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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Secret Sister

I think the Castle readers of this blog will be interested in this post, but I also think our experience with this new "relative" could be helpful to anyone doing family research.

My cousin Linda recently texted me this question: "Was Cora's mother's name Mary Lesterman?" and then followed it up seconds later with a second text: "Never mind -- I remember it was Frances Nickell -- brain lapse."

Cora was the half-sister of the eight Castle siblings who were children of George Turner Castle and Sarah Florida Day. Cora was the daughter of G.T. Castle with his first wife, Frances Nickell. Cora's parents married in Morgan County, Kentucky, on 17 October 1884, and Cora was born on 10 October 1890. Her mother passed away on 10 April 1893, and Cora was subsequently raised by her Castle grandparents. Her father remarried to Florida Day on 2 January 1896.

The Castle and Nickell families were connected by more than just this marriage. Frances's sister, Elizabeth, was married to G.T. Castle's brother, James. The graves of James, Elizabeth, and some of their children (including Caledonia and her foot) are located with those of James and George's parents, Goldman and Rachel (Sargent) Castle, in Panama, Morgan County, Kentucky. You can read about our discovery of the graves here. That's why we were so sure that George T. Castle's first wife's name was Frances Nickell. That's all my grandmother ever called her.

Family of James H. and Elizabeth (Nickell) Castle

Which brings us back to Mary Lesterman. Linda had gotten a hint on (Kentucky, County Marriages, 1783-1965) that George Castle had married Mary F. Lesterman (or in another index--Mary Flesterman) on 17 October 1884. We had both disregarded the hint because it was the wrong name, but what Linda had noticed was that it was the same date. That made me take a look at the original record of the marriage.

Hint #1: I've seen this hint over and over in genealogy self-help books, and I try to look at the original record if it's available online, but I don't always if I'm in a hurry. Make a vow right now: Always look at the original record if you have access to it.

The handwritten record made it obvious that the bride's name was not Flesterman; it was Mary F. Lesterman or maybe even Testerman. But what the index didn't show, and the original marriage register did, was the place of marriage: the home of J.W. Nickell. James Wilson Nickell was the father of Frances and Elizabeth Nickell. It began to be more and more probable that Frances Nickell was the same person as Mary F. Lesterman/Testerman.

Marriage record of Mary F. Nickell and S.M. Testerman

Hint #2: Usually my hint would be "Don't assume two people with similar names are the same person," but in this case, If dates or other details match up, don't assume that two people with similar names are not the same person.

My next step was to search the Ancestry records for a Frances Nickell who married a Testerman in Morgan County, Kentucky. Sure enough, Mary F. Nickell, age 17, married S.M. Testerman, age 27, on 4 February 1876. Sadly, Silas M. Testerman died 19 May 1876. Again, checking the original record supplied information the index didn't show. Poor Silas drowned. And apparently--and here's the thing that has surprised Linda and me--Mary Frances was pregnant.

Death record for Silas M. Testerman

Hint #3: Check all the census records you can find for the relative you are researching. If I hadn't, I might never have noticed that Mary Frances had a child.

The next census in which Mary Frances would have appeared was the 1880. On the 1880 Morgan County census I found Mary Testerman, age 22, widowed, with daughter Salina M., age 3. Kentucky birth records show that Salina was born 17 November 1876.

Unfortunately, as most genealogists learn to their chagrin, the 1890 census mostly does not exist, due to a fire in 1921 at the Commerce Department Building where the records were stored. By 1900 Mary Frances was dead, and George Castle was remarried. The 1900 census shows that his family consisted of himself, wife Florida, and children Cora, Fannie, and Forrest. (Goldman and Rachel Castle, the next family on the census, also claim Cora, calling her "step daughter." Of course, she was really their grandchild.)

So, what happened to Salina?

Hint #4: Pay attention to Ancestry resource tips.

When you look at a source for an individual on Ancestry, Suggested Resources appear to the right of the page. I think they must be sources that are attached to the same individual by other Ancestry users. They are often extremely valuable when other records for an individual (census, birth, marriage, death) are difficult to find for some reason. (Beware; sometimes they are wrong. That's what makes me think they are selected by Ancestry users--sometimes in error.) In the case of Salina M. Testerman, they were very helpful--because Salina did not always go by the same first name.

When I look at Salina M. Testerman's 1880 census record, records for the following names appear in Suggested Resources: Salina Testerman, Monrovia Jones, Selina M. Jones, Monrovia Testerman, and Salina M. Testerman. Of course, I had to click on all the resources to determine if they all referred to the same woman. Apparently, they do.

Having not seen Silas M. Testerman's middle name on any primary source, I wasn't sure what it was until I found an entry on Findagrave for Silas Monroe Testerman. It looks like Mary Frances gave her baby a name that honored her father: Salina Monrovia. Monrovia Jones is enumerated on the 1900 census in Morgan County, Kentucky, with husband Alonzo H. Jones, whom she had married in 1898, and son Carl M. Jones, age 1. In 1910 the Jones family, with several more children, are living in Missouri; in 1920, 1930, and 1940 they are living in Kansas.

According to Findagrave, Alonzo and Monrovia are buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Chanute, Kansas. Alonzo died in 1952; apparently, Monrovia moved to Idaho to live with one of her children, because the Social Security Death Index shows that a Monrovia S. Jones (with the same birth date as Salina M. Testerman) died in Nampa, Idaho, in 1971. They must have returned her body to Kansas for burial beside her husband.

Which is the weird thing. Cora Castle also married a Jones and lived and died in Kansas. I think Cora met her husband, Fred L. Jones, after the Castle family moved to Davenport, because Fred was born in Arkansas. They are listed on the 1910 census in Chandler, Oklahoma, with their son Ralph, who was just a baby. I can't find them on the 1920 census, but on the 1930 census they are living in Herington, Kansas, where they are both buried.

Cora Castle, Herington KS, 1940's

Chanute and Herington are about two and a half hours away from each other. Did Cora and her half-sister, Monrovia, visit each other as adults? Considering that he lived in another state, we saw our Jones cousin, Ralph, often. My grandmother told me stories about Cora, who was 7 years older than she was. She never mentioned that Cora had a half-sister, as far as I can remember, but Salina Monrovia had already married in 1900 when my grandmother was just 3, and by the time the Castle family settled in Davenport, Oklahoma, Salina Monrovia was in Missouri.

I have recently had a DNA match with a Jones cousin, the son of Ralph's brother, Lavelle. I have messaged him to ask about Monrovia, but I haven't heard back from him. If he has anything to add to the story, I will let you know.


  1. Great post, nice story, and helpful hints. Thank you!

  2. Becky, my cousin found your blog and asked me to check it out. Our g-grandparents are Silas Monroe Testerman and Mary Frances Nickell. Salina Monrovia Testerman Jones is my grandmother.

    Monrovia (she didn't like the Salina) and Cora did visit each other, I have photos of them together when they are older, and often heard about Aunt Cora. Apparently my grandmother chose to live with her Testerman grandparents instead of moving with Mary Frances and George Castle. Kathryn Carpenter,

  3. Thanks so much for the information! I will be contacting you by email.