Earlier this week, I watched an old episode of my favourite TV show ever, Who Do You Think You Are? (When I grow up, I want to be a genealogical researcher — with an unlimited travel budget!)
Inspired by the program, I’ve resumed my quest to solve one of my own family’s genealogical mysteries – Ma Lilla.
My grandmother, Lurey Curry Albury, told me that her dad’s parents were Pa Wes (Thomas Wesley Curry) and Ma Lilla (Lilla Carleton.) And while Pa Wes’ Curry ancestors are relatively easy to trace, Ma Lilla’s branch of the family tree ends with… Ma Lilla.
Her lineage is a mystery that has perplexed my cousin, Evan Lowe, and me for years. Despite countless hours of research, we can find no confirmed record of her birth, marriage or death.
Here’s what we know for sure:
- Lilla’s maiden name was definitely Carleton. It shows up on the birth records of each of her five children, including my great-grandfather, Pa Herman.
- Lilla’s husband, Pa Wes, was born in 1865, so chances are she was born around or after that date. She had to have been of child-bearing age by 1884, when their oldest child was born, and remained so until the birth of their youngest in 1903. (Based on this, we estimate Lilla was born sometime between 1860 and 1870.)
- She died fairly young. We don’t know exactly when, but it was prior to 1926. That year, the husband of Lilla and Wes’ youngest daughter, Bessie, died. Pa Wes moved in with Bessie to help raise her son (Evan’s dad), John.
- Although she never met her, my grandmother said Lilla’s mother’s name or nickname was Melda.
Not much to go on, is it?
According to the records of our family’s genealogical genius, Joy Lowe Jossi, Lilla’s mother was Romelda Jane Lowe, daughter of John Lowe and Mary Ann Albury Lowe. During her research, Joy was told that Romelda Jane married an American man whose surname was Carleton and who had come to Green Turtle Cay from the U.S.A. They had one child, Lilla, then Mr. Carleton left Romelda and the child and returned to the U.S., leaving Romelda heartbroken.
Sounds straightforward enough, but Evan and I have scoured the Bahamian Civil Registry, Ancestry.com, WikiTree and the Internet as a whole. We can find no evidence of a female child born on Green Turtle Cay (or anywhere in Abaco) between 1860 and 1870 to a father with the surname of Carleton and a mother named Romelda Jane Lowe.
There is evidence that a woman on Green Turtle Cay named Romelda Harris gave birth to a daughter in late 1864, but no father is listed on the record.
Though we know Pa Wes and Ma Lilla were married in the early 1880s, we’ve been unable to locate a record of the marriage. And we can find no documentation of Lilla Curry’s death.
Evan did discover the death certificate for a “Lillian Curry”, who died in Green Turtle Cay on April 10, 1913 (see line 2 below.) The names don’t quite match, but that’s fairly common in these records — we’ve seen Lilla referred to as Lilia in some sources, and Lillian isn’t terribly far removed from that.
So this might be my great-great-grandmother, Ma Lilla. Or it might not.
Does your head hurt yet? Bash it against a brick wall about a thousand times more, and you’ll understand how Evan and I feel.
Can anyone out there shed light on the mystery of Ma Lilla? Evan and I would love to be able to confirm whether or not her mother was in fact Romelda Jane Lowe, and find out the full name (and ancestry) of her father, the mysterious Mr. Carleton.
We’re hoping the descendants of one of Romelda’s siblings and/or one of Ma Lilla’s four daughters, Emmie, Dora, Bessie or Edie might be able to provide evidence that confirms or disproves the above information.
Or perhaps there are Carletons in the States with a male ancestor who spent time in Green Turtle Cay during the mid-1800s… ? At this point, we’d welcome and appreciate any clue, tip, hunch or suggestion.
In the meantime, a new season of Who Do You Think You Are starts March 8 on TLC. Here on the west coast, it airs at 10pm, but check your local listings for the show time in your area.