Archive for October, 2002

The birthday

Monday, October 21st, 2002

I just got off the phone wishing — or, more accurately, trying to wish — my nephew Ian a happy 20th birthday. He’s a junior at the College of William and Mary and, as usual, he wasn’t in his dorm room. He’ll get the voice mail — eventually.

But I got to thinking about some of the other 20th birthdays in our family, and how the world has changed in just a couple of generations. In particular, I got to thinking about my grandfather, Ian’s great grandfather, Clay Rex Cottrell, and how different HIS 20th birthday must have been.

Clay was born in Iowa Park, Texas, on April 20, 1898. His parents separated while he was still in grade school; he lost his mother to kidney disease just after he turned 14. He was just barely 18 and working for his brother-in-law Morris Gottlieb (his sister Maude’s husband) in a jewelry store in Frederick, Oklahoma, when the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life came into the store. Opal Robertson’s mother did NOT approve of him; he and Opal ran away together a few months later and were married in Wichita County, TX, on October 19, 1916.

So by the time Clay turned 20, he had been married for a year and a half… and had already buried his first child. Ruth Marie was born on August 12, 1917, and died on February 22, 1918. And he’d also had to register for the draft in early 1918 (he was called to active service in August).

It’s easy to think that our 20-year-old boys today have it easier and they do, in some respects. Our 20-year-olds are usually not husbands and fathers; they usually have not lost a child; at least today they don’t face imminent conscription into a foreign war. But their world is a more complex one than that of their great grandfathers. It’s a world of terrorism, of 9/11, of roadside snipers, of information availability and technology their great grandfathers couldn’t have dreamed of.

It’s hard to say, offhand, who history will say really had it easier: today’s 20-year-old Ian or his then 20-year-old great grandfather Clay.

Where are you, Michael J. Robertson?

Sunday, October 20th, 2002

Where is Michael J. Robertson, son of Ray Chester and Mary Buie Robertson? I can’t find him, and I want to!

When my cousins Paula and Bobbi and I got started with this genealogical research some months ago, we went onto the message boards on both Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com to look for information and to ask for help in our research. And on one of the boards we found a message posted in April 2001 from Michael Robertson looking for information about his father’s family.

I’d love to be able to help him, and to share information with him, because Michael’s father Ray was my grandmother’s brother. But when we tried to email him, it turned out he had one of those @home addresses that disappeared when the @Home network did. We tried the attbi replacement many @home customers had but that didn’t work.

So where are you, cousin Michael? I sure wish you’d get in touch…

The case for Isabella Gentry

Sunday, October 6th, 2002

My great great grandparents were Gustavus and Isabella Robertson. We know at least a little about Gustavus’s forebears: his father, William M. Robertson, lived with them from before 1850 to after 1860. Question: who were Isabella’s
parents?

Her youngest son, my great grandfather Jasper Robertson, told his family his mother’s maiden name was Gentry. Another son, George, said the same thing when he provided information to the State of Oklahoma for Jasper’s death certificate in 1912. The family of a daughter, Mary Isabella Robertson Hendrix, reported Isabella’s maiden name as Isabella Gentry for Mary Isabella’s death certificate in Colorado in 1950. So let us search for Isabella’s family among the
Gentrys of the day.

She first appears of record in the 1850 Winston Co MS census at age 18 married to Gustavus B. Robertson (spelled “Robinson”), age 22, with sons William, age 3, and Elijah, age five months. Since she gave her first son her husband’s father’s name, perhaps she gave her second son her own father’s name. So let us search for an Elijah Gentry.

Her census records uniformly give her father’s place of birth as Georgia. So let us search for an Elijah Gentry born in Georgia.

She was born in Mississippi in 1832. So let us search for an Elijah Gentry born in Georgia whose children would have been born in Mississippi by the early 1830s.

She was living in Winston County MS in 1850, so let us search for an Elijah Gentry born in Georgia whose children would have been born in Mississippi by the early 1830s and who would have some connection to the Winston County
MS area by 1850.

And there was such a man. A Methodist preacher and early surveyor, Elijah Gentry matches the search criteria in every particular. The evidence, albeit circumstantial, is compelling:

- Elijah Gentry was born in Georgia in 1797.

- The Gentry family lived in Winston County at the time of the 1840 census and moved to next-door Neshoba County by the 1850 census.

- All known children of Elijah and Wilmoth Gentry were born in Mississippi, and the known birth years range from as early as 1817-18 to as late as 1836-37.

- On the 1840 census, there were two female children living at home, one between five and 10 years old and one between 10 and 15 years old. Neither girl is shown on the 1850 census. There are two other known Gentry daughters. Martha Ann was married to George W. Thomason in 1836 and thus cannot be either of the daughters of the 1840
census. Nancy was married to Amos T. Humphries in 1845, had a reported year of birth of 1829 according to the Gentry Family Genealogy magazine (and confirmed by the 1850 census, which lists her as 21) and thus was most likely to be the female child aged 10-15 years in 1840. Isabella was eight years old in 1840 and would perfectly fit the missing
5-to-10-year-old on the 1840 census.

- There is no other known Gentry child born between 1829 and 1834 (Isabella was born in 1832).

- There is no other Gentry family in Mississippi in 1840 with a female child born in Mississippi between 1830 and 1835.

That’s not all:

- Betty McAndrews (whose husband Wayne descends from Isabella’s son Bird Alexander through his daughter Allie) indicates that her mother-in-law had been told that Isabella was associated somehow with the name Rankin. The
Gentry family was in Rankin County between 1823 and 1833 (and thus it would have been Rankin County where Isabella was born in 1832).

- Michael Robertson (grandson of Jasper through son Ray Robertson) said his family Bible indicates that Isabella had brothers named Bill and Lije. Two of Elijah Gentry’s sons were named William and Elijah.

- Every single child of Isabella’s shown on the 1860 census (in Attala County MS) had a name parallel to that of a Gentry child: William, Elijah, Bird or Byrd (Ira Gentry’s middle name was Bird or Byrd), Martha, Nancy and George.

- Mary Ann Thurmond (granddaughter of Isabella’s daughter Mary Isabella) has a letter from G.B. Robertson to Mary Isabella in which he signs their names “GB R and IR Robertson.” An article entitled “Gentry” written for the
Rankin County MS Historical Society by two great great grandchildren of Elijah Gentry (Helen Maxine Wilson Smith and Clarence E. Wilson are children of Willow Isabelle Gentry Wilson, daughter of Jacob Elijah, son of John Wesley, son of Elijah) identifies the children of Elijah and Wilmoth Gentry as: (1) Martha Ann; (2) Elijah K.; (3) Ira Byrd; (4) John Wesley; (5) “G.B. (daughter) married I.R. Robertson”; (6) Nancy A.; (7) William Jefferson; and (8) George Washington.

Given this circumstantial information, my working hypothesis is that the information “G.B. (daughter) married I.R. Robertson” is a mere transposition of names, and that, in fact, it was Elijah and Wilmoth’s daughter I.R. (Isabella R.) who married G.B. Robertson. But boy would I love some documentation…