Ancestry of Wilford Jerome Robertson

(This is an excellent research paper written by my cousin, David Bilow. Many years of research and thought have gone into this document. This family is our brick wall!)

From an early age, I knew my grandfather had changed his last name and my desire to discover his original surname is what sparked my interest in genealogy. In the beginning, I focused entirely on my paternal line. That changed one afternoon when my aunt and I spent several hours looking through her father’s effects and came across several old family photographs. It was the first time I had ever seen a picture of my mother’s grandfather. Those 19th century photographs of Wilford, Aunt Mattie, and Cousin Mable made me realize my maternal lineage merited investigation as well.

My search for Wilford’s ancestry began in 2001. That, same year I began corresponding with a direct descendant of Martha A. S. Murphy. Over the years, we have exchanged ideas, documents, pictures, research, etc., all in pursuit of Mattie Murphy and Wilford Robertson’s heritage. Without her research and especially her willingness to share the results of that research, much of what follows would not have been possible.

David W. Bilow


This paper proposes that Wilford’s paternal grandparents were John C. Robertson and Lucinda Williams. John C. was likely the son of Levi Robertson and Lucinda was probably the sister of George W. Williams. They married in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1831 and over the next nine years Lucinda gave birth to five children; Mary, Caroline, Martha, Lucinda, and John1. By 1840, both the Robertson and Williams families had moved westward, ultimately locating in Central Township on the outskirts of St. Louis. William, born in Missouri about 1841, was the Robertson’s last child. I believe one of John and Lucinda’s sons became Wilford’s father, unfortunately no single document has been found that unquestionably proves this claim. Instead, the events, relationships and life experiences of this Robertson family and those closely allied to it was what led me to believe this was Wilford’s ancestral family.

Robertson Lore

Wilford’s children believed their grandfather’s name was William Robertson and his wife’s name was Ellen Swatzer. They thought Ellen died during childbirth and often described Wilford as an “only son of an only son”. Some thought that William Robertson owned property within the business section of St. Louis; but searches for any records proving this were unsuccessful. All believed Wilford was born in the St. Louis area. There was speculation that Wilford’s father had immigrated to America and that he had met Wilford’s future foster father, William L. Bittner, during that voyage. Wilford’s children did not know when or why Wilford came to live with William Bittner, only that he was quite young at the time and that Grandpa Bittner never adopted him. What Wilford learned about his father from Bittner is unknown. Wilford’s children knew virtually nothing about their grandfather other than the Robertson surname hinted at Scottish heritage. Wilford’s oldest children were aware of his two aunts and an uncle. As youngsters, they had lived2 with Aunt Lou and Uncle John in Mountain Grove and Aunt Mattie in St. Louis.

John Robertson’s Account

In the early 1980s, John W. Robertson received a request from Robert C. Bellamy for any information he could provide pertaining to Wilford Robertson’s family. Robert was writing “The Bellamy Heritage” and wanted to include a section relating the Robertson side of the Bellamy clan. The following is a summary of the account3 John sent to his Cousin Robert.

Wilford J. Robertson married Annie M. Bellamy on January 29, 1893. Soon after, they moved to Nebraska to work on the farm of Wilford’s Aunt Lou and Uncle John Parkyn. Annie gave birth to their first son, John William, on that farmstead during the winter of 1893/94. The following spring the Robertsons returned home to Annie’s family in Morgan County, Missouri. In early spring of 1898, Wilford, his wife, two young sons, and a baby daughter traveled to Mountain Grove in a covered wagon provided by Wilford’s Uncle John Parkyn. Eighty years later John W. still had memories of that trip. Once in Mountain Grove the family lived on and worked near the Parkyn farm. Sometime in late 1900 Wilford, hearing that jobs were plentiful because of the upcoming World’s Fair, traveled to St. Louis to work in the city, his wife and children following soon after. The Robertsons lived in St. Louis approximately two years. Wilford’s Aunt Mattie Murphy lived there and owned some tenement housing in the city4. Over time, Wilford’s opportunities for work dwindled because of a labor strike and making ends meet became difficult for the family. He even attempted to earn a living selling insurance but was unsuccessful at it. Word of the family’s difficulties prompted Grandpa Bittner to travel to St. Louis and bring Annie and the children back to Calwood5. The Robertson family lived with Grandpa Bittner until John, Charley, and Lucy left home after which Wilford moved the remainder of his family to Fulton. Eventually tiring of life in Fulton the Robertsons moved onto a small, country farm halfway between Fulton and Jefferson City. They remained there until about 1934 when they relocated to Colorado, where their eldest son lived.

John W. wrote the following to end his letter to Robert:

Dad was an only son of an only son, his mother died shortly after his birth, his father left him with foster parents, W. L. Bitner, and wife in Calwood, MO, when he was about 2½ or 3 years old. I always understood he was never adopted. I remember his two Aunts, Aunt Lou Parken [sic] when we lived at Mtn. Grove, and Aunt Matt Murphy when we lived in St. Louis. This is about the sum of what we know about the family of W. J. Robertson”.

Wilford’s Photographs

The photographs found in Wilford’s possessions were both moving and informative. One photo shows Wilford as a young man in Fulton and another, a portrait of Annie and Wilford, records their early years together. There was a photograph of the Robertson family taken during their stay in St. Louis and a studio portrait, taken about 1905, shows Grandpa Bittner with the Robertson family surrounding him. His belongings also included a photograph of a young Mable Murphy addressed “For Cousin Annie from Mable”. Lastly, one photograph that proved essential in establishing Wilford’s heritage was a portrait of his Aunt Mattie Murphy. Her photograph tied Wilford to his ancestral family.

William Lewis Bittner

William L. Bittner’s birth in Pennsylvania on August 22, 1837, dispels the story of his immigration to America and the suggested first meeting with Wilford’s father aboard ship. In 1855, William, along with the rest of his family, moved from Pennsylvania to Clayton County, Iowa. Bittner’s biography, found on pages 598 and 599 in History of Callaway County, Missouri, 1884, says, “He was reared to a farm life and followed that in Iowa until 1863, when he came to Missouri”. During his early years in Fulton, William engaged in the hotel business. In 1868, he married Mrs. Amanda Naddin, a widower, and moved to Franklin County where they made their living farming.

In 1870, William lived in Boeuff Township, Franklin County, Missouri and remained there until the family moved back to Callaway County in 1873. That move coincides with the approximate time the Robertson children believed Wilford’s father left him with William Bittner. Whether Wilford began living with his foster family in Franklin or Callaway County is unknown. On their return to Callaway County, they continued their lives as farmers. The 1880 Federal Census reveals the first known connection between William Bittner and Wilford Robertson. William, his wife, Amanda, her two daughters, and Wilford Robertson, identified as an eleven-year-old “Bound boy”, farmed outside Calwood, Missouri. In 1882, Mr. Bittner began a career in the grocery business. He carried “a large and well selected stock of goods”, had “an excellent trade”, and was known as “an energetic business man, perfectly upright in his dealings with his customers and is justly very popular”. At the turn of the century, William and Amanda Bittner again lived in Calwood, his occupation now a merchant. By 1910, Bittner, a widower and working in his grocery store, lived with Wilford and his family in Calwood Township. In 1916, William’s older brother, Louis Bittner, travelled from Bellevue, Iowa to Calwood, Missouri for a visit. The two brothers had not seen each other in fifty-five years.

Mayor Louis Bittner and brother, William Bittner, who had not met for fifty-five years, were reunited at Calwood, Mo., recently. William is now 83 years old and Louis is 68. William enlisted in the civil war and had not been heard from by the family until now. They believed, not hearing from him, he had been among those killed during the war. It was indeed a happy meeting of the long separated brothers.

In 1920, William Bittner once again lived with the Robertsons, this time in their Fulton home. He remained with them until his death one year later. His interment in the cemetery adjacent to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Fulton took place June 4, 1921.

Aunt Lou and Uncle John Parkyn

According to St. Louis County marriage records, Wilford’s Uncle John and Aunt Lou Parkyn married on June 23, 1860. The following is a transcript of that record. “This is to certify that I united in the holy bonds of matrimony Mr. John Perkin [sic] of Wisconsin and Miss Lucinda Robertson of Meramec Township, St Louis Co., Missouri on the 23d day of June 1860”. Another record of their marriage appeared in A Genealogy of the Lake Family by Arthur Adams & Sarah A. Risley. Page 81 described the family of Rebecca Lake and her husband, the Rev. Joseph Parkyn. It noted their eldest son’s marriage to Lucinda Robertson on June 23, 1860, adding John and Lucinda never had children. This additional marriage reference provided the correct spelling of John’s surname, consequently helping identify the Parkyns in other records. On August 15, 1862, John Parkyn, a resident of Oakland, Wisconsin enlisted in the 20th Wisconsin Infantry. In 1865, soon after he mustered out of the army, he appeared before the St. Louis County Justice of the Peace in regards to monies owed him by the estate of John H. Potterfield6. In early Fall of that same year John Parkyn purchased forty acres of land in Osage County, Missouri that sat very near lands owned by George W, John A, and Silas O. Williams7. John and Lucinda sold their Osage County land two years later and returned to Wisconsin. In the 1870 Federal Census, the Parkyns resided in the home of Joseph and Rebecca Parkyn, John’s parents.

The 1880 Federal Census for Gosper County, Nebraska listed John and Lucinda Parkyn settling on land they were homesteading. There are no surviving census records for Gosper County in 1890 but we know the Parkyns were still there because in 1891 the United States granted John L. Parkyn an additional 160-acre parcel of land near his original homestead granted in 1886. This 320-acre farm in south-central Nebraska was where Wilford and Annie moved to soon after their marriage. John Parkyn’s younger brother, Joseph, also homesteaded near Homerville. Joseph’s son, Ralph E. Parkyn, worked with his father and uncle and knew of John W. Robertson’s birth. In November of 1945, Ralph signed an affidavit stating he was a “longtime acquaintance” and had “personal knowledge” of John’s birth. This affidavit provided part of the required documentation for John’s Delayed Birth Certificate from the State of Nebraska.

In 1896, the Parkyns left Nebraska and moved to Mountain Grove, Missouri. In 1898, Wilford and family arrived at the Parkyn farm to work and lend a hand caring for Lucinda who was ailing. Aunt Lou died in 1899 and was buried in Hillcrest Cemetery on the outskirts of town. The following inscription carved on her tombstone establishes her birthdate: Lucinda Jane8 Parkyn Wife of John L. Parkyn Born Oct. 29, 1837 Died Aug 2, 1899. Uncle John died February 24, 1915. His burial two days later was also in Hillcrest Cemetery. John Parkyn’s tombstone confirmed his enlistment in the 20th Wisconsin Infantry.

Aunt Mattie Murphy

S earches for census, marriage, and death records for Wilford’s Aunt Mattie Murphy returned little. Of the few records discovered, none referred to Wilford’s aunt. Finally, searches on surname message boards proved beneficial and communication with two great-great-granddaughters of Martha Murphy began. After the initial exchange of information, it became apparent that the first crucial task would be to prove or disprove Wilford’s Aunt Mattie and the descendants’ Martha Murphy were the same person. Remarkably, everyone owned a photograph of their individual Martha/Mattie and a comparison of those photographs removed all doubt, the subject in all the photos was unmistakably the same woman. These newly discovered relatives provided numerous family details that were vital in discovering Wilford’s ancestry.

In March of 1855, John H. Potterfield married Martha Ann Susan Robinson9 in Jefferson County, Missouri. Their marriage record was significant because it explicitly establishes Martha’s two middle names of Ann and Susan. John Potterfield died in 1864; two years later in Dec of 1866, Martha married Nicholas J. Murphy. Born Martha Ann Susan Robertson, she became Mrs. Martha A. S. Potterfield in 1855 and then in 1866 became Mrs. Martha A. Murphy, known to Wilford as Aunt Mattie Murphy.

N icholas and Martha had three children and several grandchildren. One of their granddaughters, born in 1899 was Mable Josephine Murphy. It was her photograph addressed to “Cousin Annie” Robertson, that was found in Wilford’s memorabilia. Mable and Wilford were first cousins and her picture, taken about the time the Robertsons lived in St Louis, suggests the Robertsons interacted with the Murphys during their stay in the city.

In 1916, Martha applied for an increase in her widow’s pension based on the civil war service of her second husband. On one of the required papers, she filled in the appropriate blanks with information about her age, her birthday, and her place of birth. She stated she was eighty-one years old and born October 11, 1835 in Albemarle County, Virginia. Martha A. S. Murphy died in March of 1922 in Allenton, Missouri.

Wilford’s Relatives

An aunt by birth is defined as a sister to a parent; she is a “second-degree relative and shares 25% genetic overlap with a nephew or niece” (Wikipedia). An aunt by marriage is defined as the wife of an uncle by birth. She becomes part of the family through marriage and is not a blood relative. The same holds true for an uncle. Determining the type of relationships between Wilford and his known aunts and uncle was central in uncovering Wilford’s ancestral family.

For John and Lou Parkyn to be Wilford’s aunt and uncle one of them must have been a sibling to Wilford’s mother or father10. Examination of John’s birth family found he had four sisters, one of whom died in infancy. Each of the others married and had families of their own. None married a Robertson nor did any of them give birth to Wilford. John was an uncle by marriage therefore Aunt Lou Parkyn (Lucinda Jane Robertson) was Wilford’s aunt by birth making her a sister to either Wilford’s father or mother. Researching Martha Robertson’s first husband gave similar results. None of John H. Potterfield’s sisters married a Robertson nor gave birth to Wilford. No relationship was created between Wilford and Martha Robertson through any of her first husband’s siblings. It is unknown if Nicholas J. Murphy had a sister. If he did, she could have been Wilford’s mother and Mattie would have been Wilford’s aunt by marriage but only if Nicholas’ sister married Lucinda J. Robertson’s brother. Though not impossible, no evidence has been found to support this improbable marriage.

The following arguments also support the view that Martha was Wilford’s aunt by birth.

Penned on the back of Wilford’s photograph of Aunt Mattie was the following: “Aunt Mat Murphy My Fathers own Aunt”. John W. Robertson, the caretaker of this photograph, was the most likely author of this comment. The adjective “own” implies John W. believed Mattie was Wilford’s blood relative.

John L. Parkyn petitioned the court for monies due him from John H. Potterfield’s estate. John lived in Wisconsin in 1860; both his marriage record and the 1860 Federal Census confirmed this. There was no evidence John Parkyn had any contact with the Potterfields other than through his relationship with Lucinda Robertson. That Parkyn loaned money to Potterfield suggests John or Lucinda knew the Potterfields well enough to make such a loan. In all probability, the connection between these two families was between Martha Potterfield nee Robertson and Lucinda Jane Robertson, the future Aunt Lou Parkyn.

According to the 1860 Federal Census record, John and Martha Potterfield and Lorenzo D. Votaw and his wife, Mary Eliza lived near each other in Meramec Township, St. Louis County. Although not found in the census records, Lucinda J. Robertson’s 1860 marriage record placed her in Meramec Township in June of that year. A William and a William A. J. Robertson11 worked for the estate of John H. Potterfield. All the women were born in Virginia in the mid-1830s, their birth years spaced in a manner consistent with siblings and “Robertson” was the maiden name for each. These three Robertson women and William all match the names of heirs in John C’s probate and their proximity and interactions with each other suggests they were related.

Altogether, the unlikeliness of Nicholas having a sister married to Lucinda’s brother and the arguments listed above strongly suggests Martha was an aunt by birth.

If Martha and Lucinda were aunts by birth but not sisters then either Martha’s brother married Lucinda’s sister or vice versa. If Martha and Lucinda were sisters then either, one of their brothers was Wilford’s father, or one of their sisters his mother. In any situation where any sister of Aunt Lou or Aunt Mattie was Wilford’s mother the unlikely situation of a Robertson man marrying a Robertson woman occurs. Only if the aunts were sisters and one of their brothers was Wilford’s father can Wilford’s mother be any unrelated woman.

John C. Robertson Probate

Suspecting that Wilford’s two aunts were sisters and Wilford’s father was their brother research to discover their childhood family began. The most promising place to start was the 1850 Federal Census; unfortunately, conventional and online searches were disappointing, neither aunt was found. Expanding searches to other record types eventually located the probate records for John C. Robertson. John died in 1843, and his probate opened in St. Louis County in February of that year. Typically, probate packets contain many missing or unreadable pages and John Robertson’s was no exception. Fortunately, the court document declaring the lawful heirs of John C. Robertson was neither missing nor unreadable. It displayed sharp, clear handwriting in addition to the typed print and listed John’s heirs as his wife “Lucinda Robertson” and his children “Mary E, Caroline M, Martha A. S, John L, William A, and Lucy Jane Robertson”. One other document of equal importance held the names and signatures of those who stood bond for Lucinda Robertson, Administratrix for the Estate of John C. Robertson. They were Jessie Angell and George W. Williams.

The heirs named in John C. Robertson’s probate present a potential family whose members may well have been Wilford’s father, aunts, and grandparents. Their location in the St. Louis area after 1840 puts them in the right place at the right time to be Wilford’s ancestral family. Obviously, the surname of Robertson as well as the names of the children drew immediate attention. The A. and S. in Martha’s name were readily recognizable as initials for Ann and Susan, the middle names of Wilford’s Aunt Mattie. Lucy Jane, a nickname for Lucinda Jane, matches Aunt Lou Parkyn’s name. Mary E. might have been the Mary Eliza Robertson who married Lorenzo D. Votaw, a close neighbor of John and Martha Potterfield. Either John or William could have been Wilford’s father and if so, their sisters would be Wilford’s aunts by birth. Wilford’s Aunt Mattie and Aunt Lou as well as and Mary E. Votaw were all from Virginia and so too must have been John C. Robertson’s family if they were truly related to Wilford.

Virginia Connection

Searches of marriage records for Albemarle County, Virginia found a marriage bond for John C. Robertson and Lucinda Williams dated April 28, 1831. Besides the names for both bride and groom, this marriage bond made known another family member, George W. Williams. In addition to signing as a bondsman, George W. also attested to the age of Lucinda and was likely the older12 brother of the bride. Was the John C. Robertson who married Lucinda in 1831 Virginia the same John C. Robertson who died in Missouri in 1843? Was the Lucinda Williams who married John C. the same Lucinda Robertson who acted as Administratrix of John C’s probate? Was the Geo W. Williams who signed as bondsman on John C. and Lucinda’s marriage bond the same George W. Williams who signed as bondsman on John C. Robertson’s probate records? A comparison of signatures might answer these questions.

John C. signed his marriage bond but obviously could not sign his probate records. Unable to write, Lucinda only left her mark on all known documents. Conversely, a George W. Williams signed as bondsman on both the Robertson/Williams marriage bond and John C. Robertson’s probate bond document. A comparison of the signatures affixed to these two documents confirmed the same individual signed both documents. In addition, George W’s name appeared on several other documents pertaining to this extended family. Undoubtedly, the Virginia Robertson/Williams families and the St. Louis Robertson/Williams families were the same.

Census, census Court, Marriage and Land Records

George W. Williams married Ann Via in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1824. In the 1830 Federal Census for Albemarle County, George’s census record indicated that besides himself and his wife, one boy and two girls under age five and one boy between ten and fifteen lived in their household. They were an unknown daughter, born about 1826, a son named John A, born about 1828, and a daughter named Sarah Angeline, born about 1829. The young man’s relationship to George W. or Ann was unknown however, his age, between ten and fifteen indicates he was not one of their offspring.

By the 1840 Federal Census, the Robertson and Williams families had relocated to Central Township, St. Louis County, Missouri. John’s census record indicated that besides himself and his wife they had one son and one daughter under age five, and three daughters between five and ten. They were a daughter named Mary E, born March 23, 1832, a daughter named Caroline M, born about 1834, a daughter named Martha A. S, born October 11, 1835, a daughter named Lucy Jane, born October 29, 1937, and a son named John L, born about 1839. George’s census record indicated that beside himself and his wife they had one son and one daughter under age five, three sons between five and ten, and two daughters between ten and fifteen. They were an unknown daughter, born about 1826, a son named John A, born about 1828, a daughter named Sarah Angeline, born about 1829, a son named Silas O, born about 1832, a son named William, born about 1834, an unknown son born about 1836, and a daughter named Eliza born about 1838.

In November of 1841, Benjamin Ellenwood of St. Louis County, Missouri sued John C. Robertson for the return of two horses. John did not live to see this issue resolved. The task to represent him in this court matter fell to Lucinda Robertson, Administratrix of his estate. Lucinda’s brother, George W. Williams, presented himself as a witness and as such, his name appeared on several documents. The case lasted several years and the widow Robertson with six young children to care for in addition to her court duties needed help caring for her family and marriage provided that support. On March 14, 1844, slightly more than a year after the death of John C. Robertson, a Justice of the Peace for St. Louis County united in matrimony John Waters and Mrs. Lucy Robertson.

Searches in the 1850 Federal Census for Missouri found no census records for John or Lucinda Waters or any of the Robertson children. Mary, Martha, Lucy, and William lived past 1850 and left various records in later years. Where were these Robertson children and what happened to those that left no records? The answer may partially lie with the devastating 1849/50 Cholera epidemic that killed perhaps 10% of St. Louis’ population. Many who had the means left the affected areas for the surrounding countryside. The chaos of this migration and the many deaths throughout the area surely affected record keeping. What may have happened to the Robertson and Waters family members during this time is unknown. Neither John or Lucinda Waters, nor Caroline M. or John L. Robertson left any known records after 1843, possibly, because they were casualties of the epidemic.

The 1850 Federal Census for Franklin County, Missouri listed a George Williams, his wife Ann and five children, Angeline, age 20 (b. 1830), Silas, age 18 (b. 1832), William, age 16 (b. 1834), Eliza, age 12 (b. 1838) and lastly, Amanda, age 5 (b. 1845). The names and ages of the older children closely match the known names and ages for the children of George W. Williams, bondsman of John C. Robertson’s probate. Amanda, born seven years after the Williams’ youngest, was an improbable child of middle-aged George and Ann. Most likely, she was five-year-old Amanda Waters, daughter of John and Lucy Waters. The census taker incorrectly identified Kentucky as the birthplace for the parents and older children and entered the incorrect surname for Amanda13. These errors create doubt this was the family of George W. Williams, bondsman of John C. Robertson’s probate. Proof came by examining the numerous land records14 for the Williams family in Franklin County, as follows:

On June 1, 1849, George W. Williams purchased forty acres from the United States Government under The Land Act of 1820. This land situated in Franklin County, Missouri established George W’s presence in said county at least one year before the mid-century census.

On November 1, 1851, John A. Williams purchased forty acres in Franklin County, Missouri from the United States Government under The Land Act of 1820. This land laid one quarter of a mile distant from the land his father purchased in 1849.

On January 26, 1852, George W. Williams purchased forty acres from Zachariah McCubins. This land abutted the land John A. Williams bought three months earlier.

On December 13, 1852, George W. Williams purchased forty acres from John A. Williams. This land was the forty acres John A. had bought in 1851.

On December 30, 1852, George W. and his wife Ann sold eighty acres to Jesse D. Shelton. This was the land John A. Williams had originally purchased from the government then sold to his father; as well as the forty acres George W. had bought from McCubins.

On March 24, 1853, George W. and his wife Ann sold their original forty acres to Richard Sullins. This was the last of the Williams family holdings in Franklin County.

We know that George W. Williams owned land in Franklin County from 1849 to 1853. According to the 1850 Federal Census records, only one “George Williams” family lived in Franklin County at that time. There is little doubt the census record enumerated the family of George W. Williams of Virginia and brother to Lucinda.

The marriage of Lorenzo D. Votaw of Jefferson County and Mary Eliza Robertson of Manchester, St. Louis County took place March 24, 1853. Mary and Lorenzo lived near her sister, Martha A. Potterfield, in Meramec Township, St. Louis County, Missouri. In January of 1860, she died of Quinsy15. The 1860 Federal Census Mortality Schedule listed her death and identified her birthplace as Virginia. Lorenzo D. Votaw was John and Martha Potterfield’s neighbor and actively participated in matters of John’s estate. Page after page held his name.

In 1860, George W. Williams and his wife lived alone in Osage county, their children, as well as Amanda Waters no longer lived with them. John H. Potterfield’s 1860 census record listed himself, Martha, and their two boys, James and Joseph in Meramec Township, St. Louis County. Other members of the household were a farm laborer named John Brown and fifteen-year old Amanda Waters. Shown separately with a personal estate of $11016, her age, surname, sizable net worth, and her residence in the home of George W. Williams ten years earlier make it very likely she was the orphaned daughter of John and Lucinda Waters. After her parents death Amanda’s care fell to her surviving relatives. In those early years her stepsisters, Mary, Caroline, Martha, and Lucy were young, unmarried, and unable to provide for her. The only likely adult relative that could take care of her was her uncle, George W Williams. By 1860, she had moved in with her stepsister, Martha Potterfield. With Mary E. Votaw’s17 death earlier in the year and Lucinda Jane Robertson’s recent marriage to John Parkyn the Potterfield house presented the best home for Amanda. Sometime after 1860, possibly because Martha was dealing with the illness and eventual death of her husband, Amanda returned to her uncle’s home in Osage County. On May 7, 1865, Miss Amanda E. Waters married Joseph Cooper in the home of George W. Williams. George W. stood in for Amanda’s father and gave the bride away. The last known record for Amanda was her family’s 1870 Federal Census record. It listed Amanda, her husband Joseph and a son named William living in Benton Township, Gasconade County a few miles from the rest of the Williams clan in Crawford Township, Osage County. What became of this family is presently unknown.

Biography of Mattie

On a bookshelf in the home of one of Martha’s descendants sits an unpublished biography titled “Mattie”. Written fifty years after the death of Martha A. Murphy, the book described as a fictional story, but the names, dates and historical content are all accurate chronicles Martha’s family, fragments of their early history, and historical facts all intertwined in a story of Martha’s life. Martha Christine Murphy Dodd, Mattie’s granddaughter, provided the narrative for the book. Unfortunately, the physical text was unavailable for analysis, only a very condensed summary of the book was available for assessment.

The names of family members in the biography were John Robertson, born about 1810, his wife Mary Anne Leslie and children, Martha Ann Susan18, Carrie Sue, Sally Jane19, Lucy Ellen, John Miles Gaylor, and Miles Randolph. A seventh possible child, her relationship unclear, was Julia Drusilla. John Robertson and Mary Anne Leslie married about 1833. The story described John as a gentleman farmer, horse breeder, and landowner in Virginia and that Mary Anne’s family owned a nice farm outside of Richmond. After the birth of one of her sons, fatigue overtook Mary Anne and her parents “sent over” a slave named Maria to care for her and help with the household chores. John Robertson did not believe in slavery but accepted the help. At some later point, he attempted to free Maria but she responded with such fear he recanted, never to make the offer again. There was some evidence that Mary Anne’s mother was born a Gaylord or Gaylor. John Miles’ second middle name was Gaylor. It also appeared as a middle name in subsequent Murphy generations. The book suggested the Robertsons left Virginia and moved to Missouri in 185120. It also states Carrie Sue lived near the “Overland Trail”, that Sally Jane never married, and Miles Randolph died at about one and a half years of age. Further, Lucy married a nice boy from Ohio who eventually joined the “Ohio Regulars. They purportedly had two sons named Will and John. Carrie Sue was engaged at one time to marry a man named Tom. In 1850, cholera struck the Robertson family and 2½-year-old John Miles Gaylor died during the outbreak but from an unknown cause, not cholera. John Potterfield, Sally Jane, and Maria contracted the disease, but only Maria died, the others recovered. Mary Anne Leslie died in the spring of 1861; no date was given for the death of John. Also stated was that both the Murphy and Robertson ancestors had immigrated to America in the late 1700s21.

Obviously several names and many events described in this paper do not match those expressed in Martha’s biography. Does that mean the families were not the same? The book was a “fictional” story of Martha’s life enriched with historical events, dates, etc. as best remembered. Although a book of fiction, there are truths. The family in “Mattie” began in Virginia and later migrated to the St. Louis region, only the year of migration disagrees from the John C. Robertson account. The head of household was John for both families and each version had daughters named Martha A. S. and Lucy, as well as a son named John. Each family has a member named Mary and both stories hint that a cholera outbreak reduced the family ranks. Daughter Lucy’s marriage to a Civil War soldier differs only in his state of enlistment. Regardless of the differing events or the conflicting names, each family had the same exact family members both in gender and in count, a mother, a father, two sons, and four daughters. Only some of their names and perhaps their birth order vary. Moreover, the person of Julia Drusilla, her relationship to the Robertsons unknown in the book, may also have been part of the John C. Robertson story. Was Julia’s character really Amanda E. Waters, half-sister to the Robertson children?


The photograph of Mattie Murphy discovered in Wilford’s possessions provided the key to his ancestry. The likeness of Wilford’s aunt Mattie when compared to the likeness of Martha on the photographs owned by her great-great-granddaughters proved Wilford’s Mattie indistinguishable from their Martha A. Murphy. The information these newfound cousins provided filled in Martha’s life story, a story that began with her first marriage to Potterfield and gave us her middle names of Ann and Susan. Disappointingly, there was no information on Martha’s early life. Thus began a search for her childhood family, whose members were ultimately identified in the court document declaring the heirs of John C. Robertson. The unraveling of this family back to its beginnings uncovered much of the story told herein.

My Thoughts

Though I cannot indisputably say who Wilford’s father was, it is almost certain he was a brother to Aunt Mattie Murphy and Aunt Lou Parkyn. I believe Martha A. S. and Lucy Jane, declared as heirs in John C. Robertson’s probate papers, were the same Martha Ann Susan Robertson who married John H. Potterfield and later Nicholas J. Murphy and Lucinda Jane Robertson who married John L. Parkyn. I also believe that Lou Parkyn and Mattie Murphy were aunts by birth to Wilford and one of their two brothers, John L. and William A. was Wilford’s father. I favor William A. Robertson because:

Robertson family tradition says “William” was the name of Wilford’s father.

John H. Potterfield’s probate papers contained several references to a William Robertson.

John L. Robertson left no known records after 1843.

Determining a family’s ancestry often proves difficult, sometimes impossible. In the case of Wilford Robertson’s parentage, absolute proof may never be possible. Sadly, those who knew the answers are gone and several important documents remain missing. Perhaps future searches will uncover new pieces of information that may strengthen or discount this story.

1 John and Lucinda had two sons, John and William, one born abt. 1839 the other abt. 1841. I assigned their oldest boy the name of John because of the sometimes practice of naming the first son after the father.

2 John, Jerome, and Joseph were each born while the Robertsons lived with Wilford’s Aunt Lou and Uncle John.

3 Fortunately, John retained a rough draft of his reply to Robert’s request, which was found in his keepsakes.

4 Is John implying that Mattie furnished housing for the Robertson’s during their stay in St. Louis?

5 According to John “Grandpa had a big house and a general store, his wife had died and he needed a housekeeper”.

6 John Potterfield was Martha A. S. Robertson’s first husband.

7 George W, John, and Silas were Lucinda Parkyn’s Uncle and 1st Cousins.

8 The letters after the J are not readable however; the spacing indicates they were once there.

9 Nettie Murphy’s Bible gives Martha’s surname as Robertson for both of her marriages. Nettie is the wife of Joseph M, Martha’s first son by her second husband, Nicholas J. Murphy.

10 A brother to John Parkyn, John Potterfield, or Nicholas Murphy could not be Wilford’s father. If so Wilford’s surname would not be Robertson. Neither of Wilford’s aunts could be an aunt by marriage through them.

11 Whether there were two William Robertsons or just one is unknown.

12 Their ages, as shown in census records, indicate a brother/sister not a father/daughter relationship.

13 It is not unheard of for an enumerator to carry down, in error, the Head of Household’s surname to all those listed in the residence.

14 Land records pertaining to sells by George W’s included a section pertaining to his wife’s dower. Some transactions were between George W. and his son, John A. Additionally, son Silas O. signed as a witness on one document.

15 Quinsy is an abscess between the back of the tonsil and the wall of the throat. It happens when infection spreads from a swollen tonsil to the area around it, usually during a severe case of tonsillitis.

16 Value in 2016 dollars is approximately $3,205.

17 Mary’s maiden name was Robertson.

18 The book hints that Susan was the name of John Robertson’s sister.

19 Sally was called “Janel” a Gaelic word for “darling Jane”.

20 The year “1851” is suspect because according to the book the Robertsons were in the St. Louis area during the cholera outbreak of 1849/50 and the 1849 White Cloud fire.

21 Murphy family tradition says Nicholas J. Murphy immigrated to the United States about 1860.