Finding Anna I

This is a combination of two blog posts that I wrote in 2010.

My great-grandfather, Willis Samuel James, married three times. My cousins Anna Bush, Ashley James, and I are descended from Anna II, Anna Estelle Houston. We know Anna III was Anna Mathilda Phillips, born on St. Croix.

No one in the family knew much about Anna I, whose name was probably not really Anna, but it made a good story. I’ve been chasing her since the late 1990s when I started researching Can Anything Beat White? I am reposting it now as I’m putting together information for her great-great-grandson, my cousin Phil James.

Various last names had surfaced. Maybe it was Webb, maybe Jackson, maybe Anderson.

When I wrote the first post, I knew that Willis (under the name Sam) and his first wife were living in Hartford, Connecticut, when she gave birth to their son, Charles H. James, on November 21, 1866. A second child was stillborn March 17, 1870. I suspect there were more children, but Hartford stinks at preservation of vital records. Anna I died in Hartford on October 12, 1872, age 27 years, five months. Her death certificate and the 1870 census give her place of birth as New York.

Six months after I wrote the above, I retraced my steps and branched out. After some false starts, I finally located her.

The name Wesley held the key. I found a Wesley Derby in the household of Daniel Anderson, next door to Zenus and Mary Webb in 1900 census. Wesley was listed as brother-in-law to head-of-household Daniel Anderson, meaning he was brother to Daniel’s wife Abigail. (He could have been married to a sister of Anderson’s, but Wesley was listed as single.) I worked forward first but couldn’t find Wesley Derby with various spelling permutations again. Then I began working backward. No Daniel Anderson in New York in 1880 (in fact the ages of the children indicate that Abigail and Daniel might have married in 1880). But I did find a Wesley Darby working as a coachman in East Chester, next door to Charles Darby, a farmer age 66. Charles was listed as married, but there was no woman of the right age anywhere in East Chester. The only other person in the household was his daughter Abbey Darby.

I went back to 1870 and found Charles Derby, 57, a coachman. Others in his household were Harriet, age 56; Caroline, 15; and Howard, 12. Jumped to 1860. When I saw page 8, I started to cry. There was Charles H. Darby, Harriet E., Mary J. , Hannah E., Wesley A., Anna M., Silva C. (who probably became Caroline), and Howard L. They were all right where they were supposed to be in Eastchester, Mount Vernon post office.

Side note: Hannah may have been listed twice in the 1860 census, once with her family and a second time working as a maid in the household of Sabina Sniffin in New Rochelle. I would have read the last name as Griffin, but there were several families, black and white, named Sniffin in Westchester County.

Then I found Hannah’s family in Orange County, New York, in 1850 even though Ancestry had them indexed as Darley, which means that a Soundex search for Derby/Darby produces zero results. Still looking in earlier census listings but not holding out much hope since only the head of household is listed by name, and Charles may not have been living in his own home at that point. The oldest child, Mary, was born about 1842, unless Charles and Harriet had an earlier child who died. That little piece of information means that Charles and Harriet probably married in between 1840 and 1842.


So it turns out that Anna I’s real name was Hannah (probably Hannah Elizabeth) Derby or Darby. Other family connections: sister Mary married Zenus (various spellings) Webb and sister Abigail married Daniel Anderson. Daniel and Abigail’s daughter Elizabeth married Richard Jackson. So that accounts for the Webb-Jackson-Anderson last names that were handed down.

The back of the above picture says: “Mrs. Anna James with love and best wishes from E. Jackson “Elizabeth – Mt. Vernon” I obtained a copy from Gertrude James Thompson, granddaughter of Charles H. James. Hope someone out there has more information.

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