(by Student #29 AMH 2010 1115)
My research began with Mary Ellen McCreary, born on October 7, 1871 and died on October 11, 1951 from bronchopneumonia at the age of 80. I chose randomly from the pile of death certificates and decided to just go with the one I had. In the beginning, when I was looking at her death certificate I realized she had only died from natural causes and not from anything out of the ordinary. I still decided to continue with the same person, and it was interesting to follow someone’s family line and see how someone else lived and what occurred in her family. At first, it took a while to find absolutely any information on her because other documents had different versions of her name. Documents from before her marriage used her maiden name, others spelled McCreary as Mccreary, and one only used Ellen not Mary. I noticed that it was a continuous issue when looking for other people in her family as well. Not only the name changes, but also some information was slightly different with each document looked at. This stirred questions about why it was happening, was it only happening to them, or maybe their information was being looked over because they were part of a minority?
The first document I found was the 1930 United States Federal Census. It was difficult to find because the document only had her first and middle initial written down since she was not head of the household. This census told me that Mary Ellen got married and had children with a man named Walter L McCreary. They had a son named Jonnie W McCreary, he went on and had 3 grandkids. At the time they all lived in the same household. Mary’s mother and sister were also living in the same home, Martha Butler and Fanny Louis. This document showed the first sign of different information among Mary’s records. On her death certificate it says her birthplace was Texas but, on the census, it said she was born in Mexico. After finding this census, I decided to find every census I could from when Mary Ellen McCreary was born and see if there were any other differences.
The next document I found was the 1920 US Federal Census. This document told me that Mary, her husband Walter, and both of her parents, James and Martha Butler, all lived together. This paper also had a change in information, except this time it was the birthplace of her father. On Mary Ellen McCreary’s death certificate, it states that her father, James, was born in Texas. However, on this census it states that James Butler was born in West Virginia. The next census, the 1910 US Federal Census, took me quite a bit of time to find because they did not use Mary as her name, instead they just used Ellen McCreary. This census also asked a question that was not asked any longer in 1920, ’30, or ’40. For women, it asked how many children they had, and a follow up of, how many of them were still living? Mary Ellen answered the first question with 4, but only 1 was living. Unfortunately, there were no records I could find about those 3 children that had passed away, since I could not find their names.
The 1900 US Federal Census was not as difficult to find, however, to search for Mary Ellen, her last name came up as Mc Creary instead of it not being spaced out. This census also contained the question of how many children a mother has, and how many of them are still alive. Mary had the same answer in this census, that only one of her children was alive. This led me to believe that something tragic happened to her between 1892 and 1900, since she her son Jonnie was the only one alive. The 1900 Census showed another change in names, this time with her son. In the census her sons name is James, while in later census’ it had changed somehow to Jonnie. Sadly, when trying to find the 1890 Federal Census, there were not as many documents to look at because of a fire that took place in the Commerce Department Building in 1921. This made search so limited that I could not find the census that consisted Mary Ellen or anyone in her family.
The first census that Mary Ellen was written in was the 1880 Federal Census. This census introduced the rest of her family to me. At this time, she was only nine, and had four other siblings all living together. The names of her other siblings were Susie Butler, James Butler, Precilla Butler, and Fannie Butler (whom later is spelled ‘Fanny’). When trying to find out more about her siblings, I came across a death certificate for her sister Precilla, who married and became Precilla Heights. Something that stuck out in her death certificate was her cause of death, carbon monoxide poising. The certificate also stated that she was divorced. I tried to find any information I could on her husband, Henry Heights, but could not find the right Henry Heights. The next census I found containing Precilla was the 1920 Federal Census. The census had completely changed the demographic of this family. It had written Mary, Prescilla, and James Butler as all white. This was strange because every other census with the parents had all written down black. However, it did remind me of the 1920 census, stating that Mary was a mulatto, which would have to mean one of her parents were white. So, what was truly the race of this family?
When continuing to look for more information on Precilla Butler, I could no longer find any other documents and started searching for Martha Boon, Mary and Precilla’s mother. A document popped up as the death certificate of a Ms. Grace Smith. This death certificate was signed by Mary Ellen McCreary, and James Butler and Martha Boon as the parents. This sparked my interest because it was the first time I had seen the name Grace Smith. The certificate also showed that she was living at the same address as Mary Ellen at the time. However, not on any census was it written down that a Grace Smith was living in the same household as Mary. In the 1940 Census, it states that Mary is living alone and had been living in the same place for 35 years. It was a shame to not be able to find anything else related to this Grace Smith, leaving me with unanswered questions, hopefully answered one day.
The research I found took me through the life of Mary Ellen McCreary, and opened some doors to other people in her family. The census’ also told me that she had worked on and off her whole life, as a dress-maker and seamstress. Although she lived a relatively normal life, it was still intriguing to read about her journey and learn a little bit of her lifestyle.