Mary, Mary... Where Ya Hidin'?

Before the next pet obituary pops up, let's get in another genealogy/DNA post. Am I even trying to type up a trip report for the Alaska cruise, you ask? Yes! Trying! But - despite the contradictory evidence of my previous cruise reports - the writing requires some brain cells to be firing, and lately my brain in a loop of "pack, recover with a game of Bubble Witch, hit reload on the DNA results, pack some more." And "pack" is more like "drag shit out from every corner and make apartment look like an episode of Hoarders so that each packed box will be thematically consistent" followed by "then photograph the about-to-be-packed object and enter it under its appropriate category in the Itemizer app on the iPad so that when all this aforementioned shit falls off the container ship in the middle of the Pacific, as happens to containers every single year, I'll have not just my dim memories but also a photo of that skirt I used to love so much, the one with the mirrors along the embroidered hem."

(Followed by "hide behind computer on sofa, conveniently out of sight line of main packing zone, and pretend that having the again aforementioned shit covering the entire apartment in an incredibly tidy way isn't gnawing at my very soul" because, listen, there may be more desert dust on my furniture than I can keep up with on a daily basis, but organized-and-in-the-closet is a fetish of mine.)

But yes, the genealogy.

The other day something great happened: I may have found an incredibly promising lead on my great-grandmother's grandmother, the closest relative whose family is missing in my tree. I've been searching for her a long time, and my grandmother Mimi (who just passed away a few months ago) was always very keen to know the story of her mother's mother's people. This is (a poor scan from the .GIF days of) her grandmother, Mary E. Stark. (At right, seated with bouquet.)

Portrait - Stark, Mary


It was Mimi's birthday, actually, when this all went down. As I've mentioned before, when I look at my matches, quite a few "private" trees pop up. People set their trees to private for various reasons, the merits and misunderstandings surrounding which aren't worth discussing. It's their tree; it's their rules.'s recommendation is that you contact people with private trees and ask for access.

I have 997 DNA matches as of this afternoon. If my tree were private, and those 997 matches messaged me asking for access or more information or whatever, my head would go kablooey. Even if you didn't have to scrape my noggin-bits off the ceiling with a spatula, I'd have a hard time replying to those 997 people (and this is just from the past three weeks - what happens when this DNA test is out of beta and available to all?) in any kind of a timely manner. Why do I bring this up? We'll get there.

Of my 997 matches, at least 158 are private trees. I have to say "at least" because Ancestry doesn't have a way to sort by private/public. I can only sort by unopened, starred, and "everything," and this week three of my 53 starred matches made their trees private. If that stat is typical, then about another ~24 trees or so have probably gone private. (A quick scan of my first page of "everything" results does, in fact, show a few trees I'd previously looked over are now private.) So, let's say about 18% of results are private. Again, why am I pondering these numbers? We'll get there.

One thing I do every few days is quickly scan through my (currently seven) pages listing unopened matches to see if anyone has made their tree visible. The 348 unopened matches I have this afternoon include the 158 private trees and 112 matches who do not have a tree linked to their results. The remainder is made up of those whose trees are too small at the moment to regard as likely or unlikely.

So there it was, Mimi's birthday. I'd already called my Dad and moved on, though, and wasn't thinking about this when I did my scan of the unopened pages and, hey, newly unlocked tree!

I opened it up. It was a Low confidence match, but I've already discussed how many of my promising matches come from the Low/Very Low range. (It only makes sense, since there are so many of them.) We had for surnames in common: "Newton," "Perry," "Stark," and "Young." Sigh - all common names. I'm shocked there wasn't also Brown, Davis, Harris, Jones, Smith, Thomas, Thompson, Williams, and so on because, believe me, most of my matches seem to have them. (And I dutifully open each one, as you should. You never know.)

When I clicked on "Stark" and saw it was in Louisiana, I paused. Hold on now. This could be something.

Here's a good place to tell you what I know about my Mary E. Stark.

The first time I saw the photo above, my grandmother said, "That's Mamaw's mother with her sisters and her father. I think it was her wedding day. I think she may have come from Mississippi."

Later, as I was hip-deep in nothing in my research of Mary Stark, I asked Mimi why she thought it was Mary's wedding day. (She didn't know but guessed it was because she had the bouquet while the other girls had single flowers.) I asked her why she thought Mary might be from Mississippi. (She didn't know.)

On the census, Mary's children always said their mother was born in Louisiana. However, Mary died when they were infants, and Mary's husband (Frank Rials) went on to marry twice again. He'd also been married once before. All three of the other wives were definitely born in Louisiana. The fourth wife raised Mary's kids from childhood. They called her "Big Mom." With the usual allowances for census error thrown in as well, I wouldn't take what was said to the censustaker as gospel.

But still, I had no clue.

Other than two more clues, that is. I knew when Mary and Frank married and where: 1888 in Saint Landry Parish. A time and a location, huzzah! Yeah, except Frank had been in Caldwell Parish a few years before and would be in Rapides Parish (and remain there) a few years later, so he was a bit of a scooting man. Who's to say he didn't court a woman across the Louisiana/Mississippi border. Or even just across the Saint Landry Parish border. It's a great lead, but again, dangerous to restrict yourself to this place and time.

Mamaw's father (Frank) kept three of his marriage licenses (and his first wife's first marriage license) folded up in a little cigar box. Mamaw inherited them, then Mimi inherited them from her. Mimi made many copies for everyone. She was wonderful at sharing all family documents, videos, and so on. If she thought you cared, she'd make you a copy. She had an office in her bedroom closet from which she ran her ministry, so typing, faxing, copying - all this was in her bailiwick.

After Mimi passed away, I made a hi-res scan of the original, which of course I will share (my "of course" is foreshadowing):

Marriage - Rials and Stark

It's this document which gives Mary her middle initial. Her name and the date of her death in 1895 comes from the Rials Family Bible, which my grandmother gave to me as a gift about 15 years ago. I copied all the data from it then put the Bible in my mother's fireproof safe. I wish I'd made a scan because I regret to say that I don't know where the Bible is now. Hopefully it was moved along with the rest of my parents' stuff (so much of which has yet to be unboxed). However, my mother developed early Alzheimer's, and although I know my Dad made sure all the sentimental stuff was saved when they sold much of their property and moved, I can just imagine that safe getting accidentally left behind and unopened, sitting among the ephemera of a family business that did not end well. I can also imagine that safe being carefully preserved and stored with the ceiling-high piles of boxes my father has in storage. It's a bit of a Schrodinger's Bible at this point. Best not to think about it. I just wanted to explain that why you have to trust my eyewitness account of the family Bible's information and not yell out "Screenshot or it didn't happen!"

In other and related nerd references, and because I think today is the day I'll pack all of my mid-90s dot-com T-shirts and my recent Woot T-shirts into a big box of nerdy goodness, here's a Woot shirt I own and like:


Mood lightened, let's continue.

So, let's recap: I had a photo, a name and death date from a family Bible, a middle initial and marriage date/place from a marriage license, and two hazy maybes from my grandmother's recollection.

I found possible matches in the 1880 census for a Mary Stark (or M. Stark, or Starks, or even E. Stark, or Maria, or Mariah, and so on - you know how the census is), but without knowing her birth date or if Frank was even her first husband, they could be mine or not mine at all. Certainly no Stark family in the known or adjacent parishes was catching my eye.

If you're a genealogist at all, you've already started clucking your tongue. Or, if like me, muttering profanities that go like this: "The %^$#% 1890 census! %^$#! ^&%^$ to hell!"

If you're not a genealogist, maybe you don't know about what happened to the 1890 census. I'd tell you myself but then I'd get all riled up, which is what keeps happening when I try to type my cruise report. Right now I'm stuck on our night in Portland two days before the cruise and how hipsters ruined the elevator for everyone. Anyway.

If the 1890 census had survived (if ^&%#^ dumbass bureaucrats hadn't destroyed it - argh! - mustn't think!), I would've found Mary and Frank together, two years married and my Mamaw just a baby. The census would've told me Mary's age, her birthplace, and where her parents were born. Yeah. This is why you don't talk about the 1890 census around genealogists, okay? Or if you do, use it as a way to gain favor with them by swearing and lamenting appropriately.

I've said that Frank married twice more after Mary. He also had one more child, my Uncle Verna. Here's a picture of Uncle Verna with Mary's two sons, my Mamaw's brothers, Dan and Cole.

Portrait - Rials, Dan, Verna, and Cole

Dan, at left, was a dry cleaner. Verna eventually lived with him and his wife (they were childless) and worked in the store. Cole went to Angola for shooting the man his wife was sleeping with. Uncle Verna told me it wasn't so much for the murder, but for the way he reloaded and kept going. After getting out of Angola (where he was enumerated in the 1930 census), Cole went to work with Uncle Dan as well. (Something I didn't know until yesterday when a 1936 city directory for Shreveport came online. See, genealogy is never done. The fact that I haven't put Uncle Dan's brilliant World War I diary with photos online is proof enough.)

I digress, though. Uncle Verna and I entered a correspondence in the late 1990s before he passed away, and he couldn't tell me anything else about Mary. I've never met a descendant of Frank's first wife who could, either. I did all of the usual searches: succession records, newspaper articles, cemetery records - oh, the amount of microfilm I sent for and pored over! Mary didn't exist online in anyone's tree back then, but today you can find her dead-end history in scores of trees, all originating with when I first started sharing my family history online in 1995. That makes searching for descendants who might know something a bit irritating at times, but as someone who keeps notes on distant cousins myself, I can't complain.

(Although I do wish people would cite their sources - not because it's "mine" but because it leads to better research - but that's a battle we're not going to win for the foreseeable future.)

So. Mary. The big brick wall. Unless someone someday found a diary or letter from a relative who mentioned Mary in an identifiable manner - and hey, it could happen - things did not look good. Things have been sitting around not looking good for almost 20 years.

There was a brief hum of "Hmmm" some years back when I was staring at that marriage license, stumped as always. Then I noticed this signature:

Signature - JT Scott

And I thought, "I've seen that before."

I looked around my other records and found it:

Marriage Bond - Stockman and Smit

Ah. Okay, so we've been talking about Mamaw's parents, right? Mamaw was married to Dadaw (yes, they have real names but I'm not making you learn them right now). This is the marriage bond for Dadaw's parents in Rapides Parish, 1883, five years before Frank and Mary were married.

I remember calling Mimi. Hey Mimi, the person who was security for Dadaw's parents' marriage was a witness at Mamaw's parents' marriage. I guess they knew each other even before the Rials family moved to Rapides Parish.

But, honestly, that didn't necessarily mean much. It was a smaller world in those days. All these parishes butt right up against each other, you know? In fact, although Mary and Frank were married in Saint Landry Parish, when I went to look up Frank's residence in Saint Landry in 1900 (because "Police Jury Ward 6" on the census form doesn't mean much to me), I found that it was around Turkey Creek.

But wait, Turkey Creek is in Evangeline Parish. I know this because Cole, Mary's wayward child, died there. (Once, in the course of my research, the mayor of Turkey Creek once left a message on my machine saying he knew of Cole and thought he had a daughter. I've never found the daughter, but it does point out that we're dealing with small places, even today.) Ahh, but Evangeline Parish wasn't formed until 1910... from Saint Landry. (I remember my elderly cousin Gracie saying, on one of Mimi's videos, how her family was asked which parish they'd prefer to live in when the government was setting its boundaries.)

So really, Mamaw's parents and Dadaw's parents lived a straight north-west shot of 16 miles away from each other by modern roads. No surprise that they ran in the same circles. In fact, Mamaw's other half-brother married one of Dadaw's sisters. Now, if only one of them had married a Stark!


So let's appear to digress once again and talk about this J.T. Scott. I must admit that I had so much clear information on Dadaw's side of the family that I didn't really feel a need to find out who J.T. Scott was. I know that may appall some people, especially those of you who only work on a few branches of your family tree. Me, I want to know about it all, so there's not much incentive to scrape into the corners for scraos when the story is already well formed and so many other lines needed my attention more.

Still, it wasn't too much longer before I realized that "J.T. Scott" was probably the half-brother of Dadaw's father. The family history said that his name "Rough Scott." I had seen him in the 1850 census as a baby as "Zachary Taylor Scott." I didn't see him in the 1860 census (remember the days of cranking through census pages by hand without an index), and in the 1870 census he seemed to be the same "J.T. Scott," but since Dadaw's father and siblings were scattered after their mother (and each of her three husbands) died, it could also be some relation to his half-brother. You have to be careful with assumptions, etc etc.

At some point I did find him in 1860, saw that he was enumerated as John, made a note of it, and carried on with life. Looked like he changed his name to John (his father's name) after his father died. So J. T. Scott on the marriage bond was probably the half-brother. Okie doke. Brother or friend, we already knew it was a small world.

In recent years, having a bit more time to revisit the collateral lines plus having the ease of synching Family Tree Maker with Ancestry (and receiving thousands of "hints" to explore), I found "Ruff Scott" in the 1880 census. He was married to a woman named Narcissa. "Huh," I thought. See, I had two more pieces of information passed down from Gracie about Ruff: one, he died from drowning. Two, he married a woman named Eliza.

But, again, you know how it is with the census. Her name could be Narcissa Elizabeth or he could have another wife or Gracie could be wrong - blah blah blah. Again, lots of "hints" to explore, not a lot of motivation to sort out the wives and descendants of my great-grandfather's half-uncle while there are more immediate relatives and hotter leads to explore. (I'm not saying I don't want all of this info, but I do have other interests in life, not to mention work, family, critters... Don't be armchair quarterbackin' my methods, y'all.)

Now let's come back to my grandmother's birthday. This person's tree is made public. I see the name Stark. Expecting another dead end, I see that her Starks were in central Louisiana. Interesting. But I've looked at central Louisiana Stark families before and came up with nada. It's just one of those fairly common names that you will run across everywhere. Look at Game of Thrones.

I noticed, though, that her ancestor was born in Mississippi. Hm. Well, that is interesting.

I noticed that her Stark ancestor was married in Rapides Parish. Okay. Tell me more.

I noticed that her Stark ancestor had several sisters. Interesting..

I scanned their names and dates. No Mary, and they all died decades after she did, and they all had first and middle names, which ruled out not only Mary being a middle name but Mary perhaps causing a scandal so great that her husband marked her as dead in the family Bible, but really she went on to live a full life while her children thought she was dead. (Not a story I wanted to embrace, but my mind was open.)

Sigh. It was a Low confidence match. I shouldn't hope for much.

Still, perhaps Mary was a cousin to the ancestor. Forget the DNA side of things - here were some Starks in central Louisiana that I hadn't ruled out before. Of course I should keep looking further up the tree.

Alas, the tree only went one generation further. I looked at the patriarch, born in Alabama but usually enumerated in Mississippi. I clicked on one of his census links. Maybe there would be another family of Starks nearby, a family I'd looked at before but couldn't see the connection.

But all I had to do was look at his family. There he was. There was the match's ancestor. There were all the sisters she'd listed. And there was another sister. Named Mary.

Holy smackoli.

I checked the other censuses. Mary in 1860. Mary in 1870. M.L. in 1880. (Forget the L! We all know you never rule someone out because records appear to have different middle initials.)

A Mary Stark. From Mississippi. With several sisters. And a mother who apparently was out of the picture (literally, in my case, and not on the 1880 census). With a connection to central Louisiana in the 1880s.

Okay. Okay. (My mouth as my brain spins.) Okay. Calm down, Shari. "Mary" is about a common a name as it gets. Why wasn't Mary listed as a sister, though, when she's right here in the census and called "daughter" of the head of household?

I decided to look at the other sisters in my DNA match's family tree.

And I saw that one sister, Eliza, married a John Taylor Scott. In Rapides Parish. In 1884. And? They had a son named Levi.

Dadaw's half-uncle J.T. Scott aka Rough Scott aka Zachary Taylor Scott was raised by a stepfather named Levi before he died a few years later and his mother then married Dadaw's grandfather. Levi would've been the only father he remembered until he was 11 years old.

I checked the Rapides Parish marriage records. There it was: J.T. Scott married Eliza Starks (note the variant). Well, I'll be. Had I seen this before? If so, it must've been before I'd noticed J.T. Scott's signature.

But even if I'd gone looking for the wife of the half-brother whose signature was on the marriage documents of two sets of gg-grandparents years before their children married, I wouldn't have found her parents. Matching an Eliza Stark of unknown age to the right Stark family in the 1880 census would've been just as fruitful as hunting for all the Mary Starks. Not just common names, but Eliza's family was never enumerated in Louisiana. I would've felt like I was getting into sketchy territory. Rough Scott was dead by the 1900 census, and all of his 1880 census children were grown. Yes, there's an Eliza Scott in the 1900 census, a widow (and it has turned out to be the same Eliza), but at this point, not knowing then what I know now, it would've still been a far-afield search for connections that I've only recently had time to consider making. I'm not going to beat myself up (too much) over not trying harder to follow such a trail.

Furthermore, my DNA match seems to be the only person on the internet researching this family. Kind of like I'm apparently the only person researching Mary. I've since seen one other researcher, who lists Mary as a sister and calls her "Mary Ellen," but this researcher has no sources and has some odd info, like not having all of the sisters from the census, and giving them a mother born after the oldest sister. Still, where there's smoke there's fire - perhaps his or her version plus the census will tell the whole story.

And she says that Mary Ellen died in Louisiana. I'll be writing her tonight. Maybe she's the one with the family story that changes everything.

Of course I have written to my DNA match, but she hasn't logged on for a week. When she does, she'll probably be overwhelmed with correspondence (since her tree was private) plus sorting through all of her new matches. (They come daily for me.) Still, I hope I hear from her soon. Why does she document everything so well but not list Mary as a sister?

So, I have a lead. A good lead. Or a frustrating coincidence. Mary E. Stark... maybe Mary Ellen Stark? It's your time to shine. I've got a good feeling about this.

I spoke of foreshadowing up above, and I ran all of those numbers for a reason, but I also spoke of time. A better blogger would carefully edit out all that business and save it for another post, a post in which she makes a case for just staying the heck away from genealogy message boards where people see you make suggestions for ways to share trees in a way that's good for DNA matches but without giving up much privacy or even data and interpret it to mean OMG SHE WANTZ TO STEALINS OUR DATA AND LOOK AT OUR PRECIOUS STUFF AND MAKE PUBLIC TREES MANDATORY AND ALSO PUT ALL OUR BANK ACCOUNT NUMBERS ARE ON FACEBOOK AND MAKE US HAVE ABORTIONS WHILE PRAYING TO HEATHEN GODS... yes, it got that bizarre, illiterate, and hysterical. But as I often say, that's a story for another day. I've got to chase my Mary!

And pack. Alas, "chasing my Mary" feels like a metaphor for packing - work and work and nary a dent made. But now, hope for Mary and boxes both!

18 August 2012 |

Previously: Vanessa
Next: Tagxedo Cat






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