Tuesday, January 30, 2018

52 Ancestors: IN and OUT of the Census

This week’s theme for the 52 Ancestors challenge is “In the Census.” When I started the challenge, my plan was to update my Frazier line by focusing on the children of John and Lucy Frazier IN ORDER. Instead of moving on, I will take a detour this week to revisit Keziah Frazier Morris’s line. My recent discovery while updating her information demonstrates a good lesson in looking at who is IN a census and who is NOT to help solve a mystery.

While adding Keziah’s children and grandchildren to my database, I found one juicy little death record for her granddaughter’s husband.
Houston Morris 1870-1929 Death Certificate https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Death certificate for Houston Morris
from Ancestry.com
The granddaughter was Elenora, daughter of Keziah and Lively’s daughter Mary Ann “Polly” Morris and husband Valentine Roach. Judging by the census records, Elenora Roach and Houston Morris very likely grew up near one another in the Monroe district of Greene County, Virginia. They married 17 August 1890. By 1900, they had 6 children with at least 2 more in the next decade. Like their neighbors, they were general farmers.

By 1920 Houston and Elenora were no longer living together although in the census of that year, both claimed to be married. Elenora had the children. Houston had his mother and a number of boarders. While separate residence implies divorce or pending divorce, perhaps his 80-year old mother needed a caretaker and he was the likely candidate. After all, nine years later, Elenora (or “Ella”) was recorded as the wife of the deceased Houston Morris.

In 1929, Houston Morris was killed. “Throat cut. Homicide.”

Where? “Home of neighbor.”

I had no choice but to take a look at that 1920 census again to see who might have taken Houston’s life. Near Houston were other Morris families, some Breedens, a couple Shifletts for good measure - all names of families that had inhabited the mountains for generations - but nothing stood out to raise my suspicions. No red flags.

That is when my newspapers.com subscription came to the rescue. Two articles dated August 23 and 29, 1929 provided the details. Houston was murdered allegedly by Louis Roach at the McDaniel house, which in 1920 was not very far from Elenora’s home which was also not far from Houston and his mother’s. 

from Danville Bee 23 Aug 1929
accessed on Newspapers.com

Arrest Made in Fatal Stabbing; Denial is Made
Harrisonburg, VA Aug 22 (AP) - Louis Roach, 45, is being held in the Greene county jail at Stanardsville in connection with the stabbing to death of Houston Morris, 58, during an alleged brawn [sic] last Saturday night, reports received here today from Stanardsville said. Roach denies any knowledge of the stabbing as do Zack McDaniel, 80, and John McDaniel, son of Zack, at whose home the stabbing is alleged to have occurred.

Mrs. John McDaniel found the lifeless body of Morris in a field, it was said, as she returned from milking. Morris had been stabbed in the breast and throat. Roach and the McDaniels were asleep when Sheriff Russ Malone of Greene county arrived. A blood-stained knife was said to have been found on Roach, this leading to his arrest.

from Danville Bee 29 Aug 1929
accessed on Newspapers.com

Roach Denies Stabbing
Gordonsville, Va, Aug 28 (AP) - No date has been set, it was said today for a preliminary hearing for Louis Roach, 45, who is being held in the Greene county jail in connection with the stabbing to death of Houston Morris, 58, during an alleged drunken brawl on the night of August 17.

The stabbing occurred in the home of John McDaniel, a neighbor of both Roach and Morris. The three mountain homes are located just off the Spotswood Trail at the top of the Blue Ridge mountains.

Roach maintains that he knows nothing of the stabbing, as do his companions at the McDaniel home, Zach Daniel, aged 89, and his son John McDaniel. All three admit that they were drinking during the evening with Morris, but remember nothing of any altercation, officers said.

So, who was this Louis Roach?

A search for “Louis Roach” on Ancestry revealed a marriage certificate that made my jaw drop. Louis Roach was none other than Charles LEWIS Roach, Elenora’s baby brother. Well, wuddayaknow!

If The Danville Bee carried a follow-up story about a trial or conviction, then newspapers.com did not post it. Maybe the 1930 census would provide an indication. Sure enough, in 1930, Louis Roach was not in the Greene County census. His wife Clacie was listed as head of household. Yet she did not know whether they owned or rented the house. Right next door was John McDaniel.

Louis’s absence from the census is a good indication that he was likely found guilty and sentenced to time in jail. My suspicions were confirmed when I found a transcription of a news article attached to a tree for Houston Morris on Ancestry. No doubt the citizens of Greene County were very interested in the trial of Louis Roach. On November 21, 1929, the Greene County Register reported the trial lasted two days, but it took the jury only an hour to find Louis Roach guilty and to sentence him to 15 years in the penitentiary.

So, did Louis serve a full sentence? The 1940 census provided the answer: he was a free man living in neighboring Albemarle County as head of household and working for the WPA. Six of seven children lived there too, the youngest being ages 6 and 4. The 1940 census asked about residence in 1935 to which Louis replied that he lived in the same house. That plus the ages of the youngest children indicates Louis did not serve 15 years. Maybe he served 5.

Oh the irony that in the Frazier family there are two instances of men killing their sister’s husband.

© 2018, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. OMG! Wendy, lots of drama here. And I'm impressed by the way you investigated the mystery using a variety of sources. Lots of hidden stories "in the census" don't you think?

  2. WHOA! A murder? Now that's some interesting stuff!

  3. Wow, very interesting. Such a great example of how to use census records to uncover family history.

  4. Wow. A murder in the family tree. Those Newspaper articles give lots of details. Your research skills are great. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wow! I, too, have two instances of in-laws killing in-laws. Crazy, huh?

  6. What a discovery! I just wish here in the UK that we had access to the later census returns as in the USA, but there is a 100year bar on their release - roll on 2021. I too find newspaper archives a fascinating resource and they proved invaluable in your research.

  7. That's a grisly one, Wendy. I wonder how his sister felt about the killing? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

  8. Good detective work! Interesting case to read!