52 Ancestors #29 – Edith F. McCarter Collins

My 3rd great-grandmother was Edith F. Collins, nee McCarter. She was born about 1789 to John McCarter and Amy Evans, probably in South Carolina. She married John M. Collins sometime before 1808.

The 1810 census for John and Edith listed them with two female children under 10: S. Ann and Judah. Her father, John McCarter, was enumerated six lines down from John and Edith.1810 censusThe 1820 census for John and Edith shows tic marks for the same two daughters and four sons born between 1810 and 1820, plus three males born between 1805 and 1810. Since there were no males listed in the 1810 census, I cannot account for those three boys and they could have been siblings to either John or Edith or boys from the community earning keep by working. The four sons were Alexander McCarter, Thomas, William F., and John Whitten. 1820 censusThe 1830 census was clearly a mixture of two households so the tic marks could not be effectively pulled apart. We know from other records that Edith and John had three more sons: Richard, Joel, and James B. They also had three more daughters:  Edy, Amy and Sarah. Amy was my great-great-grandmother.

The family moved from Spartanburg in about 1834 and the 1840 census in Fayette County was another record of a blended household of multiple adults and young children and the 1850 mortality census listed both John and Edith with Edith dying in May of 1850 in Fayette County, Alabama. Although it is assumed she is buried at the Old Mount Lebanon Cemetery, there is no headstone to mark the location.

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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.

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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.

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

The Joy of the Hunt

It’s a good thing I enjoy solving puzzles and tracking down minute details because that is clearly what it takes to answer questions of family history and lineage. There are any number of difficulties or crazinesses in historical records that can stymie a search. Problems as seemingly insignificant as spelling and penmanship; or use of first names, middle names and nicknames in censuses from one year to the next; or moving from location to location; or misrepresented birth dates/ages can make the search more difficult.

I’ve been searching for information on my great-grandmother’s brother, William Rufus Buckner, off and on for a couple of years. I’ve had a particularly difficult time finding information on him even though I’d discovered him early on in Wise County, Texas in the 1910 census. Because Ancestry.com searches broadly in terms of surnames, ages and locations, you can sometimes find records you wouldn’t otherwise pick up. On the other hand, because it’s so broad you often have too many to take the time to look through. Heritage Quest searches way too specifically [not even an option for a wildcard] and there is no way to account for those flukes in spelling, age or location other than in specific searches, many of which you could not even hazard a guess.

What I had learned about William Rufus Buckner during the past couple of years from multiple sources was:

He was born in about 1858 as the second child of John and Nancy M. Foster Buckner [as to the search for verification as to who Nancy was, see previous blogs on Surname Saturday – Buckner nee Foster and Follow Up Buckner nee Foster.

1860 census for John & Nancy Buckner and Mary, William and Sarah

His father had joined Company I of the 41stAlabama Infantry and died in Tennessee as a result of illness. Some men have 12 and more status cards in their files while John only has five, one of which is made out for James, but since the information is generally the same as that for John, the archival people have filed it with John. Even the cards have differing information on them; two (one Jno, usual abbreviation for John, and one Jas) indicate he died September 18, 1862 while one (John) states September 12, 1862, although all three have the location as Charleston, Tennessee. A transcription of a card that is not visible on Footnote is available at the Alabama Department of Archives and History website shows Nancy filed for a widow’s pension. There was a similar notation on the card for John’s brother, Jesse W. Buckner, that John Buckner, father, had filed a claim (which had been mailed to Blount County). BH Williams was the probate judge for Fayette County at the time, presumably a copy of the documentation would have been at the courthouse had it not burned. I had hoped to see application papers when we visited, but nothing was available, apparently both claims for monetary support were denied, perhaps because both deaths were from illness rather than battle injuries.At the time of the 1866 Alabama Census, he and his mother and three siblings [Mary Jane, Sarah and Medora] lived in the vicinity of his grandparents [Anthony Edward and Mary King Foster]; uncle, Anthony Edward Foster; future brother-in-law, James Franklin Willis; and long-time neighbor Joshua Watson and his family. A website listing Fayette County marriages listed a marriage for Nancy Buckner to Joshua Watson in 1868 and cemetery records confirmed the death of his wife Phoebe in 1867. The 1870 census listed Joshua and Nancy and four Buckner children plus their first child, John B. Watson. As usual, there was a dilemma with that record. Mary Jane, who would have been a 14-year-old female at the time, was listed as M.J., a 12-year-old male, but since Mary Jane married two years later in the home of Joshua Watson, there did seem to be a connection between them.

1870 Census, Joshua & Nancy Watson with John B. Watson, M.J., R., S.M. & Nedora Buckner

I had a difficult time finding any record on the family for quite some time, but eventually found a census record for Holly Springs, Mississippi that showed Joshua and Nancy and their son, John B. Watson, plus three additional Watson children born after June of 1870. Mary Jane had married James Franklin Willis by that time, but the remaining Buckner children were also there in Holly Springs having been listed by the census enumerator as Rufus Watson, Sarah Watson and Dora Watson, which was why I’d been unable to locate them. I’d been unable to locate Nancy because the enumerator had listed her age as 60 instead of 42.

1880 Census - Joshua & Nancy, Rufus, Sarah, Dora, John, Etta, Walter and Daugherty Watson

With the discovery of a marriage record for William R. Buckner and Martha Ann Holliman for 1892 I was then able to track him to Wise County, Texas in 1910 with two children, Grover C. and Lona Belle.

1910 Census - William R. & Martha A. Buckner with Grover C. and Lona B. Buckner in Wise County, Texas.

So far, the listings for William Rufus had been: William Buckner for the 1860 census; R. Buckner for the 1870 census and Rufus Watson for the 1880 census. The 1910 census was for William R. Buckner with a wife named Martha A. Buckner who had been married 17 years [corresponding to the 1892 marriage record] and had two children. The bad news for that is that it makes the searching more difficult; the good news is I picked up both first and middle names for him in the process.

After many searches, I finally located a 1930 census for Rufus in Oklahoma where he was living with a son I didn’t know about – Vester. This listing was for Rufus R. Buckner. This son’s age would put his birth at about 1888, which was four years before the marriage of Rufus and Martha Ann, which led me to a further search of Fayette County marriages.

1930 Census - Vester Buckner with his family, father-in-law, and father, Rufus R. Buckner in Tillman County, Oklahoma.

I, of course, now had a time frame for the death of Martha Ann – before 1930. I searched for and found an earlier marriage between Rufus Buckner and A. J. Collins that took place in 1883 in Fayette County, Alabama. The fact that Rufus married again by 1892 would indicate A. J. died before that time and that Vester was the child of Rufus and A.J. I found no other records for Vester Buckner. However, by tracking the children in that 1930 record, I found other records that added the initials G. S. to Vester’s name – I thought Vester could be short for Sylvester but I found nothing to support that. With the 1890 census being burned, the 1900 census for Rufus would certainly be a help in adding to what I knew about him.

Last month I found evidence of some Buckner burials in the Frederick Cemetery in Frederick, Oklahoma; unfortunately, when I sought to find them on the transcription of that cemetery, all names from Br to the Cs were missing. I sent an email to the website administrator who said she was a new administrator but would ask the previous administrator. That person looked and was surprised to find my observation to be correct and he supplied me with an Excel spreadsheet of the missing people where I found not only the Buckner people I was looking for, but I found that elusive Rufus Buckner listed as well. Although I didn’t find his wife, Martha, I was a little suspicious that a Mary Ann Buckner who died in 1929 [before the 1930 census] and buried near him might be worth a closer look. My daughter, Kay, and I took a trip to Wise County, Texas and over to Tillman County, Oklahoma in April to see what records and burials we might find. We found the headstone for Rufus to be a double headstone with his wife, Mary Ann – back to that confusing use of nicknames. Apparently any number of females with names beginning with ‘M’ went by Mary, while those whose name was actually Mary often went by Polly or Molly [or Pollie or Mollie].

Rufus and Mary Buckner headstone

Yesterday I decided to return to the Heritage Quest site and search for the first name of William in both Oklahoma and Texas. Obviously there were going to be a lot of Williams in Texas – too many to look at as well as the possibility of having to search for Wm, Rufus or a combination of initials. I set limiters of an age range and being born in Alabama and hoped the census enumerators had been reasonably accurate for a change. I began by selecting Williams who lived in Wise County, Texas and found a William R. Ruckner. I was rewarded with a correct hit on that one. Even though Ancestry.com searches broadly, it would never have tried a substitution of Ruckner for Buckner, even though they rhyme.

This record provided verification that the 1930 census relationship with Vester was a correct one because the 1900 census listed a son born about 1888 – Guy S. Buckner [further research found Guy Sylvester Buckner in the California death index], along with Grover C. and Lone B. Buckner [close enough for the spelling capacity and/or penmanship of the census enumerators]. There was also a bonus of another son I hadn’t yet discovered, John H. Buckner, born about 1884 – a whole new thread to pull.

1900 Census - William R. & Martha A. Ruckner and John H., Guy S., Grover C. and Lone B.

Although that record gave me new information and corroboration, it also created more questions. For example, to the question “Mother of how many children,” Martha Ann answered 5 and noted that all 5 were still living. Based on marriage records, only two of the four listed children should be Martha’s and since the marriage record listed her under her maiden name it is not likely she had three children from a previous marriage who weren’t living with her. On the other hand, since A. J. died when her sons were quite young and Martha would have been their mother for eight years, she may well have responded to the question in terms of caretaking. However, it’s more difficult to wipe away their response as to the length of their marriage – 18 years instead of the 8 expected from their marriage record. Based on what I’ve seen of enumerator’s accuracy in census records, perhaps Martha or Rufus replied eight years to the question, but since the oldest child was sixteen, the enumerator decided he must have not heard the whole answer and filled in logically with eighteen. Fortunately, I have the 1910 census that indicates their marriage was  of 17 years’ duration rather than the 28 I might have expected if I hadn’t had the 1892 marriage record along with the 1910 listing of years of marriage.

After yesterday’s find of the 1900 record I have a new child I was unaware of to research. Additionally, any way I look at it, I’m still missing a fifth child who was alive at least as long as 1900, one most likely born between 1885 and 1891. Fortunately, I really enjoy the hunt itself, so back to work.

Eady Caroline Willis Ballenger – Happy 171st Birthday

Eady Caroline Willis was the fifth (known) child of William J. and Judah Collins Willis. She was born August 19, 1839 in Fayette County, Alabama. Her parents were both born in South Carolina and had moved to Alabama between the birth of her brother, Jabez, about 1830 in South Carolina and her sister, Martha, born in Alabama in 1833, along with her grandparents, John M. and Edith McCarter Collins, and several other Spartanburg neighbors.

Caroline’s mother, Judah, died in about 1842, possibly in childbirth, and her father married his sister-in-law, Amy Edith Collins, in about 1850. William and Amy Collins Willis are my great-great-grandparents and Eady Caroline was my half-great-grandaunt.

Caroline married James Hamilton Ballenger on April 24, 1859. In the book written by her great-grandson, Conley Linton Ballinger, he writes, “Eady Caroline Willis Ballenger related to her grandson, James Hamilton Ballinger, on numerous occasions that she and her girl friends were sitting in one of these church services (which church is unknown but was in the area between where Jabez Willis lived near the Mt. Lebanon old cemetery area and where John Ballenger lived at the Yellow Creek area), when Hamilton and some other men entered the church for the service. She told her girl friends immediately after seeing him that she was going to marry that man. She never related how she accomplished this sudden prediction, but she was successful.” [p. 99]

An interesting, but unexplained [to me], note for anyone who may have noticed the variation in spelling on the Ballenger last name – although James Hamilton and David Jasper Ballenger maintained the spelling with the center ‘e,’ James William and his descendants use the center ‘i’ making their name Ballinger. The Fayette County road named for the family and on which several of them still live is the Ballinger Road.

Conley states Hamilton was both a farmer and a stonemason and Caroline and Hamilton set up housekeeping in the general area where their parents lived. They had two sons fairly soon after their marriage: James William (Jimmy) born on January 8, 1860 and David Jasper (Buddy) born March 10, 1861.

When her husband, Hamilton, enlisted in the Confederate army May 3, 1862 Caroline was left to take care of the home, farm, and their sons during his absence. Hamilton wrote a number of letters to her, which she kept in a trunk at her home for the rest of her life. Both copies and transcriptions of his letters have been printed in the book written by her great-grandson. The letters indicate he offered both advice on how to manage in his absence, and commendations for the way she handled her responsibilities.

In a letter written by T.K. Godfrey on April 27, 1863, Caroline received word that Hamilton had died on April 25 from pneumonia in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee and had been buried there. That letter is also copied and transcribed in the Ballenger family book (pages 94-96) ; it is a wonderfully written and compassionate account of Hamilton’s passing, aimed at easing the pain of loss for his family.

Following Hamilton’s death, Caroline and two other widows – her step-mother, Amy Collins Willis, and her sister, Sarah Collins Graham, lived together for many years in order to provide for their sons. The location of their shared farm  land was approximately at the intersection of Old Gin Road and Ballinger Road.  As the boys grew, they took over a large share of the labor involved in making a farm equal to the charge of providing for their families.

Caroline’s sons married two Bobo sisters, Sally Trophesie and Judy Della. Bobo. Jimmy and Sally had six daughters and one son, while Jasper (Buddy) and Judy had two daughters and one son, though only their daughter, Hassie, lived to adulthood.

On our recent trip to Fayette County, Kay scanned a photo of Caroline with her sons, their wives and children [prior to the birth of her only grandson that survived] and her half-brother, James Franklin Willis taken approximately in 1900.

Back: Tory, Betty Sally, Lucy, J. F. Judy Front: Eady, Connie, Jim, Caroline, Carrie, Jasper and Hassie

Conley Ballinger also reported in his book, “An interesting side note about Caroline is that after the night meal she would sit in her little rocking chair next to the open wood heated fireplace and smoke her pipe. A burning splinter from the wood would be used to light the pipe. In early days the tobacco she used was grown in their vegetable garden. It is interesting to note that neither her sons, and only one of her grandchildren, Tory, followed her in using tobacco.” (p.102)

Her sons and daughters-in-laws lived in separate homes on the land the boys bought on credit while they were still in their teens. Caroline lived in the home of her older son, Jimmy, for the remainder of her life. She died December 9, 1930 and was buried in the Old Mount Lebanon Cemetery where her father and perhaps her mother, her step-mother, and her son David Jasper were buried. Her other son and both daughers-in-law are also buried there, as is her half-brother, James Franklin.

In an 1978 article in the Fayette County Broadcaster entitled “The Ballenger Family” by Sharlene McGee Foster, [even though the first name is in error]: “Sarah Caroline, both sons, their wives and their wives’ parents are buried in the Old Mt. Lebanon Cemetery. This old deserted cemetery is located on a dirt road off of Highway 107 which is the road going to Bluff. Part of the ‘Ballenger Road’ runs nearby. This Ballenger Road is the road which leads from Highway 107 to Highway 18 coming out just below Mt. Vernon Church. It passes through the original farm that Sarah and her sons struggled for nearly 100 years ago. Think of the old Ballinger, Willis and Bobo families who settled this land. Most of all think of it as Sarah Caroline’s land. She’s a fine example of an early Fayette County pioneer.”

Smile for the Camera – A Noble Life

smile-for-the-camera-noble-life1

12th Edition – Smile for the Camera

A Noble Life

James Franklin Willis (1853-1926), who was my greatgrandfather, was raised by a single mother, Amy Collins Willis, after his father died just before he turned three. During the time of western expansion (always moving on toward a better life) he apparently lived his whole life in Fayette County, Alabama.

franklin-willis21

Frank served his community as a Baptist pastor during a time when pastors mostly supported themselves and their families by working as merchants or farmers. On a genealogical research trip to Fayette County and over to Birmingham, my daughter and I  found the following information in the History of Fayette County Baptist Association – page 60 speaks about Rev. J. Frank Willis:

“At the session of 1894, J. F. Willis was chosen moderator, and served one term.  He was a member of the Mt. Lebanon Church, and while his church was a member of the Association he was a frequent representative, and always took an active part in the business of the Association. He was a strong doctrinal pastor, and very popular with his people.  His pastorates were confined, for the most part, to the churches of the Harmony Grove and Goodwater Association.  In the powers of deduction and deep-thinking in Scriptural quotations, he was rarely excelled in his day.”

From this document we were also able to put together a chronology of some of the church involvement of J.F. Willis:
1887     Importance of gathering the whole church for the study of God’s word? J. F. Willis.  …”The Sunday School Convention of the New River Association for the 5th Sunday in July, 1887, was held at Mt. Lebanon church, beginning on Saturday the 29th of July.  J.B. Huckabee called the meeting to order, and J. F. Willis in behalf of Mt. Lebanon church, delivered an address of welcome…”

1888 – 1892 Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (pastor)

1890   J.F. Willis was listed as one of eighteen ordained pastors reported at the 20th Anniversary of the Baptist Association that was held Mt. Pleasant Church beginning October 11, 1890.

1891    Rocky Mount Baptist Church (pastor)

1891    At the 21st Anniversary of the Baptist Association held at the Pleasant Hill church on Oct. 10, 1891, J. F. Willis delivered the opening sermon.

1892    Siloam Baptist Church (pastor)

1894    Union Grove Baptist Church (moderator)

1894    In the Alabama Baptist Oct 25, 1894 the former moderator was absent, J.F. Willis was elected and Bro. Zach Savage re-elected as clerk. … To summarize:  J.F. Willis was elected moderator at the 24th Anniversary of the Association that was held at the Salem Church in October 1894.

1895    Bethel Baptist Church (pastor)

1895 – 1897 Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (pastor)

1897     J.F. Willis preached at the 27th Anniversary Association on Sunday evening.  He was one of four who preached.

1898    In the Alabama Baptist April 21, 1898 issue it says that the fifth Sunday meeting of Yellow Creek Baptist Association was held at the Fellowship church in Lamar County in May 1898.  “The introductory sermon by J. F. Willis; subject, What is the church? For criticism.”

1898 – 1902 Meadow Branch Baptist Church (pastor)

1903 – 1905 Bethel Baptist Church (pastor)

1909 – 1910 Meadow Branch Baptist Church (pastor)

Samford University in Birmingham has historical records of Baptist church minutes where we found the following interesting insights into the way country pastors were paid:

Meadow Branch Church – Sunday, August 29, 1898, J.F. Willis was elected as pastor. His salaries were listed as:

1898 – $12.25 (paid by individual members)

1899 –  1900 – $11.00

1901 – $13.00

J.F. Willis and his wife, Mary Jane [Buckner], had six children; Zelda, Margaretta E., John William, Rufus B., Zedic Hamilton (known as Hamp) and Thomas R. Both J. F. and Mary Jane are buried in the Old Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, where he had served as pastor.