Thursday, January 31, 2013

What Happened to Melissa A. Petty?

Everything I know about Melissa is from two census records.

In 1860 and 1870, she lived with John R. and Margaret (Thomas) Petty. There is no actual proof that she was their daughter but I do have proof that the other children living with them in those years were their children. Melissa was born the year following their marriage so it's likely she was their first child. 

John R. and Margaret were married on 20 September 1857 in Whitfield County, Georgia. They lived in McMinn County, Tennessee in 1860; two-year old Melissa and three-month-old Henry Milton lived with them. 

1860, McMinn County, TN
After living in Whitfield County, Georgia for several years during the 1860s, the family moved to Logan County, Kentucky. The 1870 census shows Melissa, Milton and four other children, Samantha, Mary, Daniel and Joseph, living with John R. and Margaret.
1870, Logan County, KY
Melissa's age was given as 2 in 1860 and 11 in 1870 so she was probably born in 1858. Both records list her birthplace as Tennessee. She could not read or write in 1870 and had not attended school during that year. That is everything.

After 1870, John R. and Margaret had four more sons, Oliver Perry, Nathaniel, John Franklin and W. O. The youngest one, W. O., was born in June 1876 in Hopkins County, Kentucky and died before he was a month old. Margaret died from complications of childbirth less than a month after W. O.'s death.  

By 1880, the six youngest surviving children lived in Forsyth County, Georgia (five with Margaret's sister and one with an unrelated family). Samantha and Milton remained in Hopkins County. They both appear there in the 1880 census. Melissa hasn't been found after that 1870 census record, specifically not in Hopkins County marriage records.

Samantha Petty was my great-grandmother. No one in my family seemed to know anything about Melissa. I've made contact with descendants from four of the other Petty children and none of them have any additional information about Melissa. That led me to speculate that Melissa might have died young.

While working on the Petty family last month, I re-read everything I have for them. One item was a newspaper article that John Franklin’s great-grandson shared with me several months ago. Another was the text of Samantha’s obituary.

The newspaper article is about brothers John Franklin and Oliver Perry Petty reuniting after 44 years apart. The date of the article isn’t known but it refers to Samantha and notes that she was 73 years old. She was born in 1861 so the publication date was probably sometime in 1934. That article is significant to this discussion about Melissa because of this sentence. “J. F. Petty went to Madisonville, Ky, 44 years ago from Atlanta, Ga., to live with his oldest sister, Mrs. S. A. Hankins, who is now 73 years of age.”  

Oldest sister? Melissa was the oldest sister, not Samantha. This seemed to fit with my theory that Melissa died young—young enough that late in life John considered Samantha to be his oldest sister.

Of course, it can’t be that easy.

I was still considering this as a clue to Melissa’s early death when I re-read Samantha’s obituary. Samantha died in 1944. I don’t have a copy of her obituary (yet), just a transcript that was given to me by another family member. These two sentences threw a wrench into my theory. “Mrs. Hankins was the last one of her immediate family. Three brothers and a sister have died in the last fifteen months.”

A sister died in the last fifteen months?

Samantha only had two sisters—Melissa and Mary. Mary died in 1891. No doubt about that. If Melissa died sometime in the fifteen months prior to Samantha’s death she certainly didn’t die young. She wasn't even deceased when that newspaper article was published. 

Is this information correct? I don’t know about a sister but brothers Oliver Perry, John Franklin and Nathaniel died during that time frame so the three brothers part is accurate.

Hmmm. Back to my original question. What happened to Melissa A. Petty? I have no idea but I'll keep looking.

If you have the answer or even a clue, please e-mail me.


  1. Oh my goodness, you seem so close to finding out more about Melissa. So close. Good hunting! I'm sure you'll find more clues soon.

  2. I have no idea what happened to Melissa, but it's good to know that my family is not the only one with these types of little mysteries.