Finding the maiden names of our female ancestors can be tough. But sometimes finding the women in our family is difficult even after they get married. Sometimes they just seem to vanish.
Here’s one who did just that for a while: Mary Jane Hudson. Here, she’s living with her husband, Lewellan Gillespie, and their three sons in Amherst, Virginia, in 1860.
After that, they seem to disappear. Neither Mary Jane Gillespie nor Lewellan Gillespie appears in any subsequent census records. And no death records, either.
So what do you do now?
First, look for the children. I could not find Lewis or Robert, but I did find Charles Gillespie. He’s living with his grandparents Micajah and Elvira Hudson, Mary Jane’s parents.
There could be many possible reasons for this:
- The family has moved elsewhere and left their son with his grandparents to help out or for some other reason.
- Lewellan and Mary Jane have both died, leaving Charles an orphan.
- Lewellan has died, Mary Jane has remarried, and Charles has moved in with his grandparents.
Since I’ve already checked census and death records, marriage records make a logical next step. But there is no marriage record for a Mary Jane Gillespie in Amherst or surrounding counties on Ancestry.com. Now what?
You can widen the search to see if somebody out there knows something you don’t. Ancestry Member Trees and Message Boards can make a good next step. I find a tree that says Mary Jane died in September of 1870 and was married twice: first to Lewellan and then to Benjamin Franklin Campbell.
There are no sources listed, so reaching out to the member who published this would be a good idea. Maybe he or she knows more than they have included here.
Campbell gives me another name to search, and I find a Benjamin and Mary Campbell in Amherst that might be them.
The Ancestry.com and Rootsweb message boards offer another hint:
The Benjamin F. Campbell (or Benjamin Franklin) mentioned in #3 of Lilly's post of April 24th is the son of James W. Campbell and Jane Massie. He moved back to Amherst County and was married 4 times. His first wife was Sarah A. Mays (married 12 Nov. 1857 in Amherst County; second wife, Mary Jane Hudson, m. 13 Sept 1865 in Amherst Co.; third wife, Sally Ann Hudson, m. 27 Oct. 1875; and fourth, Lelia Ann Henson m. 27 Feb. 1890. Benjamin died 16 Dec. 1907 and is buried in the Amherst Cemetery. All of the marriage records can be found and several list James W. Campbell and Jane Massie as his parents.
Again, there is no source to go back and examine, but the post does provide some clues on where to go look. And some suggestions on what happened to Mary Jane.
There are still plenty of questions. What happened to Lewellan? Was he killed in the Civil War? And what happened to Robert and Lewis?
We always hope to find our ancestors right where we expect them, leaving behind a trail of easy-to-follow clues. But there are always a few who seem to try to remain in the shadows. Look everywhere! The answers are out there.
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.