Monday, February 6, 2017

Mystery Monday: What's the What With David Whaley?

I’ve been researching my paternal Whaley family for a few months now. I know that a number of Whaley – children of Kit Whaley and his wives Julia and Grace – moved to Steubenville, Ohio in the early-mid 1900s, and that, before this, they lived in Baker Co., Georgia.

So I was pretty surprised when, as I was researching these Whaley siblings, I came across a 1918 Death Certificate for a 14-year-old “David Whaley alias Wilson” in Pittsburgh, PA. Huh?

As you can see, David’s parents are Kit Whaley and Julia Jones, from Georgia – it’s pretty likely he’s part of the same family I’ve been researching. But why is he in Pittsburgh, especially as a 14-year-old boy? (The other Whaleys appear to at least have been in their 20s when they left Georgia for Ohio.) And who is this Emma Wilson with whom he’s living? What’s the story here – what can I find out?

I’ve done a little digging and I have a hypothesis, but I need more evidence before I’m satisfied.

I’ve found Emma Wilson in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census records for Pittsburgh. They state that she was born in Georgia, and suggest a birth date sometime between 1888 and 1894. Likewise, her husband Willis Wilson and their two children, Willis Jr., and Oscar, were also born in Georgia.

I've also found Emma Wilson’s death certificate. Again, her birthplace is given as Georgia. More importantly, it gives the names of her parents: Henry Jones and Margaret.

Remember: David Whaley’s mother is listed as Julia Jones. If Emma’s maiden name was also Jones and she’s also from Georgia, perhaps she and Julia are related.

So, I turned to the census to see what I could find in Georgia for a household with Henry and Margaret Jones.

Success! Here’s a household headed by Henry and Margret Jones in 1870 in…Baker County, GA, the same place we find the Whaleys! Notice that there's a 9-year-old Julia Jones in that household.

1880 gives us what appears to be the same family, still in Baker County, except that (because the universe never makes this easy) the mother is listed as Jones Jones. Notice that it lists both a Julia Jones and an Emma Jones as their daughters!

Now, here’s what’s challenging: the ages don’t match up. The Julia Jones who is married to Kit Whaley in the 1900 census was born about 1872, whereas the Julia Jones in the household of Henry and Margaret was born between 1861 and 1864. And the Emma Jones in that same household was born about 1873, whereas the information on our Pittsburgh Emma Jones suggests a birth year between the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Yet, we know that records – especially ones created when an individual is much older – can get birth years wrong. So I’m not ready to toss this Baker County Jones family aside. Instead, I’d like to look for more evidence.

But wait – I’ve found another tantalizing bit! Information about Oscar Wilson’s death is available on (remember, he’s one of the sons of Emma and Willis Wilson) and it say he was born in Tifton, GA.

A search on Ancestry for Willis Wilson in and around Tifton brought up both a marriage certificate for Willis Wilson to Emma Jones (Berrien County, 1899) and a 1900 Census Record for the pair (Berrien County). Berrien County is just a few counties east of Baker County, a modern drive of about an hour and 15 minutes.

Two things to notice about that census record:

1) Look at who else is listed on the page: a widowed Margret Jones, born about 1840:

2) And, look at the household with Carlie Jones, who has named two of his daughters Emma and Julia.

The Margret Jones on this census is the same approximate age as the mother of Julia Jones and wife of Henry Jones in the 1870 census. The Carlie Jones listed here is born within the date range for the Charlie Jones who is listed as a child of Henry and Margret in 1870 and again in 1880. (You can see him next to Julia in the relevant census snippets above.)

People often named their children after their siblings; this Carlie Jones is probably Henry and Margret's son. None of this seems like just a coincidence.

So my hypothesis is that 1) Emma Wilson and Julia Jones were sisters, and thus 2) that David Whaley was living with his maternal aunt Emma in Pittsburgh.

One thing I’m still missing, though, is clear proof that the Julia Jones who married Kit Whaley is definitely the Julia Jones whose parents were Henry and Margret Jones. So I’ll be hunting for anything that connects these three individuals: a birth record for Julia, records for her marriage to Kit Whaley (perhaps an application for a marriage license would have her parents’ names?), a death certificate, etc.

After that, there's still the question of why David was living with his (likely) aunt Emma in Pittsburgh, when almost all of his siblings were still in Georgia. I'll keep digging, but that'll be a story for another day!

Ideas? Suggestions? Please leave 'em in the comments section below!