Monday, November 29, 2021

Twins in the Family


If you stumbled upon the given name Mariet in your family history wanderings, and thought maybe, just maybe, that might be a hint to look for a twin sister named Harriet, you might be on the right track. That, at least, turned out to be the case when I tore through every resource I could find online concerning the roots of Maude Woodworth Bean's paternal grandfather, Civil War veteran Eugene Williams.

It had been easy enough to locate Eugene in the 1860 household of his father, Martin M. Williams, since he had mentioned upon enlisting in 1862 that his home was in Marcellon, Wisconsin. It was a snap to deduce that the Martin Williams household in the previous census, despite being in New York rather than Wisconsin, showed the same family embedded within the extended family of one Solomon Williams.

But what about Martin's wife, Eugene's mother? Unfortunately for our search, her name was mangled in the 1850 census by an enumerator with a frustrating scrawl and a hurried attempt at correcting what might initially have been a spelling error. No matter what the entry was in reality, the name provided in the 1860 census—Mary—certainly was not the same as what was noted in 1850.

With no marriage record online that I could see—presumably occurring in the state of New York, even though the woman was noted to have been born in Vermont—we're left to poke around every other possible detail we can find. This is where search engines like Google become our best friend.

This is also, as you'll see shortly, why I never flatly discard family traditions as mere hearsay. You never know when a story might turn out to have some shred of validity to it.

Let's look first at the problem spot which left me stymied with yet another contradicting report. A death record told me that a woman by the name of Mariet Williams had died in Woodbury County, Iowa, in 1887. At that point, her age was given as sixty four, which would put her year of birth around 1823. Her place of birth was reported to be Vermont.

All that would have led a researcher to think we were moving along swimmingly, except for one tiny detail: the death report indicated that this Mariet Williams was a single woman, not married.

Granted, Mariet is not Mary, and certainly not the same as "Margett"—and keep in mind the wildcard entered into this search of the detail of a "second wife" for Martin Williams—but we need to see what we can find on this death and burial information for Mariet Williams.

The death record in Iowa indicated burial would be at Elk Point in Dakota Territory. Looking at the cemetery information on Find A Grave for the location of Martin Williams' own burial, I did a search for Mariet Williams. There was indeed a burial for a Mariet E. Williams. Though the memorial didn't include any photograph of a headstone, it provided the location for the burial: "Grave 5, Lot 59, Block 4, Section 2.

Location for Martin Williams' own burial? "Grave 4, Lot 59, Block 4, Section 2."

Granted, I can't vouch for that particular cemetery's layout scheme, but just on general principles, I'd say the two of them were buried next to each other. I'd call that husband and wife, wouldn't you?

Of course, there still is the question of whether this was the first wife or the second wife. Tracing Martin's daughter Frances to the end of her life to see what was noted for her mother's name doesn't really help. If Frances Williams Beggs had died in the county where she had last been living with her husband—Will County, Illinois—there still wouldn't have been a digital image of her death certificate, but at least the transcription would have been as thorough as it was when Charles Beggs had died on March 1 of 1931. By the end of that same month, Frances had apparently moved into the city of Chicago to be with her daughter Mima during her period of mourning. She died before that same month was out.

Cook County also provided transcriptions of the certificate information, but not as thorough a recounting of the deceased's life history as that of Will County. At least it included the name of the deceased's parents. According to the reporting party, "Mina" Beggs Neef, Frances' mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Morse

Not what we were expecting.

Could Mima have gotten her mother's information wrong? Might that have actually been the name of Frances' father's second wife? I won't say this is the first time I've seen a death certificate which included errors. But we can't just presume without a supporting argument, and that takes documentation.

First, let's reconstruct Martin Williams' timeline. According to his 1896 obituary, it reported that though he had died in Hand County, South Dakota, he had come to that location "a year or so ago" from Iowa, not directly from his former residence in Union County in Dakota Territory. Furthermore, he—but not any wife—was noted to have traveled from Sioux City to attend the 1890 wedding in Chicago of his granddaughter Addie Beggs. Sioux City, by the way, is located in Woodbury County, Iowa. And the 1890 occasion in Chicago would obviously have occurred after Martin had lost his wife, since Mariet died in Woodbury County in 1887.

What I'm lacking, in the face of this possible error in reporting on Mariet's daughter's—not to mention her own—death record, is any further information on who Mariet was. It would have helped to retrieve Martin and Mariet's marriage record, for instance, or any detail on Mariet's maiden name, but online resources were not providing what I was seeking.

Though I am death on copying other people's family trees, I certainly am not averse to exploring the way markers on someone else's well-documented genealogy. That is exactly what I did, looking for Martin and Mariet Williams as a family grouping. Someone had posted a link to a page in the 1888 publication, The Earle Family: Ralph Earle and His Descendants which, incredibly, included just what I was seeking: details on one Mariet Earle who had married a Martin M. Williams in 1844.

And yes, she had a twin sister named Harriet Earle.

The funny thing is, I'd known about that Earle surname for almost as long as I've done family history research. It all goes back to a story told to me by Marilyn Sowle Bean, the woman whose rescued photos prompted this month's research project. In one of the first successful genealogical interviews I ever conducted, years ago, Marilyn had told me that her husband's name was actually Earle Raymond Bean, but that he felt awkward about what seemed to be the pretentious spelling—Earle instead of the more common Earl—and had informally dropped the "e" from his given name.

What Marilyn never mentioned, but I suspected, was that "Earle" was actually a family name—in other words, a surname from somewhere back in the family's history. I had no idea it would take this long—so many losses before that one win at the antique store last spring—before I'd be prompted to actually find where that family name fit into the picture.

Now, though Marilyn and her family are no longer here for me to share this victory, I can see that the Earle surname would have provided eligibility to join the Daughters of the American Revolution through the patriot Thaddeus Earle, Mariet Earle Williams' paternal grandfather. It turns out that Marilyn's own mother-in-law Maude Woodworth Bean's Earle ancestry had a long heritage in this country. All I can do now is wonder if she ever knew.    


  1. Good sleuthing! My father’s grandmother was the second wife. The first wife was her younger sister, Serephina. Family story was that they were twins. Turns out Malina the second wife was a twin, but her twin Malvina was unknown by the family as she didn’t immigrate with them all. So much confusion!

    1. Yes, it can be confusing, especially when there is no way now to find records for those missing family members. I've had cases where a sister turned out to be second wife, as well. Those are research details to keep us on our toes.

  2. In the spring when it’s warm again I will be doing some cemetery explorations about 20 miles from Elk Point SD. If you want me to take a detour to photograph any headstones just let me know. I would be happy to do that.

    1. Thank you, Sara, for that kind offer. I will keep that in mind!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...