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Kentucky to Tennessee to Texas?

Genealogists, truth be told, have favorite ancestors.

We don’t always admit it — we feel somehow we should love and honor them all equally, the way a parent is supposed to love the children all equally.

But we all really do have those special folks hanging from some branch of our family tree who just call to us.

Mine… mine is George.

My rascal of a second great grandfather who has led me a merry chase for years.

George Washington Cottrell, who died in Texas in 1891, may very well never have told the truth to anybody about anything.

He said he was born on 5 March 1821 “3 miles from Lexington in Madison County, KY.”1

Except that Madison County isn’t — and never was — that close to Lexington. And except that — sigh — there isn’t even a hint of a Cottrell family in the rich, deep and well-preserved records of Madison County.

And if he was born in 1821, why does the 1850 census show that he was 40 years old?2

Which, by the way, doesn’t square with the only other time he got found by a census enumerator — in 1880 — and then was recorded as age 59.3

He gave a whole ration of different information about his marriage to Martha Louisa Baker. The marriage — which was actually recorded in January 1855 in Johnson County, Texas4 — was in Parker County, Texas, in December 1853.5 Or maybe in Johnson County in December 1854.6

And we won’t even get into the question of the Mexican War pension he tried to get — with absolutely not a single shred of evidence that he ever served in the Mexican War.7

But one thing about George is still a real mystery: who were his parents?

I really don’t think he was from Madison County, Kentucky. But there is a candidate George from Shelby County, Kentucky. He fouled up his handling of his father’s estate and hightailed it out of town. Very much like the behavior of the George of Texas.

And where did that George go?

According to one record — an 1840 deed — he landed in Hamilton County, Tennessee.8

Tennessee… where I am sitting, at this moment, writing this blog post, and getting ready to speak at the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society.

George… I’m coming for you, buddy.

You and I really need to get together.


  1. Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890, 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.
  2. 1850 U.S. census, Tarrant County, Texas, Navarro District, population schedule, p. 89 (stamped), dwelling/family 3, G W Cotril in the Archie Robinson household; digital image, ( : accessed 18 May 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 910.
  3. 1880 U.S. census, Parker County, Texas, Justice Precinct 6, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 139, p. 458(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 10, George W Cotrell; digital image, ( : accessed 18 May 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1232.
  4. See Weldon Hudson, Marriage Records of Johnson County, Tx. (Cleburne : Johnson Co. Historical Soc., 2002). Also, Marion Day Mullins and Norma Rutledge Grammer, “Marriage records, Johnson County, Texas, 1854-1880,” manuscript; FHL microfilm 227498 Item 5. And see “Johnson County Marriage Records, First Book,” Footprints vol. 11, no. 4 (November 1968) 125-128.
  5. Survivor’s Claim, 23 March 1887, pension application no. 7890 (Rejected).
  6. Ibid., Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890.
  7. I wrote a whole article on that little tidbit. See Judy G. Russell, “George Washington Cottrell of Texas: One Man or Two?,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 105 (Sep 2017): 165-179.
  8. Shelby County, Ky., Deed Book G2: 152, deed of partition; County Clerk’s Office, Shelbyville; KDLA microfilm.
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