It is amazing what can be discovered when you scrutinize your previous research. Sometimes it’s that new records are available that weren’t before. Other times it’s that your skills are better.
I am quite happy to be my own biggest guinea pig and continue to prove this mantra be true.
In this case, I was reviewing Phillip Holt. Phillip was the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather John W. Holt. Earlier in my research, I’d located Phillip and wife Louisa living in McNairy County, TN in 1880.
I never found them again and thought Phillip died. Death seems to have been my go-to rationale when I couldn’t find someone anymore, LOL.
Phillip married a woman named Louisa (maiden name McClain). She was enslaved on a neighboring farm.
Louisa’s mother Lucinda was living with the couple and their kids in the 1880 census below:
That dreaded 20-year gap between 1880 and 1900 is a notorious black hole where ancestors can easily be lost. That’s enough time for kids to be born and out of the house and you’d never know they existed at all.
We’ve got to be in the business of assessing correct identities, and not just matching names.
Some time ago I found this 1900 census record in Madison Co., TN:
I quickly dismissed this as not being the right man for two reasons. Number one, the wife was Lula instead of Louisa (which really shouldn’t have thrown me off). Number two, the mother-in-law was Emma Rodgers, implying the wife’s maiden name was Rodgers.
Finding My Mistake
It’s good that I decided to look at this more closely. The availability of the Tennessee Death Records database helped to solve this puzzle.
I found Lula Holt’s 1931 death certificate, and it confirmed that her mother’s name was indeed Lucinda McClain.
My prior assessment was too quick to assume that the 1900 census information was accurate; it was not.
Emma Rodgers was not Phillip Holt’s mother-in-law. Who knows why the census reported that relationship. We don’t even know who provided the information to the enumerator.
I’m really excited that Phillip has “come back from the dead.” I was able to isolate his timeframe of death, and track a few more of his children through 1930.
Also, Jackson, Tennessee is a larger city than some of the other places in which the family lived. I’m hoping to eventually find more about him, or better yet, some living descendants.
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.
This is so true. I encountered a similar situation with my great grandparents. They were living in Washington DC from during the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Then my great grandfather disappears and my great grandmother is listed in the census and the city directories as a widow. However, my great grandfather appears in the 1930 census in Caroline County, VA (where he was originally from) living with his brother and his brother’s family. He died around 1933 and I have the death certificate.
So the moral to this story is, you can’t assume a person’s spouse is deceased just becuase the person is listed as a widow/widower.
Thank you for this response. I too have run into ancestors who were listed as widowed or otherwise spouseless in their household after years of being a part of a couple.. It is always a good idea to take a closer and longer look. I found a trend, especially for the women who were divorced or abandoned by their men. Divorce was a stigma and also an embarrassment. Identifying oneself as widowed seemed to be the acceptable answer. In one case I found the divorce papers, in another I found the dead husband with his new family two counties over.
I just found this site and I’m having the time of my life with all the comments. Thanks all!
[…] Reclaiming Kin blog has a posted called “Phillip Holt is Not Dead After All.” This post is a reminder to all of us to go back and review our […]
I am glad that Phillip Holt “came back from the dead” for you. I can totally relate to this post which reminds me I need to go back review some more of my previous research.
Emma Rodgers’ relationship is incorrect but I wonder if she is related to the family.