Thursday, March 31, 2016

Patience, Grasshopper

         Albert and Mary Graham, circa 1890                  Albert and Mary Graham, circa 1910

Background – Albert Gallitan Graham and Mary Richardson Grantham were my 2nd-great grandparents.  There is a huge mystery surrounding Albert.  I wanted to solve this mystery so I started placing queries in 2003 which yielded ZERO hits. In 2008 I  submitted a newspaper article to the Hattiesburg American for publication.  I was working for the McDuffie Mirror newspaper at the time so I had an in.  The Hattiesburg American did some editing and cut out some of the crucial info so I have included the entire article. This will give you background information on this little mystery. The article yielded ZERO contacts. I continued to submit queries through 2012 which is when I got my first break in the case.  More on that after you read the article. 

Everyone loves a good mystery and this mystery happens to involve a Forrest County woman.  Not just any woman but one that hasn't been seen nor heard from since June 17, 1940.  Her name is Ella Ford Collins Graham, or at least we think that is her name.  So why is this mysterious woman important now?  Maybe if we take a look at what we do know the importance will become clear.

It starts with a man by the name of Albert Gallitan Graham who was born September 1844 in Simpson County.  He lived with his parents Archibald Graham and Sarah Brown until he went off to war in 1864. Albert served well and came home in one piece.  On March 4, 1867, Albert married Mary Grantham and the two of them made their home in Marion County (present day Lamar) raising their four children.  Mary was a widow with three small children.  Her first husband Elias Whiddon had been killed in the war. Albert was your average 1800s Mississippi farmer and he and his wife squeaked out a very modest living.  The next major event was when Albert's wife Mary died on April 6, 1917.  She is buried in the Grantham Family Cemetery in Lamar County.   From then on Albert lived with his unmarried daughter Sarah. On September 3, 1917 Albert applied for his Confederate pension when he turned 73.  He continued to live with his daughter until he became too old and feeble.  On September 10, 1925, at age 81, he was admitted to the Jefferson Davis Confederate Soldiers Home (now Beauvoir) in Biloxi.  Less than a year later on April 21, 1926 Albert died.  He is buried in the Beauvoir Confederate Cemetery.

Now is when the story gets interesting and our mystery woman makes her appearance.  On June 17, 1940, 14 years after Albert had died, a woman by the name of Ella Ford Collins Graham submitted a Confederate widow's pension application to the Forrest County pension board in Albert's name.  In this application she stated that she and Albert had married in Purvis in 1916.  There are very few other clues about this woman.  She stated that she was 67 years old which would put her date of birth at about 1873 and make her 29 years younger than Albert.  She stated she had been living in the state of Mississippi for 60 years.  It is unknown where she was born.  Before and after she applied for the widow's pension Ella isn’t found in any records.  At this time we don't know if Ford was her middle name or her maiden name nor whether Collins was her maiden name or a first married name.  This has made it impossible to locate her in the census records especially considering that the names of Ford and Collins are both quite common.  No Mississippi death certificate has been found for Ella nor is she listed in the book, Forrest County, Mississippi Tombstone Inscriptions, (several other county cemetery books were also checked) though her name could have easily changed if she had remarried.  In all of the previous records of Albert Graham there is no mention of Ella.  On his pension application he is listed as a widower.  On the 1920 census he is living with his daughter and is listed as a widower.  On his admission to Jefferson Davis he is listed as a widower with his dead wife being named Mary.  Ella stated she and Albert married in 1916 in Purvis but Albert's first wife Mary didn't die until 1917.  The marriage records at the Lamar County and Forrest County courthouses have been hand searched with nothing found; however, a common law marriage is possible.

We have but one more very important clue.  Interviews with several elderly descendants and relatives of Albert have reported that Albert fathered a child out of wedlock in his old age with an unknown woman.  Could Ella be the mother?  It would make sense.  Ella might have felt entitled to the widow's pension especially if times were rough and she was raising Albert's child alone.  If these family stories are true then Ella's son or daughter could still be alive (born 1916-1926?).  How many people alive today can say their father was a Confederate soldier? None that I know of so if this child does exist it is something to be celebrated. So where do I fit into all of this?  I happen to be Albert's great, great granddaughter and would welcome meeting a previously unknown child of Albert's.  I have much to tell him or her (or his or her children) about Albert.  If you have any information about Ella Ford Collins Graham or any of her children, please give me a call (XXX-XXX-XXXX) or send an e-mail to  I look forward to hearing from you.
[old email. Don’t try using it]

Michele Lewis, Staff Genealogist
McDuffie Mirror
Thomson, McDuffie Co, GA

Four years later in 2012 I was contacted by a Ford researcher that had part of the answer.  She knew who Ella Ford Collins was.  Ella was the daughter of Charles Franklin Ford and Martha Waller.  She was born June 1874 in Marion County, Mississippi.  She married Benjamin Collins, Sr. on 18 November 1900.  All of this was confirmed with census records and marriage records. But what happened to Ella?  The Ford researcher did not know.

Yesterday I received an email from a gentleman that said, “Hi Michele,  I saw your '04, '07, & '08 posts looking for info on Ella Ford Collins Graham. Were you able to break thru the wall on her?”  I emailed him back and told him everything I know.  And then the bombshell.  “Several trees reference Ella's death as 1951 in Forest City, Clinton Co., IN. I have not been able to verify this reference as yet.”

Indiana?  Seriously? Why on earth would I look there. Okay, now I am looking. I checked the “trees” and I found several people with an exact death date of 20 August 1951 but no one has a source. That would have been too easy.  I found one that had a burial place, Bunnell Cemetery.  Now we are on to something.  Time to check Find A Grave to see if I can come up with enough information to find an obituary or the death certificate. This is crucial so that I can show that THIS Ella is MY Ella using the place of birth and her parents’ names.

Now a roadblock.  There is a Ella F. Goff (a new married name?) that was born in 1874 and died in 1951 buried in the Bunnell Cemetery but the owner of that memorial has her born in Clinton County, Indiana with her mother being Lucinda Rodgers.  Well this isn’t good. 

I find the Indiana Ella’s obituary on NewspaperArchive. I click the link and…

Well okay then.  I really don’t think this is the right Ella but I have to check it out. I just ordered the Indiana Ella’s death certificate. Well worth $8.00. I should start a football pool.  Is the Ella that died in Indiana my Ella? Several “trees” say it is so.  Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2016 Michèle Simmons Lewis





  1. Riveting post, very interesting. Can't wait to read more.

  2. Wow! What an intriguing mystery!

  3. I am hooked! I cannot wait to hear more!

  4. Great story! And definitely a lesson about putting the information out there for some future research collaboration. Can't wait to hear what you find out.

  5. At first I was thinking, fraudulent application, until you mentioned there may be a child. Before more stringent steps were taken with legislature, millions were paid out in fraudulent pension claims based on simple affidavits, but by the time this app was submitted, widows had to jump through many hoops to get that meager pension, so probably not. Intriguing!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Michelle, great post! It this was a TV series, I'd be setting my DVR now to record sequels.