Week 35: Help, part 2: Second opinion, please

August theme: Help

[Note: I have found more info, and am adding edits within brackets.]

(Week 35 is a “free space” later this month. I’m doing it early. My blog – I get to make – or break – the rules.)

I’m writing this seeking help from fellow genealogists. I want to make sure I’m not making leaps here. I am dealing with such common names as David Smith and Mary Smith….

I am researching a family for a friend. There was something of a mystery concerning one ancestor, and I think I’ve solved it. But I need another pair of eyes (or two, or twelve…)

David Beall Smith was born 22 Jul 1868. His death certificate says he was born in Georgia, but all the censuses say he was born in Texas. I believe Texas is correct. His death certificate also names his parents as David Smith and Julia Beall. [Found his marriage license, which names his parents as David Smith and Mary Beall, and gives his place of birth as El Paso, Texas.]

Father David Smith was a dentist. He was born 8 Dec 1848 in Valdosta, Lowndes Co, GA. He married widow Jennie Crozier Day in 1875 (David Beall Smith was about six at the time.) He died 27 May 1894 (and is buried at “my” Oakland cemetery.) His obituary identifies David Beall Smith as his son “by his first marriage” but does not name the wife. It also states that he lived in Texas for a few years after finishing Dental School.

I found two marriage indexes for David Smith in Marion, TX for 15 Jan 1867. One identifies the bride as H. M. Beall, and the other says M. H. Beall. [The license says M. H. Beall, and the certificate says H. M. Beall. Both were done 15 Jun 1867, and were recorded on 21 Jun. Interestingly, the minister who performed the wedding was named H. M. Mathis – and I think he reversed her initials when recording it because that was the way he was used to writing them.]

Given David Beall Smith’s middle name, the mother listed on the death certificate, and this marriage record, I feel confident that his mother’s maiden name was Beall.

Father David was the son of Owen Smith and Jemima Mathis. [So far, I think it is just coincidence that the minister who signed David and Mary’s marriage certificate was also named Mathis.] On Jemima’s findagrave memorial is a listing of her children (taken from a book that I am trying to get a copy of), which includes David, born 1848, who married “Mollie Beagle” of Griffin, GA. (Griffin is in Spalding Co.)

I think Beagle may be a poor transcription or understanding of Beall. Mollie fits with the H. M. / M. H. initials, and is a likely nickname for Mary.

I found a Mary H. Beall on the 1850 (surname transcribed as Bell) and 1860 censuses in Spalding Co, GA. She is the daughter of Josiah and Martha Beall, and was born about 1848 – same year as David Smith.

The problem, though, is that all the ancestry suggestions then pointed me to Mary H. Skelton. Her death certificate identifies her as the daughter of Josiah and Martha Beall, and wife of William L. Skelton.

This threw me for a hot minute, because I had assumed that M. H. Beall had died in Texas prior to 1875, and figured I had the wrong person. But two girls the same age, in the right county, with matching initials and surname…?

I searched for William’s marriage record, and learned that he married “Mrs. Mary H. Smith” in 1890!

I further learned that his first wife was Ida Johnson Beall – sister of Mary. William and Ida are living in Mississippi in 1880. The next listing includes Mollie Smith (right age, born in GA). Her entry is checked in the “widowed / divorced” column.

I cannot find David, Mary, or David Beall in any 1870 census. David Beall is living with his father and stepmother in 1880.

Later censuses of Mary and William Skelton state that Mary had zero children. Her obituary lists a daughter, but it is actually William and Ida’s daughter, born 1881, and Mary’s niece / step-daughter.

My conclusion is that David and Mary married in 1867 in Texas (how and why they were in Texas is not clear, as both were born in GA.) They had a son a little over a year later. Sometime between his birth and 1875, they divorced. David returned to GA. Mary went to live near her sister in MS. After Ida’s death, William and Mary both returned to GA where they married a few years later. It seems that Mary did not acknowledge her son. Did her husband know? [Given that Mary used the Smith surname prior to her second marriage, her family certainly knew of her marriage to David. William and Ida did not marry until 1874, so William may not have known about Mary’s child. On the other hand, everyone ended up living in Atlanta, so perhaps they did.]

I have no idea where the name Julia came from – but info for the death certificate was given by David Beall’s son, and if there was no contact, he may not have known. (Mary did have a sister named Julia, but that may be a coincidence.)

The names are common. There are a couple facts that don’t fit (such as Mary having zero children, and the name on the death certificate being Julia). I want this to be true, and solved, but maybe I am guilty of wishful thinking. Do my explanations of these make sense, or am I reaching?


  1. Amy says:

    I think you have developed a good theory for what happened and it seems reasonable. I think the things that don’t fit have reasonable explanations for why they are like that.

    The name Julia on the death certificate is likely just an error by David’s son, and understandable as he would have never met his grandmother and I doubt his father would have talked much about her because the divorce may have happened before he was old enough to have memories.

    I suspect Mary’s husband knew about her son because of his marriage to her sister Ida. You don’t say when William and Ida married but if they were married during the time of Mary’s first marriage or shortly thereafter I would think Ida would have said something to William. But based on the stigma that divorce held at the time it would be understandable that Mary wouldn’t want to publicly state that she had a child, which would bring up questions.

    Excellent work pulling together all the different facts, and for following up on the Skeleton information!


    1. ferreestyle says:

      I really, really appreciate your reading and thoughtful comment. William and Ida married in 1874, which was likely after Mary’s divorce. Her marriage and birth of her child took place in Texas – I haven’t placed any other family member in Texas, and am not sure how Mary ended up there. Did she follow David there? I feel sure that her sister would have known about the marriage – After all, Mary used the Smith surname. Depending upon how soon the divorce happened, she may have not mentioned the child. They didn’t used to announce pregnancies due to high rate of infant mortality and such. If Mary had (wild speculation here) post partum depression or something that made her abandon her family, she may have been embarrassed to mention it. On the other hand, if the divorce happened after they’d moved back to GA, everyone would have known. There seems to have been very little contact, though, between the child and his mother’s family.


  2. Barbara Tose says:

    Is it possible that no divorce took place? Mary could have told people that her husband had died with a name as common as Smith – at least until the were all living in the same area again. Have you found the marriage certificate for William Skelton and Mary Smith? What is her marital status on that document? I have a cousin who married a second time, listing himself as single when I’m pretty certain he hadn’t divorced his first wife. In fact, I think he continued on with the first wife while he was “married” to the second and third wives (and this was in the 1940s and 50s.)
    Perhaps my mind always goes to the less upright ideas but I also wonder if Mary’s sister Julia might have lived with Mary and David and perhaps was the mother of David Beall. That would explain Mary never having any children, not acknowledging “her son” and possibly leaving her husband. David, on the other hand, could pass his illegitimate son (David Beall) off as that of his wife. I realize that this is unlikely but have you explored the life of Julia Beall?
    Overall, I think you’ve laid out your research in a clear and precise way, making clear where you know and where you are speculating. With records being sparse in some areas and common names, sometimes you simply have to go with your gut while letting others know that your conclusions might be refuted should new evidence some to light.


    1. ferreestyle says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I was able to find actual images for David’s marriage (just has names – hers is M. H. Beall), and his son’s marriage – had lots of good info. It gives his parents as David Smith and Mary Beall, and his place of birth as El Paso Texas. Mary’s marriage license for her second marriage lists her only as “Mrs. Mary H. Smith” – No info on it about either of their first marriages. I truly think the “Julia” on the death certificate was a mistake. (When David Smith – the father – remarried, he had three more children, including a daughter named Julia and another daughter named Mary! I’m guessing he didn’t have any contact with his first wife, and saw no conflict.)


    2. ferreestyle says:

      Okay – After several suggestions to follow up on Julia, I did. And guess what? She married William Ambrose Smith – David’s brother! That’s a strong clue that I have the right family! He died in 1882, and she died in 1895. It’s possible that being a “double aunt” (sister of mother and wife of father’s brother), she had a strong role in the family, and David Beall Smith’s son, who filled out the d/c, may have remembered her name better than his actual grandmother. They had all died a good 15-20 years before the grandson was born (except Mary, who died when he was 10. But the fact that he didn’t know her name might point to the lack of a relationship.


      1. Barbara Tose says:

        Wow! What a tangle of the families. I believe you are likely right. For whatever reason, Mary Beall Smith did not have a relationship with her son but he may have had one with her sister, Julia. Information is only as reliable as those giving it and David Beall’s son was not in the best position to know the details.


      2. ferreestyle says:

        You have come to the same conclusions as me. Thanks for reading and commenting. It helps to have other’s opinions.


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