Saturday, April 9, 2016

Right Date of Death, Wrong Mary Wilson

As interesting as this literary diversion on the study of the Reverend P. T. Wilson might have been, there is unfinished business on the genealogical side of the story. After all, had it not been for my goal to determine as much as possible of my matrilineal line for genetic genealogical purposes, I would never have run into this story of the American missionary with the outrageous name that won him a spot in Rudyard Kipling's host of memorable characters. But I still need to remember that quest.

We know from Peachy Taliaferro Wilson's memorial that he had taken a five year furlough from his work in India from 1873 through 1878. A passenger list confirms his travels home with his family in 1873, arriving in New York City via Liverpool on April 4—at least, if I'm reading the hasty handwriting correctly for "Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson" of the United States plus their India-born children. This last leg of their journey home was aboard the SS Algeria of the Cunard Line.

Since the Reverend P. T. Wilson's memorial had mentioned he and his wife had had four children, I had looked for these descendants, of course. That was not an easy task. Besides the memorial's mention of the Wilsons' daughter May later serving as a missionary in India in her own right, the only other indication of who those children might have been was in two enigmatic entries in Ancestry's U. S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. One was for a son named Harvey Clendening, and the other named Mansel Clendening, both born in India on the same date, July 16, 1871. Their parents were listed as Peachy T. Wilson and Mary E. Whitcomb.

That, in fact, became my clue that the entry on the Algeria's 1873 passenger list for the Reverend and Mrs. Wilson had been the right Wilsons: among the children, besides May—whose name actually was Mary, same as her mother's—was a one and a half year old boy named Harvey Wilson. However, besides those two children, there was mention of only one more: William. (At least, I think it was William; it was abbreviated "Wm" in such a way as to mimic the same scrawl used to represent the "Mrs." supplanting his mother's own name.) I can only presume the other twin died in India, or possible en route home.

It must not have been long afterwards when his mother died, as well. The missionary's memorial mentioned that Mary Whitcomb Wilson "had been in feeble health" when the family left India for their furlough, so her passing must have been sometime between their 1873 arrival in New York and Peachy's 1878 return to India.

Fortunately, another church publication mentioned the concise dates for this couple: that they were married in India on November 19, 1864, and that the former "Miss May Whitcomb" died on May 23, 1874.

What a wide world of possibilities that fact left me for sifting through to find any documentation on that date of death. Here we now had Mary Wilson—a rather common name, both first and last—dying somewhere in the United States. No notion of where she was born, who her parents or siblings were, or where she might have been buried.

Bless you Find A Grave, I thought when I finally located an entry for a Mary E. Wilson who had died on that very date. I clicked through to see if there were a photograph of the headstone.

There was one. It read:
Mary E.
Wife of
M. J. Wilson
May 23, 1874

Below that, the following line read "Aged" but the actual numbers were next to impossible to read. "Impossible to read" was the line below that, which seemed to be some sort of illegible inscription.

Obviously, we have a problem here. We have the right date of death, but definitely not the right Mary E. What could be more frustrating?

Besides hoping to trace the descendants of this couple, it was important to locate something more on Mary's family for another reason: when the couple returned to the States in such poor health, Peachy Wilson had "arranged homes for his children"—though not specifically stating this, one would presume those arrangements would have been made with relatives. Since Peachy himself had only brothers—and I have yet to learn anything about the rest of them—it seems more reasonable to assume those placements might have been with the parents or siblings of the former Mary Whitcomb. Knowing how easily census enumerators sometimes confused surnames in extended families all living under one roof, the task is only complicated by this handicap of not knowing anything more about Mary Whitcomb than merely her maiden name.

Above: The last trace of a mother who died young: likely the passenger list entry for Mary E. Whitcomb Wilson on her return trip from India, shortly before her death; courtesy 



    1. Perfect! That is exactly what I need. Thanks, Iggy!


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