Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Roberts and Huff Families of Jackson County, Tennessee--Part 1

I’ve been sitting here staring at this blank screen for a couple of days, and I don’t even know where to start.  This is my stumbling block, my brick wall.  The Smiths are frustrating, too, but at least I find out something new every once in a while.  I have probably been researching the Roberts and Huff families for 20 years, and I hardly know any more than when I started.  I’ve been revisiting some old emails that have even called what I think I know into question.

I’m pretty sure I’ve known these two surnames for 20 years, and I didn’t come up with them on my own.  Aunt Marie took me to visit the cemetery in Lamar where my great-grandmother Cornelia’s brother, Nathan Roberts, is buried.  I think either she or my cousin told me that Cornelia’s mother was a Huff, even though at the time I didn’t even know how it was spelled. I’ve been looking at census records on these two families since the days when you looked up heads of households in large books of census records by year and state.  I think that’s actually where I started—trying to find a Roberts and Huff family in the same county.  I’m not even sure how I knew it was Tennessee.  I eventually found a Huff couple—George and Mariah—living with a Roberts family in Jackson County in 1870.  It was a big clue.

Lamar Cemetery, Hughes County, OK
However, the discrepancies in those same census records still cause me to be insecure about the conclusions I’ve reached.  In 1870 in Granville, Jackson County, TN, the family of Stefen Roberts, age 50, included wife Eliza, age 45, and children Nancy, 20; Henry, 18; Ellis, 16; Permelia, 14; Thomas, 11; Caleb (transcribed Colet), 7; and Nathan, 2.  Also living with the family are George Huff, 26, and wife Mariah, 19.  Permelia could be my Cornelia; maybe the census enumerator misheard the name.  Except Cornelia should have been only 5 years old in 1870, according to her headstone and other records.

In 1880 I think I’ve found the same family, except the head of household is Elmira, age 54, (divorced and born in Tennessee), and her children are Nancy, 24; James H. (Henry?), 18; Thomas J., 14; Cornelia, 13; and Nathan J., 12.  Oh, and they are living in Harmony, Caldwell County, Kentucky.  Eventually I found Stephen Roberts (transcribed Rolenes), living with his nephew Nathan Roberts back in Jackson County, claiming to be a widower.  Oh, and by the way, on the 1850 Jackson Co. census Stephen is married to Elsy, and on the 1860 Jackson Co. census Stephen is married to Elcena.  Well, at least the “El-” part is consistent.

1870 Caldwell County, Kentucky, census
At some point I was in touch with a Roberts cousin who said, “Do you have a copy of the divorce papers?”  He copied and sent me the papers that he had originally discovered in the Jackson County courthouse.  The 7-page handwritten document, recorded 140 years ago, is very interesting in its depiction of spousal obligations, property, and the legal system in the 1870s.  Elzina Roberts, the complainant, stated that her husband had abandoned her and her children “without any provisions to subsist on whatever,” and she hadn’t seen him for two years.  She claimed that she was a “kind loving & virtuous wife to the defendant from the time of their marriage,” and that her husband, Stephen Roberts, “was a habitual drunk when he could get whiskey.”  She requested a divorce and possession of their property that included: “one horse one yoke of oxen two cows and calves ten head of hogs two beds and furniture one log chain two hoes two plows and plenty of cooking utensils and some baking 6 chairs one chopping ax Auger hand saw and draw knife twenty bushels of wheat about twenty acres of corn.”

Elzina & Stephen Roberts divorce, pg. 5
What’s really crucial, however, is the genealogical information contained in the complaint.  The document, dated 1874, states that Stephen and Elzina married in Jackson County, Tennessee, and had lived together on Martins Creek for 35 or 36 years.  It further states that Stephen abandoned the following minor children when he left in May 1872: John E. Roberts, Thomas J. Roberts, Cornelia Roberts, Caleb (spelled Calip) Roberts, and Nathan Roberts.  The complaint also states that the two oldest children of Stephen and Elzina were Nancy and Henry Roberts who were of age in 1872, and that two of the children, John and Caleb, had died since their father left two years before.  Elzina also mentions several times that she is, and always has been, a resident of Jackson County.  (This was before the apparent move to Kentucky by her and her remaining children sometime in the 1870s.)  So even though there are many alternative spellings and discrepancies in dates, I think that the divorce papers pretty much back up the information in the 1870 Jackson Co. census and the 1880 Caldwell Co. census, and that they all refer to the same family.

Elzina & Stephen Roberts divorce, pg. 3
Then in 2010, I got an email from an researcher, asking where I had gotten my information about the Roberts family.  His wife’s ancestor, Thomas J. Roberts, had died in Trigg County, Kentucky—the next county over from Caldwell—in 1936. His obituary stated that he had been born in Tennessee and brought to Kentucky by his mother as a “young lad.”  “One brother, Nathan Roberts, of Lamar, Oklahoma, and one sister, also of Oklahoma, survive.” So far, so good.  The man who wrote to me, however, had relied on information in the death certificate upon which to base his genealogy of Thomas J. Roberts.  And I think the death certificate is wrong.  It stated that T.J. Roberts was born in Trigg Co. (which contradicts the obituary), that his father was Tom Roberts, who was born in Trigg Co., and that his mother was Elvina Roberts, who was born in Trigg Co.  I can’t deny that Thomas J. Roberts was my great-grandmother’s brother (unless there’s another Nathan Roberts from Lamar, OK, who had a surviving sister, also living in Oklahoma), but looking back over all the information I’ve collected, I still believe that Cornelia, Thomas, and Nathan were all the children of Stephen and Elzina Roberts.  


  1. Just wondering if you are still active on this blog. James Nathan Roberts is my Great-Great-Grandfather (his wife's name was Susan Caroline "Callie" Grotts). My GG-Grandfather's father is listed in our family genealogy as Stephen Roberts and his mother as Elzina Roberts. I am of the same mind as you, all roads point to Stephen and Elzina (Elzy, Elsy, or HOWEVER those crazy census workers decided to spell it lol) are the parents of Cornelia, Thomas and (James)Nathan Roberts.

    1. Hi, Danny,
      I just got back from a trip to Jackson County, TN, where Stephen and Elzina lived. I didn't learn anything new, but it was interesting to see what the area looks like. I'll be blogging about my trip soon. Do you know anything about the parents of Stephen or Elzina?