19 March 2013

Searching For Papa's Father, Part II

I’ll be the first to admit, the “I’m going to find out who Papa’s father is” threat was just that for many years – a threat.  I went to college, moved to Chicago, got married, moved to Los Angeles, landed my dream job in the music business and had a baby. Our family history was just as important as it ever was but it seemed life was going full throttle.  No time for research. Yet, the identity of my great grandfather was always there, nagging at me inside.

When I decided to quit working and become a fulltime mommy, there were little bits of quiet time that came with that.  Not a lot of quiet time but enough to dip my toe in that genealogy pool.  As I mentioned, my grandfather was old enough to be my great grandfather.  Birth records were still sketchy in 1901.  I wrote to Lake County, IN.  Even though we were told Papa was born with his mother’s last name, there was no record of his birth.  My mom went down to the county courthouse where they pulled out the original delayed birth record book for her to look through.  Nope.  Papa’s birth wasn’t recorded. Bastardy Bond? Nope.

I looked at the 1900 census in Lake County, IN for clues.  Papa’s mother, Pearl would have been pregnant then. Maybe her living situation might provide an answer. I knew that Papa’s mother’s parents had both died by 1900. Tracking her down could be difficult.  I typed in her full name in a 1900 census search and immediately, not one but two Pearls in the same area showed up.  “Must have been a popular name”, I thought.  I opened the first census and there she was, living with her mother’s mother.  I looked through all the household members and all the neighbors for possible hints.  Didn’t really pick up on anything.  For grins, I opened the second search result on Pearl, just to see who that person was.  Maybe she was another family member I hadn’t heard of before. I looked at the census.  I looked at that Pearl’s birth date on the census.  It was identical to my great grandmother’s!  She was recorded as a household member at two different homes!

The second census record showed Pearl working as a servant for a wealthy family. Something else caught my eye VERY quickly.  There was a young man named Presley, from Virginia, also working in the same household as a servant/laborer. I got a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I don’t know how to describe it but I sensed that this young man was my great grandfather. Quickly, I pulled every census that was available at the time. It was easy to trace Presley. In 1880, he lived with his parents in Virginia.  But by the 1910 census, he was back in Virginia with his parents and in subsequent census records, he married, had children and passed away in Virginia.  His stay in Indiana was short-lived.

My gut was telling me that I had the answer I had been searching for.  The problem was in proving it.  My mom asked her cousins if they had ever heard of this Presley from their parents.  Most of her cousins were shocked to know that Papa was illegitimate.  They didn't know! Uncle Walter wasn’t really Lincoln’s son?  They were floored. I also knew that I couldn’t reach out to this Presley’s family, even if I could track them down.  Could you imagine the shock it might cause to that family? How terrible!  His family probably had no idea Papa existed, if he were Presley’s son.  I vowed to never contact Presley’s family; even if I ever found out he was my great grandpa.

So, I put researching Papa off to the side.  There really wasn’t anything else I could do. In the meantime, I had traced other family lines back to England, Ireland and elsewhere to the 1500’s and earlier.  I learned that most everyone I descended from came to the New World before 1660. There were kings and farmers in my tree.  I had grandfathers who fought in every US skirmish since King Philip’s War. I descended from a grandmother who stood up to the Puritan men folk, was massacred by Indians and whose statue stands in front of the Massachusetts State House as a beacon of women’s rights. Those I descend from cut their way through the wilds of this new land and pioneered areas from the Atlantic, to Canada, to Indiana.  I’m so proud of those I descend from. If it weren’t for looking for Papa’s father, I would have never learned so much. Even with all of that, I couldn’t cure that gnawing inside me because I could never prove who my great grandfather was. 

After a few years, something new started to come about which had the possibility to change my dead end into an open road:  DNA testing.

(Part 3 coming soon)


  1. This is a compelling story, and I'm waiting for Part 3. I think so many of us put genealogy aside while we have careers and children and "life happens." Meantime, we're always curious!

    I am entranced to find that your great grandmother Pearl was recorded as living in two different places. Did not know that could happen! I was waiting to hear how you found a gentle and confidential way to contact Presley's family. Maybe that will come with the "something new" -- the DNA testing.

    1. Mariann - I'm so happy you're your enjoying the story! Thank you! If the family my great grandma was working for didn't list her in their census record as well, who knows what would have happened?

      In the middle of writing the final installment, something VERY exciting happened. Might have to make a fourth installment.

      Have you ever done any DNA testing for your family research? It's fascinating.


  2. I have found family members counted in two places more than once. All have been when the person was probably still regarded as being part of the nuclear family and so their name was given to the census taker but due to school,working out of the home for a short time or being in a nursing home they were also counted somewhere else.

  3. The only other time I saw this was with a distant relation and the situation was just like what you are describing, Margaret. The girl was deaf. She was listed at a school for the deaf in Illinois as well as with her family in Indiana.

    I wonder how many times genealogy researchers come across this double counting and possibly discount it because they see that person is listed with their family?