Walter Thomas Houchins, called Thomas, was my great-grandfather. In 1881, when he was 26 years old, he married my great-grandmother Evaline Langhorne who was 15 years old. Together they had nine children in 19 years. Evaline died having twins in 1900. Within one year Thomas, then 47 years old, married another 15-year-old girl and had two more children.
Here is the mystery: in tracing my family tree it did not take long until I was ready to add my great- great- grandparents, the parents of Walter Thomas Houchins. I knew all of my great aunts and uncles well, so it was surprising when I realized that we did not know their grandfather. By the time I was working on my family tree, I was in my 60s, and all of my great aunts and uncles were deceased. I realized I had never taken the opportunity to question them about their own family tree. Even my mother’s generation was gone. I could not believe that this information was missing in the family
I worked very hard in my research trying to find the correct identity of the father of Walter Thomas and his siblings. I checked all the censuses, birth and death records that I could find, other family trees, community records, land deeds, wills, all to no avail. Then someone told me about the Patrick County Virginia Genealogical Society. They had an officer named David Shelay who wrote a column in the local newspaper, The Enterprise. I wrote an inquiry about the parentage of Walter Thomas Houchins and David Shelay published it in the paper in Stuart, Virginia. In fact this was the beginning of my meeting 100 new cousins in Southwest Virginia! With all the joy that has brought, we were not able to answer the question of who is the father of Walter Thomas Houchins.
However, now we can take an educated guess, that is probably correct. It is up to each individual to decide whether or not they want to include this information as a fact or not. I have consulted a professional genealogist and experienced family researchers about this.
When Walter Thomas Houchins married my great-grandmother Evaline Langhorne in 1881, their marriage certificate listed his parents as Isaac and Nancy Houchins. We have identified that couple and have eliminated them as the parents of Walter Thomas and his siblings.
Starting with the 1860 census, you can see six-year-old Thomas living with his single mother, Nancy J. Houchins. If you trace her back to her 1850 census you find Nancy J. Houchins living with her parents William and Joyce Harbour Houchins. This lets us know that Nancy was a single mother. According to the 1860,1870, and 1880 censuses, she goes on to have seven children out-of-wedlock! In the 1800’s, in Patrick County, Virginia, between 1854 and 1872–my great, great-grandmother did this! It is hard to believe! According to the censuses she worked as a mail carrier as well.
The plot thickens when we move to the 1870 census, when Thomas is 16 years old. He is not living at home that year, but lo and behold he is living on a farm right next door—a farm belonging to the Stoops family. You would think that he is probably just working there, until you realize several things. One, William W. Stoops, a son, single, age 35, who fought in the Civil War, is listed as a mail contractor. Nancy is a mail carrier, so perhaps they worked together as well as were neighbors. Finally, the piece de resistance—William W. Stoops and our own Nancy J. Houchins marry in 1880! Is he finally making an “honest woman of her”? Lots of questions! Is William Stoops my second great-grandfather? I would love to know! And actually, it appears that he might well be—for another big reason—I had my autosomal dna done by ancestry.com. It says I match the Stoops surname, and sure enough, I match to trees with his family line in them! I can find no other reason I would match the Stoops unless indeed, he is Walter Thomas Houchins’ father, and therefore my second great-grandfather! Even so, I do not have him listed in my family tree as my second great-grandfather, I don’t know if I’m ready to think I have “proved” this or not. If anyone out there reads this and knows something else, please let me know.
Virginia Marriages, 1851-1929
Think about it though—growing up in rural, Patrick County, Virginia in the 1800’s, a single mother of seven children! Seems like you’d be well-known, the mail carrier, and not particularly well-respected for your many children out of wedlock! However, look who her children married. Thomas married Evaline Langhorne, daughter of James Steptoe Langhorne and Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro, two wealthy and powerful families! Nancy’s second child, Pocahontas, b. 1856, married John Anglin, the son of a well-respected family. Their son became a congressman in Oklahoma. Nancy J’s son James B., born 1864, married Nancy Howell, born 1867. Nancy was the daughter of Isaac Columbus Howell and Mary Anne Howell of Patrick County. It is hard for me to believe that if Nancy J. Houchins was a single mother of seven children that these particular families would have let their children marry her children. She must have been well-known, well liked, and respected in spite of the fact that she was a single mother. Maybe there was some reason they couldn’t marry, and that was known and accepted somehow.
The mysteries and clues abound. The fact that he was a next-door neighbor, the fact that they worked together, the fact that my great-grandfather lived with William Stoops at one time, and the fact that my DNA matches the Stoops family certainly leads me to believe that William W Stoops is the father of my great-grandfather William Thomas Houchins. Thank heavens I feel confident in the identity of Nancy, his mother. Therefore we can trace our Houchins line all the way back to England
With all this turmoil, what kind of man did Thomas become and what happened to his children? Perhaps it was because he had no father of his own living with him during his early years, or perhaps because he knew his father lived next-door, but not with him and his family, that Thomas seemingly so easily deserted his own six living children when their mother died, married again quickly and started a new family. This was a sad time in my immediate family’s history. However, they rebounded from this and other tragedies and created intelligent, creative and kind people for our world.
Of Thomas and Evaline’s nine children, three died in early childhood. One grew up and committed several petty crimes.(another story sometime) However, five of their six children grew up to make their family proud. Two daughters, both born in the 1800s, became professional women, very unusual for women of this time period, the late 1880’s. Julia became a lawyer, in fact,the first female assistant district attorney in Virginia. Her sister Katherine (Kate) became a nurse. They both had children. The youngest son, Guy Maurice Houchins, fathered two children, one of whom became a famous actress, and one became a geophysicist with an oil company. Their son John married a woman named Josie and they dedicated their lives to serving deaf students in Staunton, Virginia. Harry born in 1887, was blind with the family disease of retinitis pigmentosa by the time he was a teenager. Even so, he was a talented musician with an active, intelligent mind. Harry nor John or Tom had children. When their mother died in 1900 the six children were scattered among friends, relatives, and military schools. With all this upheaval, they found a way to be close as adults. As a great-grandchild with close family members, I am very grateful for this and proud to be a member of this family with all of its complexities.