Saturday, November 27, 2021

Oh, Messy


Pinning one's research hopes upon the life events of one solitary person can become disappointing. Take the case of our Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather, Civil War veteran Eugene Williams of Marcellon, Wisconsin. Sure enough, we were able to find Eugene as a fourteen year old in the household of his father Martin in the 1860 census, but that one solution opened the door to another research problem: did we, indeed, follow the right Martin Williams through his life's trajectory?

Of course, it didn't help that Martin's Find A Grave memorial, for his burial in what used to be called Dakota Territory, led us to three different dates of death for that one man. Seeing that his obituary, which was posted on his memorial, mentioned a daughter by name, I followed that clue to see whether any hints were strewn along her life's path to help me piece together the right Williams family. (Of course, along the way, I kept my eyes open for any signs of Marfan Syndrome, my other research goal for this month.)

Though Martin Williams' obituary did not mention his son by name—that would be Eugene, if we are correct in our assumption—it did identify his daughter's married name. However, Frances Williams—or Francis, as it was often written in records—was not a helpful subject in our quest to confirm this Williams line.

From the start, records led me to wonder whether there were two girls given that name in the Martin Williams family. For one thing, discovering the Martin Williams family in the 1850 household of Solomon Williams in New York—presumably Martin's father—made it clear that there were two children likely to be his: Eugene, age four, and Frances, who had been born in New York ten months prior to that July 25, 1850, enumeration.

When we jump ahead ten years to the 1860 census, though, we find the same family of Martin Williams, as we said before, living in Marcellon, Wisconsin, with Eugene being a predictable fourteen years of age (do the math), and Frances showing up as expected at ten years of age. Only problem: Frances' place of birth was not given as New York, as we had previously seen, but as Wisconsin.

To make matters worse, the handwriting on the 1850 census rendered the child's mother's name something like Margett, while the 1860 census read clearly, Mary. Could this have been the second wife mentioned in Martin's obituary, years later? But Mary was precisely ten years older than Margett's stated age in the previous record.

Other records noted Frances' place of birth as in Wisconsin, as well, so we can't simply discount that one entry as a fluke of recordkeeping. 

Following Frances' history to glean any hint that we might be on the right track, we can see she and Charles Beggs were married in November of 1869, thanks to the 1870 census. Encouragingly, they lived in Elk Point, county seat for Union County in what was still Dakota Territory, same as our Frances' brother Eugene did. But perhaps the rugged life in Dakota Territory made recordkeeping a challenge, for I've found no digitized record of their marriage online—at least not the type to provide names of parents.

It wasn't until Charles and Frances Beggs' oldest daughter was married—by this time, the Beggs family was living in Chicago—that I found the slightest connection to the Williams family once again. From a wedding announcement published in The Daily Inter Ocean on December 11, 1890, we learn that among the out-of-town guests for the event was M. M. Williams, by then of Sioux City, Iowa. Significantly, while other guests were mentioned as "Mr. and Mrs." the Williams entry had no mention of a wife. Could this have indicated Martin Williams was present at the wedding, following the death of his wife?

Of course, if I could have located any records for Martin Williams' son's passing—with the helpful addition of parents' names—it would easily have tied the family together for us (or told us we had the wrong people altogether). As it is, this means we still need to search further.

In the midst of this mess, though, pops up one more question: no matter which woman was the "second wife" of Martin Williams, where had either of the wives been buried? For surely someone must have become the incentive for the family to return Martin's body to Elk Point Cemetery from his latest home in Hand County, South Dakota.

Actually, there was someone supposedly buried in that cemetery, with the name of Mariet Williams. Only problem: a record of her death indicated that she was not a married woman, but single at the time of her passing. Talk about messy: was that record correct?

There are simply some research questions which demand a search of records which are not yet—if they ever will be—digitized. Barring the ability to hop a plane and fly to South Dakota, though, there may be a few more clues to trace so that we can piece together a coherent story. 

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