• Alex Colvin

Mary Water Blevins vs. Mary Waters Terrell Minor: The Case of Mistaken Identity.

Mary Waters Terrell *

If one takes the image of the woman offered by some genealogists as depicting Mary Waters, eldest child and first born to William P. Waters and Zylphia Thompson, and then uses a “reverse image” search on the Internet, a curious thing happens: nowhere is her likeness linked to the Waters couple who are among the six couples being explored for this study. The image is instead shown as Mary Waters Terrell (1814-1894), wife of Virginia plantation owner, William Wardlaw Minor, about whom much is available from the record. Likewise, there is some data available on M.W. Terrell. We could ponder how the likeness of one women became mistaken for another, but it may be more instructive to show how they are different.

The most obvious differences occur when we review and compare the available genealogical data of the two women:

(1) Mary Waters Terrell, b. 6 December 1814, Albemarle County, Virginia (daughter of unknown)[1] m. 16 December 1835, Louisa County, Virginia, William Wardlaw Minor[2] (son of Dabney Minor [1774-1824] and Sarah Elizabeth Johnson [1795-1818] b. 22 August 1812, Glen Echo Plantation, Albemarle County, Virginia. Mary d. 2 January 1894, Gale Hill Plantation, Albemarle County, Virginia. (Burial: Gale Hill Cemetery, Profit, Albemarle County, Virginia[3]) William d. 16 May 1887, Gale Hill Plantation, Albemarle County, Virginia. (Burial: Gale Hill Cemetery, Profit, Albemarle County, Virginia.)[4]

(2) Mary Waters, b. 28 June 1841, Ashe County, North Carolina, (daughter of William Phillip Waters [1798-1864) and Zylphia C. Thompson [1819- c.1889], m. 19 April 1866 in Johnson County, Tennessee, Isham Blevins,[5] b. 25 February 1837, (son of ?? and ??).[6] Mary d. 24 June 1911, Washington County, Tennessee. (Burial: unknown) Isham d. 30 June, 1918, Bradley County, Tennessee. (Burial: unknown)

A few features here bear pointing out. These two women were not only born nearly three decades apart, they were not even born in the same state. In fact, the only thing these two women have in common -- and it is the least compelling feature they share-- is their first name. They don’t even share a surname. Mary, daughter of William was a Waters. Mary, wife of William Minor, was a Terrell.[7] But another distinction is available to us which is just as obvious: race. A review of the 1860 census for the William P. Waters household in Ashe County, quickly reveals that he and all of his children – including Mary Waters -- then nineteen years old, are listed as “M” meaning mulatto.[8] Thereafter for the next two census schedules, Mary is enumerated as “W”.[9] It may also be instructive to recall that, in 1866, Mary married a white male.

In the same documents where “Mary Minor” appears in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census for Albemarle County, where she ages from forty-five to sixty-six years old, she and all members of her household are consistently enumerated as “W” meaning white.[10]

It remains to be imagined how the image of one white women, who was some twenty-seven years old -- and a resident of another state by the time Mary Waters, (a mulatto female,) was born -- became merged.

Yet, this mismatch in identities serves as a necessary reminder that in genealogical research, too often those seeking answers about the lives of their ancestors, rush to fill gaps, while leaving other significant events unaccounted for, the results sometimes being dreadful errors.


* Image source:

[1] Some researchers believe this Mary was the daughter of a Richmond Terrell and Sarah Merriweather Overton but without offering any reference to a primary source such as a Will or period birth registry or Family Bible.

[2] The marriage date given could not be confirmed through documentation. A review of several researchers’ data who use this date revealed no citations of primary sources. Several reliable databases were also consulted without finding a marriage record or reference thereto.

[3] “Mary Waters Terrell Minor,” memorial, No. 81157734

[4] “William Wardlaw Minor memorial, No. 81157565

[5] Digitized copy, “Isham Blevins to Mary Water”, marriage registry entry, April 19, 1866, Johnson County Marriage Registers, p 19, Tennessee State Library.

[6] Digitized copy, Isham Blevins Certificate of Death, June 30, 1918, Bradly County, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Department of Health, Tennessee, File No. 185. On this document the spaces for his parents’ names bear the comment “don’t know.” However, his birth date is given.

[7] There are some intriguing narratives regarding Mary’s son, John Minor, on a website by its author, Jasper Burns, (see link in "Image Source",) but he offers no source citations, and his website is a rather obvious gateway to his commercial self-publishing enterprise which concerns itself with all things Minor and affiliated families.

[8] Digitized copy of “Wm. P. Waters” household, 1860 U.S. population schedule, Ashe County, North Carolina, lines 14-16, hh 785.

[9] Digitized copy of “Blevin, Isham” household, 1870 U.S. population schedule, Ashe County, North Carolina, lines 28-29, hh 32. For 1880, see: “Blevin, Isham” household, 1880 U.S. population schedule, lines 41-42, hh 125.

[10] Digitized copy of “W.W. Minor” household, 1860 U.S. population schedule, Albemarle County, Virginia, Line 5-6, hh 1116. For the 1870, see: “Minor, W.W.” household, 1870 U.S. population schedule, lines 3-4, hh 1371, Albemarle County, Virginia. For the 1880, see: “Minor, W.W.” household, lines 4-5, hh 188, Albemarle County, Virginia,