The Missing Parents of Steady Fowler Sr.: The Role of Serendipity in Genealogy

About two years ago I did the Ancestry.com DNA test in hopes that it would help me with a few of those brick wall ancestors that plague every genealogist, and it did. It also presented me with some new cousins and the task of fitting them into the tangled, circular, braided branches of my family tree.

A few months ago a third cousin match popped up on Ancestry DNA with a small tree, but that tree included a Fowler. This new cousin match, whom  I’ll call “Tommy” to preserve his anonymity, was the grandson of Albert Dewey Fowler and the great grandson of Steadman L. “Steady” Fowler Sr. and his first wife Fannie Mize.

Steady Sr. proved a bit of a problem, as, prior to his adulthood, he appears only in one census, in 1900, as the fifteen year old grandson of Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler, Draytonville, Cherokee County, South Carolina.

stead1900census

As most who do genealogy know, the 1890 US Census was essentially entirely destroyed in a 1921 fire, so the information it contained is not available and there is a twenty year gap in census records, 1880-1900. A lot can happen in twenty years: children can be born, grow to adulthood, and leave their parents’ homes, never to be recorded in a US census with their parents and birth family.

In this case, the good part was that I knew Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler and the more than one way they fit into my tangled tree:  Bryant descends from my fifth great grandfather, and, Bryant and Elizabeth’s daughter, Harriet, married (James) Monroe Mize, a brother to my second great grandfather, John A. Mize.

So, we know that Steady Sr. was a grandson of Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler, but do not know which of their children was his father. Here, we are making an assumption that the child of Bryant and Elizabeth’s who is Steady’s parent is a son, because Steady carries the Fowler surname. As it happens, this is an assumption that will come back to haunt me.

We do have a hint as to Steady’s parentage, because we have his January 2,1972 obituary:

steady obit

In this obituary it states that Steady’s parents are the late Joseph Bryant Fowler and Emma Wilkins. We know from the 1870 and 1880 US Census, Gowdysville, Union County, South Carolina and  Draytonville, Union County, South Carolina respectively, that Bryant and Elizabeth Fowler did have a son, Joseph (Bryant), along with two other sons and two daughters.

Bryant HH 1870Bryant HH 1880

So, we have a list of Bryant and Elizabeth’s known children that looks like this. But, remember that there is a 20 year census gap between 1880 and 1900 during which we have no idea who is living in the  household of Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler.

Fowler children I set about going down this list of known children of Bryant and Elizabeth with the intent of showing that Steady’s father was their son Joseph Bryant Fowler as stated in his obituary.

I’m able to sketch a “life” for all the children using only online resources except for the one I think is the most probable father for Steady, Joseph Bryant Fowler. In fact, I can find nothing on Joseph Bryant Fowler, he seems to just disappear after 1880, never to reappear. I’m able to track all the other children with census records, death certificates, burial and cemetery records, and obituaries: “cradle to grave”.

Before I began I did know the fate of two of the children, daughters Harriett and Emma. I know that Harriett had married, and lived a long and crazy life with my great great grand uncle James Monroe Mize, and, I knew that Emma had married Goodman O. Wilkins and produced two children, grandchildren to Bryant and Elizabeth, who seem to be, simply put, nothing but trouble. In fact, Emma’s marriage to Goodman O. Wilkins seems doomed in itself. Goodman’s 1908 obituary paints a sad picture of mental illness and an early death.

Goodman Death

An article published in the Gaffney Ledger, May 14, 1909, tells of Albert Horace Wilkins, son of Emma Fowler Wilkins and grandson of Bryant and Elizabeth, injuring a very elderly Elizabeth by throwing her out a door and down some steps and describes him, in the vernacular of the day, as “an idiot”.

Albert Horace injures Lizzie

Before this incident Bryant has died, and as noted in his obituary,published in the Gaffney Ledger, Aug 28, 1906, is living , at the time of his death, with Mrs. G.O. Wilkins, his daughter Emma.

Death of Bryant Fowler Gaffney Ledger 28 Aug 1906

In the 1910 US Census, White Plains, Draytonville Township, Cherokee County, South Carolina, Elizabeth Wright Fowler is found living with her daughter, Emma Fowler Wilkins, and her two, now grown, children. The family did not move, Cherokee county was created out of part of what has previously been Union County.

Lizzie 1910

And, in the 25 Sep 1914 edition of the Gaffney Ledger we find the sad announcement of the death of  Elizabeth Wright Fowler, at the home of her daughter, Mrs. G.O. Wilkins.

death Lizzie

By this time I think I’ve sufficiently established the context that Emma Wright Fowler and Mrs. G.O. Wilkins are one and the same and that Emma is the daughter of Bryant and Elizabeth Wright Fowler, her children, Bessie and Albert Horace, their grandchildren. In 1927, Emma Wright Fowler Wilkins herself dies. She has no obituary published, but her death certificate indicates she is the daughter of Bryant Fowler (mysteriously, her mother is listed as unknown); the informant is Emma’s sister, Harriet Fowler Mize.

emma deth

Even I think that I have established the relationship between Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler and Emma Wright Fowler Wilkins to the point of overkill. I’ve done essentially the same with Emma’s known siblings and all except Joseph Bryant Fowler are duly accounted for, born, tracked through their lives in the census, married, died, buried, obituaried. Not a sign of, nor a hint of, a possible Fowler father for the errant and troublesome Steady Sr.

At about this point, and for no good reason, I go searching the Gaffney Ledger on Newspapers.com for an unexpected, and not found, obituary for Emma’s handicapped son, Horace Albert Wilkins, who apparently never left home, never married, and was cared for during his entire life by his mother and then by his sister, Bessie. Since I do have a death certificate for Albert Horace Wilkins and know he died in March 1947, I search the Gaffney Ledger for that month and I don’t find Albert Horace’s obituary anywhere, but I notice the name “Fowler” out of the corner of my eye and click to view that article, published 4 Mar 1947. Here is where the fickle finger of fate, or, perhaps, the angel on my shoulder, come into play and my search for the father of Steady L. Fowler, Sr. takes a quick and unexpected turn. I find by this simple click of my mouse, the obituary for one John Bryant Fowler, and, in it, the parentage of Steady Sr., who, it seems, along with his two full siblings, is not technically a “Fowler” at all.

john bryant fowler obit

John Bryant Fowler, born 1881, has two full siblings: Steady L. born 1885, and “Mrs. W. E. Osteen”, and two half siblings: Bessie Wilkins born 1892 and (Albert) Horace Wilkins born 1897. It is only at this point that it occurs to me that the Emma Wilkins, wife of G.O. Wilkins and daughter to Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler and “Emma Wilkins” in Steady Sr.’s obituary are the same person. Wilkins is a common name in my family tree and there are several Emmas.

So, John Bryant Fowler, Steady L. Fowler Sr., Bessie Wilkins, and Albert Horace Wilkins all have one thing in common: their mother was Emma Wright FOWLER Wilkins.

I then look for a death certificate on Ancestry for John Bryant Fowler. Does one come up in any kind of search using any kind of search parameters? Of course not. So, I go to Family Search and find…….an index, poorly transcribed, no image available (what’s this, Family Search? No more photoduplication services because you are doing so well at getting actual record images online? Sorry, you can’t fool me). I am, at this point, having frightening thoughts of a weeks long wait for the appropriate microfilm to get to my local Family History Center. Yes, I am spoiled, we all are in the digital age.

The index on Family Search tells me this:

john index

To say I was shocked is an understatement. We have a father, Clem “Mabey”; I’m thinking it is Mabry because my family tree is rife with Mabrys and devoid of “Mabeys”, and “Cuna” Wilkins? Pretty sure I know who that is: Emma Fowler Wilkins.

In a last ditch effort to satisfy my craving for instant death certificate gratification, I go back to Ancestry where I can browse the South Carolina Death Certificate Collection. I’ve found this to be seldom helpful, but that angel was on my shoulder yet again, I went to 1947, Spartanburg County, and found the errant image in the first two hundred while I missed the evening news and my dinner dehydrated.

jond DC

No, it isn’t clear as day, but it looks like Clem Mabry and Emma Wilkins to me.

It seems that in that black hole between the 1880 census and the 1900 census, Emma Wright Fowler married or had some other relationship, possibly with a  “Clem Mabry” that produced three full siblings: John Bryant Fowler, “Mrs. W. E. Osteen”, and Steady L Fowler, Sr., who were most probably raised in the household of Bryant and Elizabeth Wright Fowler as Fowlers. It’s apparent that at least John Bryant Fowler knew his correct or probable parentage; at least that his father was not a son of Bryant Fowler and Elizabeth Wright Fowler. Both John Bryant Fowler’s death certificate and Steady L Fowler Sr.’s obituary both clearly refer to their mother as maiden name “Emma Wilkins” when she would have been Emma Fowler or perhaps  Emma Mabry during most, if not all of the time in question, since she did not marry Goodman O. Wilkins until about 1900. In fact, since the 1900 census, in which Emma and Goodman first appear as married, with children: Eva A. Wilkins, 11, Bessie, 9 and Horace, 4; they are also listed as newlyweds, married “0” years and Emma is recorded as having had 8 children total with 5 still living. So, we know, from John Bryant Fowler’s obituary that he, “Mrs. W. E. Osteen” , and Steady Sr. are full siblings but, we do not actually know the biological father of Bessie and Horace, just that that father is not Clem Mabry.

wilkins 1910

There will always be more mysteries, in this case we have the third full sibling, “Mrs. W. E. Osteen ” who share both her father and her mother with  John Bryant Fowler, and Steady L Fowler, Sr.. It dawned on me to explore the possibility that the Eva A Wilkins who appears as an eleven year old in the 1900 census, White Plains, Cherokee County with mother Emma Fowler Wilkins, her new husband, Goodman Wilkins and younger siblings Bessie and Horace might be the mysterious “Mrs. W. E. Osteen” mentioned in John Bryant Fowler’s obituary. If I add “W. E. Osteen” as husband to “Eva” I get an instant answer. Eva, who is really Era Avalona, appears in the 1910, 1920 and 1940 census married to William E Osteen and living first Greenville then in  Spartanburg with their growing family. William E Osteen and wife Era Avalona Wilkins Osteen are buried together at Pacolet Memorial Gardens, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Bessie Wilkins, Emma’s younger daughter, first seen in the 1900 census as a “Wilkins”, presumably the daughter of Goodman (but unlikely)  rates another blog post of her own since she managed to produce seven children between the years of 1912 and 1931, apparently by immaculate conception.

 Many thanks to my cousin “Tommy” for sharing my DNA and allowing me to take this adventure, to my cousin Dave DuBose for assistance accessing obituaries,to my cousin Dan Searing for his unfailing support and constant encouragement, and to my cat, BeBe for staying out of my hair for a few hours.

Update 12/30/15: Via Ancestry DNA a second descendant of Steady L. Fowler has been found. She is a descendant of Steady Sr.’s son Clyde Landrum Fowler, brother to Tommy’s grandfather, Albert Dewey Fowler. They are second cousins to each other.

————————————————————————————————————

Year: 1900; Census Place: Draytonville, Cherokee, South Carolina; Roll: 1522; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0003; FHL microfilm: 1241522

Year: 1870; Census Place: Gowdysville, Union, South Carolina; Roll: M593_1510; Page: 437A; Image: 229; Family History Library Film: 553009

Year: 1880; Census Place: Braytonville, Union, South Carolina; Roll: 1242; Family History Film: 1255242; Page: 471C; Enumeration District: 153

Year: 1900; Census Place: White Plains, Cherokee, South Carolina; Roll: 1522; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0013; FHL microfilm: 1241522

Year: 1910; Census Place: Greenville, Greenville, South Carolina; Roll: T624_1461; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0019; FHL microfilm: 1375474

Year: 1910; Census Place: White Plains, Cherokee, South Carolina; Roll: T624_1454; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 0014; FHL microfilm: 1375467

Year: 1920; Census Place: Greenville, Greenville, South Carolina; Roll: T625_1698; Page: 29B; Enumeration District: 19; Image: 68

Year: 1940; Census Place: Pacolet Cotton Mills, Spartanburg, South Carolina; Roll: T627_3838; Page: 33B; Enumeration District: 42-41

Ancestry.com. South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.

“South Carolina Deaths, 1944-1955,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPMJ-9R1 : accessed 19 February 2015), John Bryant Fowler, 28 Feb 1947; citing Spartanburg, Spartanburg, South Carolina, cn 3607, Department of Health and Environmental Control, Columbia; FHL microfilm 2,394,778.

Ancestry.com. South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
Original data: South Carolina. South Carolina death records. Columbia, SC, USA: South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Newspapers.com, Gaffney Ledger: 28 Aug 1906, 1 May 1908, 14 May 1909,

28 Aug 1906, 25 Sep 1914, 4 Mar 1907

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