Martha Ann Sanford nee Jean, who was my great-great-grandmother, was [according to the 1900 census] born in February 1826 in Tennessee, probably in Lincoln County. According to chapter 4 of a reasonably well-researched book prepared by members of the Jean family, she was the fourth child of John Jean and Ann Shaw [other family trees list other sets of parents: Thomas Jefferson and Martha Larkin Jean or David Elroy and Grisella White Jean].
Martha’s story is one that illustrates that, even though we live in a time of easy divorce and ever-changing relationships with varying degrees of relationship stability, not all of our ancestors lived lives of marital constancy.
Martha’s younger sister, Sarah, married Asa Sanford in 1846. Sarah died within a short time and on December 24, 1850, Martha married her former brother-in-law.The 1850 census lists Martha and Asa living between her brother Jessie and his family and her father, John and his new wife Martha Taylor – with the last name spelled as Jane rather than Jean. I believe this proximity is an indicator of the family relationship between John Jean and Martha Jean Sanford. Her younger siblings, Elizabeth Jean and David Jean, were living with Martha and Asa. This record also adds the details that Asa was born in Alabama and his occupation was listed as hatter.By the 1860 census, Asa had moved his family back to Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, near a small community known as Moore’s Bridge, which was where he was born and most of his extended family still lived; he also continued with his family’s business of being hatters. In the decade between 1850 and 1860, Martha and Asa had five children: Sarah, William, Jacob, Mary (my great-grandmother) and John Wiley. Some records for William have an 1853 birth date and some have an 1847 birth date. If the 1847 date is accurate, it is possible that William was the child of Martha’s sister, Sarah, and Asa.The decade between 1860 and 1870 added two more children to the Sanford family: James and Jessie. There is another John Sanford enumerated with the family but since their son John Wiley was born in 1860, it is unlikely the John Sanford listed as born in 1868 was a child of Asa and Martha.A few years back, I made contact with a Sanford researcher who was born and raised in the Moore’s Bridge community and returns home a couple of times a year for family reunions. He told me about Martha’s husband, Asa, maintaining a long-term relationship with another woman, Ruhama Oswalt who also lived in the Moores Bridge community, and with whom he had three children. When I questioned him about sources for such a relationship, he stated it was common knowledge within the community and descendants of that Oswalt/Sanford relationship still attend the Sanford reunion.
The 1870 census was mostly done with initials and was therefore inconclusive for Ruhama but I will put the 1880 censuses for both families one after another. Ruhama and her three children were still living with her parents and the next farm to Martha’s nephew, William Larkin Jean. Asa and Martha lived in the Moore’s Bridge community while the Oswalt family and William Jean family lived about 35 miles north in the Ridge Community of Fayette County, Alabama. It was helpful to me to see the births of the children of the two women side by side to gain a clearer insight into the family dynamics.
There were no census records from 1880 until 1900, so no information during that 20-year period. Cemetery records show Ruhama died in 1883 at the age of 46. No records indicate whether Asa and Martha ever separated during his years with Ruhama, however, in spite of his ongoing relationship with Ruhama, Asa and Martha were enumerated together in the 1900 census. Their daughter, Sarah, was still living at home and they were enumerated next to their son, John Wiley and his family. The 1900 census notes that Asa and Martha had been married for 51 years and she had borne eight children, seven of whom were still living. Since I only have a list of seven children, the deceased child was likely born during the years between one census and the next, having lived less than ten years.Asa died on April 24, 1907 leaving Martha a widow at 81. The 1910 census showed Martha living with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren after the death of her son, James, in 1903 . During the decade of 1900 to 1910, in addition to her becoming a widow, two more of her children died.Martha died October 20, 1911 and is buried next to her husband in the El Bethel Methodist Cemetery near where all the Sanford family had lived since the early 1800s [since there are other El Bethel cemeteries in the area, it is also known as Buncomb]. One of the Sanford descendants who came for a reunion a few years ao noted the headstone for Asa and Martha was either non-existent or in very poor condition; he ordered a replacement headstone, seen in the photo below. And as you view the headstone, if you walk a few steps to the right, another tombstone marks the resting place of Ruhama Oswal apparently not far from Martha in life and still nearby in death.
This blog was prepared as a part of Amy Johnson Crow’s No Story Too Small 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.