Family History

Good ol’ Joe

1993 - IMAGE - Sawyers, Joseph and Nelson, Earline gravestoneAs I always do around this time of year, I’ve tried to buckle down and focus my research. I have been all over the place, honestly, and its resulted in me not getting far on anybody. I’m crossing my fingers that I can force myself to research one tree in completion before moving on to another branch, or even a completely different tree. Please tell me I’m not the only one with this issue…

Anywho, I’m trying to focus on my newly discovered paternal line. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I only discovered who my biological father was a little over two years ago. This, of course, opened up a completely new line for me to work on and I jumped on it. I’ve made the (rookie) mistake of just adding census records on top of census records and not really focusing on the details between the 10-year gaps. I spent this last Saturday visiting my brother (half-brother on my dad’s side) and we took a trip through a couple of local cemeteries that housed some of our ancestors. While looking through the stones, it struck me how little I know about these people aside from their names. And to any genealogist, that is a travesty.

Starting tonight I am going to be focusing on the first “problem” in my data. I’m going back to my grandfather on my dad’s side – Joseph Sawyers – and am attempting to fill in the missing spaces in his life. My brother had told me before that Joe, or “Paps”, had never mentioned any siblings. Looking back over the census’s of his parents, I knew that wasn’t true – he had one full sibling and 4 steps from his mother’s previous marriage. Why did he say that, I wondered. Was he trying to be funny or did he just disown his family, as was sadly not uncommon back a few generations.

A closer look at the timeline of events in his early life made me realize that he wasn’t being facetious. His mother died when he was just a few months old. His father then moved in with his father, along with Joe and his older sister, Hazel. Sadly, not long after that, Joe’s father passed away, as well.

Here’s the breakdown of his early years, based solely on the two censuses that happened prior to his fifteenth birthday:

  • 1914, May 3 – Joseph Levi Sawyers was born in Covington, Tipton County, Tennessee to John Marshall “Morris” Sawyers and Willie Tillman.(1)
  • 1914, Dec 7 – Willie, Joe’s mom, passed away. I’m not sure of the exact date as her death certificate only lists the date of burial as Dec 7.(2)
  • 1918, Sept 12 – Marshall completes the military draft registration for WWI.(3)
  • 1920, Jan 1 – Joe’s father, Marshall, along with Joe and sister Hazel are living in the residence of Joel Sawyers (Marshall’s father) in Tipton County. Marshall is shown as widowed and working as a farmer, presumably on his father’s farm (Joel is shown as a land owner)(4)
  • 1922, Oct 11 – Marshall dies in Brighton, Tipton County, Tennessee, from malaria.(5)
  • 1930, Apr 1 – Joe and Hazel are now living with Wilburn Moore and his wife, Pearl. The children are listed as nephew and niece of Wilburn, the Head of Household. At this point, I’m not sure which side of the family Wilburn and Pearl are related.(6)
  • Sadly, by the time Joe was 16 and his sister, Hazel, was 19, they had experienced the death of both parents and had had to move in with relatives, losing their own home. I can’t imagine how much turbulence that must have caused in such young lives.

    My current search is to figure out how Joe is related to Wilburn’s family; I’m assuming since Wilburn’s last name isn’t Sawyer, that Joe is most likely related to his wife, Pearl. I also want to see if I can fill in any more of the details from Joe’s life prior to his marriage to Earline Nelson (sometime before 1 April 1940).

    Wish me luck!


    1. Joe Sawyers, 413-18-7387, 1939, Application for Account Numbers (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD.
    2. “Tennessee, Death Records, 1908-1958,” database with images, ( : downloaded 27 January 2020), Willie Sawyers; Tennessee State Library and Archives; Nashville; date of death is not listed on certificate, however the date of burial is listed as 7 Dec 1914. Certificate filed 8 Dec 1914.
    3. “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images,, ( : downloaded 9 February 2020), John Marshell Sawyers; citing Registration State: Tennessee; Registration County: Tipton; Roll: 1877696.
    4. 1920 US Census, Tipton County, Tennessee, population schedule, District 12, enumeration district (ED) 269, sheet 8B, line 76, dwelling 157, family 160, Sawyers Joel; digital images, ( : downloaded 9 February 2020); NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls.
    5. “Tennessee, Death Records, 1908-1958,” database with images, ( : downloaded 9 February 2020), John Marshall Sawyers; Tennessee State Library and Archives; Nashville.
    6. 1930 US Census, Tipton County, Tennessee, population schedule, Brighton town, enumeration district (ED) 84-15, sheet 1A, line 45, dwelling 11, family 11, Sawyers Joe; digital images, ( : accessed 11 December 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, 2667 rolls.1993 - IMAGE - Sawyers, Joseph and Nelson, Earline gravestone

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