Saturday, March 14, 2009

68th Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women

From Destination: Austin Family comes these instructions for the 68th Carnival of Genealogy:
And now it's time for a Call for Submissions! In keeping with the month of March being National Women's History Month, and March 8th being International Women's Day, the topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will once again be: A Tribute to Women. Write a tribute to a woman on your family tree, a friend, a neighbor, or a historical female figure who has done something to impact your life. Or instead of writing, consider sharing a photo biography of one woman's life. Or create a scrapbook page dedicated to a woman you'd like to honor. The next edition will be hosted at Creative Gene. The deadline for submissions is March 15th.
My entry is not a tribute, but rather a call for information that is inspired by the hope that someday I will be able to understand the decisions of a mystery woman.

For this subject, I have decided to write about a woman in my family who is almost completely unknown to me, my maternal grandmother, Mattie (Tobert) Shrewsbury. My mother's earliest memories are of living with her grandfather William Tolbert and his second wife. Her grandfather died when she was 6, and she continued to live with her "Grandma Anna" until Anna died, and after that, she lived with Anna's brother so Mom had no contact with her birth family until 2001 when she was finally able to reunite with her two sisters who remembered her as a baby.

My mother's only memory of her "real" mother happened not long after William Tolbert died. Mattie came to visit her, perhaps to see about getting her daughter back. She came with a man who was never introduced to my mom. He scared Mom by telling her that Mattie was her real mom, causing my mom to run to Anna and say "This is my mommy!" Mattie and the man left after that and she was never heard from least by anyone we've been in contact with since. My mom has often remarked that the experience must have been very hurtful for Mattie if what she wanted was a relationship with her daughter.

Grandma was born Mattie Tolbert in August of 1897 in Carroll County, Virginia. She is mentioned in her parents divorce (filed in 1898 in Carroll County and granted in 1903) as Mattie Haner Tolbert. I've often wondered if the name "Haner" might have been a phonetic misspelling of the name "Hannah". In the 1900 census, Mattie was living with her mother, Rhoda, and Rhoda's mother, Sarah Webb. The other three living children of William and Rhoda lived in William's home. Despite the fact that William and Rhoda had divorced in 1903, they reconciled sometime before 1910. In the census for Trap Hill District of Raleigh County, West Virginia, the couple was living together and had another son, Claud, aged 3 and born in WV. That's the last written record of Mattie that I have found. She seems to be completely absent from the census in 1920 & 1930, I have found no record of her marriage to the father of her children, George Shrewsbury, and none of her 4 (known) children had birth certificates. Sometime after my mother was born, she left George and took my mother to William and Anna. Her other children were farmed out to other relatives. George remarried to a woman with sons, one of whom shot George to death in 1950, claiming that George was abusive and the 17 year old step-son had feared for his life.

The circumstances of George Shrewsbury's death gives some credence to a story I was told at the reunion of my mother and her sisters in 2001 by one of my new-found cousins. She told me that some people in the family had always believed that George, thinking that Mattie had been unfaithful and that my mother was not his child, had murdered Mattie and her baby and that he had hidden their bodies so that they had never been found. Obviously, I am extremely grateful that it didn't happen that way, but it also seems that an anecdote so horrible wouldn't have been passed down if there wasn't something about George Shrewsbury that made it credible.

My mom still has a lot of anger towards Mattie for abandoning her, and can't understand how Mattie could have left her other children, either. The rumor that George had killed Mattie gives me some compassion for a woman who might have left in fear for her life.

I would love to someday find someone who could tell me where Mattie went after my mom last saw her. That encounter had to have occurred after 1939, which was when William Tolbert died. My hope is that she was able to move on and have a peaceful and productive life after she disappeared from her family.


  1. Cherie
    Here's hoping this will get you some information
    from somebody reading the Carnival of Genealogy.

  2. Thanks Bill! You never know. My mom's sisters son found me back in 2001 by Googling Mattie's name and found an entry I made at an online registry. I figure it can't hurt to get the name out there.


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