Good News and Bad News: An Unexpected Delay and a Long-Awaited Discovery

Good News and Bad News: An Unexpected Delay and a Long-Awaited Discovery

As we reach the end of January, I wanted to give you a very important update onThe Wathens of Southern Maryland: Their Genealogy & History. This update includes some good news and some bad news.

I'll start with the bad news.

I have previously announced that I was awaiting some final Y-DNA results, but was on schedule to begin shipping books by March. Unfortunately, there was an unexpected hiccup with that final Y-DNA test, and results will not be back to me by March. That has left me with the very difficult decision of whether to delay publication or to publish without those Y-DNA results. Without the results, the ancestry of James Hanson Wathen, the largest Wathen branch of St. Mary's County, would remain a mystery. With the results, I might be able to solve that mystery, though there is never a guarantee.

After careful consideration, I've decided that it's in everyone's best interest that I delay publication until I am able to get results from that final Y-DNA test, hopefully shedding more light on the mystery of James Hanson Wathen. I am not going to announce a date yet, since I want to get a better handle on when to expect test results, but I expect the delay will be a month or two. I apologize for the change of plans and thank you for your patience!

I do, however, have a bit of good news!

Not everyone will appreciate this tidbit, but I was quite excited. After a recent trip to another parish in the Archdiocese of Washington for work, I decided to swing by the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis in an effort to track down a document that I had been unable to find so far. Way back in 2017, I saw a very brief reference to my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Olivia Jenkins Wathen, in a book called Abstracts of the Levy Court Records for St. Mary’s County, Maryland: “Mrs. Mary L. Wathen. Her husband died 1/30/1873. She has three children -- a daughter, 12; a son, John Thomas, 7 years old; and a son, William, 4 years old. 2/10.”[i] William Lawrence Wathen was my great-great grandfather, John Thomas Wathen was the ancestor other local Wathens, including the late Kenny Wathen of Kenny's Flowers, and the unnamed daughter was Mary Olivia Wathen, who does not seem to have survived into adulthood.

An "abstract" is a summary of some historical record, and this book was summarizing a document that described the death of my great-great-great grandfather, Benedict Aloysius Wathen. But where could I find the original document? The original book didn't say. Would the original record contain some additional information?

I've been to the Maryland State Archives about half a dozen times over the past few years, and each time I've requested folders and ledgers that I thought might contain the original record on which this abstract was based, but I've been dissapointed over and over again. I was just about out of reasonable records to request, so I was pretty confident that my trip this month would be a success. Lo and behold, the last folder that I opened this time contained two pieces of paper referencing Mary Wathen's request for financial assistance after the death of her husband. The pages don't include any breathtaking new information, but provide a few new clues.

The first page, which seems to have been written by Mary herself, reads as follows, with all of its original, unique spelling intact:

I Mrs Mary L. Wathen as a Pertitner do Hombley beg of the Comitiners of Saint Marys County to graint hier a Pension for her Self and pore little childron whomb is left in the world disolite for help for to morne the loss of their dear Father whome has diseed and left them to Suffer My dear Honiball Gentilmen, will you pleas Graint me some means for there asistance in the name of God my dear Husband diparted this life January 30th 1873 and left me with 3 small children 2 sons and 1 daughter 12 years old the eldist son John Thomas is 7 years old William L[iw?] is 4 years old I have nothing more to say at presant, but your Kind Benovlince February 10th 1873 Mrs. Mary L. Wathen[ii]

It's still a bit surreal to handle such old documents. This page was written almost exactly 150 years ago: Benedict Aloysius Wathen died 150 years ago yesterday, and Mary Olivia Wathen filed this pension request within a couple of weeks.

A snapshot of the page can be seen at the top of this page, and the full image can be viewed here. The back of the page, in a different handwriting, is labeled, "Petition for Pension Mrs. Mary O. Wathen." Notice that Mary wrote her own middle initial as "L," but someone else, presumably a county official, wrote it as "O." Her marriage record indicates that her middle name was "Olivia." Perhaps Mary spelled her own name as "Livia," or was simply unsure of how to spell "Olivia."

The second relevant document in the folder is a testimony of several others from the county about Mary Wathen's need for a pension. The page says:

To the Honorable the County Commissioners of Saint Marys County. We the Undersigned tax payers do represent to your Honorable Body, that Ms. M.O. Wathen your Petitioner, is a poor widow with two small children and no means to support them. We therefore do thus[?] respectfully represent that she is truly a worthy object of charity, and beg that you will levy to her use what in your Judgment will enable her to support herself + children.
Jno Dillahy
Jno M. Lloyd
Jas A. Carberry
Z. Mattingly

If we assume that the four signatories on the petition were neighbors of the Wathen family, their names give valuable clues about where they lived at the time. Though Benedict and Mary were from Charles County, it seems very likely that they were living in the 3rd District of St. Mary's County at the time of his death.

I'm adding a bit more detail to my book as a result of this new document. If you're wondering about the length of the book, it's currently about 400 pages of Wathen information! If you'd like photographs of your ancestors to be included, there's now even more time to get them to me by email! There's also time to order a Memorial Page listing for your loved one to be included in the opening pages of the book.

[i]       Reno, Linda Davis. Abstracts of the Levy Court Records St. Mary’s County 1829-1877. 74.

[ii]      "Pensions," MSA C1669-32, 1873; ST. MARY'S COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS (Pension Papers) 1839-1924; C1669; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.

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