The family of my ancestor Green Barnes recently proved to me again that we all need to be diligent when trying to reconstruct our families.
It also illustrates how original sources, assumptions and human nature sometimes conspire to confuse us.
This recent odyssey started when I was reviewing the obituary for a collateral ancestor, Cora Holt (shown above). Cora married Troy Holt, the brother of my great-grandfather.
I noticed Cora’s obituary named a sister– Etta H. Pulliam. I never noticed that before. How did I miss that?
It Starts in 1880
The trouble starts with Green Barnes and his family who appear on the 1880 census in Hardin County, Tennessee (shown below).
The 1880 census lists four children: Fayette, Maggie, William and Eddie. By 1900, Green and Rena’s household was gone.
Sons Fayette and William appear sporadically in Hardin County records. Daughter Maggie married a man named Ed Bradley. After 1900, Maggie’s family moved to Arkansas where most of their children lived and died.
That leaves the last child Eddie unaccounted for. I’ll get to him in a bit.
An estate action in 1899, mentioned in county court minutes, indicated Green’s death in that year. Tennessee did not record state level deaths until 1908, but his wife Rena probably died before 1900 as well, though no record records her death.
Who is Wife Rena?
No marriage record provides her maiden name. Nevertheless, Rena is almost certainly the woman named Arena Lowery living in the same community in 1870 (image is faint):
William Barnes’ 1952 death certificate (Green and Rena’s son) confirms his mother as “Reanie Lowery.”
The informant on William’s death certificate was a woman named Beadie Williams.
I thought, “Who in the heck is she?”
My Rootsmagic genealogy database revealed that I faithfully recorded a 1906 marriage between “Beety” Barnes and Cornelius Broyles:
However, I had not recorded parents for Beadie. OK.
Another woman named Beaty Barnes married a man named Oliver Williams (in a neighboring county) in 1935. What?
Turns out Beadie Barnes was another daughter of Green and Rena Barnes. The two marriage records were for one woman.
After marrying Cornelius Broyles and raising several children, Beadie presumably divorced.
For her second marriage in 1935, Beadie used her maiden name Barnes instead of her married name Broyles.
I think genealogy will throw a loop at you like that every once a while just to see if you are paying attention. That misleading original record led me astray for awhile as I tried to figure out who these people were.
True to human nature, people in that time often did not record their true marital status on the census if they were divorced or abandoned.
Creating a timeline helped me to see that this was one woman.
So, Beadie Williams, informant on her brother William’s death certificate, was the same Beadie who first married Cornelius Broyles in 1906.
Who is Etta?
Now that I straightened out who Beadie was, let’s get back to Cora’s obituary. Who was Etta H. Pulliam?
I found Etta’s obituary—she lived to be 101 (above). Etta Pulliam was the former Etta Holt. Etta Barnes married Hundley Holt in Hardin County on 24 July 1898.
After Hundley’s death, she apparently married a man surnamed Pulliam. Another fact I did not know.
I am fortunate to have been given a photo of lovely Etta with first husband Hundley by my cousin sometime ago:
Etta’s presence in the 1930 household of her sister Beadie in 1940 provided confirmation of her relationship to this family:
City directories note that Etta was a nurse, another new piece of information.
How Did I Miss All This?
Why didn’t I have Etta correctly connected in this family? After all, I knew she was a Barnes.
When I went back to Green and Rena’s 1880 household I quickly found my mistake:
The youngest child is called “Eddie” in the census. But if we look at the sex of the child, Eddie is in fact a DAUGHTER.
Probably not Eddie. Probably ETTA.
A closer read of Etta’s 1900 household with her first husband Hundley, reveals another man who never appears in any other records: 18-year-old Marsh Barnes, Etta’s brother.
One more point to make: on Cora Holt’s Social Security SS5 application, she named parents Green Barnes and Sallie Bradley.
She was not a child of Green and Rena; she had a different mother. But Cora’s obituary calls Etta her sister anyway (even though they were technically half sisters.)
I have cautioned before how we need to be very careful about that 1880 “donut hole,” my name for the 20-year gap between 1880 and 1900.
It is very easy to miss children who were born after 1880 but were out of the household by 1900. Green and Rena Barnes had at least two more children after 1880– Beadie and Marsh.
Multiple marriages of Beadie and Etta also obscured their place in my family tree.
I also ordered Beadie and Etta’s death certificates, now that I had their correct surnames.
This example was a good case study in the need to:
1) spend more time analyzing the sources you already have, to think through all the evidence and discern what all of it together says,
2) carefully read all of of the information on each census, and to
3) question our assumptions all along the road of our research.
That’s what I love about genealogy–some new puzzle or mystery always presents itself.
And I, like everyone else, still need reminding, every once in a while, of the basics. 😉
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.