The Mystery of Margret Bishop/McElrath  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , ,

One of the reasons I am enjoying this genealogy thing is the fact that it's like a big gigantic puzzle. Or perhaps a mystery that needs to be solved. There are facts, hints and clues everywhere and you just have to put it all together to make it work.

My most recent road-block is my wife's paternal great-grandmother. That whole side of the family is shrouded in a lot of genealogical fog. My wife's grandfather, Lawrence Brannon, was married for a short time (long enough to have one son) to Emily Ann Wiley. She later divorced him and married Wallace Brannon (sneaky trick on her part marrying another Brannon). Lawrence was a tough nut to crack until I found out he had a brother, Lester Travis Brannon, who was the father of Dr. Dabney H. Brannon.

All that back-story is important because the only way I was able to piece it together was when I found Dabney's obituary in The Northwest Arkansas Times. The obituary opened up that whole family and allowed me to find William T. Brannon, my wife's great-grandfather.

One of the goals of this whole genealogical research is to find out my wife's Native American roots. The only clue we have is that her father said that his father had a grandmother that was a Cherokee Indian. But that's it. That's all I have to work with. The fact that it's a grandmother means it will be harder to figure out because there is little information on maiden names.

I've been able to track the Brannon's all the way back to Caren (Caron, Karon) Brannon, who was born in Ireland about 1687. But the maternal lineage has proven to be a lot harder. William's Wife was called Selena. In the US Census information I found on her name had been misspelled and mis-indexed several times: Selene, Selena, Celina (Alina). I was also able to confirm that her maiden name was Bishop. But this is where the trouble starts. I can't find her father and I have a problem with figuring out exactly who her mother was.

The problem really starts in the 1900 US Census. I found a record from Fulton County, Georgia that shows Margret McIlrath (age 40, widow) living with her two daughters (Eva Bishop and 'unknown' Brannon) and her son-in-law, William T. Brannon:

But I also found a 1900 US Census record for William T. Brannon, married to Selena, living with their two children in Madison, Morgan County, Georgia:

So are these two the same William T. Brannon? The first record shows that they have two children and so does the second. The first shows that William was born in Feb. 1873, in Georgia with parents also born in Georgia and so does the second. Both records show that his wife was born in South Carolina as did her parents. My only conclusion is that these are the same people and they were perhaps visiting or moving and even though the enumeration is only a few days apart, they were counted twice. The 'unknown' Brannon has to be Selena because in 1910 and 1920 I see William as married to Selena, so that one is pretty clear.

But why is Margret recorded with a last name of McIlrath? Her daughter Eva has a last name Bishop. Had she been re-married and widowed a second time in a 20 year time span? Did she give her maiden name to the enumerator? I tracked her back to the 1880 US Census:

Here she's still living in Beech Springs, Spartanburg County, South Carlina with her 5 children. And she is listed as being 28 and a widow! But she is recorded as Margret Bishop (with children John, Ellis C., Jonah, Selena and Eva). One of the assumptions I have been trying to make is that she lives one farm away from another big Bishop family, headed by Andrew B. Bishop. Andrew has 5 children living with him and wife Lizzie, but when I went back to the 1870 census I saw that they had an older brother, Calvin Rufus Bishop (I figured out the middle name from public member trees on He would have been just the right age to be married to Margret. So my guess is that they were married, lived next door to his parents and he died, leaving her behind with 5 kids.

I also found Margret in 1910, living with her daughter, Eva Hubbard (widow at the age of 30) and her son Archie. Eva's brother Jonah and his wife Nannie are also living in the same house. But once again, Margret is listed with the last name McElrath:

If I try to assume that McElrath is her name from her second marriage, then I also have to assume this second marriage occurred between 1880 and 1900. Since there is no 1890 US Census to work with, that is a bit of a blind spot right now. If I assume that McElrath was her maiden name then I find a Mulatto family of Thomas and Harriet McElrath from Spartanburg County, South Carolina all the way back to 1870. I am not sure which path to take and how to verify that this information is actually correct.

Here are my questions (feel free to take it as a genea-challenge and help me out):

1) Are the two records for William T. Brannon in 1900 for the same person?
2) Did Margret marry Calvin Bishop?
3) Did Calvin die before Margret was 28?
4) Did Margret re-marry a McElrath or did she just go back to her maiden name?
5) If this was her maiden name, is she the same Margie McElrath I find in 1870 listed as Mulatto?
6) What was the definition of Mulatto back then? Was it just used for a mix of Black and White or was it also used to describe Native Americans? I see there is an option of M (Mulatto) and I (Indian) but could the enumerator have gotten it wrong?

UPDATE: The Margie McElrath from the 1870 Census is not my Margret. I found the entire family in the 1880 Census and Margey was still living at home. Oh well, back to trying to track down her descendants to look for more clues.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 4, 2008 at 11:01 AM and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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