Challenge – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

It’s sort of ironic that the theme for this week is Challenge. My biggest challenge lately is finding time to sit down and think about this blog. I spent this week in Toronto. I have not been home for a whole week since Thanksgiving and won’t be home for more than a weekend at least until mid-February. I guess for all of us, time is always the biggest challenge.

Genealogically speaking, however, here’s one of my current challenges. I hope one of you can offer some ideas as to how I can break through this one.

Thomas Morton Higgs was born 11 Jul 1837 in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama, at least according to his granddaughter. On Christmas Day 1857, he married Mary J. Sartain in Athens. She was supposedly from Decatur, Morgan County, Alabama, born 27 Jun 1834.

I have been to the county Archives in both Limestone and Morgan counties and scoured all of their original records. I copied the marriage record straight from the book where it’s recorded. But that’s the first record I can find of either of them.

Now, normally, to find their families, I would think that the 1850 U.S. Census would be a good place to start. I cannot find any Higgs anywhere around, except for the well-documented family of a Charles Higgs, the local sheriff in Limestone County. Likewise, Sartains / Sartins / Certains / etc. are non-existent in northern Alabama. I do found one family that is a potential one for Mary – Alfred Sartain in Tuscaloosa. But, I cannot find any indication that they came north at all.

I’ve searched tax records, land records, estray records, court records, census records – everything that I could find in northern Alabama and the southern counties of Tennessee.

The marriage record says that they were married in the home of William H. Oglesby. Well, I can find him in Athens. Both he and his son, Fountain, are wagon makers. In 1850, William is 43 years old and Fountain is 19. Both are wagon makers. Now, Thomas ends up as a shoe and boot maker, so I don’t know that there is a connection there. I have not found any connection between the Oglesbys and either Higgs or Sartain.

By 1860, Mary and Thomas have moved to Iuka, Tishomingo County, Mississippi where they are found in the home of John Waldrup. Waldrup is also a shoe maker. My hypothesis is that they were in business together, either as partners or one as an apprentice to the other (Thomas to John since John appears the more established one.) But again, I can find no other sort of connection between the Waldrup family and either the Sartain or Higgs families. It seems like it’s just business.

When the Civil War broke out, like so many in the South, Thomas enlisted. He joined Co. E of the 17th Mississippi Infantry. He mustered in on 27 May 1861 at Corinth, Mississippi and signed on for a period of twelve months. He rose to the rank of 4th Sergeant before being discharged on 10 Jan 1862 due to his health. His early discharge was due to “general disability due to pneumonia and erysipelas”, though other records record “pneumonia, rheumatism, etc.”

My grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren, and her sister Lida Higgs Lee, both said that their grandfather had lost his sight during the war, but I have never found any record that would indicate this.

Thomas and Mary’s first child, John William “Will” Higgs, was born 7 April 1859 in Magnolia, Columbia County, Arkansas. How did that happen? Seems like perhaps they had moved to Arkansas and then came back to Mississippi when Thomas decided to enlist. If that were the case, then I would expect to find some sort of family connection in the area for Mary. But, I don’t. On the 1860, William, age 1, is clearly listed as born in Arkansas, as well as in all future records.

By the 1870 census, Thomas and Mary and their two sons (Will and Ira Thomas Higgs) were now in Hempstead County, Arkansas. They were living in the home of a physician, M.C. Boyce, and his wife Nancy. Dr. and Mrs. Boyce and four of their children were all from Alabama, but I’ve not found a connection there. It would appear that they were in Arkansas by 1857. In the home, there appear to be a number of children, as well as perhaps a previously married daughter and her children. The oldest child born in Arkansas was M.R, aged 13. All before that were from Alabama.

The family Bible records that Thomas died on 4 Feb 1875 in Hempstead County, Arkansas at the age of 37. Mary stayed in Hempstead County for a while, but eventually moved to Texarkana, Miller County, Arkansas, where she died 29 Oct 1887. According to my grandmother and my aunt, they were buried in the old cemetery in Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas. They both remembered visiting the graves many years ago. When we tried to find them again, we found that the highway had been moved. They thought that the road perhaps had been relocated through the old section of the cemetery, where the stones may have been just stones. So the graves are also lost.

In the end the challenge is this: how can I find anything to connect Thomas and Mary to their families? I think that the Higgs folks probably came to northern Alabama from east Tennessee, above Knoxville. But, how would I connect Thomas as a child to one family or another. Likewise for Mary. I find a candidate family in the 1850 census, but I haven’t been able to find any connection between any of the people in that family and any Higgs folks.

There you have it. Is anyone up to this challenge and can help me find these mystery ancestors?

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Author: Scott Dickson

I've been doing family history research since the late 1980s. Almost all of my family came into the southern colonies and worked there way across the South. Lately, I've started to look at my wife's New England, Irish, and French Canadian ancestry. My tree is online at http://wrenacres.com/genealogy.

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