Friday, August 15, 2014

The Love Story of Pomp and Annie Fenity


Be sure to check out all the videos on my YouTube channel. You can find a link to my channel here. You'll also find the videos I make for Young & Savvy Genealogists there, so be sure to subscribe!

This video is part of a new series I want to make to highlight some of my most interesting family stories. There will be more to come, and not all of them happy. I have happy stories, sad stories, stories that almost make you lose all faith in humanity, and stories that remind you why it's good to be alive. 

Stay tuned! And as always, don't forget to Like, Comment, Subscribe, and Share!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Records, Reading, and a Healthy Dose of Skepticism

This timeline was one I previously posted on Young and Savvy Genealogists. It's a feature I love, and I need to make more use of it. Be sure to pass by Timeline JS to check out how you can use this timeline on your blog and website too!

Timelines are especially important in situations like that of John M. P. Clark. The man's life has been turned into the stuff of legend. You don't need to look any further than his page to see the testimonies to his greatness.

Civil War veteran, a magistrate and judge, a Freemason, even a member of the House of Representatives for the state of Tennessee. While these accomplishments would certainly make for an impressive life, it doesn't mean that all of them are true. It occurred to me some time ago that some myth busting on this man's life was probably necessary. But I had no idea the full scope of the situation until I found this page dedicated to John Clark on Rootsweb.

There is enough confusion in these two people's version of events, in direct contradiction to the evidence, that some serious correction is in order. So at the risk of being mad at people on the internet, I'm just gonna let it out.

His Parents

Rootsweb alleges that John Clark's parents were John and Susan Clark. The FindaGrave page lists Elisha Clark and Margaret Vandeventer. Since they can't both be right, I set out to figure out who was wrong.

Because Elisha Clark is documented to have lived in Lee County, Virginia on the 1820-1840 censuses, I began searching there for a marriage record between Elisha and Margaret. There is no record of a marriage for them in Lee County. Nor is there one to be found in any of the other counties in Virginia. Or Tennessee. In fact, no amount of searching on or Google can even prove there WAS such a person as Margaret Vandeventer. Not from the time period in question, with a connection to Elisha, John, or Mildred Clark. It's like they just made up a person, slapped a name on her, and put her on the internet.

The page on FindaGrave mentions that this Margaret Vandeventer could have a connection to Sullivan County, Tennessee. In which case, the marriage records before 1863 do not exist. Birth records for Lee County, Virginia also do not begin until decades after both John and Mildred's births. Because no evidence of any kind can be presented to testify of Margaret Vandeventer's maternity to John or Mildred Clark, it is much more factually sound to say that their mother is unknown.

I can confirm with certainty that Susan Clark is not John's mother.

Elisha Clark was married to Phebe Jones on 29 October 1846 in Claiborne County, Tennessee. They're listed in the same household in the 1850 census, aged 52 and 50 respectively. John Clark and his sister Mildred are also listed in the household. You'll also see three Jones in their late teens and early twenties working there as laborers, no doubt connected to Phebe's family.

Susan Clark doesn't show up until the 1860 census, with her birthplace listed as North Carolina. If you observe all of the census record entries for John Clark from 1880 and beyond, he gives his mother's birthplace consistently as Tennessee. John and Mildred's mother is a women who predates both Susan and Phebe. And because women were counted as tally marks the US federal census before 1850, we may never know her name.

His Work

Both FindaGrave and the Rootsweb page perpetuate the myth that John Clark was a member of the General Assembly in Tennessee. The FindaGrave entry even gives the sessions to which he was supposedly elected, 1893-1895 and 1901-1902.  I hate this myth more than any of the others combined. I correct people on this one every chance I get.

Why? Because it was such an easy thing to fact check. I'm serious! One Google search. Two minutes. Two minutes to prove that people don't believe EVERYTHING they read on the internet. But instead, there are a lot of stubborn people that now have to be told the obvious in way that can only be highly embarrassing.

Why is it obvious? Because there was no session in the General Assembly from 1893-1895. That time period covers two entirely different sessions of the House. What this person is saying is literally impossible.

According to the official archive of Tennessee's House of Representatives, the 48th General Assembly was in session from 1893-1894. The 49th General Assembly was in session from 1895-1896. You will notice that John Clark's name is not on either list.

The 52nd General Assembly was in session from 1901-1902, but John Clark wasn't a representative then either. And before you get excited, I also checked this alphabetical list of all the Tennessee state Senators.

John Clark was never a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. This myth is busted.

However, the misinformation does have a grain of truth to it, as a lot of misinformation does. John Clark was never a part of the General Assembly. But the idea that he got a law passed in Nashville is true.

Available on Google Books is Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed by the Forty-Ninth General Assembly from 1895. And on pages 391-392 of that book is an act to change the boundary of Claiborne County to include all the property of John Clark, John Epperson, and William Farmer from Hancock County. And if you look at the page of the 1900 census where John Clark appears, one of his neighbors that appears on the same page is William Farmer.

So maybe someone got confused and decided that John Clark trying to change a county boundary automatically makes him a state representative.I don't know. What I do know is that a little critical reading would have avoided that mistake.

His Three Wives

John Clark was in a relationship with three different women: Elizabeth Manning, Sarah Elrod, and Nancy Bray. In that order, and not concurrently. Not sure why people try to make John Clark into some kind of womanizer. Maybe they think it's funny, I don't know. What I don't think they get is that womanizing in the form of bigamy wasn't cute to anyone at the turn of the century. It was a crime. You went to jail.

The Rootsweb page alleges that Elizabeth Manning was first, then Nancy Bray, then Sarah Elrod. But if we go to the census records (see timeline above) we can see that's a royal load of nonsense.

Elizabeth Manning came first. They were never married, and according to the census records they never actually lived together. In 1860, John Clark was living with his father Elisha (head), his stepmother Susan, and Sarah Elrod with her infant son, John Elrod. Sarah is listed in the household as a domestic, to delineate her as a servant. She will remain in the household in that position for the next 20 years.

Elizabeth Manning lives next door, and has three young sons; Henry (5), William (3), and Andrew (1). By 1870, she will add 5 more children to her brood: Mildred, Martha, James, Sarah, and Noah. If we can believe the transcription of John Clark's will on the Rootsweb page to be genuine, John Clark will eventually include Noah and William Manning in his will.

A closer inspection of these children's birthdates in comparison to John Clark's Civil War service record reveals an interesting set of circumstances. If John Clark is the father of some, most, or all of these Manning children, and he enlisted on 3 October 1862, then Elizabeth was 6-7 months pregnant with Martha Jane Manning at the time he enlisted.

FindaGrave lists four more children to this couple, born between 1871 and 1877: Andy, Elisha, George, and Albert. But when you compare the children listed in Elizabeth Manning's household in 1880, there is no child named Andy.

I swear, they're just makin' things up now!

Several of the Manning children and their mother will eventually be buried in the Clark family burial plot with John Clark. Clearly he feels a duty and obligation to these children which would logically follow if he were their father. But how many of these children are his and why he never married their mother is a mystery he appears to have taken to his grave.

By 1880, John Clark and Sarah Elrod are married. They appear on the census together, and Elizabeth Manning is no longer living next door. She took her children and moved about 10 doors down, as the census taker walks. John and Sarah appear on page 39, Elizabeth Manning appears on page 40. Considering these are farming families, the next page of the census could be anywhere from 1-10 miles away. Elizabeth Manning dies in 1888.

What happens between John and Sarah after 1880 is also a mystery. The Rootsweb user has a few more transcribed documents dated May and June of 1890, signed by John and Sarah as husband and wife. But she and her son are not included in the transcribed will, and the FindaGrave user suggests that Sarah Elrod dies in Missouri in 1929. By 1893, John Clark is married for the second time to his third wife, Nancy Bray.

Nancy Bray already has 6 children at the time she marries John Clark: Joseph, Mary, Madison, Josie, Tilimon, and Laura Griffin. Although John Clark effectively adopts these children and raises them as his own after Nancy's death, a few of the older children keep Griffin as their last name. So just to be clear, before we deal with the errors in the 1910 census, these are not John Clark's biological children.

We bring this mess to a conclusion with the 1910 census, and Tilimon and Laura have been completely adopted. They are listed as children of John Clark, along with their two half brothers Hobert and General Clark. Nancy has passed away and is buried in the Clark family cemetery.

So the moral of the story is...

If your ancestor married a bunch of people and has larger than life accomplishments attributed to their name, be very skeptical. Especially on Rootsweb. That place is a breeding ground for myths. They multiply like rabbits in mating season.

And if you're one of those people perpetuating nonsense that you haven't fact checked on the internet, beware. It's only a matter of time before someone, maybe me, comes after you...

Put 'em up!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Workday Wednesday: The Disappearance of Alfred Michaels

Finding Alfred Michaels has been for me an exercise in chasing shadows. Every time I think I've got what I need to figure out how he disappeared, he disappears again.

I recently discovered Alfred on eighty U.S. passenger lists coming in and out of Boston from 1933-1937. And needless to say, they've painted a more complete picture of his life.

Postcard from the RMS Lady Somers, Canadian ocean liner

Alfred worked on the Lady Somers, a cruise ship that traveled between Canada and the Caribbean. It made frequent stops in Boston, but also included stops in Havana, Cuba; Nassau, The Bahamas, and Kingston, Jamaica. As you can imagine, making port in this many countries greatly increases the chance of finding passenger lists. has the lists as they made port in Boston, and Alfred appears on lists for both the Lady Somers and the Lady Hawkins.

Alfred's career begins aboard the Lady Hawkins between 1929 and 1930, but the records pick up in January 1931, beginning with making port in Boston after setting sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is listed here as a general steward, among the bottom of the cruise line hierarchy. But notice that all of the General Stewards are not listed together on this list. They are organized by what part of the ship they work in--and Alfred is a General Steward somewhere in or around the garden lounge.

Alfred Michaels on the Passenger and Crew list for the Lady Hawkins, 22 January 1931

These particular rooms on the ship gave Alfred access to the passengers--a responsibility which was only given to those who were well-trained in terms of social etiquette, grooming, and personal refinement. While the stark social separation between blacks and whites would have been felt in these positions, we can also determine that Alfred was not a typical manual laborer. He likely had some education, and previous experience which would have gotten him the job. He also would have been reasonably well-trusted in terms of access to the guests.

The story continues in much the same way throughout 1931 until Alfred begins to change positions in that section of the ship. His first change happens when he becomes a smoke room steward in May, then a lounge steward in August, and eventually as the garden lounge steward in September. The higher up on the passenger list you were, the closer you were to the captain. The separation was not only one of distance on the ship, but of pay and skin color. The social order of the 1930's becomes tangible through this crew list, and we see that Alfred was concerned about getting ahead.

Imagine a roll call in which a man with a ledger passes systematically through the ship. That's the way this list is organized. We see check marks next to the names as the roll was taken. Also notice that the garden lounge room and the library are next to each other. This becomes relevant as Alfred continues moving his way up the passenger list.

Alfred remains a garden room steward for a year, between December 1931 and December 1932. We can also question whether it was a position of authority, whether the general stewards answered to him through a chain of command. If so, this was one of the few positions of its kind available to him because of his race.

Alfred Michaels on the Passenger and Crew List for the Lady Hawkins, 3 September 1931

The library steward position is one he would have had easy access to observe, if not receive some mentoring from the library steward on the Lady Hawkins. For the duration of the time that Alfred was the garden lounge steward on Lady Hawkins, William Dixon was the library steward. They would have seen a lot of each other throughout this time, and might have been friends. William Dixon was between 5 and 8 years older than Alfred, and had been on the ship between 3 and years. While William Dixon's entries vary widely, it's clear that he had been around longer than Alfred. Assuming he didn't want to take his friend's job, the only way for him to continue his upward momentum was to seek work elsewhere.

In December 1932, Alfred changes ships. Whether this was through reassignment or a voluntary change, we can't say based on these records. But once Alfred begins his service on the Lady Somers, he is working as a library steward.

On these lists from 2-3 January 1935, when some new details emerge. Alfred has also dropped 20 pounds, and now has a tattoo on his left forearm. There's no more mention of the mole on his forehead that was his only defining feature on the lists from the Lady Hawkins. And life, as they say, appears to be smooth sailing from here on out. He makes no more changes in position for the duration of his time aboard the Lady Somers. Whether he could not advance or simply didn't want to, the records don't give any hints as to the reason.

Alfred Michaels on the Passenger and Crew list of the Lady Somers, 2 January 1935

In 1935, Alfred is attempting to enter Halifax, Nova Scotia. He petitioned for entrance into Canada on the grounds of meeting his fiancee, Muriel Ince. The record is dated 31 January 1935, so by that time we can see that they've met and become engaged. But how long they've known each other or how they would have met is still a mystery. We also see that he has been denied entrance, for reasons that the records do not make apparent. They've provided codes that correspond to reasons, but I've yet to find a resource that will explain them.

Alfred Michaels on the rolls of the Canadian Immigration Service, 7 January 1935

Here is an interesting story as we read between the lines. Recall the record of his marriage to Muriel Ince. They were married on 1 February 1936, a year and a day after he was not permitted to see her.

Marriage record between Alfred Michaels and Muriel Ince
Halifax, Nova Scotia - 1 February 1936

I have a passenger list that states Alfred was aboard the Lady Somers in Boston on 30 January 1936--just two days before he was married in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Muriel must have been a nervous wreck wondering when he'd show up. And we see that a major aspect of their relationship would be his repeated and prolonged absence because of being aboard the ship.

The last record I have of Alfred aboard the Lady Somers is from 11 December 1937. It's also the last record I have of him alive. Beyond this point he disappears, and I've never had any clue as to where he went. But if you look closely at this list, you can see there's a scribbled word next to his name.

Alfred Michaels on an unmarked passenger list index provides ship name as Lady Somers, dated 11 December 1937


Vincent Lambert has the same word and some additional details next to his name. I didn't know what to make of this. His notes almost seemed like legal notes in relation to some sort of case. I don't know why I thought that, or where I got the idea to explore the other images had in this collection. But I decided to scroll through the other images to see if they didn't say something else about Alfred's desertion.

Maybe it was divine providence, because I finally got an answer:

Roll T938, Arriving at Boston, MA, 1917-1943, Roll 219. Image 249
Letter from Patterson, Wylde & Co., detailing Alfred Michael's desertion from the Lady Somers
Accessible on

Alfred Michaels was reported of participating in a robbery. And here's where we need some legal help. In our current English vernacular, theft is theft. We treat robbery and burglary as synonyms for theft. But the actual legal definition of robbery (as provided by is, "the felonious taking of the property of another from his or her person or in his or her immediate presence, against his or her will, by violence or intimidation."

These records do not reveal if Alfred is guilty. Perhaps exploring Vincent Lambert's final outcome would reveal more details of the incident. But it certainly explains why Alfred doesn't show up in any aspect of his family's life on paper beyond that point.

But the question of where Alfred went beyond this day in Boston becomes very interesting. Did he return to Jamaica to his family? Did he flee from Boston and remain in the US? Did he return to Halifax to be with his wife? Each possibility carries with it certain risks of discovery.

Sometimes being a genealogist requires us to think like a fugitive-weighing pros and cons we would never imagine in any other way. In the meantime, I have to use what I know. Vincent Lambert is a perfect stranger to me, but finding out more about him may be my only chance of finding Alfred from here.