Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eli and Rachel: A Marriage Mystery

I’ve found my grandmother Mary Ann Waggoner’s parents to be an interesting pair with a bit of mystery surrounding their marriage. Her father, Eli Pierce Waggoner, was born on 25 October 1854,[i] the second of nine children born to his parents, Jacob and Ann (Harman) Waggoner. Eli’s birth record is the only one I’ve found of all their children, for apparently he was the only one born in Smyth County where records were still held in the court house when I was searching a few years ago. The others were born in Bland County where records had already been sent to Richmond at the time of my first court house visit in that county.

Eli was a tall, angular, thin man with straight posture. In a small tintype, which must have been his wedding picture taken around the time they married on 2 September 1885,[ii] he sits in a chair with his legs crossed, hands resting in his lap, top button of his coat fastened, and wearing a wide-brimmed, dark hat. His dark mustache is trimmed neatly; light eyes peer at the camera; shadows on his cheeks reveal his angular face and high cheekbones. His bride, Rachel S. Havens, daughter of James and Jane (Thompson) Havens, born 17 November 1862,[iii] stands next to him, her right hand resting lightly on his left shoulder. Her round face is framed by bangs, her dark hair pulled back into a topknot.  Her light eyes look solemnly at the camera with a penetrating gaze; she has a small mouth and nose, a pleasant face. She wears a dark dress, long-sleeved with ruffles at the cuffs, that fits snugly to her thick waist. The skirt drapes apart in front to reveal tiered pleats from just below the knee to the hem; the outstanding feature is a white, lace-trimmed jabot cascading from her neck, nearly to her knees. She reminds me of photos I've seen of Laura Ingalls Wilder at about that time period.

Eli Pierce Waggoner and Rachel S. Havens, wedding portrait, Sept. 1885.

Years ago, my mother showed me this picture and said, “Here’s a picture for you. I’m not sure who they are, though.”

“I know exactly who they are!” I was thrilled to see the picture, for I recognized them as Eli and Rachel from having studied their faces in a family portrait I’d had for several years, which you can see in my April 7, 2013 blog. They were younger in the tintype, but their faces were unmistakable.
In the family portrait, perhaps taken when Rachel was in her early forties, she is much rounder, an ample woman. Eli was fifty-ish, yet he sports the same slim figure, deep-set, light eyes, a graying walrus mustache that hides his mouth—much bushier than in the younger portrait. They remind me of the nursery rhyme, “Jack Spratt could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean.” Eli has the gaunt cheeks and prominent cheekbones of his mother, Anna F. Harman Waggoner, a trait evident in photos of several of Anna’s children.

I first discovered a mystery surrounding the marriage of Eli and Rachel while looking at the 1910 US Census of Bland County Virginia. This census holds a treasure trove of information for family history researchers. In the column labeled "Whether, single, married, widowed or divorced" was M2 for each of them. In this census, the enumerators included number of times married. Two?  I looked again. Wow! Who were their first spouses and what happened to their first marriages? Solving that puzzle was my next quest.

[i] Smyth County Virginia, Register of Births Book 1, p. 71, Eli P. Wagner, Oct. 25, 1854 to Jacob Wagner (farmer) and Ann; Clerk’s Office, Marion. In records, I’ve found their name is spelled various ways: Waggoner, Wagoner, and Wagner. The former is the earliest spelling. In citing records, I’ll use whatever spelling occurs in the record, but otherwise, I’ll spell the name the early way because that’s the way it’s spelled on Eli’s grave. Perhaps that’s what he preferred.
[ii] “Waggoner Rites Held,” obituary for Rachel Waggoner, unknown newspaper transcription, no date available, date of marriage is stated as September 2, 1885.
[iii] “Waggoner Rites Held,” obituary for Rachel Waggoner, unknown newspaper transcription, no date available, date of birth is stated as November 17, 1862.

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

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