Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Enemy of Time

Photograph courtesy Kristen Hall

We’ve all heard genealogists talk about their biggest brick wall, that genealogical puzzle that has been the hardest to solve.

Time itself can be a form of a brick wall, when the things to be done in the present get in the way of researching the past. I have taken a hiatus from my blog for the last couple of months due to some other pressing projects that I put on my plate. There are only so many hours in a day. My focus has been on some of my vocational goals. I sat for a licensure exam and got another initial to put behind my name. (Go me!) I am also finishing up a few online courses for another certificate. With those things falling into place, I feel like I can gear up and do a little pursuing in my avocation of family history. As a single parent, a lot rests on me and I don’t see myself quitting my day job anytime in the near future. Nonetheless, it has been over twenty years and the past still calls to me.

My biggest brick wall in the form of a genealogical puzzle has been with me for nearly twenty years as well. When I first started researching my family’s history, my grandfather was able to provide me with his parents’ names, John Willis Watts and Ollie Spencer, but mentioned that his mother was an orphan. I groaned when I heard that, thinking I was going to have a hard time finding anything about her parents. As it turned out, it was fairly easy. Ollie died in Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky in 1925 and I was able to send for her death certificate from the state vital statistics office. This had her parents listed just as nice as you please. No problem there. Unfortunately, the problem turned out to be in the generations before that.

Ollie’s father was Thomas Hutchinson Spencer. I even have a photograph of him here, but finding the names of his parents proved elusive for some time. I had so much luck with all of my other family lines but on this line I had the fewest generations back. One day I decided to focus exclusively on this family and break through the brick wall once and for all. Hutch, as he was called, was a poor farmer who never owned any land. I was able to locate two marriage records for him, but no parents were listed. I was able to pinpoint when he died, but the records didn’t provide the names of his parents. He didn’t do much else, besides pay some taxes. Even those records were not very helpful.

Thomas Hutchinson Spencer is listed as age 16 in the 1850 U. S. Census placing his birth date at 1834; his age is stated as 40 in 1871 in the record of his second marriage which places his birth date at 1831.  To complicate things further, his death record indicates he was 38 years old at the time of his death in October of 1875, placing his birth date as 1837.  The census record states he was born in Kentucky, the marriage record states Trigg County which agrees with his birthplace listed on the birth record of his daughter Ida in 1874.  He apparently had a hearing impediment, for on several records he is listed as deaf and dumb.  Every attempt thus far to locate Thomas during the 1860 U. S. Census has proved futile.  There is a gap of 15 years from when Thomas is listed in the 1850 U. S. Census until the time of his first marriage in 1865 which took place in Christian County, Kentucky. Thomas was listed in the 1868 tax list of Christian County, Kentucky, but then cannot be located during the 1870 U. S. Census either.  We next find him listed in the tax lists of Trigg County, Kentucky as H. Spencer in 1871 and as Thomas H. Spencer in the years 1872-1874. His death is recorded in Trigg County's Vital Statistics records 1861 + 1874-1910 (compilation by Barbara Smith).  The entry reads as follows:  Hutch Spencer, white, age 38, male, married, farmer, d. 25 October 1875 of pneumonia, birthplace not listed.  Parents and their birthplace not listed. There are no Spencers listed in the Trigg County will books, inventories and appraisements.

At the time of the 1850 census, Thomas was living with his mother, Lucy, his sisters and Martha Malone who turned out to be his maternal grandmother. Court records in Trigg County helped me determine the relationship between Martha Malone and Lucy Spencer as mother and daughter, but who was his father?
Turning my focus to his sisters, I was able to locate a death certificate for Polly Ann (Spencer) Hargrove who died in Trigg County, Kentucky in 1920. Lo and behold, it listed her parents as Will Spencer and Lucy Malone. Lucy’s birthplace was given as Kentucky (though other records seem to point to Tennessee as her birth place). Will’s birth place was “unknown.”

Finally, I was getting somewhere, right? No. If I thought Hutch didn’t do much to leave records, his father left even fewer. And with his father is where I have had to leave the search. This line is still the one where I have the fewest names in the family tree.

William Spencer is listed as over age 21 in the tax list of Trigg County, Kentucky for the year 1828.  He is not listed in that county's tax lists from 1829-1833, but shows up again in the years 1834-1837. On 24 April 1835 William entered into a deed with Benjamin Wallis, buying 83 acres on Bird's Creek of Little River for $250.  On 5 April 1837, Will mortgaged his land (133 acres), tools, livestock, household furniture, crop, etc. for $800 to William Wallis, Sr. and James B. Wallis, Sr.  His brother-in-law Miles Malone was a witness to this transaction.  No release of this mortgage is recorded. Will must have moved to Mississippi shortly thereafter, since his daughter Polly Ann was born there in 1840.  In 1847, Will's wife, Lucy Ann Spencer, shows up in the tax list of Trigg County, Kentucky.  This record shows her living on Little River with two children between the ages of 5-16.  So apparently Will died by 1847. 

Many hours have been spent trying to track William Spencer further and explore his ties with other families in the area in an effort to connect him with a family line to no avail. Every so often, I will do an internet search on some of my dangling lines. With the common surname of Spencer, I don’t try this one as much. A couple of years ago, I ran the name in the vicinity and found something that looked promising. Sellers’ Western Kentucky Database shows William as a son of Seymore Spencer with ties to North Carolina and Mississippi but I am not happy with the evidence presented to provide solid evidence of a link. I need more than what’s listed to place this link on my family tree. Until then, it remains my biggest brick wall. 

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