Searching for Ilo’s Son – 52 Ancestors #1

I decided to participate in Amy Johnson Crow’s 2014 challenge, “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”  Of course, I didn’t find out about it until yesterday, so I’m already a week behind, but I can catch up….and so can you.

I think Amy’s challenge is a really great idea for a couple of reasons.  First, it forces us to focus and breakthroughs seldom happen out of the blue.  Focus is the precursor to success.  Second, it gets the information out there – where it can be fishing for us – for cousins, for information, or for people who can DNA test.  Take a look at the week #1 recap.

I’m not sure I can turn out 52 weeks of stories that involve DNA, and this is a DNA blog, but I can certainly do a few.

I’ve always been much better at thinking outside the box than coloring in the lines, so I’m beginning my 52 ancestors by writing about someone I don’t know.  A half-brother I know that I had, at one time, but I don’t know anything more about him, except his approximate age and his mother’s first name, Ilo, and that in 1922 they had been living in the Battle Creek, Michigan area.  According to her letter, her family was from there, but she has suffered humiliation all alone.

ilo signature

You see, my real father was a bit of a rogue, a “ladies man” as they used to say.  Mom called him a Scallywag and that was one of the nicer things she had to say.

Estes, William Sterling WWI

My father, William Sterling Estes, met Ilo during the first World War.  He was born about 1903.  We’re not sure of his real birth year as he had “adjusted” his birth year to 1898 to join the military after his parents divorced and he found himself on his own.  He joined the Army in May of 1917, at age 14, and in 1919, was in the infirmary at Camp Custer, an Army base where he was stationed, outside Battle Creek, Michigan.  The flu epidemic had run rampant at Camp Custer, and I presume, but don’t know for sure, that that was why he was in the hospital.  He met his first wife there, my sister’s mother, and he also met Ilo.  In reality Ilo might have been his first “wife.”  We just don’t know for sure.

When my step-mother died in 1989, her daughter sent me a lot of my father’s things that she had kept over the years, including a box of letters.  In that box was a letter from Ilo to my father.

The Ilo letter is postmarked March 22, 1921 and it was addressed to Mr. William Estes, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Disc. Barracks.  Yes, that’s Fort Leavenworth as in the prison.  Imagine my surprise!  The letter wasn’t exactly “friendly” in tone, not that I can blame Ilo.  She and my mother probably shared a common opinion of my father for many of the same reasons.

“I was taking the pains in answering your letter to the baby.  I appreciated it very much to think that you thought of him.  As for me am very sorry to state that you are and have been since baby was born out of my life.  I am sacrificing the love of my parents and of what I call home just merely to get away from this town.  No doubt you will hear quite a bit about me on your return to Battle Creek. I am taking this from a letter that you sent to a certain party.  Stating what you were going to do when you came back.  This was told to me by one of your captors.  You talked to him when he came down there with prisoners.  And all you said came back to me.  And I know your disposition, or at least I think I do.  And am leaving on the strength of your own threats.  This may seem harsh but I cannot help it.  I am going away with some very fine people who are wealthy and willing to take care of baby and I.  I have my case in a lawyers hands.  I do not need your signature in the case at all.  I was illegally married to you in the first place and have suffered the disgrace all alone.  We are on our way to the south for a few months and we are coming North again sometime in June.  We are motoring through and happened to have a breakdown in Louisville so I thought while resting I would write you and let you know facts.  Please don’t be foolish and try to harm me or baby because it will only cause you sorrow.  Baby has been quite sick but is gaining some now.  He has grown since you last saw him and can nearly walk.  He is the only comfort that I have now and I hope he always stands by me.  Well as I am tired I will have to close.  I don’t suppose I will hear from you and I haven’t any definite address ???? traveling.  Well I will say goodbye and good luck.  Ilo and Baby.”

Oh, that she had simply written that baby’s name…

It seems that my father was in Fort Leavenworth because he had been AWOL, and it seems that him being AWOL just might have had something to do with having two women, in the same town, pregnant at the same time.  Remember, my father was only 16 at the time, really, a mere child himself.  He deserted in November 1919, after re-enlisting for a second term in May of 1919.  He was gone from the Army through April, 1920 when he was arrested for being AWOL.

My sister was born in May of 1920, so conceived in August of 1919.  This unnamed male child of Ilo’s appears to have been born between December 1919 and July of 1920, assuming he walked at the normal time babies learn to walk.  Therefore, he would have been conceived between March 1919 and October of 1919.  So Dad was busy indeed, with all this begatting going on.

When my father was released from Leavenworth in November of 1921, he traveled back to Michigan and married my sister’s mother 2 weeks later.  On that marriage application, he says he has never been married before.  But in Ilo’s letter, she says they were married, but it was illegal.  Clearly he had himself in a very uncomfortable position and could have been trying to decide which father was more likely to pull the trigger on the shotgun.  He and my sister’s mother divorced a couple of years later and he went on his merry and marrying way, but that is a story for another time.

Here’s a timeline:

  • March to October 1919 – Ilo’s son conceived
  • May 1919 – William Sterling Estes reenlists at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan
  • August 1919 – my half-sister conceived
  • November 1919 – William Sterling Estes is AWOL
  • December 1919 to July 1920 – Ilo’s son born
  • April 1920 – William Sterling Estes arrested for being AWOL
  • May 1920 – my half-sister born
  • March 22, 1921 – Ilo’s letter to William Sterling Estes saying they had been married but it was illegal
  • November 1921 – William Sterling Estes released from Leavenworth, Kansas
  • December 12, 1921 – William Sterling Estes married my half-sister’s mother

But what happened to Ilo and to her young son?

Megan Smolenyak and I both tried to resolve this situation.  There are no court records to be found in Battle Creek or the neighboring County, at least not that we have been able to find.  I have significant doubts that I’ve seen everything as I was not allowed to review the court index books.  Their protocol was that you have to give the clerk the information and she would tell you whether it was there or not.  Camp Custer is located partly in two counties, so we were dealing with both Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties.

Megan found an Ilo from that area and then her son.  We contacted this man, and he is too young to be my brother.  He said he had a brother that was about 18 months older that died.  I sent him the letter from Ilo but he said it was not his mother’s handwriting, that she was nearly illiterate.  And there, if that was the trail at all, it went cold.  It stayed cold.  It’s still cold.  Was my brother the child who died?  Ilo said he had been sickly.

We don’t know the male child’s name, first, or last.  We don’t know Ilo’s surname.

There are so many stories about people with surprise half-sibling matches through autosomal testing.  I keep waiting for a half-sibling match, or maybe one slightly more removed.  Ilo’s son is likely deceased now, but he might have had children or grandchildren.  He may never have known who his father was.  Ilo was a young woman, obviously embarrassed by the situation as it was, and likely went on to marry and have a family.  I hope she found happiness.  Assuming she remarried, Ilo’s son’s step father could simply have “adopted” him by giving him his surname and until DNA testing, no one would ever know the difference.

So, if your mother or grandmother’s name was Ilo (or possibly Flo, although the signature looks like Ilo) and she lived in or near Battle Creek or Kalamazoo, Michigan, would have been maybe 18 or 20 or so about 1920, and had a male child, maybe she is the missing Ilo.

I’ve included the letter below, for handwriting comparison.

ilo letter page 1

ilo letter page 2

Ilo letter page 3

ilo letter last page



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

41 thoughts on “Searching for Ilo’s Son – 52 Ancestors #1

  1. I am not a handwriting expert, but her signature looks to me as Ils, with an s at the end, not an o. Perhaps that is a shortened form of the name Ila or a longer name starting with Il.

  2. > Hello Roberta, > > I read your blog this morning & became curious. > > I went on looking for any possibilities for Ilo. Reading her letter, her name was Ilo or Ila & not Flo. Her written F looks nothing like her signature. > > This may very well be a BIG reach, but … > > An *ILO* Bailey married Don Caroles on 3 December 1919 in Battle Creek, Michigan. > > Don Caroles was 23 years of age (1896) & states he was born in New Mexico. He states his parents were George Caroles & Mary Claxton. Don Caroles’ occupation was Machinist. > Directly underneath the marriage record it says, “In War Service Against Germany” – From Clayborn County, Tennessee. > > Ilo Bailey was 19 years of age (1900) & was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. She states or he states her parents were James I. Bailey & OLLIE BOLTON. > > Might William S. Estes have used a false name to marry Ilo? Have you seen this marriage record before? > > With Sincere Regard, > Carole Thomas Kane

    • Carole,

      This is bizarre. Ollie Bolton is the mother of William Sterling Estes.

      I need to find that original record and see if it has a signature. Claxton was also Ollie Bolton’s mother’s maiden name. Maybe all of this is why she said that the marriage was illegal.

      I had seen that marriage, but never the record of the parents. I’m going to look now. I can’t think you enough. You might just be right.


    • After digging a lot today, I think you’ve nailed it exactly. She looked to be younger than what she claimed on her marriage license. She was born in 1904 according to the census and so she would be 15. I suspect Ollie Bolton, his mother, went with them and “signed” for her when she married William, who was using an alias for whatever reason. The Clayborn County note just seals it. I’ll be requesting the original records. Also, now that we have her surname, we may be able to find some court records. I can’t thank you enough.

      • All the information you had given out, Roberta, suggested to me that she was under the age of consent when they married and that is why she stated to him in her letter that the marriage was illegal. Obviously your Dad took time out from the Army because of his marriage; and then time spent with your step Mum after she took fell pregnant. So maybe that second marriage was also illegal if it was claimed he was already married??

  3. It sounds to me like Ilo and William Sterling Estes were half-siblings, both children of Ollie Bolton, and probably unknown to both of them. Thus when the facts came out after the wedding, their marriage would have been annulled, or “illegal”. If so, no wonder Ilo was so set on leaving her home town. Something very similar happened generations ago in my family tree. The horrified bride fled, never to be heard of again.

  4. Roberta, I’m sure your blog prompted several researchers to abandon their plans for today and join in the search for Ilo. Giving William S. Estes the benefit of the doubt, there could be a plausible reason for him using an alias when he married…if indeed this is his marriage. When my father, who was on a 30 day leave from the Army in 1938, met my mother, they married without permission of the military. Until I got his service records, I didn’t know a soldier needed permission to marry. Do you know where William S. Estes was born or when he died?

    • I have his delayed birth certificate and he was born in Hancock Co., TN. His father signed his certificate and the year given is 1903. He died in 1963 in Jay County, Indiana. I didn’t know that you needed the permission of the military to marry either. I suspect, based on some additional information found indicating that this person was from Claiborne County, TN, that this had to be him. I also suspect that his wife, based on earlier census was either 14 or 15, not 19 as she said, and that Ollie Bolton, William’s mother, “stood in” for her mother and signed for her to marry William. I am going to order the actual documents and hope they still exist.

    • Phyllis,

      Guess that applies to just the US … as I married my wife on the 15 February 1964, without consent from the Navy, and I had been in the Royal New Zealand Navy since the 11 May 1960 through to the 25 February 1970. I had thought it was because it was coming up to WWII but then remembered the US never joined the War until the Japanese took them out in Pearl Harbour. WWII started in 1939 and my school teacher was at the Battle of the River Plate onboard HMS Achilles of that year. NZ never had a Navy until 1942 and left NZ for England to join up. My maternal grandmother’s brother left NZ in 1904 and joined the Royal Navy, transferring to the Royal Australian Navy on the 1 May 1912, as an instance. Just in time for WWI. Not too sure about the alias you mention though … haven’t seen that yet.



  5. I loved the story Roberta. The signature looks like “Ilo” to me. This is a good idea. I will try to do the looking for a different person for 52 weeks. I kinda gave up on posting queries because it just seemed as if I had come to dead ends on certain peope. Then one of my brick walls fell due to a nice young lady having the answer. From that wall falling, I probably could do 52 ne people from the ones who were hidden behind the brick wall. I so enjoy your stories.

  6. If we get to vote, I agree with S. Dunham, her signature looks like Ils to me. Her terminal s looks like that in the words pains, this, lawyers, was, always, and stands. Besides which, it’s an actual nickname that normal people (from several northern European countries that were no doubt represented in Battle Creek) would have. If true, it would probably also be Ils on the newly discovered ILO Bailey marriage record.

    And btw there are a good many WWII era movies in which the plot includes the necessity for active duty military to have a superior’s permission to marry, though I believe that had to do with their non-US citizen status.

  7. The confusion seems to continue. You may have found out by now that Ilo Esther Bailey married Thomas Devine June 9, 1928 in Wood Co., OH. Ilo’s parents are listed as John Bailey and Maude Wauble. The marriage certificate can be viewed at Thomas & Ilo both state they have never been married. Leo T. & wife Ilo are on the 1930 Lucas, Adams, OH census, pg. 13B, with their children,
    Leo Jr. 10 b. MI
    Matthew T. 8 b. OH
    Robert J. 6 b. OH
    William E. 3/12 b. OH
    and a nephew 15 b. KY
    On pg. 14B is a John Bailey and his wife Lucille Barron living with her family. There is a public & private tree at ancestry that has his name John C. Bailey but the public tree lists his father as Herman Bailey with no documentation. It lists his death as 1955 in Toledo, Lucas, OH. This could be Ilo’s brother.
    Robert James Devine died in 1975 in TX and his death certificate can be viewed at ancestry or His mother is listed as Ilo Esther Bailey and father Leo Thomas Devine.
    Leo & Ilo are on the 1933 & 1934 Louisville, KY city directory at ancestry. Ilo is listed by herself on the 1939 Louisville directory so maybe Leo has died.

    • I have searched and searched in every way I can figure for this family. I am hoping that Robert James Devine’s obituary in 1975 will tell me if his sibling, Leo, is alive. I have requested the obit from the Fort Worth Library. Where the heck was this family in the 1940 census?

      • Roberta, I just found a record for a Matthew T. Devine age 91, in Louisville KY. I also found his birth and death dates. The birth is the same as the Lucas Co., Ohio birth date of 15 Jan 1922. He died 17 Aug 1997 according to info on this site.
        He appears to be the same individual from the 1930 census and the right age for Leo T. Devine’s next youngest brother. There are also two other individual listed, maybe a wife and daughter named Esther.

      • After much searching, I have found ILA (sp); Leo, Jr., student; and Matthew, living at 412 E. Grey in Louisville, in the 1940 city directory. If I knew how to pinpoint the district and street in the 1940 census, we could see if they were missed or incorrectly entered. Ilo is listed as widow of Thomas. In 1939, she is listed as Mrs. Ilo Devine…no mention of a husband. There is a Thomas listed in 1940, who is a Laborer at Cavehill Cemetery. There is also a William, but I don’t know if it is Ilo’s son
        In 1942, Matthew T, and Robert J. are living at 829 Washington Street. There is also a Thomas. That is as far as I’ve been able to go….other duties call me away from my fun!!!
        It’s possible that Ilo and Thomas Devine divorced, since women sometimes said they were widowed instead of divorced.
        I have a daughter living in Louisville, who might be able to check some records, if the courthouse is open when she isn’t working. I also have a cousin living there, but he recently had knee surgery.

      • Roberta, if you did any research on the info that I sent yesterday, you will think I made up the details and I’m confused.
        The info from the 1940 Louisville city directory was correct …I’m looking at the image as I type. Now for the problem.
        I found the page in the 1940 Louisville, KY census for 412 E. Gray Street…ED 121-108C..and sure enough, there on the first page is Ilo Devine as the last entry. I went to page 2 to find Leo and Matthew, but instead there was Sarah, his wife. I hadn’t noticed that Ilo was listed as a male.
        There is no listing in the 1940 city directory for Ilo and Sarah Devine. My imagination is beginning to take charge. Any thoughts?

  8. Amazing story, and great crowd-sourcing help! I’m wondering if perhaps Ilo was too young to legally marry (not sure what the required age was in that time and place), in addition to the need for military permission.

  9. What a great write up. My great aunt was one of the woman involved and it is all very interesting. Janice

  10. Pingback: My Crazy Estes Aunts – 52 Ancestors #2 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  11. Pingback: 52 Ancestors Challenge: Week 2 Recap | No Story Too Small

  12. Great work … I really enjoyed reading your post to all of the follow up… Waiting to hear what you find next I know you are going to find him.

  13. I enjoy all of your posts so very much. I had a very small family..mother an only child, only 5 cousins on my father’s side, my dad was 1 of 8 and only 4 had children. Born in KY in 1931 we moved to IL when I was 8 and thus never lived near any family. My grandfather and step-grandfather both died when I was 3 yrs old.

    My grandmother (died in1974)and a great aunt on grandfather’s side (died in 1988) and I never asked them many family questions. I did not become interested in genealogy until I was 62 and regret that so much. I never asked my dad how he got his middle name nor my beloved grandmother about her childhood.

    I admire all the research you accomplish. I love to see young people in the genealogy libraries and I try to encourage folks to begin early in their genealogy searches….before all their older family members are no longer around to answer questions.

    Annabelle Winfrey

    On 1/10/14, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

    • There are a number of ways the middle name can arise. My brother’s Alexander came from our maternal grandfather’s middle name, whilst mine (Owen) came from my father’s step father’s name. Should have been the name of my grandfather …Ainsleigh. Then we have Hiram Alfred Jeffery POWER; his grandfather had been the Mate on the American Prize ship in 1807-10, called the Hiram; and Hiram’s mother’s maiden name was JEFFERY. Often I discovered as they were all Master Mariners, that the middle name was a surname that came from a fellow Master Mariner. Also it can come from other surnames of the family. i.e. MANNING, FOOT, BLYTH etc.

  14. Pingback: Finding Ilo’s Son, Lee Devine – 52 Ancestors #3 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  15. Pingback: William Sterling Estes – The Missing Years – 52 Ancestors #5 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  16. Roberta I have been able to trace my family tree (in its various name spellings,Corbitt, Corbett, Corbit, Corbet, Corbeau) back to before 1048. Hugo Le Corbeau (Corbet) accompanied William the Congueror in his conquest of England in 1066. Hugo had 4 sons of which he took 2, Roger Fitz-Corbet and Robert Fitz-Corbitt with him for the invasion of England. I am from the line of his son Roger Fitz Corbet. As it worked out over the years Roger descendents ended up with the only male line to carry on the name which even to this day has many different spellings depending on where you live.

    My question to you is: Do you have any suggestions as to how I can pursue my DNA line back to that time?

    Any assistance you can offer will be appreciated.

    The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing – Edmund Burke

    Wilbur G. Corbitt US Army (Major) Retired) US DOJ/DEA (Investigator) Retired Lake City, Fl 32025 386-867-1687

  17. Pingback: William Sterling Estes’ Court Martial and Escape; 3 Wives and 4 Aliases – 52 Ancestors #217 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  18. Pingback: Estes Ancestors to 1495, Plus Wives – 52 Ancestors #385 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  19. Pingback: DNAExplain Blog to be Preserved for Future Generations in the Library of Congress | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

Leave a Reply to Karen MarcumCancel reply