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For you, George, it’s close enough…

Every year, as the year begins, The Legal Genealogist takes note of the major milestones of family history that the New Year will bring.

And so it was, on 9 January 2021, that I noted that this year should have been one where my family marked a major 200-year milestone.

Yesterday, 5 March 2021, should have been the 200th anniversary of the birth of my second great grandfather George Washington Cottrell.1

You can see it right here, in this statement he made to the Bureau of Pensions in an application for a pension for Service in the Mexican War: “I am 68 years of age, having been born at Madison County KY 3 miles from Lexington on the 5th day of March, 1821.”2

George pension

So yesterday should have been his 200th birthday, right?


Operative words: “should have been.”

Because essentially nothing George ever said has turned out to be the truth.

Let’s start with the fact that Madison County, Kentucky, has rich, deep and well-preserved records — and there’s not a hint of a Cottrell family anywhere in Madison County around 1821.

A birth year of 1821 doesn’t square with either of the two census records were he was recorded. In 1850, he was recorded as 40 years old,3 and in 1880, as age 59.4

Now a man can be forgiven for not knowing his exact birthplace — he wasn’t old enough to pay attention to landmarks, after all — and we don’t know who provided the information for the census enumerations.

But there’s really no excuse for the fact that 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, Texas5 — was in Parker County, Texas, in December 1853.6 Or maybe in Johnson County in December 1854.7

And lest you think that’s just another detail he might have been mistaken about, let me remind you that these statements were made in various documents in his applications for a pension for service in the Mexican War. A war in which he did not serve.8

We won’t even get into the facts that his first appearance in the Texas records was his marriage to his first wife, Mary Gilbert,9 his second appearance his indictment for bigamy and adultery because of that marriage,10 or his last appearance in the court records of that part of Texas his indictment for murder.11

Which pretty much explains why he told his family he’d been in the Mexican War. Telling them he’d been on the run from a murder case probably wouldn’t have been as good a story.

So I suppose, George being George, 5 March 1821 is as good as it’s going to get.

So happy 200th birthday, George.

For you, it’s close enough.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Happy 200th birthday, or maybe not,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 6 Mar 2021).


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Milestones, 2021,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 9 Jan 2021 ( : accessed 5 Mar 2021).
  2. 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.
  3. 1850 U.S. census, Tarrant County, Texas, Navarro District, population schedule, p. 89 (stamped), dwelling/family 3, G W Cotril, age 40, in the Archie Robinson household; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Jan 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 910.
  4. 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, age 59; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Jan 2021); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1232.
  5. 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.
  6. Survivor’s Claim, 23 March 1887, pension application no. 7890 (Rejected).
  7. Ibid., Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890.
  8. 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.
  9. Colorado County, Texas, Marriage Book B: 38, Cotrell-Gilbert; County Clerk, Columbus.
  10. Colorado County, Texas, Criminal Court Minutes Book A&B, p. 217, Republic of Texas v. G.W. Cottrell, Criminal Cause File No. 251 (1843); District Court, Columbus.
  11. See Wharton County, Texas, District Court Minute Book A: 9 (13 October 1848); County Clerk, Wharton.
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