Learning More About John McMurry from Federal Land Records

Because my recent research has focused on Mary Smart McMurry, I decided to obtain her husband John McMurry’s federal land records. I needed to expand my “reasonably exhaustive research” — a tenet of the Genealogical Proof Standard — to her closest male relative in the absence of records for Mary. John patented approximately 160 acres in Gaar’s Mill, Winn Parish, Louisiana, in 1898. His land patent application could give more clues about his family structure, including Mary’s origins or her date of death.

Location of John McMurry’s Patented Land in Winn Parish
S 1/2 of NW 1/4 and N 1/2 of SW 1/4 of Section 22, Township 13N, Range 2W

So I hired my first NARA researcher to retrieve the records. Brian Rhinehart from Rhinehart Roots was easy to work with — affordable, professional, and quick. He goes to DC almost monthly, and I placed my order with him while he was on a research trip. Because of this great timing, I received his photographs of John McMurry’s homestead application within 24 hours!

Continue reading Learning More About John McMurry from Federal Land Records

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.

Continue reading John McMurry: Another Brick Wall in Winn Parish

13 Jul 1908: John McMurry Dies in Winn Parish, Louisiana

On this day in 1908, my 2x great-grandfather, John McMurry died in Winn Parish, Louisiana.

I know very little about John McMurry; what I have learned is pieced together only from census, land, and church records.  It seems he lived a very un-recorded life, a simple farmer in a quiet community.  Because I know so little about him, he remains one of my major research interests.

John McMurry was born about 1853 in either Mississippi or Louisiana.  He first appears in the 1860 census with mother Judah, brother Robert, and sister S. A. near Farmersville, Union Parish, Louisiana.  He then appears as a farm laborer / hired hand on the next two censuses — in the household of Morris Evans near Oak Grove, Carroll Parish (present-day West Carroll Parish), Louisiana, in 1870, and in the household of G. B. Higgs in Ward 2, Jackson Parish, Louisiana, in 1880.

Sometime after 1880, he married Mary Smart, daughter of Samuel Smart and Adeline Shaver.  I have not found a marriage record for John and Mary; however, their son Robert lists Mary Smart as his mother’s name on both his Social Security application and on his own marriage license application in Franklin Parish.

John and Mary had three sons:  Robert Franklin McMurry in 1882, James J. “Jim” McMurry in 1884, and my great-grandfather, George Washington McMurry, in 1888.

On December 1, 1898, John purchased and was issued a land patent by the US Government for 159.74 acres in Winn Parish, Louisiana.  The patent describes the property as “the south half of the northwest corner and the north half of the southwest corner” of Section 22, Township 13N, Range 2W — placing the property near the community of Gaar’s Mill.  John and his family likely lived in the Gaar’s Mill area even before purchasing this property, as my great-grandfather George listed Gaar’s Mill as his birthplace on his World War 1 draft registration.

By the 1900 census, John was widowed and living with his three teenaged sons in Gaar’s Mill.  He was working as a farmer with his sons as farm laborers.

The only other information I have found about John McMurry is his appearance in the records of Harmony Grove Baptist Church.  The church was located in the community of Gaar’s Mill.  The transcribed membership list shows a “J. Mack Murry” joining the church by experience in September 1893.  Under his entry are lines for Robert McMurry and James McMurry, most likely referencing his sons.  These church records also include other McMurrys, but I have not yet established a relationship for these McMurrys to John and his family.

The final notation in the church records state John McMurry died on July 13, 1908.  His burial site is unknown; however, it is possible he is buried in the Harmony Grove Baptist Church cemetery.


1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls.  Judah McMurry and household, Union Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls.  John McMurry in the household of Morris Evans, Ward 5, Carroll Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch : accessed 10 Jul 2018), John McMurry (Winn Parish, Louisiana), accession number LA1420.069.

Harmony Grove Baptist Church, Dodson, Louisiana.  “Record Book 1: 1877-1912,” transcribed by B. Jo Branch. http://files.usgwarchives.net/la/winn/churches/hargrove-records.txt, accessed 1 Aug 2016.

“Robert Franklin McMurray” in U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Ancestry.com.  Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls).  John McMurry in the household of G. B. Higgs, Ward 2, Jackson Parish, Louisiana.  Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.  John McMurry, Police Jury Ward 7, Winn Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, George McMurray, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.