southwest Alabama in the early 20th Century. I have found a 1940 obituary for Mary Ella Poole that names her daughter as Ethel Freeman and lists two siblings, J.H. Johnson and Mrs. Ida Shell, who were living at the time in Evergreen, Conecuh County, Alabama. Perhaps someone reading this will recognize these names and help me make the connection to my Stephens ancestors. #CousinBait


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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