Thursday, January 10, 2019

2019 #52Ancestors: Week 2 - "Challenge"

Many of my posts tell the stories of my ancestors that have proven very difficult to find. My goal in writing about them is to set the record straight about who they are and where they came from, and to paint them as actual human beings instead of names on a piece of paper. There is a unique joy that comes from unraveling someone's story and telling it, often for the first time since their death. 

Sometimes the story is an amazing one, like the story of how my great-great-grandparents met while my great-great-grandfather traveled with Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. But sometimes, the story is much more commonplace. The story that will unfold in this post contains no exciting venues (like wild west shows), no famous names or places, and no connection to noble houses. This is Isabell's story, and it deserves to be told as much as any other ancestor with a noble heritage or a famous connection.

Everybody has at least one great challenge - at least one ancestor like Isabell, my 5th-great-grandmother - in their tree. You know the type. The one that has no birth record, no marriage record, no death record - nothing, in short, that gives you any idea of what her maiden name was, which is the key to where she came from. The only surviving records of Isabell are four census records (1850-1880), and the scant information that they contain is often contradictory.

The Adkins family in the 1850 census.
 We first see Isabell in the 1850 census. She is 18 years old, married to William Adkins, and has a one-year-old daughter, named Drucilla. They are living in Nicholas County, Virginia (later West Virginia) and William's occupation is listed as "farmer." 

The differences between the 1850 census and the 1860 census tell us a lot about what the Adkins family went through in the ten-year time period. In 1860 the family is still living in Nicholas County, but William's occupation is now listed as "hunter." There is now no Drucilla listed, so it must be assumed that their first child had passed away. They now have three children: James (age 8), Jones (age 6), and Sarah (age 4). There is no real estate value listed, so chances are that they didn't own the home they lived in. From the information listed (and not listed), it seems that the Adkins family's fortunes were low at this time.
The Adkins family in the 1860 census.

The 1870 census shows us some big changes for the family. They are now living in Malden, Kanawha County, West Virginia, and William is once again listed as a farmer. There are now 8 children, but 4 of them (including my 4th-great-grandmother, Hannah) are older than ten years old. It is unclear why they were not listed in the 1860 census, if they are truly the ages listed. Another curious factor is that the 1870 census also lists a daughter, Sarah, as age 4. James would have been 18 and Jones 16 by 1870, so it is conceivable that they were out of the household; but the Sarah of 1860 must have passed away, and the Sarah of 1870 must be her namesake. It must have been so difficult for Isabell and William to have lost at least two of their precious children, and possibly more.

The Adkins family in the 1870 census.
The last record of Isabell that we have is the 1880 census. Five of the 8 children from 1870 are still listed in the household (the oldest three were of the age to be out of the house), and there are two new younger children. There is also a newborn grandson, named John Dent.

These four records tell us a few details about Isabell that help us understand a little bit about her life, even if they don't help us to know who her parents were. We know that she gave birth to at least 14 children: Drucilla, James, Jones, Sarah (1), Lutha, Hannah, Martha, Elizabeth, Catherine, Sarah (2), Lorenzo, John, Lucy, and William. We know that at least two of those children did not survive to adulthood, which must have been a tremendous loss to Isabell and William. We know that Isabell could neither read or write. We know that whoever her parents were, they were born in Virginia. We know that Isabell and William must have died before 1900, because they do not appear in the 1900 census.
The Adkins family in the 1880 census.

After piecing together these details, I set out to try to find out what Isabell's maiden name was. If I only had a maiden name to go on, I could use a combination of paperwork and the DNA results of my great-great-aunt (Isabell's 2nd-great-granddaughter) to connect her to other people with that name in their trees. As already mentioned, there is no birth or death record on file for her, and no marriage record on file for her and William. So I decided to branch out to the marriage and death records of their children, in the hopes that Isabell's maiden name might have been listed on one. I was able to find death records for Sarah (2), Lorenzo, and John, but unfortunately all of them had "unknown" listed for "mother's maiden name." I was also able to find marriage records for Sarah (2), but her parents' names were not listed. I also searched for a marriage record between an Adkins bride and a Dent groom (since Isabell and William had a grandson named John Dent), but there were none that fit the time frame. Finding records for the other children has been a challenge, in no small part because Adkins is such a common name.

So far the results have been discouraging, but I don't intend to give up on Isabell. It's so hard to not look back on these few paragraphs I've just written and think, "Is this all there is left of a life? Is this really all that remains of a wife, a mother of 14, a woman in her own right?" Isabell has been one of my greatest challenges thus far, but I will not despair. Somewhere, there has to be a clue as to what her maiden name was. And when I find it, I will be able to tell the rest of her story, and to preserve it for all the the subsequent generations of her descendants.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Isabell is as follows:

Isabell (1828 - )
5th great-grandmother

Hannah Adkins (1855 - )
Daughter of Isabell

Charles Wesley Hancock (1875 - 1930)
Son of Hannah Adkins

Vazzie Angelee Hancock (1900 - 1984)
Daughter of Charles Wesley Hancock

Earnest Zacharias Hunt (1921 - 2008)
Son of Vazzie Angelee Hancock

Phyllis Carolyn Hunt (1943 - )
Daughter of Earnest Zacharias Hunt

Lora Marlene Quinn (1961 - )
Daughter of Phyllis Carolyn Hunt

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Lora Marlene Quinn

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