Saturday, March 9, 2013

Family Puzzle

So how do I (mostly) confirm the connection from George L. A. Davis to his father William A. Davis and then to his grandfather William Hunter Davis?   I work backwards.  The bible record helps with dates of birth and death, then I work with the census to connect the generations.  I have the census records from 1920, 1910, and 1900 showing my grandfather George L. A. and his brothers living with his father and mother William A. and Florence Davis in various places with their ages appropriate for their birth dates.  

We don’t have the 1890 U.S. census (most of it was lost to fire and water damage).  The 1880 U. S. census shows a 17-year-old William A. Davis and his brother John B. living in Savannah.  

Portion of 1880 U.S. Census page showing William A. and John B. Davis
Portion of 1880 U.S. Census page showing William A. and John B. Davis

The ages work with the dates of birth from the bible record below.  John Bart Davis shows up in the family bible record, that treasure trove of information.  

Because (according to our family bible record below) William Hunter Davis died in 1879, I know he won’t appear in the 1880 census.  

But, as a researcher, I’m lucky that William Hunter Davis died in the year before the 1880 census.  The 1880 mortality schedules list deaths from the year before -- 1879, so I do find him listed as having died from consumption (what we know today as tuberculosis).  Below is a line from an index (Thank you usgenweb volunteers!) for the 1880 U.S. Census mortality schedules.  See the end of my post for a list of sources.

The month and year of death and age, make sense with the dates we have from the family bible.  But the really important piece of the puzzle from the index listing is this bit of information -- the “Family” column.  That number “546” on the mortality index matches the line from the 1880 census entry showing his two sons, William A. and John Bart living with their mother “Harriet.”   In the 1880 census the census taker numbered each family in order of visitation.  (Not the same as the dwelling number). 

BUT WAIT!  Their mother’s name was Annie, not "Harriet!"  When I first saw the 1880 census entry, the “Harriet” listing cast some doubt on whether these were MY ancestors, as William, John, and DAVIS are such common names!  But, census takers did make mistakes for various reasons (misunderstanding name or it could have been a neighbor or servant giving the information).  The ages jiving with information from the family bible and the Family Number matching with the mortality index connects William H. Davis to his two sons William A. and John B on the census.   I’m confident that these Davises are probably MY ancestors. 

Even though I found these records several years ago it took me a while before I made that connection, partly because my research is spaced out over the years.  As I’ve learned from some of my favorite genealogists, it ALWAYS pays to look back over your records for MORE CLUES!

Of course, the index record of William Hunter Davis’s death also raises additional questions and research tasks (Did he die at home or in a sanitarium or hospital? Is his death certificate in Chatham Co. records?  Is there a newspaper obituary? Where was he buried?).  So much family history, so little time.

But for now, we’ll take what records we have and in our next post go back in time to find William Hunter Davis before the Civil War.


1880 Population, Chatham Co, Georgia, pop. sch, , enumeration district (ED) 16, 312A, 546, William A. Davis; digital image, ( : accessed 9 March 2013).

Chatham, GA  1880 Federal Census (Mortality Schedule)  This Census was transcribed by Bob Torbert and submitted to for the USGenWeb Census Project  Copyright (c) 2003 by Bob Torbert

William A. Davis Family Bible. THE-DEVOTIONAL AND PRACTICAL-POLYGLOTT-FAMILY BIBLE. (Cincinatti, Ohio: National Publishing Co. and Chicago, Ill: Jones, Junkin & Co., 1870) Privately held by Margaret M. Eves, Marietta, Georgia.

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