Thursday, September 27, 2012

Finding William A. Vaden, my Great Grandfather

The search for the true identity of my Great Grandfather has puzzled my family for 96 years.  I believe I'm going to be able to put an official end to the mystery this coming weekend when I visit Richmond, Virginia. 

Robert William Lewis circa 1930

My Grandfather, Robert William Lewis, was born in Richmond, Virginia on June 8, 1913.  By the time he was two years old, his father had passed away.  My Great Grandmother, Eunice Conway,  was only 21 years old and she was a widow with two small children.   My Great Aunt Dorothy Lewellyn Lewis was born on July 29, 1911.   The children were placed in an orphanage for about a year while Eunice got back on her feet.   During this time Eunice met Leon Ellwood Lewis, who she would later marry.  Both children would refer to Leon Ellwood Lewis as their father.   The 1920 Federal Census even goes so far to list Leon Lewis as the father of Dorothy and Robert.  They would both legally change their last name from Vaden to Lewis by their 18th birthday.   My mother's maiden name is Lewis, but it really should have been Vaden.  My Grandfather was born before birth certificates were a requirement.  I haven't been able to locate a marriage certificate for Eunice and the mysterious Mr. Vaden.  His death was a source of great sadness for Eunice.   My Grandfather had no recollection of his real father, other than his last name. 

I've been doing family research for about 2 years now.   I've become fairly savvy in the ways of connecting loose family ends.  Sometimes you just have to know where to start looking.   I started the search for Mr. Vaden by using what knowledge I already possessed.   1.)   He was a resident of Richmond, Virginia.   2.)  He died sometime between 1915 and 1916.  With this information, I started scrounging around various cemetery records and databases, looking for a male who was relatively young when they died in either 1915 or 1916, when Robert would have been about 2 years old.  I found a pretty interesting prospect, one W. A. Vaden, born in 1885 and died in 1916. 

From here, I used a little logic to connect the dots.  W. A. Vaden's plot is owned by "Mrs. W. A. Vaden" however "Mrs. W. A. Vaden" doesn't appear to be buried there.   I'll be able to confirm this part this coming weekend.  W. A. Vaden was 31 years old when he died.  He was the member of a secret society that was similar to the Masons.   My Great Grandmother was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, which is essentially a Mason organization for women.  That could be completely coincidental.  W. A. Vaden is buried in the same cemetery that my Great Grandmother's parents are buried in.   This too could be coincidental as there are a few thousand folks interred in Maury Cemetery in Richmond. 

I had to dig a little further, the info I had looked good on paper but I needed something more substantial.   I started searching the census records in Richmond and it's surrounding areas.   Eunice Conway was from Chesterfield County, Virginia, so I started looking there.  The 1900 Federal Census for Chesterfield County, Virginia proved to be very interesting.  There I found a William A. Vaden, age 15 and his little brother Robert Vaden, age 8.  In one Census Record, there was the name Robert and William.   Sadly by the 1910 census, it appears as though Robert had passed away.  William A. Vaden was apparently named after his father's brother, also William A. Vaden.  William's uncle served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  It's not out of the realm of possibility that William would name his first born son after his deceased brother and himself;  Robert William Vaden. 

Eunice Conway was only 16 years old when my Great Aunt Dorothy was born.   It's been told that she was 15 when she married Mr. Vaden.   It's highly unlikely she would marry a fellow 15 year old, but it's entirely possible that a 15 year old be married to someone 10 years older, especially in 1910.  William A. Vaden was 10 years older than Eunice Conway. 

I felt good about the info I had found so I brought it to my mother and aunt's attention.   After their review of the info, it made sense to them as well.  I decided to reach out to Dorothy's son to see if he ever knew anything about the mysterious Mr. Vaden.   Lo and behold, he said he remembered his mom telling him her real father's name was William.  I get goosebumps just thinking about his response. 

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about the possibility of solving a 96 year old family mystery.  Here's a couple of pictures of William A. Vaden's grave that I found online.   I'll post more in a follow up article after the trip.

Grave of  W. A Vaden

plot owned by Mrs. W. A. Vaden

I've also found one incredibly interesting connection between W. A. Vaden's father, George Patterson Vaden and my Grandfather Robert William (Vaden) Lewis.   Both were railroad men.   My Grandfather worked on the railroad for 41 years.  George Patterson Vaden worked on the railroad during and after the Civil War.   He was also a member of the Richmond Fayette Artillery.  George Patterson Vaden will be the focus of a future blog entry once I complete a little research in Richmond.  Leon Ellwood Lewis was also a career railroad man.   I inherited his railroad watch from my Grandfather.  My cousin, Tommy inherited my Grandfather's railroad watch.   My Grandfather would have been beside himself to know his real Grandfather was also a railroad man. 

I feel the door can be closed on this mystery if I can prove that there is no Mrs. W. A. Vaden buried next to Mr. W. A. Vaden.   I aim to do just that within the next few days!

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