John Smith

My paternal grandfather was William Smith (1916-1972) and he was born in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida. His parents were John Smith (1885-1960) and Georgia Harris (1890-1937).

Yes, my ancestor’s name was John Smith; it is the most common name in the world! Needless to say, that name presents serious challenges to family history research on this line.

John and Georgia appeared together in the 1930 federal census as a family, and also in the 1935 and 1945 Florida State Census records.

The 1920 census, oddly and unexpectedly, reported Georgia as head of household with the surname Gardner. She had several Gardner and Smith surnamed children in her household. That suggested a prior marriage (or relationship) for Georgia, something no one in my family knew about.

The Smith Children

The birthdate of the first Smith child suggests John and Georgia married sometime around 1912, but I haven’t located their marriage license yet.

They had the following known children together: Iris, William, Eugene and Lillian. They lived on the East Side of Jacksonville, a house that my father and his father grew up in:

Smiths at American Beach beach house

John Smith Origins

John Smith was born in Georgia, but records pointed to different counties in Georgia. Jacksonville city directories identify this John as early as 1907. He worked for the Mason Lumber Company for many years and purchased his home from them.

John died on June 8, 1960 and his obituary reported him as a member of the Spring Hill Baptist Church.

John reported Simon Smith as his father on his SS5 Social Security Application, and his mother as “unknown-died at birth.” That information kept me spinning in the wrong direction for many years. It was DNA that finally solved the mystery of John Smith’s origins, at least partially.

DNA revealed that John’s father was Nelson Locklear,  a member of the Lumbee Tribe from Robeson County, North Carolina. You can read more about that amazing discovery in this post. A DNA test of my father confirmed his  Y-DNA as tracing back to European heritage, in line with the mixed heritage of this tribe (African-American, Native-American and European-American).

Georgia’s Roots

Sources indicate John’s wife Georgia was born ca. 1890.  She  died in 1937 at the young age of 45.  Georgia’s 1920 census listing as Georgia “Gardner” helped me uncover her previous marriage to Isaac Garner. The couple married in 1906 in Madison County, Florida. They had the following children together: Pete, Marie, and Cornelius.No one in my family knew that she had a prior marriage.

The Garners appeared in the 1900 and 1910 censuses in Madison Co., but by 1920, Georgia had migrated to Duval County. Isaac likely died by then, though no state death certificate records his death.

I also found Georgia’s mother Matilda living in Madison County. She was enumerated with her husband Perry Davis in 1900 and 1910.

Perry Davis was not Georgia’s father; Perry was a stepfather to Georgia and her sister Ruth. Georgia and Ruth had the surname Harris, suggesting a prior marriage for their mother Matilda.

I discovered Matilda’s name from my grandmother’s bible. Matilda was born abt. 1874. In September 2012, I had an exciting breakthrough about her. This led to discovering that Matilda’s parents were Charles and Lavinia Neely of Taylor County, Florida.

After many years, I finally discovered Matilda’s marriage to Peter Harris in Hamilton County, Florida. Peter is likely the father of Georgia and Ruth.

In 2012 , I found that Ruth Harris married a man named Nish Torrence, and migrated to Philadelphia where the family was found in 1920. Ruth and Nish had 5 children: Leonard, Ruth, Alma, Nish Jr., Katie and James. I hope to one day reconnect with my Torrence cousins.(Update: I have done just that through DNA!)

Research into both John and Georgia’s histories continues.

William Smith

John and Georgia’s son William Smith was my grandfather.

William Smith

William, born 1914, attended the public schools of Jacksonville. He completed high school at Edward Waters College in 1935.  At the age of 9, this enterprising boy started running deliveries for a local drug store called Bernies.

He spent years apprenticing and thoroughly learned the pharmacy business. William married Pauline Waters in 1938.

They met while she was teaching at the Boylan School, a private Methodist school for “negro” girls located in Jacksonville.

William kept his promise to Pauline to build a good life for them. He went on to become the owner of two very successful drug stores in Jacksonville, known as the Willie Smith stores.

A Willie Smith store

William died too young, at the age of 57 in 1972, so I did not get to personally know him. However, my family has shared many stories about his kind, generous and hard-working nature.

William and Pauline

Other Smith and Garner Children

Lillian Smith

John and Georgia had other children. Their daughter Lillian, was a graduate of Xavier University who worked for many years in DC.

Lillian had one daughter, Rosslyn. Both of William’s other brothers, Pete and Cornelius Garner (half brothers) and Eugene Smith, all died young. Eugene died in 1950 at the age of 35; he was employed as a stevedore. Pete died in 1949 at the age of 44.

William’s half-sister Marie seems to have died before the 1920 census, and I have found a possible Iris in only one source.

The only lead I have now is to try to trace two of the children of Eugene Smith (Harry and Willie James) forward in time. Perhaps they have living descendants, but the commonality of the Smith surname makes it hard to locate the right people. They migrated to Connecticut. I hope their descendants will find me one day.

I’m not giving up…the search continues!

Joshua Waters

Pauline Waters

My paternal grandmother was Pauline Waters (1915-1997). She was born in Still Pond, Kent County, Maryland. Her parents were Daniel George Waters (1875-1957) and Beatrice Prather (1888-1974).

Daniel’s ancestry can be traced back to a freed slave named Joshua Waters, who was born ca. 1776. I have Joshua tentatively back to his mother Sarah, born abt. 1755.

Joshua was manumitted  in 1819 by his owner Susannah Waters in Somerset County, Maryland.

His descendants appear as free blacks in subsequent census records. Joshua was 43 years old in 1820 and had  a wife and at least 6 children. In Maryland, over 60% of  blacks were freed before the end of the Civil War.

Daniel James Waters

My direct line traces through Joshua’s son Daniel James Waters. I found several deeds (in 1855 and 1871) of Daniel purchasing land; he had initially worked as a farmer. The deeds proved critical in tracing the family forward.

Daniel later becomes a Methodist minister with the Delaware Conference, which was the segregated conference (all-black). The Methodist church was one of the first groups in the country to ordain black ministers and to advocate for the abolition of slavery.

Daniel James appeared in Methodist records starting in 1875. The church documents his travels as he ministered at different churches on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware. Daniel James Waters married Fanny Fountain, and in 1860 they lived in the Potato Neck district of Somerset County, Maryland.

Daniel and Fanny had at least 8 known children: George, Mary, Daniel, Samuel, Henrietta, Sally, Lavinia and Maria. My lineage is through son Samuel.

By 1880, the family migrated to the city of Milford, in Kent County, Delaware. The Methodist church records Daniel’s obituary in 1894. Delaware probate records provided details about his burial and passing.

Daniel’s son Samuel Waters was my second great-grandfather, and he married Mary (Mollie) Curtis. Mary Curtis’ free black roots ran deep in Somerset County, in an area called Westover, just west of Upper Fairmount.

The deeds of the Curtis family helped trace this family as well. Anyone not researching in land records is potentially missing out on a critical component of family research.

Rev. Daniel G. Waters

Daniel George Waters

Samuel and Mollie’s son, Daniel George Waters, was my great-grandfather. He was born April 9, 1875, according to his World War I Draft Registration card.

By 1900, Daniel G. Waters was married to the former Gertude Ennals. They lived in the city of Easton in Kent County, MD with their three young children, Edna, Ralph and Pearl.

By 1910, Daniel was widowed and caring for his youngest son, Ralph, and living in Berlin (Worcester County, MD). He was also a Methodist preacher, following in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Daniel’s second wife, Cassie Smalls, whom Daniel married on 28 June 1910, died in September 1912. In 1914, he remarried for a third time to Beatrice Prather, my great-grandmother.

By 1920 Daniel and Beatrice lived in the city of Preston (Caroline County, MD) with their three oldest children, Pauline, Eugene and Walden. By 1930, the family had grown to eight, with Wellington, Ovington and Daniel Donald rounding out the bunch. Between his three wives, the elder Daniel had 11 children.

Daniel George Waters was a stern parent and a disciplined man of the cloth. He was a powerful preacher, and impressed upon his children greatly, as well as those in the community. He was very active and passionate about the work of the church. When he fell ill, Beatrice lovingly cared for him.

When he died in 1957, his obituary reflects that he was well-known and well-respected, even by the whites of the era.

Family Memories and Connections

Daniel and Beatrice Waters

The youngest of Daniel George’s children, my Uncle Donald (he’s really my great-uncle), kept alive the memory and embodies the character of the Waters family.

My Uncle Donald was the one person who I remember always talking about and sharing the Waters family tree. He had it printed out on a long paper scroll and seeing that fascinated me as a child.

His eldest sister Pauline, my grandmother, wrote a book about her life. I edited and published her book many years after her death as a birthday present for my father.

When I first started researching this line, I met a cousin online, David Briddell, who was descended from this same Waters family. He and I have collaborated over the years on this family. His ancestor Henrietta Waters was a sibling of Daniel James Waters. Cousin Daniel Briddell became an ancestor in February 2022;(.

Since that time 20 years ago now, I have had the great fortune to meet many more, through DNA testing and through

The Prather Family

My paternal great-grandmother was Beatrice Prather (1888-1974) and she was born in Montgomery County, Maryland. She was the wife of Daniel George Waters, whose roots were summarized above.

Her parents were Levi Prather (abt. 1839-1894) and Martha Simpson (abt. 1845-1910). They appeared in the 1870 and 1880 census together. After Levi’s death, Martha appears in the 1900 census, and she died in 1910.  Their descendants appeared in census records and still live in the area today.

Levi’s father was Rezin Prather and his mother was named Harriet. Rezin lived in the household with Levi and Martha in 1870. Rezin, Sr., had been enslaved by Nathan Cooke. His son Levi had been enslaved by Dorothy Belt Williams.

Martha Jane Prather and 3 of hr children

Levi and Martha Simpson Prather had 12 children that survived to adulthood. The 1900 census notes that Martha actually mothered 15 children, which implies 3 of her children died.

The 12 known children are: Mamie Jane, Idella, Cornelius, John W., Rezin, Darius, Lucy, Harriet, Beatrice, Ruth, Eugene and Maria.

I found many of their marriage and death certificates, probate and deed records. There are also stories about them that their children, nieces and nephews remembered.

The Prathers were active members, and among the founders, of Brooke Grove Methodist Church.

The Brooke Grove cemetery is the final resting place of Levi and Martha, some of their children, and many other African American community members.

They led rich, interesting lives in the late 19th and early 20th century and my goal is to trace their lives as completely as possible.

The Simpson Family

Levi’s wife Martha was a Simpson. Her mother Louisa was a free black woman, thus Martha and all her siblings were born free. In 1850, they lived in the Howard District of Anne Arundel County.

Louisa’s husband Perry Simpson was enslaved. He lived nearby. His owner was William R. Warfield. It was very common for free blacks in Maryland to be married to enslaved people.

I am fortunate that this family (both the Prathers and Simpsons) had Bible records that provided births, deaths and marriages.

Education was of primary importance and several of the Prather children attended Howard University in Washington, DC and other schools such as Armstrong.

My great-grandmother Beatrice attended the Institute for Colored Youth, which was considered an elite school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It later became Cheyney State University, the first historically black college.

Beatrice graduating from the Institute for Colored Youth


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