Those of you who have followed the escapades and stories about my father know quite well that he was…well…how do I put this graciously? Let’s just say a “ladies man.”
Are you sitting down?
He was married a stunning 13 times. Well, I guess I should put “married” in quotes, because he was not legally married to at least three of those women, and there is at least one more he claimed to have been married to, but no evidence of a marriage has emerged, at least not yet.
My father wasn’t the only player, though, because of the 5 children he believed were his, at least one wasn’t and another one is doubtful:
In this composite photo, my Dad is shown at different ages. Edna and I are positively my father’s children.
- The first child, Lee Devine, born in 1920 probably was his child, but is long-deceased and had no children, so that can’t be confirmed. I’m left looking for resemblances in photographs. I think I look like Lee.
- The second and fifth children, my sister Edna and I are my father’s children, as confirmed by DNA.
- The third child, Violet, was probably not his child, given that I know unquestionably where he was for the first 5-6 weeks of her mother’s pregnancy. And yes, I do mean positively. Unless Violet was born several weeks early, she was almost assuredly not my father’s biological child. The challenge for me is that I have only one very grainy photo and I think she resembles my father more than I do. She looks a great deal like Edna. An artist was kind enough to restore this photo, as best could be achieved without knowing what she looked like.
- The fourth child, Dave, sadly, was not my father’s son, also proven by DNA. He’s still my brother nonetheless.
I keep watching DNA matches for more potential children, or their children, and now maybe their grandchildren.
All Things Considered…
All things considered…given what I just told you…I wasn’t exactly surprised when another “wife” surfaced a few years back.
Mind you, it was only in trees, so I was pretty dismissive at first.
My initial reaction was, “No, that can’t be right, that’s not my Dad,” but then I remembered just who I was dealing with.
Still, I glanced at the tree and presumed that someone had made a same-name error. It’s easy enough to do.
However, as I began to gather wives for my father like flowers for a bouquet of a dozen roses, one by one, I realized that maybe, just maybe he had more wives, and more children, just waiting to be discovered. And maybe Addie Browning was one of them.
I began to hope, actually. I’d love to have another sibling. It’s nothing short of amazing that given his propensity for getting married that there were only 5 children attributed to him.
Harlan County, Kentucky
The roads from Tennessee to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan were well-traveled. Many southern families moved north in the early 1900s to work. My grandparents were tenant farmers in Indiana beginning in about 1912 – going back “home” as needed to Tennessee.
A few years later, my grandparents divorced and my father joined the military, his ticket “out,” although “out” was only to Michigan.
Over time, for reasons unknown, my father not only traveled back to Claiborne County and eastern Tennessee, he continued his travels on South, to Georgia and Florida, among other places.
Still, he always returned to his parents’ homes.
His mother, Ollie Bolton had moved to Chicago when he was a teenager where she lived until her death in 1955.
His father, William George Estes, had moved back south and settled in Harlan County, Kentucky a few years later, not terribly far from the Cumberland Gap. He and his new bride lived up on Black Mountain, the highest and most remote mountain peak in Kentucky, nestled up against the Virginia border and not far, as the crow flies, from Tennessee.
Black Mountain was rugged, rough, coal mining country. The residents were clannish. Many if not most of the people who lived there were related to one another.
By 1920, my father had been in the Army since 1917 and his first two children, Lee and Edna were on the way. No, they weren’t twins. Two different women were pregnant, and their children were born 3 months apart. Lots of drama in his life!
His father, my grandfather, Will, had remarried to a woman 21 years his junior who just happened to be his first wife’s cousin. According to the census, they were living in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and had an 18-month-old baby.
In the 1930 census, Will had divorced, remarried again, to his second wife’s cousin, taken up moonshining, and was living in a shack high up on Black Mountain with his third wife and their two young children. The census taker managed to miss several of the most remote residences. I’m guessing that no government official was welcome on that part of Black Mountain. In the 1920s, Harlan County had the highest murder rate of any place in the country, fueled by a lethal combination of anger and moonshine.
We know Will was living in Harlan County as early as 1925 when his daughter was born.
Given that William George Estes, my grandfather was well known on Black Mountain and among the Harlan County miners, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to presume that a younger William Estes, a miner, found in the same county, might be his son by the same name.
Yes, there’s that dangerous word – presume.
That’s exactly what I found and has been perpetuating and spawning itself through online trees.
We need evidence. Facts. Trees are not evidence but some trees may contain valuable hints and sources.
Ok, what actual evidence do we have? Let’s start with the census.
You can see that on the 1930 census, one William Estes, age 28, so born about 1902, was a coal miner in Harlan County and married to Addie. They had recently married, since their last birthdays in November, and children had not yet blessed their marriage. At least, no children are listed as living with them.
Then a decade later, in the 1940 census, they are still married and have children who were supposedly 12 (but absent in the 1930 census,) 7, 5, 3, and 6 months.
These children were born in approximately 1928, 1933, 1935, 1937, and 1939.
In 1950, the census shows us that William is still working in the coal mine and they had three more children.
The newest children were born about 1943, 1944, and 1949.
These dates are important.
My father’s first name was William and he was known as Bill. He was born about 1902, sometime between 1901 and 1903, depending on which document you reference and what suited his fancy at the time. The only consistent part is the date, October 1.
Addie’s William was born about the same time, also in Tennessee.
I can certainly understand why someone attached the wrong William to poor Addie.
I really scrutinized these records closely, because my father was married to more than one woman at a time, at least twice. Yea, I know, that sounds like a country song doesn’t it!
Apparently, he came and went and was home long enough to not arouse “enough” suspicion, at least not initially, and of course long enough to have children. Just because he was married to someone else, living someplace else, didn’t mean he wasn’t also married and living elsewhere. How did he even begin to keep all that straight? Normally, he got caught pretty quickly and moved on to the next lucky wife.
Was the William Estes who was married to Addie my father?
I really had to know. I’d love to dismiss this out of hand, but I just can’t.
Let’s look at the evidence and compare what we know, side by side.
Even though William and Addie appear in the 1930 census together and were recently married, based on later records, they already had a child born three years earlier on April 9, 1927. The conception date would have been on or about July 17, 1926.
In the late 1920s, my father was in Michigan and Illinois. He enlisted in the Army for a third term in 1926, but in 1927 got himself into trouble and spent some time in the brig in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then in Michigan. He was released on June 29, 1928.
Violet, his third child, was born on February 5, 1929, in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Her date of conception, assuming a typical 40-week pregnancy, would have been on May 15, 1928, almost 6 weeks before he was released from jail, in another county. He needed to have the opportunity to meet Violet’s mother in Muskegon. Even if it was love at first sight – Violet’s mother appeared to have been at least 6 weeks pregnant by the time she met my father.
However, he was in hot water for another reason in 1928.
He had married Cora Edmonds on August 6th, 1927, in Benton Harbor, Michigan under an assumed name. Cora filed for divorce on March 27, 1929, and he went to jail, again, a few days later – unrelated to the divorce. I’m guessing the divorce was related to his relationship with Violet’s mother. He believed that Violet was his child. Both then and years later.
In case you’re wondering how this all happened, my father was an alcoholic. He was, given alcohol as a child to quell hunger pangs when they had no food, and enable sleep, as were his siblings who also became alcoholics.
My father carried that addiction into his adult life and made some exceedingly poor decisions. While those decisions clearly affected his life, dramatically, and those around him, he was, in the words of Virgie, both his first and last love, “not all bad.”
He was a tortured soul, abandoned by his parents when he was about 13, along with his younger brother. His indiscretions for the most part had to do with drinking, having sex, and getting married, sometimes without benefit of divorce. That’s not an excuse for his behavior, but perhaps an explanation and an aid to understanding.
In April 1930, when William Estes appeared in the census with Addie in Harlan County, TN, my father was enumerated in the census in jail, in Michigan, where he had been since 1929. My dad was crafty, but even he wasn’t that good. There is no way he was incarcerated in Michigan at the same time he was enumerated in the census in Kentucky, teleporting back and forth.
Then, I thought, what if he really wasn’t in Harlan County and he was simply reported as living there. People do that.
Let’s Dig Deeper
While the William Estes in Harlan County, married to Addie, was having children in 1928, 1933, 1935, and 1939, my father was still indisposed. In other words, he could not have been having children with Addie.
My father is missing in the 1940 census, although based on letters he wrote to a judge, it appears that he remained indisposed until March of 1942.
Addie had children in 1943, 1944, and 1949.
In 1943, my father was living in Muncie, Indiana, and then Chicago, Illinois.
In 1944, he was married to Dortha or Dorothy Kilpatrick (although I don’t know where) and began working at the Eastern State Mental Hospital in Knoxville, TN, in late December. He gave his voting address as Claiborne Co., TN, where most of his family lived, and his residence as Harlan County, KY where his father was living.
In 1945, he traveled to Georgia where he remained until 1948 when he returned to Chicago. In 1949 he married Ellen Billings Copak in Chicago.
In the 1950 census, he is shown living with Ellen and her daughters in Chicago, working in a furniture store, while Addie’s husband is living in Harlan County, with her, still working in the coal mines – just like he has been reliably doing ever since they married in 1930.
Addie and William had their last baby in 1949
Delayed Birth Certificates
Both men were born at home in Tennessee and had to obtain delayed birth certificates.
My father’s middle name was Sterling. He obtained his birth certificate in April 1952, showing his birth location as Hancock County, just up the road from Estes Holler and where his mother’s parents lived.
His address was Fort Wayne, Indiana where my brother, Dave, would be born three years later. Ellen, his wife, lived in Fort Wayne for the rest of her life.
On the back of his birth certificate, his father, William George Estes signed the document and gave his address as Lynch, Kentucky, the closest town to his home.
The William Estes married to Addie Browning obtained his delayed birth certificate 7 years earlier, in 1945.
He was born in Claiborne County, TN, probably in Estes Holler.
His father signed his certificate as Theo Estes, with his mark.
What about death records?
My father died in 1963, in Indiana, listing his wife and father.
The William Estes in Harlan County died in 1975.
The Kentucky death index is shown above.
The Social Security Death Index shows the same death date and a specific location, Cawood in Harlan County.
What about military records?
Addie’s husband served in the Army from 1920-1923 according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
My father’s three enlistment dates are shown together on the back of the application submitted for a military headstone.
And finally, if that wasn’t enough, the William Estes in Harlan County registered for the draft in February of 1942, providing his wife’s name, employer, birth date, and location.
It’s interesting that the men looked different too. There would have been no mistaking them in person.
The William Estes married to Addie seemed to be a small man.
My father registered for the draft as well, on March 20th, giving his mother’s Chicago address.
My father was 5’11”, 172 pounds, brown eyes, black hair, and dark complected.
Addie’s husband was 5’4”, 138 pounds with blue eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy complexion. Clearly not the same man.
Not the Same Man
No one, but no one, after seeing all of this compiled evidence together could ever reasonably conclude that these two men are the same. Nor is Addie’s husband my father.
But, and here’s the complicating part – the two William Esteses are kin to each other.
And, the DNA of their descendants could and probably would match each other.
Nothing, but nothing is ever easy in my family.
Remember way back at the beginning of this article I mentioned that many if not most people in areas like this are related to each other. That’s true in this case too.
While the William Estes who lived in Cawood and was married to Addie is NOT the son of William George Estes who lived up on Black Mountain above Lynch, they are related.
First, I’d like to note that while they lived in the same county, the additional information we’ve discovered has provided us with more specific locations. Cawood, where William and Addie lived near the Crummies mine is about 45 miles and an hour away (today, on paved roads) from where William George Estes lived, “up above” Lynch.
In this case, the same county name does not indicate close proximity or the same community.
Estes Hollow, where both men were born or once lived is a fair distance from both. About 70 miles for William George if he crossed on over Black Mountain and about the same distance for William Estes who lived in Cawood.
The mines were big employers and many men from Appalachia migrated to the area. One of William George Estes’s sons, Estel, joined his father in the bootlegging business and worked in the coalmines before he went north for easier work and the promise of a better future.
Who is the William Estes Married to Addie?
As it turned out, I already had the William Estes who married Addie Browning in my genealogy software, but without his wife or children. Most of this information was provided by Uncle George Estes back in the 1980s. George was born in 1911 and knew these people. According to Uncle George, William’s middle initial was “T”, probably for Theo, and he was called Willie, while my Dad was called Bill and William George Estes was called Will.
William T. Estes, Addie’s husband, was the second cousin once removed (2C1R) of William George Estes. He was third cousins with my father. Their fathers assuredly knew each other and probably grew up as playmates in Estes Holler. Theo and William George were probably born within sight of each other’s cabins.
John R. Estes settled in Estes Holler, which is how it received its name. His descendants obtained land grants, bought land and cleared it, and continue to farm there today.
Estes Holler includes everything on either side of the road between the Springdale Lodge and the red star indicating the land where Jechonias Estes lived. John Y. Estes, his brother lived to the left of the star, a little higher up on the mountainside.
Everyone in these hollows knew each other. William T. Estes and William George Estes unquestionably did too. I’d wager that my father knew William T. Estes who was married to Addie as well.
Both of those men would probably get a chuckle that they are now being conflated into one man, my father, online.
Willie probably wouldn’t be any too happy about that.
A Great Bad Example
This is a great example of why one cannot do same-name associations without a LOT of corroborating evidence that the assigned identities are correct.
It’s also an example of why “just DNA matching” with someone is not confirmation of HOW you’re related to that person.
Today, I would probably match several of the children of Willie Estes and Addie.
According to the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool, the range for 4th cousins could be anyplace from 0-139 cM, with an average of 35.
Looking at the entire 139 cM range of possible relationships, at first glance, one might assume a closer relationship.
This is the perfect example of “don’t’ glance and assume.” Assuming is just so tempting and we’ve all done it! Here’s the argument that you’d hear from someone who has committed the great assume sin.
Their names are the same, William’s father lived in the same county, and their descendants’ DNA matches, so OF COURSE this is the right man. William Estes married to Addie has to be the son of William George Estes.
While these first three individual points are accurate, combined, they do NOT prove that the William married to Addie is the son of William George Estes, nor that the William Estes married to Addie is my father.
In order to bring the full picture into focus, one must consider the rest of the evidence, meaning following that paper trail and documentation for both men, tieing them to their parents, and accounting for their locations at various critical junctures. That, along with the actual matching cM amount and where it falls in the range of possible relationships.
No place is 139 cMs, the highest possible match in the 4C range, equivalent to half-siblings, half-niece/nephew, or even half-great-niece/nephew.
“I match, therefore I am,” is not a thing. It’s more like, “I match, therefore I might be, somehow.”
DNA matching is a launching pad, not a conclusion. Same with trees.
If I had any residual doubt in my mind about this relationship, I could attempt to recruit one of William and Addie’s children or grandchildren to test. While I may well match them, I certainly won’t match them at the high level I’d expect of a half-sibling.
I would encourage anyone who marries my Dad to Addie in a tree and is a descendant to take a DNA test and see if we match at a half-sibling level or at 4th cousin level. Of course, we may not match at all which is possible for 4th cousins, but not for half-siblings, half-niece/nephews, or even half-great-niece/nephews.
In the meantime, I’m going to nicely provide this article link to anyone who marries Addie to my Dad in their trees, hoping they will be pleased to receive accurate information and we can stop the propagation of errors.
It would be nice to stop receiving “tree hints” about my father and Addie.
Heaven knows, Dad has more than enough wives already! He doesn’t need an accidental one.
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