I began my family research about four years ago. I’m a true neophyte when it comes to genealogy – most folks have been at it for decades. Our own Dinca is one of those, and she’s also the one who lit the fire under this new passion of mine. I’ve learned a lot over these past four years, how to search for that elusive family member, while also volunteering, as a member of the Sequoia Genealogical Society, to help patrons in the Local History & Genealogy Room at the Tulare Public Library in Tulare, California. My own searching came to a standstill when I got only three generations back on our Baker line. While I knew this happens in research, brick walls pop up all the time, it never occurred to me it would happen on my family tree so soon.
My great grandmother, Lillie Baker, was born in 1883 in Pope County, Arkansas. She married my great grandfather, John Quincy Robertson, in 1906 there in Pope County. That’s about all we knew about her, aside from all of her children. So when I began searching for her, I figured she’d show up on a few censuses, just as all of my other family members had so far. I was in for a huge surprise.
She was born three years after the 1880 census. For those of you who don’t know, the 1890 census burned, so instead of the usual ten years between censuses, it’s twenty years for researchers from 1880 to 1900. I’ve not found the Baker family in 1900 at all, and once she marries my great grandfather in 1906, in 1910 she’s a Robertson. So that 1900 census is critical if it can ever be found. A year or so ago I finally broke down and sent to the State of Arkansas for her death certificate. I got lucky – both of her parents’ full names are on it, as you can see by clicking the document just above. I got pretty excited, now I have that one thread I need for the whole mystery to finally unravel.
If you click the document to the left, you’ll see on the right-hand side, about halfway down the page, the names Baker & Thomas in the margin and then the information of their marriage. I was finally on my way to discovering this part of my family.
In reality, however? Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a darned thing showed up for them after finding their marriage. You would think I could at least figure out which Bakers from those in Arkansas are mine in further searches. Even after discovering my great grandparents’ approximate years of birth and middle initials when I found their marriage, that was more than I had before and is usually enough to find the right line. But not so in this case. Remember, Lillie doesn’t show on any census found so far. So, heck, I could be looking right at her family and not know it. There was an 1880 census that kept popping up listing William and Mary Baker with four sons: Andrew, Louis, Robert, and Morton. But no Lillie, as you can see on the copy of that 1880 census to the right here. So I kept dismissing that census and kept on truckin’ along.
I decided to talk to distant cousins, both who I know and who I’ve found during my research, hoping they might have some information about the Bakers or even remember some little tidbit. That was a dead end too, it turns out. A couple remembered a Chester Baker, who was a leathermaker, made saddles, and at least I knew they were remembering the same person. What they didn’t know is how he’s related to Lillie.
In trying to employ the same advice I give patrons who come into the Genealogy Room, I next talked to my mother. She remembered an Ellick Baker who lived here in our little town of Exeter, California, because back in 1955 when it flooded here, they went from Farmersville (yes, we are definitely small-town America!), where they lived at that time, to the Bakers’ home in Exeter because it’s on higher ground – even though the towns are only three or four miles apart. I searched for an Ellick Baker and came up empty, mostly because I knew nothing else about him. My mom also recalled Ellick had two daughters, Betty, but the other she wasn’t sure about. Charlotte maybe. But even with that info, that was a dead end too.
Then a couple of months ago, I talked to another cousin who lives closer and who I know. Her mom and my grandmother are sisters. She really didn’t remember anything her mom may have said about her parents, but she did remember Elliott Baker. He lived in Exeter. In fact, he lived there until he died, she said. Really?? That’s darned close to the Ellick that my mom was talking about. But at least now I knew a Baker died in California, so I checked the California Death Index and they listed a Miles Elliott Baker, born in 1912 and died in 1990 in Tulare County, California. I searched with that new info on Ancestry. I found a family tree there titled the Sean Baker Tree, and for some reason that’s the tree that drew my attention. On that tree for Miles Elliott Baker was his family – his father Miles Morton Baker. My first link! Morton – remember Morton on that 1880 census that kept popping up? Okay, that’s great, but don’t get too excited, Sandy, I told myself. I kept looking. Miles Morton Baker’s family was also on her tree via the 1930 census, so I checked that out, which is shown above. The family listing begins on line 17 and goes through line 22. There is Elliott and my next link – Elliott had a brother named Chester! There’s my leathermaker my two cousins recalled. So I’m really excited now! In my gut I knew this is my family. All of the pieces finally started falling into place.
A friend who had been helping me search when she has a few minutes here and there suggested I try to find Morton’s obituary and if – that’s a BIG IF – he died before Lillie, who passed away in 1963, she should be listed as a surviving sister and I would have my connection. As luck would finally have it for me, Morton died in 1941. So I sent an email to a genealogy room in a library in Pope County, Arkansas, hoping they might be able to find an obit for me. In the meantime, I wrote to the owner of that Sean Baker Tree on Ancestry, asking if she might be able to help, told her of my mom’s recollections. She said she’d try to help and my mom’s remembrances were correct – Charlotte is the other daughter. In fact, this lady married Elliott and Sean is their son. Then the bombshell – Charlotte is still alive and lives in Porterville, California – about twenty minutes away from me! Charlotte has been so close all this time. She didn’t know Charlotte’s last name but would try to find contact info for her and get back to me.
Because I was impatient, though, waiting for word on an obit or contact information for Charlotte, when I learned of a Facebook page called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, I joined them. These are folks who help out, however they can, people like me who need it. One morning I posted my request for an obit from someone in Arkansas, if at all possible, explaining why I needed it. I didn’t get home until about 7:30 that night, and by the time I had dinner and finally got online, it was about 8:15. I had 65 comments on my post! Those folks went to town trying to help, and there was one post that really did help. It was a link to the Arkansas Department of Health, which is where I went when I ordered Lillie’s death certificate last year – but I didn’t know they had a search page. You can search their records to see if what you need/want is there before you order (most counties don’t have this feature – they keep your money if they aren’t able to locate whatever type of certificate you’re requesting). So I typed in Miles Morton Baker and all his info. And this is what I got:
First Name Last Name County of Death Date of Death Mother’s Name
MILES BAKER POPE 12/12/1941 MARY THOMAS
It was that last bit of info, the mother’s name, that had me staring at the screen. Mary Thomas – the same name as mother on Lillie’s death certificate. OMG! At last my connection! So that family on the 1880 census I’d been looking at for four years is Lillie’s family – my family. She had four brothers we never knew about. My mom doesn’t recall my grandmother ever talking about any uncles. So I would have something in print showing this connection, I sent to the State of Arkansas for Morton’s death certificate. You can see the proof in black and white in the photo to the right. After this discovery, it also led me to William’s family – his father William and mother Melissa and loads of siblings. A whole new family line on my tree now. Needless to say, I’m beyond thrilled. And you’d think that would be the end of the story, right?
Wrong! Amid all this we came upon an 1870 census that listed William and Mary Baker and son Andrew, who was only a year old at the time. If you’ll remember the marriage of William and Mary, it was in October of 1876. That means Andrew was born at least six years before they were married. That also means that the next two boys on the 1880 census, Louis and Robert, who were born in 1872 and 1874 respectively, are not the biological children of my Mary Thomas. Only Morton and Lillie are her biological children. So who is the Mary listed on that 1870 census? William had to have married twice, each time to a Mary J.
So I found that Andrew passed away on May 8, 1929, in Arkansas. I was hoping my luck would hold out and his mother would be listed on his death certificate, as had happened with Lillie and Morton. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The entire area for father and mother has been left blank on that document. That copy is to the right, just to show how family research can go from one extreme to the next in the blink of an eye. Very frustrating.
So my next step? Go on to the next brother and hope there’s enough information out there to keep digging. Fortunately there is enough on Louis. He’s the brother who moved to Oklahoma where he raised a family and where he passed away. Currently I have sent my request to the State of Oklahoma to obtain a copy of his death certificate, and I have the same hope as with Andrew, that their mother’s name will be listed. I do have a hint of who their mother might be. There is a family tree on Ancestry showing Mary Jane Eaton was married to William M. Baker and she died in 1874 in Illinois. Two years before his marriage to my Mary. The same year third son Robert was born, so she possibly died in childbirth and William needed a mother for his three sons. Enter my Mary J. Thomas. However, this tree is unsourced and so far a note to the owner has gone unanswered. Hopefully I will hear something soon. Now it’s a waiting game for the next month at least for Louis’ death certificate to arrive and hopefully solve this particular mystery of the Baker family. There’s another mystery I found recently – I keep saying this family is going to be the death of me! – but that story is for another time.
In the meantime, the puzzle that is my family tree continues to delight, frustrate, tease, fascinate, and entertain me. I’m now looking for living Baker cousins in Arkansas, with the hope some of they are into genealogy and may have done some research or just have some family info they’re willing to share to help me put more pieces together. Will I ever put that last piece into place? That’s the hope, but then who has ever completely put history in its place?