Family Ties: Identifying the Parents of Jesse D. Williams

NOTE: This post is my ProGen Study Group Proof Argument assignment. It is the culmination of several assignments, including my evidence analysis and research report on a related factual situation, already posted. It does not yet have the benefit o…

NOTE: This post is my ProGen Study Group Proof Argument assignment.  It is the culmination of several assignments, including my evidence analysis and research report on a related factual situation, already posted.  It does not yet have the benefit of my study group peer review. But I’m posting it anyway, since I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’ve been sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

The American Civil War changed the course of countless lives and left in its wake unanswerable questions. Personal loss and financial reversal launched a period of chaos, particularly for those without substantial assets. Genealogists rely on a trail of records reliably created in orderly times to establish kinship but where the trail is disrupted by circumstance, family ties can bridge the gap.   In one family, rich correspondence and consistent oral traditions, correlated with census and marriage records, place a war baby and his siblings with their proper parents.    

Jesse D. Williams was born on 27 January 1863 in Arkansas at nearly the midpoint of the Civil War.[1]  Typical genealogical sources are of little help establishing his parentage.  His birth was well before state-mandated registration.[2]  As a child, he does not appear in any federal census with any person who could be a parent.   No probate records can be located for either his mother or his father. [3]  The informant to his 1949 Texas death certificate could not name his mother and father. [4] His published obituary does not mention them.[5]  Throughout his life, however, Jesse D. maintained sibling relationships and an oral tradition that clearly identifies him as the son of Jesse G. Williams and Christian Johnson Williams.

Before and During the War

Jesse G. Williams and Christian E. Johnson were married in Hempstead County, Arkansas on 13 May 1857.[6]  They were enumerated in Spring Hill Township, of the same county, in the 1860 federal census with three-year-old Ellison and one-year-old Amanda. [7]  James M. Williams, Jesse G.’s brother, and James’ wife, Sarah A. E., are listed immediately above them with likely children, Syntha [Cynthia] E. J., age 8, and James A., age 5. [8]  James apparently owned the land that they both worked.[9] 

The Civil War ruptured the world of the two young families.  The Confederate Congress passed its first conscription law on 16 April 1862, making both men eligible for the draft.[10]  One month later, on 15 May, the brothers enlisted together for three years in Co C, 1 (Monroe’s) Arkansas Cavalry. [11]  

Their absence robbed the farm of its primary labor force.  Their children were not old enough to help shoulder the burden nor did the families own slaves. [12] The financial impact must have been felt immediately; James and Jesse G., and their wives, are listed on a Roster of Indigent Soldiers in Hempstead County dated 1862.[13] 

James returned from the war and lived to the age of 88.[14]  Sadly, Jesse was lost in battle on 25 October 1864, most likely in the Battle of Mine Creek, very nearly the last action of Sterling Price’s failed Missouri Raid. [15]  

The Aftermath of the War

“Nonelite whites emerged from the war mangled, spending the next decade reconstituting families and restarting withering farm operations.”[16]

After the war, James and his family relocated to adjacent Columbia County, Arkansas, where they were enumerated in Alabama Township in the 1870 federal census.[17]  His occupation is listed as merchant.  By then, he and Sarah had four more children in addition to Cynthia and James.

Widow Christian Williams and her children were not with James and Sarah nor could they be located in the 1870 federal census.[18] It was estimated in 1890 that 1.2 million Southerners were not counted in the 1870 census, generally considered as “grossly deficient.” [19]

Christian, separated from her husband Jesse by “the misfortunes of war,” died on 17 July in 1873 in Hempstead County after an illness of two years.[20] She left four children.[21]  Like James and Sarah, the family of Jesse and Christian had expanded since 1860, but, without the 1870 enumeration or probate, there is no official record of its composition at her death.

Family Tradition Fills the Void

Two separate oral traditions, one passed down by Jesse D. Williams and the other by Dora McBride, name the four surviving children of 1873, as well as their birth and death years.    Dora’s account is more date-specific but omits any mention of the oldest sibling, Ellison.   Several date inconsistencies exist yet the broad strokes are remarkably similar.

The Children of Jesse G. and Christian (Johnson) Williams

Jesse’s Information[22]

Dora’s Information[23]

Ellison, the oldest, died 1863

No mention of Ellison

Emmanda Williams (Smith), 1859-1893

Amanda Williams (Smith), died 22 September 1892

Henry G., 1861-1893

Henry Gravill Williams, born 25 January 1861, died 11 February 1891

Jesse D., born 1863

Jesse D. Williams, born 27 January 1863

Dora Williams (McBride), born 12 April 1865

Dora Williams (McBride), born 12 April 1865

According to both accounts, Jesse D. and Dora were born during the war, while their father was in service.  Jesse D.’s January 1863 birth is eight months after his father’s enlistment.  Dora’s birth, seven months after her father’s death, would have required his presence at home in the late summer of 1864.   Jesse G.’s compiled military record includes only three muster cards, and none for the summer of 1864.  

Jesse D.’s account provides further details.  Not even two when his father died, he had no memory of him but was told that he “came home once during the war to bring a friend home to recover from wounds.  Stayed a while then went back to the war and got killed.”[24]  This strongly implies that Jesse G. was at home not long before his death; Dora could certainly have been conceived during that stay.

Reappearing on  Record

Between 1879 and 1888, three of the four surviving children of Jesse and Christian emerged in records as they began their adult lives.  Both young women, Amanda and Dora, married, more established men.

  •       Amanda Williams, age 18, and William D. Smith, age 36, married on Christmas Day in 1879 in Miller County, adjacent to Hempstead County. [25] According to other sources, Amanda would have been 20, a relatively minor discrepancy.[26]
  •        In  the 1880 federal census, where relationships are specified for the first time:
    • J. D. Williams, age 17, was living with W. D. and Amanda Smith in Miller County and identified as the brother-in-law of the head of household. [27] 
    • Dora Williams, age 15, was living with now-widowed James M. Williams, and his large extended family back in Spring Hill, Hempstead County. [28]   She is identified as his niece. James has returned to farming.
    • Henry, 19, was not positively identified in the census.[29]
  •            Dora Williams, age 21, married widower Charles McBride, age 50, on 17 September 1885. [30]
  •          Jesse D. Williams, age 23, and Ocie Ola Manning married in Miller County in November of 1888, either on the bride’s 19th birthday, the 14th of November, or the day after. [31]

The 1880 census establishes a brother-sister relationship between Jesse D. Williams and Amanda Williams Smith, who appeared in the 1860 census with Jesse G. and Christian Williams.  It also strongly supports a father-daughter relationship between Dora and Jesse G.  via the uncle-niece relation of Dora and James M. Williams. In this particular instance, the added value of naming relationships to the head of household cannot be overstated.

Keeping in Touch

Letters dating from 1890 until 1903 tell the story of that period, including the fate of Henry.[32]  The three couples, the Smiths, the Williams, and the McBrides, apparently lived near each other in Miller County, for at least part of that time.  The men saw each other “in town” but the women communicated by letter.  Correspondence continued after Jesse D. and Ocie moved to Water Valley, Texas. 

  •    On 11 July 1890, H.G. Williams, wrote to “sister” Dora McBride from San Antonia, Texas, and promised to write to “you and Amanda when I stop for good.”
  •   “Brother” Henry wrote to “sister” Amanda on 20 August 1890 from San Antonio.  In it, he referred to Dora, Jesse, and Mr. S.
  •   On 14 February, 1891, Ocie Williams wrote to “sister” with sad news of Brother Henry’s recent death in San Antonio; Jesse had been notified by telegram. In the letter she refers to Dora and the possibility of Jesse seeing Mr. Smith in town and providing more specific information about Henry’s death.
  •    On 4 October 1895, Ocie wrote to “sister” from Genoa, [Miller County] Arkansas, primarily to convey her sympathies upon the death of “Bular.”
  •    Ocie wrote to Dora McBride on 13 January 1896, saying she hopes to see Dora before they leave for Texas.
  •    On 6 May 1896, Ocie Williams wrote to Dora McBride from Water Valley, Texas, and in it she instructed Dora to tell Mr. Smith “to hurry and get that house keeper and let Jessie come here” so that she could attend school. 

Amanda had died in 1892, but William Smith and their children had remained within the family circle.[33] In the 1900 federal census, Charles and Dora McBride and their children are enumerated in Day Creek Township, Miller County, just two households above widower William H. Smith.[34]  He had a daughter, Jessie, aged 16, most certainly the object of Ocie’s previously expressed concern.  

Ocie’s last letter to Dora in the collection is dated 25 November 1931; Ocie died in 1934.[35]  When Jesse D. died in 1949, his obituary named Dora McBride of Jackson, Mississippi, as a surviving sister.  Dora died on 15 February 1956, in Jackson, where she had been living with a son.[36]   Her obituary was published in Miller County, the location of her funeral and interment.[37]

 Conclusion  

The early, tragic deaths of Jesse D. Williams’ father and mother scattered their children for a time and disrupted the usual trail of records.  By reaping the benefit of relationship-naming in the 1880 census, correlating marriage records, and mining family letters and traditions, we can draw a clear picture of kinship.   Although Jesse G. and Christian Williams did not live to see them grow up, they would have been proud of the bonds between their offspring – Jesse D. Williams and his siblings.


[1] Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 18167 (Hudspeth County, 1949), Jesse D. Williams; digital image, “Texas Death Certificates, 1890-1976.”  Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 13 December 2009); published by the Texas State Library.

[2] Alice Eichholz, editor, Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources, 3rd edition (Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2004), 63.  1914 was the first year birth and death registration was mandated in Arkansas; compliance was sketchy for at least another decade.

[3] I am indebted to Gloria Futrell for searching Hempstead County and Columbia County probate record indexes at the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives in Little Rock, Arkansas.

[4] Jesse C.  Williams, informant for his father’s death certificate, was unable to provide the identities of his grandparents and their birthplace locations.  He did provide an exact birthdate of 27 January 1863 for his father, which is consistent with all sources cited within.

[5] “Hudspeth County Pioneer Dies At the Age of 86,” The Hudspeth County News, Sierra Blanca, Texas, 8 April 1949, page 1, columns 5-6.

[6] “Arkansas Marriages, 1837-1944,” database, Family search (http://pilot.familysearch.org : accessed 12 September 2010), entry for Jesse G. Williams and Christian E. Williams; citing FHL microfilm 1,005,876.

[7] 1860 U. S. Census, Hempstead County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Spring Hill Post Office, p. 803 (stamped), household 789,  Jessee G. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 42.

[8] 1860 U. S. Census, Hempstead County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Spring Hill Post Office, p. 802-803 (stamped), household 788,  James M. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 42.

[9] A series of land records were located for James, Jesse, and Christian Williams, none of which shed light on the question of Jesse D. Williams’ parentage.

[10] James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850, Volume 5 (New York: The MacMillian Company, 1904), 431; digital image, Google Books (http://books.google.com/ ; accessed 25 February 2011.)

[11] Compiled Military Service Record of Jesse G. Williams; M317 Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas, 1st (Monroe’s) Cavalry Li-Y, Roll #5; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.  Compiled Military Service Record for James M. Williams; Arkansas Military Service Records, Roll 116, Record # 19619; Arkansas History Commission and State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.

[12] Neither James M. Williams nor Jesse G. Williams appear as slave owners in Spring Hill Township, Hempstead County Slave Schedules for 1860. Digital images of the schedules were read line by line on Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 22 February 2011).   

[13] Transcription of “Indigent Soldiers of Hempstead County,” Edward G. Gerdes Civil War Page (http://backwardbranch.com/lrcgs/lrmilitary.html  : accessed 10 February 2011).  The list is also transcribed at ARGenWeb – Arkansas Genealogical Resources Online (http://www.argenweb.net/hempstead/Indigents.html : accessed 25 February 2011). The original source is not available locally and has not yet been reviewed.  The transcriptions are the same for both Williams’s entries.

[14] State of Arkansas, Arkansas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 2564958 (18 August 1917), James Milton Williams.

[15] Malissa Ruffner, “Our Grandfather’s Grandfather – Confederate Casualty,” Family Epic (http: http://familyepic.posterous.com/our-grandfathers-grandfather-confederate-casu : accessed 26 February 2010).

[16]  Ryan Poe, “Working Families and The Reconstruction of Hempstead County Arkansas” (M.A. Thesis, University of Arkansas, 2008), abstract; digital image, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (http://www.proquest.com : accessed 22 February 2010). Poe’s thesis provided a helpful overview of the post-war period in Hempstead County and the multiple forces that caused whole families to disappear leaving little trace.

[17] 1870 U. S. Census, Columbia County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Falcon post office, p. 333 (stamped), p. 150 (penned), dwelling 110, family 113, James M. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 50.

[18] Index searches of Arkansas records were conducted for Christian and all five offspring using both Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com) and Heritage Quest (http://www.heritagequest.com ).  Hempstead County was searched line by line for any name resembling Williams or a household of matching composition.  Alabama Township, Columbia County, where James and Sarah lived at that time, was also searched line by line.  There was a 12 year old white female, named Amanda Williams, living and working as a domestic in Monroe County (seven counties away), in a two-person household headed by 43 year old Elvira Hawick.  Given the distance, lack of connecting detail, and the common surname of Williams, it is not possible to state with any degree of certainty that this is the same Amanda.

[19] Department of the Interior Census Office, Report on Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census, 1890, Part I.  Progress of the Nation 1790-1890, p. xii, available at U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/1890.html : accessed 22 February 2011).

[20] “Obituaries [Mrs. Christian C. Williams], unidentified newspaper clipping, [July 1873]; Lagrone Williams Family File #541; Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.  Lagrone Williams is a direct descendant of James M. Williams of Hempstead County, Arkansas.  

[21] Ibid.

[22] Williams-Manning-Johnson Family Traditions, Julia Mae (Ellison) Jenkins, compiler (MSS notes, circa 1945-1970; privately held by Tom D. Ellison, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Sierra Blanca, Texas; reported by Jesse D. Williams, Julia Mae’s grandfather, circa 1945; scanned by Malissa Ruffner, 6 October 2010. 

[23] McBride-Williams Family Traditions, Melvin McBride, compiler (MSS notes, circa 1983; privately held by Malissa Ruffner [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Baltimore, Maryland; reported by Dora Williams McBride to her grandson, Melvin McBride, date unknown.  The notes were sent to Elizabeth W. Ruffner, mother of the author, probably in 1983, shortly after Melvin McBride requested Elizabeth’s address from Ellis W. Williams in a letter dated 20 June 1983.

[24] Williams-Manning-Johnson Family Traditions, Julia Mae (Ellison) Jenkins, compiler.

[25] “Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957,” digital images, Family Search (http://familysearch.org : accessed 1 February 2011), Amanda Williams and William H. Smith marriage, 25 December 1879; citing FHL microfilm 1,005,447.

[26] Amanda P. Smith cemetery marker, digital image, Find-A-Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 3 February 2011), “Amanda P. Smith, Nov. 19, 1859 – Sept. 22, 1892, wife of Wm. H. Smith” – Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Miller County, Arkansas. McBride-Williams Family Traditions, Melvin McBride, compiler.

[27] 1880 U. S. Census, Miller County, Arkansas, pop. sched., enumeration district (ED) 196, p. 10 (penned), p. 147 (A, stamped), dwelling 106, family 106, J. D. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 October 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 51.

[28] 1880 U. S. Census, Hempstead County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Spring Hill, enumeration district (ED) 105, p. 323-324 (stamped), p. 105-106 (penned), household 70, family 70, James M. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 46.

[29] Three possible candidates for Henry (approximate age of 19, white, Arkansas-born, not in a family setting) were located in the 1880 Census index on Heritage Quest (http://www.heritagequest.com).  All were living in Arkansas: two were working on a farm, the third was living as a boarder and attending school.  It was beyond the scope of this argument to determine which Henry, if any, is the Henry Williams of this family.

[30] “Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957,” digital images, Family Search (http://familysearch.org : accessed 1 February 2011), Dora Williams and Charley McBride marriage, 17 September 1885; citing FHL microfilm 1,005,448.

[31] “Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957,” digital images, Family Search (http://familysearch.org : accessed 23 February 2011), Ocie Manning and J. D. Williams marriage, 15 November 1888; citing FHL microfilm 1,005,449.   Jesse D. and Ocie Ola (Manning) Williams Family Bible Register (photocopy); Julia Mae Jenkins Collection. The marriage license and bond were both dated 14 November 1888.  The Bible record of Jesse D. and Ocie Ola Manning specifically states that the marriage took place on 14 November 1888, the bride’s birthday.  The marriage license return of the minister specifying 15 November 1988 was recorded almost a month after the ceremony, perhaps leading to an error.

[32] Melvin McBride, [Murrells Inlet, South Carolina], grandson of Dora Williams McBride, sent the letters to Ellis W. Williams [Sierra Blanca, Texas], 20 June 1983, son of Jesse D. Williams.  In his cover letter, he said “I hope these letters will be of some interest to someone in your family.” It was either Ellis or Julia Mae Jenkins who created a table of contents, inserted each letter into a plastic sleeve and put them in a notebook labeled “Williams Correspondence – Ocie Manning Williams to Dora Williams McBride Plus Other Williams Letters – Sent to Ellis W. Williams by Melvin W. McBride.”  They are now part of the Julia Mae Jenkins Collection, held by Tom D Ellison and were scanned by the author on 6 October 2010.

[33] Amanda P. Smith cemetery marker, digital image, Find-A-Grave.

[34] 1900 U. S. Census, Miller County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Day Creek Township, enumeration district (ED) 116, p. 18A, dwelling 336/339, family 341/344, Charles McBride/William H Smith; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 October 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 68.

[35] Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 45546 (Hudspeth County, 1934), Ocie Ola Williams; digital image, “Texas Death Certificates, 1890-1976.”  Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 13 December 2009); published by the Texas State Library.

[36] “Mrs. McBride Rites Saturday,” undated clipping from unidentified newspaper, in Williams-Manning Notebook in the Julia Mae Jenkins Collection.  A Mississippi-issued death certificate for Dora McBride may state the names of her mother and father; a request was submitted on 25 February 2011.

[37] Dora McBride cemetery marker, digital image, Find-A-Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 3 February 2011), “Dora McBride, Apr. 12 1865 – Feb. 15, 1956” – Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Miller County, Arkansas.

1 thought on “Family Ties: Identifying the Parents of Jesse D. Williams”

  1. This is so much fun and interesting. I can follow the whole story the way you wrote it. Thank you, thank you. Nice work. Mary

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