My Great-Grandfather was named Fred Higgins. Some called him Pap. His legal name was Frederick Joseph Higgins, to be exact. But he did not come by the surname of Higgins via his “father”. Rather he came to it by way of the man his mother married in January of 1876, one George Higgins.

Fred was born in March of 1873, and looking at his birth register, one finds that his father is listed as “illegitimate”. His mother was Barbara Bott, an immigrant from Germany who was living with her parents in rural Virginia. (There was also another illegitimate child of hers living there, Catherine Bott, who later took the name of Higgins as well.) So since I have no idea who Fred’s father was, and most likely will never know, my genealogy hobby is stuck right off the bat, requiring me to take the path of combining two families into one.

Fred is the oldest known male of my main paternal line, and his name changes from Bott to Higgins sometime after he was three. So I’m left with that. As I write this, I am continuing to try and determine who Fred’s father could have been. As you’ll soon read, there is much evidence that he was truly not George’s son, but I can’t completely rule that possibility out. Only by trying to piece Barbara and George’s locations and activities between 1872 and 1876 can I be certain. And the facts during that time are not proving helpful. Anyway, let’s get started.

My father was one of five children, only four of which made it past childbirth. His father was Milton Lee Higgins and his mother was Nellie May Higgins (nee Walker). His brothers were named James and Robert, and his sister was named Evelyn. As this chapter is being written, only one survives – my father.

I don’t have many details on Nellie’s and Milton’s marriage. I know they were married, because obviously they’re not so far distant from me that I could get those facts wrong. Their headstones confirm the fact, as well as my father’s statements. But as far as date and location, I currently have no idea. I do know that they were both lifelong Alexandria Virginia residents, so they must have met and married in that city.

Milton’s father was Frederick Joseph Higgins. Aside from knowing this from my father (he called Fred “Pap”), there are numerous records showing Milton at a young age being in Fred’s home. Specifically, the 1910 Federal Census shows Milton at age 11 with his father Fred and his mother Emma, and with his sister Bessie (13). I have numerous records of where Fred lived as an adult, (and his occupation), taken from City Directories and Census Records. In chronological order:

  • 1895 Was a clerk and lived at 520 S. Patrick Street
  • 1903 Was a clerk and lived at 500 S. Patrick Street
  • 1890 Was a porter and lived at 576 S. Patrick Street
  • 1910 Was a merchant in a grocery store and lived at 614 S. Alfred Street
  • 1930 Was unemployed and lived at 818 Franklin Street

Fred died on June 5th, 1958 in Alexandria according to his burial permit and his headstone. As far as his birth and parentage, when I first started my research I was stymied. Nothing made sense. Records just didn’t line up. And then I found Henry Hill.

Henry is my “cousin” and had quite a tale to share with me. In addition to being alive and present at the time when rivalries were strong, he was also an avid genealogist and had numerous sources to back up his story. According to Henry, Fred’s mother was Barbara Bott. She married George Higgins when Fred was only three years old. They then had four more kids of their own. A total of six children living in their house — four biological, and two from Barbara.

During the time that Henry was alive, the stories between his side of the family and mine were quite different. He remembers very clearly playing with my father and uncles as a youth, and also of being told repeatedly about the rift between William and Fred. His grandfather was William Lee Higgins, and it was a known fact in his side of the family that he and Fred were “brothers”. But according to what my father was told, “those people are no kin to us”. Which brings us to “why”. Henry believes that there was a great animosity between Fred and William, at least from Fred’s standpoint. He supposes it was due to his illegitimacy. His grandmother Pearl told him several stories about Fred:

  • Fred would walk on the other side of the street when passing by the house on Gibbon & Patrick streets.
  • Fred and William lived about a block apart, but they never visited. When William died in 1939, Fred never went to William’s house to pay his respects.
  • William was sitting on his porch one afternoon drinking whiskey. Fred saw him and had his brother arrested for drinking in public.

So, how do we “prove” this? Well, let’s start piling on the facts and see what measures up and what doesn’t. We have an adult Fred, together with his wife and children, leading directly to me. Of this there is no doubt. Plenty of sources and direct knowledge. Now we just need to tie the adult Fred to the child.

In 1880, the federal Census shows a George and Barbara Higgins living on Fairfax Street in Alexandria. With them are four children: Katie (12), Frederick (7), Mary (3), and Alice V. (1). We know that Mary and Alice were siblings to William, who was Henry’s grandfather (born after this census was taken). So this record clearly ties to his line. And it shows a Fred and a Katie living there as well, which makes the case that the four children in 1880 lived under the same roof. All four are listed as either Son or Daughter. The ages of Fred and Katie in this record line up perfectly with their known ages.

An interesting, and unfortunate fact transpired with the 1890 census. The Eleventh United States Census was taken June 2, 1890. The good news was that the data was tabulated by machine for the first time and reported that the distribution of the population had resulted in the disappearance of the American frontier. The bad news was that most of the 1890 census materials were destroyed in a 1921 fire. So there is no record in 1890 of the family Higgins. But, with the 1880 census, we have set the players in place.

I have George’s and Barbara’s marriage record. It shows them being wed on January 12th, 1876.  Fours years before the above census record ties them together as a family. George was 22 (born in Hanover VA) and Barbara was 25 (born in Germany). They both lived in Fairfax County, where he was a farmer. His parents are listed as T. & Eliz. Higgins, and hers are C. & Mary Botts. Since Fred was born before the next earlier census (in 1870), we need to place his mother Barbara instead during that time. In Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1870, we find Barbara, age 19, living with her parents Casper and Mary. This ties in nicely with her marriage certificate. Also in that census we find a sister Anna (22) and two children: Catherine (2) and a William (5). Remember that in the later 1880 census (with George and Barbara), there was also a Catherine of the same age. So again, this census record ties in perfectly with our later family. We’ll expand a little deeper into the Bott line in a moment, but let’s finish with Fred first.

So we know that Barbara was in Loudoun County in 1870, living with her parents and Catherine. And ten years later she shows up in Alexandria, Virginia married to George, again with Catherine. So Fred was born sometime in this decade. I have a photo of his headstone, thus I know his birth year, so it was only a matter of finding his birth register, probably in Loudoun County. And find it I did. It shows a Frederic being born to a Barbara Bott in March of 1873. It also shows his father as “Illeg”.

So, that’s the story. I have no idea who Fred’s father was.  I only know that sometime in his life, he took the surname Higgins from his mother’s husband and passed it down to me. There are no additional clues from the Henry Hill side of the family, and I’ve found no records to support any other theories.

OK, that covers the sources that support my theory. What about those that don’t? And were there other Georges and Barbaras that could have been mixed up with mine?

In 1870, a George was living in Hanover VA with Thaddeus Higgins and family in the Lower Revenue District. I’ll call him “Hanover George Higgins”. He is listed as being 15 (b. abt. 1853) and as being a farm laborer. No doubt about this. In 1870, a “NJ George Higgins” was living in the 4th Ward of Alexandria with a F.M. McDonough and family (a Steamboat Captain from NY/NJ). He is listed as being 16 (b. abt. 1854), being a clerk in a store, and being from New Jersey. Again. No doubt. There could easily have been two George Higgins’ living in VA at the same time.

To recap, in that same year, 1870, Barbara Bott was living in Loudoun County with Casper Bott and family. She was 19. (b. abt. 1851) There was a child Catherine, 2, who also lived there. In 1873, Barbara Bott of Loudoun County had an illegitimate son, Frederic. This is pretty certain. Six years later, a George Higgins married Barbara Bott in Annandale. I believe that this is “Hanover George” and Barbara Bott because the marriage license lists him as being from Hanover and her from Germany, which fits both profiles. Plus all ages line up exactly. He was a farmer and they apparently resided in Fairfax County at the time of marriage.

So everything links perfectly, as long as we go on the assumption that we are only dealing with “Hanover George”. “NJ George” moved away or something because I could not find duplicate Georges in Northern Virginia after this and all evidence for the ones I did find point to my George. Talking with Henry Hill, he thinks he moved to Montgomery County, MD.

OK, another potential problem with this theory is an entry in the 1910 census. At 1003 Gibbon Street, George and Barbara lived with a Frederick (single & 27), a Mary (single & 25), and a William (single & 23). The real Mary was born abt. 1877, which would have made her 33. Seven years different from this entry. Not too far off, maybe. Remember, I have her current birth date as an “about”. The real William was born on March 4, 1887. He would have been 23. Which pretty much pegs this entry. And that leaves us with Frederick. In 1910, there is an indisputable census record with him and his family living in Alexandria, so this Frederick (who is 10 years younger, single, and without a job at the age of 27!) isn’t my Fred. So why is he listed? The name is fuzzy, but pretty much looks like Frederick. Could there have been another child born in 1883? I know of a “Maggie Lee” who was born on Apr 22, 1884 to George and Barbara that doesn’t appear on any census. Could the census taker have gotten confused? If Barbara started talking about Fred (remember, Barbara was German and may have not understood), then the census taker wrote down his name, sex, and an incorrect age. It was off by exactly 10 years. Could the word thirty sound like twenty when spoken with an accent? Then Barbara realizes she is asking about children that live with her. Based on the number of children alive in the 1900 census, Maggie and Catherine would not have been living in 1910. Could she have omitted Alice because of that? Alice would have been 31.

OK, I realize that the previous paragraph has a lot of suppositions. But the reality is that genealogists take census records with a grain of salt. They are notoriously incorrect. A person is giving family history to another person to write down and it all comes from memory. And more often than not, it was the “homemaker” who had to recall information about their husband’s family. Census records are great for narrowing down searches and for helping pinpoint more reliable documents, but they themselves are not usually considered primary sources. I don’t say this to justify my theory, but rather to help non-genealogists understand the weight that is given to certain classes of documents.

The census record above does concern me, greatly. If the data regarding the children are indeed mistakes, then they are pretty major ones. But I am also left with the fact that so many other documents directly refute this one. One last thing. My father does remember growing up with a Snoots family, although he doesn’t remember their relation to us. He just remembers that they were close. (Look at some of my charts and you’ll see the Snoots descend from Barbara and George’s daughter Mary and granddaughter Etta.) When you put together the tree that the documents describe, then it becomes apparent that the Snoots were indeed blood-related to the overall Higgins clan. Fred’s half-sister (Mary Ellen) had a daughter that married into that family. My grandfather (Milton) would have been “half-cousins” with Etta May Watkins who married Charles L. Snoots. I realize that this “fact” is about as circumstantial as they come, but it does add credibility to everything else.

Thus we have two half-brothers … William and Frederick. Who were estranged and led lives within streets of each other, yet far apart. And a complete dead end when it comes to a family bloodline.

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