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One of The Legal Genealogist‘s favorite ancestors is Isabella (Gentry) Robertson.

A favorite because she’s such a challenge — married before the 1850 census and without a single surviving vital record (no birth, marriage or death record at all) — and because a lot of hard work succeeded in connecting her with her Mississippi parents.

But despite the research that let us definitively identify her parents as Elijah and Wilmoth (Killen) Gentry, we’d had three persistent questions: when exactly was Isabella born, what year was she married, and when (and where) did she die?

And all three were answered this past week, when I was poking around in the collections of the Portal to Texas History, the fabulous digital collections of the University of North Texas Libraries.

Now this is a website I use all the time. And one I’ve checked for family information in the past. But boy… when new material gets added, it can be so so so rewarding to check it again.

Because now — finally! — Isabella’s obituary in a tiny Texas weekly newspaper has surfaced in the digitized newspaper collection there.1

Isabella obituary

We could put Isabella’s birth year in 1832 between census records and a letter sent in October 1903 from her husband Gustavus Boone Robertson to their daughter Mary Isabella (Robertson) Hendrix. She was 18 as of the 1850 census,2 28 as of the 1860 census,3 38 as of 1870,4 48 as of 1880,5 and 68 and born in May 1832 in the 1900 census.6

But the October 1903 letter from Gustavus to Mary Isabella said he would be “76 years old next month the 7th day” and we’d always read the next part as saying that Isabella was “71 years old the (3 or 8) day of Last Month…”7 That puts the birth month as September — and the day isn’t legible.

As for the marriage, Gustavus’ and Isabella’s first son, William, is age 3 in the 1850 census,8 and a letter from one Robertson cousin to another said Isabella had been 14 when she married.9 So we figured a marriage date of 1846 or thereabouts.

As for the death, Isabella is recorded on the 1900 census, is mentioned in the 1903 letter but isn’t on the 1910 census10— so her death was likely between 1903 and 1910.

Now — with persistence and checking back on sites we’ve checked in the past — now we know more.

The obituary puts her birthdate at May 3, 1832. That’s consistent with all the census records, which all have an enumeration date of 1 June.11 There’s simply no good explanation for the “Last Month” reference in Gustavus’ letter, written just two months before his death — except that it may not actually say “Last Month” at all. A careful examination of the digital image suggests it may very well read “Last May” — and an effort to make it more legible may have added the curves that make it look like month. In any case, I’m going with May 3, 1832 as the more likely birthdate, while noting the letter and its information.

The obituary also gives a marriage year of 1847 — it almost undoubtedly occurred in Neshoba County, Mississippi, where the Gentry family was living, and where there are no known surviving marriage records before 1877.

And we have the date of death — 20 September 1908. This confirmed, by the way, by a short piece in another tiny Texas weekly newspaper, also now available online at the Portal to Texas History, reporting that “Mrs. Robertson … died Sunday and was brought here for burial Monday.”12

So… the moral of the story?

Checking back with websites you’ve already checked in the past is a Very Good Idea, and persistence pays off.

And the payoffs here? Birth, marriage and death dates for Isabella.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Persistence and the dates,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 6 Feb 2021).

SOURCES

  1. See “Mrs. Isabella Robertson,” Cooper (Texas) Review, 16 October 1908, p. 9, col. 2; digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ : accessed 4 Feb 2021). And no, there’s no Miston County, Mississippi. She was likely born in Rankin County, but ended up living in Winston County.
  2. 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 373(A) (stamped), dwelling 809, family 816, Isabella “Robinson”; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 382.
  3. 1860 U.S. census, Attala County, Mississippi, Township 14, Range 8, population schedule, p. 76 (penned), dwelling 455, family 494, Isabella Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 577.
  4. 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, TX, population schedule, Paris Post Office, p. 253(B) (stamped), dwelling 307, family 307, Isabella Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1594.
  5. 1880 U.S. census, Delta County, TX, Precinct 3, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 502(D) (stamped), dwelling 117, family 118, Isabella “Robetson” ; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1300.
  6. 1900 U.S. census, Delta County, Texas, Justice Precinct 1, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 33, p. 32A (penned/stamped), dwelling 259, family 264, “Isibella” Robertson in Geo Robertson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1627.
  7. Letter, G.B. Robertson to Mary Isabella (Robertson) and Amos Hendrix, 1 Oct 1903; digital image of original in possession of M.A. Thurmond, granddaughter of Mary Isabella.
  8. 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Miss., pop. sched., p. 373(A) (stamped), dwell. 809, fam. 816, William “Robinson”.
  9. Dorothy Ray Barton to George W. Lowe, August 2012; digital image in possession of the author.
  10. She did not appear in an index search on any census website, was not recorded with any of her children after Gustavus’ death in December 1903, and a line-by-line check of the two counties where she would be most likely to be found, Delta and Hopkins Counties in Texas, failed to produce any record.
  11. See “What day was the census taken each decade?,” U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/ : accessed 6 Feb 2021).
  12. “Community News, Sulphur Bluff, Tex., Sept. 23,” Sulphur Springs (Texas) Gazette, 2 October 1908, p. 3, col. 2; digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ : accessed 4 Feb 2021).
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