52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: First

I started the 52 in 52 challenge last year but let perfect get in the way of progress…and sure enough, I almost fell into the same trap this morning. Not this time – I refuse to be stifled by perfection! So these posts may not be perfect – the analysis and insights are genuine and well-intentioned. I have (or have seen) the records mentioned and any “fact” I’m unsure of is appropriately labeled with varying levels of doubt or uncertainty. So what are these posts missing? Proper citations. I get hung up on those when I’m writing narratives and proofs. I’m working on it though, and maybe by the end of the year I’ll figure it all out. In the meantime – here’s my first post in the #52ancestors challenge.


First brick wall

First record I ordered

First puzzle I will apply DNA to help solve (hopefully)

Nancy Zenobia West, my great grandmother, is the source of my first brick wall and to this day continues to entertain and intrigue me. I wish I had known her. She died just a few months before I turned four and despite having been around her I have no memory of her. Over the years, I’ve revisited the puzzle of her parentage and early childhood but still get stumped. The red herrings she passed along didn’t help in the beginning. Once I let the records do the talking (and enlisted the help of a fresh set of eyes) I was able to make some headway, and just in the past months have made progress on what is most likely her mother’s side of the family. Her father still remains a solid mystery.

“Little Granny”, as she was known to her grandkids, recalled that she was born in Texas around 1890 and remembered “coming back east on a wagon train.” This intrigued me. I had only just begun researching my family when I heard this tale and was excited that I had a family member born in another state (how exotic!) – she would be the first one in my early research not born in Georgia.

Prophett, Nobie and Jean

This is Little Granny with my mom, Jean. You can’t see them in this picture, but mom says I have Little Granny’s thick calves. Do I detect the slightest bit of mischief in her eyes (both if I’m being honest!)

Back to the red herrings

Did I mention the red herrings?

The only records I’ve found that have her parents names linked together with her is the typewritten record copy of her application for Social Security benefits filed when she was around 75 years old.[1] I ordered it way back before I really knew what I was doing and was thrilled when it came in the mail and did, indeed, show that she was born in Abilene, Texas. And her death certificate, informed by her son.[2]

I have since learned that the Social Security Administration was much looser with their requirements back then and only required a witness to attest to the facts stated on the application. The witness in this case was Noby’s adult son – the same son who informed her death certificate. But, it is also the only record I have with Noby as the source which names her parents as William Thomas West and Mary Elizabeth Knight.

There was a Thomas West and a Minnie Knight in Texas with a daughter named Nancy born around 1892. But that Nancy died in 1909. In Texas – the state. She was definitely not my great grandmother.

Decades passed and my research focused elsewhere. But I would always come back to Little Granny’s puzzle. Surely if she was born in Texas, she would show up on a record somewhere – or her parents would. But nada. Nope. Just that one. Always the same result, no matter how I searched.

I’m not saying Little Granny was a liar. Maybe this is the story she was told. Maybe its the story she pieced together. Or maybe Little Granny was a teller of tales. Or maybe it’s right and its up to me to prove it.

Actual records

The earliest record I have of Little Granny is the 1920 census for Troup County, Georgia, after she has married and has a few children. I know this is her because I know the names of my maternal grandfather’s siblings. This does nothing to solve the problem of her birth – except cement the fact that she did, indeed, exist. And presumably because she existed, she had parents. Her oldest, a daughter, does carry the name Mary. And later there is a son named Bill – but both of those names are common enough that they aren’t tells or clues.

Fun with Census

Prior to 1920, I found a Noby Knight of the appropriate age in the 1910 census.(okay, I didn’t find her – that fresh set of eyes at a Genealogy conference found her! Thanks, Lori!) It probably helps that I didn’t tell Lori about the Texas thing. She had no preconceived notions about where to look.

Noby Knight is living with what appears to be a maternal uncle, V(irgil) N. Knight, his sister, and their mother, Molly Knight. Also in the household are a few nieces and one nephew to Virgil any of which could be Noby’s siblings. Uncle Virgil had a couple of brothers – neither whom research revealed to be the parents of any of the kids in Virgil’s 1910 household. So it seems that if the children are Virgil’s nieces, then they are the children of one of Virgil’s four sisters. Only eldest sister Mary or next eldest Martha Isabelle would be the right age to be Noby and Josie’s mother.


Josie West – of the same age to be Josie Knight – is in a 1900 household with her older sister Cora Pauline West. Who’s household, you ask? None other than Martha Knight who is described as the girls’ grandmother. There are also two adult daughters in the household, Mattie and Sarah. Neither of whom have given birth (according to that column on the 1900 census).

Based on age and the common nickname of Molly for Martha, this Martha head of household appears to be the same woman described as Virgil’s mother in the 1910 census. Mattie in the 1900 household is very likely the Martha Isabelle in Virgil’s 1910 household. Martha Isabelle was one of Virgil’s two older sisters of the right age to be Jose and Noby’s mother – but based on the fact that she apparently didn’t have any children in 1900, she doesn’t have the same surname as Cora and Josie on the 1900 census, and that she died as a single woman as indicated on her death certificate informed by her sister[3], she is probably not the girls’ mother.

There is no evidence that the elder Martha Knight was married prior to Nathaniel[4] thus apparently does not have any sons with a “West” surname who could be the father of Cora and Josie.

That leaves Mary Elizabeth Knight, daughter of Martha A. (St. John) and Nathaniel Knight, and eldest sister of Virgil N. Knight, as the likeliest mother to Josie and Noby. And it matches what Noby always said. So there’s that.

But wait – there’s more.

While I’ve not yet found any other life events for Josie, her sister Cora Pauline West (of the 1900 Martha Knight household) eventually married, had kids, and died. On Cora’s death certificate, informed by Cora’s daughter, are the names Tom West and Mary Knight as Cora’s parents.[5]

Oh – and all those people? They were born and/or lived in Georgia.

Texas, Georgia

A small unincorporated town in Heard County, just a few miles from Troup County – where Noby eventually raised her family.


To summarize so far:

William Thomas West and Mary Elizabeth Knight, daughter of Martha A.R. (St. John) Knight, had at least three daughters: Cora Pauline, Josie, and Nancy Zenobia (Noby) West. Noby was born around 1892. In 1900 the two oldest daughters are living with their maternal grandmother, Martha A.R. Knight and by 1910 the two youngest are living with maternal uncle Virgil Knight.

Noby’s mother, Mary, may have died around the time that Noby was born. There is a Mary Elizabeth Knight, wife of W.T. West, buried in Liberty Hill Masonic cemetery in Heard County, Georgia – not far from the town of Texas. (that little green marker on the map above). The date on the headstone is 1899 – a few years before any records of Noby’s birth. But the headstone is new – added in the 1970s and efforts to find old cemetery records, beyond a book listing undated field stones, have not helped. The only other clue in this cemetery is the grave of Nathaniel Knight – Mary’s father.

Noby has not yet been found in the 1900 census.

None of the children have been found on a census with either parent.

Neither parent are found on a census together – or in any other reliable records.

William Thomas West cannot be found with certainty before 1910.

Hurdles and handicaps:

That blasted 1890 census would be a great help – as would probate records from Heard County, Georgia. If I’m right about Mary, her father died just a few years before her and possibly created some type of probate records that could help. If William pawned the three girls off onto his late wife’s family, there might be some type of guardianship records (not likely, but possible). Also – either of the men could have owned land – thus be found on tax records, etc. If William/Tom and Mary did actually marry – that might be recorded somewhere in county records. But alas, any genealogist knows the fate of the 1890 census and, of course, there’s this “The courthouse at Franklin [Heard County, GA] burned twice: first on 14 April 1839, and second on 10 March 1894. The two fires destroyed about 70 years of county records.” (FamilySearch Wiki: Heard County, Georgia). All of the records that may help were most likely created prior to 1894.

Enter the DNA solution

That above is a lot of work, and almost certainly proves that the Noby in thar 1910 census is the daughter of Mary Elizabeth Knight. But what I can’t prove is that Noby in that 1910 census is the same Nobie, Little Granny, our family knew and loved. DNA can help.

It can also help with narrowing down, or eliminating, her possible fathers.

There are a few William T West in the records…

There is this record:


It shows a William T. West with a wife of 17 years and a 10 year old daughter named Nancy J. Were William T and Marth(*?) really married for 17 years – or 7? If so, is she Mary Elizabeth Knight of Little Granny lore? Is Nancy J actually Nancy Z? I’ll have to sort it out, because otherwise I’ve not done due diligence.

There is also a fellow on Ancestry who has William “Bill” West as an ancestor. This Bill would be the right age, but there is neither a Noby or a Nancy shown in his 1900 household and no indication in the online tree that Bill was married before the wife listed in the 1900 household. Notes indicate the tree owner is just as skeptical and unsure about his William “Bill” T West as I am. I’m hoping the owner of the tree is a)reliable with his paper trail b)a direct descendant of Bill and c)open to sharing DNA.

But there’s a twist…if the Bill in the online tree is “my” Bill and the information about his parentage is correct – then William Thomas Tom/Bill West and Mary Elizabeth Knight shared a common great-grandfather, James St. John, making them second cousins. Making DNA analysis a bit trickier.

Research Plan (continued)

My next steps, while waiting to hear back from the Bill West descendant via Ancestry, are to ask cousins and family for DNA and also figure out the William T West family in the census image above.

  • Search for records of his son to get a better idea of the mother’s name
  • Search 1910 and later census for the family
  • Look for tax and probate records in Heard County, post 1894, naming a William or Bill or Tom West.

So – not what you might typically find among #52ancestors posts – and maybe even not how others I’ll write will go. But it’s been a great exercise in analyzing the evidence and shoring up my argument for Noby’s mother’s name. Maybe even my first stab at a proper proof argument.

If you see any holes in my analysis or have any creative ideas for where to look next, please drop me a note. Seriously – it took me 20 years to find Noby in the county right next door and even that took help!

Until next week!

Where will your research take you?


[1] “Request for E/R Action” for Nobie West Prophett, dated 25 Sep 1965, derivative image copy, family files

[2] Georgia Department of Vital Records, Nancy ZeNobie Prophett Death Certificate, #11933, image copy of county certificate, Troup County Health Department, LaGrange Georgia.

[3] Georgia Health Department, Office of Vital Records. Certificate of Death #30468 (1939), Martha Isabell Knight; Troup County Health Department, LaGrange; database online Ancestry “Georgia, Deaths Index, 1914-1940,” (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2562 : accessed 01 November 2018) film #004569519.

[4] Troup County, Georgia “Marriages, Book D, 1852-1865,” p. 236, for “Knight and StJohns,” married 18 October 1861; image online Ancestry.com Georgia, Marriage Records From Select Counties, 1828-1978,” (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4766 : accessed 01 November 2018), image 103.

[5] Georgia Health Department, Office of Vital Records. Certificate of Death #35933 (1936), Cora Pauline Abner; Troup County Health Department, LaGrange; database online Ancestry “Georgia, Deaths Index, 1914-1940,” (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2562 : accessed 01 November 2018) film # 004568968.

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