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A Family Story

William R. Smith (+1 510.913.4096, bsmith1401 at bellsouth dot net)

J. Clan Ewing, Vol. 14, No. 3 (August 2008), pp. 17-19.

This family story concerns the James and Martha Smith family of Gadsden, Etowah County, Alabama. It relates events of many years ago and reveals a potential, intriguing intertwining of Smith and Ewing families as revealed by Y-DNA testing.

Jerome Coleman Smith was born in 1880 in Etowah County, Alabama. He was my grandfather. Jerome was the second child of William Pearce and Olevia L. (Smith) Smith.[1] Jerome was about five foot, eight inches tall, with black hair and brown eyes. He was attractive to women, neat and clean in his dress and carried himself well. He was a very self-centered person and he told many family stories that were not always true.

Many years ago, he told my Aunt Bea (his youngest child) that his grandfather James was impotent and that his father, William Pearce Smith, was fathered by a person by the name of Ewing who was a Doctor. I did not give much credence to the story at the time, and really did not pay much attention to it at all.

In 1970, I began researching the my wifeís genealogy first, then my grandmotherís family and finally my fatherís family, the Smiths. I was at the local library one night looking at the 1870 census for Etowah County, and I found both James Smith and William Pearce Smith as well as Dr. Whitley T. Ewing. I thought this might be the doctor that Jerome knew about and had made up a great story to tell. I did nothing about it. I did not have any information on James Smith and his wife Martha except that they were born in Virginia, so I posted a query to people in Etowah County who might have some knowledge of the Smith s there.

I received an answer from a man in Gadsden who said he had tried to look up a marriage for them but all he found was an excerpt from a will of a Dr. Whitley T. Ewing leaving something to Rosa Smith, Jerome C. Smith, Lillian Smith and Ulyses Smith, the four children of William Pearce and Olevia Smith. That did get my attention, so I called the county court house and asked for a copy of the full will. The lady in the Probate Judges' office told me that the courthouse was being renovated, that the old wills were not in the computer, and that they could not get to were the old wills were stored.

I waited for almost two years and then called again. They sent me a copy of the will and it says in paragraph four:

I give, devise and bequeath to Rosa E. Smith X, Jerome C. Smith, Olevia L. Smith and Ulyses G. Smith children of William P. Smith my undivided one sixth interest in and to that part of the Southeast quarter of the Southeast quarter of Sec. thirty-six, in township eleven range 5 east and Southwest quarter of the Southwest quarter, sec. 31 township eleven range 6 east in Etowah County Ala not heretofore by me conveyed to R. B. Kyle and also one note for five hundred eighty-six and 67/100 dollars made to me by R. B. Kyle on the twentieth day of May A. D. 1891 and payable on demand after date; and I hereby authorize, instruct and direct the executors hereinafter named immediately upon the grant of letters of executorship to them, to make proper deed and conveyance of said undivided one-sixth interest in said lands and to deliver said note of said R. B. Kyle to my worthy friend John Thomas Green as trustee of said children of William Pearce Smith, to be held by him, said trustee for said children until someone shall be duly appointed or authorized to receive receipt for the same.

This will is dated 23rd July 1891.

On January 26, 1892, in the same court, a petition was filed saying it was time to release the will from probate. In that petition it states that B. L. Bellamy was appointed by the court as Guardian ad litem for Rosa, Jerome, Lillian and Ulyses, minor children of William P. Smith, "who though not of kin are mentioned as beneficiaries in said written instrument."

Well Ö That is the story as it was told to me. That is the will, verbatim. And thereby hangs a tale.

My son, Tennis, recently participated in several Y-DNA-testing, genealogy-related projects. He initially tested with the National Genographic Project,[2] which is designed to trace migration patterns of early man. Sometime later, Tennis took a look at YSearch[3] for potential matches, and when he saw several Ewings he remembered an old family story about a doctor named Ewing down in Alabama, who supposedly was the 'real' father of Tennis' great-great-grandfather. Tennis ordered-up more extensive DNA testing and checked YSearch again. This time he turned up only Ewings, so he joined Clan Ewing's Ewing Surname Y-DNA Project to see what he could find out. The project's administrator, David Neal Ewing, called him and they pretty soon found some other Ewings who are connected to this line.

When I started doing my genealogical research, I learned early on that most family stories are not true or have been distorted in passing by word of mouth. In addition, the U.S. census is not always correct, and occasionally even grave stones are unreliable. From that I decided that the Ewing story needed closer scrutiny than I had given it.

The time line for Whitley T. Ewing is as follows: He was born in Virginia in 1823. When he was fifteen, he left home and traveled west ó through Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas ó to Louisiana where he spent some time. His brother, William, was in Illinois, and Whitley joined him there. Whitley spent four years in Marrietta, Ohio, and received his education there. Leaving there, he returned to Quincy, Illinois, and began to study medicine with a Dr. Stahl. He graduated from St. Louis Medical College in 1848. He stayed in St. Louis for a year and, in 1850, probably went overland to California with his brother. In 1855, he returned to St. Louis and was married. In 1856, he and his wife went to Cass County, Georgia, where he remained until 1862. From there he moved to Etowah County, Alabama.

The time line for James and Martha Smith is: James was born in 1808 and Martha was born in 1816, both in Virginia. William Pearce Smith, their son, was born in 1851 and his wife Olevia was born in 1853, both in Alabama. When William Pearce was born, Dr. Whitley T. Ewing was in California. If there had been a liaison between Martha and Dr. Ewing, it would have had to transcend considerable time and distance 'difficulties.' By the time Dr. Ewing came to Alabama, Martha would have been forty-six years old. All of this leads me to believe it was Jerome ís mother, Olevia, and not his grandmother, Martha, who had an affair with Dr. Ewing. This would have been an affair between an older man and a younger woman, but that was not unheard of. As of this time we have no proof that any of the children other than Jerome is descended from Dr. Ewing. However, there is at least one male descendant (from Ulyses) that we are trying to locate in Mississippi.

There is one final note to this: Shortly after Dr. Whitley T. Ewing ís death, William Pearce Smith and three of his children moved to Morgan County, Alabama. Rosa was married at this time; she did not move to Morgan County until later. Was this to avoid a scandal? Did all four children belong to Dr. Ewing ? Was this an affair that went on over a period of nine years?

The song of life goes on, year after year, generation after generation. Secrets die with each of us. All we can know about this affair is what the DNA testing suggests.


[1] Olevia's maiden and married names were both 'Smith.'


[3], a free public database of Y-DNA results maintained by FTDNA.