I wish I had documented the steps I took as I solved this 118+ year old mystery. I look back on this puzzle to be the most instructive thing in my few years as our family’s branch historian. Consider this to be a case of having to ignore the only family document I’ve seen for this family. Yes, that’s right. I had to ignore someone’s family Bible – with M.A. Wilks maiden name.
Most of the time, a family Bible has the highest value when it comes to “proof” when moving forward (or backward) in a tree. However in this case, nothing supported the last name given – and instead I have spent the last few years finding M.A.Wilk’s maiden name from documents and having to add more than the normal evidence to my files to offset the weight of that family Bible that contained this important error.
In 2005 I signed up for Ancestry.com and began the process of filling out my family tree. My mother had died in 1982 without much information about her family. What she knew: Her mother was Shirley Justis and her mother was Luisa Wilks. My father’s side was well documented and although through the years I’ve gone on to fill his out as fully as I can, my attention has been my mother’s tree. I found on my mother’s father’s line – a Mayflower descendency – from Francis Cooke, Stephen Hopkins and his wife Elizabeth Fisher – well documented and certified through my third cousin. (And yes, I’m now a Mayflower Society member!)
But my mother’s mother line was a road block. And because I love a challenge and a good puzzle, this is my mission.
I won’t document here the steps I took to link Louisa with W.F. Wilks and her mother Mary Ann because that’s not the point of this post. I scored a major victory when I found the will of W.F. Wilks who mentioned his daughter Louisa having died, AND having been married to A.F. Justis and having 3 living children and named them each to receive her portion of his estate.
I found on ancestry.com – a cousin – who had a copy of the family Bible with the maiden name of Baucum for Mary Ann, wife of William Francis Wilks. This cousin was even kind enough to send me a copy of the family Bible. And so, I used the name of Baucum for a while, trying to fill out the tree as though this was fact. But it didn’t fit. I found the only Mary A. Baucum in Tennessee at that time married another man and had children documented that didn’t match. I hunted and looked through documents until I was bleary-eyed. Puzzled, for a while, I finally went back to my tree and removed her family so I wouldn’t be confused.
I began to gather what I could gather on my own, ignoring the family Bible and searching my own way for the truth.
First, I found W.F. Wilks (age 22) and M. A. Wilks (age 15) living in Robertson, Tn in 1860 with M.L. Cooper (head of house, female age 56 according to transcriber but it appears to be 36) Mal Cooper (female age 11) and F M Cooper (male age 4) The handwriting is messy. The date is June 1860.
Next, I unearthed a marriage license in the Tennessee county of Robertson County. I already had piles of evidence of W.F. Wilks family: He was the son of Richard Stone Wilks of Whitehouse, Sumner (sometimes noted as Robertson) county in Tennessee. It made sense that W. F. would marry nearby his home. The name on the certificate was Mary Ann Hooper. The date is March 1860.
I find the 1850 census with this Hooper family along with husband: I.N. Hooper in Sumner Tennessee, wife Mariah, children Mary Ann and Malvina. Same area as Robertson, County in Tennessee! I dig deeper to find that I.N. is Isaac Newton Hooper from Virginia. In 1856, I find probate intestate documents for I.N. Hooper and widow “Mariah L Hooper” year allowance.
This family appears to be a match. If the 1860 census taker wrote “Hooper” poorly or misheard it as Cooper, this looks like the same family especially with the unusual name of Malvina or “Mal” from 1850 census.
I next find the marriage license for Isasc N. Hooper and Maria L Hurt in Sumner County, Tn dated May 17, 1842. Maria’s (or Mariah) maiden name is Hurt. Another mother tree line!
Since there are no census that document family members prior to 1850, I turn to a pile of wills in Tennessee. I find Sumner county and look for the surname of HURT. I then found Philip Hurt’s will in 1845, (born abt 1783) naming all his children and their spouses including Mariah L who was married to I.N. Hooper along with naming his wife: Polly Allen – my next mother’s tree name and with her maiden name – Bingo! (Who were Polly Allen’s parents?)
Now to backtrack:
I have learned to track siblings along with my own ancestor to verify along the way, as I try to bring each line as close to “today” as I can via online documents. So back to Mary Ann Wilks – trying to find birth, marriage or death records for her and her children to document additional proofs of her maiden name.
I found birth records for 2 of her children in Graves co, Kentucky: Annie Wilks born in 1874 and William F Wilks born in 1876. Both giving W.F. Wilks father and M. A. Hooper for mother. (I’ve since discovered that although this family remained in Graves, the Graves county documents are missing many of the years during this time period).
I found death records for Henry Etta (Henrietta) in 1936, with informant brother Roy Wilks, giving Mary Ann Hooper as her mother’s name. Death record for Annie Wilks (married James Wyman) and buried in Texas, has her mother’s maiden name as Hooper. Informant? Her husband J.A. Wyman.
And then. And then! Oh happy day! I got the added evidence that tipped the scale so there is no doubt that Mary Ann’s maiden name was indeed Hooper and daughter of Mariah L Hurt and Isaac Newton Hooper and sister to Malvina Hooper….
I found Mary Ann Wilks and W. F. Wilks buried in the Dublin Baptist Church Cemetery. With them is buried some of their children: Louisa Wilks Justis (my g-grandmother!), Henry Etta, Samuel, William F Wilks. AND another little girl that was born and died between census records. Her name: Malvina M Wilks born Oct 1871 and died June 1872. Malvina. There it is. The unusual name that shows up here because Mary Ann was indeed a Hooper (and not a Baucum) – She had named a baby girl after her sister Malvina Hooper. Double and triple bingo!
I followed the documents and solved the mystery. Here are 10 lessons I learned solving this family mystery:
1. Never take a family Bible for complete truth without additional documents to support – especially if the family record was not written within a few years of the event.
2. Follow the siblings. Learn everything you can about the extended families, their spouses, their children.
3. Find the basic documents: Birth, Marriage, Death where they exist.
4. Follow your family through the census. Notice county lines, property exchanges and migrations.
5. Visit the cemetery where you can and read all sides of the monuments. Children may be added to the backside of monuments with great clues for the family.
6. Dig through wills – even if you have to manually walk through the probated records. Don’t rely on the index. READ matching surnames for related family members.
7. Note potential surname misspellings. Before 1950, the spelling of a surname doesn’t seem to matter. Wilks. Wilkes. Justis. Justice. Justus.
8. Don’t ignore intestate papers like inventory, auction and widow’s allowance documents.
9. If you can’t visit, call the public library and ask to speak to the genealogist. Yes, they are a treasure chest with local documents and can unearth obits that may not be indexed.
10. Don’t give up! I’m still working on locating Philip Hurt’s parents – Moses Hurt signed his surety on marriage license to Polly Allen in June 1808. A clue to the pedigree of Philip? Still searching!
This part of the tree:
My mother tree:
Philip Hurt (1783 – 1845) m. Polly Allen: Children listed in will: James H Hurt, George Hurt, Elizabeth Ann Hurt, William I. N. Hurt, Thomas C Hurt, Mariah L Hurt, John A Hurt, Harriet J. Hurt
Mariah L Hurt (abt 1825 – ?) m. Isaac Newton Hooper (1805 – 1856 son of Polly Hooper of Virginia, married first Mary Hoover 1803 – 1840, children: Daniel Smith Hooper, Sarah E Hooper): Mary Ann Hooper, Malvina Hooper (m. George T Hurt), Francis Marion Hooper 1840 – 1904 m. Mary J Phipps)
Mary Ann Hooper (b. 30 Nov 1844 Tennessee – d. 1 Feb 1898 Dublin, Tennessee) m William F. Wilks (son of Richard Stone Wilks Jr and Matilda Madora Cheatham) Children: Louisa Matilda Wilks 1863-1894, Henry Etta Wilks 1865 – 1936, Samuel M Wilks 1866 – 1887, Malvina Wilks 1871 – 1872, Annie Wilks (married James Wyman) 1874 – 1927, William F Wilks 1876 – 1966, Lillian Wilks (m Jim Davy Covington) 1879 – 1904, Roy Wilkes (m. Lillian Pryor) 1881 – 1972.
Louisa Matilda Wilks married Andrew Fuller Justis: children Mary Kate Justis, Samuel Wilks Justis, Shirley Justis