Sometimes when doing research, you come across a relative whose information has been mixed with a person of the same name. It happens. I’ve addressed this occurrence in previous blogposts. Today, I’m going to address this issue with a new relative in hopes that both current and future researchers will update their records with the most accurate information available.
My focus on this post is on an uncle of mine named William H. Sain. He is also referred to as William Houston Sain. I am going to start with the source of information that I believe is at least partially the root of the terrible horrible, really-bad information that has been shared online about William, on platforms from Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com to personal genealogy websites and message boards.
Sometime after the year 2000 (the most recent year mentioned in the document), a genealogy titled “Sain Clan of Middle Tennessee – Selected Descendants of Daniel Sain and his father Casper (Zurn) Sain” was published by Charles H. Sain of Birmingham, Alabama (which can be read in its entirety here: http://grundycountyhistory.org/04_Coll/Sain%20Clan%20of%20Middle%20TN.pdf). While much of the information is solid, there is information on my particular branch of the Sain tree that is not accurate, and has led to a plethora of misinformation being spread around the internet. Whether or not this source is the original source for the bad information or if Mr. Sain simply absorbed it from other bad sources, it is not clear.
The first red flag raised in this genealogy is that it perpetuates what I call the “Sain Harlot theory”. To summarize, there are four Sain brothers found to have been raised by Daniel Sain and Mary Martha Davis. Appropriately, it has been concluded that this pair were too old to have been the parents of these four brothers. From there, a number of theories have popped up, the most prominent of which is the “Harlot” theory. This has two variations. One is that a daughter of Daniel and Mary had four boys out of wedlock, subsequently naming each child after their biological fathers, who were all members of the family’s church congregation. The second variation is similar, except that the mother is either a sister of Mary Davis, or her daughter from a previous marriage.
Both theories postulate that this woman had children with Elisha Reynolds, Samuel Austin, and a man named Thomas, and named each child accordingly: Elisha Reynolds Sain, Samuel Austin Sain, and Thomas Sain. There is also a fourth child, Noah Webster Sain, who apparently “must have” been the only child that broke the above pattern of naming the children after their fathers, and instead the mother opted for naming the child after theTennessee pioneer. This theory never sat well with me, as it would indicate a striking amount of ignorance among the population of this small, sparsely-populated area that everyone would ignore that a woman was running around town and giving birth to children of all the various men in the area. It’s really quite dumbfounding how anyone ever found this theory plausible, but apparently people have. “Sain Clan of Middle Tennessee” essentially repeats this theory by naming a “Betsey Sain”, a supposed daughter of Daniel and Mary, as the mother of the four boys.
A more plausible theory is the George Sain/Patsey Davis theory. George Sain is known to have existed (unlike the theoretical harlot), as there are primary sources that give his name. He is found in the same church records as Daniel Sain, Elisha Reynolds, and Samuel Austin at the Blue Springs Baptist Church of Christ near Viola, Tennessee. The last entry naming George was in 1830, and an entry in 1831 indicated his wife, Patsey, was deceased. Now whether or not this Patsey was a Davis is still up for debate; I have found no primary sources that indicate she was.
Regardless, it appears this couple died at approximately the same time that Daniel took guardianship of the children (they appear to be the four young men/boys in his household in 1840). It therefore follows that Daniel took in the four orphaned boys of George Sain. Daniel’s and George’s precise relationship is not clear, but it is believed that George was a nephew of Daniel, as a probable son of Daniel’s brother Joseph.
I am not setting about to prove or disprove Patsey’s relationship to the Davis family or George Sain’s relationship to Daniel at this point today. But I would like to point out that George and Patsey Sain (known to have existed) naming 3 of their four children after their friends/neighbors Elisha Reynolds, Samuel Austin, and possibly Thomas Stroud, a deacon of their church, is much more likely than the “harlot” (a woman who may or may not have existed) theory. Further, as recently as May 2015 I found people online discussing the “harlot” theory and believing it to be true, and theorized that the four boys may not have been biological Sains at all. However, my own DNA and the DNA of my grandmother’s brother (a grandson of Olive Sain, daughter of Samuel, son of Elisha Reynolds Sain) has matched to numerous Sains outside of the descendants of the four brothers, which should soundly quash those rumors.
I want to point out this issue because “Sain Clan of Middle Tennessee” further perpetuates this myth, which in my opinion, immediately calls into question the validity of its information as a reliable source.
“Sain Clan of Middle Tennessee” states correctly that brothers Elisha Reynolds Sain and Noah Webster Sain each had sons named William H. Sain, born very closely to one another. Beyond that, the rest of the information presented on the two men is questionable. It is written that William H. Sain, son of Elisha, was born 31 Dec 1842 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and married a “Molly Salter”. No source is given for this date of birth, nor the dates of birth for Elisha’s other children. Given the precise dates, it can plausibly be assumed that the dates came from a bible (I have read online of two family bibles; one owned by Zela Sain McBride, my great grandfather’s 1st cousin, and one that belonged Samuel Austin Sain, Elisha’s brother. Neither has been transcribed online, and I have not found either’s current location.), but without citations, it is not known where this date comes from.
The book goes on to name a “William Houston Sain” as a son of Noah Webster Sain. It states that he was born “circa 1843”, married a Molly Moore, and died in Newton County, Arkansas.
Today, I will outline how these two cousins had their information merged. There is no documentation that either man’s middle name was Houston, though William son of Elisha appeared to have a son whose middle name was Houston. Beyond that, I have concluded that Elisha’s son William is the one who married Molly Moore, not Molly Salter, and is the one that died in Newton County, Arkansas. I am going to trace the lives of each men in order to illustrate how I reached these conclusions.
Both men can be found in the homes of their respective fathers in the 1850 Census. Elisha Sain’s household in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama shows a son William Sain, approximately age 7 and born in Alabama. Noah Sain’s household in Cannon County, Tennessee shows a son William H. Sain, approximately age 8, born in Tennessee. From this point forward, I will refer to Elisha’s son as William of Alabama, and Noah’s son as William of Tennessee.
By the 1860 Census, Noah had passed, but William of Tennessee can be found in his mother Nancy’s household Coffee County, Tennessee. William of Alabama is still in his father’s household, which is now located in Lowndes County, Mississippi. It should be noted at this point that the capitals of Coffee and Lowndes counties are Manchester, TN and Columbus, MS, respectively. These cities are 250 miles apart.
On September 29th, 1864, William H. Sain married Mary E. Moore in Lowndes County, Missippi. Why on Earth researchers have assumed that William of Tennessee moved 250 miles to Mississippi in the middle of the Civil War to get married, instead of realizing that there was already a William Sain in Lowndes County who obviously must be the one who got married there, I will never know. It is obvious that William of Alabama is the William who married Mary E. Moore. I don’t know who “Molly Salter” was; I have found no information about her. I have not found if she was the wife of William of Tennessee, or perhaps a 2nd spouse to William of Alabama, but there are no records indicating either.
I do not currently have a subscription to Fold3.com in order to look at the original copies of Civil War service records, but in this case they are not necessary. I did not find any William Sains who fit the age, geographic locale, and/or middle initial for William H. Sain of Tennessee in any Civil War service records for Tennessee. A William H. Sain (or W. H. Sain) in Mississippi enrolled in two military units during the Civil War: Company H of the 6th Mississippi Cavalry, and Company F of the 43rd Mississippi. Information from the FamilySearch.org page for the 6th Cavalry indicates that the majority of the members of Company H of the 6th Mississippi Cavalry were from Lowndes County, Mississippi (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/6th_Regiment,_Mississippi_Cavalry&hl=en&gl=us&strip=1&vwsrc=0). The Wikipedia page for the 43rd Mississippi Infantry indicates that the majority of soldiers in Company F were from Lowndes County. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/43rd_Mississippi_Infantry)
Also enrolling in the 6th Mississippi Cavalry was the younger brother of William H. Sain of Alabama, Elisha Thomas Sain, who was in the same company with other Lowndes County men. So despite numerous researchers stating that William of Tennessee served in the Civil War in the 6th MS Cavalry (which he would have had to travel 250 miles to enroll in, mind you), this is incorrect. The man who served in the 6th Cavalry and 43rd Infantry was William H. Sain, son of Elisha Reynolds Sain, not the son of Noah Webster Sain.
I want to take this moment to dispute two online message board posts relating to the Civil War service of William of Alabama and his father, Elisha. It’s important to do so, in my opinion, because undoubtedly future researchers who are Google-searching William and Elisha will come across these posts, and I do not want those researchers to believe the information is accurate. The first was posted in 2005, here: http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/surnames.sain/148/mb.ashx. It states that William “Houston” Sain who married Molly Moore served in Josey’s Arkansas 15th Infantry, Company A.
In actuality, the William Sain who served in the AR 15th was a 3rd, unrelated William Sain. The Wikipedia page for this unit indicates that the majority of men from that unit in Company A were from Monroe County. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15th_Arkansas_Infantry_Regiment_(Josey%27s) It should be noted at this point that as I’ve stated above, these lists indicate where the MAJORITY of men from each company were from. Sometimes, companies were made up of condensed companies, and therefore had men from more than one area. Other times, men opted to serve in another Company because a relative or relatives were in that company, and they wished to serve under them. Other times, if they live on the border of a certain county, it’s possible that the capital city of the neighboring county is closer (sometimes significantly closer) to their home than the capital of their own county, so they would then travel there to enlist.
In this William Sain’s case, I do not know which scenario led to his being in Company A. But Company E of his unit did include men from Desha County, Arkansas. And wouldn’t you know it? There is a 26-year old William Sain living in Desha County in the 1860 Census: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M8WM-NVH. I am forced to conclude that not only for this reason, but because William of Alabama was living in Mississippi and enrolled in a unit there, and because there is also no indication that William of Tennessee ever ventured to south-central Arkansas, that the William Sain of Josey’s Arkansas 15th Infantry is neither William of Alabama, nor William of Tennessee.
There is also this story floating around, which I have already seen pasted onto other genealogy blogs and onto Ancestry.com trees: http://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/sain/225/. Not only does this post perpetuate the likely-myth of the “Harlot mother”, it also states, in part: “At the outbreak of the Civil War, the family was moving in a caravan from Tuscaloosa to Arkansas. When they reached Jackson, MS all the able-bodied men were enlisted.” The rest of the post regarding service is true. Elisha did serve under General Nathan Bedford Forrest as an engineer in the (Mississippi) First State Infantry, and William H. (of Alabama) did serve in the 6th Cavalry. But it’s this little additional story I shared with which I take issue.
The 1860 Census clearly indicates the family was residing in Mississippi. This story would have you believe that the family was en route from Alabama to Arkansas, and then they were forced to stop in Mississippi and coerced into joining the Confederacy there. It’s true that Mississippi enacted a law requiring all able-bodied males to enlist to fight with the Confederacy, something most other Confederate states did not require. But to me, this seems like a “saving face” story for the family; it is as if they are saying, “Elisha and William did not want to fight for the Confederacy, but they were stopped in Mississippi and forced to!” instead of just admitting, “Elisha and William served in the Confederacy, either because they wanted to volunteer or because they were residents of Mississippi and therefore obliged by the law to serve”. There is nothing wrong with the latter sentence; it is the truth. But to imply the former statement is to try and cover up that yes, the Sains were Southern people, raised in Southern states, and likely sympathized with Southern beliefs and causes.
It is what it is. But it’s silly to cover up their Confederate sympathies by pretending they weren’t actually residents of Mississippi and were simply conscripted to fight for the South. It does a disservice to their memories and legacies, regardless of your feelings about the Confederate cause. Elisha and William were fully fledged residents of Mississippi, as proven by the Census, and they were not simply “passing through” on their way from Alabama to Arkansas.
By 1870, Elisha Reynolds Sain is now living in Independence County, Arkansas in the vicinity of a number of his in-laws, the Lawrence family. The Census will show that just a couple households from his was the household of his son, Elisha Thomas Sain. If you flip one page over, you will find the household of…you guessed it: William H. Sain. Please note that he states he was born in Alabama, not Tennessee. Please note that his wife’s name is Mary E. Sain, strongly indicating she is the Mary E. Moore who married William H. Sain six years prior in Lowndes County, MS. And by this time, they also have a child named Titus.
Any reasonable researcher, in my opinion, would conclude that if Elisha Reynolds Sain had a son named William H. Sain the same age as the William H. Sain in the 1870 Census of Independence County, Arkansas, and they were a mere single page apart (just a handful of households between them), that this William was clearly Elisha’s son. Well, apparently some researchers need the obvious pointed out to them. So let’s completely throw that point out the window, and consult the 1870 Census in Coffee County, Tennessee. There you will find—shocker!!!—William Sain, born about 1843 in Tennessee, living with his mother, Nancy, the widow of Noah Webster Sain.
Despite this fact, researchers still want to believe that the William who is in Independence County in 1870, and who is the father of Titus, is the William of Tennessee who is the son of Noah Webster Sain. The 1870 Census destroys that theory beyond a reasonable doubt, even without the rest of the aforementioned evidence. BUT WAIT—THERE’S MORE!
William of Tennessee is not found again after the 1870 Census. I have not found him in any other records. This is the William, son of Noah Webster Sain. William of Alabama can be found in Johnson County, Arkansas in 1880. He is found again in Logan County, Arkansas in 1900. The 1880 Census shows he is the father of Titus, a unique enough name that we can be sure he is the same William who is in Independence County in 1870. The 1900 Census shows that he married his wife Mary in 1864. But wait, isn’t that the same year William H. Sain married Mary E. Moore in Lowndes County, Mississippi?! You got it.
William also filed for a Confederate Pension while in Arkansas. This was for his service in Mississippi. The file does not give an extraordinary amount of genealogy information, but it does give some. It proves he served in the 6th Mississippi Cavalry. It gives his date of death as February 18th, 1902 (“at home”, according to his widow) [“Near Summit, Newton County, Arkansas”]. And it gives his wife’s middle named as Elizabeth. It states he was hit by shrapnel that went through both of his hands during the war. Multiple comrades attested to his service and his injuries. Further, on a handwritten portion of the application for widows’ pension after William had died, it gives Mary’s maiden name as “More” (spelled this way once) or “Moore” (spelled this way later). (Can be viewed here: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-16102-55851-51?cc=1837922&wc=M617-P38:164385201).
This portion of the application states that their family bible gives their date of marriage as September 29th, 1864. That matches the above-referenced marriage record in Mississippi.
If for some reason the above-stated facts aren’t enough, let’s theorize as to the circumstances that would need to occur in order for Noah’s son William of Tennessee to be the William of Lowndes County, MS, and Independence, Johnson, Logan, and Newton counties, AR and have that NOT be Elisha’s son William of Alabama.
Noah’s son William of Tennessee would have had to travel 250 miles from his parents and siblings to live near his uncle and cousins in Mississippi. He would have then migrated to Arkansas with them, all the while claiming he had been born in Alabama like his cousin William H. Sain, instead of claiming his actual birthplace, Tennessee. And all of this would have had to have happened while his cousin William H. fell of the face of the planet, never to be located again. It all seems rather ridiculous to think anyone would combine these two persons like this, but researchers have, and will continue to until they recognize their errors.
If you sense some recurring sarcasm and frustration in this article, it’s because I am quite frustrated with all of this and sarcasm seems to be the only way for me to clarify what should be a simple realization. These facts as-stated make it obvious who is who when it comes to William H. vs. William H., but for some reason multiple researchers over multiple decades have failed to properly analyze the facts and come to a logical conclusion. I am hopeful that future researchers of either William H. Sain will come across this article and ensure their information is correct.
Additionally, it should be noted that while reviewing all of the primary sources we have for William H. Sain of Alabama, that none of these sources indicated his middle name is Houston. So even though a descendant ordered a Confederate headstone and put the middle name Houston on it, it doesn’t make it true. It might be, but there have been no primary sources identified that I have found that prove this. As previously noted, his son had the middle name Houston, but that does not mean that he did. His Confederate headstone should not be taken seriously regardless; it has his year of death as 1909, even though his pension and original headstone quite clearly say 1902.
Lastly, it should be noted that as I stated above, it appears that the birthdates for Elisha Reynolds Sain’s children came from a bible that I have not identified or located. If that is the case, then the date of birth listed there does not match the date of birth on William’s headstone. The above “Sain Clans of Middle Tennessee” gives his date of birth as December 31, while his headstone says November 30. It is likely that one of the following circumstances occurred: either the (potentially fictional) bible record was started years after William’s birth and his date was not recorded correctly, or his family members simply got it wrong when he died, which would not be the first time that has happened. In the 1900 Census, William gives his own month of birth as November, so I believe that date is the one to be trusted.