By Esther Eley Jones
When I was growing up in rural West Carroll Parish I knew very little about my family heritage. I knew that I was an Eley and that I had five sisters and two brothers and a mother and father. You see my father was a farmer, and he was busy providing for his family and my mother was a homemaker and she cared for her husband and children. There was very little conversation about family and who your ancestors were and where they originated. My parents were too busy taking care of the day to day necessities to be concerned about ancestors and ancestor hunting. So, I grew up not knowing much about family, our origin, our history or where they originated. Now do not get me wrong, we had family. There was a large family of aunts, uncles, first and second cousins. They were our neighbors, but we did not discuss “who we are and where we came from”.
As I became older I was curious, “who were my ancestors”. I had very little information to go on. I knew my last name was Eley and I had one grandmother, Granny Eley. Granny died while I was a junior in high school. I knew very little about her because she lived with an aunt, daddy’s sister, and we did not see her very often. Daddy had a favorite aunt who we visited and her name was Aunt Leckie Lee. All I ever knew about Aunt Leckie was she was a very good cook and she had a wonderful swing on her front porch. See we used to visit her a lot when I was growing up in West Carroll Parish. I found out when I was grown the reason for us visiting her as often as we did and the reason she was daddy’s favorite aunt.
Mother was always, as far as I can remember, pleasant around daddy’s family, but I never heard much about her family other than her brother George, and two sisters Mamie and Julia. Uncle George lived with us until he was drafted into the Army. Aunt Mamie and Aunt Julia lived in East Carroll Parish, and we visited them from time to time. While we were visiting Aunt Mamie, Aunt Julia, and her family would come over for a visit too.
Families during my growing up years did not talk about “things” such as who are we, where did we come from? They were busy rearing their children, taking care of family and basic family needs. However, when I became an adult I wanted to know who my family was and where they come from. So I began my journey into who am I and where did I come from. My husband also wanted to know who he was and where he came from so we began our journey together. So I now had a plan. I talked to my oldest sister who was nine years older than me and had some knowledge of the family. She provided me with my Granny Eley’s name and her parent’s names. She also knew they migrated from Alabama to Louisiana. They settled in a small town in Jackson Parish that no longer exists. My sister knew the names of Granny Eley’s siblings which proved to be very beneficial in doing my research. Two children had died along the migration trail and my sister knew their names which was helpful as I did research on this family.
My sister also knew my late grandfather, Jack’s full name and his parents’ names. She told me that he had come from Arkansas. Well, that was the information that I started out with to do research for this family. With this tidbit of genealogy information I began my search to find out about the Eley Clan. I now had a plan and a goal to begin researching this family line. It was not as easy as I thought it would be finding the Eleys. I am not a person who gives up easily so I continued even though it looked like they would never be found.
My first trip was to the public library genealogy department to search microfilm. That was a fruitless search and discouraging because I did not find anything that trip. However, genealogy research was now a challenge and I would not give up. So I continued my search going through census indexes looking for my surname in Louisiana, then Arkansas, and found one with the given name and surname that matched information that was given to me. Things were really looking up now and I was getting excited. I went to the microfilm and searched the census and found my grandfather on the nineteen hundred census where he was a border and eighteen years old. This was the only time that I found him on the census.
After finding out “how to research the census” I found out that the 1890 census had been lost in a fire. Well, that hurt! I really needed that census to help in my search because my grandfather was born in 1880. So, what do I do now? There were other ways to find him after all according to the story that I had on him he was a “bounty hunter”. You know every family has a story! I wanted to know about this bounty hunter story, so I searched to find out what that meant. After doing my research I found out that bounty was bounty land that is public land awarded by the federal government to people who served in the military as a reward for service. What a relief that was to know that my grandfather did not hunt people for a bounty.
Now I had something to go on and it was time to start my search for the elusive Eley Clan. My father had one living relative, an aunt. So I made a trip to visit her and to quiz her on the family and to get any information that she could give me. She only had a tidbit of information and that was that my grandfather had a brother who lived in Richland Parish and his name was Robert Lawrence. After doing my research on Robert Lawrence to my surprise he was the uncle of my grandfather, not his brother. I found Robert on the 1870 census with his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. This opened the door for me in my research so I could go back further and eventually found Robert with the same brother who was listed on the 1870 census. The names were the same and the ages were approximately ten years younger. Now I was able to use these two names and approximate ages to look further using the 1860 Census. So I went to the Soundex to do a search for these two brothers and parents. I was able to locate them on the on the 1860 census in Drew County Arkansas with a father, Robert Lawrence and other siblings. After doing a search on the 1850 census I found the father, mother and the oldest son and the oldest daughter living in Drew County Arkansas. I compared the information from the 1860 census with the 1870 census and the brother’s name and it matched so I knew I had the right family line. However, there were two mysteries that I discovered in doing my research. One mystery was that the mother was listed on the 1850 census but was not listed on the 1860 census. She was not to be found in any records that I searched. So what happened to her?
I carefully examined the information that I had and my conclusion was that she died in childbirth since there was an infant baby listed on the last census where she was listed. This was a common happening during those times. The other mystery was that I could not find the father listed with the children on the 1880 census or any records. What happened to him? This was a mystery that would take a few years to solve. I did solve it though. I became a Civil War buff and after going through Civil War records I found the answer to the mystery of what happened to Robert Lawrence Eley my great-great grandfather. I discovered that he enlisted in the Confederate Army at the age of forty-six. He was reported missing 04 October 1862 at the Battle of Corinth in Mississippi. I had mixed emotions over this discovery. I had found the answer, but it was not the answer that I wanted to find. However, this created in me another passion and that was to find out as much as I could about the infantry, the battle and the state in which he served.
This research journey that I have been on has lasted ten years and has taken me through some successes as well as hitting brick walls along the way. I started this journey with a tidbit of information. There was my one elderly aunt who thought her great uncle was her uncle, my grandfather who was listed on one census record when he was eighteen years old, and I was able to find my ancestors who were some of the early settlers of Drew County Arkansas and who served in the Civil War. I was ready to expand my search to gather more information on this family line. I did this by searching for birth records, death records, cemetery listings, court records, marriage records, church records, newspaper articles, land deeds, and tutorship papers. I found out that the oldest son had petitioned the court in the 1870s for guardianship of his younger siblings. In the tutorship papers were the parent’s names and their deaths so I was able to use this information to verify the information that I had on the family.
In the cemetery listings I found the name of the mother and her maiden name another way of verifying the information. I had a plan. I stayed with the plan and I had goals to accomplish. I was able to accomplish those goals by persevering when the things did not turn out as expected and I took the information that I had and went back over the information to see if I had missed anything. I would say that I had a successful journey along the way.
Written by Esther Eley Jones
1. 1840 U. S. Census, Tippah County, Mississippi; Roll 219; p. 199, Image: 403; line 18, Robert L. Eley household.
2. 1850 U. S. Census, Drew County, Arkansas, Spring Hill Township, Roll M432_26; p. 96A; Image 197: dwelling, 299, family 299, Robert L. Eley household.
3. 1860 U. S. Census, Drew County, Arkansas, Veasey Township, Roll 181; p. 109; Image: 182, dwelling 615, family 209, Robert Eley household.
4. 1870 U. S. Census, Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, Ward 6, Roll 517; p. 256; Image:515, dwelling 39, family 39, Josiah Eley household.
5. 1880 U. S. Census, Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, Ward 10, RollT9_457; p. 474, Image 0188, dwelling 81, family 81, Joseph Eley household.
6. 1900 U. S. Census Ashley County Arkansas; Roll T623/578; Sheet 10; p. 80, dwelling 199, family 202, Thomas M. Howie household.
7. Civil War Records 1881-1865; [database on-line], UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
8. Horn Cemetery Records Rayville, Richland Parish, Louisiana, page 83.
9. Tutorship Probate Record 472
10. Richland beacon News 1929 Obituary Robert L. Eley
11. U. S. General Land Office Records 1860, Document Number: 10914, 10915, 4588; 1857, Document Number 4321; 1859 Document Number 6638.
12. World War I Draft Registration Card 1917-1918: West Carroll Parish, Louisiana; Roll 1685029.
13. 1930 U. S. Census, West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, Ward 3, Roll 825; p.12B, Image: 882. Lawrence J. Eley household.
14. Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, Marriage Bond, 1879, no.106 Josiah Eley to Eliza Jane Eley, Fourteenth Judicial District Court. Bastrop.
15. West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, Marriage License, 1913, no. 68, J. L. Eley to Alice Lee, Clerk of Court, Floyd.
16. Certificate of Death: Jack L. Eley. Filed 03 Nov 1944. State of Louisiana, Department of Health, Division of Public Statistics, State File No. 5161258. Informant: T. T. Copes [son-in-law of deceased], Oak Grove, Louisiana.