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
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
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.
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
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, 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.
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 ancestry.com 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
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
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 Familysearch.org 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
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 Harry Watkins actors
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
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
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
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
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!