Lost Mother… Found

I found Granny’s mother!

To be clear, I’m certain that Granny never thought she was lost. But life in the Land of Ancestry Records can be a dangerous place.

“Granny” is Nettie Nobia McPhail (McPhaill, McFale—census records show it spelled all three ways), wife to Cyrus Guy McLemore and Kevin’s great-grandmother, born 30 December 1888 in Russellville, KY, married sometime in 1905 (according to the 1910 census), and died 17 December 1976 in Jennings, LA.

The Dangerous Land of Ancestry

Genealogy used to be more difficult than now. Today, thanks to online ancestry sites, records are pretty accessible. Unfortunately, not everyone uses their common sense when they find a record.

For instance, the site I use allows the user to access other family trees to “share” information. And in the case of Granny, that gave me access to a tree giving me the names of her siblings and parents. In this case, Granny’s parents were listed as Hardin & Lucy (McConnell) McPhaill.

Many researchers stop right there, happy to have a name. But I’ve learned to do the math.

The Logistics of it All

Lucy, as it turns out, was born in 1876. That would have made her 12-years-old when Granny was born. Now, granted, folks married earlier than they do today, but not quite that young. Of course, there is always the possibility that the birth year (1876) was incorrect. So, I dug deeper, looking for a record of marriage. Sure enough, Hardin married Lucy on 01 January 1913, well after Granny’s birth.

Nix Lucy as Granny’s mom.

Then another name appeared in the records: Elizabeth Jane Tatum, 1870-1908. Elizabeth would have been 18-years-old when Granny was born. Now, that’s a lot more reasonable. She could absolutely be Granny’s mom. So I started looking for information about when she and Hardin married, and finally found the record I was looking for: married in Russellville, KY on 30 November 1904. After Granny was born. Now, certainly, there were children born out of wedlock, but before I accepted that as the explanation, I did a little more digging.

And, it’s a good thing I did. Ella Matilda Pitts might have been angry if I’d stopped before finding out about her. Matilda, also born in 1870 like Elizabeth Tatum, was certainly the right age to be Granny’s mom. And after a bit more digging, I found records confirming that she was, indeed, married to Hardin on 22 December 1887, with Granny being born a year later.

YAY! Granny’s mother is found! [Note: Matilda died sometime late in 1899 or early in 1900 because by the time the 1900 Census was taken, Hardin and his daughter Nettie (Granny, age 11) were living with Hardin’s mother and sister and Hardin was listed as a widower.]

The Black Patch Tobacco Wars (1904-1908)

A year before Nettie and Cyrus married, the Black Patch Tobacco Wars broke out in Kentucky. Two factions, the Duke Tobacco Trust and the Planters’ Protective Association (PPA), fought over fair pricing to farmers. The short version of the story is that the Duke Trust was a powerful tobacco monopoly that kept tobacco prices low, forcing farmers to sell their product for 2¢ less than it cost them to grow it. Some farmers joined together to form a vigilante group to fight the Trust. They demanded that the Trust pay more. What happened instead was the Trust paid more to those farmers who did not join the PPA and the PPA retaliated by terrorizing, and in some cases killing, the farmers who didn’t join their cause.

It was a dangerous time for farming tobacco in Kentucky. And I’ve been wondering since reading about this what side of it all Nettie and Cyrus found themselves. They were just getting started in their new married life: Cyrus was 21, Nettie 16. Did they stand up for getting paid a fair wage, throwing themselves in with the vigilantes and ultimately getting cut out entirely by the Trust? Or did they stay with the Devil They Knew, knowing they needed to feed their family, no matter how unfair that payment was? Of course, I’m certain they avoided all the vigilantism involved, but what a hard and complicated decision for a young couple to make.

Next Month…

Whoa! I absconded with a boatload of records (from Kevin’s folks’ house) about the Flatau half of our Taylor clan and, hopefully, will have something off the beaten path to report in time for my next post.



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