Henry Muir is my grandmother's older brother. I knew next to nothing about him except from my grandmother's stories and what Dad had in his family tree computer program, which included:
- The names of Henry's parents, his father's birth year, and his mother's death year
- Henry's birth date
- The first names of Henry's four wives
- The names of his children and birth year estimates
Dad wasn't as fussed about sources and citations as I am. So I really didn't know how much of the information was correct. My grandmother's stories included two that are proving relevant:
- Henry didn't get along with his step-mother, they got into a fight, and he hit her so hard he thought he'd killed her. So he fled. My grandmother didn't hear from him again for years and thought he started going by "Jack."
- Her father was an agitator for the union and moved a lot. Mining companies would ban him and sometimes even chase him out of town with guns.
They sounded a bit fantastical to me when I was younger, but now I'm starting to believe.
Several months ago, I started searching and found Henry in the 1910 census. He was living with his father, Robert, and younger sister, Alice, on Third North Street in O'Fallon, Illinois. His mother died the year before. I learned from that census he was born in Missouri and his father was a coal miner, which I already knew. I also discovered Henry's paternal grandmother and her youngest daughter, Henry's Aunt Janie, were living next door. His father and grandmother rented their homes.
A coal mine in O'Fallon, Illinois, circa 1910
That was where the trail ended. I couldn't find Henry or his father in the 1920, 1930 or 1940 census and didn't even know in which states to look. I was able to find my grandmother in the 1920 census. She was living with her paternal grandmother, who now owned a home in Nineveh, Missouri.
Through Ancestry.com I connected with a relative who was related to Henry's paternal grandmother, Margaret Semple Muir. She discovered a reference on USGenWeb Archive site to a marriage license for Henry Jack Muir and Armitar Marie Alleman on 24 Sep 1930 in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. "Armitar" was enough like Armita, which is the name I had for his second wife. And "Henry Jack" confirmed that he had added Jack to his name somewhere along the way.
With Louisiana as a place to start and "Jack" as a different first name possibility, I started looking through the census records again. I found "Jack and Armedi Muir" in the 1930 census in Millerville, Louisiana, an unicorporated place in East Baton Rouge Parish. They rented their home for $30 a month and Jack said he was an electrician. He fudged the fact that this wasn't his first marriage. I wonder if Armita ever knew he'd been married before and had a daughter.
Rayne, Louisiana, in Acadia Parish. Armita was born in Rayne in 1907. Photo courtesy "Images of America: Rayne"
I started hanging out on the Alleman and Muir surname message boards on Ancestry.com. There were at least three grandchildren looking for information about Henry or Armita. They didn't know too much but knew different things than I did so I was able to learn a little more about Henry's six children by Armita and who some of them married.
Then Pete and I went to visit my parents. I came home with all of my Dad's genealogical files and papers. It turns out he had his grandfather, Robert Muir's important papers -- his birth certificate from Scotland, his Social Security card, his West Virginia Coal Miner's Certificate, and a typed page from a probate administrator that included the final distribution of Robert Muir's estate. Henry was listed so I assumed by 1956 he was back in touch with his family. From those papers I also learned that Robert Muir worked in McDowell County, West Virginia. This wasn't immediately helpful but proved to be so later on.
Robert Muir's Coal Miner's Certificate
I put a project up for bid on GenealogyFreelancers.com to hire a professional genealogist to fill in the gaps about Henry. We got off to a rocky start but we're on the right track now. Just after posting the details about my project another Ancestry.com member left two comments on my Henry Muir page:
- He found Henry and Armita in the 1940 census They were listed as "Jack and Armita Meier" and had four children. The names of those children matched the middle four children I had. In 1940 they were living in Rayne, Louisiana, where Armita was born, renting a home. Jack said he was making $550 a month as a truck driver. The 1940 census also asked where a family lived in 1935. Henry and Armita were in Los Angeles at that time. It also asked the ages of the children and in what state they were born. A daughter was four years old and had been born in Louisiana so I surmise they returned to that state in 1936.
- He found his obituary in the Times-Picayune. So now I knew that Jack died on 24 May 1986. His wife, the former Eppie Sevan had predeceased him. Eppie was the name I had for the third wife. I still don't know if Sevan is a maiden name or if she had been married before.
Henry "Jack" Muir Obituary
Now that I had a death date for Henry and better birth year estimates for his children from the 1940 census, I started getting hints from Ancestry.com and learned:
- Richard Marvin Muir died on 13 Sep 1939 at nine years of age in Acadia Parish. I also now have the death certificate number, which is why he wasn't listed on the 1940 census.
- Alexander "Sandy" Muir died on 21 Aug 1998 in Port Barre, Louisiana
- Henry James Muir, Jr. died on 24 Aug 2000 in Pearl River, Louisiana
- Barbara Jean Muir was living at 2204 Kenilworth Drive in Saint Bernard, Louisiana in 1993
Stuck again. Nothing for the third wife, Eppie Sevan, and still no last names for his first or fourth wives. Last night, however, I searching for Muirs in McDowell County, West Virginia, where Henry's father lived from at least 1936 through 1942. I found a possibility for his oldest daughter, Inez, by his first wife Mary on FamilySearch.org, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' genealogy website. It was from the West Virginia Marriages, 1853-1970 record set. They also included a link to WVCulture.org, the West Virginia Division of Culture's website. On that site was an image of the marriage record. It provided the names, birth dates, places of birth, residences, names of the bride and groom's parents, and marriage date and location. I learned Inez was born in 1923, five years before my father thought. She was 15 when she married. And her parents' names were "Henry and Mary Muir."
Once I had Inez's birth date, Ancestry.com went into action and started providing new hints, including an Ohio death record. She died on 22 Aug 2002 in Columbus, Ohio. She was married and her last name was now Moore so she married at least twice. If Inez was born in Buchanan County, Virginia, perhaps Henry and Mary, her parents were married there. No luck. So I went back to McDowell County and found a record of that marriage.
Marriage record for Henry Muir and Mary Canterbury
Henry married Mary Canterbury in 1921 when he was 19 years old. Since McDowell County was being so good to me, I combed the birth, marriage and death records for more Muirs. I discovered a record of Henry's daughter by Armita, Barbara Jean Muir. She married Isaac Junior Conrad in Sutton, West Virginia on 15 Jan 1953 when she was 17 years old. Dad believes she died in Lousiana in 1999, but I've yet to find a record of it.
I also learned Henry's half-brother, Robert, died in McDowell County on 22 Feb 1959 of liver failure due to cirrhosis. He is buried in McDowell County, West Virginia.
Iaeger Memorial Cemetery, Roderfield, West Virginia
So many from this branch of the family were coal miners, including Henry's father and grandfather, James Muir, who immigrated from Scotland, Pete and I are now planning a long weekend trip to West Virginia. We'll follow the Coal Heritage Trail and visit local historical societies. Not to be missed is the McDowell County Coal Miner Memorial in Bradshaw, West Virginia, and the Coal Miner's Memorial, in Bartley, which commemorates a tragic mine accident in 1940 when 91 men lost their lives. I've also ordered a used book, "McDowell County, West Virginia, The Nations Coal Bin,"
McDowell County Coal Miners Memoria. Photo courtesy of "Legendary Locals of McDowell County," by William R. Archer
This was a long post, but I wanted you to get a flavor for what goes into finding information about your ancestors. It's not always easy and there's not always and interesting story at the end of the project. It's just the satisfaction you get from knowing you're making progress.