52 Ancestors #8 – Mary Monroe Sanford Welch

Mary Monroe 'Mollie' Sanford Welch croppedMary Monroe Sanford Welch was my paternal grandmother’s mother [my great-grandmother]; she went by the nickname of Mollie. Mollie was born to Asa and Martha Ann Jean Sanford in Moore’s Bridge, Alabama on February 22, 1857; today is the 157th anniversary of her birth.

As is the case for all my ancestors, everything I know about Mollie has been learned through discovering records that detail events in her life. The 1860 census lists her as the fourth child of her parents with one older sister and two older brothers, as well as one younger brother. She apparently had another older brother who was not enumerated with the family; her father had been married before to Mollie’s mother’s sister who had died shortly after the birth of their son. 1860 censusAlthough not shown in this census clip, Mollie’s family lived near extended family members and her father, although a farmer, also participated in the greater family’s trade of being hatters – makers of hats.

The 1860 census indicates her father was born in Alabama, her mother in Tennessee, and all her siblings in Alabama, but the 1870 census listing does not show the same birth locations: her father and mother and first two siblings are listed as being born in Tennessee, Mollie and her older brother in Mississippi and the remaining children in Alabama. 1870 censusThe ability to read and write is mixed in the family, as evidenced by the tick marks in the right-hand columns, with Mollie, her father, and two of her siblings being unable to read and write, while her mother and two oldest siblings could read and write.

Mollie married William Thomas Welch on January 5, 1879 in Fayette County, Alabama in a ceremony performed by Robert Berry who was a Justice of the Peace. I have no idea how they met since Mollie’s parents remained in the rural countryside northeast of Tuscaloosa and Tom’s family lived in the western portions of Fayette County, a distance of 60 miles or so. The 1880 census shows Tom and Mollie living between her Uncle Rufus and her cousin, Sarah; perhaps Rufus and Sarah had already moved to Fayette County and in visiting them, Mollie and Tom had met.

Although the 1890 census does not exist, both the 1880 census and the 1900 census show that Tom and Mollie continued to live in Fayette County – all their children listed on census records were born in Alabama. During the years between 1879 and 1900, Tom and Mollie had nine children: Mellie Jane (1879), James William (1881), Nathan Asa (1883), Martha Ann (1886), Jessie Ellis (1888), Dena (1889), Lovie Bell (1893), Fenie Estelle “Essie” (1895) and Myrtie Mae (1899).

Sometime between the 1900 census and the 1910 census, Tom and Mollie moved their family to Itawamba County, Mississippi near the town of Fulton, a community about 80 miles northwest of Fayette, Alabama. Melly and James William both married in Fayette County between 1900 and 1904, while Dena married in Itawamba County in 1906, Nathan in 1907, Martha “Annie” in 1908 and Jessie after the 1910 census was taken. Those marriage locations help identify that the family moved to Mississippi between 1904 and 1906. The 1910 census is difficult to read but does show Mollie as the mother of nine children, all of whom were still living; Jessie Ellis, Lovie, Fenie Essie and Myrtie were still living at home.1910 census The 1920 census shows they had moved back to the Webster community of Fayette County in Alabama and, again, lists divergent locations for their births; this time, Mollie’s birth location is listed as Tennessee and Tom’s father’s location is listed as Mississippi rather than Alabama. 1920 censusBy 1930, Tom and Mollie had moved back to Itawamba County. As is way too often the case for census records, the details are mixed in accuracy. This time birth locations are accurate for all but Mollie’s father while Mollie’s middle initial is inaccurate and Tom and Mollie’s ages are reversed. Additionally, Tom and Mollie are both listed as being able to read and write [the yes in the column to the left of center where the birth locations are listed], which was not previously the case. I do not know if they actually learned to read and write during the 1920s or if the census enumerator recorded this detail in error.1930 censusMollie died on May 22, 1931, less than a year after the 1930 census. She is buried in Union Grove Cemetery in the community of Tilden in Itawamba County, Mississippi. When I wrote about my great-grandfather, her husband, I included photos of their double headstone and grave site; those can be reviewed here.


This blog was prepared as a part of Amy Johnson Crow’s  No Story Too Small 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.


52 Ancestors #7 – Amy Collins Willis

Yesterday, February 14, would have been my great-great-grandmother Amy Collins Willis’ 188th birthday. She was born February 14, 1826 to John M. and Edith F. McCarter Collins in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Early records are often difficult to find, but we believe, based on census records, she may have been the twelfth of perhaps sixteen children born to John and Edith Collins.

Census records prior to 1850 only show tick marks separated by gender and age categories for family members of heads of household. The 1830 census for John M. Collins, indicates a household of 19 people: 7 males under 20, one male between 40 and 50 and one between 50 and 60; 7 females under 10, one female 30-40 and one female 50 to 60. One set of parents probably are living with them to account for the couple between 50 and 60 and two daughters have already married and moved away from the household.

The Collins family apparently had membership in the Holly Springs Baptist Church of Spartanburg. A transcription of the constitution of the church is available on the internet; John M. Collins was a member of the 1834 committee to write a church constitution to replace the one that had been lost or misplaced. At the end of the articles of their constitution, there is a listing of members of the church who were dismissed; those members include several of John’s family and of the Ballenger family who were his neighbors. The Collinses and the Ballengers moved to Fayette County, Alabama as did a number of their other neighbors.

By the time Amy was about three years old, her older sister, S. Ann was married to David Loftis and Judah, was married to William J. Willis  Sometime between 1831 and 1833, the Willises and Loftises moved to Fayette County, Alabama. The Collins family and Ballengers joined them in Alabama sometime after April 1834 when Amy was about eight.

Her sister Judah died sometime after 1842; she had a daugther, Anna, who was born about 1842 according to the 1850 census and there are no further records of Judah’s life.

Amy’s parents both died prior to the 1850 census; the 1850 U.S. Federal Mortality Schedule, which covers the time period from June 1849 to June 1850, lists them side by side, John in August of 1849 and Edith in May 1850. 1849 Mortality

The 1850 census record shows Amy living with her brother-in-law, William Willis and her nephew and nieces, and next to her older brother, John Whitten, older sister, Edey, and younger brother, James, and her older brother, Alexander McCarter Collins and his family. 1850 censusWe do not have a marriage record for Amy and William Willis; she appears to be listed as Ama or perhaps Amia Wilas in this record (the enumerator apparently tried making a correction to the name). Amy may well have been taking care of her sister’s children and married William out of propriety, perhaps following the death of her parents.

We have some minimal estate administration records from 1855 that show William died in April of that year, leaving Amy a widow with responsibility for her younger stepchildren/nieces and their 2-year-old son, James Franklin.

1860 censusBy the 1860 census, Amy and her son, James Franklin, were still next to her brother John Whitten and his family; her stepchildren had apparently formed separate families by that time. The ages of Amy and her brother are not accurate: J. W. should have been listed as 42 and Amy should have been listed as 34 (inaccuracies in census records are relatively common).

The Civil War began in April 1861 and Alabama was heavily involved in that conflict. Many of the young men from the area around Fayette County enlisted in the Alabama 41st Infantry, including Amy’s stepson/nephew, Jabez Willis; her stepson-in-law, James Hamilton Ballenger; her brother-in-law, Zadock Graham; her future daughter-in-law’s father, John Buckner, to name a few. Zadock died in August 1862, John in September 1862, Jabez in January 1863 and James Ballenger in April 1863.

On a trip to Alabama in 2010, my cousin Charles Burns, showed us some land on the corner of Old Gin Road and Ballenger Road that had belonged to what was referred to locally as “the three widows:” Amy Willis, Sarah Graham and Eady Caroline Ballenger. The 1866 Fayette County, Alabama census supports that relationship by the enumerated proximity of the three widows: 1866 censusIn addition to the three widows, Jabez’s widow Priscilla had married William Miles who is enumerated next to the three widows. The three widows apparently lived in separate households on land held and farmed in common to provide both emotional and financial support to one another.

The 1870 census reveals the same supportive relationship between the three widows as well as Amy’s ongoing connection to her brother, John Whitten Collins. Again, census records are not always fully accurate and this census record is no exception. 1870 censusWhat may be interpreted as E.E. Ballenger is actually E.C. or Eady Caroline Ballenger and her two sons and T. F. Graham is actually S. F. or Sarah F. Graham and her three sons. In addition, Amy and James Franklin or J.F., as he was most frequently identified, and her brother John and his family are living in the midst of the women. The age shown for J. F. is also not accurate – he should have been 17, although it is possible the enumerator had intended a 16 rather than a 10. The numbers in the center reflect first the property value and second personal property value; for the three widows, only Amy has property value – $200, while Eady has personal property value of $50, Amy of $200 and Sarah of $100. John’s property value was $400 with personal property value of $400.

By the 1880 census, Amy’s only child was married and J.F. and Mary Jane Buckner Willis were now providing grandchildren for her to interact with. 1880 census

Because the 1890 census does not exist, there is no record showing my grandfather living in the household with his mother because he was not born until 1881 and she was dead before 1900. By the 1900 census J. F. was widowed and Amy was continuing her lifelong practice of providing a mother’s influence over the lives of children in need of parenting – this time her grandchildren. 1900 censusAmy was missing from the 1910 census and we have not yet found details or records of her death; however, in some materials my daughter and I brought home from our 2001 visit to Fayette County, I found a brief mention in the Fayette County book “150 Yesteryears” on page 79. It is listing of those news snippets culled from different Fayette County communities in 1905. From North Mt. Vernon this note: “Aunt Amy Willis, who fell and broke a limb some weeks ago, is improving, we are pleased to note.”

Family tradition says Amy was buried in the Willis family plot at Old Mount Lebanon Church Cemetery, which is located off Old Gin Road just a few miles east of the home where she lived near the other two widows. There is no headstone for her specifically although one of her grandsons, Delma Douglas Willis, provided a small stone that says “Willis” to represent all the Willises buried in a rather large segment of the cemetery. Her husband and his first wife, Amy’s sister Judah, are apparently buried a few feet away from the plot allocated to the immediate family members of James Franklin Willis.

What I infer from these records of the life my great-great-grandmother lived is that she was a compassionate woman who saw needs and sought to meet them. As was true for many of her generation, life was frequently hard and filled with losses, but I suspect she found much joy in interacting with her stepdaughter and sister and their children and her sibling’s families and working together to accomplish more than any one of them could have accomplished alone. I think she was likely a testament to the resilience and hope of the human spirit. Once again, I have no photos of this ancestor and if some of her descendants may have photos of her, perhaps in their attic, I would relish a digital copy.


This blog was prepared as a part of Amy Johnson Crow’s  No Story Too Small 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.

52 Ancestors #6 – Mellie Jane Welch Willis

My grandmother was Mellie Jane Welch. Unfortunately, I never knew her because she died two years before I was born; in fact, I don’t even remember seeing a photograph of her other than a casket photo until I began working with Kay on our family history; this was true of all my grandparents.

It is not easy to learn much about our female ancestors because, for the most part, records of them are either with them as children of their parents or as the wife of their husband. Keeping house, doing laundry, and raising children doesn’t leave much of a unique paper trail. In this, Mellie Jane was a typical female of her generation.

Mellie was the first of nine children of William Thomas Welch and Mary Monroe “Mollie” Sanford and was born in Fayette County, Alabama November 8, 1879. The 1880 census shows the family listed with the surname spelled as Welsh [her father’s sister’s death record also listed their father’s name as Robert Welsh]. This reveals something of the times: people either weren’t sure how to spell their own family names and/or the enumerators spelled it as they heard it and, as literacy improved, families seemed to settle on one spelling or another, including variant spellings within the same family.1880 WelchI clipped a larger portion of this census because it reveals something else about the time period – people tended to live near extended family. John Sanford above them was Mary’s uncle, brother to her father, and Sarah Gladden was her cousin and daughter of John Sanford. The census also indicated that Thomas and Mary could not read or write, although Sarah and John Gladden could and John Rufus and his wife, Emma, could. Additionally, Mellie was listed as Jane in this census; I do not know if she often went by the name of Jane or if this was an isolated instance.

Because the 1890 census was lost in a fire, the only other record we have of Mellie Jane with her parents and siblings is the 1900 census. This census confirms that William and Mary did not read or write but that they were providing education to their children: the columns reading ‘Yes’ for the children indicate they could read and write and they had attended school (5 months for all but James who had attended 8 months of school). Mellie who was 20 and presumably through with the education she would receive could also could read and write. She and her family lived on a farm they owned free of a mortgage [the O and F in the right columns]. In contrast to the times, this census reveals a positive aspect to her family of origin – her mother was listed as the mother of nine children, all of whom were still living. A large number of families in this time period had suffered the deaths of both children and/or parents.Welch 1900On a trip to Alabama, one of my second cousins let us scan a photo he had of several of the young people in Fayette County taken sometime around 1900. He had a copy of it because two of his wife’s grandmothers were included in it; however, it also included my grandmother, her sister Dena, and Rufus Willis (Dena’s future husband/brother to Mellie’s future husband). Mellie is second from the right on the first row; Dena is in the center of the first row; Rufus is far left on the second row.Mellie Welch

The next record we have for Mellie is a marriage index listing her marriage to my grandfather, Zedic Hamilton (Zed Hamp) Willis on November 15, 1900. Although Hamp’s father was a Baptist minister, they were married by his brother John’s father-in-law, William Franklin Gilpin, who was also a Baptist minister.1910 WillisThe 1910 census for Itawamba County, Mississippi provides evidence of some of the events in the lives of Mellie and Hamp. It also supports what I said about the frequency with which families suffered deaths of children, parents and/or siblings. The columns just left of the center confirm that Hamp and Mellie had been married nine years and Mellie was listed as being the mother of six children, five of whom were still living. My Aunt Madge provided a family group sheet that identified Hamp and Mellie’s first child as a daughter named Mary Eunice; she is the one missing from the 1910 census. We do not know when she was born, when she died, how long she lived or what caused her death. Their other five children were William Franklin (7), James Thomas [my father] (6), John Hall (4), Earnest (3) and Ruth (1 1/2). Johnnie was born in Mississippi in 1906; since my father was born in Fayette County, Alabama in 1904, that would indicate they moved from Alabama to Mississippi between 1904 and 1906. The far right column indicates they were renting their farm. Not shown on this clip but also enumerated on the same census page were  Mellie’s brother, James William, his wife, Pearlie, and their 3-year old daughter.Hamp & Mellie & baby

Because I never knew my grandmother and never even saw pictures of her prior to about 2000, I am very grateful to have discovered a few of them. One we have been unable to identify when and where it may have been taken. The confusing elements are the long dress, which would place the time period as early, her double chin but with dark hair indicating she is probably between perhaps 33 and 38. Her face in this photo is similar to one taken in the 1930s but her hair at that time had quite a bit of gray in it. Hamp and Mellie appear to be holding a female child of six months or so. The family group sheet provided by Aunt Madge indicated their last child was a daughter named Rachel who was born about 1914 and who died about 1914. Mellie would have been approximately 35 at the time of Rachel’s birth, which might fit the time frame of this picture.

As can be seen by the 1920 Monroe County, Mississippi census below, two more children were born to the family between 1910 and 1920, Rex and Leroy. They were still in Mississippi in 1910 when Rex was born and they were back in Fayette County when Leroy was born. Hamp’s 1918 World War I draft registration indicated they had moved to Marion County, Alabama as did a 1919 Quit Claim deed for their Itawamba County, Mississippi property, which was apparently signed and notarized in Marion County. The Quit Claim deed also provides evidence they bought property following the 1920 census when they were just renting. According to this 1920 census (the columns to the left of center) they purchased their farm with a mortgage (the O and M). All of the children but Leroy were attending school.

1920 WillisMy father told me he left home when he was 15; since he was 15 on this census, he must have left soon afterward. From snippets of information gleaned from listening to my aunts (all daughters-in law), the family must have moved to McClain County, Oklahoma about 1925 and lived someplace between Noble and Purcell. My father, although he considered himself to have been on his own, apparently wished to be near his family and  so moved to Oklahoma; he didn’t graduate from high school but, according to Aunt Ruby, he did attend a business college in Oklahoma City.

Sometime before the 1930 census, Hamp, Mellie and Ruth, Rex and Leroy all moved to Hockley County, Texas in the small community of Smyer. Franklin was already married, as were Johnnie and Ernest and they all remained in Oklahoma. The R in the first small column indicates Hamp was renting his farm. Ruth, Rex and Leroy all met their spouses while living in Smyer. My father, who was enumerated once again with his parents, must have been visiting or passing through after leaving his job with the Merchant Marines.1030 WillisI have mentioned in a previous blog that Hamp and Mellie liked to go to ‘singings;’ in that blog I posted a photo of them on their way to a day of shaped note or Sacred Harp singing as well as explaining what is meant by Sacred Harp singing.

A 1936 Oklahoma City city directory listed Hamp and Mellie as living in Oklahoma City although they didn’t live there long; Franklin and his wife and children as well as daddy were all living at the same address. Hamp and Mellie soon moved to Noble in Cleveland County, Oklahoma. My daughter, Kay, who has done several through-the-years photo compilations of her grandparents and great-grandparents did one of Mellie, which she used in a blog about Mellie. The first photo on the left is a crop of the group photo above and the last was taken a few months before her death in 1938 – though not visible in this crop, she was on her bed with her granddaughter, Jane, who was an infant.mellie-thru-the-yearsThough in photos she generally exhibits an aura of sadness, I know my daddy loved her deeply and that he was loved by her in return; my Aunt Ruth indicated daddy and Mellie Jane had a very special bond. In spite of that bond, I don’t remember him ever speaking of her. The only picture I had ever seen of her prior to these was, as I said, in her casket. 1938-07 MellieShe died at 58 of rectal cancer and was buried at Noble IOOF Cemetery with Zed buried next to her four years later. My father, Franklin, Johnnie and Ernest and their wives are buried there as well.Mellie Jane Welch tombstone

Because I never knew her, I would love to hear stories about her life and personality from any one who knew her. I have a few cousins who were older than I was and had a chance to spend time with her and to experience a grandmother’s love from her. There may be photos available that express more of her life, character and interests than those I have seen. Sharing what we know about our ancestors can be a real treat to those who do not yet know. Please feel free to add any stories, comments or photos to add more detail to her life.


This blog was prepared as a part of Amy Johnson Crow’s  No Story Too Small 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.

52 Ancestors #5 – William J. Willis

My great-great-grandfather was William J. Willis. I know very little about his life. We have four records that we can tie directly to him, none that let us know specifically where he was born or who his parents were.

The one most clearly identifiable is the 1850 census for Fayette County, Alabama. William Willis 1850Although the last name is spelled Wilas, he is identifiable because of the names of two of his children, Jabus G. and Edy C., that we have been able to link to my great-grandfather, James Franklin Willis, as being his half-siblings. The things we learn from this census about William is that he was born about 1805 in South Carolina and that he could read and write. We also learn the family moved to Alabama between 1831 (Jabus’ birth in South Carolina) and 1834 (Martha’s birth in Alabama).

The female listed below him is not one of his children; although he married about 1829 and had a daughter born about 1830, this female was born about 1826. William’s second wife was my great-great-grandmother, Amy E. Collins, who was born about 1826 in South Carolina and I assume the difficult-to-read name that may be Amia is likely her. Family tradition states his first wife was Amy’s sister, Judah Collins, who had died sometime between the birth of Anna (shown above to be about 1842) and the time of the 1850 census. Additional support for identifying William is that the families enumerated on either side of him were the families of Judah’s and Amy’s brothers John W. Collins, Alexander Collins and sister Sarah Collins Dodson.

William Willis 1840Moving backward in time, the 1840 census for Fayette County, Alabama, which only provides the name of the head of household and tic marks representing gender and age ranges of members of the household, shows William, born between 1800 and 1810, and his wife also born between 1800 and 1810, one son born between 1830 and 1835, two daughters born between 1835 and 1840 and one daughter born between 1830 and 1835. Those ages are consistent with what we know about William and Judah and their children: Jabez (born about 1830); Martha (born about 1833), Sarah (born about 1835) and Edy (born about 1839).

Census records for Fayette County provide evidence that a fairly large number of the families had moved from Spartanburg and Union Counties in South Carolina between the 1830 and 1840 censuses, including the Collins, Ballenger, and Bobo families with which my Willis family has intermarried.

William Willis 1830An 1830 census for Spartanburg, South Carolina shows William Willis born between 1800 and 1810, a woman also born between 1800 and 1810 and a female born between 1825 and 1830. Because this is a tic mark census and because the 1840 census for William Willis does not show a daughter born between 1825 and 1830, and because of the Spartanburg County connection to Fayette County, I am assuming this is my William Willis and that their first daughter died between 1830 and 1840 and that it is possible or likely he was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

Census records for 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1820 in Spartanburg only two Willis families: Richard and Drucilla Pearson Barnett Willis and their children and, for a short time his brother William Willis. William only had one son who moved to Kentucky. Only one of Richard’s sons’ families, John and Martha Patsy Smith Willis, was married, living in South Carolina, and shows sons born between 1800 and 1810. Several Willis family trees list one of John and Martha’s children as being a William born about 1813. Even though these trees provide no information other than a name and approximate birth with no supporting documentation, I still have to question where that connection arose and, if they are accurate, then there is no room for another William within that family.

On the other hand, my brother provided a Y-DNA sample, which we submitted to the Willis DNA project. Based on similarities and dissimilarities with the other DNA samples, it supports the likelihood that we are a part of the Richard and Drucilla Pearson Barnett Willis family, which leads me back to the only census records within that family where William might possibly fit and that is John and Martha Patsy Smith Willis.

The 1860 census for Fayette County lists Amy Willis as a widow with a son, James Franklin, which places William’s death between the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Although William did not leave a will, administration papers were filed with papers dated between 12 April 1855 and February 1857 and naming his son, Jabez G. Willis as administrator. With these papers we learned William had been treated with quinine, morphine and medicinal powders for a year before he died. The net result of the accounting of his property, sales of crops and outstanding debts was a declaration of insolvency. None of his children are listed in any of the papers, other than Jabez as administrator.

We found some references to Jabez Willis that seemed to refer to the father rather than the son. Because of these references, we believe William’s full name was William Jabez Willis.

The Willis family in Fayette County has had a long relationship with the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church and family tradition states that William was buried in the original cemetery grounds along with his first wife, Judah. On a trip to Fayette County in 2010, my daughter and I visited the Old Mount Lebanon Cemetery with a second cousin who is still a member of that church; I took photographs of the area where they are believed to be buried. 2010 153 William J Willis Traditional spot smallerThe unmarked location is only supported by family tradition but is just a few feet to the right of the location of the rest of the Willis family buried there, including his second wife, Amy, and his son, James Franklin.

I have been unable to find any information on his daughters, other than Edy Caroline who married James Hamilton Ballenger. Early marriage records for Fayette County are very spotty and there are none I have found for Martha, Sarah or Anna Willis. Jabez G. Willis died during the Civil War and his widow, Mary Priscilla Middleton Willis, remarried into the Miles family. Oftentimes, daughters keep family heirlooms and it is possible information regarding William and Judah or photographs of them exist in the hands of descendants of his daughters. I would love to hear from anyone who might have more information on William Jabez Willis, his parents or any of his children.


This blog was prepared as a part of Amy Johnson Crow’s  No Story Too Small 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.