• Brigette Cook Jones

National Archives Files were a Bombshell!


Well - let me say this - - in the light of the information that I received from the files from National Archives - it was $110.00 well spent.

This pertains to family information on Mary Alice Smith - who was the real person that inspired James Whitcomb Riley to create the Little Orphan Annie character - so this information is integral to my research.

Just to bring you up to date: At the end of July, I sent off for the Civil War Military File and the Pension File for Thomas Smith - who was Mary Alice (Smith) Gray's father. It had a lot of wonderful information in the files - and some information that I had never seen before. It confirmed A LOT of information, and also had a little questionable information. Did it answer all of my questions as I had hoped? No - - But it was well worth paying the money to get the records. AND, it didn't take as long to get them as what I thought.

Of course, with any sort of research the files also brings more questions - luckily I am on the fast track to try to either accept or rule out the questions that these files bring - and it still goes along with my original line of thinking.

One of the questions that I was hoping to answer was why was Thomas Smith charged with Desertion in March of 1862? Unforunately - this was not answered in the Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) file or the pension file. However, the CMSR DID tell me that Thomas Smith came back to his unit in May 1862 - so he wasn't gone long. I knew that the charge of desertion was changed to AWOL - and these records reflect that. The descriptions of his appearance also coincide with all of the other information that I have: dark hair, blue eyes, 5' 7 3/4" tall.

The one missing piece was his enlistment papers in Indiana. These were not in the file. There were enlistment papers in the file when he re-enlisted upon completion of his first 3 years of service in 1864 - where he was in Arkansas at the time. I wonder where those initial enlistment papers are?? While these initial enlistment papers are not critical for my research, it would be nice to see them and see what they say. The information in the file shows that he enlisted in September 1861 and mustered out in 1865.

The pension file was the real bombshell.

It answered many, many questions for me:

First of all, I never could figure out what had happened to Melvina Smith, who was Thomas' second wife. I find her with Thomas in 1860, 1870, 1880 (no 1890 census records survive for Indiana these were lost in a fire in Washington DC). Then in 1900, she pops up with Mary Alice and her husband John Wesley in Hancock County, but disappears from the 1910 census. There was a Melvina Smith living as an inmate at the Soldiers Home in Lafayette (which is where Thomas would die in 1898), but according to State Archives - this is not the same lady - as she was married to a different Smith. So what happened to her? This I could not figure out.

Well the pension file explained. Thomas Smith claimed a disability of a right side injury due to a fall in battle at Crosspoint Tennesee. His right leg and arm did not function properly after that fall. He also had lost much to all of his hearing in his left ear due to a comrade's gun exploding near him while engaged in battle in Texas. He did receive a disability pension for these injuries for several years. However, later in life he had a stroke, which affected his right side. He claimed that the stroke was as a result of his battle injuries, but the claim was rejected by the government. It looks like he started to be evaluated for the paralysis disability in 1888. The doctors diagnosed this as paralysis due to "apoplexy" which is the antiquated term for a stroke. He would enter into the Soldiers Home in Lafayette, Indiana - and would remain there until his death in 1898.

Melvina wanted to get his pension after his death - and there are several papers in the file about her pursuing this pension - even after she REMARRIED. Yes - she remarried! This was why I couldn't find out what had happened to her. In 1912, she married a Francis Wainscott, who I believe she met at the Soldiers Home. It appears she outlived Mr. Wainscott as well as Thomas - as it seems she may have also tried to file for Wainscott's pension too. So this solves one mystery - Melvina would be buried with the last name of Wainscott - NOT Smith, and she is probably up in Lafayette.

The pension file is stuffed with examinations of Thomas and his alleged disability. I do know that when his right side was injured - it occurred in battle at Crosspoint Tennessee in 1863. He also lost his hearing in his left ear due to a comrade's gun exploding near him while he was in battle in Texas in 1864.

The kicker in all of this is that Melvina has some explaining to do in regards to some confilicting information that she and Thomas had provided over the years in regards to his pension. First of all there is the problem of their marriage license (this one is not her fault).

Just to bring you up to speed on that one - I had a lot of trouble tracking down Thomas and Melvina's marriage license. In fact, there is another Thomas and Melvina Smith who lived in Indiana around the same time - believe it or not. However, this other couple stayed put in Decatur County - and died there - so this is not the right one. My Thomas and Melvina married in Putnam County - which is where her family lived. However, the reason for the difficulty in finding their marriage license is totally due to how Thomas' name is on the the license. It is "Thomas Henry" not "Thomas Henry Smith." Since the last name appears to be Henry - this is how it is filed - under the "H's" for Henry - not the "S's" for Smith. My first clue that the other Decatur County couple was not the right one was when I got to look at Thomas Smith's intake records at the Soldier's Home. He clearly states that he was married in Putnam County in 1855. This did not match the Decatur County marriage. Since I didn't know Melvina's maiden name - this made looking for their license next to impossible - but the Soldier's Home Intake records did give the exact marriage date of June 21, 1855. There is only one marriage in Putnam County on that date that includes a Melvina - and this is the one to Thomas "Henry." So this has to be it.

In her affidavit - Melvina explains that this name problem was an error on the part of the Putnam County Clerk - and she has to provide two witnesses who can attest to the fact that she was married to Thomas Smith. They also attest to the fact that his full name is "**Thomas Henry Smith." So the Clerk's office was in error. **As a side note - I however, know that his real full name is Antipas Thomas Smith - and he dropped the Antipas and added the Henry - only after his marriage to Melvina, but that is another story.

The other bombshell that is contained in the records is an affirmation of Mary Alice's mother's name: Nellie Rittenhouse. This confirms the records that I found from the Philadelphia Friends Church when Mary Alice joined that Meeting in the 1880's. In those records, Mary Alice stated that her parents were named: Thomas and Nellie Smith. In the Pension file , this information was shared by two individuals - Charles Gray who is actually Mary Alice's brother-in-law and Peter Smith who was Mary Alice's first cousin on her father's side. The reason for the affidavits was to clarify why Thomas and Melvina claimed they had "NO living Children" - when Thomas entered the Soldiers Home.

Of course - Thomas DID have a living child - because he had Mary Alice, but all of his children that he had with Melvina were dead by that time. I now know, based on the affidavit, that Melvina was the one who filled out the penson records not Thomas, and she is the one that had stated - - that there were "NO living children." However, evidently, in some previous record - either she or Thomas must have mentioned that Thomas was previously married - and then the question of Mary Alice came to light.

Since there were no birth or death certificates issued by the State of Indiana until 1882 - there would be no official document to show - who were Mary Alice's parents. So two people had to provide an affidavit to support Melvina's claim that Mary Alice was not her child. The two people who provided testimony were Charles Gray and Peter Smith - both residents of Lafayette.

Charles Gray is interesting - because I just discovered him. I have not been able to track his whereabouts - other than his appearance up in the Lafayette area in the late 1890's where he gets married to a Mary Rule Swafford. He would be the oldest son of Joseph and Miriam Gray, and sixteen years older than Mary Alice's husband, John Wesley Gray. Right now - unless I discover something else - it doesn't appear that Charles is around Hancock County for very long. I can't track him from 1850 - 1880 - so I would really like to know where he was living at that time. This is something that I need to look into - because he makes the allegation that he was at the funeral of Mary Alice's mother, Nellie, in 1854 (he would have been 27). However, I cannot find any information about her burial in Hancock County. Which - really doesn't mean a whole lot - it just means that there is still a question if she is buried here. She may not have had a tombstone, or when surveys of cemetery's were done - her tombstone may have been gone or illegible. I just can't confirm his statement. He also alleges that she had another marriage, and it was in Hancock County. However, I know this is not the case - as one does not appear there in the marriage records. I also checked in Shelby County (because the area in question is very near that county) - - and there was no record of that marriage there either. So I don't know if I completely trust his information. It may be partially accurate - and partially not accurate.

Peter Smith provides the same information - but he is less detailed in providing the information. He simply states that Mary Alice's mother - Nellie died in 1854, but he doesn't say where. Peter Smith COULD HAVE BEEN in the area at the time of Nellie's death, but again I don't know for sure. His father was Daniel Smith - Mary Alice's Uncle and a brother to Thomas Smith. Peter's sister, Isabel, was John Wesley Gray's (Mary Alice's husband) first wife. It is interesting that Daniel and his family - including Peter - are listed in UNION county in 1850 - which is the county attributed as being the place of Mary Alice's birth. If Mary Alice's mother died in 1854 - Peter would have only been a year old when this happened - and I don't know when his family moved to Hancock County. The entire Daniel Smith family would be in Hancock County in the 1860 census, but by 1870 - they were up in Lafayette. So as far as Peter's knowledge of the death of Mary Alice's mother - it would probably be second hand as it is unlikely that he would actually remember it.

But - this fairly much coincides with what I have found in other stories - "for some reason" when she was four years old - Mary Alice Smith was sent to live with her Grandmother Smith in the town of Carrollton along the Brookville Road - and this would be 1854.

Where to go from here? I am now fairly certain that Mary Alice's mother died in 1854 - but I would really like to know where she is. I really believe that she may be in Fayette County - which is where I believe this branch of the Rittenhouse family originated. In the least, I need to rule that out. I also need to exhaust looking for her burial here in Hancock County or in Shelby County. If I can't find her - it doesn't mean she ISN'T here - it just makes it more uncertain.

I am much closer to solidifying what happened in Mary Alice's life. I have her mother's name - confirmed by three sources now - that directly link's it to her own name. I just need to figure out this little twist at the beginning of her life. There are a few other unanswered questions - and I may need to get some more files from National Archives to help answer those questions - - but things are looking up in that direction.


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