This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series. This week’s prompt is BACHELOR UNCLE. To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index.
Our family histories are often focused on ancestors who married and had children — after all, that’s how we got here. But what about the bachelors and maidens in our family trees? They deserve to be remembered, too.
John Morgan Smith — known as “Uncle Johnny” — lived with my mother and her family in their dog trot-style farmhouse during her early childhood. He was my mother’s great-uncle. Without a family of his own, Uncle Johnny lived at Smith Hill for many years — first with his brother Leo Smith and Leo’s wife Dena, and then with my grandparents James Paul and Dorothy Smith when they took over the farm. Uncle Johnny’s room was the small one, second on the right, walking down the breezeway.
Unfortunately, this information and a photo from my grandmother’s photo album are all I know about Uncle Johnny. My mother probably had very few memories of him, as she was just five years old when he died. My aunts were even younger, and do not have any memories of him — only that he was unmarried and lived with their family. With so little known about Uncle Johnny, I decided to dig deeper and learn more about this bachelor uncle.
John Morgan Smith was born July 17, 1871,² probably in Copiah County, Mississippi.³ He was the second son of Leonard Smith, Sr. and Jemima Carrie Guess.⁴
Johnny appears with his mother, father, and siblings in the 1880 census for Copiah County,⁵ but my next record of him isn’t until the 1910 census for LaSalle Parish, Louisiana. He is listed as a single, 38 year-old man, employed as a farm laborer in the household of his parents.⁶ The 1920 census shows a slightly different family structure; Johnny is listed as the head of household with his parents and a nephew, but his marital status was recorded as widowed:⁷
Census enumerators are infamously prone to error, so I thought maybe his marital status was recorded incorrectly. I had to re-think my assumptions when I looked more closely at the 1930 census:
Johnny appears in the household of his brother Leo in the 1930 census for Franklin Parish, Louisiana.⁸ He likely moved there after his parents’ deaths in 1924 and 1925.⁹ But, more importantly, Johnny is again listed as widowed.
Maybe the marital status on these censuses weren’t errors. Was this bachelor uncle actually…married? I had a new mystery to solve!
Johnny is buried in a single plot at Ogden Cemetery in Liddieville, just across the road from his Smith Hill home. The epitaph reads “Uncle Johnny” — no mention of a wife.¹⁰
His obituary from the Monroe Morning World did not mention a wife — or children — either:¹¹
I previously referenced Uncle Johnny’s death date from the Louisiana Statewide Death Index collection at Ancestry, but his actual death certificate would have more information, including a field for wife if one was recorded. Louisiana death records become public record 50 years after the death, and the images are only available on FamilySearch if accessed from an LDS Family History Center. The other alternative is ordering a copy from the Louisiana State Archives, but I’m not that patient when pursuing a mystery. I headed to my nearest Family History Center and got my answer:
Uncle Johnny had a wife, and her name was Mary Roark!¹²
(On an unrelated note, I do not believe the reported birthplace of Natchez, Mississippi, is correct.)
I checked indices for Mississippi and Louisiana marriages at Ancestry and FamilySearch and came up with nothing for John M. Smith and Mary Roark. It was only when I looked at FamilySearch’s digitized microfilm at Clayton Library, a Family History Center affiliate, that I found their marriage certificate:
John Morgan Smith married Miss Mary J. Roark on December 24, 1901, at his father Leonard’s home.¹³ Their marriage was recorded in Catahoula Parish, the parent parish of LaSalle.
Unfortunately, their marriage lasted less than a year. Mary J. Smith, wife of J. M. Smith, is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in LaSalle Parish.¹³ She died October 2, 1902 — aged 27, and less than 10 months after she married Johnny.¹⁴
The timing of her death causes me to wonder — did Mary die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth? No other Smith grave markers are recorded in this cemetery, so it is unclear and only my personal speculation. Either way, the death of his wife so young and so soon after their marriage must have been devastating for Uncle Johnny. He lived another 55 years and seems to have never remarried. Was his love for Mary so strong or his hurt so deep?
I’m glad this prompt led me to reexamine my research about Uncle Johnny. I uncovered a forgotten, but very important chapter in his life. My bachelor uncle was once married, but tragedy led him to live as a bachelor most of his life.
¹ John Morgan Smith. Photograph. ca. late 1940s. Digital image privately held by Jessica Horne Collins [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Houston, Texas, 2013.
² Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13161287/john-morgan-smith : accessed 8 Mar 2019), memorial 13161287, John Morgan Smith (1871-1958), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
³ Although I have not found the Leonard Smith household on the 1870 US census, Leonard Smith and Carry Jemima Guess married in Copiah County, Mississippi and lived there at the time of the 1880 census.
“Mississippi Marriages, 1776-1935,” database, Ancestry.com (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7842&h=237165&ssrc=pt&tid=82594051&pid=32487824397&usePUB=true : accessed 9 Mar 2019), entry for “Jimmie C. Guess and Leonard Smith,” cataloging “21 May 1866, Copiah County.”
1880 U.S. census, Copiah County, Mississippi, population schedule (1st enumeration), enumeration district (ED) 22, p. 13 (penned), p. 165A (stamped), dwelling 117, family 117, Leonard Smith household; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241986-00713 : accessed 9 Mar 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 645.
⁴ Order of children determined by ages reported on the 1880 census.
1880 U.S. census, Copiah County, Mississippi, pop. sch. ED 22, p. 13 (penned), dwell. 117, fam. 117, Leonard Smith household.
⁶ 1910 U.S. census, LaSalle Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Police Jury Ward 2, p. 177 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 60, sheet 5-A, dwelling 56, family 56, John M Smith in the household of L Smith; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329978-00359 : accessed 8 Mar 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 516.
⁷ 1920 U.S. census, LaSalle Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Police Jury Ward 7, p. 300 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 35, sheet 4-A, dwelling 62, family 69, John M Smith household; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6061/4300971_00608 : accessed 8 Mar 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 616.
⁸ 1930 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Police Jury Ward 8, p. 277 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 21-20, sheet 4-A, dwelling 74, family 74, John M Smith in household of Thomas L Smith; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6224/4584877_01104 : accessed 8 Mar 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 793.
⁹ Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33657386/jemima-carrie-smith : accessed 8 Mar 2019), memorial 33657386 , Jemima Carrie Guess Smith (1849-1924), Aimoch Cemetery, Nickel, LaSalle Parish, Louisiana.
Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33657327/leonard-smith : accessed 8 Mar 2019), memorial
33657327, Leonard Smith (1843-1925), Aimoch Cemetery, Nickel, LaSalle Parish, Louisiana.
¹⁰ Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13161287/john-morgan-smith : accessed 8 Mar 2019), memorial 13161287, John Morgan Smith (1871-1958), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
¹¹ “Services Scheduled” Monroe (Louisiana) Morning World, 8 Feb 1958, p. 2, col. 5.
¹² “Louisiana Deaths, 1850-1875, 1894-1960,” database with images; FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QLHZ-BLDQ : accessed 9 Mar 2019); citing Louisiana State Department of Health, death certificate 2698 (1958), John Morgan Smith, Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge.
¹³ “Marriages, 1846-1918,” database with images; FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/78178 : accessed 9 Mar 2019); citing Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, “Marriages, vol. D-E, 1897-1904,” p. 74, for “J.M. Smith and Miss Mary J. Roark,” Catahoula Parish Clerk of Court, Harrisonburg.
¹⁴ Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/30558864/mary-smith : accessed 9 Mar 2019), memorial 30558864, Mary J. Smith (1875-1902), Mount Zion Cemetery, LaSalle Parish, Louisiana.