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52 Ancestors – #17 Francis Hereford Williams or was it Roland Watkins?

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I have decided to accept the challenge of Amy Johnson Crow over at No Story Too Small blog. Amy challenges us: 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks.  I think this is an excellent challenge as I tend to focus on my brick walls, and this will force me to fan out in my tree and focus on other ancestors.

Actor Maintains Role of a Lifetime, for 153 years!!!

This is week 17 and my seventeenth post and this is my most complicated Ancestor so far.  Over the last four Amanuensis Monday’s, I have shared letters with you from my great-grandmother Dona (Williams) Higginbotham to the Boullemet family in New Orleans, regarding the true identity of her father and my 2nd great-grandfather, Rev. Francis Hereford Williams.

The first week, she inquired with the New Orleans Post Office as to their whereabouts. The second week, the post office responded and so did a Boullemet.  The third week, she wrote to Mrs. Bartels, the daughter of Stephen and Elizabeth Boullemet, who wasn’t exactly overjoyed to hear from her.  The fourth and final week, Mrs. Bartels responds that she and her sister wouldn’t be burdened with a cause to which they weren’t called, and Dona responds most elegantly.  

This is the story as I have pieced it together, and then I will tell you how I came to this conclusion, and the results of my still ongoing research.

Grandfather, Rev. Williams

Grandfather, Rev. Williams

Imagine this, it’s 1862 – you’re in the heat of the battle during the war between the states, you get shot in the head, and everything goes dark.

You sleep, and your mind sinks into dark and gloomy places and your dreams are half crazed.  You pray and fight to reach the sunlight, and suddenly you are awake.

But the recovery is hard and you try to go back to your old life, but things just aren’t the same.  The wound has changed everything.  Your thoughts, the direction you want your life to go and you realize that this is no longer the life you want.

So one day, after a performance, you walk off the stage and you never look back.  You leave your old life behind and start afresh.

You meet a worthy woman, marry her, and have two delightful daughters.  You change your whole life, become a minister and spread the word of God.

Dona (Williams) Higginbotham, Mildred (Martin) Williams, Minnie (Williams) Hooks

Dona (Williams) Higginbotham, Mildred (Martin) Williams, Minnie (Williams) Hooks

But, your old head wound dogs you and maybe your past is chasing you.  Never relenting. You kiss your wife and children goodbye at the train station and check into the Confederate Home at Austin, Texas hoping for some relief, anything to help restore your mind to the plain it once occupied and the man you used to be.

Letter from FH Williams, dated 27 Oct 1890 from Confederate Home in Austin, Texas.  Addressed to his dear wife.

Letter from FH Williams, dated 27 Oct 1890 from Confederate Home in Austin, Texas. Addressed to his dear wife.

You check in on August 15, 1890 and you give them your name, “F.H. Williams”, Physician, born 1839 in Missouri a member of company “E” 1st Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Wright’s, and you list your kidney disease.

Confederate Home Register, FA Williams

Confederate Home Register, FA Williams

You write home often, missing your wife and children terribly but treatments work and you become the man you once were, able to provide for your family again, and you reassure your family of improved health, and soon you leave the Confederate Home on February 16, 1891.

Letter from Rev. Williams dated Oct 26th 1890

Letter from Rev. Williams dated Oct 26th 1890, addressed to his darling wife.

Time goes by, your life is happy but the darkness of your mind returns and you decide to share some details with your family of your past hoping to ease the pain and guilt of a past life given up.

They try to locate your family to no avail. [See letters listed above in the Amanuensis Monday links]

The wound continues to put unbearable pressure on your brain, and you have surgery to relieve the pressure.  There is no relief and you succumb to your old head wound, fifty-five years after it happened.

FH Williams Death Certificate

F H Williams Death Certificate

Ok, so I don’t know how he changed his name or why he did.  But, I believe he changed his name and I will list the reasons why I think so.

Let’s take a look at some of the finer points of the letters I shared with you.

In 1917, you don’t just google up some names and hope they might have a missing relative you can claim as your own father.  When Dona inquires to the post office in New Orleans, I believe there is no other way she could have known the details of this family unless her father truly had knowledge of them and believed them to be his family.

Mrs. Bartels, states that her mother’s family name was “Watkins” not “Williams”.

Mrs. Bartels states that her grandfather, a most worthy man, broken-hearted thro the conduct of an only son, totally blinded by sun stroke was not a wealthy man, that her grandparents were absolute dependents upon her father (Stephen Boullemet) for about 30 years, and both rest in their family tomb. So let’s start with them.

When I first read the letters, I always felt the answer could be found within the family tomb. In 2012 on a trip to New Orleans, my sister BJ, and her daughter Leslie tried desperately to find the family tomb, but couldn’t.  They weren’t posted on Find A Grave either.  When I started posting the letters for Amanuensis Monday, I started just double checking everyone on and I noticed a little green leaf flashing up on Stephen Boullemet indicating there was a new hint.  Boosh!  Someone posted a photo of the family tomb of Stephen Boullemet on Find A Grave, which ended up being in the Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery in New Orleans, which is closed to the public and explains why they couldn’t find it.

Here is a photo of the door of the tomb.

Boullemet Family Tomb

Boullemet Family Tomb

Interesting!  So if Elizabeth was indeed a Watkins, and her parents were buried in the Family tomb, then her parents must be Thomas and Eleanor Watkins. And look who else is in the family tomb, Mrs. Bartels!!  She passed away fourteen years after the letters to Dona.

This of course prompted me to look to the census reports to find out what I could about Thomas and Eleanor Watkins.  I found them listed on the 1860 census, living in Ward 6 in St. Louis, Missouri in a boarding house.  And here is Thomas listed as blind from sun stroke, so this is definitely the right family.

1860 Census Watkins Family

1860 Census Watkins Family

So, look who else is listed with Thomas and Eleanor.  There is a Jesse, 21 years of age (same age Rev. Williams would be) born in Louisiana, and had been in school within this year.  However, there is a Roland Watkins, same age as Jesse (and Rev. Williams), listed that he was married within the year, and is listed as an ACTOR!  Then, there is a Jane Watkins, 23 years old, Actress, born in Ireland and married within the year, so I take her to be the wife of Roland.

Mrs. Bartels writes that her mother (Elizabeth “Watkins” Boullemet) had but one brother that reached manhood, that she never saw after the civil war. So, between Jesse or Roland, one will soon die, and the other one will soon disappear.  They are both at the age of 21, so are they twins?  Could one be a cousin or nephew of Thomas, and not a son? The age of 21 seems like manhood to me though, so that makes me lean toward one of them not being a son, but odd they are the same age.

Mrs. Bartels said her uncle married secretly a young woman employed and trusted by her parents, Stephen and Elizabeth Boullemet.  I headed over to and found Roland B. Watkins, married to a Jane Casseldy on 12 Dec 1859, in the Louisiana Marriages, 1816-1906 Index.  So, that was within the year of the 1860 census, so I was right, Jane is Roland’s wife.

Having found no more information on the Jesse Watkins that was listed in the 1860 census, I lean more toward the fact that Roland is Rev. Williams.

Back to Jane and Roland, I wonder could Jane have worked for Stephen and Elizabeth Boullemet?  I know her occupation is listed here on the 1860 census as an actress, but I find her on the 1880 census, listed as a widow, and a servant in the home of Edward Hart.

1880 Census Jane Watkins

1880 Census Jane Watkins

Maybe it’s possible she was a servant to the Boullemet’s, Roland met her and they eloped and became actors.

Thanks to Kookie, she found a couple of news articles reporting the acting career of Mr. and Mrs. Watkins.

Mr and Mrs Watkins - Olympic Theater 10 Jun 1866

Mr and Mrs Watkins – Olympic Theater 10 Jun 1866

Mr and Mrs Harry Watkins actors

Mr and Mrs Harry Watkins actors

Amusements 1868 Watkins

Amusements 1868 Watkins

I also found it every interesting that he was referred to in one of those articles, as Harry Watkins.  In a letter dated 1910, addressed to Mrs. F.H. Williams, her niece refers to F.H. Williams as Uncle Harry.  I sure wish I knew what bad luck she referred to!

Letter to Mildred dated 16 Feb 1910

Letter to Mildred dated 16 Feb 1910

I never found Rev. Williams in the regiment he listed when he checked into the Confederate Home, but guess who I did find?  Roland Watkins!

Rowland Watkins CSA

Rowland Watkins CSA

I was confused when looking for information on this regiment, because Rev. Williams listed it as Wright’s on the Confederate Home register, but I saw someone post in a forum that this regiment was sent to Virginia and were divided up to many companies, and there was one listed as Wrights, so it’s possible that he transferred to the Army of of Northern Virginia. I haven’t found proof of this yet, as far as muster rolls, but I did find this sentence in one of Rev. Williams’ letters home, where he says his problems were due to his service with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Letter to Gov Hogg from FHW Nov 18 1890

Letter to Gov Hogg from FHW Nov 18 1890

Now, as far as the service of Roland Watkins, his muster rolls list him as deserted in 1862. Is it possible though, he had the head wound and laid somewhere unable to give his name? Or maybe he was transferred to Northern Virginia and paperwork never made to his regiment? More research will have to be done here to see if I can find any records of Roland in the Army of Northern Virginia, or Rev. Williams.

I don’t know what happened to prompt Rev. Williams to change his name. Maybe Jane drove him crazy. If she was truly a servant, then an actress, and maybe she was wild and Rev. Williams couldn’t take it anymore and since his family had disowned him, he left. Maybe he divorced her and left. Maybe he just left and she listed herself as a widow. I did find this about her.

Jane Watkins suspicious character

Jane Watkins suspicious character

So, did Roland become Rev. Williams and maintain the role of a lifetime? You tell me! This is so far-fetched I don’t know whether to seek help with a certified genealogist or with Jerry Springer!!

I do know I have more research to do. I need to find out more about Jesse Watkins, I need to see if I can find a death for Roland since Jane was listed as a widow. Any more suggestions on where or what I could look at to prove or disprove this?

I’ll just close this weeks 52 Ancestor Post by saying, I wish I could tell you this was about Rev. Williams, but it’s possible it was about Roland Watkins and it’s highly possible it’s not really about either one!

Are you confused yet? I am! :)

Yesterday was one of the most AWESOME days EVER in my family history world.

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Wanna know why? First, I received the DNA kit in the mail from, got Mom to do her spitting in the tube, and got it back in the mail! Can’t wait to see how her results compare to mine. Then, I received a disc in the mail with a lot of genealogy information on it from my 3rd cousin, Jim Dawson.

This jewel of a picture was among the documents.

Kenady Wade Ball Family Photo

Kenady Wade Ball Family Photo

Standing, left to right: Samuel Hartwell “Bye” Ball, Venetia Juanita “Nyta” (Ball) Barrow. Sitting, left to right: James David “Dave” Ball, Kenady Wade Ball, Venetia Clarissa (Smith) Ball. Child in the lap of Kenady is Mamie Hoskins (Ball) Destree, and the child standing is Henrie Venetia (Ball) Payne, both are daughters of John Franklin Ball, son of Kenady and Venetia Ball.

Since 2007, I have been hoping to find a picture of Kenady Wade Ball, my 2nd-great grandfather. I had pictures of his wife Venetia when she was older, but none of her at this age. It’s also really cool that my great-grandfather, Bye Ball is in the photo as well.

I wish I had a nickel for every person that told me there probably wasn’t a picture of him.

I say, “Never give up!”

You just don’t know what all of your cousins have information out there, and what they have.

P.S. I thought this blog post was already posted, but it never did, I found it in the drafts. So, it should have posted on the 22nd, which is why the post is dated like it is, but just posted today.  April 21st was actually the best day ever for my family history! :)

Amanuensis Monday – Letters From The Past

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For the past three weeks, I have shared with you letters my great-grandmother Dona had written to New Orleans in search of the Boullemet family.  The first week, she inquired with the New Orleans Post Office as to their whereabouts.  The second week, the post office responded and so did a Boullemet.  The third week, she wrote to Mrs. Bartels, the daughter of Stephen and Elizabeth Boullemet, who wasn’t exactly overjoyed to hear from her.

This week, it gets real with the final two letters.  I say the final two, but there are obviously letters that didn’t get saved, or Dona didn’t keep a copy of one she sent to Mrs. Bartels because the next letter is again from Mrs. Bartels and it appears that she had received one from Dona we don’t have a copy of.

This is the man in question, my 2nd great-grandfather Rev. F.H. Williams.

Rev. Francis Hereford Williams

Rev. Francis Hereford Williams

He looks like a Reverend, doesn’t he?

Here we go, the last letter to be found from Mrs. Bartels:

From Mrs. Bartels to Dona Higginbotham

From Mrs. Bartels to Dona Higginbotham


New Orleans Dec 6th /17

Mrs. R.F. Higginbotham

Dear Madam

Again I am compelled to say I have no connection by the name of Williams, either by blood or marriage, or ever have had.  As regards the picture it would be folly to attempt to trace any resemblance in a grey-haired man to my lost one.

My mother’s brother was not seen after the close of the civil war by my parents was heard from once thro an incident in his life reported in the daily paper, and none to his credit.

I never heard of any other bearing my father’s name.  My grandfather, a most worthy man, broken-hearted thro the conduct of an only son, totally blinded by sun-stroke was not a wealthy man, he with my grandmother were absolute dependents upon my father for about thirty years and both rest in our family tomb.

I trust this may fully satisfy you that I do not know Mr. Williams and were he my mother’s brother indeed, neither my sister or myself are able or willing to accept a burden to which we are not called.


Mrs. A.A. Bartels.

WOW, Lady!!!!!

Tell us how you really feel!

If I had lived back then, I would have had plenty to say back to her, but get a load of what my great-grandmother Dona said back to her.  I couldn’t have said it any better or more refined than she did.

From Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartels Page 01

From Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartels Page 01


From Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartels Page 02

From Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartels Page 02


From Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartels Page 03

From Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartels Page 03


My Dear Mrs. Bartels,

Imagine my surprise when I received your letter telling me that if my father were your mother’s brother you nor your sister were willing or able to be burdened with him. I am hastening to assure you that such a thought had never entered my mind. My sister and I are amply able and willing to take care of our father and our only fear is that we may not have him to take care of many days longer as he is extremely feeble and though he may not have been a credit to his family in his younger days, he is now considered a very refined and polished gentlemen among his circle of friends and acquaintances. He clearly shows the culture of his early training. We have never published his mental misfortune our friends know very little of his real condition.

My mother is a direct descendant of the Courtney’s, one of the best known families of S.C. Should it ever become necessary for any member of my family to secure credentials for my purpose I feel reasonably certain that we should find no great difficulty in obtaining such references right here in Texarkana. I am not given to boastfulness but I felt that in justice to myself I should try to make you understand that I am asking neither financial aid nor social standing but a very natural desire to know more of my fathers early life to learn if possible if the wound in his head is entirely responsible for his present condition or if there could have been any other reason for it.

I cannot help suspecting that my father is indeed your mother’s erring brother tho. I assure you that I shall not betray this knowledge outside my immediate family. He has frequently spoken of his fathers loss of eyesight caused by sunstroke and has other intimate knowledge of the family no outsider could very well possess as for the name, if he saw fit to change it, it doesn’t matter now as my sister and I am both happily married and there were no sons.

Possibly we shall be happier without further knowledge of our father’s past or his kinspeople. Yesterday my father underwent an operation to remove the pressure from his brain and it may be possible that he will have his mind restored sufficiently to tell us all that we need to know if he is too feeble to understand the shock the Lord’s will be done is all I can say.

Yours Very Truly,

Dona H.


I think Dona won my heart the very moment I read this letter!

Dona’s letter had no date, but the last letter received from Mrs. Bartels was dated December 6, 1917 and unfortunately Rev. Williams died just ten days later on December 16, 1917.

Rev. F. H. Williams Obit

Rev. F. H. Williams Obit

I don’t know if he was ever able to speak again, but it doesn’t appear that he was. How sad that Dona never got this resolved for her own knowledge, but had she not left these letters behind, I would have had no clue about the possibility that he had changed his name.

I’ll give you a day or two to ponder on the letters, and then I will share with you my research into the letters and tell you what I have discovered!

I think I now know who Rev. Williams really was, but I would like your opinion on the matter, so I will share all in the next post about Rev. Williams.

Prepare yourself, this is so far-fetched, it would make a good movie.

Or maybe an episode of Jerry Springer.

52 Ancestors – #16 Howell Holley

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I have decided to accept the challenge of Amy Johnson Crow over at No Story Too Small blog. Amy challenges us: 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks.  I think this is an excellent challenge as I tend to focus on my brick walls, and this will force me to fan out in my tree and focus on other ancestors.

This is week 16, and my sixteenth post in the challenge.  This week, I’m reporting on Howell Holley.  Howell is my 4th great-grandfather.  I didn’t even know about Howell until a couple of weeks ago, when cousin Harry Short (Hi Harry!) sent me an email telling me he had figured out the father of our 3rd great-grandmother, Jane Harriette (Holley) Higginbotham.  It wasn’t until last week that I had time to sit and search out Howell and Wowza!!!  What an interesting character this man is!!

Before I go into the fascinating court documents about Howell that I have since found, I have to share with you how I think we blew a long believed family tale out of the water when cousin Harry found Howell.  MAYBE.

You see, I had always heard that my 3rd great-grandmother Jane was an Indian, and had been adopted by the Holley’s and raised as their own child.  I had found all the Dawes Packet’s from her granddaughter’s family trying to prove they had Indian blood, which was denied.

I decided to look through my DNA matches on and see if I could find any matches to Holley.  I found a 4th cousin match to a sister of Jane’s.

This is what a DNA match looks like on Ancestry if you both have the shared ancestor in your tree.

DNA Match to faye6746 - Holley McCoy Ancestors

DNA Match to faye6746 – Holley McCoy Ancestors

So, if Jane was adopted how do I match her sister Mary Ann’s descendant? Cousin Harry said he had this same match, and some others. I didn’t look for any others yet as I ran out of time that day, but I imagine unless all of their children were adopted and had the same Indian parents, the story about Jane is just not true unless Howell or Elizabeth was an Indian and the story got distorted over time. Who knows!  I know my DNA results do not show any Native American ancestry in them.

Court documents show Elizabeth filed for a divorce from Howell in 1848. Here is the abstract of the court documents:

In 1787, Elizabeth Holley married Howell Holley in Edgefield District, South Carolina. In 1827 or 1828, after forty years of marriage, Elizabeth charges that Howell began an illicit relationship with Nancy Hodge. She writes that it was then that he began to beat her “with various Instruments sometimes with his fists sometimes with a hickory at other times with a cowhide and very often threatened her life.” She claims that Howell left their domicile, taking Nancy with him to Georgia, and then to Alabama, and abandoning her and their nine children. Later, the couple reconciled, but in 1830 Howell again became violent and Elizabeth fled for her life. Elizabeth claims that Howell now lives with Nancy and their illegitimate offspring, six or seven in number. According to Elizabeth, Howell is old and senile; and he possesses a large estate, including a “valuable set of mills,” horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, “a large quantity of money,” and fifteen slaves, five men, four women, and six children. Elizabeth, too, is very old, and unable to support herself. She asks for a divorce and alimony. In his related answer, Howell denies all charges of violence against his wife and denies that Nancy Hodge lives in his house. He counter charges that Elizabeth was a difficult, dissatisfied, and jealous woman, who made his life unbearable.

This was reported by the Digital Library on American Slavery, which you can view here, Petition 20184802 Details.

What’s up with Howell?  Deserting his family, beating my great-grandmother Elizabeth, how dare he!  I think Elizabeth must have been very brave to bring the case against him in that day and time.

I’m not letting ole’ Nancy Hodge off the hook either, she has some explaining to do!

I’ve looked to see what Elizabeth’s maiden name is, and it’s different on every tree of course. I’ve seen McCoy, Hampton, Seaton, but I haven’t found a marriage record from 1787 in Edgefield, South Carolina for Elizabeth and Howell so that is on the ToDo List!

And, technically, I haven’t really found any definite piece of paper that says Jane is their daughter.  Just the DNA test, but it’s a good starting place. I think I will try to see about getting a copy of those court records from Tallapoosa, Alabama.  Maybe there are more details in there that might offer up some clues.  Wouldn’t it be great if it listed Howell and Elizabeth’s children by name!

I found Howell Holley listed on the 1850 Mortality Schedule in the Western Division of Chickasaw County, Mississippi.  He died in September 1849, after four months of consumption.  It states he was 84 years old, so that puts him being born around 1765.

1850 Mortality Sch Howell Holley

1850 Mortality Schedule Howell Holley

This is how I descend from Howell Holley:

susie to Howell Holley

Amanuensis Monday – Letters From The Past

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For the past two weeks, I have shared with you letters my great-grandmother Dona had written to New Orleans in search of the Boullemet family.  The first week, she inquired with the New Orleans Post Office as to their whereabouts.  The second week, the post office responded and so did a Boullemet. 

This week, I will share what I assume was a draft letter of what she had mailed to Mrs. Bartels, the daughter of Stephen Boullemet and Elizabeth Williams.

Letter 04 from Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartel

Letter 04 from Dona Higginbotham to Mrs. Bartel


Texarkana, Ark.

Mrs. Bartel.

Dear Madam,

Your address, 3506 Camp Street; was given me by Mrs. N.B. Boullemet to whom I wrote for information concerning the family of Mr. Stephen Boullemet; and while she did not state positively that you were his daughter, at the same time she left that impression.

If you are his daughter, will you kindly advise me so that I may write you more freely about my father F.H. Williams, who is very old and feeble and whose life is nearing it’s close?

If I am mistaken in assuming that you are the Mrs. Bartel referred to please pardon me, and if possible you would tell me any believe   [note:  this is scratched through on original document]

Hoping to hear from you at an early date I am

Very Truly Yours –

Then I believe she received a reply from Mrs. Bartels.

Letter 05 to Dona from Mrs. A A Bartels

Letter 05 to Dona from Mrs. A A Bartels


New Orleans
Nov’ 22nd 1917

Mrs. R. F. Higginbotham

Dear Madam,

A few days since I received thro’ the widow of a relative, a letter written by you inquiring about the children of our Stephen Boullemet as his eldest daughter I am writing you. My three brothers have passed away, leaving but my sister and myself both widows. There is some mistake as regards names, my mother was Miss Watkins, not Williams, she had but one brother reaching manhood, whom she never saw after the civil war, he married secretly, a young woman employed and trusted by my parents; as his life had brought little but sorrow to his family there was little grief at his loss.

This is about all I can tell you, there is evidently some confusion.


(Mrs.) A.A. Bartels.

So, there you have it.

Mrs. Bartels writes back and deny’s that F.H. Williams is any kin. But, this doesn’t sit well with Dona, and she responds! Check back next Monday for the final two letters! These final letters, you will NOT want to miss! I bet I get my moxie from Dona!

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