Eliza C. LAIR 1 2 3
- Born: Abt 1833, Wayne County, Kentucky 3 4
- Marriage: John Wesley BRANSCOMB on 19 May 1851 in Wayne County, Kentucky 1 2
- Died: After 1865
Eliza is believed to have died not long after the birth of Amanda in 1865. Rosa Lee Spence nee Anderson told her daughter, Ollie Baker nee Spence, that Eliza died when Nancy Elizabeth was a "little girl." Nancy Elizabeth would have been 13 in 1865. 5
Noted events in her life were:
1. Census: 1840, Wayne County, Kentucky. 6
Household of Wm Lair:
Presumed to be the female child in the 5-10 age group
2. Census: 1850, Wayne County, Kentucky. 3
Household of Samuel Allen:
Eliza Lair, 17, KY
3. Census: 1860, Wood County, Texas. 4
Household of John W. Branscomb:
Eliza Branscomb, 27, F, KY
Eliza married John Wesley BRANSCOMB, son of Thomas BRANSCOMB and Barbara, on 19 May 1851 in Wayne County, Kentucky.1 2 (John Wesley BRANSCOMB was born about 1831 in Wayne County, Kentucky 3 4 7 and died after 1875 8.)
The identification of William Lair and Nancy Franklin as the parents of Eliza C. Lair requires a thorough explanation, since it is at odds with the published accounts of June Baldwin Bork and Mildred Moody Nutter, the only known individuals to have seen and recorded the contents of the consent notes attached to the marriage record of John Wesley Branscomb and Eliza C. Lair. I believe the available evidence suggests they misinterpreted the note by Eliza's father. Unfortunately, the note cannot be reexamined. I have been informed by a member of the Wayne County Historical Society that of the records Bork copied, which subsequently had been put into books, the book for 1848-1853 is missing. Thus, the original note has been lost, destroyed or stolen. I have also inquired of Bork as to whether she had a photocopy of the note. She replied she couldn't be of any help beyond what was in her book, so apparently she doesn't.
Let's begin, then, with how Bork and Nutter have recorded John and Eliza's marriage:
Bork (Vol. 1, p. 34):
"BRANSCOMB, John W. and Eliza C. Lair. Surety, William Lear and Elias C. Lear. Married 19 May 1851 by Jones G. Harris. Note: (1) 'Mr. Simpson please to give John marriage lisons to marry whome he will, by John Burris - guardian'. (2) 'Brother Simpson I want you to write a bond between me and John that his horse shal be gave of the geatian (gettin) to lisens if going betwen this and spring and I shal have his horse rether he goes or not - do this to keep me from danger and too when this is done you may grant his lisens to marry my dauhter by Elisy C. Lear - witness, William Lear'. (A marriage contract)." [Also at p. v. under "Best of Notes," Bork states that Elias C. Lear wrote the note.]
Nutter (p. 14):
"JOHN W. BRANSCOME & ELIZA C. LAIR 19 May 1851 by J. G. Harris Consent: John Burriss, guardian, for John Branscume Consent: Elishy Lear for dau. B: William Lear"
Note that Bork and Nutter have already presented us with three versions of the name of Eliza's father: Elisy, Elias and Elishy. Obviously, the note was susceptible to different interpretations. Neither, however, identifies William as the father. Bork refers to him as a surety and as a witness. Nutter does not show him as a witness.
Setting aside the note for the moment, let's examine the evidence supporting William as Eliza's father. The first thing to note is that a search of the records of Wayne Co., KY yields no other mention of Elisy C., Elias C. or Elishy Lear or Lair -- not in the censuses, tax lists, deeds, court orders, or any other official records. (Frederick B. Tubbs, the foremost authority on the Branscomb family, who conducted an extensive review of Wayne County records from 1803-1850 for Branscomb references and who kept an eye out for information about related families, including the Lears/Lairs, concurs in this statement.) The fact there is no evidence such a person ever existed, in and of itself suggests Bork and Nutter misinterpreted the note. But, there is also affirmative evidence that a mistake was made.
Let's begin with what is known about William Lear/Lair and his family prior to the 1850 census. William married Nancy Franklin on 20 Oct 1831. Eliza's year of birth as calculated from the 1850 census was about 1833, which is consistent with William and Nancy being her parents. In the 1840 census, the William Lair household shows a female child in the age 5-10 age range, which is also consistent with William and Nancy being her parents. Sometime after the 1840 census, Nancy (Franklin) Lair died. William then married Elizabeth Noble on 17 Aug 1843. In the 1850 census, there is no female child between 15-20 (nor of any age) in the household of William Lair, as one would have expected from the 1840 census, which is consistent with 17 year old Eliza living in the Samuel Allen household.
Next, let's examine the Samuel Allen family for a reason why Eliza would have been living with them in 1850 rather than with her father, William Lair. Both John Branscomb and Eliza Lair were living in the Samuel Allen household in 1850. John was listed as a laborer, while Eliza was just listed. The Allens had no children of their own. Samuel was 65 and his wife, Mary, was 63. A member of the Allen household who is missing from the 1850 census is Mary's mother, Hannah Hamilton, who died May, 1850 at the age of 97 per the 1850 Kentucky Mortality Schedule. Hannah had probably been living with the Allens since at least 1840, when the census shows a female age 80-90 in the Allen household. A letter from Mary Allen to her brothers and sisters in Morgantown, IN, dated 3 Jan 1853, talks about caring for Hannah in the years prior to her death, at the expense of her own health. The letter at one point mentions that Samuel had offered Abner Jones, husband of Mary's sister, Rebecca, $100 if they would take Hannah for one year and give Mary a chance to recover her health. Abner refused the offer. With most of the other family either dead or living elsewhere, Mary was the only one left to care for Hannah.
I submit this extra information provides a plausible explanation of why Eliza was living with the Allens in 1850. Given that Mary was providing care for her aged mother and it was taking a toll on her, Eliza was probably sent there by her father to lend a hand with household chores. This makes sense if William was her father, for William Lair was a son of Rev. James Lear/Lair and Sarah Hamilton, oldest child of Charles and Hannah Hamilton. Mary Allen was thus William's aunt and Hannah was his grandmother.
Not long after they married, John and Eliza moved to Wood Co., TX. The 1860 census shows that their first child, Nancy Elizabeth Branscomb, was born in Texas in 1852. Nancy, you'll recall, was the name of William Lair's first wife, which suggests Eliza named her daughter after her deceased mother. (It should also be noted Nancy Elizabeth (Branscomb) Anderson in turn named her first son Joseph Franklin Anderson, which further suggests Eliza's mother was Nancy Franklin.)
Besides children, two other individuals appear in the 1860 household of John W. Branscomb: Thomas R. Branscomb, age 17, born in KY, and Mary C. Lair, age 19, born in KY. The ancestry of Thomas has not yet been determined, although Fred Tubbs thinks it is possible he may have been an out-of-wedlock child of Nancy Branscomb, the sister of John Wesley Branscomb. Mary is almost certainly the daughter of William and Nancy Franklin (and thus Eliza's younger sister) who was the subject of a recorded agreement, dated 2 April 1847, between William Lair and Gabriel Sanders. Gabriel was married to Mary "Polly" Franklin, believed to be the older sister of Nancy Franklin; they had no children of their own. The agreement -- made at a time when Nancy was deceased and William had remarried -- provided that Polly Lair would be raised by Gabriel and Polly Sanders and be given the care and material benefits one would expect to accrue to a natural child, including inheritance rights. The 1850 census shows a Mary (not identified as Lair), age 10, in the Sanders household. (This agreement is set forth in its entirety under Events for William Lair. William's possible motivations are discussed there as well. It should be noted, however, that those same motivations may have played a part in the decision to place Eliza C. Lair in the household of Samuel and Mary "Polly" (Hamilton) Allen, i.e., other factors besides helping to provide care for Hannah Hamilton may have been involved.)
Guess who else moved to Wood Co., TX and appears in the 1860 census? William Lair and family, at dwelling 157, lived only three doors down from John Wesley Branscomb and family at dwelling 160. Certainly, the fact that William followed Eliza to Texas is strong evidence he was her father.
Finally, a family story recounted by Rhonda Woodard, descendant of James Harrison Branscomb, makes sense only if William Lair was the father of Eliza. The story is that John Wesley may have left Texas for Kansas because he was a Yankee at heart and disagreed with his father over the Civil War. We know that John Wesley's father died in 1841, so he could not have quarreled with his father. But, what about his father-in-law? Since Eliza presumably died not long after the birth of Amanda in 1865, moving would have been a viable option for John Wesley if his disagreement with his father-in-law had become too intense.
Let's return now to the marriage note, for it's one thing to come up with different variations of Eliza's father's name, but it is an altogether different matter to come up with the wrong name. How might Bork and Nutter have been led astray? We must first remember that this record was one of a multitude of records that each reviewed. They would not have had the time nor the inclination, lacking the background information discussed above, to scrutinize the document.
A key factor, in my opinion, in misconstruing the note is the similarity of Eliza C. (daughter) to Elisy C. or Elishy C. (father per Bork and Nutter). It seems quite possible Eliza may have been known informally by the diminutive Elizy or Elisy. If that name refers to Eliza rather than the father of Eliza, all of a sudden the note lends itself to other interpretations.
One possibility is that both Eliza and William signed the note. The concern about having John's horse "to keep me from danger" doesn't sound so much like the concern of a father as it does the concern of an anxious young woman whose betrothed may have been considering a solo trip to Texas before their marriage. If so, then this becomes something of a joint note, in part dealing with Eliza's concern and in part dealing with William's consent. As a joint note, it is understandable that both would sign it.
A more likely possibility suggested by Fred Tubbs, in which I concur, is that the name Elisy C. Lear was not a signature at all, but rather an identification. To understand this, assume that the words "by" and "witness" were not in the original. Then, the end of the note would read, "when this is done you may grant his lisens to marry my dauhter Elisy C. Lear" and the following signature would be William's. Perhaps some mark existed between "dauhter" and "Elisy C. Lear," which caused Bork and Nutter to conclude the name was a signature, but it could have been a comma or a dash, either of which could also indicate the name was an identification and not a signature. Fred Tubbs notes it would be an unusual for a consent note not to name the minor daughter who was to be married, and it is only if the name Elisy C. Lear is construed as an identification rather than as a signature that she is referred to by name.
Bork views this note as a marriage contract (although in some editions she adds a “?” to that conclusion), because of the demand made by Eliza’s father for John’s horse. Neither Fred Tubbs nor I think this was a marriage contract. The key, in my opinion, is that the note requested a bond to be prepared between John and Eliza’s father. This request could not have referred to the marriage bond for that would have been between the surety and the State of Kentucky. Rather, I believe Eliza’s father wanted an indemnification bond from John as a condition to being the surety for the marriage bond. The “keep me from danger” language may be viewed as a statement of concern about having to make good on the marriage bond should John fail to go through with the marriage. It appears John’s horse was wanted as collateral for this indemnification bond. Given this interpretation, it naturally follows that William was the father of Eliza since there is no dispute that William was the surety for the marriage.
While it would be gratifying to be able to review a copy of the note to test these theories, I am satisfied that all the available evidence points to William being Eliza's father. I also find comfort in the fact that after reviewing the evidence presented here, June Baldwin Bork now agrees with my conclusion. 1 2 9 10 11 12 13