My paternal grandfather was William Smith (1916-1972) and he was born in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida. His parents were John Smith (1885-1960) and Georgia Harris (1890-1937). Yes, my ancestor’s name was John Smith; it is the most common name in the world! Needless to say this presents serious challenges to family history research on this line.
John and Georgia appear together on the 1930 federal census as a family, and also on the 1935 and 1945 Florida State Census records. The 1920 census shows Georgia as head of household with the surname “Gardner”. However, she has several “Gardner” AND “Smith” surnamed children, which led me to suspect that she had been previously married to another man. Using the birthdate of their first child, it would appear John and Georgia married sometime around 1912, but I haven’t located their marriage license yet. Why John does not appear with his family in 1920 is also a mystery.
John and Georgia had the following known children together: Iris, William, Eugene and Lillian. They made their home in a modest house in East Jacksonville, on Harrison Street, a house that my father grew up in (and his father ) and the house I visited as a child:
Although John’s death certificate places his birthdate as June 1880, I think he was born closer to 1885 based on other documents. Oral history said that John’s father was a white man, and looking at his photograph that is pretty believable, right? A DNA test of my father, Paul, indeed confirmed his Smith DNA as tracing back to European heritage.
John Smith’s early life has not been uncovered yet and continues to be a challenge. He was born in Georgia, but various records point to different counties in Georgia. This line really showed me the importance of learning how to analyze evidence; I have seen the value of spending more time analyzing than you do accumulating data. I have yet to locate any record of this John Smith in Georgia (though in October 2012 I have a possible lead).Jacksonville city directories identify this John as being there as early as 1907 (obviously there are lots of John Smiths). John was employed by the Mason Lumber Company for many years. He is listed in their employ in several city directory entries and also on one census record. I have a copy of a deed dated 1946 where John is purchasing his home from the Mason Co.
John lists his father’s name on the SS5 Social Security Application as Simon Smith, and his mother as ‘unknown-died at birth’. John is remembered by his grandchildren as being a very quiet, soft-spoken deferential man. It is unknown whether or not John had any siblings or exactly what year he came to Florida. His obituary lists him as a member of the Spring Hill Baptist Church. He died on June 8, 1960.
John’s wife Georgia unfortunately died young, in 1937 at the age of 45 of pneumonia. Georgia was born ca. September 1890. Georgia Harris had been previously married to Isaac Garner. They married in 1906 in Madison County, Florida (I have their marriage license) and had at least the following children: Pete, Marie, and Camelia. They appear on the 1900 and 1910 census in that same county. By 1920, Georgia is living in Duval County and apparently with John Smith, although as I mentioned above, John is curiously not in the household. Searching back in time in Madison County, I find that Georgia’s mother’s name was Matilda, and she was married to Perry Davis on the 1900 census. My grandmother’s Bible listed Georgia’s mother correctly as being named Matilda. Matilda was born abt. March 1874. In September 2012, I had an exciting breakthrough about this Matilda, and was able to finally trace her to life.
It is clear that Perry is not Georgia’s father; Perry is listed as stepfather to Georgia and her sister Ruth. Georgia and Ruth also have the surname Harris.I had a breakthrough in 2012 when I found that Ruth Harris married a man named Nish Torrence, and subsequently migrated North to Philadelphia where the family is found in 1920. Ruth and Nish had 5 children: Leonard, Ruth, Alma, Nish Jr., Katie and James. I hope to one day reconnect with my Torrence cousins.
Research into both John and Georgia’s history continues.
In January 2009, I spent several hours at the Duval County Courthouse unsuccessfully searching marriage records for John Smith or any of his children. I spent another few hours at the gorgeous newly built Jacksonville Public Library a few blocks up. I spent most of that time looking through all the city directories. Those did lead me to isolate the death date of Georgia’s son Pete Garner, and I was able to then order his death certificate so the day wasn’t a complete failure, but I certainly wished I could have discovered more. My fabulous uncle William, who the family calls Uncle Bunny, also took me through what would have been the black cemeteries of the time and it appears that one or two of John and Georgia’s children are buried there. We didn’t have time to stop and look around as it was getting dark, but that’ll be on my ‘to do’ list for next time I’m there.
As I mentioned, John and Georgia’s son William Smith was my grandfather.
William, born 1914, attended the public schools of Jacksonville. He completed high school at Edward Waters College in 1935. At the age of 9, this enterprising boy started running deliveries for a local drug store. He spent years apprenticing and thoroughly learned the pharmacy business. William married Pauline Waters in 1938 after meeting her while she was teaching at the Boylan-Haven School, a private Methodist school for negro girls. I have a collection of love letters written between the two right before their wedding which is really a nice thing to have. William kept his promise to Pauline to craft a good life for them, and he went on to become the owner of two very successful drug stores in Jacksonville, known as the Willie Smith stores. William died too young, at the age of 57 in 1972, so I did not get to personally know him but have been told many stories about his kind, generous and hard-working nature. The Smith family was popular and well-known, and William and Pauline were loving parents to their two sons, Paul and William Smith.
I have not discovered too much information about John and Georgia’s other children, and Georgia’s children with her previous husband. Their daughter Lillian, my grandfather’s sister, was a graduate of Xavier University who worked for many years in DC. William mentions her several times in his letters to Pauline. As of a few years ago, she was still living at a nursing home in New Jersey where my father and I visited her. However, she sadly was suffering from dementia. Lillian had one daughter, Rosslyn. Both of William’s other brothers, Pete Garner and Eugene Smith, both died young. Eugene died in 1950 at the age of 35; he was employed as a stevedore. Pete died in 1949 at the age of 44. Most everyone in this line is deceased, so the only lead I have at this point is to try to trace the other siblings, Marie and Iris and Camelia, and also the three children of Eugene Smith, Harry, Roosevelt and Willie James. Perhaps they have living descendants, but again, the commonality of the Smith surname makes it really hard to locate the right people.
I’m not giving up…the search continues!
My paternal grandmother was Pauline Waters (1915-1997) and she was born in Still Pond, Kent County, Maryland. Her parents were Daniel George Waters (1875-1957) and Beatrice Prather (1888-1974). Daniel’s ancestry can be traced all the way back to a freed slave named Joshua Waters born ca. 1776, and back further still to Joshua’s mother Sarah, born abt. 1755. I found a manumission at the Maryland State Archives showing Joshua being freed in 1819 by his owner Susannah Waters in Somerset County, Maryland, which means his descendants appear as freed blacks on all subsequent census records. Joshua was 43 years old in 1820 and had a large family; he had a wife and at least 6 children. In Maryland, over 60% of blacks were freed before the end of the Civil War.
Joshua Waters’ mother Sarah belonged to a man named Griffin Stith, who lived in Northampton County, Virginia, and Sarah was sold along with 4 of her children (George, Will, Leah and Joshua) in 1780 to John Stringer. John Stringer was the second husband of Susannah Waters. When John Stringer died, his wife Susannah became the legal owner of all of his slaves. It blows my mind that a branch of my family was here before this country was the United States! This is the lineage I have been able to trace the furthest back.
My direct line traces through Joshua’s son Daniel James Waters. I found a few deeds (1855, 1871) that show Daniel purchasing land; he had initially worked as a farmer. But Daniel later become a Methodist minister with the Delaware Conference. The Methodist church was one of the first groups in the country to ordain black ministers and to advocate for the abolition of slavery. Daniel James appeared in Methodist records starting in 1875, and church records document his travels as he ministered at different churches on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware. Daniel James Waters married Fanny Fountain and by 1860 they are shown living in the Potato Neck district of Somerset County, Maryland. Daniel and Fanny had at least 8 known children: George, Mary, Daniel, Samuel, Henrietta, Sally, Lavinia and Maria. By 1880, they’ve moved to the city of Milford, in Kent County, Delaware. The church records Daniel’s obituary in 1894 and Delaware probate records give small details about his burial and passing.
Daniel’s son Samuel Waters was my gg-grandfather, and he married Mary (Mollie) Curtis. Not much information has been located about them, but they can be found on the 1880 census in the Fairmount district of Somerset
County, MD, living with two children, Maria and Daniel. Their son, Daniel George Waters, is my great-grandfather. He was born April 9, 1875, according to his World War I Draft Registration card.
By 1900, Daniel G. Waters had married for the first time and was living in the city of Easton in Kent County, MD with his wife Gertrude Ennals and their three young children, Edna, Ralph and Pearl. By 1910, Daniel was widowed and caring for his youngest son, Ralph. By this time, he was living in Berlin (Worcester County, MD) and had heard the call to ministry and began preaching for the Methodist church, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Unfortunately, his second wife, Cassie Smalls, whom Daniel married June 28, 1910, died shortly thereafter on September, 1912. In 1914, he remarried for a third time to Beatrice Prather (my ggrandmother) and by 1920 they are living in the city of Preston (Caroline County, MD) with their three oldest children, Pauline, Eugene and Walden. By 1930, the family has grown to six, with Wellington, Ovington and Daniel Donald rounding out the bunch. Between his three wives, the elder Daniel had 11 children.
Daniel George Waters was remembered as a stern parent and a disciplined man of the cloth. He was a powerful preacher, and impressed upon his children greatly, as well as those in the community. He was very active and passionate about the work of the church. When he fell Beatrice lovingly cared for him. When he died in 1957, his obituary reflects that he was well-known and well-respected, even by the whites of the time. His death certificate says he was buried at a cemetery in Easton, MD and I would assume it would be at one of the Methodist churches. One thing on my “to do” list is to locate that cemetery and his gravesite.
The youngest of Daniel George’s children, my Uncle Donald (he’s really my great-uncle), keeps alive the memory and embodies the character of the Waters family. My Uncle Donald was the one person who I remember always talking about and sharing the Waters family tree when I was younger, so he was really an early influence on me. He had it printed out on a long paper scroll. I have done a video interview of Uncle Donald about our family history, which will become a cherished part of our story. His eldest sister Pauline, my grandmother, also left behind a book about her life which I edited and had published as a birthday present for my father. I am fortunate that I know many of my Waters cousins and get to interact with them on a regular basis as several live here in the DC/MD area.
Amazingly, when I first started researching, I met a cousin online, David Briddell, who was descended from this same Waters family. He and I have collaborated over the years on this family. His ancestor Henrietta Waters was a sibling of Daniel James Waters.
I would love to find more information on the Curtis and Fountain lines, and also more information on the siblings of Daniel George Waters as well as his aunts and uncles. This is another line made more difficult by the prevalence of the name; there are hundreds of African-American Waters on the early census records of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. They are not all related, as the (white) Waters were a huge slaveowning family and it appears as if many of their former slaves adopted that surname. I do most research on this line at the Maryland State Archives and also the Nabb Center in Salisbury, MD.
My paternal great-grandmother was Beatrice Prather (1888-1974) and she was born in Montgomery County, Maryland. Her parents were Levi Prather (abt. 1839-1894) and Martha Simpson Prather (abt. 1845-1910). They appear on the 1870 and 1880 census together. After Levi’s death, Martha appears on the 1900 census. Their descendants appear on the census records afterwards and in fact still live in the area today.
Levi’s father was Rezin Prather. He is living in the household with Levi and Martha in 1870 (he is 70 years old); it was common for children to care for aging parents. Another indicator is that my grandmother, Pauline Waters Smith, wrote in her Bible that Levi’s father’s name was Rezin. Levi also named one of his children Rezin. This is all speculative evidence, but it is possible that nothing exists that is more concrete than that. I have discovered that Rezin, Sr., had been enslaved by Nathan Cooke. His son Levi had been enslaved by , widow of Walter Williams.
Levi’s wife Martha Jane was a Simpson, and my grandmother Pauline’s Bible shows Martha’s father as Perry Simpson. I have not found the slaveowner who may have owned either Perry or Margaret as yet. There is a Perry Simpson of age to be Martha’s father living in the area, but his wife Margaret as shown in the 1870 and 1880 census records, is not Martha’s mother. Her maiden name was Margaret Fleet, and she married Perry Simpson in 186 in Washington D.C.; she is not old enough to have been Martha’s mother. However, Margaret turned out to be a very interesting person to research. She was originally from Washington, DC and can be found in the 1860 and 1850 census records there. She came from a prominent family; her father Henry Fleet was a very well-documented free black shoemaker who lived in Georgetown. Several youths were apprenticed to Henry over the years and this family also appears in DC estate records of the time. Margaret and other family members even opened accounts at he Freedmen’s Bank. A real treat for me was to find that Margaret lived to be over 90 years old—old enough for me to find her death certificate with her parent’s names clearly listed: Henry Fleet and Sarah Carter.
Levi and Martha Simpson Prather had 12 children that survived to adulthood. The 1900 census notes that Martha actually mothered 15 children, which implies 3 of her children had died. The 12 known children are: Mamie Jane, Idella, Cornelius, John W., Rezin, Darius, Lucy, Harriet, Beatrice, Ruth, Eugene and Maria. I found many of their marriage and death certificates, probate records and many of the deeds where they expanded upon the land their mother had purchased. There are also stories about them that their children, nieces and nephews remembered. They led rich, interesting lives in the late 19th and early 20th century and my goal is to trace their lives as completely as possible. Bible records that were discovered in the family have helped and given clues about the Simpson and Prathers that am still investigating.
Levi and Martha raised their family on a farm on Griffith Road in a small section of Laytonsville called Unity. Surprisingly, as mentioned above, the first purchase of land was made by Martha in 1897, after her husband’s death. She bought 2 acres of land from whom I initially believed were neighbors. I later discovered that Martha had a sister named Harriet Leanna and that sister married a man named Nicholas Moccabee. So, the land that Martha Prather first purchased was from her sister and brother in law.
Martha’s children over the years added onto that land, most significantly her daughters Harriet and Lucy who purchased 75 acres of land in 1916. I traveled to the place where the house once stood. Although there is a lot of surrounding development, there are still swaths of rural, rolling farmland in that part of Montgomery County and it is quite beautiful. My great-uncle Donald Waters has many vivid memories of spending time with his grandparents at their home.
Education was of primary importance for this family and
several of the children attended Howard University in Washington, DC and other schools such as Armstrong. My great-grandmother Beatrice attended the Institute for Colored Youth, a very elite school in Pennsylvania aduring that time. It later became Cheyney State University, the first historically black college. This speaks to a degree of prosperity the family must have had.
The Prathers were active members of Brooke Grove Methodist Church, which still stands (although it is no longer called Brooke Grove). The Brooke Grove cemetery is the final resting place of Levi and Martha, some of their children and many other African American community members. Rezin Prather, Sr., the man I believe to be Levi’s father, was one of the original Board of Trustees for the church that later became Brooke Grove, Goshen Methodist.
The primary places I go to research this family are the Maryland State Archives, the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville and the Montgomery County Historical Society.