Mary Ellen Williams Marshall is the Culprit! #52Ancestors

Family history - Genealogy research

My great grandmother Mary Ellen Williams (Marshall)

Any of us who refer to ourselves as genealogists or family historians have a favorite ancestor. You know that one person we can’t get enough of. No matter what, we somehow circle back to them whether we’re looking at family pics or at pedigree charts our eyes always seem to find the favorite’s papers or charts. I’m no different. I have three ancestors I’ve spent a good deal of time researching but if asked for my hands down, absolute favorite, numero uno ancestor it has to be Mary Ellen Williams Marshall. It’s her life and story that piqued my genealogy interest. My delving into family history lays at her feet. So who is she?

I have written about her previously here and here and here if you care to read those posts but for this week’s 52 Ancestors I’ll share her with you this way.

Mary Ellen Williams Marshall is my maternal great grandmother. Born September 26, 1871 she was the youngest child of Isaac and Rebecca Holmes Williams. She married George S Marshall in 1891 and had three children. Gladys her oldest is my grandmother. So why the fascination on my part?

George & Mary Ellen Williams Marshall Farm

George & Mary Ellen Williams Marshall Farm

Mary Ellen died at a flourishing age. Consumption claimed her at only 36 years old. She left her husband George with two daughters ages 16 and 12 and a five year old son. Even though he was still a young man at 40 years old, George raised his children alone and then went on to live with his oldest daughter for the rest of his life, never marrying again.

My mom grew up with her grandfather George in the house. She loved him and told us kids tidbits about him but when pressed for stories about Mary Ellen my mom would say, “We never talked about her.” It was as if the pain of her early death was too much for George or daughter Gladys to speak of 20+ years later during my mom’s childhood.

Even without loving family stories and memories of her, Mary Ellen Williams Marshall held such an esteemed position within my family my mom named one of my sisters after her.

It’s almost as if the lack of any knowledge about Mary Ellen produced an enigma that demanded attention. She’s a mystery, a puzzle, a romantic figure all rolled into one.

Mary Ellen Williams Marshall with her mother and children

Mary Ellen Williams Marshall with her mother and children

My research has produced just a tiny bit of info on her. She was known as Mollie to those closest to her. A newspaper clipping revealed her mother-in-law lived with George and Mary Ellen after a fall but she left the home once Mary Ellen fell sick.

Probably the most puzzling find was that Mary Ellen’s father Isaac bought property from her father-in-law James H Marshall. Isaac then gave the property to his daughter Mary Ellen. She lived on this property with her husband George and children. The property was always in her name (not the couple’s name or her husband’s) until she died then it was finally put in George’s name. George eventually came to own the property his father had sold to Isaac Williams years earlier but only after her death. The property was always in her name only even though she was married. I’ve always wondered if Issac thought his son-in-law was a n’er do well and bought the property so his daughter Mary Ellen would always have a home. (If you have a thought on this I’d love for you to leave a comment.)

I do have copies of several photos but I have yet to come up with any other personal stories about Mary Ellen. I don’t know if she loved flowers or hated green beans but I do know her brief tenure on earth sparked my interest in my family’s history 80 years after her death.

It’s true our lives do impact others whether we realize it or not and sometimes it’s long after our days here have been fulfilled.


  1. I can see why she captured your attention. If the photo of the people standing in front of the house is Mary Ellen’s house, then I think you could say she loved to garden. Most photos of the period don’t show such lush plantings in front of a house. Usually gardening work was reserved for the kitchen garden or helping the farmer husband in the fields.

    • Thank you for stopping and reading my #52Ancestors post. Yes both photos were taken in front of Mary Ellen’s home. You know I’ve studied the home, the people, even the mailbox but didn’t take in the landscape itself! When I look back at it I do see the flowers and how well it is planted. In fact narrowing in I see small pots of flowers over her husband George’s shoulder! They look like they’re on the window ledge! How observant you are!! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! You’ve opened my eyes and I’ll be taking a closer look at my pics again! My best to you!!

  2. I come from a long line of women who love to garden and bore people to death talking about plants and growing conditions! Your great grandmother reminds me of my Grandma Lange. She raised 9 children, cooked on a wood-burning stove, did the laundry in a big tub, helped her husband in the fields and with the livestock, and yet maintained the most beautiful rock garden you ever saw right by the gravel drive people used to approach the house. She loved that rock garden and would work in it by candlelight if necessary. I’m so glad I was able to add some fresh perspective.

  3. It’s awesome she was one of your ancestors to spark your interest in genealogy. I haven’t had an ancestor impact me in that way, but I definitely feel like some are more interesting to research than others. Like you said, there is an “enigma” attached to certain ancestors.

    • Thanks William for reading and commenting! It is amazing how researching and learning about our ancestors becomes more than an interest. It grows to an almost obsession and always interesting! Thanks again for stopping by and Good Luck in your research!

  4. It may not pan out, but another thought on the land may be that is came down through her family and was intended to stay that way. Do you have and land transaction records? A Will? I have a similar situation in my family. Love the photos!

  5. I enjoyed reading your story on Mary Ellen. Isn’t it odd how their lives intrigue us and we bring give them life in a story. I’ve enjoyed writing mine in this challenge and it’s pulled me back in to researching again. You are blessed to have the photos of her as we often write about people we’ve never seen.


  1. […] – “She’s the Culprit!” (Mary Ellen Williams Marshall) by Cindy Freed on Genealogy […]

  2. […] A little info to go along with the pics, my grandmother was born 28 November 1892 in Allen County, Ohio. She was the oldest child of George S. Marshall and Mary Ellen Williams. […]

  3. […] amour. He married a girl from the farm next door. On 31 October 1891 he wed the love of his life Mary Ellen Williams. He and Mary Ellen had three children, Gladys (my grandmother), Freda and […]

  4. […] twists of fate Rebecca gives birth to her last child, her seventh baby, seven years later. Mary Ellen, my great grandmother is born. She’s certainly a tag-a-long with the older girls now 17 and […]

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