I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m going to change the names of the living people in this story. I don’t know if I should even write about this, but I can’t help myself, I’ve become caught up in solving the mystery and want to document how I did it.
I love social media. Well, not all of it, but I really enjoy Facebook. My sons and their wives and some of my grandchildren are on it, and it’s allowed me to reconnect with distant cousins and keep in touch with my brothers and their lives. I’m also a member of several groups on Facebook, mostly active in the genealogy related ones. I absolutely love those. Two nights ago I stumbled across a request from another member of one of the groups I’m in, asking if someone could help her find the parents of Walter Hampton who died in Mesick, Wexford County, Michigan. Well, Mesick! That’s all I needed to read. I have wonderful memories of visiting with my Uncle Dick’s family in Honor, Michigan, which is near Mesick. Someone else had found the Find A Grave memorial for the lady for Walter, and he’s buried in the Cornell Cemetery in Buckley, Michigan. (And just for those who, like me, never miss an opportunity to add a new research source for their genealogy adventures, the Find A Grave site for the Cornell Cemetery lists only a small number of the actual people buried there. Here is a much better source for those buried there.)
So that’s all this other person and I had to help this lady who was looking for Walter’s family; his Find A Grave memorial. Then the other lady and I both found Walter’s application for a military headstone. The other woman posted it first to the group on Facebook. I had found it because, of course, I created a tree to help me find all I could about Walter’s life. I like to look on the back of those applications, which you can do on Ancestry. Walter had been in the Air Force since 1925. He enlisted and re-enlisted 9 times in 22 years, the last time being for the Air Force Reserves. Looking at the front of the application, I saw it was requested by a Maurice E Hampton. I thought, “Yay! Walter has a brother!” So I spent a lot of unproductive time looking for the two of them together in Tennessee and got exactly no where.
While searching though, I found a Thomas Hampton, born in Tennessee, had also died in Messick, Michigan. So I looked for the three of them together. Nothing. Then I had the idea to search for the 2nd name on the application for the headstone, Charles McCleary, to whom the stone was to be shipped. That’s when I discovered that Maurice was a female and she’d ended up marrying Charles in 1958. Using one of the dates when Walter re-enlisted, I found that record on Ancestry, which was exciting. It had him living in Shelby County, Texas, that he enlisted in Florida, he was married, and his civil occupation was that of cotton farmer. This was in 1945. I was getting closer. Then I found him in the 1930 census at Fort Crockett, Galveston, Texas as a soldier. He was single then. After that, I found him in 2 separate 1940 census records: on the 10th of April in 1940, he was living in Bossier City, Louisiana with Maurice listed as his wife, their child, Charlotte, and Maurice’s parents, Willis Ballard Wilson and Nancy Billingsly.
I got sidetracked searching for her parent’s information, which I found, hoping to be able to find out when Walter and Maurice got married. I still haven’t found that record. Their daughter was born in 1938 in Louisiana. Then Walter popped up with a hint that he was in someone else’s tree. That tree had a woman named Lillie Daisy Parker as his mother. Lillie was born in Michigan, it said. I found nothing on her until I finally gave in and added the parents that were listed for her in that other tree. Bingo! Lillie was the daughter of Peter Octavious Parker, born in Lapeer County, Michigan, and his wife, Mary Jane Davenport, also born there. Lillie was born 1887 and I found her with her family in Michigan in 1900, but lost her after that. So I searched for her father and found him with Lillie and Lillie’s sister, Ruth, living in Tullahoma, Coffee County, Tennessee. Just the three of them in 1910. There was no Walter Hampton, as there should be as he was born in 1906. Lillie’s mother was missing as well, but Peter gave his marital status as “married.” Lillie was listed as single and so did not have any information on children born to her.
I kept stumbling over a marriage record for Lillie Witt marrying Leslie Stearns in Michigan, and this Lillie had Lillie Parker’s parents. I went on Family Search and found that Lillie had married “Dick Witt/Wilts” in Coffee County, Tennessee in 1914. After finding that, I found Lillie living by herself with 3 very small children in Wexford County in the 1920 census. What? The children were Mary Ruth, Ray, and Jessie Catherine Witt. They were 4, 3, and 1 in 1920. Lillie was listed as a widow in that census, so I searched to see what I could find on Dick Witt. I didn’t get anywhere until I noticed that the father of Lillie’s 3 children was born in Kentucky, and Lillie’s youngest child, Jessie, was born in Kentucky as well. I found that Richard Witt had died in Christian County, Kentucky in 1919. He’s buried in Hopkinsville, which is also where Jessie was born.
None of this explained to me why Lillie and 3 very small children were living in Wexford County, Michigan in 1920. She herself was born in Lapeer county, as were her parents and sisters. So I started researching her sisters and found that her youngest sister, Ruth, had married in Mesick, Wexford County, in 1917. Lillie’s father, Peter, married there the next year. So her family was there. I don’t know why. I probably never will. Lillie married Leslie Stearns, a widower, whose wife had died in 1919 after giving birth to twin boys, only one of whom survived. They had their own child, a daughter, later the same year they married in 1925.
Looking at Walter’s application for a military headstone more closely, I figured out he’d enlisted the first time in Michigan in 1925. The application doesn’t say where he was living or where he enlisted that year, but he was in Michigan, probably near his mother. I’ve followed all of Lillie’s siblings, discovering one I hadn’t known about in the process. Her oldest sister, Celia, married in 1904 in Wexford County, Michigan. Her residence was given as Tennessee. This was two years before Walter was born. Celia’s husband, was living in Wexford County at the time of the marriage. I have no idea how they met, but I now know why the Parker family was in Wexford County after 1910.
I spent a lot of time tracking down the rest of the members of Lillie’s immediate family; her sisters were scattered in the 1910 census, living in various homes and listed as “boarders.” After finding Celia Parker’s marriage record, I was able to find her in the 1910 census living with her husband and a daughter in Missaukee County, Michigan, one county to the east of Wexford County. Celia and Lillie’s sister, Rena, was living in Missaukee County as a boarder with a family named Williams. Lois, another sister, was in Hadley, Lapeer County, living with Peter Parker’s aunt and her husband. The last sister I found, Myrtie, was living as a seamstress with another family named Gilbert in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Myrtie and Rena disappeared after 1910. There’s a tree that says that Myrtie died in 1964 and is buried next to Peter and Mary Jane Parker in Lapeer County, but I haven’t found a grave for her.
I followed all of Lillie’s children with Richard Witt and made the discovery that I was helping Lillie’s granddaughter. That was one of those moments in genealogy research when all the stars align, the heavens open, and you’re left with your mouth hanging open in surprise. In Michigan, death records are open to the public. The only condition put on the documents is that the person must have been dead for 75 years before the record can be published online. I could send away for Walter’s death certificate, it would give the names of his parents, but the cost is more than I can spend for someone totally unrelated to me. I did tell the lady I was helping that she should send away for the record and how she can do that, giving her links to the sites she needs to use. She told me she was going to do just that. I also asked her if she would let me know who the death certificate says are Walter’s parents. It will give me a sense of closure on Walter and his family, who in a way feel like my own family.