52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #38 – John Willis

My paternal 3rd great-grandfather was John Willis [1775-1835] of Spartanburg County, South Carolina. He was the oldest child of Richard and Drucilla Pearson Barnett Willis. I have not found basic vital records for John but the International Genealogical Index of the Church of the Latter Day Saints lists his birth date as September 18, 1775 and death date as October 1, 1835; unfortunately, although these dates are reasonable based on other records, I do not know what records they were based on.

Based on the same International Genealogical Index, John married Martha Patsy Smith on November 21, 1799 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. The clip from the 1800 census record in which John is enumerated a few rows from his father and listing just a male 16-25 and female 16-25 with no children would support that marriage date. 1800

The book, South Carolina Baptists (1), has a list of the members of the Friendship Baptist Church  of the Bethel Association of Spartanburg County for the years 1801 through 1803. The list includes John Willis, Martha Willis, Richard Willis, Sr., Richard Willis, Jr., Elizabeth Willis, and William Willis. Martha could have either been John’s wife or his sister; all the names listed are the older children of Richard and Drucilla Willis. Since Drucilla was not listed, it is feasible that married women may not have been listed and that concept makes it likely that Martha Willis was Richard’s daughter rather than John’s wife.

The 1810 census is one of particular interest because it lists one of my 3rd great-grandfathers, two of my 4th great-grandfathers and one of my 5th great-grandfathers: John Willis, Richard Willis, Arkilles Foster and William Blackstock, revealing they were all neighbors in South Carolina and each of my descendants of those family groups moved from South Carolina to Fayette County, Alabama. In this record, John and Martha have 4 sons under 10 and 2 daughters under 10. One of the males in the group of three would have been my great-great-grandfather, William Willis.1810Although John was not a slave holder, my other great-grandfathers were slave holders with Richard and William Blackstock each having five slaves and Arkilles Foster fourteen.

In the next decade, John and Martha ‘Patsy’ added a number of children: There were four sons and two daughters in 1810 and nine sons and two daughters in the 1820 census. Since there had been two daughters born between 1805 and 1810 and there was only one listed as born in that time frame for the 1820 census, it is presumed one of the daughters died during that decade. 1820In December 1820, John and Martha ‘Patsy’ were dismissed from Unity Baptist Church, presumably to attend another church closer to their residence. (2)

For the 1830 census, there were six sons and two daughters still at home.

1830In January 1835, John and his brother-in-law, Holman Rice Smith, entered into an agreement with John’s youngest brothers, Edward and Starling, to allow the younger boys to maintain the home for their parents making sure they were provided and cared for with the younger boys agreeing to a bond of $5,000 in favor of John and Holman Smith.

John died a short ten months later in October 1835, predeceasing his father by a little more than two years and his mother by a decade. I have not yet found burial information for John.


(1) Townsend, Leah. South Carolina Baptists 1670-1805, Baltimore, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co. (Reprint), 2003, pp 135-136.

(2) Church minutes of the Unity Baptist Church of Spartanburg County, South Carolina from 1818 to 1904. http://www.piedmont-historical-society.org/unityminutes.html


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

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks # 28 – John M. Collins, Jr.

John M. Collins, Jr. was my 3rd great grandfather. John was born about 1784 in South Carolina, probably Spartanburg County. I have not yet found documentation as to his parents although a number of family trees list his father as John Collins, Sr.; that may be logical from today’s mindset, but many times in earlier generations a younger person in a community with the same name as an older person in the community would be called junior to differentiate him from the older man even if they were not father and son. Additionally, John Collins, Sr. had a son named John who was referred to as John ‘Jack’ Collins the bachelor.

John married Edith F. McCarter sometime prior to 1808. The 1810 census for Spartanburg listed their family unit as 1 male 26-44, 1 female 26-44 and 2 females under 10, plus one slave. Their neighbors included a number of the surnames of families who would later join them in moving from Spartanburg to Fayette County, Alabama: Loftis, Ballenger and Pennington, along with Edith’s father, John, and her brother, Alexander McCarter.

The 1820 Spartanburg census for John Collins shows the family now had seven male children [probably sons] with the same two daughters as in 1810 plus one adult male between 26 and 44 and one adult female between 26 and 44. They also now had one male slave and two female slaves.

Their oldest daughters S. Ann Collins and Judah Collins were both married by the 1830 census. S. Ann married David Loftis about 1825 and Judah married my 4th great-grandfather, William J. Willis, in Spartanburg County about 1829.

The 1830 Spartanburg census seems to have a blended family [these are tic mark census records so all you have are notations of males and females within certain age categories]. There is a male and female between 40 and 50 [John would have been about 46 and Edith about 41], but there is also a male between 30 and 40 and a female between 20 and 30. There are census records available for the first two daughters under their husband’s names, which would account for their two older daughters and their sons would not be older than 20.  Two of the older sons are not enumerated in this census and their are two more younger sons. There are five females enumerated I cannot account for by known names; these may be children of the younger couple.

The Collins family were members of the Holly Springs Baptist Church of Spartanburg County.  The church apparently misplaced their constitution and set up a committee to rewrite them. A report was presented with the new constitution on November 7, 1834; John was a member of that committee. Following the constitution was a list of the members, including a number who were being dismissed by letter to move to another church. Those members included: John Collins, Thomas Collins, John W. Collins, William F. Collins, Alexander McCarter Collins, and Edy Collins, as well as several Ballenger family members. This record would indicate the general time frame of the move from Spartanburg to Fayette County, Alabama

1840 censusThe 1840 census for Fayette County, Alabama lists the J. M. Collins family with 16 members with ages for the two older male and female adults between 50 and 60 and the remaining 14 with ages ranging between under 5 up to about 29 – an obvious blended family.

On a trip to Fayette County in 2010, a cousin drove us by the land where John and Edith Collins had their farm after their move to Alabama. After turning left off State Highway 107 onto Old Gin Road [the Old Mount Lebanon Baptist Church Cemetery is located on the right side of the road about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the first road; take the curve to the left and their old farm property is on the left [marked by a red ‘x’].Collins Land

The known children of John and Edith Collins were: S. Ann Collins Loftis, Judah Collins Willis, Alexander McCarter Collins, Thomas Collins, William F. Collins, John Whitten Collins, Richard Collins, Edith Collins, Joel Collins, Amy Collins Willis, James B. Collins and Sarah F. Collins Graham. After the death of Judah Collins Willis, their daughter Amy Collins married her sister’s husband and they had one son, James Franklin Willis, my great-great-grandfather.

The 1850 census included a Mortality Census asking people to list anyone who had died within the year from June 1849 to June 1850. That census lists the death of both John and his wife, Edy; Edy in May 1849 of an unknown illness of 8 months and John in August 1849 of a fever he’d had for fourteen days. [Most family trees list John’s death as August 1850, but the census records were effective June 1, 1850 so had he been alive in June 1850, he would not have been listed in the mortality census but would rather have been listed in the regular 1850 federal census.] In addition to month and cause of his death, the mortality census also affirms he and Edy were born in South Carolina and tells us that John was a wagon maker.1850 mortalityNo records of their burials have been found but due to their previous membership in the Holly Springs Baptist Church and the Willis family’s affiliation with the Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, in addition to some family tradition, it is believed they are buried at Old Mount Lebanon Baptist Church Cemetery on Old Gin Road which was just a short distance from their home and which is located just to the south east of the green square on the map above  Old Gin Road.


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


52 Ancestors #10 – John Buckner

John Buckner was my second great-grandfather – my father’s paternal grandmother’s father. My daddy would have known three out of four of his grandparents, but his paternal grandmother died about twenty years before he was born and her father had died when she was about 6. What that means is we don’t have any knowledge of him other than the brief paper trail he left.

That brief paper trail to date only includes a marriage record, an 1850 and 1860 census record and a few Civil War muster cards. Not a lot to go on, including no middle name or initial. Although he was apparently John Buckner, Jr., no record for either father or son lists a middle name or initial. I don’t know if that means there was none or just that no surviving paper trail lists it.

The 1850 census page for John Buckner in what is presumably the household of his parents and siblings in Blount County, Alabama; it only lists his name and an approximate time and place of his birth. 1850 censusJohn is in the center of the family unit. His age of 18 would approximate his birth year as 1832 and, according to the ditto marks from above, in Tennessee. Although relationships are not noted, it is assumed there is a relationship and that his father’s name was also John who was born in Tennessee and his mother was Rachel who was born in North Carolina. It would also appear his family had moved from Tennessee between 1834 when his brother Thomas was born and 1836 when his sister Angeline was born. His mother and three older siblings could not read or write. Since the census instructions only asked for that information about those who were 20 or older, no determination about John’s ability to read or write can be made.

We found a bound index of marriages at the Blount County, Alabama courthouse when we visited there in 2010. Here is a photo clip of the page in the index book that shows the marriage of John Buckner, Jr. to Nancy M. Foster on February 1, 1855: MarriageIt is unclear whether the bond was signed by John Buckner, Jr. or John Buckner, Sr. Pliney Wilemon who also signed the bond was the husband of Nancy Buckner Wilemon, one of his older sisters.

The 1860 census for Fayette County, Alabama lists John and Nancy Buckner and three children:  1860 census

The family make up is consistent with an 1855 marriage – the first child was born in 1856 and would have been my great-grandmother, Mary Jane Buckner Willis. Again John was listed as born in Tennessee, although this record would place his birth around 1834 rather than 1832. Their real property was valued at $600 and their personal property value was $400. Both John and Nancy could read and write. In their five years of marriage they had three children: Mary, William and Sarah.

I looked for records of Civil War service and a possible death of John during that time frame because I didn’t find John in an 1870 census and because I found Mrs. Nancy Buckner as a head of household in the 1866 Alabama State Census, a marriage record for Nancy Buckner to Joshua Watson in 1868, followed by an 1870 census for Joshua and Nancy Buckner Watson with four Buckner children [M.J., Rufus, Sarah and Nedora – later and combined research for the children would show their names to be Mary Jane, William Rufus, Sarah/Sallie and Medora].

I found a few records at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Further search found some muster cards that indicated he  had enlisted at the age of 30 in the Alabama 41st Infantry, Company I, under Capt. Thomas I. Abernathy on May 3, 1862. Reading about the 41st Alabama indicated a number of soldiers in that regiment died while they were still in their first few days in Tuscaloosa – apparently illnesses such as dysentery and measles took a heavy toll.  One of those early deaths was his brother, Jesse Wilson Buckner [evidenced by a claim filed by his father John Buckner].

By September 18, 1862, the muster cards state John had died of disease in Charleston, Tennessee. I have used the record below because is is the clearest of the records (the others are quite faint) even though this date states September 12 for his death; two other records state the date was the 18th of September. We have not found other records in order to provide a definitive source.John Buckner CSA clipBecause there were other John Buckners, I wanted further substantiation of his death in addition to his absence from the 1866 and 1870 censuses; I found a card at the Alabama Department of Archives and History showing his widow, Nancy M. Buckner [residing in Fayette County], filed a widow’s claim. John buckner CSA widow filingAlthough the claim was apparently rejected, her documentation and support for the claim should have contained some valuable pieces of information about their marriage, children’s birth dates, affidavits from others who knew him and of his service. Unfortunately, the copy was mailed to the Fayette County Courthouse, which was burned during the Civil War. If Nancy had a copy of it, I have not yet located a descendant who might have it.

Although the two census records we have for him indicate he was born in Tennessee, we do not know what county or town. A brief obituary for his oldest sister, EmmaLisa, stated she was born in Sevier County, Tennessee. She was born about 1818, or 14 years before John, but that provides a clue for additional searches for information. We have also found no record of his burial, which means we do not know if he was buried in Charleston, Tennessee or if his remains were returned to Fayette County.

We occasionally hear or read about our lives being what happens between the dashes [1832 -1862]. In summary, for my great-great-grandfather, John Buckner, all we know of his “between the dashes” is:

Between the Dashes

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.