Dennis Prue

Dennis Prue

Dennis has been researching family trees for more than 30 years. His expertise has been invaluable in helping to break through brick walls.

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This Old Tree, March 2017

This month’s column is on the using Godparents to help I.D. who a parent might be. The names I am using are not the actual names so I am using a fictitious Jane Cook’s family for my example.

Jane was born in either 1862 or 1864 and both of her parents had died before she was 3 years old. She lived with her father’s parents and Jane had no brothers or sisters.

I knew that Jane was a distant cousin who was married twice. The first husband was unknown to me, the second was Ben Andrews. The 1900 census revealed that Jane had 9 children, 6 of whom were still living. The problem was the 4 children at home were listed as Andrews and they were listed as Ben’s step-children, namely Sarah, Peter, Ralph and Edward.

One day I meet a lady while doing other genealogical research and she was looking to locate the cause of death for her grandparents. I told her and her friends how to get the information they were looking for and asked them who they were researching. They told me Peter Williams and Amanda Ford. I then asked them what they already had for information. They showed me Peter and Amanda’s marriage information. Peter was son of Paul Williams and Jane Cook.

I said I had a cousin named Jane Cook. They asked if my Jane had married a Ben Andrews and I said yes. I was able to confirm and share who Jane Cook was, her parents and one set of grandparents. They also said two of the children died young and were James and Frederick.

Also, I remembered that I had talked to a friend while I was doing my research and asked if she had any clues about Paul Williams whose wife was a Jane Cook. Many years ago she had done research at a church in a neighboring town.

One of the couples she record information on was the Paul Williams and Jane Cook family. The children were Amelia, Sarah, Edward, Frederick and John born between 1883 and 1892. The children christening records stated Jane Cook was a concubine of Paul Williams, meaning one of the parents had been married and not yet divorced. Given Jane’s age at the first known child, Mattie in 1880, she was 16 or 18. Paul was the one most likely to have been married and not divorced.

Problem was I did not know anything about Paul except his name.

I am grateful to the friend when she recorded the 5 children’s christenings. She recorded the godparents and the key to the Paul Williams’ mystery was the godparents. They led me to Paul’s parents.

  • Amelia’s godparents were John Williams and Mary Williams;
  • Sarah’s godparents were James Brooks and Sarah Williams
  • Edward’s godparents were Elias Thayer and Jane Gardiner
  • Ralph’s godparents were John Williams and Christian Thomas
  • Frederick’s godparents were Floyd Parson and Susan Williams

I looked in census records and found only one family that had the following who were the godparents to Paul’s children.

  • Amelia’s godfather was her father’s older brother, John Williams and Mary Williams was his wife.
  • Sarah’s godmother was Sarah Williams, Paul’s youngest sister and James Brooks was her husband.
  • Edward’s godmother was Jane Gardiner, who was an aunt by marriage, married to Paul’s brother James.
  • Ralph’s godfather was his uncle, John Williams.
  • Frederick’s godmother was Susan Williams, one of Paul’s sisters.

Stephen Williams and his wife Marilla Turner were the parents to Paul b. 1844 who was first married to a Faith Devine in 1864 and divorced in 1889.

Paul and Jane lived as common law husband and wife. Since Paul and Jane lived as a couple, it would be interesting to see the divorce that was recorded in 1889. I don’t know when the divorce action was started but was not finalized until 1889. This after most of Paul and Jane’s children were born.

Being divorced and/or living together and having children outside of a marriage is not something new and has always been a fact.

The names of the godparents led to the correct Paul Williams and to his parents.