When you first begin to search for ancestors and your family roots, you must expect that there will be a great many surprises uncovered, multiple mysteries to be solved, and any number of odd circumstances that can be downright disconcerting. You will find yourself learning things that you didn’t really want to know.
I had hardly begun my initial digging and exploring when I tripped over a real family head-scratcher.
Census and other records all reveal that in 1887 my great grandfather John Wesley Baldridge had married Ellen Baldridge. So, I began poking around to find out her maiden name, only to discover that it was, umm… Baldridge. Ellen Baldridge appeared to be a distant cousin, coming from a different Baldridge family in North Carolina, but somehow I found little comfort in that.
Whenever a cousin is married to a cousin in the old family tree, I would feel much better if they are on completely different branches, at least, and as distant and many times removed as possible. And then I found another unusual family connection between great grandpa John Wes and his wife Ellen that made their relationship even more complicated and difficult to sort out. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
John Baldridge, Jr., son of John Baldridge and Levisa “Vicey” Brown, was born in 1848 on Johns Creek in Johnson County, Kentucky. In 1868, John Jr. married Martha Elizabeth “Mattie” Gilliam, age 18, the daughter of Lilbourn H. Gilliam and Lucinda Parks. John, Jr. and Mattie Baldridge had one child, a daughter named Ellen, who was born the following year in 1869.
It’s not clear what happened to their marriage, but the 1870 census found Mattie and her baby daughter Ellen living with her mother. When her father Lilbourn Gilliam died of smallpox in 1864 while serving in the Union army during the Civil War, Lucinda was widowed with three other daughters. There are no records to show that Ellen ever lived with her father John Baldridge, Jr. again after that year.
However his first marriage may have ended, in 1877 John Baldridge, Jr. married again. His second wife was the daughter of Charles Baldridge and Amy Jane Morris of Knott County, Eleanor “Ellen” Baldridge. (On the 1860 census she was identified as Eleanor; she was buried with the first name Ellen on her tombstone.) In 1880, the census had John and Eleanor Baldridge living on Middle Creek in Floyd County, Kentucky, with their first child Lydia.
John and Eleanor had six children. Lydia, Zella, and Alice were born in Floyd County, Kentucky. But Maud, May, and George were born in Skagit County, Washington. The Washington State Territorial Census of 1887 revealed that John Baldridge, Jr. and his brother William Baldridge had moved their families across the country to live in Washington State that year. That was also their residence when they next appeared on the census in 1900. And it was where they both died, Eleanor in 1919 and John, Jr. in 1937.
In 1866, John Wesley Baldridge, the only son of Charles “Charlie” Baldridge and Amy Jane Morris, was born in Lackey, Floyd County, Kentucky. The 1870 census shows that 14 year old Wesley, as he was called, was still living with his parents in the Floyd County town of Allen. There’s no record of how or where they met, but in 1887 John Wes Baldridge married Ellen Baldridge, the daughter of John Baldridge, Jr. and Mattie Gilliam.
It’s known that John Wes Baldridge’s sister Eleanor was living in Washington State with her husband John Baldridge, Jr. and family in 1887 — the same year that John Wes and Ellen were married. Since she would have been less than a year old when her parents separated before the 1870 census, Ellen likely had no memory of her father John, Jr. And in 1877, when his sister Eleanor married John, Jr., John Wes would have been no more than 11 years old. Even though John Wes could have known John, Jr. at the time, he may not have made the family connection to his future wife Ellen 10 years later.
When Ellen and John Wes Baldridge met and fell in love, there’s little reason to believe that either Ellen’s father or John’s sister ever came up. Even if Ellen and John Wes both were aware of their family connections, it’s doubtful that it would have mattered at all. It may not have been a common occurrence, but a cousin marrying a cousin was not unheard of at that time and in the part of the country where they lived.