John McMurry: Another Brick Wall in Winn Parish

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Brick Wall.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


Brick walls? Every genealogist has a few. They’re the difficult ancestors who seem to appear out of (or disappear into) thin air, leaving few records and stumping us for years. These family members are our greatest challenges, but — if we make a breakthrough — are our greatest victories.

John McMurry, my 2x-great-grandfather, is one of my long-standing brick walls. Like my challenging Smart family, John lived in Winn Parish, Louisiana, in the 1880s. The courthouse and all its records were destroyed by an arsonist’s fire on November 26, 1886.¹ (The courthouse had previously burned in 1868, and was again destroyed by fire in 1917.²) Records that could answer my questions about John McMurry were likely lost in these fires.

But courthouse disasters don’t mean the end of the road for genealogy research. It just means we must look for evidence from other sources.


Census Records

My most definitive record of John McMurry is from the 1900 U.S. Census. He appears in Ward 7, Winn Parish, Louisiana, with three sons:³

John McMurry household, 1900 U.S. Census for Ward 7, Winn Parish, Louisiana

Using just the information from this census, I can conclude

  • John may have born in April 1862, which would have made him age 38; or he may have been 42 years old, which would mean a birth year of 1858.
  • John is widowed, which means he had been previously married.
  • Calculated from the oldest son’s birth date, John and his wife were probably married by early 1881.
  • John’s wife was alive at least in December 1887, the youngest son’s birth date.
  • John and his sons were born in Louisiana, so John may have been in the state his whole life. However, his parents’ birthplaces are listed as Mississippi, which could be another possible birthplace for John. (I find the birthplace responses to be notoriously incorrect on censuses. After all, this information is only as accurate as the informant’s personal knowledge.)

By the 1910 census, John’s sons were all living in Franklin Parish, Louisiana. Robert and George were working as hired men on farms;⁴ Jim was married and working his own farm.⁵ John is not listed among any of his sons or on any other Louisiana census for the year; therefore, he likely died sometime between 1900 and 1910.

Church Records

A transcription of membership records from Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Gaar’s Mill, Winn Parish, may give a clue. These McMurrys appear in Record Book 1 (1877-1912):⁶

From List of Members of Harmony Grove Baptist Church, extracted by B. Jo Branch

Grouped together as J., Robert, and James, these three men are possibly part of the same family group. The death date of July 13, 1908, also aligns with John’s absence from the 1910 census.

Land Records

John owned his farm according to the 1900 census, so I searched for land patents in his name. Indeed, he had patented land, 159.74 acres on the Winn/Jackson parish line, on December 1, 1898.⁷ His land was near the community of Gaar’s Mill, which makes his appearance in the Harmony Grove Baptist Church members list reasonable.

Social Security Application

John’s son Robert Frank McMurry lived to the age where he completed an application for Social Security. He listed both his parents’ names on his application: John McMurry and Mary Smart.⁸ Finally, a record that names John’s wife! The first name of Mary agrees with the statistical information Robert and his brother George provided when applying for marriage licenses.⁹

(And how appropriate that my John McMurry brick wall merges with my Smart family brick wall!)


These records are the extent of my knowledge of John McMurry. However, further searches have given me more clues — and a few theories — about his origins.

Possible Appearances on Earlier Censuses (1860 – 1880)

McMurry is an unusual spelling of the last name, so general searches of the U.S. census for “John McMurry” in Louisiana does give some possible matches:

1880 Census – Ward 2, Jackson Parish, Louisiana
John McMurry, age 24, appears in the household of G.B. Higgs, listed as a laborer.¹⁰
I believe it’s quite likely this John McMurry is the same person as my John McMurry. Jackson Parish is one parish north of Winn, and John eventually settled on the parish line.

1870 Census – Oak Grove, Ward 5, Carroll Parish, Louisiana
John McMurry, age 16, appears in the household of Morris Evans, listed as a laborer on farm.¹¹
If my John were employed as a farm laborer by a non-family member on the 1880 census, then this appearance could point to him working on various farms, perhaps due to being orphaned at a young age. However, Oak Grove (now in West Carroll Parish), is in the far northeastern corner of the state, not immediately close to Jackson or Winn Parish. Would John have moved this far for work? I’m unsure.

1860 Census – Farmerville, Union Parish, Louisiana
John McMurry, age 7, appears in the household of Judah McMurry, a 37 year old female, along with other children Robert, age 13, and female S.A., age 9.¹²
This census does not give relationships among household members, but it can be inferred this is a single, perhaps widowed, mother of three children. I also find it interesting that an inferred older brother is named Robert, and John’s oldest son is named Robert. Is it a family name?

I have no evidence linking these John McMurrys together as the same person or even as my ancestor. However, it’s interesting their ages progress about 8 years forward on each census. Of course, it would be better evidence if they aged exactly 10 years between each document, but tracking one’s age wasn’t always as important as it is today. Also, the information for these John McMurrys was likely provided by others in the household, not John himself as just a hired hand. Were they always the most knowledgeable informant of John’s age and birthplace? Likely not.

Possible McMurry Relatives in Land Records

Other land patent holders with the surname McMurry appear in Jackson and Winn parishes. Could these be relatives of John?

  • Robert McMurry patented 161 acres near Jonesboro/Hodge, Jackson Parish, on October 30, 1857.¹³
  • James A. McMurry patented 120 acres near Winnfield, Winn Parish, on February 16, 1906.¹⁴

Possible McMurry Relatives in Church Records

There are several other McMurrys listed as members from Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Record Book 1 (1877-1912):¹⁵

  • R.L. McMurry
  • Lila McMurry
  • James McMurry
  • Onia McMurry
  • Robt McMurry

This supposed family group are well-known McMurrys in Winn Parish. Robert Lee McMurry and Lela Lawrence Dark McMurry had children James William, Onis Hilton, and others not listed in this record.¹⁶ Robert Lee McMurry was born in Ashley County, Arkansas, in 1870, and does not have any recognizable ties to John McMurry.¹⁷ But perhaps more research is needed.

The Robt McMurry at the end of the list is unknown.


Even in the absence of local records, I have still learned much about John McMurry. And each new find chips away at his brick wall.


¹ “A Court House Burned,” The Salt Lake (Salt Like City, Utah) Herald, 27 Nov 1886, p. 1, col. 2, digital image, Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1886-11-27/ed-1/seq-1/ : accessed 1 Apr 2019).

² “The Winn Parish Court House was destroyed by fire last Thursday,” The Bossier Banner (Benton, Louisiana), 25 Jan 1917, p. 1, col. a, digital image, Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85034235/1917-01-25/ed-1/seq-2 : accessed 1 Apr 2019).

³ 1900 U.S. census, Winn Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, enumeration district (ED) 119, sheet 3-B, dwelling 50, family 50, John McMurry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4119813_01131/20025011 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 586.

⁴ 1910 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, p. 105 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 51, sheet 28-B, dwelling 391, family 433, Robert F McMurry in the Thomas Ragan household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329976-00681 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 514.

1910 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 7, p. 94 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 51, sheet 16-A, dwelling 208, family 233, George McMurry in the Elmer E Wiggins household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329976-00656 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 514.

⁵ 1910 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 8, p. 130 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 52, sheet 18-A, dwelling 340, family 340, Jim Murry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4329976-00730 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 514.

⁶ B. Jo Branch, “Harmony Grove Baptist Church Records; Winn Par., Louisiana”, extract, The USGenWeb Project: Louisiana Archives Index
of Winn Parish Records
(http://files.usgwarchives.net/la/winn/churches/hargrove-records.txt : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entries for J. Mack Murry, Robt McMurry, and James McMurry; citing List of Members Harmony Grove Baptist Church, Record Book 1 (1877-1912).

⁷ Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=LA1420__.069&docClass=STA&sid=cebip0u5.c4g : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entry for John McMurry, Winn Parish, Louisiana, no. 8073.

⁸ Social Security Administration, “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database, Ancestry.com (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60901&h=9218984&ssrc=pt&tid=49495569&pid=20220265807&usePUB=true : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entry for Robert Frank McMurray, SS no. 435-28-0010.

⁹ “Marriage records, 1843-1917; general index to marriages, 1843-1972,” database with images; FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/357925 : accessed 9 Mar 2019); citing Franklin Parish, Louisiana, “Marriages, vol. I, 1912-1917,” p. 4, for “Robert McMurry and Elmer Womack,” Franklin Parish Clerk of Court, Winnsboro. 

“Marriage records, 1843-1917; general index to marriages, 1843-1972,” database with images; FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/357925 : accessed 9 Mar 2019); citing Franklin Parish, Louisiana, “Marriages, vol. I, 1912-1917,” p. 26, for “G.W. McMurry and Lula McKaskle,” Franklin Parish Clerk of Court, Winnsboro. 

¹⁰ 1880 U.S. census, Jackson Parish, Louisiana, population schedule (1st enumeration), Ward 7, enumeration district (ED) 37, p. 235 (stamped), p. 35 (penned), dwelling 311, family 311, John McMurry in the G.B. Higgs household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241370-00793 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 454.

¹¹ 1870 U.S. census, Carroll Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Ward 5, p. 270 (stamped), p. 9 (penned), dwelling 76, family 76, John McMurry in the Morris Evans household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4269410_00543 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 509.

¹² 1860 U.S. census, Union Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Farmerville, p. 124 (penned), dwelling 791, family 791, Judah McMurry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4231237_00164 : accessed 1 Apr 2019), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 426.

¹³ Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=LA1140__.142&docClass=STA&sid=cebip0u5.c4g : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entry for Robert McMurry, Jackson Parish, Louisiana, no. 15716.

¹⁴ Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=LA1590__.438&docClass=STA&sid=cebip0u5.c4g : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entry for James A McMurry, Winn Parish, Louisiana, no. 12462.

¹⁵ B. Jo Branch, “Harmony Grove Baptist Church Records; Winn Par., Louisiana”, extract, The USGenWeb Project: Louisiana Archives Index
of Winn Parish Records
(http://files.usgwarchives.net/la/winn/churches/hargrove-records.txt : accessed 1 Apr 2019), entries for R.L., Lila, James, Onia, and Robt McMurry; citing List of Members Harmony Grove Baptist Church, Record Book 1 (1877-1912).

¹⁶ Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24162572/robert-lee-mcmurry : accessed 1 Apr 2019), memorial
24162572, Robert Lee McMurry (1870-1944), Harmony Grove Cemetery, Dodson, Winn Parish, Louisiana.

¹⁷ Ibid.

5 thoughts on “John McMurry: Another Brick Wall in Winn Parish”

  1. I am so glad I took the time to read your post! I too, have a Louisiana Brick Wall! You have given me hope on how I might find my Gr-Gr-grandmother and her sister, who were orphaned.

    1. Thanks, Gale! What parish(es) are you researching? Another line of mine has orphans who were just “taken in” without any probate/tutorship/guardianship records. It’s definitely difficult.

      1. Jackson Parrish. I do know they were in the 1860 Census and ages 5 and 6 with a family that had other last names.
        John Day was the Father, Rachel was the mother and there were several children with names, Day, Rasberry, and Hearn(e) (My grgr- grandmother’s last name.

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