Hughes' Views & News

Errors in Genealogical Records: A Case Study

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on June 26, 2014

UPDATE (posted Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014):  I am way overdue in posting this, but I am happy to report that the Alabama Department of Public Health has amended this death certificate as I requested.

I started my search for my great-great grandfather’s death certificate armed with what I thought was all of the correct information, which I provided on the application form that I sent to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

As the form requested, I gave his full name — James Thompson Hughes. I also gave the names of his parents, the dates of his birth and death, and the two Alabama counties where I thought he was likely to have been when he died, Fayette and Pickens. I even included a print out of his Find-A-Grave memorial, which showed that we was buried in the Ashcraft Corner Cemetery in Fayette County, when I mailed in my form and the required $15 payment.

After some time had passed, I received a letter saying they had conducted a search of death certificates from Fayette County but were not able to find one that matched the information I had provided.

However, I knew at the time there was a death certificate on file reporting that Thomas Hughes, an 89-year-old white, male widower, died near Millport, in Lamar County, Alabama, on June 30, 1919. My great-great grandfather was called “Thomps,” which was an abbreviation of his middle name, and which sounds a lot like “Thomas.” According to his headstone, “Thomps” died on June 29, 1919. And, he was an 89-year-old white, male widower at the time of his death.

Millport, Alabama is less than 15 miles from the cemetery where Thomps is buried. So, I ordered a copy of the death certificate for Thomas Hughes, which is shown below. I believe this is the death certificate for my great-great grandfather and that his first name was simply recorded incorrectly.

0478_001Notice that the physician who certified the cause of death was A. W. Clanton. He was Albert William Clanton, and he also happened to be the nephew of Thomps’ first wife, Epsey Clanton.

In addition, in 1900 when this Albert W. Clanton was 19 years old, he and his mother lived in a household in Palmetto, in Pickens County, that was headed by Essie Cornelia Dollar Hughes. In 1900 Cornelia, as she was called, was the widow of John B.D. Hughes, who was a son of Thomps and his first wife, Epsey Clanton.

All of these factors taken together convince me that the man whose death is recorded on this certificate was not “Thomas Hughes” but was instead my great-great grandfather, Thomps Hughes. I have submitted an official request asking the Alabama Department of Public Health to amend this death certificate accordingly. So far I have not received a reply to that request.

What are the take-away lessons for me in this? When doing genealogical research, sometimes you won’t find what you’re looking for if you only search for what you believe to be the “correct” name of your ancestor. In such cases, you need to consider the possibility that your ancestor’s official records, including death certificates, may have been recorded under an alternate spelling of your ancestor’s name, or even under the wrong name. You also need to consider the possibility that the county where your ancestor is buried may not necessarily be the county where your ancestor died.

 

Newspaper (mis)reports the death of James Thompson “Thomps” Hughes

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on April 29, 2014

This one-sentence item ran on the front page of The Fayette (Alabama) Banner newspaper on Thursday, July 3, 1919:

The front page of The Fayette Banner from July 3, 1919 (as seen on microfilm).

The front page of The Fayette Banner from July 3, 1919 (as viewed on a microfilm reader).

 

Fayette Banner 2

This 21-word sentence contains two factual errors.

Mr. Thomas Hughes

Mr. Thomas Hughes, well known and highly respected citizen of the Ashcraft Corner community, died last Monday, and was buried Tuesday.

The name of the deceased was given as Thomas Hughes, but I believe this was an error. My great-great grandfather, James Thompson Hughes, was called “Thomps,” which is short for his middle name. “Thomps” and “Thomas” sound a lot alike, especially when “Thomps” is pronounced the way many Southerners would say it — as if it were a two-syllable word.

Thomps is buried at the Ashcraft Corner Cemetery in Fayette County, Alabama, and the date of death given on his headstone is June 29, 1919, which was a Sunday. The newspaper gave the day of death as Monday, which would have been June 30, 1919.

So, if I am right about this, and if the date of death on Thomps’ headstone is correct — then the newspaper managed to pack two factual errors into just one, 21-word sentence.

My great-grandfather, James Harvey Hughes (1867-1957)

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on March 5, 2013

It seems odd, but I know far less about my great-grandfather, James Harvey “Jim” Hughes (1867-1957), than I know about his father, James Thompson “Thomps” Hughes (1831-1919) or his great-grandfather, Andrew Hughes (1755-1843).

Jim Hughes and family in 1913.

Jim Hughes and family in 1913.

That may be because Jim, as far as I know, never served in the military whereas Thomps served in the Civil War and Andrew served in the Revolutionary War. I learned much of what I know about Thomps and Andrew from records related to their military service.

Here’s what I do know about Jim Hughes. He was born on August 10, 1867, in Pickens County, Ala. He was the first child born to Thomps and his second wife, Jane Mitchell Hughes. Jim married Louisa Thornton in 1889 and they had 12 children. Their first child, born in 1891, was my grandfather, Arley Hughes Sr.

Jim lived the first 50 plus years of his life in the vicinity of Ashcraft Corner, which is in Fayette County but very close to where the boundaries of present-day Fayette, Pickens and Lamar counties meet. But by 1930, when he was 63 years old, he had relocated to Lowndes County, Mississippi, near the town of Columbus.  According to family legend, Jim said that he moved to Mississippi “so my daughters wouldn’t have to marry their cousins.” (Two of his aunts, Hulda Hughes Wilson and Adline Hughes Wilson, had both married first cousins of theirs.)

He died on March 20, 1957, at the age of 89. He is buried at Mount Zion Baptist Church Cemetery in Columbus.

The only other information I have about him comes from a one-page bio that was written by my cousin Carol (Hughes) Olive and given to me in the late 1980s. Here is an excerpt from that:

“He was a small man weighing only about 115-120 pounds. To overcome his lack of physical strength he learned to improvise to make his farm work easier. He had a very active imagination and used it to design and build such things as a dry kiln to cure sweet potatoes. He did this before the Department of Agriculture or anyone else that we know of in the state of Alabama did. He was known as a superior farmer that produced not only cotton and corn but also sweet potatoes, vegetables, peaches, apples, strawberries, dew berries, scuppernongs, grapes and any new product that he thought would be profitable.”

Discovering my rural Alabama heritage

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on November 27, 2012

During Thanksgiving week, I traveled from my home in Durham, N.C., to Birmingham, Ala., to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my girlfriend, Kelley Grogan, and the family of my brother, Brian.

Left to right: Dylan Hughes, Gloria Hughes, Arley Hughes Jr., Tom Hughes, Mary Bess Paluzzi (Associate Dean for Special Collections at the UA Libraries), and Brian Hughes.

Our agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 20 included a trip to the Hoole Library at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where we donated a collection of 64 letters that my grandfather, Arley Hughes Sr. (1891-1969), wrote to his parents, brothers and sisters in Kennedy, Ala., while he served in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. The library plans to make the letters available on their website later.

After we concluded our business at the Hoole Library, we visited Arley Sr.’s grave, which is in Evergreen Cemetery, across the street from Bryant-Denny Stadium. He graduated from the UA School of Law in 1917, and then got married, before he was drafted into Army service. After returning home from WWI in 1919, he lived the rest of his life in Tuscaloosa.

My grandfather’s headstone.

My father lived the first several years of his life in this house at 828 11th Ave.

While in Tusaloosa, we also visited two home sites where my father, Arley “Bill” Hughes Jr., had lived while he was growing up, and a third home site where my mother, Gloria Breland Hughes, had lived. Only one of these homes was still standing. The other two survived a massive tornado that struck Tuscaloosa in April 2011 but have been demolished since then.

On Wednesday, Nov. 21, we went on a self-guided tour of several cemeteries where ancestors of ours are buried. First we visited four cemeteries in the rural area where my grandfather grew up, in the countryside outside Kennedy, a small town of a few hundred residents. Then we visited two cemeteries in Reform, Ala., a larger rural town where my grandfather’s wife, Virginia Ellen “Virgie” Doughty (1896-1978), grew up.

Shown here are me (at left), my father, and my brother, Brian, standing behind the headstone of my 2nd great grandfather, Thomps Hughes.

Our first stop was at Ashcraft Corner Memorial Cemetery, next to Ashcraft Corner Baptist Church. For me the highlight of this cemetery was seeing the grave of our first direct line Hughes ancestor to settle in Alabama, James Thompson “Thomps” Hughes (1831-1919). Thomps was the grandson of our earliest known Hughes ancestor, Andrew Hughes (1755-1843), who was born near Lancaster, Penn. but lived most of his adult life in the old Pendleton District in South Carolina.

Next we visited the Wesley Chapel Cemetery, which is on a dirt road (Wesley Chapel Road) and deep in the woods, about 2.5 miles from Ashcraft Corner Memorial. Here we found several graves of ancestors of ours named Wilson, a family that our Hughes line has been associated with since the 1700s. One example of this association: Thomps Hughes’ mother was Margaret “Peggy” Wilson (1801-1848), who married Thomps’ father, Elisha Hughes, in South Carolina in 1819.

Hulda Hughes Wilson (1833-1865) was a sister of Thomps Hughes. She married John Wilson (1828-1862), who was her first cousin.

We found additional examples of the Hughes-Wilson association at the next cemetery we visited, the Old Wesley Chapel Cemetery (aka, Wilson Cemetery) on Junkins Road, outside Kennedy. There we found the graves of two of Thomps’ sisters, Hulda Hughes Wilson, and Adline Hughes Wilson. Hulda, Adline, Thomps and their younger brother, William M. Hughes, were orphaned after their mother died in 1848 (their father, Elisha Hughes, had disappeared several years before). Custody of the orphans was awarded to their uncle, William M. Wilson, in Anderson, S.C. in June 1848. But by 1850 Thomps, Adline and William were living in Pickens County, Ala., in the home of their older sister, Harriet Hughes (1825-1906), and her first husband, John W. Hamby (1822-1862).

Here are a few more examples of the Hughes-Wilson connection.  James A. Wilson (1805-1876) is also buried in the cemetery on Junkins Road. James A. Wilson’s son, John Wilson (1828-1862), was the first cousin and husband of Hulda Hughes Wilson. James A. Wilson also had a daughter named Elizabeth “Eliza” Wilson (1829-1904), who was the grandmother of a fellow named Arley Hughes Sr., who was, you may recall, my grandfather. Another son of James A. Wilson, named James Harvey Wilson (1837-1900), was the first cousin and husband of Adline Hughes Wilson.

Our next stop was the Kennedy Express, a gas station and convenience store with a little restaurant inside. While we had lunch there, the clerk told us about a another Wilson Cemetery nearby, which we set off to see after lunch. This cemetery, like the one at New Wesley Chapel, was on a dirt road deep in the woods.

The headstone of James Harvey Doughty, one of my great grandfathers.

Then we drove to Reform (pronounced “REE-form”). First we visited Arbor Springs Cemetery, and then we visited Graham Memorial Cemetery,  which is close to Pickens County High School. Many of my grandmother’s Doughty relatives are buried at Graham Memorial. Arley Hughes Jr. was a school teacher in Pickens County before he went to law school in Tuscaloosa. In fact, he met his wife, Virgie Doughty (my grandmother) when she sent him a letter inviting him to apply for a teaching job. She wrote the letter on behalf of her father, James Harvey Doughty, who was highly active in the civic life of Pickens County.

What did I learn from this trip? It gave me a better understanding than I have ever had before about what life must have been like for my earliest Hughes ancestors in Alabama. They lived on a small farm in an area that even now seems to me very remote, rural and sparsely populated, although it’s only about an hour’s drive from Tuscaloosa. According to my father, the same trip took my grandfather two days by horse and wagon in the early 1900s.

The city I grew up in, Mobile, is in the same state, but the world of my childhood there in the 1960s and 70s was in many ways an entirely different planet from the world my grandfather grew up in. This trip taught me, in a very visceral way, that I am not that far removed from my rural Alabama heritage.