If you use a website like ancestry.com to put your genealogy out there, you are constantly going to be contacted by people asking you questions about your family. Most of these people are actually cousins or friends and cousins.
Because I get so many emails related to nothing but genealogy. I have a dedicated email address just for handling that. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I go for long stretches of time without answering some of these emails. I finally started digging through some emails this weekend and I had a few that were pretty interesting, but one in particular really stuck out to me. I got an email from a guy named Larry and this is what he said.
“Hi, I’m friends of Johnny D. Buff, his grandmother married a H. E. Smith in 1920. His father was Adolphus Smith. Mother, Sara. Bertha had two boys by H. E. Their names were Harley and Charlie Smith. The H. E. Smith is listed as 29 on the marriage certificate. Born 1891. It would’ve been easy for a man to have been married to two women at the same time back in the twenties. My own great grandfather they say would be gone for months at a time. If you could be of any assistance. I sure would appreciate it. Larry.”
It’s kind of interesting. Honestly I wasn’t exactly sure who H.E. Smith was at first, but I did recognize Adolphus Smith as one of my great, great, great grandfathers. When he said something about being married to two women at the same time, that kind of intrigued me. That’s an email with responding to. But first let’s take a look and see what I have in my genealogy.
OK. So my great grandmother is a lady named Annie Smith and her dad is Thomas Smith and his father is Henry Adolphus Smith. So let’s start there. Henry Adolphus “Dock” Smith as he was called, was born in 1848, died in 1916 in Swain County North Carolina. Here’s my great grandfather, Thomas Smith, and right down here is his brother who is six years younger than him named Henry Edward Smith. This must be the H.E. Smith in question.
So here’s my 3rd Great Uncle Henry Edward Smith, born 1884, died in 1962 in Weaverville in Buncombe County, North Carolina.
Now here’s the thing, Henry Edward Smith was married to a lady named Ernestine Honeycutt in 1902. They were married to each other the rest of their lives. In fact, they both died in the same year. 1962. They have three kids together, two daughters named Anna and Lola, although in the mountains they would pronounce that Annie and Lolie and then a son named William. My first thought to Larry was, “OK, dude, how about get your facts together first, do you actually have any proof that this happened?”
He sent this email to me in October of last year, by the way, so I’m responding to him literally seven months later.
“Sorry for taking so long to respond. So you were saying the H.E. Smith who was married to Ernestine Honeycutt had another wife named Bertha and had two boys with her. Do you have a marriage certificate for this H.E. Smith and Bertha and birth records and death certificates for their children?”
I did a super quick search on ancestry.com, so I wasn’t really able to find a whole lot of information so I wanted to see if he had this marriage certificates and if you could send it to me. Surprisingly this is what he had to say.
‘I do have one. I will try and get it for you. Hi Jonathan. Let me know what you think, Larry. “
OK, let’s take a look and see what this says. State of North Carolina Caldwell County office of register of deeds, August 5th, 1922 an ordained minister or any religious denomination or any justice of the peace of said County, H.E. Smith having applied to me for a license for the marriage of himself of Caldwell County, North Carolina. Age 29 years. Color White, the son of Adolphus Smith and Sarah Smith. The father now dead, the mother dead and Bertha of Caldwell county age 33 years old, white daughter of Malton Cline and Ellen Cline, the father living, the mother, living residence of Caldwell County, North Carolina.
And then further down the document it looks like they were married by a justice of the Peace.
I, J.A. Starnes, a justice of the Peace United to matrimony H.E. Smith and Bertha Buff. The parties licensed above on the 5th day of August, 1920 at Granite Falls, North Carolina and Love Lady Township of Said County according to law,
Love lady township. That’s really interesting. Lovely township is essentially Granite Falls, North Carolina, which is actually where I grew up and my family’s ancestral lands are in the present day Great Smoky Mountain National Park. So if Henry and Bertha were married in August of 1920. Let’s take a look at what the 1920 census says for where Henry was living at the time.
So this is the 1920 census for Henry Edward Smith. He was living in Ocanalufty, Swain County North Carolina, which is now encompassed inside of the great smoky national forest. You can see right here, he’s living right next door to his brother, Thomas E Smith, who is my great, great grandfather in 1920. My great grandmother, Annie Smith who went on to marry a Medford was 16 years old at the time and you can see clearly, plain as day, Henry Edward Smith, married to Ernestine wife.
There was quite a distance between North Carolina and lovelady township, about a 122 miles to be exact. I guess if you’re going to have a secret family, that’s not a bad idea. I’m still a little skeptical though.
Now, I don’t have a photo of Henry Edward Smith, but his brother, Thomas Smith, my great, great grandfather lived right next door to them. Here’s a look at Thomas Smith House, which like I said, is now in present day great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Here’s a picture from 1910 of Thomas Smith and his family. Thomas is right here towards the right and then my great grandmother Annie is right here in the middle.
Now here’s a photo that was taken right around 1920 of Thomas Smith and his family. Again, this is not Henry, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of what Henry’s life may have looked like and he probably looked pretty similar to his brother Thomas, my great, great grandfather.
So my next question is, who is Bertie? I decided to take a look at the 1920 census and see where Bernie was living at the time.
Now Bertie was living as a widow with her mother and father in love, lady township and Caldwell County, North Carolina in 1920. She also had a 13 year old son named Henry and a 10 year old daughter named Johnsie.
The next question I want to ask is why was Henry in Caldwell county to begin with? There’s actually a logical explanation. Here’s some clues as to why Henry was in Caldwell County:
- His parents were from Caldwell County.
- They were married in Caldwell County.
- Henry was born there.
- He had lots of relatives still living there.
- He had aunts, uncles, and cousins that lived in Caldwell County.
Caldwell County is where my family moved after eminent domain, took their land from the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest. Having a secret family, a 122 miles away makes a lot of sense, but having a secret family where you have so many relatives, doesn’t really make a lot of sense!
Did Harley in Charlie Really Exist?
So here’s the 1930 census for Birdie or Roberta. She’s living not too far away from Caldwell County, right next door in Catawba county in a city called Newton. And check this out. Her last name is Smith and there they are. Charlie and Harley. Both nine years old, Huh? I guess Charlie and Harley were probably twins, nine years old. And they have the classic twin rhyming names. Now what’s really interesting here is her marital status says married. Her last name is Smith, but what’s unusual is her husband is not listed as living in this household.
Wow. Maybe this Guy Larry is right. Let’s take a look at the 1940 census.
OK. So in 1940 her name is not listed as Smith listed as both, but I still see it in here for married and there they are. Charlie and Harley sons. Eighteen and 18.
What kind of weird thing about the m, that is listed here, the M for married, has a line through it as if it’s marked out and then there’s a number seven. I’ve never seen that before in a this record. I wonder if that really means anything. Found it pretty cool explanation on Google.
Even when a marital status married was recorded, clerks were instructed to interline the M and replace it with seven. If no spouse was included in the household. If you find a seven and the marital status column or an M crossed out and a 7 penciled in, then look for the spouse in another household.
Interesting. The circumstantial evidence here is really, really convincing. Uh, everything seems to corroborate what Larry’s telling me. Let’s just take look at Henry situation as the 5th of August, 1920 when he married Bertha.
He’s 36 years old. He is three weeks shy of being married to Ernestine for 18 years. He has a daughter named Annie who was 17. He has a daughter named Lola who is six, and he has a son named William who was just two years old. He’s working as a blacksmith at a lumber company and he lives in Ocanalufty, North Carolina, in Swain county.
Perhaps the most astonishing part is nine months after they were married. Charlie and Harley, the twins were born.
This spawns. So many questions. Did Robertha ever ever know about Henry’s wife. Did Henry’s wife Ernestine ever know about Roberta? Did Henry and Ernestine children? Anna, Lola and William ever know about any of this.
So right here is a marriage certificate for Charlie Smith who was getting married August 27th, 1947 in Charlotte, North Carolina at 26 years old. So he’s listed as the son of H.E. Smith, and Bertha Smith, the father deceased. The mother living.
Did he list his father is deceased metaphorically because he may as well be? Or is he listing his father is deceased because he actually believes his father’s dead?
Another question I have is, do the descendants of these two families know that the other exists?
I’m going to get some answers for you guys. I’ve actually been able to track down some descendants of both sides, and so what I’m gonna do is I’m going to contact the families and approach them about the situation delicately and see what they had to say about it. Be on the lookout for a followup blog as we help solve this puzzle.