Who is the biological mother of Stella Ann (Fitzgerald) Wells?

+5 votes
Before Stella died, she told one of her daughters that her mother's name was Mary Hanks, and another daughter her name was Mary Jane Watkins.  She also said her mother died & was buried in Cottonplant, Arkansas, USA, (1895-1899), however no record has been found of this, to date.  She also told one of her grandchildren her nationality was black-dutch.  I'm trying to find out who the biological mother of Stella Ann (Fitzgerald( Wells (Fitzgerald-3224 on wikitree) was?

ADDL INFO: Wow, some really great ideas.  Thanks everyone so much.

Regarding the marriage record for Jerry Fitzgerald & Sarah Pate, & Sarah E Pate in the 1880 census; we also came across these (rather my mother came across the marriage record some years back & thought this to be the girls’ mother, as well, & I came across the census w/Sarah E Pate and a picture of Sarah also about 1 year back.

A few months ago, Stella's last living child (and my great aunt) came to visit us, & when we asked her what she might know of her grandmother, she said only her name, which her mother told her was Mary Jane Watkins.

Also, we ordered a original copy of Stella’s application for Social Security, on which she stated her mother’s name to be Mary Jane Watkins.

I should also mention, the girls were, most definitely not Irish (Fitzgerald name).  Stella was my great grandmother, & my memories of her, as a child, were that she must be a indian – she looked (to me) just like you’d imagine – very short, probably about 4ft 8in in height, and her skin was not pale/white as mine, but much darker.  She was stout, bow-legged, never wore shoes, & always (she never ever removed it) had a copper ankle bracelet on her ankle, which seemed to be without clasps, or any way of removing it.  I never saw her without it on.  I recently asked my mother about it, & if she knew why Stella wore this, & she said Stella said it was for her arthritis.  (I don’t think doctors were using metals/magnets and such at that time (1900’s) for relieving arthritis pain; I know now that this is used (metal/magnet therapy) now, & with interesting & promising results, but in 1900?)  I also remember she never ever cut her hair – never.  As I remember, her very thin grey hair reached below her hips (she also never wore it loose-I only saw it like this following a bath/shower) which she always braided, then wrapped the thin braid in a bun at the back of her neck.  And her home was very plain as was her clothing – no pictures on the walls, no nick-knacks, or end tables.  I remember bare walls, a rocking type chair, a small table & 1 chair in the kitchen, and 1 pillow upon one of those mattresses used with those beds made of metal with a sheet of springs which held the mattress, and a old faded plaid blanket.  Oh, and, a old can placed next to her rocker for her to spit into – she chewed tobacco.

The first record the girls are found in is the 1910 census w/Jerry Fitzgerald.  From that point, every single census record the are found in, when asked for their mothers birth place, they always give a different response.  One time they say Tennessee, the next maybe Arkansas.  Verbally the told the family She was born in Tennessee & died shortly before 1900 in Cotton plant, Arkansas, but as I mentioned, we’ve as of yet, been unable to find any proof for any of this.  

Sorry for the length of this, however I felt I should include what we know – which is not much.

I loved my great grandma Stella, & I am saddened by the thought that she & her sister Georgia felt they had to hide who they were & where they came from from, from everyone, including their own families; Georgia passed away in 1953 in Arkansas, & in 1979 in California, when Stella (Fitzgerald) Wells left this world, it seems she took with her the secret of where she was from & who she was, just as she'd intended.  

Anyway, thanks for the great (& fast) input everyone.  I’m hoping in all of this, someone may see something that we have not.  I’ve found in researching our family tree, a different perspective always helps in trying to figure these kinds of things out.  Thanks again everyone.

UPDATE: Still no closer to finding an answer than I was when I posted this originally.  Would love your input - all your ideas are appreciated.
WikiTree profile: Stella Wells
in Genealogy Help by Cathy Spry G2G1 (1.5k points)
edited by Cathy Spry

Here is her father's marriage.

Jerry Fitzgerald

 in the Arkansas, County Marriages Index, 1837-1957

Record Image No Image
Text-only collection

    Name: Jerry Fitzgerald
    Gender: Male
    Age: 24
    Birth Year: abt 1866
    Residence: Woodruff, Arkansas
    Spouse's Name: Sarah Pate
    Spouse's Gender: Female
    Spouse's Age: 19
    Spouse's Residence: Woodruff, Arkansas
    Marriage Date: 27 Nov 1890
    Marriage License Date: 25 Nov 1890
    Marriage County: Woodruff
    Event Type: Marriage
    FHL Film Number: 1019388

    Did her mother abandon the family?

    Sarah E. Pate

     in the 1880 United States Federal Census

    Record Image View

    • View blank form
    Name: Sarah E. Pate
    Age: 9
    Birth Year: abt 1871
    Birthplace: Arkansas
    Home in 1880: Griggs, Van Buren, Arkansas
    Race: White
    Gender: Female
    Relation to Head of House: Daughter
    Marital Status: Single
    Father's name: James W. Pate
    Father's Birthplace: Arkansas
    Mother's name: America Pate
    Mother's Birthplace: Arkansas
    Neighbors: View others on page

    Cannot read/write:


    Deaf and dumb:

    Otherwise disabled:

    Idiotic or insane:


    View image

    Household Members:
    Name Age
    James W. Pate 39
    America Pate 37
    William S. Pate 12
    Sarah E. Pate 9
    Fannie Pate 5
    Robert F. Pate 6m

    She was married and had two children when this census was taken. If this is the same Sarah Pate

    Sarah E Pate

     in the 1900 United States Federal Census

    Record Image View

    • View blank form
    Name: Sarah E Pate
    Age: 30
    Birth Date: Jan 1870
    Birthplace: Arkansas
    Home in 1900: Griggs, Van Buren, Arkansas
    Race: White
    Gender: Female
    Relation to Head of House: Daughter
    Marital Status: Single
    Father's name: James W Pate
    Father's Birthplace: Arkansas
    Mother's name: America Pate
    Mother's Birthplace: Arkansas
    Occupation: View on Image
    Neighbors: View others on page
    Household Members:
    Name Age
    James W Pate 59
    America Pate 57
    Sarah E Pate 30
    Robert F Pate 22
    Sadie C Pate 15

    Then she married a Hargis?

    Sounds unlikely but worth a look

    Sarah Effie Hargis

     in the U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current

    • Go to website

    Name: Sarah Effie Hargis
    Birth Date: 29 Jan 1871
    Death Date: 28 Jun 1964
    Cemetery: Clinton Cemetery
    Burial or Cremation Place: Clinton, Van Buren County, Arkansas, USA
    Has Bio?: N
    Spouse: Joseph N. Hargis
    Father: James Wilson Pate
    Mother: America Pate
    URL: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-...
    Her father died in 1912. She and her sister both married in 1912. Sounds like Mom abandoned them.

    I've already contacted family of Sarah Effie (Pate) Hargis (and daughter of America Pate), & apparently this is not the same Sarah Pate that married Jerry Fitzgerald in Arkansas marriage record.  

    When Stella applied for SSN which was not until 1930's, she stated her mother's name was Mary Jane Watkins, but then also told one of her daughters that her mother's name was Mary Hanks.  I find it interesting that she never said her mother's name was Mary Fitzgerald, which is the 1st memory she would have for her mother's name (American culture's naming convention for woman upon marriage is to take her spouse's last name, and is usually the 1st name her children would know her by, and the answer they would have given when asked what their mother's name was.  Both Stella, and her sister Georgia never called her Mary Fitzgerald - only Watkins or Hanks.  I'm sure this is relevant somehow.  Also have noticed that when Jerry (Stella and Georgia's father) passed, the girls had his name on headstone show Jerry F Fitzgeralds, and did not include complete birthdate, deathdate or any location for either as well.  Most interesting though is the fact they had his last name with a 's' at the end - strange as this was also their last name too.  It shows that they were not as comfortable/familiar with the family's last name (would have been learned by them from a very young age, so less likely to make a mistake like incorrect spelling of they're own, or their father's last name.  Not completely impossible to have this happen, but a whole lot less likely, as again, they all would have been very comfortable/familiar with providing the family's surname,  and less likely to make a mistake such as this.  
    Also Interesting, is in probate records when Jerry passed, about half of the documents had attorney's give her name as Estella, and the other half as Stella.  Crazy, as I'm pretty sure today, when an attorney is filing documents in regards to a probate case, the person named as who they were representing will only be shown as 1 name/same name throughout everything.  Also missing from Jerry's probate file was his death certificate.  It is mentioned & was there when case was filed, but seems to now be missing.  Also missing are receipts now required to reconcile claim/proof for claim being handled properly.  Jerry's probate does not appear to have been reconciled to prove attorney's honest handling of the case.  Either they too, are now missing, or they never existed (which would indicate attorney may have had his hand 'in the pot', so to speak.  

    Also, Stella entered her 1st name on SS application,  as being Stellar (No one has ever called her this, or heard her called this). I tried looking for records with this first name, and found nothing that could have clearly belonged to her.  I did learn though, that Stellar was a common name for a Native American female, finding this name in those records.

    So here is the census you talk about I think.

    Jerry Fitzgerald

     in the 1910 United States Federal Census

    Record Image View

    • View blank form
    Name: Jerry Fitzgerald
    Age in 1910: 28
    Birth Year: abt 1882
    Birthplace: Illinois
    Home in 1910: Point, Woodruff, Arkansas
    Race: White
    Gender: Male
    Relation to Head of House: Head
    Marital Status: Widowed
    Father's Birthplace: Illinois
    Mother's Birthplace: Ohio
    Native Tongue: English
    Occupation: Laborer
    Industry: Railroad
    Employer, Employee or Other: Employer
    Farm or House: House
    Able to Read: Yes
    Able to Write: Yes
    Out of Work: N
    Number of weeks out of work: 10
    Neighbors: View others on page
    Household Members:
    Name Age
    Jerry Fitzgerald 28
    Georgia Fitzgerald 17
    Stella Fitzgerald 14
    So both children were adopted by Fitzgerald? I'm thinking out loud. Metaphorically speaking, of course. So Jerry Fitzgerald and Mary Jane Watkins were married? Or not married?

    Is Jerry Fitzgerald an older brother? The ages are really close.


    There's no additional info here

    Mary Fitzgerald

     in the U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current

    • Go to website

    Name: Mary Fitzgerald
    Birth Date: 1869
    Death Date: 16 Aug 1897
    Cemetery: Elmwood Cemetery
    Burial or Cremation Place: Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
    Has Bio?: N
    URL: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-...
    Yes, this 1910 census is the first record we've found with Stella & her family (minus her mother).  Birth date shown of 1882 for Jerry is wrong-he died in 1912 & Stella has always said he was born in 1863.

    Stella never said if her mother, Mary Jane Watkins and her father, Jerry Fitzgerald were 'officially' married & we have not been able to find any record of it as of yet.  She did say her mother was born in Tennessee, & had died in Cotton Plant, Arkansas before 1899-so she would have been 1-2 yrs old.  My mother went there a few years back looking for her grave but was not able to locate it.

    I believe Georgia was married just prior to Jerrys death.  Stella was not, and was a minor.  My mother said a man where they lived (Woodruff, Arkansas) who owned a store was appointed as Stellas guardian.  She lied regarding how old she was so she could marry WH Greenfield in 1912 instead.

    I too have considered possibly they were adopted by Jerry, although we have no proof of this-my mother does not believe anyone would ever give up their children (or more specific-anyone related to her).

    The find-a-grave could be her, however this is not where Stella said she was buried.

    Thanks for all your great ideas-Still have a long ways to go, I think, in figuring this out.
    I'm just wondering why there is a marriage for Sarah Pate and not for Mary Jane Watkins?

    1 Answer

    +3 votes
    Was she telling the truth i wonder? Strange to give two different surnames unless one was a married name. Why Mary Hanks and not Mary Jane Hanks?
    by Iain Cooke G2G6 Mach 1 (11.9k points)

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