26 June 2014

That's Not My Name!

Having information about a person with no evidence is like copying the answer on a test that requires you to show your work. It doesn't matter that you have the right answer; if you can't prove it, is it really an answer? Do you get full credit? Can you really feel secure that it IS the right answer?

That has been my relationship so far with John H. Bennett and Mary Arthur, parents of Lillian Belle Bennett.

Lillian is pretty well documented in the lives of her children. I have her listed as mother in numerous obituaries and birth records, so I've always been confident that she really is the mother. But no amount of searching was revealing who her parents were. In fact, the last time I knew this much about someone and still couldn't get anywhere was with Annie Rorer. It just didn't make sense, given that Lillian didn't appear to be any sort of orphan like Annie was.

So the first time I saw Lillian's parents listed as John Bennett and Mary Arthur was some time when I was in college. Whether it was Rootsweb or an Ancestry tree or some other such place I don't remember. All I remember, and have been working through ever since, is that no one ever provided any sort of evidence. 

They gave the answer--Lillian Belle Bennett, married to Charlie Keatts on 23 September 1890, but didn't show any work.

In hindsight, I see now that I was never going to find the answer on the internet. And it wasn't until my research trip to Pittsylvania County that I discovered what the problem was... really, what the problems were.

The first problem is that Pittsylvania County publishes almost none of their records online. They're in books, on microfilm at the Library of Virginia, or on site in the Clerk of the Court's office in Chatham. But not online. Google all you want, it just won't happen.

The second, infinitely more frustrating problem, is that Lillian is not her real name. In fact, I have no idea WHAT her name is!

On this census record, her name is Martha...

John H. Bennett and family on the 1880 Census in Pittylvania County, Virginia
Also note that Absalom and Elizabeth Bennett also appear. This will become relevant shortly.

On this marriage record, her name is Linda...

Marriage record for Charles L. Keatts, dated 23 September 1890

On this marriage record, her name is "Sis"...

Marriage record for Giles Keats and Callie May Fenity, dated 24 December 1936

But on this one...

See top left: Marriage record for Charles H. Keats

And in this obituary...

Obituary for Posie Lester Keatts

Her name is Lillian.

First off, let's answer the important question. How do we know that this information is accurate? Well, look at some of the ancillary information on the records. All of the information for her husband's family is correct. Husband, Charlie Keatts with father Richard C. Keatts and mother Susan. The date also matches the date given be the anonymous tipster of yesteryear.

The real solution would be to find some other documentation to settle the matter. And fortunately for me, the holy grail of all evidence was also available in the Clerk's office in Chatham, VA.

The chancery court case settling the estate of Absalom Bennett, grandfather of Lillian/Linda/Martha and father of John H. Bennett.

Absalom Bennett had quite a bit of property. At his death, he was old enough to have grandchildren, and in some cases great-grandchildren. There were so many different descendants that had legal claim on the property that the only thing to do was to sell the farm, settle the debts, and divide what was left among a LONG list of people.

John H. Bennett portion of the heirs list for his father, Absalom Bennett
Note that the name in the image for the daughter in question is Sis Keatts
What you see here is a genealogy which was handwritten between 1915 and 1917 to establish paternity for my great grandfather, Giles Blanton Keats. Through his mother--referred to throughout these records as Sis, Lillian, Linda, and Lil--we have decisive legal evidence that proves their claim to this estate, and to this family. Lillian's father is listed as John H. Bennett, son of Absalom Bennett.

Which brings us to a happy close with this marriage record for John H. Bennett and Mary Arthur, married on 12 May 1868 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia!

So in the end, what is my great great grandmother's name?

I still have no idea.

And this may be the one time in my research that it truly doesn't matter, because I figured it out anyway.