Solving Genealogy Roadblocks

by Martha Fontenot –

Solving family genealogy roadblocks can be challenging, frustrating and exhilarating!  Confirming our Prather family’s oral history that Mahala Vanmeter, daughter of Captain Jacob Vanmeter and Rebecca Rawlings was our ancestor has elements of all three. Family members have searched for many years to discover and confirm this link without success until recent days.

Mahala was the fourth child born to Captain Jacob and Rebecca Rawlings  Vanmeter.  She was born in Hardin County on January 6, 1812, joining sisters, Nancy and Leticia, and brother Edward.

Little is known about Mahala until she was thirteen and a marriage record from Perry County, Indiana showed that she married William G. Prather on November 11, 1825.

The family of this William Prather remains a mystery to this day.  There is a story that he was William “Skipjack”  Prather, son of Basel and Clarinda Prather, who settled in Indiana, and born to them in 1766 in North Carolina.  This cannot be the case as the 1830 Hardin County census showed William Prather lived near Jacob Vanmeter.  It further listed his age as 25-30.  His wife was 15-20, and there were two small children, a boy and a girl, both under five.  Skipjack would have been 64 in 1830.

A family book, Yesterday and Tomorrow – Tabb – Shannon and Allied Families, written by Roberta Shannon Stimpson, gives William Prather a birth date of  November 8, 1806.  Stimpson is a Vanmeter descendant and has written several family books.  She lists four children born to William and Mahala:  Edward, b. November 27, 1827 and Mary Ann, b. June 24, 1829.  These children match the ages and genders of children in the 1830 census.  It further lists Nancy b. 4 April 1831, and William “Jenkins”, born March 14, 1833.

Exhilaration begins!  William Jenkins should be William Jennings and is our Prather ancestor!  Two generations of the descendents of William Jennings Prather are contained in the book.  The link is confirmed.

The story continues.  In the 1840 census, Mahala was head of household, as William has disappeared.  One family story professes that he was last seen on a boat loaded with mules and headed down the Ohio River to New Orleans.  He never returned. There were four children living with Mahala in 1840, and their ages and genders conform to the four in the Stimpson Book.  Rebecca Vanmeter (63) was living in the household and identified as a Revolutionary War Pensioner.  Records reveal that she lived the last several years of her life with her daughter.  She passed away in 1848.
In 1844 Mahala married George Milburn.  Daughter Mary Ann married Felix Sipes, and Nancy Jane married Elijah Blisset in that decade.  In Meade County marriage documents, George Millburn signed permission for both to marry. 

Meanwhile, William Jennings Prather had moved in with his future in-laws, William and Nancy Dowell.  In 1855 he married their daughter, Hiland Mary. No record of Edward has been found.

The 1850 census showed three new Milburn children, Jacob Vanmeter, Rebecca and Charles. An 1853 death record for Mahala Milburn reads that she died of complications from the birth of another child.

George Milburn passed away in 1859, leaving three young children without parents.  A sale of his property was held in summer of 1860.  Among the most interesting items were a bay filly, sold to W. Prather for $91.50, and a bay horse, sold to William H Dowell for $80.00.  That was big money in those days!

In 1860 Jacob and Rebecca Milburn were living with Nancy Jane and Elijah Blisset.  Charles Milburn was in the household of William Jennings and Hiland Mary Prather.

With the discovery of the Yesterday and Tomorrow book in the Ancestral Trails Library and the evidence provided through census and on line sources, confirmation of the oral history of the descendants of William Jennings Prather has been realized.  It has been a journey, but well worth the efforts.

In fact, this writer has recently become a member of the Daniel Coleman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Georgetown, Texas.  Captain Jacob Vanmeter is her Patriot Ancestor.

Meanwhile, the search for the roots of William Prather, who married Mahala, continues.  We have an 1806 birth date from Roberta Stimpson, the name William J. Prather from land records, and his birth placed in Kentucky from census data provided by William Jennings Prather and Nancy Blisset.  A new discovery awaits!