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Hiding in plain sight

She appears on the 1850 census of Cherokee County, Alabama, as Samantha Battles.

Second in a list of seven children in the household of William and Ann (Jacobs) Battles.

Age 18.

Born in Alabama.1

And then, it seemed, she disappeared.

The working theory around here has long been that she was the younger sister of Margaret (Battles) Shew, The Legal Genealogist‘s third great grandmother.

The question was whether she was a half-sister (shared father only) or full sister (sharing both parents). William Battles was married twice, and had taken up with the second wife Ann Jacobs long before he was legally free of the first wife, Kiziah Wright.2 That running off with Ann meant I couldn’t be sure if Margaret was the daughter of the first wife or the second wife.

But since William did marry Ann in December 1830, and Samantha wasn’t born until around 1832, it seemed pretty clear that she was Ann’s daughter, not Kiziah’s, and the first daughter born in wedlock to William and second wife Ann.

So for a long time I wanted desperately to find Samantha — or more particularly to find a candidate for a mitochondrial DNA test in her line to see if the two women shared a maternal line.

Once I found a different candidate in a line from one of her sisters, it became more a matter of general principle: she was my third great grand-aunt and I simply wanted to find her.

Now in my defense I will note that the county where all these folks lived — Cherokee County, Alabama — is a burned county. The courthouse there burned not once but twice, in 1882 and 1895.3

And I did look at all the records I could think of, but I kept coming up empty-handed. I knew from a land document that surfaced after William’s death in the 1880s that Samantha was dead by then and had likely married a man named Robertson — her likely sons William, Tobe, Adolphus and James Robertson had signed that deed as heirs of her father William.4

But looking for candidates in the census records, since so many local records were destroyed, there were no Samanthas anywhere — and no Robertsons — in 1860 or 1870 or 1880 who looked close enough to the Samantha Battles of 1850 to be worth following up on.

Well, duh…

Of course there wasn’t any Samantha Robertson on the 1860 census who might be the same woman as my target Samantha in 1850.

And — sigh — if I’d done years ago what I darn well know I should have done, I’d have found her a long time ago.

I finally took the time to go line by line, entry by entry, page by page…

And there she was.

Oh, she’s not Samantha Robertson, not at all.

But Alamantha Robinson is tucked away neatly on that 1860 census of Cherokee County, Alabama,5 in the middle of her friends, family, associates and neighbors — her FAN club.6 Just two households away from William and Ann Battles.7 And two households away from Margaret (Battles) Shew and her children.8

And living with her in that household besides her husband John… her sons… twins William and James, Adolphus, Francis and Chesterfield.9 Which of those later two signed the deed as Tobe, I’m not sure yet… and I haven’t found them in 1870 yet, but…

Every line.

Every single line.

The only way to do effective census research is line by line, entry by entry, page by page…

It pays off when you’re looking for your Aunt Samantha.

Even if the census taker wrote it as Alamantha.


  1. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 136 (stamped), dwelling/family 1052, Samantha Battles in the Wm Battles household; digital image, ( : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  2. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Looking for an Alabama relative,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 1 July 2012 ( : accessed 18 May 2018).
  3. Alabama County Courthouses Destroyed by Fire, 1823-1965,” Alabama Department of Archives and History ( : accessed 18 May 2018). Note that this version of the map says the first courthouse fire was in 1822 — an impossibility since the county wasn’t formed until 1836. See ibid., “Alabama Counties.” An earlier version of the map correctly reports the first fire was in 1882.
  4. Cherokee County Deed Book L:504, Estate of Wm Battles to Rufus M. Hale, 17 Jan 1880, re-recorded 27 Dec 1899; Cherokee County Court Clerk, Centre.
  5. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, First Division, population schedule, p. 315 (stamped), dwelling/family 827, Alamantha Robinson; digital image, ( : accessed 18 May 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 5.
  6. See Elizabeth Shown Mills, QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle) (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2012).
  7. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., First Div., pop. sched., pp. 314-315, household/family 825.
  8. Ibid., p. 315, household/family 829.
  9. Ibid., household/dwelling 827.
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