Thursday, June 5, 2014

That Infamous 1890 Sinkhole

In 1921, a huge chunk of the stored 1890 census was destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Building here in Washington, DC. More can be read about that fire here. Genealogist Robyn Smith calls it “The 1880 Donut Hole,” as she brilliantly demonstrates its effect on her research in her blog post. However, I personally would like to call it “That Infamous 1890 Sinkhole” because it has the potential of swallowing up entire family branches, never knowing that they even existed. That “Infamous 1890 Sinkhole” caused a family branch in my Ealy family tree to go unknowingly missing for 20 years. Additionally, that omitted family branch even contains someone quite famous! This is how I stumbled across them and my famous relative.

Recently, I was browsing through an old Ealy Family Reunion booklet that a family member had given me some years ago. The Ealy Family has been having family reunions every two years since 1974. Much of the history and family tree included in past booklets were based on oral history and family recollections. To a researcher, this information can be hugely helpful in tracing the roots of the family. I compared the family tree to the one I had built. My family tree was primarily based on names I had found in census records. Not surprising, the family tree in that reunion booklet contained names that I was unaware of, or had missed, and I had additional names that were not listed. I soon realized that one of the missing from my family tree was a daughter of my great-grandmother’s sister, Annie Ealy Beamon. Her name was simply listed as Jessie Butler. How in the world did I miss Cousin Jessie?

My great-great-grandparents, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy & Jane Parrott Ealy, had at least 13 children, born between 1845 and 1871. Aunt Annie was their second oldest daughter, who was born around 1852. She was reported in their household in the 1870 Leake County, Mississippi census. Also, a marriage record revealed that Aunt Annie married Moses Beamon on January 20, 1874 in nearby Scott County.

I then found Aunt Annie and her budding family in the following 1880 Scott County census. There was no child named Jessie.

Moses & Annie Ealy Beamon with three young children when this 1880 census was taken – Lula (age 5), Edward (known as William Edward) (age 3), and an unnamed son (age 1)

Since the 1890 census was destroyed, the next available census was the 1900 census. Twenty years had passed. The following is Aunt Annie’s house in the 1900 Scott County census. Again, there was no child named Jessie in the house.

Moses & Annie Ealy Beamon with seven children in the house in 1900, including twins, Cora & Dora.
Their oldest son, William Edward Beamon, lived next door with his new bride, Jennie

Although seven of Aunt Annie’s children were in the house, with her oldest son living next door, someone from the house told the census enumerator that Aunt Annie was the mother of 11 children with all 11 of them living. I could only count 9 children. According to Scott County marriage records, her oldest child, Lula Bell Beamon, had married Lafayette (Fate) Ferrell on Dec. 15, 1894. They lived nearby. Therefore, who were the other two children who weren’t living in her house in 1900? Maybe one of them was Jessie?

Luckily, for Mississippi researchers, the Enumeration of Educable Children records are great resources and a great substitute for the missing 1890 census. A school census of all children was mandated by the state of Mississippi.  These records were started in 1878, and they reported the names of all school-age children between the age of 5 and 20 years old for each county.  The age and sex of each child were recorded.  Most of the records were taken every four years.  After 1878, the records were divided into districts and by household with the name of a guardian, typically a parent.  Also, after 1878, the records were racially divided.  Most of these records have been digitized and are now online here at  The 1885-1896 records have proven to be a great substitute for the twenty-year “sinkhole” in the census records that was caused when most of the 1890 census was destroyed.

The earliest school record online for Scott County was for the year 1885. However, when I checked those 1885 school records, there was no school-age child named Jessie listed for Moses Beamon, who was noted in the following two separate entries. Instead, three school-age children between 5 and 20 were recorded: Lula (10), William (8), and Hassie (5). Maybe Hassie was Jessie? Or maybe Jessie was under the age of 5 and therefore not recorded? Which one is it?

1885 Educable Children records – Scott County (Harperville district), Mississippi

I then decided to check the Scott County, Mississippi History & Genealogy Network site to see if I can find a marriage record for a Jessie Beamon to a Butler groom. I hit pay dirt! There was a marriage for a Jessie Beeman to Sam Butler, and the marriage date was Feb. 20, 1900. Bingo! Next, I checked the 1900 Scott County census to see if I could find these newlyweds. Bingo again! I found them.

1900 Scott County, Mississippi Census - Sam (21) & Jessie Butler (17) (newlyweds)

According to the 1900 census, Jessie’s reported birth date was March 1883. Therefore, she was almost 17 years old when she married Sam Butler. She was too young to be recorded in the 1885 Educable Children records. She was born after the 1880 census, and she was married and living in her own house with her new husband when the 1900 census was taken. That’s why I had missed her, and she had been missing for 20 years in my family tree. Later censuses (1910, 1920, 1930, 1940) revealed that she and Sam Butler had at least 8 children: Willie (1903), Austin (1904), Johnnie Mae (1909), Robert (1912), Wilson (1914), L.A. (1917), Cora Lee (1919), and Elizabeth Butler (1920).

A Facebook friend, Davita Baloue, who I knew is connected to the Butlers from Scott County, informed me that this was indeed her family. We then realized that we are cousins! To add, she also informed me that Sam & Jessie’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was the maternal grandmother of the well-known gospel singer, songwriter, and minister, Pastor Marvin Sapp, of Grand Rapids, Mich. So not only did that “Infamous 1890 Sinkhole” caused me to miss this family branch for two decades, but it caused me to not even know until recently that Marvin Sapp is my 3rd cousin-once removed. I hope that one day, someone will alert Cousin Marvin to this blog post for him to learn more about his maternal grandmother’s maternal roots.

In 23andMe DNA, my father and I share 21 cM of DNA across 2 segments with
Annie Ealy Beamon's great-great-great-grandson, Raymond Beamon

Marvin Sapp with his three children, from left, Marvin Jr., Mikaila, and Madisson.
(Source; public domain)

The obituary of Marvin Sapp’s maternal grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Butler Stribling (1920-2000) of Forest, Mississippi, the daughter of Jessie Beamon Butler and the granddaughter of Annie Ealy Beamon
(Shared by Davita Baloue)

Marvin Sapp – “Never Would Have Made It”


  1. A very fitting blog title, along with a great song "Never Would Have Made It". That missing 1890 Census constantly haunts me. By the way, not all of the educable school records have been loaded online yet. It probably varies by county. I know Attala, Panola, and Yalobusha County have some years that have not been digitized yet.

    1. Thanks for reminding me! I edited the post to reflect that all hadn't been digitized. BTW..I tear up when I listen to that song.

    2. Hi,

      Mississippi Dept of Archives & History has digitized the Educable Children records for the time periods 1850-1894; 1906-1965 and include Attala, Panola, and Yalobusha counties. You can view them online

  2. That is an awesome find and perfect song for this blog post!

  3. What can I say....awesome! I am particularly interested in this line also because of my cousin match on 23 and me to Raymond Beamon as well. Thanks Melvin!

  4. Love reading your blog posts, Melvin, especially this one. To roll up your sleeves and "dig" out a "missing" relative/family branch missed because of the 1890 non-census sounds fascinating. You gave me some research tips, too, for Mississippi; a hard nut to crack, that state. Congratulations on your newly found cousins.

  5. I sent the link to this blog to Marvin's brother Henry on facebook, so hopefully he will come here and share with Marvin.

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  7. Excellent research Mel! Marvin Sapp is one of my favorite Gosepl singers.

  8. I had to check on this one more time! I still love it. Glad you brought this subject up. Reminded me once again to keep looking for odd documents to fill in the sides of the Hole. Love the song! Still Hollerin'!

  9. Great find Melvin! That's one of the reasons I love old ephemera. It can be filled with all kinds of clues! ��

  10. That was an amazing AHA! moment for you! As the X-Files motto said "The Truth Is Out There". The path to the truth can take us to some very strange places sometimes, but it can open some amazing doors.
    My personal biggest AHA! moments have come from guessing how badly someone could butcher a surname, and getting a hit. Creative thinking is helpful.
    Congratulations on your discovery.

  11. What an awesome discovery Melvin! Congratulations and yes "The Truth Is Out There." as Mike stated above.

  12. Thanks, everyone! I hope Cousin Jessie forgave me for taking this long to finally include her! Blame that fire! :-)

  13. What a great find! And a terrific piece of research. Well done.

  14. Thank you for all of your research, hard work and perserverence cousin. With this new discovery our family can continue to learn about our past and develop new relationships with family members in the future.

  15. Melvin thanks for your article on That Infamous 1890 Sinkhole. This is one of the areas that I had difficulty locating relatives.

    As with your article "Ain't Gonna Take Massa's Name", I suspect that is why my dad changed the spelling of his last name from Jeter to Geiter. His first name (Hennings ) is the name of a town in Tennessee. In my genealogy research of South Carolina where his mother was from, there were several plantations with family names of Jeter.

    Another article that ties into my paternal grandmother is "African Americans with West Indian Ties". My paternal grandmother was West Indian. Some of the census labeled her a malouto, some black, and often a blank space or question mark where race was indicated. I have photos of her; she was 4 ft 5 with high cheek bones and long wavy hair. Several of her children had her features, my dad being one of them. One of my siblings and myself have the high cheek bones.

    Melvin, thanks again for your articles. It shows me that I still have a lot of research to do on lost relatives. I commend you for your hard consistent research.

  16. You never seem to amaze me. I am in AWE OF YOU!

  17. Awesome post! I just discovered this database and it is a must for anyone with ancestors in Mississippi during the "sinkhole" era. I'm still looking for my ancestor and his kids but they are hard to find because they moved around a lot.

  18. Could we be cousins? Mom was a Beaman. Her grandfather was Willie Beaman...married to Lona Holifield---both of Scott County, Forest MS. I will follow you on Facebook too.


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