Thursday, January 30, 2014

#52ancestors - #5 - John M. Williams - Tracking Common Names

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Ancestor #5
Amy Johnson Crow has posted a challenge on her blog "No Story Too Small".

     JOHN M. WILLIAMS           
      My maternal 2nd great grandfather

Tracking down an ancestor with a common name is not an easy task. The first records located showed him as J. M. Williams. Ugh! Why didn't they list his first name? A man named J. J. Jacobs was living in their household. Mr. Jacobs was listed as a Ranger (Texas Rangers) and owned land too even though he was living with John and Martha. I made note of the six year age gap between their daughter Susan and son James as it is a strong indicator that John may have been married twice.

Year: 1860; Census Place: Bosque, Texas; Roll: M653_1289; Page: 48; Image: 100; Family Hisotry Library Film: 805289:; <> (accessed 23 Jan 2014)

I researched his children and found a death certificate for his oldest son George. It showed George's father as John Williams born in Mississippi and no record for George's mother. I was happy a camper knowing that I had a first name and could conclude that his name was John M. Williams.

That knowledge was still slim pickings because his first and last name were so common. Research was further hampered because they were not living in the same area on the 1850 census. Research of other Williams families in Bosque County did not seem to be his parents. I began to search Williams families in the Falls County, Texas area where some of  John's children lived during adulthood, including the surrounding counties, hoping to find a lead. There was a William Williams in Limestone County and a James Williams in Leon County. Both men had a son named John. I was able to eliminate William Williams as his father and focused on the James Williams family living in Leon County, Texas. I found they had moved to Texas from De Soto Parish, Louisiana. It was in that Parish that I found John but he had a different wife! They did have a son named George P. and the child was the correct age. Was this my John?

Year: 1850; Census Place: De Soto Parish, Louisiana; Roll: M432_231; Page: 163B; Image: 7; <> (accessed 23 Jan 2014)

Living near him was the James Williams family (mentioned above). The next step was to find when he left Louisiana. Did he leave at the same time as the James Williams family? A land record proved that he did. It opened the doors into John's life. My DNA matches to his mother's lineage would later prove who his parents were.


U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management; Document Nr: 63908; De Soto Parish, Louisiana; 
<; (accessed 23 Jan 2014)

John M. Williams was born about 1817 in Amite County, Mississippi. His parents are James M. and Margaret Slaughter Williams. His father served in the American Revolution and was in the Battle of Kings Mountain. The family migrated from Mississippi to Louisiana where his father received pension checks in 1831. John was about fourteen years old.

John migrated from Louisiana to the Republic of Texas where he was granted 320 acres. He took the Oath in 1839 and is listed as a single man (age about twenty). 

Texas General Land Office: Clerk Returns; File Nr: 00013; <>; (accessed 23 Jan 2014)

The land deed (shown earlier) shows that John served was a Private in Captain Witt's Company, 1st Regiment, Texas mounted volunteers. John probably enlisted in 1847 but the only supporting document found for him is a muster-out card.

This card shows that he served under J. C. Hayes (Col. John Coffee Hayes who was a commissioned Texas Ranger), Company K, 1st Regiment, Texas mounted volunteers. He mustered out at Camp Washington in Veracruz, Mexico on April 30, 1848. There are no other records for him so his enlistment date and place of enlistment is not available. Was John a Texas Ranger?

John married twice and possibly a third time: 

(1) Eliza last name unknown. She was the mother of his first two children, George and Susan. They probably married about 1846 because their son George was born Jan 16, 1847. The 1850 census shows she was born in Texas about 1827. Did they marry in Texas or Louisiana? My best guess would be Texas. When did she die?

(2) Martha last name unknown but thought to be Jacobs. She was the mother of his younger children, James, John, Martin, and Madison. She is my maternal 2nd great grandmother. More information about her will be listed below.

(3) There is a John M. Williams, 1880 census, Limestone County, Texas married to Jane T. last name unknown. I'm certain this is him as the birth information and birth place match but I have not been able to prove it's him.

His second wife Martha is my maternal 2nd great grandmother. Her maiden name is believed to be Jacobs but this is not yet proven. John's brother married Marguerite Jacobs and there is a J. J. Jacobs living with John and Martha on the 1860 census (above). Their first child James David Williams was born November 27, 1854 in Reagan, Falls, Texas. He is my great grandfather. Given his birth date, John and Martha married late 1853 or early 1854. Their marriage date and place is unknown but probably in Texas.

Martha is only on one census record. It shows her to be born about 1830 in Alabama. Was the J. J. Jacobs living with them her brother? Where and when did Martha die?

John is listed on census records as a stock raiser. One branch of the Williams family say they were told he rode the Chisholm Trail to Kansas to sell cattle. This may be so since he lived in Bosque County. That county was on one the routes to the Chisholm Trail.

Where did they live in 1870? We can't find them on the census for 1870.

I'm very pleased with the information I found about John but many questions remain and much more research needs to be done to answer the mounting questions I have concerning him. Did he marry a third time? Where and when did die? The questions go on and on.

Note: The land deed shown above shows that John sold his land to Richard R. Riggs. John is my maternal ancestor and I have Riggs in my paternal lineage. I wonder if Richard R. Riggs is a paternal cousin? I go again!

Beam me up Cathy --(back to top)

Monday, January 20, 2014

#52ancestors - The Last Will of David Sowder

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Ancestor #4
Amy Johnson Crow has posted a challenge on her blog "No Story Too Small".


I have great respect and admiration after reading 
the Last Will of my paternal 3rd great grandfather.

The story of my paternal 3rd great grandfather is limited and has many gaps. His name is David Sowder. His birth information is limited to the 1830 census which shows his age 70-80. He was born between 1750-1760 provided the census is correct.

The records of his children show that he was born in Pennsylvania. His parents are unknown. The earliest record of David is from a list of landowners. He is listed as a landowner on Oct 11, 1792 in Kentucky. His estimated age at that time would be between 32-42 (based on the 1830 census). This is the same year that Kentucky became a state. It is not known if he already lived there or was a newcomer to Kentucky. Prior to 1792 this area was known as Lincoln County, Virginia. David stayed in this area from 1792 until after 1820. County names and boundaries changed during this time but David didn't move. David had two known brothers living near him: Michael Sowder and Peter H. Sowder.

                                                                                                                                                                 On December 23, 1796 in Lincoln County, Kentucky, David applied for a marriage bond. His bride-to-be was Elizabeth Laswell. Their marriage bond needs an explanation. Elizabeth's parents were Joseph and Elizabeth Riggs Laswell. Joseph was a Loyalist at the start of the American Revolution. They changed their name to Lacefield. His story is one that should be shared at a later time. Elizabeth's surname was shown as Lacefield. David and Joseph posted bond in the presence of William Green. David and Joseph were illiterate and signed their with their "marks".

Two years later on October 13, 1798 in Lincoln County,  David and his brother Michael witnessed the marriage bond of their younger brother Peter Sowder to Sally Lacefield. (Sally and David's wife Elizabeth Lacefield are sisters).

Wolves were a problem in Lincoln County and the government offered bounties for all wolf scalps in an effort to eliminate the wolves. David and his father-in-law Joseph received bounty payments for wolf scalps on November 8, 1802. 

The Procession's certificate respecting David Sowder's and Michael Sowder's land was returned, ordered, and recorded in Lincoln County, Kentucky on July 14, 1806. 

The county boundaries changed in 1810. David did not move but was now living in the newly established Rockcastle County. It was given the name Rockcastle due to the majestic towering rock formations in the area of the Rockcastle River. 

David and Elizabeth moved to Washington County, Indiana after the 1820 census and before the 1830 census (shown above) where David would die.

There are many things I learned about David through the records that gave me insight into his personality and beliefs.  He was an avid hunter. Records show that he never owned slaves which indicates he probably believed in freedom for all. The most important record is his Last Will and Testament which is dated July 1, 1831 and proved November 23, 1831 in Washington County, Indiana.

David lived in a time when most men wrote in their Wills "I lend to my wife" but if  "she remarried" she would lose everything the couple obtained during their married years. Not David. His will states "I bequeath unto my loving wife Elizabeth".  There was no mention of  "if she remarries". There is no doubt in my mind that he loved her and probably saw her as his equal. He loved his children and mentioned each by name including the older children who had already received their inheritance. He believed in God and Jesus Christ. David was an ancestor that I would love to have met.

                   Will of David Sowder (Page 1)               
Will of David Sowder (Page 2)

There are many unanswered questions about David. When was born? Did he actually die in Indiana or elsewhere? Where is he buried? Who were the parents who raised such a wonderful son?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

#52ancestors - Albert Josiah Hill - Cotton Picking Days

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Ancestor #3
Amy Johnson Crow has posted a challenge on her blog "No Story Too Small".



Cotton Sharecropper

Albert and Minnie Williams Hill
My grandfather died before I was born. 
The only "memories" I have of him are the memories my Mother and other family members shared with me combined with numerous records.

Grandpa was a man of many names and had many children. His birth name was Albert Josiah Hill. Only one record exists using his middle name Josiah but spelled "Josia". No records exist using his first name Albert.

He was known as Joe E. Hill from the time he was very young. We are not sure how he was tagged with that nickname but that was the name he used during his lifetime. It's even listed that way on his death certificate.

Louisa Barefield Hill, Joe Hill,
Minnie Williams Hill

Albert Josiah Hill is the son of William (Doc) Hill and Louisa Elizabeth (Lizzie) Barefield. He was born March 22, 1876 in Milam County, Texas. Grandpa followed in his father's steps and became a farmer. His specialty was cotton sharecropping.

Grandpa first married Laura Maude Stokes on July 28, 1896.  They had one son together and named him Luie Benjamin Hill. Laura died either giving birth to a child or right afterwards. That child did not live. I have seen a photo of Laura and wish I had copy to add to this post. She was a very beautiful woman.

Grandpa then married my Grandmother - Minnie Lee Williams on April 11, 1907 in Falls County, Texas. They had a few children - thirteen to be exact.

 Mildred Venuar Hill -  J. D. Winford Hill - Tulsa Lee Hill - Gladys Oline Hill -  Juanita Hill  - Genevieve Hill -  Kathryn Inez Hill -  Joe Edward Hill -  Walter Eugene Hill - Christine Hill -  Frederick Hill - Pauline Hill (my mother), and Johnnie Faye Hill.

Grandpa had a total of fourteen children.

HOW IN THE WORLD DID HE FEED THAT MANY PEOPLE? He sharecropped cotton. Large landholders (generally bankers, merchants, men with money) would hire sharecroppers to farm their the land. There were generally two types of sharecropping agreements:

1) Half-and-half: Grandpa would would furnish the necessary items; seeds, fertilizer, equipment, etc. In this agreement Grandpa would receive half of the profit for the season.
2) The land owner would furnish the necessary items and Grandpa would get one-third of the profit for the season.

The profit varied for Grandpa. A good season meant decent pay. A bad season meant money had to borrowed to get through the next season. The weather could have a huge impact on the profit or loss.

Once the crop was picked it was taken to the cotton gin where the cotton and seed were separated. The seed was as valuable as the cotton because without the seed there would be no crop the next year.

It was a family event. The entire family picked cotton at one time or another.

While on vacation one year my Dad stopped at a cotton field. He asked the owner if it would be alright for me and my sister to pick one cotton. I have to tell you it really hurts your fingers.

Every year he would take the kids to town and give a coin to each one. The coin was to be spent on a Mother's Day gift. When Fall rolled around they went to town for shoes. Each child received one pair of new shoes to wear to school and church. They had to take good care of their shoes because there would be no more until the next Fall. Mama said if their shoes wore out or they outgrew them, they had wear hand-me-down shoes or go barefoot.

Grandpa normally spoke in a low voice but my cousin said Grandpa could speak up when necessary. On one or more occasions Grandpa would wake the boys and they would go back to sleep. Grandpa would go to the bedroom door a second time and once again tell them to get up but this time he would have a razor strap in his hand.  Feet would hit the floor! They knew he meant business. Grandpa had too many kids to stand around and argue with them about getting out of bed.

You know with that many kids there had to be something going on all the time. Mama was involved in one of those situations. She said one of their older brothers was the first in the family to own a car. It was a Model T. The boys were all working in the fields with Grandpa. Mama and her sister Juanita were helping Grandma with chores around the house. Mama and Juanita decided to try to drive their brother's car with Juanita behind the wheel and Mama in the passenger seat. The car was parked in front of a fence. Juanita forgot to put it in reverse and rammed into the fence. Needless to say Mama and Juanita were in hot water over that one.

Grandpa spent his life working hard and providing for his family. Grandpa had a major heart attack on February 5, 1942. He was missed by his family, friends, and neighbors. I wish I had known him.

Albert Josiah Hill
aka Joe E. Hill


At least three different people completed his death certificate. None of it was completed by a family member. I feel certain the people completing the certificate thought they knew the answers. Grandma personally knew his parents and their names so she didn't give the information as shown on the certificate.

Beam me up Cathy --(back to top)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Unknown Sowder

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Ancestor #2
Amy Johnson Crow has posted a challenge on her blog "No Story Too Small".

(Unknown) Sowder

Well, I walked slap-dab into a giant brick wall !!! 

I have no idea who my paternal 4th great grandparents are. You would think with a surname like Sowders that the family would be easy to find. It probably would be except for a major problem - surname spellings.

Known spellings: Sowder, Sowders, Souder, Souders, Souter, Suter, Souttar, Sutter, Soder, Sodders, Sonders, Sowter, Sanders, Saunders....just to name a few.

My third great grandfather is David Sowder ca. 1750-60 and died 23 Nov 1831 in Washington County, Indiana. His birth date is not proven. There is only one census record dated 1830 that shows his age to 70-80. The census records of his children show his birth place as Pennsylvania.

According to family tradition he has two known brothers:

Michael Sowder b. 1766 Pennsylvania (aka Mich, Mike)
Peter H. Sowder b. 1769 - Jul 1854 Pleasant Run, Lawrence, Indiana  His birth place varies on the records - sometimes Pennsylvania and sometimes Virginia. He is on the 1850 census and it shows his birth place as Virginia which may be correct.

I'm certain the three are brothers as I have DNA matches to the descendants of Michael and Peter. There are not enough DNA contributors with available information to determine who their parents may be.

The earliest records we have of the brothers are in Lincoln County, Kentucky. This county was once known as Lincoln County, Virginia but we don't know if they moved there before or after Kentucky became a state. They are next found in Rock Castle County, Kentucky where the last record is found for Michael in 1820. We don't know if Michael died or if he just moved and we can't locate him. David and Peter moved from Rock Castle to Indiana.


I made a very critical error when I first started researching about 1992. I wrote in my notes: "Sowder family showed up in England court wanting to change their name. They had changed their name to Johnston during one of the wars and now want to go to the colony [America] and wished to change their name back to Sowder before traveling".

Now that I have much more researching experience I ask city? and most importantly....the SOURCE?  Yup...I failed to source it !!!

I have not been able to find that record again. Now you know that missing brick in the wall is not progress being made. It was from me banging my head against the wall shouting ...

Family tradition from most Sowder(s) has always been that our family came from GERMANY which is probably true but after finding the above mentioned record I try to keep an open mind. My grandmother was a Johnston. My Dad said the family may have left Germany to go to the British Isles and may have been part of the Johnston clan at one time. Maybe they were from the British Isles. I do have the Johnston family from Scotland in my direct line.

OTHER RESEARCH: I have gone through many of the wills in Pennsylvania but so far have had no luck. Records for very early Kentucky are hard to find. I have found no records for the spelling Sowder in Virginia but have found some for "Souder". None of those seem to fit into our family. There are too many Sanders and Saunders to research them without some type of lead.

There were some "Sowder" families transported to Virginia in 1733. There was a quarrel between Governor's over who owned the land and the rights to sell the land was delayed. Some of the Sowder families stayed and others moved on. Those who were transported may have been double listed since some of the names are repeated:

     Henry Sowder                                      Stapher Sowder
     Catherine Sowder                                 Peter Sowder
     Henry Sowder                                      Joseph Sowder
     John Sowder                                        Jacob Sowder
     Isaac Sowder                                       David Sowder
     Catherine Sowder                                Jane Sowder
     Anna Sowder                                       Dorothy Sowder
     Rachel Sowder                                    Christiana Sowder
     Jacob Sowder                                      Susannah Sowder
     Trina Sowder                                       Rachel Sowder
     Christian Sowder                                 Rudy Sowder
     John Sowder                                        Matthew Sowder
     Isaac Sowder

Does anyone have a sledge hammer I can borrow?

Beam me up Cathy --(back to top)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rhoda Ann Ellis Williams

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Ancestor #1
Amy Johnson Crow has posted a challenge on her blog "No Story Too Small" - I just found her blog today and will have to play catch-up. I will begin with my maternal great grandmother.


"Rhoda Ann is my name and
with my pencil I write the same
Art thou not dear unto my heart
Oh search my heart and see
And from my bosom tear that part
that beats not true to thee
Behold my album is begun
and when tis finished will be none
Minnie Lee
Remember me remember me"

The poem was written on the 
inside cover of Rhoda's photo album.
The album was a gift from her husband in the late 1800's.
It contains a wealth of information about the family: birth dates, marriages, and deaths.

Rhoda's life was turbulent from the time of her birth. Rhoda Ann Ellis was born March 18, 1857 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Her parents were Jonathan and Mary Elizabeth Ritter Ellis. There is very little information about her father. He disappeared from the records after her birth and presumed to have died. Rhoda wrote no information about him in her album.

Rhoda and her mother moved to Sevier County, Arkansas where they are found living with her mother's father Lewis Franklin Ritter. She is listed on the July 1860 census as Rhoda Ann Ritter age three. This would not be the only census with the wrong surname for her. 

In November 1860 Rhoda's mother married Henry Stallings. He died about 1863. Her mother then married Jesse Skinner. They are found on the 1870 census living in Scott County, Arkansas. Once again Rhoda's name is wrong: Rody Skinner.

Rhoda wrote in her album "Mary E. Skinner mother of Rhoda died January 22, 1873".  She was sixteen at the time of her mother's death. Her next move was to Falls County, Texas where she lived with her mother's brother and his family. It was here that she met and married James David Williams, Sr. and for the first time ever her name is correct. The marriage license shows "Miss Rhoda Ann Ellis".

Rhoda and James had nine children: Orange, James Jr., Minnie, Mary, John, Alice, Patty, Paul, and Fairie. Their first two sons, Orange and James, were born in Falls County, Texas. Minnie, Mary, John, and Alice were born in Sevier County, Arkansas. Patty and Paul were born in Chicasaw Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Fairie was born in Falls County, Texas. Alice and Patty were born ten months apart. The family moved from Arkansas, to Oklahoma, to Texas, and back to Oklahoma in less than ten years.

Their daughter Patty died in 1894 before she was a year old. It was at this time that Rhoda begin to suffer from depression. Her depression became more severe after the death of their son Paul in 1900. 

In late 1901 Rhoda and the youngest children boarded a train leaving Oklahoma and heading for Lott, Texas. Rhoda was completely beside herself to a point of not knowing who she was, where she was going, or where she had come from. This newspaper article explains it better than I can.

I inherited Rhoda's photo album. We all knew she had died from suicide but
we didn't know the circumstances. It was a hush-hush topic among the family.
Today's medical knowledge probably would have spared Rhoda's see....
Rhoda suffered depression associated with early menopause. She was only forty-four. 

Rhoda was chosen as my first ancestor for the challenge because she is the one who inspired me to start a family tree and learn the many different stories of my ancestors.

Beam me up Cathy --(back to top)