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Looking back to 2016, forward to 2017

Stories in The Legal Genealogist‘s family take us back a long way in America on the maternal side and in Germany on the paternal side.

milestones 2017Stories that begin, in this country, in the late 1600s. Stories in Germany that we can take all the way back to the late 1500s.

Some of them, astoundingly, given my family’s tendency never to let the truth get in the way of a good story, that may even possibly be true.

And some of the possibly-true ones — that is, the ones that I’ve managed to document with something other than a marginal note that one of the family storytellers told me so — had very big milestones in 2016 or will have big milestones here in 2017.

These “big milestones” are events that were exactly 50 or 100 or 150 or 200 years ago — or more! — during the year.

And they’re the kinds of milestones that we shouldn’t allow to pass without pausing to reflect.

Looking back

In 2016, for example, we can probably put a critical birth into the 300-year milestone category: my fifth great grandmother, Dorothy (Davenport) Baker, was born 2 Nov 1716, probably in Virginia.1 And despite the fact that I was an editor on the most recent of those histories, I still don’t have the specific source information on this — and the one man who said he did have it died in 2013.2 Sigh…

In the 200-year milestone category was the marriage of my fourth great grandparents, Boston Shew and Elizabeth Brewer, in Wilkes, County, North Carolina. Exactly when it occurred, we don’t know — there’s no specific record of the marriage itself. But Boston signed a marriage bond as to his marriage to Elizabeth, with his brother Simon as surety, on 18 September 1816.3 And they lived together thereafter as man and wife until her death sometime after the 1850 census.4

And the marriage of Boston and Elizabeth’s great granddaughter, my grandmother Opal Robertson, fell into the 100-year milestone category in 2016. She and my grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell were married 19 October 1916 in Wichita County, Texas, after Clay — nearly three years too young to marry legally — lied about his age on the marriage license. Crazy kids. The marriage was doomed, of course… they only lasted until his death 54 years later.5

Looking forward

In the 250-year milestone category for 2017, we have the birth of my fourth great granduncle, or second cousin five times removed depending on which line you’re looking at, William Wiseman on 5 August 1767.6

This is a dude who gives me running fits first and foremost because — sigh — he’s William son of William, and he’s from a first marriage where there were much younger children born to a second marriage and so people are constantly trying to assign some of his younger siblings to him instead of to his father.

But he’s also a dude who — allegedly, at least — caused no end of grief to his sister, my fourth great grandmother (and, yeah, she’s also my second cousin five times removed), Dorothy (Wiseman) Baker. He was the culprit, at least to hear her tell it, in submitting marriage information to the Pension Office that erroneously reported the year of her marriage to David Baker.7

See, her husband David had served in the 3rd Virginia Regiment during the Revolutionary War,8 and had gotten his own pension which stopped on his death in 1838.9

When Dorothy applied for a pension in her own right years later, she submitted proof of her marriage saying she was married 9 August 1795.10 But the law at the time gave more favorable benefits to those married before 1794. So Dorothy swore there’d been a mistake — and it was all William’s fault.11

Didn’t work — and you know she was sure annoyed with that boy…

In the 200-year milestone category is an unusual milestone — both because of its nature and because I actually can prove it. My 3rd great grandfather Elijah Gentry was ordained on 7 November 1817 as a Methodist preacher — admitted into full connection and elected to Deacon’s Orders in the Mississippi Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.12

He’d been admitted on trial as a “junior itinerant” preacher by the Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church back in 1814,13 and rode circuit in the Amite, Chickasaw and Pearln River circuits14 before settling down and marrying.

Considering how many of my ancestors were … um … less than upstanding members of the community, shall we say? — it’s neat to have Reverend Elijah in my direct line.

In the year’s 150-year milestone category is the birth of Tante Anna, my grandfather’s aunt, Anna Emilie (Graumüller) Nitschke Zons, about whom I’ve written before.15 I never met Tante Anna, or for that matter any of my father’s family. Most of my life, I believed that all of his family had died before I was born. And the only ones I ever heard of, besides my grandparents, were Tante Anna and Tante Liesl — the latter actually a cousin and not an aunt at all.

But I heard so much about Tante Anna that at least I had some sense of connection with my father’s side of the family. And I’ve learned enough about her to admire her gumption: widowed early, she emigrated to the United States with her brother Emil in 1904,16 went back to fetch a niece (the Liesl I had heard of) and brought her back to Chicago as well,17 worked menial jobs, remarried late in life18 and…

Amazing woman.

In the 100-year milestone category for 2017 are the additions of two family members, one of whom I never had a chance to meet and one of whom I did meet — at almost the last possible moment.

I never met my aunt Ruth, my grandparents’ first-born child, born 12 August 1917, in Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas. She was just a little more than six months old when she died,19 a so-called “failure to thrive” baby.

We have so little to remember Ruth by… the story of how tiny and perfect she was… a grave marker that reads, “Our Darling.” Yet never forgotten. My grandmother’s obituary reads, in part: “preceded in death by … Ruth Marie…”20

I did get to meet her cousin, Frederick Merledon Gottlieb, only son of my grandfather’s sister Maud, born on 17 May 1917 at Wichita Falls, Wichita County, TX.21

He was the cousin who walked my mother down the aisle at her wedding to my father. The cousin who cracked up his own father’s car in his effort to reach Colorado from New Mexico in time for the wedding.22

And the cousin that I almost missed out on: I’d wanted to meet him, had exchanged email and letters with him, but hadn’t managed to get out to New Mexico until… until … until something — some intangible that was more than just Fred’s advancing years — told me I had to go, and go right then. I listened to that inner voice, had a great trip, and just a few months later, Fred was gone — a sudden unexpected illness had stolen him away.23

And, finally, in the 50-year milestone category for 2016 is a sad milestone: the death, on 22 November 1967, of my uncle, J.C. Barrett.24

A World War II and Korean War veteran, an Air Force retiree, Barrett was only 47 when he lost his battle with glioblastoma. He left six children behind, including the little girl he had raised as his own after he married my aunt — then a young divorcee with a child.25

The older ones, I know, remember the Barrett I remember: kind, with a great heart, and an even greater sense of humor. But the younger ones… I don’t know… the brain tumor had affected him greatly over the last years of his life. I don’t know how much of the man I knew and loved was really still there when his boys were old enough to have any real memories.

I guess in part that’s why I have to write this blog. Why I have to tell the stories. To make sure that those I remember aren’t forgotten… that these milestones continue to be remembered down through the generations.


  1. See e.g. John Scott Davenport, Judy G. Russell, Linda E. Davenport, The Pamunkey Davenport Papers : The Further Chronicles of the Pamunkey Davenports, CD-ROM (Charles Town, W.Va. : The Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 2009).
  2. Judy G. Russell, “RIP John Scott Davenport,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Jan 2013 ( : accessed 23 Dec 2016).
  3. Wilkes County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1816, Boston Shew to Elizabeth Brewer; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  4. See 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 6 (stamped), dwelling/family 75, Elizabeth Shew, age 60, b NC; digital image, ( : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  5. Judy G. Russell, “The marriage that would never last,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Oct 2015 ( : accessed 23 Dec 2016).
  6. Maribeth Lang Vineyard and Eugene M. Wiseman, William Wiseman and the Davenports (Franklin, NC: Genealogy Publishing Service, 1997), 6-9, 13.
  7. See Judy G. Russell, “The marriage date,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Aug 2013.
  8. Compiled Military Service Record, David Baker, Corp., 3rd Virginia Regiment, Revolutionary War; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, microfilm publication M881, Roll 951 (Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Board, 1976); digital images, David Baker file, pp. 12-17; ( : accessed 23 Dec 2016).
  9. David Baker, Final Payment Voucher, 3rd Quarter 1838; Selected Final Payment Vouchers, 1818 – 1864, Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, 1775 – 1978, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  10. Affidavit of applicant, 14 Apr 1849; Dorothy Baker, widow’s pension application no. W.1802, Fold3 David Baker file p. 7.
  11. See Judy G. Russell, “The marriage date,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Aug 2013.
  12. Methodist Episcopal Church, Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773-1881 (New York: p.p., 1883), 288-289.
  13. Methodist Church records, Millsaps Library, Jackson MS; Lindsay Papers collection (Conference historian card files).
  14. Methodist Episcopal Church, Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773-1881, 261, 283, 298.
  15. See Judy G. Russell, “December’s child,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Dec 2016 ( : accessed 1 Jan 2017).
  16. Manifest, S.S. Graf Waldersee, 6 Oct 1904, p. 31 (stamped), lines 29-30, Emil and Anna Graumüller; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 15 Dec 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 501.
  17. Manifest, S.S. Pretoria, 23 Aug 1907, p. 160 (stamped), line 13, Anna Nitschke; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 15 Dec 2016); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 972.
  18. Cook County, Illinois, marriage license no. 1134492 and return, Theodore Zons and Anna Nitschke, 10 Nov 1926; County Clerk’s Office, Chicago.
  19. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell. See also Dutton Funeral Home (Iowa Park, Texas), Record of Funeral, Baby Cottrell, 22 February 1918; digital copy privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  20. “Cottrell,” obituary, The Central Virginian, Louisa, Va., 17 Mar 1995.
  21. Texas State Board of Health, birth certif. no. 20585, Frederick Gottlieb, 17 May 1917; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin. And see “Personals,” Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Tex., 18 May 1917, p. 8.
  22. See Judy G. Russell, “Missing cousin Fred,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 May 2013 ( : accessed 1 Jan 2017).
  23. Ibid. See also “Frederick M. Gottlieb,” obituary, Albuquerque Journal, 11 Jan 2005.
  24. Virginia Department of Health, Death Certificate No. 67-030867, J C Barrett, 22 Nov 1967; Bureau of Vital Records, Richmond.
  25. See Judy G. Russell, “The kitten, the mudballs and Thor,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Jul 2013 ( : accessed 1 Jan 2017).
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