Twists and turns of the family tree

Finding the links

You just have to love it when a family history keeps unfolding before your eyes, and the roots keep twisting and twining and tying folks together.

Here’s a case in point.

One hundred and thirty years ago yesterday, Mr. John H. Green married Miss Mary E. Cottrell in Parker County, Texas.1

Some eight years and five months earlier, Mr. M. G. Cottrell married Miss Mattie Johnson, also in Parker County, Texas.2

Now we all know better than to play the the-name’s-the-same game, right? Just because M.G. (my great grandfather Martin Gilbert Cottrell) and Mary had the same last name, spelled the same way, living in the same county (or at least marrying there), doesn’t mean they had to be related, right? I mean, there isn’t even a census record putting these two in the same household.

So… is there anything else about these marriages that would provide any clues?

Well, let’s see here. The Cottrell-Johnson marriage license was issued by R. W. Duke, Clerk of the Parker County District Court.3 The Green-Cottrell marriage license was issued by L. C. W. Patton, Clerk of the Parker County Court.4 No help there.

The Cottrell-Johnson marriage was performed by R. S. Proffitt, Minister of the Gospel.5 The Green-Cottrell marriage was performed by … well, well, well. Looky there… R. S. Proffitt, Minister of the Gospel.6

So who was R. S. Proffitt? He was a Methodist minister and storekeeper who moved to the area of Centre Mills, on what became the Hood County-Parker County border, in the 1850s.7 On 25 September 1867, he registered to vote in Hood County in the special post-Civil War registration, and declared that he had lived in Texas and in Hood County for 12 years, dating his arrival there back to 1855.8

In 1881, Robert S. Proffitt was named postmaster at Centre Mills.9 Four years earlier, the person named as postmaster there was Charles Baker.10 Charles Baker was the brother of Martin Baker, whose daughter Louisa married my nemesis 2nd great grandfather George Washington Cottrell.

“Center Mills” was the post office nearest to where that nemesis 2nd great grandfather lived when he filed his Mexican War pension application in March 1887.11 It’s where Louisa (Baker) Cottrell’s brother Josiah Baker lived when he served as a witness for Louisa’s application for a pension based on George’s service a decade later.12

Now of course that’s not all I have tying M.G. Cottrell and Mary (Cottrell) Green together. There are minor little details like their death certificates, four months apart, in 1946, which both name G.W. Cottrell as their father13 and the fact that M.G. actually died at Mary’s home in Levelland, Hockley County.14

But that guy Proffitt? He also performed the marriage of Solomon Akers and Mary Perkins Johnson in 1877.15 Mary was Mattie (Johnson) Cottrell’s sister. Their mother, Mary (Fore) Johnson, was the sister of Josiah Baker’s wife Nancy, and…

See what I mean? You just have to love it when a family history keeps unfolding before your eyes, and the roots keep twisting and twining and tying folks together.


  1. Parker County, Texas, marriage license and return, John H Green and Mary E Cottrell, 4 Jan 1883; County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford.
  2. Parker County, Texas, marriage license and return, M G Cottrell and Mattie Johnson, 27 Aug 1874, County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Parker Co., Tex., marriage license and return, Green-Cottrell (1883).
  5. Parker Co., Tex., marriage license and return, Cottrell-Johnson (1874).
  6. Parker Co., Tex., marriage license and return, Green-Cottrell (1883).
  7. T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman, Okla. : Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1986), 120.
  8. Hood County, Texas, Voter Registration roll, p. 266, no. 292, R. S. Proffitt, 25 Sep 1867; digital images, “Texas, Voter Registration Lists, 1867-1869,” ( : accessed 4 Jan 2013).
  9. “U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971,” Centre Mill, Hood County, Texas, Robert S. Proffitt, 1881; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Jan 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication M841, roll 124.
  10. Ibid., Centre Mill, Hood County, Texas, Charles Baker, 1877.
  11. Claim of a Survivor of the Mexican War for a Pension, George Washington Cotrell, 23 Mar 1887, pension application no. 7890 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cotrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; Records of the Bureau of Pensions and its Predecessors 1805-1935; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  12. General Affidavit, J.A. Baker, Center Mills, Hood County, Texas, 19 Mar 1897, in support of widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; RG-15; NA-Washington, D.C.
  13. Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 13603, Martin Gilbert Cottrell, 26 Mar 1946; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin. Also, Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 32464, Mary E. Green, 12 Jul 1946; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  14. “Frontier Baptist Minister Dies,” Lovington (New Mexico) Leader, 29 March 1946; digital image, clipping, received from Lea County N.M. Historian David Minton, privately held by J.G. Russell.
  15. Parker County, Texas, marriage license and return, Solomon Akers and Mary Johnson, 11 Nov 1887; County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford.
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22 Responses to Twists and turns of the family tree

  1. Kay Haden says:

    And the very best part of the twisting and turning as you locate the records that reinforce each other, is that excitement building deep inside – you know this has to be your family!

  2. Judy – I really enjoy stories about the twists and turns of family marriages. I had a whopper of one myself, and when I located an obituary put everything in perspective. It gave me another two twists and turns! Thanks for a great article!

  3. Having southern ancestry in Virginia and North Carolina, these delightful twists happen to me all the time. My tree twists instead of branching on more than one occasion. Great post as usual!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Our southern trees (and loads of northerners too) sure have twists and turns, don’t they, Anne? Makes it frustrating — and fun!! — to track ‘em!

  4. Definitely twisty and turny! I love following your detection, with your expert attention to details in marriage licenses, voter registrations, and pension files. Lots of these folks knew each other. And it seems pretty likely from their death certificates that M. G. and Mary were siblings. Doesn’t it?

    Apparently I’ve missed the story of why your 2nd great grandfather George Washington Cottrell is your nemesis? Does it have something to do with slave ownership? I ask because Texas is mentioned, 2nd gg could be approx. slavery times, and because last week I found a kind of “nemesis” in my 7th great grandfather (which I’ll blog about). BTW, I listened to your webinar about Slaves and Property and found it extremely enlightening! (In an oh-my-god-whites-stacked-the-law-against-blacks-after-the-Civil-War sort of way. : – ? )

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Mariann, M.G. and Mary were definitely brother and sister — though it took me a while to gather enough evidence in a reasonably exhaustive search to be sure.

      As for George being my nemesis, sigh… the problem is I don’t think he ever told the truth in his life. I’ve written about him here (as a Texas ranger); here (when my research efforts in his supposed home state of Kentucky proved a bust); and here (when another researcher alerted me to the fact that he’d been charged with murder). I’m still chasing George… and I’ll catch up to him someday!

  5. I have had similar experiences with my Carlton and Port families. These two Irish Protestant families emigrated from Northern Ireland throughout the first half of the 19th century. They all seemed to had landed at Fayette county, Indiana at some point. The part that has made the story more convoluted is that the family didn’t all leave Ireland at the same time. There is a spread of about 20 years. In addition, several siblings from each family have intermarried, meaning Carltons marrying Ports or vice versa. The last members of the family appear to have fled Ireland near the end of the potato famine in 1848, and earliest member arrived in the 1820s. I seem to leave this family alone for long stretches but then my cousin catching techniques inevitably snag another and we are left to try and untangle these family lines. I really wish some had had the foresight to write this stuff down in the first place! :)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I really wonder if there’s a genealogist alive who doesn’t say, at one time or another (and in my case almost daily), “I really wish some had had the foresight to write this stuff down in the first place!”

  6. Sally Searches says:

    Will there be a quiz? I need time to study ;) This was fun and I’m sure familiar for many of us.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m an educator. Of course there’ll be a quiz! And you’ll have to stay after school if you don’t get it right! :)

  7. Jeff says:

    Yeah, twists and turns of the family are fun. Especially when you solve them! In my own family, I have an interesting t & t, my great grandfather was one of ten kids. One of his younger sisters moves to Janesville, Wisconsin sometime during the early to mid 1880′s. A few years later, one of her younger brothers moves there and marries a local girl.

  8. Celia Lewis says:

    Love this “everyone knows everyone marries each other” families! I’ve just hit some in England for a client where there are 5 individuals using each other’s surnames as their middle names… obviously two very close families I must say! But oh, that wonderful “got it this is it I got it it’s the one” feeling – so exciting!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      >> each other’s surnames as their middle names

      Oooooh…. yeah, that’s enough to bring on the genealogy happy dance for sure!

  9. Jana Last says:

    Great post and excellent detective work. I think you deserve extra credit for researching Robert Proffitt’s history too.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Jana — but absolutely NO extra credit here. He’s clearly in my family’s FAN club (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) and tracking his history gives me a better chance of adding to my own family history!

  10. Anne Willson says:

    Oh, yes! And when the daughter from his first marriage marries her son from her first marriage and the daughter from his second marriage marries her son from her second marriage!!!! And then you wonder why they never told you great-great-grandma’s surname? Well, they did…but it didn’t change! I think I’ll call my genealogy blog, “Trees, Knots and Knotholes” (The knotholes are the brick walls.)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      LOVE the blog name. And yeah I was just reviewing one of those situations with a cousin by email. Seems that my 4th great grandfather David Baker married, as his second wife, Dorothy Wiseman (from whom I descend). David’s oldest son by his first wife, Thomas Baker, married Dorothy’s younger sister Susannah Wiseman. And on it goes from there…

  11. Melissa Kitchens says:

    My g-g-grandmother, Prudence Alexander Hendrix, married Will Roberts (second marriages for both). Her daughter, Jessie Hendrix, married Will’s son, Ernest Roberts. Prudence’s other daughter, Gertrude (my g-grandmother), md. Charlie Schmitz. Will Roberts’ daughter, Mary Roberts, married Charlie’s brother, George Schmitz. This is the most convoluted branch of my family tree, and my dad asks me from time to time to explain it to him, even though he personally knew several of these individuals.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      That’s wonderful! Frustrating, I’m sure, but WOW — talk about twists and turns!! Your Hendrix family — where from? (I have Hendrix cousins, one of whom is a regular reader here…)

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