Saturday, April 23, 2016

Leaving Barely a Trace

There was yet one more Wilson descendant to trace for clues on what became of the children of Peachy and Mary Whitcomb Wilson: a son listed in a genealogy for Mary's family. The boy's name was given as Eddie, and according to the Genealogy of the Descendants of John White of Wenham and Lancaster, Massachusetts, unlike his older siblings, he was actually born in America. Where, of course, would be the main question.

The White genealogy gave this son's date of birth as 1873. Although it provided the clue that he was "now residing in the West," it failed to mention just where upon those fruited plains the child might have been born.

I tried narrowing the search parameters. For one thing, since the family arrived home from India on April 4, 1873, without any mention of an Eddie in the Wilson party, that gave me the earliest possibility for his date of birth. Likewise, on the other end of the date range, his unfortunate mother passed away on May 23, 1874, giving the other end of the possible dates for Eddie's arrival.

Since one memorial for Mary Whitcomb Wilson mentioned she had died in Springfield, Illinois, that state may have been the possible place of birth for this last Wilson child. No matter where I searched, or what terms I used, though, all the Edward Wilson possibilities were discarded. Granted, I have yet to search through all the rest of Peachy's brothers, any one of whom might have taken in this baby nephew. Based on our experience with the other Wilson children, though, there is a strong possibility that this youngest child could have found himself in a situation much like his sister Mary or his brother Harvey: placement with non-relatives, in whose household, the Wilson child's census entry might not even show the proper surname. Worse, in Eddie's case, there would be no telltale birthplace of India—just an innocuous American state like everyone else. Maybe even a state other than Illinois.

Then, too, there is always the possibility that the White genealogy was in error in reporting another child. Considering how unhealthy both the Wilson parents were when they left the mission field in India, it seems inconceivable that Mary would have been able to support a pregnancy. What if that entire entry were in error?

I had hoped that somewhere in all the material on the children of Peachy and Mary Wilson, there would have been an obituary or another report to give some clue as to what happened to the rest of the family. And yet, when I got to Harvey—the one who turned out to be the same person as the one we knew as Mansel—I couldn't even find a record of his death. Trying to push one generation beyond, I looked for Harvey's son, Wilbur, but got no farther than a perfunctory Social Security Death Index report. Apparently, Wilbur died exactly one day shy of the hundred year anniversary of his father's birth.

Thinking over the strange journey it's been, trying to replicate the family history of this missionary to India, I realize it is sometimes necessary in the face of such roadblocks to regroup and recall the original goal launching this chase. Yes, the plaintive cry for help in finding a missing son in Montana was heartbreaking. Discovering the placements in other families who opened their homes to take in a "missionary kid" was a challenge. And yes, I may even be walking away from the possibility of discovering whether there even was another son in the family.

But while it was enriching to uncover this family drama, and enlightening to learn about finding reports of their work in India—not to mention, discovering the link between Peachy's name and that of a character in a world-renowned author's book—I have to remember it was all on account of a routine exercise to lay out the matrilineal links between me and the two adoptees who are my only exact matches in my mitochondrial DNA test results.

And yet, that nagging curiosity may turn out to drag me back into the chase at some point. After all, there is one more mystery that presented itself in this chase to find the next generation: the location of oldest child Mary Wilson Gill's grave. Not in India where she labored following the footsteps of her missionary father, not in Illinois where her father grew up, nor in Massachusetts where her mother's family once lived, but "out west," just like those brothers of hers were said to have gone, was where I found her headstone.

I have no doubt this was the right Mary Wilson Gill, for the only other words inscribed on the stone, besides her name and the correct dates—1865 and 1941—was the designation, "Missionary—India."

The last stop in Mary Wilson Gill's earthly journey was in San Gabriel, California. Who knows—maybe that's where her baby brother Eddie ended up.  


  1. Reprise: William Henry Wilson. He makes an appearance in a marriage record in Teton County, Montana, marrying 1 Aug. 1936 as her at least 5th husband, Lucille/Lucie Fern (Ferris)-Bunting-Sire-Tucker-Engman. Both were previously married and divorced, and the license states both lived in Spokane, Washington. I can't locate her there ever (she was in Great Falls, MT from at least 1920s to 1940 Census). Him? Elusive. The license states his parents were P. T. Wilson and Mary Jane Whitcomb and he was born in Paori, India. She was born 18 July 1887 in Adams Co., IA, although some records for her vary in relative ages. You probably have already found possible records for him that seem to say he was 10 years younger than actually likely. However, there is a question outstanding as to whether P. T. had one or more children by his second wife. Records for Lucille can be found on both FamilySearch and Ancestry. Her Bunting marriage was in 1906 in Iowa, the rest in Montana. Her parents were William A. and Carrie (Stewart) Ferris, consistently presented in her birth record and marriage records. The 1940 Census for her in Great Falls shows what seem to be some Bunting children.

    1. Ah, just when I thought it was time to give up and put this one to bed...

      Thanks for finding that information, Geolover! It does introduce several issues. No, I hadn't run across that marriage record before--but it is one that requires proceeding carefully, as there was another William Henry Wilson in the area, who turned out not to be our man (which may explain what seems to be a variation in date of birth).

      The telltale details of parentage and place of birth can only point to our William Wilson, though.

      What is interesting about this wife is her place of birth in Adams County. You have Iowa listed as the state, but it coincidentally turns out that the previous generation of the Wilsons had settled in Adams County, Illinois, after leaving Kentucky.

      While you are correct that we haven't seen any mention of children of Peachy and the wife he married after Mary Whitcomb Wilson's passing in 1874, what I didn't mention was that Helen wasn't his second wife--she was his third. His first wife, an Illinois woman by the name of Mary Lanning, died less than three months after their wedding day. (However, as Helen was forty three years of age at the point of her marriage to Peachy, it is unlikely--though not beyond the realm of possibility--that this couple had any children in common.)

      A fascinating possibility on William, which I'll be sure to check out!

  2. Replies
    1. This William is proving to be a tricky one. If he did survive beyond that point at which he had mysteriously disappeared during the time of his father's visit from India, it now makes me want to know the back story more than ever!

  3. Given how little family William actually experienced, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't think his father and his "new wife" weren't really his.

    1. That's a plausible response, Iggy. Still, it seemed like he and his father connected via letter, if nothing else, for the newspaper made it sound like there was a regular exchange of communication between them.

      If nothing else, I'm definitely going to check the lead provided by Geolover. With this indication that he was still around after his father's visit to town, now I want to know the back story even more!


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