Monday, July 04, 2005

Serendipity II

Our Story So Far: My parents' languid day to recover from coast-to-coast jet lag has turned into a genealogical and historical treasure hunt. My dad has mentioned nonchalantly that a Civil War veteran named Richardson lived next door to his family in south Texas in the 1930's and 1940's.

"He had an old canteen with 'US' stamped on it. I saw it," Dad says.

Checking census records, we've found a Grant Richardson, born in 1840, who was the grandfather of my father's aunt's husband. We've gotten through 1910, and we're about to find some surprises in the 1920 census.

Now Back to Our Story: The Fourteenth Census of the United States came to Precinct 1, Aransas County, Texas, on 26-28 January 1920. On January 27th, enumerator Milton Phillips was working the area now roughly bounded by East Market Street and Highways 35 and 70 in Rockport. At a house he recorded as No. 58, Phillips found Grant Richardson, a widower, who Phillips noted as being seventy years of age and a native of Alabama. As the head of household, Phillips put down Phinney Davis, a 55 year old widow woman.

But eighty-five years later, it's two other names that fuel my father's interest as we examine Milton Phillips' work.

"Who are these . . . ," Dad stops mid-sentence. He's looking at the names "Samuel" and "Hattie" at No. 58. Phillips recorded "Hattie" as Mrs. Davis' 30 year old daughter and "Samuel" as her 28 year old son. Dad recognizes the names because Hattie Bryant, born 1888, was his grandmother and Sam Bryant, born 1889, was her brother. They were both born in Aransas County. Their parents were Guy Bryant [1858-1920?] and Maria (muh-RYE-ah) Martin [1861-1901?].

This discovery, though surprising, "fits" in a way. My father's recollection is that in the 1930's, he and his mother lived in his grandmother Hattie's house next door to Mr. Richardson's place. And in a town of fewer than 3,000 people, how many brother/sister pairs born at about the same time would be named "Samuel" and "Hattie"? A lot of circumstances start to add up here.

But in genealogy, as in other fields where facts matter, researchers have to be suspicious of the seemingly convenient "fit." By 1920, Hattie Bryant had had at least five children, one of which was my dad's mother, who would have been yet a child. Likewise, Sam Bryant had had at least one child not yet an adult by 1920. So if Hattie and Sam were living with Mrs. Davis and Mr. Richardson in 1920, where were the others in their families? Well, another mystery for the time being; this story's about Grant Richardson.

Having examined all of the available census records and done other research, my dad and I have come to our separate conclusions. I'm convinced that a man named Grant Richardson, old enough to have been a Civil War veteran, lived next door to my father in Rockport, Texas, in the 1930's. Dad is now convinced that the old man next door to his childhood abode, who he believes was a Civil War veteran, in fact was his aunt's husband's grandfather.

"How about that!" Dad exclaims. He's satisfied and probably has had his portion of research for now.

But was Grant Richardson a Civil War veteran? Or was that a tall tale my father heard or even imagined six or seven decades ago as a little boy?

The next day, I take my parents on a field trip to answer that question.
NEXT: Serendipity Forever

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