Monday, November 22, 2021

Connecting the Dots
Between Generations


Sometimes, it takes a leap of faith to connect the dots between generations—or a little guess work followed by thorough research and a lot of explanation. Finding Eugene Williams' roots may be one of those instances.

It has been a rather routine route to connect the family of Marilyn Sowle Bean—former owner of the photographs I got to rescue from a local antique shop—with its roots, but only to a point. Earlier this month, we located Marilyn's mother-in-law, Maude Woodworth Bean, in the home of her parents, William and Effie Woodworth. We also realized that the Marfan Syndrome which had struck down so many members of the extended family seemed to center in the branch associated with the Woodworth family, so we've been exploring each side of that family for clues from previous generations.

Last week, we focused on Effie's line, the Williams family, and discovered that her father, Eugene, had served as a very young recruit in the Union Army during the Civil War. Given the many records of the Civil War, it was fairly straightforward to trace Eugene Williams from the point of his August 15, 1862, enlistment at Portage, Wisconsin—but where was he before that point?

His records from the last years of his life at a Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in California indicated that Eugene Williams had started life in New York state, but where had he been living when he enlisted in Portage, Wisconsin? Williams is a fairly common surname, making me doubt the success of a point-blank search.

If the soldier who died as Eugene Williams had kept that same name his entire life, and if the information he gave at the end of his life—that he was born in New York about 1846—kept constant throughout all the other reports he provided in his lifetime, it turns out there was only one possibility in the state of Wisconsin for such a man.

That man, at least in time for the 1860 census, lived with his parents and sister in the town of Marcellon, Wisconsin. Fortunately for us, Marcellon is a town of barely one thousand people—but that is now. Back in 1860, the entire Columbia County, where Marcellon is located, contained twenty four thousand residents, making it quite possible that there could be a name twin lurking in those numbers. For this, we tread tentatively.

Right now, our task will be to examine the possibility that the Eugene Williams found in the household of Martin and Mary Williams is one and the same as Effie's father Eugene who died in California in 1914. Sometimes, to connect those dots—and to be sure we've followed the right line—we need to explore lines which may, upon closer scrutiny, turn out to be false leads. We'll take some time this week before the holidays to examine this particular household of Martin and Mary Williams from Marcellon.

Inset above: Excerpt from the 1860 U.S. Census for the town of Marcellon in Wisconsin, showing the Martin Williams household; image courtesy

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