Monday, July 17, 2017

The Lost Records of Mary E Dukes

While transcribing an old baptismal record I happened across a cryptic entry saying

"Entered by Order of Pres Callis. No past Record of this"
The record was otherwise sparse. The name was almost unreadable but I was able to make out

Dukes, Mary E[illegible]
The baptism date only generally indicated as "about 1894" with the missionary's name who baptized her identified only as "Elder Williams" and her father was listed as "Stevne Dukes"

I can only speculate that Mary presented herself to the missionaries as already being a member. Being the staunch record keeping people that we are I can see the missionaries struggling over how to proceed without proof of baptism. Ultimately the issue was decided by President Callis who said to add her to the record of members.

Of course this then becomes a puzzle to me. Was she a member? Probably. There was little incentive to claim membership if it weren't true, and significant downsides to being a Mormon in the early 20th century Tennessee. But I have to ask, can we find evidence to support her claim?

I could look up her name in Family Search. I don't have a birth date or location, but I could estimate those. A quick search comes up with a few possibilities. One of them even has a Confirmation date of 1894 (the baptism date in Family Search is listed as 1994. I've ranted about that issue before). This Mary Duke was married to Hartford Prater. But I have long since learned not to rely on Family Search for evidence. At best it might provide me some clues that I'll have to verify elsewhere.

With nothing conclusive I try a different approach. Who was this Elder Williams? The Early Mormon Missionary Database narrows it down to two. Both served in the Southern States Mission in 1894. Taking those names to the Southern States Mission Manuscript I see that one served in Alabama and Florida, while the other was in Tennessee. I'm lucky that the list narrowed down so quickly. His name? Riley Garner Williams.

Mormons love to upload journals and biographies of their ancestors. So I head back to Family Search to look up Elder Williams. As luck would have it two years ago Elder Williams' family had indeed uploaded a missionary journal for him; 155 pages! And it is far more detailed than most. Before long I find this entry.

Jan. 29/94 Mon. Mrs. Mary Ellen Prater daughter of Stephen and Nancy Ann Duke was born Feb. 9 1853 at Hodgetown, White Co. Tennessee. Was baptized and confirmed a member in the church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints Jan. 28/94 Mitchell creek Prater town VanBuren Co. Tenn. Baptized by AY Duke, confirmed by Elder Riley G. Williams. 
So there it is. Every official detail I could hope for about Mary. The only thing missing would be something written in her own hand. Yeah, I know. But I can dream. Who knows maybe I'll find something in Williams' journal that will lead to more.

Williams missionary journal is done pretty well. Full names, dates, and places. I wish my journal was as detailed. It was a good distraction from my task. It took me away from the tediousness of transcription for a little . And I was able to flesh out a scant baptism record. Plus I downloaded a large missionary journal covering 1892-1894 Tennessee.

3 comments:

Edje said...

Awesome. Congrats!

Ardis said...

This merits a celebration of some kind -- for you, and Mary Ellen, and Elder Williams, and the Williams descendants. Well done, all of you.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks, both of you.