Friday, January 5, 2018

Identifying the Witnesses

The best thing about finding an "orphaned" photo is, of course, that we get to find a way to escort it back home to family who would appreciate receiving it.

If that were the only thing I was doing with the photographs I find in antique stores, it would be a straightforward exercise of discovering the names of currently-living descendants to contact with the main question: "Do you want the picture I found?"

But I'm not doing that.

What I am doingstory-obsessed researcher that I amis going a step beyond that. I don't just want to find the photo subjects' family. I want to discover their story. Who they were. What became of them. And how their picture ended up in an antique store miles from where they once lived.

And then I find that likely candidate and send the photo home.

With William Bernard Hopkins and his wife Kate, we've found a possible hit with the discovery, yesterday, of a marriage record in Louisville, Kentucky. But, as we've already learned, even a name as elegant-sounding as William Bernard Hopkins can have doubles. And finding a maiden name for a popular woman's moniker like Kate only helps if it isn't something as common as Allen. Or worse (in case she was previously married), Smith.

To see the witnesses to the marriage of William Bernard Hopkins and Kate Seegar Smith-Allen listed on the document was indeed a bonus. In the city of Louisville, Kentucky, we notice the witnesses were named as C. L. Allen and Addie Allen. A first guess might be that these two Allens were siblings of the bride; that is often the case. Another possibility might be that C. L. Allen was the sibling and Addie was his wife.

So we head to the records to see if we can find any combo of C. L. Allen and Addie Allen in the most recent census record. For a wedding occurring on November 9, 1899, the closest census would have been enumerated in 1900. You knew that. And here is what we found:

Right away, we can see that we have problems. While Charles L. Allen could very well be the "C. L." Allen mentioned as witness to Kate's wedding ceremony, and while this also ushers in the confirmation that Addie was his wife, not sister, he and Addie had only been married for twelve years, themselves.

Disabuse yourself of the notion that Kate Allen was a child bride; in her own appearance in that same 1900 censusalbeit not in Louisville, but across the river in prosperous New Albany, Indianashe gave her date of birth as February, 1880. Besides, going back to Charles and Addie Allen's 1900 record, it looks like Addie had a son named Clay Kennedy, whom she stated was born in March of 1879only eleven months prior to Kate's own birth.

Granted, it is possible for a woman to give birth to two children within the stretch of one (surely wearying) year, but knowing that fact gives us one more problem: if Addie was married in 1879 to Clay Kennedy's father, why would that subsequent birth only eleven months later be to a man surnamed Allen, not Kennedy?

That's why I like the handy details included in the 1900 census. We can tell, just from this census entryassuming I have the right C. L. Allenthat Kate Allen either had a mother who passed away before Addie's marriage to Kate's father in 1888, or I need to keep looking for another C. L. and Addie Allen.

There are, of course, other ways to short-circuit this tedious research process. I could flip to the back of the book and spill the beans on Kate's demise in hopes that I can both find an online record of her death certificate and that it will contain accurately and completely provided information, or I could hunt for the next, earlier census record which includes a C. L. Allen as father of Kate andhopefully—include the big reveal on the name of Kate's mother.

Ornot one to dither over choicesI could go ahead and do both. 

Above image excerpt from the U.S. census for Louisville, Kentucky, in 1900 courtesy


  1. Oh I would definitely do both even if I chose to write as if I didn’t.

    1. You know me well, Wendy! We are apparently on the same wavelength.

  2. Replies
    1. As it turns out, there are more than two places to look around...


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