Untangling the Knots: The several Smith Mullins families

This is the first of possibly many posts under the theme of “untangling the knots”. The purpose is to demonstrate the complexity of tying names, people, events, and source citations to the correct person and family.

For this case study, I will use the example of SMITH MULLINS.

In my current database, there are at least four persons with the name of SMITH MULLINS. They are as follows, based upon information available to me.

  • Smith “Bitter” Mullins, (b. abt 1809, Franklin, VA; d. bef 1866, Floyd, KY).
  • Smith Crittenden Mullins (b. 1831, Pike, KY; d. 1898, Pike, KY).
  • Smith J. Mullins, Jr. (b. 1843, Pike, KY; d. 1915, Pike, KY).
  • Smith Mullins (b. 1877; d. bef 1910).

As I was attempting to utilize the multitude of online databases at FamilySearch.org to link events such as census enumerations, marriages, birth and death records to the appropriate individuals or families, I discovered the proverbial “rat’s nest” of mislinked records. More particularly, the examples of Smith Crittenden Mullins (1831-1898) and Smith J. Mullins Jr. (1843-1915) highlight the problems for family researchers.

SMITH CRITTENDEN MULLINS (1831-1898) was the son of James Booker “Dr. Jim/Pound Jim” Mullins and Polly Newsome. This individual married SARAH CRAFT (1837-1898) in Letcher County, KY, on 12 [Oct 1854. This marriage is clearly documented in the public records of Letcher County [Creda J. Baker Isaacs, compiler, Letcher County Kentucky Marriages, 1842-1884 (Books 1-6) (Whitesburg, KY: Letcher County Historical and Genealogical Society), Marriage Book 1, p. 50]. This Smith Crittenden Mullins and Sarah Craft lived on Shelby Creek of Pike County, KY throughout their marriage.

SMITH J. MULLINS (1843-1915) was the son of SMITH “BITTER” MULLINS and MARGARET “PEGGY” NEWSOME. This Smith Mullins also married a woman named “Sarah” — SARAH “SALLIE” MULLINS (1841-1913). Sallie was the daughter of JAMES SHERIDAN “JIM” MULLINS and MARY “POLLY” NEWSOME. Their marriage was recorded in Letcher County, Kentucky on 25 Nov 1869.

“1831 Smith” and “1843 Smith” both lived on Shelby Creek of Pike County, near the Letcher County line. They were separated geographically by only a few households. And both families included children who bore the same given names, such as Polly, John and William!

Only by comparing census records for a particular decade, side by side, would one easily determine that “Smith and Sarah/Sallie” would be two different families, not just one. But sloppy research can lead to assumptions, and assumptions can create big errors — and myths!

For example, on one website that attempted to resolve two marriages, the researcher simply claimed that “1831 Smith” married twice — first to Sarah Craft and then to Sarah Mullins. He ignored clear census entries showing a span of twelve years between the estimated birth years for the “one” Smith Mullins.

At least other researcher jumped to the conclusion that “1831 Smith” Mullins married Sarah Craft, but then divorced her and later remarried. And that is the false assumption that has been propagated around the internet community of Mullins researchers.

All of this is not to criticize any particular family researcher unduly. Rather, it is to begin to correct the record of one small family unit. And to highlight how easy it is to jump to a conclusion that, just because we find a single public record — or two, or six — that seem to fit a pattern, we cannot simply decide to connect a dot from Point A to Point B. I have done it myself, far too many times!

Sometimes we have to have several “Points A” laid up side by side — e.g. 1880 census entries for two different households in the same neighborhood, where birth dates for the parents can be compared, children’s given names and birth years can be sorted out, presence of a parent or sibling of the head of household can be explored, etc.

In this particular case, I spent several hours comparing records to resolve the quandary. And then I spent a couple more hours just on one website — FamilySearch.org — unlinking and relinking various records and individuals. I cannot vouch for the quality, or lack thereof, of family tree entries for these families on Ancestry.com, because I am not a paid subscriber there. However, I will make the editorial comment that my experience with their family tree records has not been good (an issue of “quantity” being valued more than “quality”). Therefore, I can only hope someone who is a client will eventually commit equal time and energy to corrections of the records there.

Anyway, for now at least, users of my database can rely a bit more on the investment of time to thoroughly document events and relationships with a critical eye. Oh, yeah… you may also want to check what you have for Smith Mullins in your own records/database!!!

(Hint of things to come: BOOKER MULLINS may be an even more tangled knot to unravel — over multiple generations.)

Toot! Toot! “Tracking” down the kinfolk!

Genealogy can be really funny — as well as fun! And names occasionally are a big part of the humorous side of things.

As I was cleaning up my huge database, linking public record indexes to some very distant Mullins kinfolk in West Virginia, I came across a third cousin, three times removed. His name was Claudius C. “Claude” Mullins (1869, Pike, KY – 1948, Boone, WV). No, Claudius is not the humorous name — it is not even that unusual for the era. And with all due respect for the memories of the folks involved, and with best wishes to these distant cousins I’ve never met, I share the following…

Claude, as he was apparently more frequently called, seems to have had a big fascination for things having to do with the railroads. Perhaps he was a conductor, a stationmaster, or railroad worker of some other kind. But it is would appear that some interests lay in that direction. That is suggested by the names he gave several of his children.

Among at least eight children in Claude’s family, there are these three — Local, Special, and Extra. This is merely my personal speculation, but I have to believe the names found their origins as follows:  a “local” train; a “special”, or non-scheduled train; or an “extra” for when transport demands were particularly heavy on the line.

And the stories get more interesting…

Local Mullins (1903-1962) was born and died in Kanawha county. While he may have been a “local”, he went all the way to Armenia to wed. That is, he married a woman named Armenia Starkey. And when he died, he was buried in Comfort — that is, in Comfort, Boone county, West Virginia.

Special Mullins was a son or daughter born in Kanawha County in 1906. There is some gender confusion here — no, not that kind! The birth record indicates Special was female, but the 1910 census listing for the family shows “Speshel” is male. I don’t have much more info on him/her (yet — but perhaps this entry will trigger some correspondence from nearer relatives who can share more interesting details of his/her life.)

Extra Mullins came along in 1911; This was before the era of “oops babies” or unplanned pregnancies, so we won’t even speculate…  Extra died in Huntington, WV in 1995. Extra is buried in the Crooks Cemetery, but I am certain that does not reflect badly on his character!

Again, I share this meaning no disrespect whatsoever for the folks involved. It just demonstrates that names have always been intensely personal, arising from all sorts of interests and events.

And, sometimes, they can bring a special smile, and a chuckle, to us researchers who stumble upon just a small part of their stories… and cause moments of total whimsy for us!

We’re All In This Together

Forget the Adam-and-Eve story. Ignore the Darwinian “common ancestor” (or “missing link”, if you prefer). You can disbelieve either of those narratives, and yet — if you are Appalachian — you still cannot deny that we are all related to one another!
When I first began to delve into Appalachian history and genealogy, I already knew that certain surnames were prominent in every community and every family’s background. It was that awareness that spurred my interest in documenting the interwoven stories of “the pioneers”.
Now I have compelling evidence of the interconnectedness of our Appalachian family experiences. Continue reading We’re All In This Together