I had an enslaved ancestor named Rezin Prather. I thought, “What an odd name. I’ll easily be able to find him in the records.”
Guess what? It was a very popular name in Montgomery County, Maryland during the 19th century.
There were numerous African-American “Rezin Prathers” floating around the county and in nearby Washington, D.C. Which one or ones belonged to my family?
The Names the Same
This is very common problem in genealogy. Beginning researchers tend to mistake one person for another when they share the same name and live in the same place.
I needed to “sort out all the Rezins” in order to be sure that I was correctly reconstructing each man’s family accurately.
I used census,vital, deed, military records, newspapers and other records as sources for the different men. Their names, first and last, were spelled in a million different ways. (I will spell their given name Rezin in this post, for simplicity.)
The Elder Rezin
My ancestor Rezin Prather was born in about 1800-1803. He lived with his son Levi Prather in the 1870 census. Noted in the family bible, he was the same Rezin Prather who “departed this life” on Jan. 8, 1872. He is the only Rezin in the sources with that birth date.
This elder Rezin Prather likely had at least three sons: Levi, Wesley and Tobias Prather. They lived in the same community and passed their names down to their children.
Looking at the sources, I compiled a list of birthdate ranges. They describe at least six different men:
b. 1800-1803 (the elder)
b. mid 1860s
I found six marriage records in the area for men named Rezin Prather:
In Montgomery County, Rezin Prather married:
Albina Riggs, 4 March 1867
Elizabeth Brown, 10 June 1886
Annie Simpson, 13 August 1889
In Washington, DC, Rezin Prather married:
Rosetta Bowie, 18 April 1900
Ella M. Butcher, 26 May 1902
Annie D. Stewart, 19 April 1911
Rezin Joseph Prather
1) My great-grandmother’s brother Rezin Joseph Prather was born ca. March 1881-1882. He never married nor had any children. He must be the 19-year old “outlier” shown in the 1900 census living in the Brown household. In 1960, he died:
Wesley’s son Rezin R. Prather
2) From oral history, I knew that Wesley Prather’s son Rezin married Albina Riggs. In 1880, the couple was raising two children, and living just one census page over from his father.
Wesley and his son Rezin were also both carpenters. This Rezin was born around 1845 and had the middle initial “R:”
A 1900 census for an “R.R. Praither” in Camden, New Jersey sparked suspicion. He was born Nov. 1844 in Maryland, had wife Mary. E. and three children.
This man was a minister. When he died in 1903, his body was shipped back to Maryland. The death certificate verified his father’s name as Wesley Praither.
That means he was the same man who had first married Albina Riggs. He secondly married Elizabeth Brown in 1886 in Washington, D.C.
What about the wife “Mary E.” in 1900 in New Jersey? Rezin R. Prather’s wife’s name (as confirmed by city directories) was Mary Elizabeth Brown.
Rezin Singleton Prather
4) A World War I draft card identified a “Rezin Singleton Prather” born 1876. His name was garbled and transcribed incorrectly, but I found him in Washington, D.C.
I noticed that one of Rezin R. and Albina’s sons was called “Singleton” in the 1880 census (see above), born 1876.
Thus, Rezin R. Praither, Wesley’s son, had a son he named Rezin Singleton. This Rezin lived in Washington D.C. with wife Ellen Butcher in D.C. (called Elnora below).
He is further identified by his occupation as a waiter.
A Tricky Set of Sources
5) The Rezin Prather who married Annie Simpson in 1889 was never found on any census. Annie was probably dead by 1900, when her two children, Ethel and Wilson, were living with their grandparents.
Annie was referred to in her father’s will as “Annie Simpson Prather.” What’s unclear is whether or not Rezin Prather survived his wife.
In D.C. in 1900, I found the Rezin Prather who married Rosetta Bowie. His occupation was “sexton.” Rosetta Prather died on 28 May 1908.
A 1910 census intensified the mystery. A widowed 42-year-old Rezin Prather was in D.C, living with his sister “Hester Prather.” Ethel and Wilson Prather, are in his household but called “lodgers.”
The Mystery Continues
The only person who had a daughter named Hester who could have had a son born in mid 1860s is Tobias Prather. He is probably the same Rezin who was first married to Rosetta.
Had he been the one married to Annie, Ethel and Wilson should have been labeled as his children, not lodgers. (Read the update in red below. They were his children!)
Another clue was his occupation as a janitor in a church. That’s close to what a sexton does, which was the occupation of the man who was married to Rosetta. This man was still in DC in 1922, according to city directories, working as a janitor.
This “other” Rezin Prather, born in the mid 1860s–the one who first married Annie Simpson–next married Annie D. Stewart in 1911.
He appears in the 1920 and 1930 census records in Montgomery County. I do not know who this man’s father was. His death certificate, if I can find it, should be hepful. I think he was the 14-year-old “outlier” in 1880:
Update, puzzle solved: I found an obituary for this Rezin Prather, who died in 1944. This Rezin Prather married three times: 1st to Annie Simpson, secondly to Rosetta Bowie, and third to Annie Stewart!
I found his death certificate and he was indeed the son of Tobias as I had posited in this post.
Is your head spinning yet? Learn how to track identities and not just names, especially if same-named people live in the same locale.
The Final Analysis: There Were Fix Reasons, Not Six
b. Born 1800-1803: “elder” Rezin Prather, d. 1872
b. Born 1840-1845: Rezin R., mrd Albina and Elizabeth, died in NJ, minister
b. Born early 1860’s: This Rezin married Rosetta only, then Annie Simpson, then Annie Stewart. His father was Tobias Prather.
b. Born 1876: Rezin Singleton, son of Rezin R., waitor, mrd Ellen
b. Born 1881-1882: Rezin Joseph, never married, his father was Levi
Tips for Sorting Same-Named People
*Watch out for “outlier” children and teens, especially in 1880 and 1900. By outlier, I mean people not living with their families in the census. African-Americans, especially, often lived in other households as servants or lodgers and not in their parent’s households.
*Be aware of middle names and initials. I often find people using their middle name in one document and their first name in another.
Be on the lookout for multiple marriages. They can impede our ability to discern between one person and two.
*Use occupations, addresses, city directories and deed records to distinguish between people. Sometimes city directories include names of, which is extremely helpful.
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.