Case Study: Who are the Parents of Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills?

The mystery of my great great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills begins with an entry in the book, “The Descendants of Sterling & Reuben Mills: Two Brothers From East Tennessee,” by Michael Glenn Gibson, published in 2009.  It comes in a section describing her husband, Charles Harold Mills (1877-1966), which states that Charles Harold Mills and Mary Elizabeth Morris married on 27 June 1896 in Bolivar, Polk County, Missouri. ((Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002, Missouri Marriage Records, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri,  The book also claims that “Mary Elizabeth Morris was born on 10 September 1879 in Texas,” and lists her parents as “James Morris and Sarah Woodgroffee,” citing Mary’s death certificate. ((Certificate of Death for Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills, Duval County, Florida, file number 41-2369, Florida Department of Health and Vital Statistics, Jacksonville, Florida 32231))

In the book, Gibson states:

The only known record of her parents’ identity is Mary’s death certificate.  No census records for her parents are known.  According to unconfirmed information passed down among descendants of Charles and Mary Mills, Sarah Woodgroffee was of American Indian heritage. ((Gibson, Michael Glenn. The Descendants of Sterling & Reuben Mills: Two Brothers From East Tennessee. Jacksonville, FL: Michael Glenn Gibson, 2009. Print. p.25))

The passage continues to describe how Charles and Mary Mills, who “worked with the Salvation Army,” moved frequently with their family, starting out in Springfield, Missouri in 1900, living in several other cities in Missouri; Denver, Colorado; Reno County, Kansas; Jacksonville, Florida; Athens, Georgia; and then finally settling permanently in Jacksonville, Florida.  According to her death certificate, Mary died and was buried in Jacksonville on 27 September 1941.  Gibson also cites her newspaper obituary, which lists one surviving brother, J.C. Morris of Kansas City, Missouri. ((Obituary Notice for Mary Elizabeth Mills, Florida Times Union newspaper, Jacksonville, Florida, 29 September 1941, Page 20, Jacksonville Public Library, Jacksonville Florida))

Since Mary was born in 1879, she should be listed with her parents, James and Sarah Morris, in Texas, on the 1880 U.S. federal census.  Several James and Sarah Morrises could be located in Texas in the 1880 census, but none with a daughter Mary aged 0 years old or 1 year old.  A researcher named Mark Eckerman subsequently informed that Mary Morris could be found on the 1880 census in Houston, Texas County, Missouri. ((Mark Eckerman, “Mills-Morris,” e-mail message from <> to author, 15 March 2013))

On the 1880 U.S. federal census, in the Town of Houston, County of Texas, State of Missouri, indeed appears ((Year: 1880; Census Place: Houston, Texas, Missouri; Roll: 739; Family History Film: 1254739; Page: 358A; Enumeration District: 129; Image: 0218.)) a James A. Morris, white, age 34 (therefore born about 1846), head of household, farmer, born in Tennessee, from a father born in North Carolina and a mother born in Georgia.  His wife is one Serene Morris, white, age 38 (therefore born about 1842), born in Arkansas, from parents both also born in Arkansas.  In their household are six children, all listed as being born in Missouri, all from a Tennessee-born father and an Arkansas-born mother (making it highly likely that James and Serene are the biological parents of all of these children).  The children are: Nancy E., 14 years old; John, 12; Amanda, 10; Adolphus, 8; James, 6; and Mary E., 1.

There are several facts about the family of Mary E. Morris of Houston, Texas County, Missouri that match what is known about the family of Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills of (purportedly) the State of Texas, and several facts that do not match.  Both Marys are the daughters of a James Morris, both are approximately the same age, both have a middle initial of “E”, both have lived in Missouri, and both have a brother with a first initial “J”.  What does not match is the birthplace (one Mary is in Texas County, Missouri, while the other Mary is said to have been born in the State of Texas), and the name of the mother (Serene vs. Sarah).  Both of these discrepancies could possibly be explained as misunderstandings (Mary and her descendants could have gotten Houston, Texas County, Missouri misremembered as the State of Texas, and the names Serene and Sarah are linguistically similar).  However, more work would have to be done in order to confidently explain away these discrepancies.

One possibility was that Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills’s death certificate may have been sloppily written, and what was transcribed as Mary’s mother’s name “Sarah,” might also be readable as “Serene”.  Michael Gibson graciously provided a copy of Mary’s death certificate, but the names of Mary’s parents are legible.  Her father is clearly listed as “James Morris” and her mother is clearly listed as “Sarah Woodgroffee”.  What’s more, Mary’s death certificate presents new discrepancies.  The death certificate lists Mary’s father, James Morris, as having been born in Ireland, and Mary’s mother, Sarah Woodgroffee, as having been born in Colorado.  This is at odds with the Mary E. Morris on the 1880 U.S. census, whose father is Tennessee-born and whose mother is Arkansas-born.  The death certificate also lists Mary’s birthplace as not just “Texas,” but “Houston, Texas”.  While this is still at odds with the Missouri birth of the Mary Morris found in the 1880 census, it does lend more credence to the idea that Houston, Texas County, Missouri may have gotten mistaken for Houston, Texas.  The informant for the death certificate was Mary’s son, James H. Mills.

In order to find more information to determine if the James and Serene Morris of Missouri were the actual parents of the Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills who died in Jacksonville, Florida, the Missouri marriage records were searched for a James Morris who married a woman named Serene, in or slightly before 1866 (the approximate birth year of their eldest child, Nancy, as listed on the 1880 census).  In Phelps County, Missouri, which is the northern neighbor of Texas County, Missouri, a James A. Morris is listed as marrying a Serena Wood on 30 November 1865. (( Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: Missouri Marriage Records. Jefferson City, MO, USA: Missouri State Archives. Microfilm.))  No other James A. Morrises could be found marrying a Serene or Serena in the appropriate time and place, making it extremely likely that the James A. Morris who married Serena Wood in Phelps County in 1865 are the same as the James A. Morris and Serene Morris living in the adjacent Texas County in 1880.  Once again, new information is provided that comes close to comporting with the facts known about Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills of Jacksonville, Florida, but is slightly mismatched.  Serene (var. Serena) Morris’s last name, at the time of her marriage to James A. Morris, was “Wood,” which is close to “Woodgroffee,” but not identical.  Furthermore, the agreement of two sources (the 1880 census and the 1865 marriage record) that the wife of the James A. Morris of Missouri was named Serene/Serena, indicate that if this woman is indeed the mother of the Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills who died in Jacksonville, Florida, it is more likely that Mary’s death certificate is wrong about her mother’s name being Sarah — that it was actually Serene.

The 1870 U.S. federal census returns were searched for James and Serene Morris, in order to find more clues about the family, but they were unable to be located.  It is still unknown where James and Serene Morris’s family resided in 1870, although the 1880 census states that their daughter Amanda was born in Missouri in about 1869, and their son Adolphus was born in Missouri in about 1872, so if they did not live in Missouri at the time of the 1870 census, it must have been a very brief removal from the state.

In the next available federal census, the 1900 census, a James A. Morris can be found ((Year: 1900; Census Place: Walls, Douglas, Missouri; Roll: 853; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0166; FHL microfilm: 1240853.)) residing in Walls, Douglas County, Missouri, of white skin color, his occupation as stone mason, born in Tennessee in March 1846, son of a father born in North Carolina and a mother born in Alabama.  This James A. Morris is married to a Sarah F. Morris, white, born in Missouri in January 1861, daughter of a father and mother both born in Kentucky.  James and Sarah have one child living with them: Arthur G. Morris, born in March 1895 in Missouri.  Sarah is listed as having given birth to two children, only 1 of whom was currently living.  James and Sarah also state on the census that they have been married for 6 years, indicating that they were married about 1894.

James A. Morris, wife Sarah F. Morris, and son Arthur G. Morris, can also be found ((Year: 1910; Census Place: Marion, Ozark, Missouri; Roll: T624_804; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0137; FHL microfilm: 1374817.)) in the 1910 federal census, living in Marion, Ozark County, Missouri.  James A. Morris gives his age as 64, his occupation as farmer, his birthplace as Tennessee, his father’s birthplace as North Carolina, and his mother’s birthplace as Mississippi.  Sarah F. Morris gives her age as 49, her birthplace as Missouri, and her parents’ birthplace as Kentucky.  They state that they have been married for 16 years, again pinning their marriage year as approximately 1894.

While the James A. Morris on the 1900 census lists his mother’s birthplace as Alabama and the James A. Morris on the 1910 census lists his mother’s birthplace as Mississippi, the James A. Morris on the 1880 census lists his mother’s birthplace as Georgia.  Due to the strong correlation of all the other facts about the 1880 James A. Morris and the 1900/1910 James A. Morris, it can be assumed with little mental reservation that they are the same individual, and that James was simply unclear on the exact birth state of his mother.

Yet again, with the discovery of James A. Morris in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, another fact surfaces that almost accords with what is known about the Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills who died in Jacksonville, Florida, but does not match exactly.  James A. Morris is now known to have remarried to a woman named Sarah, although she could not be the birth mother of Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills — only a stepmother.

Could Mary’s son, James H. Mills, the informant for his mother’s death certificate, have accidentally mixed and blended facts about Mary’s origins?  Might it be that James H. Mills got Mary’s birth place and parentage incorrect, but that there are kernels of truth in James H. Mills’s assertions?  It seems possible, particularly if James H. Mills was born after his maternal grandparents had died, and if he grew up several hundred miles away from the rest of the Morris family, that he was not entirely clear on the Morris roots.  Perhaps James H. Mills’s “Sarah Woodgroffee” is an amalgamation of the first name of Mary’s stepmother (Sarah F. Morris, listed as James A. Morris’s wife in the 1900 census), plus something similar to the former last name of Mary’s biological mother (Serene Wood Morris, listed as James A. Morris’s wife in the 1865 marriage record and the 1880 census).  Yet more research would need to be done, in order to confirm or deny this hypothesis.

The Missouri marriage records were returned to, in an attempt to locate a marriage between James A. Morris and a Sarah F. in approximately 1894.  In the records appears a James A. Morris who marries a Sarah F. Poteet in Gainesville, Ozark County, Missouri (just one county south of Texas County) on 6 October 1893, united in matrimony by a minister named F. Deatherage.  No other James A. Morrises can be found marrying a Sarah F. in the appropriate time and place, and so it is extremely likely that the James A. Morris who married Sarah F. Poteet in Gainesville in 1893 are the same James and Sarah Morris on the 1900 census. (( Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: Missouri Marriage Records. Jefferson City, MO, USA: Missouri State Archives. Microfilm.))

What was known of James A. Morris’s life at this point was that he had married a Serene/Serena Wood in 1865, had produced several children in Missouri between about 1866 and 1879, and had remarried to a Sarah F. Poteet in 1893, with whom he had at least one more child, Arthur G. Morris.

James A. Morris does not appear in the 1920 federal census, although a Sarah Morris, white, age 59, born in Missouri, of parents both born in Kentucky, appears as a widow who is working as a servant in the household of a Sarah Kirk in Ava, Douglas County, Missouri. ((Year: 1920; Census Place: Ava, Douglas, Missouri; Roll: T625_917; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 55; Image: 613.))

In the 1930 federal census, a Sarah Morris, white, age 69, born in Missouri, of parents both born in Kentucky, appears again as a widow who is now living by herself in Thornfield, Ozark County, Missouri.  She is living next door to her son Arthur Morris, who has a wife named Alpha and four children. ((Year: 1930; Census Place: Thornfield, Ozark, Missouri; Roll: 1216; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 17; Image: 202.0; FHL microfilm: 2340951.))

No one matching Sarah F. Morris’s description can be located in the 1940 federal census.  These findings indicate that James A. Morris died between 1910 and 1920, and that Sarah F. Morris died between 1930 and 1940.

Researcher Mark Eckerman located the death certificate of a James Arthur Morris, who died of heart disease in Thornfield, Ozark County, Missouri on 11 March 1912, and was buried in Piland Cemetery.  This death certificate states that James Arthur Morris was white, married, born on 23 March 1846 in Tennessee, worked as a stone mason, and was the son of a John Morris of unknown birthplace and a mother maiden named “Killpatic”[sic Kilpatrick] of unknown birthplace.  The informant for the death certificate was Sarah Morris of Thornfield, Missouri. ((Certificate of Death for James Arthur Morris, Ozark County, Missouri, file number 10381, Missouri State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102))  Armed with all of this information, a search was conducted by researchers at the Missouri State Historical Society for a newspaper obituary for James Arthur Morris, which might have listed the names and residences of his surviving children, but none could be located.

Researcher Mark Eckerman also located a Civil War veteran pension circular filled out by James Arthur Morris on May 4th, 1898.  He lists his current wife as Sarah F. Morris, maiden named Sarah F. Thompson, and says they were married in Gainesville, Ozark County, Missouri by a minister named Frances M. Deatherage.  This indicates that Sarah’s former name, “Sarah F. Poteet”, as listed on their 1893 marriage record, was her married name at the time she married James Arthur Morris, and that Sarah F. Thompson was her original maiden name.  On the pension circular, James Arthur Morris also states that he was previously married to a “Surrena E. Morris,” who died in Springfield, Missouri on March 5th, 1885.  This agrees with the timeline so far known, which has James’s first wife, Serene, disappearing from the picture some time after the 1880 census, and has James remarrying to Sarah F. (Thompson) Poteet in 1893.  James Arthur Morris’s pension circular also lists his children and their dates of birth:

Nancy E. Morris Born Oct. 3th[sic] 1866.  John Morris Born Janry 29th 1868.  Manda E. Morris Born Nov 4th 1869.  Adlph. D. Morris July 27th 1872.  Jim Cal. Morris Born Aug. 24th 1874.  Mary E. Morris Born Sept. 17th 1877.  Jonere[sp?] Morris Born June 12th 1881.  Arthur G. Morris Born March 25th 1895. ((James Arthur Morris file, Certificate No. 410997, Form 3-402, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Pensions, Washington, D.C. 20240))

This pension circular helps to fill in the timeline of James Arthur Morris’s life.  However, it also gives a birth date for Mary E. Morris that is at odds with the birth date for the Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills who died in Jacksonville, Florida.  The former is said in her father’s pension circular to have been born on 17 September 1877, while the latter is said in her death certificate to have been born on 10 September 1879.  Once again, the facts do not match exactly, but they are similar enough that the discrepancies could be the result of fuzzy memories on someone’s part.  One aspect that casts the reliability of James Arthur Morris’s memory into doubt is that he claims his daughter Mary was born in 1877, when the 1880 federal census clearly states that his daughter Mary was born about 1879.  So, it is almost certain that James Arthur Morris got his daughter Mary’s birth year incorrect, which makes it seem more likely that perhaps he also got his daughter’s birth day slightly incorrect.

One of the aspects of James Arthur Morris’s pension circular that seems to help the case that the two Marys are the same, is the fact that James Arthur Morris’s son James “Jim” Morris has a middle name of “Cal.”.  This agrees with the fact that Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills’s newspaper obituary lists a surviving brother as J.C. Morris of Kansas City, Missouri.

Researcher Mark Eckerman also located a “Declaration for Widow’s Pension” filled out by James Arthur Morris’s second wife, Sarah F. Morris, on 25 September 1916.  At the time, Sarah F. Morris is 55 years old, residing in Thornfield, Ozark County, Missouri, and claims that her husband James A. Morris had enrolled in the Union Army at Benton Barracks, Missouri, on 1 December 1863, and was discharged 20 November 1865.  Sarah claims that her husband’s first wife, Serene E. Morris, died in Springfield, Missouri on 5 March 1885.  Sarah also explains that she had first been married to a Reuben H. Laughary, whom she divorced at West Plains, Missouri, that she had then married a Thomas A. Poteet, whom she divorced at Gainesville, Missouri on 15 October 1891, and that she had then married James Arthur Morris near Gainesville, Missouri on 6 October 1893, the wedding being officiated by Rev. Frances Deatherage.  Sarah’s widow’s pension application was attested to by an E.A. Duncklee and an S.M. Thompson, both of Thornfield, Missouri. ((Sarah F. Morris file, form 3-007, Declaration for Widow’s Pension, before a Notary Public on 25 September 1916, Thornfield, Ozark County, Missouri))  S.M. Thompson may have been some relation to Sarah, given her maiden name of Thompson.

The next step was to use this information on James Arthur Morris’s other children to find newspaper obituaries for them, which might list the married name and residence of their sister Mary, should she have still been living when they died.

A death certificate was located in Ionia County, Michigan, for a Maggy Dinehart who died in Easton Township on 14 February 1931.  This death certificate lists her father as a James Morris, her birthplace as Missouri, and her birth date as 3 October 1866, which matches the birthdate James Arthur Morris gave for his daughter Nancy Morris on the pension circular. ((Certificate of Death for Maggy Dinehart, Ionia County, Michigan, file number D-193-15715, Ionia County Clerk (Tonda Rich), Ionia, Michigan 48846))  This strongly suggests that James Arthur Morris’s daughter, Nancy E. Morris, went by the nickname “Maggy,” and that she had moved to Michigan.

An obituary located for a Maggie Dinehart in the 19 February 1931 edition of the Ionia County News states that she died suddenly at her home in Easton, Michigan, on 14 February 1931, that she had been born in Missouri, and that she had lived in Minnesota for a while and then had settled in Michigan in about 1913.  The obituary lists survivors as her husband, John Dinehart, and two sisters: “Mrs. Emma Wilson, of Iowa, and Mrs. Mary Mills of Florida.” ((Maggie (Morris) Dinehart obituary, Ionia County News, Ionia County, Michigan, 19 February 1931))

Nancy “Maggie” (Morris) Dinehart’s obituary confirms that James Arthur Morris and Serene Morris’s daughter, Mary, did indeed marry a Mills and move to Florida.  This is very strong evidence that the Mary E. Morris living in Houston, Texas County, Missouri in the 1880 federal census is the same as the Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills who died in Jacksonville, Florida.  If that is the case, then Mary’s son James H. Mills must have gotten his mother’s birth place, as well as his maternal grandmother’s maiden name, mixed up (which would have been easy to do, considering the similarities between James H. Mills’s assertions and what the true facts would have been).  However, could James Arthur Morris have gotten his daughter Mary’s birthday incorrect?  Can this discrepancy be explained away so easily, as a mere failure of his memory?

A death record for James and Serene Morris’s second child, John Morris, who died 23 October 1919, can also be found.  His full name is given as John Vincent Morris, residing at 1920 Elmwood St., Kansas City, Missouri.  John Vincent Morris is white, married to a Martha E. Morris, born in Missouri on 31 January 1867, working as a stone mason (the same as his father), and gives his parents’ names as James A. Morris and Elizabeth St. Clair.  The informant is a John Lawrence, living at the same address as John Vincent Morris. ((Certificate of Death for John Vincent Morris, Jackson County, Missouri, file number 30385, Missouri State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jefferson City, Missouri, 65102))  His obituary, which can be found in the 25 October 1919 edition of the Kansas City Times, lists his surviving relatives as wife, Martha E. Morris, a step-son, John R. Lawrence, and a brother, J.C. Morris of Springfield, Missouri. ((John Vincent Morris obituary, Kansas City Times, Kansas City, Kansas, 25 October 1919, page 13, column 3.))

While John’s 1919 obituary confirms the survival of a brother, J.C. Morris, it neglects to mention his sister, Mary, whose survival is confirmed by the 1931 obituary of his other sister, Nancy “Maggie” Dinehart.  John’s obituary is a very short one, however, and is crammed into a crowded, big city newspaper (the Kansas City Times), which likely had strict word limits for obituaries.  John’s sister Mary may not have made it into his obituary simply because of limited space.  All the haze and confusion that Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills and her family seemed to have regarding the Morris roots, combined with their distance from Missouri and the rest of the clan, may also indicate that there was not much communication between Mary and the rest of her family, and that knowledge between the branches of the family had become fuzzy.

On John Vincent Morris’s death certificate, his step-son, the informant, John Lawrence, does–interestingly–claim that John Morris’s mother’s name was “Elizabeth”, which is likely what Serene E. Morris’s middle initial stands for.  The informant also declares that John Morris’s mother’s maiden name was “St. Clair,” rather than the “Wood” that is listed on James Arthur Morris and Serene’s marriage record.  If “St. Clair”, or something similar, is Serene’s actual maiden name, then “Wood” may have been a last name from a marriage to a Mr. Wood, prior to Serene’s marriage to James Arthur Morris.

Also significant to note is that John Vincent Morris’s birth date, 31 January 1867, as printed on his death certificate, is two days off from the birth date that James Arthur Morris gave for his son John in the pension circular.  If James Arthur Morris also got his son John’s birth date incorrect, then this lends credence to the theory that James Arthur Morris was simply bad with dates, and that there is no bigger significance in the fact that he gives a slightly mismatched birth date for his daughter Mary.

The next item to be searched for was the location of Nancy “Maggie” (Morris) Dinehart’s sister, Emma Wilson, in Iowa, as stated in Maggie’s 1931 obituary.  Emma was first searched for in the 1925 Iowa state census, which conveniently lists each individual’s parents’ names.  An Emma Wilson can be found living in Lincoln, Wright County, Iowa, in 1925, married to an R.E. Wilson.  She is about 55 years old, and lists her father’s name as James A. Morris and her mother’s maiden name as Serene E. Sinclaire. (( Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Microfilm of Iowa State Censuses, 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925 as well various special censuses from 1836-1897 obtained from the State Historical Society of Iowa via Heritage Quest.))  Emma’s birth date of approximately 1870 would mean that she is likely the Amanda Morris listed as a daughter of James and Serene Morris in 1880, and that “Emma” is her nickname, probably derived from her middle name, given that James Arthur Morris lists his daughter as “Manda E. Morris” in his pension circular.  Amanda E. “Emma” (Morris) Wilson’s 1925 Iowa state census statement also seems to lend support to her brother John’s death certificate, which says that their mother’s maiden name is “Sinclaire” or “St. Clair”.

Amanda E. “Emma” (Morris) Wilson’s death certificate can be found in Iowa, where Emma died of cerebral hemorrhage on 10 February 1955 in Clarion, Wright County, Iowa, usually residing in Eagle Grove, Wright County, Iowa.  Emma’s birth is listed on her death certificate as 2 November 1869 in Gainesville, Missouri, and her parents are listed as Arthur James Morris and Elizabeth Sinclare. ((Certificate of Death for Amanda E. “Emma” (Morris) Wilson, Wright County, Iowa, Iowa Bureau of Health Statistics, Des Moines, Iowa 50319))  Again, this lends more credence to the maiden name of James Arthur Morris’s first wife being Serene Elizabeth Sinclaire, or some very close variation thereof.  It also should be pointed out that, once again, James Arthur Morris missed the mark on Emma’s birthday by two days.  It would seem that he was indeed simply bad with remembering dates, and that his giving a slightly different birth date for Mary is nothing to disqualify Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills from being the same individual as his daughter, Mary.

Amanda E. “Emma” (Morris) Wilson’s obituary can be found in the 17 February 1955 edition of the Clarion (Wright County) Monitor newspaper.  It reiterates that she was born in Gainesville, Missouri on 2 November 1869 to Arthur James Morris and Elizabeth Sinclair Morris, and states that she moved with her family in a covered wagon to Houston county, Missouri, when she was a child.  The obituary states that she was first married to Perry Pults, who died, and that her second husband, Robert E. Wilson, whom she married on 9 July 1909 in Clarion, Iowa, died on 6 December 1938.  There are no surviving siblings listed, as she was likely the last of the children of James and Serene Morris. ((Emma Morris Wilson obituary, Clarion (Wright County) Monitor, Clarion, Iowa, 17 February 1955, page 12, column 2.))

For Adolphus Morris, the fourth child of James and Serene Morris, who died early in the morning on 1 December 1908 and was buried in Springfield, Missouri, ((Young, Judy. “Adalph Morris.” Find A Grave. Find A Grave, 18 Feb. 2009. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <>.)) there are two very short obituaries in the 2 December 1908 and 3 December 1908 editions of the Springfield Missouri Republican newspaper, ((Adolphus D. Morris death notice, Springfield Missouri Republican, Springfield, Missouri, 2 December 1908.)) ((Adolphus D. Morris funeral notice, Springfield Missouri Republican, Springfield, Missouri, 3 December 1908.)) but neither mention any surviving siblings.

For James C. Morris, the fifth child of James and Serene Morris, a death certificate can be found in Jackson County, Missouri.  James “J.C.” Morris died of coronary occlusion on 6 April 1950 in Kansas City, Missouri, was a real estate repairman, and was married to a Mary Z. Morris.  His father is listed as a Morris, and his mother’s maiden name is listed as Sinclair.  His birth date is given as 4 August 1874. ((Certificate of Death for James C. Morris, Jackson County, Missouri, file number 13147, The Division of Health of Missouri, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102))

James C. Morris’s obituary confirms not only that Serene’s maiden name is Sinclair or some similar spelling, and also provides another instance of James Arthur Morris getting his children’s birth dates incorrect, it also confirms that he is the J.C. Morris of Kansas City, Missouri, as listed in Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills’s obituary in the Florida Times Union newspaper.

It can be confidently stated that the Mary E. Morris, daughter of James A. Morris and Serene Morris, living in Houston, Texas County, Missouri, in the 1880 federal census, is the same individual as the Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills who died in Jacksonville, Florida on 27 September 1941.

Nancy “Maggie” (Morris) Dinehart’s 1931 obituary lists her sister as being a Mary Mills in Florida.  James C. Morris’s 1950 death certificate lists his last residence as Kansas City, Missouri, whereas Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills’s 1941 obituary lists her surviving brother as J.C. Morris of Kansas City, Missouri.

The death records of John Vincent Morris, Amanda E. “Emma” (Morris) Wilson, and James Cal. Morris all confirm their parents’ names as James Arthur Morris and Serene Elizabeth, maiden name Sinclaire (or some variation thereof).  The fact that Mary’s son, James H. Mills, acting as the informant for his mother’s death certificate, got his maternal grandparents’ birthplaces incorrect, and his maternal grandmother’s name incorrect (“Sarah Woodgroffee”), can be explained by a probable lack of communication amongst the branches of the family and the fact that the entire family seemed to suffer from a general awkwardness with remembering specific dates and details.  The name “Sarah Woodgroffee” is likely an amalgamation of Mary’s stepmother’s first name (Sarah F. [Thompson] Laughary Poteet Morris) and a distorted version of Mary’s biological mother’s previous married surname (Serene Elizabeth [Sinclaire] Wood Morris).

The fact that the birth date given for Mary in James Arthur Morris’s pension circular differs slightly from Mary’s actual birth date, is likely because James Arthur Morris was not adept with remembering dates, not because Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills was not his daughter.  James Arthur Morris’s inexpertness with dates is attested to by the fact that he also got virtually all of his other children’s birth dates slightly wrong on the pension circular.

Finally, the fact that Mary and her descendants got her birthplace wrong (Houston, Texas, rather than Houston, Texas County, Missouri), is an easy enough mistake to understand.  However, it seems that Mary and her descendants may have had an inkling of knowledge that she was, in fact, born in Missouri rather than Texas.  While, on the U.S. federal census returns for the years 1900 ((Year: 1900; Census Place: Springfield Ward 4, Greene, Missouri; Roll: 855; Page: 35B; Enumeration District: 0038; FHL microfilm: 1240855.)), 1910 ((Year: 1910; Census Place: Hutchinson Ward 1, Reno, Kansas; Roll: T624_453; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 0159; FHL microfilm: 1374466.)), 1920 ((Year: 1920; Census Place: Athens Ward 4, Clarke, Georgia; Roll: T625_243; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 10; Image: 813.)), 1930 ((Year: 1930; Census Place: Jacksonville, Duval, Florida; Roll: 312; Page: 22B; Enumeration District: 9; Image: 495.0; FHL microfilm: 2340047.)), and 1940 ((Year: 1940; Census Place: Jacksonville, Duval, Florida; Roll: T627_623; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 68-10.)), Mary lists her birthplace as the state of Texas, she does–in the 1935 Florida state census–list her birthplace as Missouri. (( Florida, State Census, 1867-1945 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: Tenth census of the state of Florida, 1935; (Microfilm series S 5, 30 reels); Record Group 001021; State Library and Archives of Florida, Tallahassee, Florida.)) Also, Mary’s son, William Louis Mills, on the 1930 federal census, lists his mother’s birthplace as Missouri. ((Year: 1930; Census Place: Jacksonville, Duval, Florida; Roll: 312; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 5; Image: 250.0; FHL microfilm: 2340047.))

While there was poor communication of family history details from generation to generation, and even poor knowledge that each individual had about their own origins, kernels of truth remained in the distorted beliefs that members of the family held.  By going back and examining original records, the truth of the matter can be discerned, and the evolution of incorrect beliefs and muddied memories can be observed and accounted for.  Descendants of Mary Elizabeth (Morris) Mills can now have confidence in the knowledge that our family descends from James Arthur Morris and Serene Elizabeth (Sinclaire) Morris, who dwelt in Houston, Texas County, Missouri.

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