Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding AMERICA!

Columbus "discovering" America. But, you know it wasn't lost, right?

No, this blog isn't about Columbus discovering America. It is about discovering my 3 X great aunt, America MASON! Whoopee!  And just like Columbus, I wasn't looking for America when I found her!

You might remember from my blog on January 12th  that America MASON was the fifth child of my 3 X great grandparents, William B. and Elizabeth R. MASON. She is also one of three that disappeared after an appearance in several census records. You will also remember that I resolved to research this family further in 2017.

On Friday the 13th (who says that is an unlucky day?) a search for Elizabeth MASON on the West Virginia Vital Records site revealed an E. MASON as the mother of a A. A. MELTEN who died 25 January 1874 in Putnam County, West Virginia. Remember, Putnam and Kanawha counties share a border and my MASON family lived right along that border for generations. The deceased father's first initial was given as "M" but from personal experience I know that an "W" is often confused for a "M" when transcribing handwritten records. A.A. MELTON's birth year was given as 1854, close enough to the Dec 1853 date I had for America's birth date to warrant a closer look.

Transcription of the death record for A.A. MELTON. Could this be the missing America MASON?
Mother's initial is E, possible for Elizabeth? Father's initial M? Is it a transcription error?


However,  the West Virginia Vital Records site was experiencing difficulties and the images were not available for display. This problem persisted for 4 days. Frustrating to say the least. Contact with their web master revealed that they were aware of the problem and their technology gurus were working on a solution.

So, what to do in the meantime? The abstract for the record gave her husband's name as "B.F. MELTEN". Since America was last listed with her family in the 1870 census, that was checked first for "B.F. MELTEN". A Benjamin F. MELTON was listed with Elizabeth MELTON's family along with 7 other supposed  family members in Putnam County. The 1870 census does not list relationships. A possible match for "B.F. MELTEN".

Benjamin F. MELTON was also listed in the 1880 Census for Kanawha County, with a wife and 2 children, the oldest of which was 3 years old. Still no conflicting information to eliminate him as a possibility as a husband for America.

But what about a marriage record for A.A. MASON and B.F. MELTON? It wasn't listed in the West Virginia Vital Records site, and while birth & death registrations can be hit or miss, marriage records seem to be better recorded. Multiple searches using different variations of their names did not help.

Time to employ an old "fall-back" search mechanism. GOOGLE! Yes, when I get stuck in my family research I will turn to Google to see if anyone else has already done the work. A search for "Benjamin MELTON" and "America MASON" did turn up a clue. Someone had posted on MyTrees.com  that a Benjamin MELTON had married and America MASON in 1873 in OHIO! WOW! Names and time period are right. But OHIO? from all accounts this family was poor. Why travel to Ohio to get married?

A FamilySearch query did not turn anything up. But the MELTON surname was familiar. A quick check of the family group chart for William B. MASON's family reminded me that America's sister, Nancy, had married a MELTON in 1877 in GALLIA COUNTY, OHIO! Really? Could it be?

My still- packed-away genealogy research boxes had some books on the marriages in Gallia County, Ohio, as that is where my father's family had resided. Dragged out the appropriate box from the cold garage and located at the bottom was Marriage Records 1851-1900 Gallia County, Ohio compiled by Michael L. Trowbridge. It is NOT indexed by every name, but does have a surname index and there on page 103, near the bottom is a listing for the marriage of Benjamin F. MELTON  and America A. MASON on 10 April 1873.

With this information in hand, finding the original record on the FamilySearch web site was easy.

Marriage Record for Benjamin MELTON and America MASON from the FamilySearch web site

While all of this information was intriguing, it still wasn't enough to convince me that A.A. MELTON was America MASON. I needed to see the original death record.

Finally, on Tuesday the 17th, the site was fixed and I could access the record image.

PART1: Red Arrow points to death Record for A.A. MELTON. Note that she was 20 years old and died in childbirth.
Green arrow points to death record for B.A. MELTON who died on 20 July and was 6 months old. THIS is her baby.
The transcription for B.A. MELTEN says that the baby's full name was Blanche. The record below reveals that her parents are B.F. and A.A. Melton. Since America MASON and Benjamin MELTON were married in April of 1873, their daughter was born almost exactly 9 months later.

PART 2: The red arrow on the left points to A.A. MELTEN's parents.

When compared to the "W" on the line above, it is clear that that is a letter "M".  Does this mean that A.A. MELTEN isn't America, the daughter of William B. & Elizabeth MASON?

Not necessarily. The red arrows on the right reveals who the informant  was for the record, "W.F. MELTEN", "Brother." He clearly isn't the brother of A.A. MASON, so he must be B.F. MELTEN's brother. How familiar would he be with his brother's in-law's, when the marriage had only lasted 9 months? 

I believe the initial "M" for A.A.'s father is a mistake, made by her brother-in-law. For now, I believe I have solved the disappearance of America MASON. And just as I guessed,  she must have "married or died". In reality, she had done both.

Is the case completely closed? 

No. New information found in the future could cause me to look at this assumption again. But for now...

BTW: My research plan for the MASONs for 2017 has been formulated. It will require field trips to other libraries, ordering FHL microfilms and maybe a trip to West Virginia!

AND, once I returned to searching for Elizabeth MASON (America's mother), a review of the records I already had gave me a clue to her. In the 1910 Census for her son, William H. MASON, an Elizabeth LISLIE is listed as his mother-in-law. William H.'s wife was Elizabeth HARMON and her mother was Rebecca BESS. Who is this Elizabeth LISLIE? Could the census taker misinterpreted the relationship?

In the 1900 Census for her daughter, Nancy MELTON, Elizabeth LESLIE was listed as the mother-in-law to Nancy's husband, Elisha MELTON. Could this be the elusive Elizabeth MASON?

A query in FamilySearch  turned up a marriage record for Elizabeth MASON to Samuel LESLEY in 1886. They are both listed as widow(er)s and she is listed as 50 years old. In the census records her age fluctuates as much as 7 years, so this is inline with that info.  Further search revealed a death record for Elizabeth LESLIE in 1916.

If this Elizabeth MASON LESLIE is the same woman as Elizabeth MASON wife to William B. MASON, I have discovered what happened to her, and narrowed William's death date to sometime between June of 1880 when he last appeared in the census and January 1886, when his wife Elizabeth remarried.

Unfortunately, I still have not found a death date for William B., nor the marriage record between him and Elizabeth, whose maiden name is still unknown.  And THAT is why you set goals!

Now, I know you aren't all that thrilled to learn about my research into the MASON family, but what this posting illustrates is:

1. Using multiple records to prove a connection.
2. Looking critically at sources. Who provided the information? Could mistakes have been made?
3. Examining details of resources you already have for clues.
4. Willingness to re-evaluate suppositions as new information is discovered.
5. Realization that spelling of names and dates of birth are very fluid in early records.


Curious about which DNA test is right for you? 



Check out this article from Family History Daily: Which Genealogy DNA Test is the Best?  I still like what Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, says; "Test with as many companies as you can afford." That strategy gives you the greatest chance of making connections.





SOURCES:
West Virginia Vital Records
FamilySearch
Google
MyTrees.com
Family History Daily
The Legal Genealogist

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