Monday, March 1, 2010

Madness Monday (well, Tuesday): My mystery grandpa (part one)

 Robert Bunyan Hall, affectionately known as my "mystery grandpa." Unknown medium/artist [colorized photo?], c. 1940s, Louisiana, owned by the Hall family in La., digital photo by Liz Hall Morgan, Feb. 2009.

My first "Madness Monday" post concerns my biggest brick wall--my "mystery grandpa," Robert Bunyan Hall.  Grandpa Hall never told his kids the names of his parents, and they eventually learned not to ask.  He's one of the reasons I became interested in genealogy when I was young, and I've researched him off and on for more than 25 years.  If you're knowledgeable about Virginia, Georgia, or Spanish-American War records, or just like helping others bust up brick walls (ironically, Grandpa was a brick mason), read on.  I have put him aside for the last few years but am ready to take a sledgehammer to his big ol' wall again.   Would you like to help?

Brief stats on Grandpa:
Robert Bunyan [a.k.a. Bunyon, Bunion] HALL
b. 18 Mar 1878, in Richmond VA, area, or possibly 1877 in GA.
General whereabouts and life before Oct. 1918 unknown.
m. Elia Legere 26 Oct. 1918, Lafayette, LA.
d. 20 Nov 1952, Sulphur, Calcasieu, LA,
Occupation: Brick Mason, Railroad Worker, Contractor

Possible residences before Oct. 1918: Beaumont, Orange, or other cities in TX [worked construction at Gulf refinery; may have worked on railroads in LA/TX]; worked for Wacheson [sp?] & Henigriff in Westlake, LA in 1918 and may have worked in Lake Charles or other LA cities; Atlanta [worked for George Fuller Construction], Stone Mt., GA; Savannah, GA; Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN; [worked on Louisville & Nashville Railroad]; Richmond,VA; Baltimore, MD.

He did claim to be from the Richmond, Virginia area (we can't find a birth record; based on the 1880 census, he may be from GA) and that his family owned a grist mill.  At least one of his children thought he mentioned a sister named Fanny, and that she may have died young.  His children remember various places in the South he may have mentioned and where he may have lived (outlined above).  He said he was in the Navy in the Spanish-American War (we can't find a record of a Robert B. Hall born in either VA or GA) and that he went to Johns Hopkins at one time (no record in the school archives).  He said he worked on the railroad (but too early to have a railroad retirement record), as a bricklayer, and as a contractor.  He claimed Irish roots, and was Protestant.

He met my grandma Elia Légère in Sept. or Oct. 1918 in Orange, TX, through her brother-in-law, who knew him only as a fishing buddy he met on the Neches or Sabine River.  They married soon after (I wrote about their relationship here) and we know his whereabouts (Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana) from then on, but his life from his birth c. 1873-1878 until 1918 (He and Grandma both died in La. in the 1950s) is almost a complete mystery to us.  Well, the only answers we've found so far, anyway, just lead to more questions.  To wit:

1.  My mom (brava!) found his application for a marriage license to marry my grandmother (Elia Légère), on which he entered his parents' names as "George Hall" and "Georgia" [Burnaman? Burnam? Burnham? -- it's hard to read].  Oh, and a previous wife (deceased) is listed: Corrie [or Connie, Carrie??] Williams.  (My father and his siblings, by the way, had never heard of any other wives, living or deceased.)
Notes: I can't find a George and Georgia Hall (or G. Hall) with son Robert (or R.) of approximately the correct age anywhere in the 1880 census except Georgia.  Nothing in Virginia looks right to me.  I should perhaps go back and check for one spouse alone or remarried with Robert.
Williams??!!  Really, Grandpa???  Couldn't you have married someone with a slightly less common name?  I've barely tried looking for her.  "Williams" is worse than "Hall" for searching!
No marriage records for Grandpa in the Orange or Beaumont, TX, areas where we know he lived.  No Cora/Corrie/Cornelia/Cordelia or Connie/Constance or Carrie/Caroline Halls who died in Texas so far who died by/before 1918 that I've found who fit.

2.  I found his WWI draft registration not long after they became available online--here's the image:

It lists his full name [middle name probably misspelled by the draft board], his birthday, March 18, though the year [1873] is off [it's 1878 in other records], and his description ["medium" height and build, "blue" eyes, "light" hair] fits.  He's a natural-born citizen, working as a bricklayer in Lake Charles, LA, for Wacheson [sp?] & Henigriff in Westlake, LA.  This all makes sense. 
But wait!  He has another wife!  "Mrs. Jessie Hall (wife), Box [579? 577?], Beaumont, Texas."

The kicker?  This record is dated Sept. 12, 1918.  What's the big deal?  Robert married my grandmother on Oct. 26, 1918, just over six weeks later.  What happened to Jessie?
Notes: Could she have died in the 1918 flu pandemic, between Sept. 12 and Oct. 5 or so?  I can't find her in Texas death records so far.  I'd like to access Sept./Oct. 1918 Beaumont, Texas, newspapers for possible obituaries or lists of those who died from the "Spanish flu," but I don't think they're online for that date.  I know Lamar University in Beaumont has them on microfilm; maybe I can request them through ILL or via LDS.  
Or: did she die, they divorced, or could he have just left her?  Or maybe they were not officially married? Were they separated?  He did sometimes travel to get work, so living apart doesn't necessarily mean they were separated.
Would the Beaumont post office have archives of box holders back to 1918?  Or was this a rural route box?  How do I find out?  Would it be on a map, if a rural route?

3. My dad took a Y-DNA test for me a couple of years ago.  We're in a Hall DNA study group, but no one has come closer than matching 22 of 24 markers (we tested 37 markers; our closest match tested on only 24) yet--meaning our nearest common ancestor was probably 18-20 generations ago, most likely in the British Isles, perhaps Ireland.  Maybe as more folks join, we'll find a closer match.

Interestingly, the others preliminarily grouped with us have roots going back to Virginia in the 1700s, so maybe Grandpa actually was telling the truth about being from Virginia.  And now at least we know Grandpa was really a Hall, and not a Dillinger or a Capone! (though the jury's still out on whether he was in trouble with the law--which would explain why he didn't discuss his past... )

More to come, including notes on Grandpa's parent-candidates in Georgia...  
UPDATE: Read Part Two here.

If you have ideas, please leave a comment or drop me an e-mail at hallroots (at) sbcglobal (dot) net.  Or stay tuned for more info.  Thanks!

Copyright 2010 by Liz Hall Morgan, all rights reserved


  1. Liz, I can't tell you how similar your story sounds to mine. Y DNA testing was a big piece of our solving our mystery grandfather (he changed his name) and I have a question about your results. Is 22 of 37 markers the closest match you have in the Hall group? I'm not a DNA expert by any means but FTDNA only gave us results for my brother within genetic distance of up to 4 (33 of 37 markers) as a match. Have you compared your father to the company's entire database to look for closer matches?

  2. Hi Linda--Thanks so much for reading. I hope LOTS of people read about Grandpa so I can get input into solving his mystery.

    I will edit the above to be a bit more clear: so far the closest match is a 22 of 24 match with a Hall who tested on 24 markers. We tested on 37 markers, but none of the other 37-marker people in our loosely-associated subgroup in the study match closer.

  3. Ahhh. That makes sense then. Keep looking - mysteries that seem impossible to solve can be solved. Most people in our family gave up years ago that we'd ever find my grandfather's family but we did it last year with DNA, hard work and a lot of luck. One thing you might want to try (we did this) is to trace the families you think are possibilities and find living descendants of theirs. You might find someone who has the answers.

  4. WOW your story is very interesting. I know NOTHING about the DNA testing - kinda new to this genealogy - not new but still a baby in comparison I guess. I'll be following you to see how you do with this.

  5. Hi Mary,
    Yes, DNA testing for genealogy can really help break through brick walls--when used in addition to the usual research. We just need more Halls to join the group.
    More info on DNA testing & how it works here:

  6. A brick wall and a brick mason - wow! This is a fascinating story (and I haven't even read part two, yet). The extra wives are fascinating, especially the one listed close to the date of your grandparents' marriage. How about local newspapers of the time? Well, on to Part two ...

    1. Hi Greta, I'm currently researching a possible Jessie but have not pursued Corrie/Carrie/Connie Williams in a while. Maybe all the records put online in the last couple of years will help with her.

  7. Hi, Liz! I just noticed that on my great-great-grandparents' marriage certificate (Maurice Boneaux and Marie Alice Sonnier), there is a witness named George Hall. They were married at St. Peter Catholic Church in Carencro on 10 Sep 1908. The civil record from Lafayette Parish lists George Hall as a witness. The other two witnesses were Maurice's brother, Joseph Boneaux, and his father, Dominique Boneaux. I don't know if that George would be your Robert's father or not (or possibly a brother?). I have not done any research to try to identify George Hall further. I don't have a George Hall that I know of in the Boneaux or Sonnier family trees.

    1. Interesting! My late cousin Louise Sonnier sent me a found envelope or clipping that had a George Hall's name on it a couple of years ago; she lived in Scott (not any info, but the name caught her eye). At the time I thought it was interesting but not something that rang alarms in my head. Although my grandpa Robert Hall met Elia Legere in Orange, TX, and said he was from Va., there's nothing to prove he DIDN'T have family in the Lafayette, La. area, where Grandma's family was from. I just haven't focused there. But perhaps I'll look up George from Scott & see if there's any "there" there. The universe might just be trying to tell me something. :) Thanks!