Henry Willis, Carpenter of Maryland and Philadelphia (1829-1906) Part 1

Who the heck is Henry Willis who died in Philadelphia in 1906? And, is he part of the “Maryland Group” in the Willis DNA Project? Most of the Maryland Group descend from John Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland who was born about 1650-1670 probably in Berkshire County, England. (See https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/willis/about)

Spoiler alert — I am not sure about Henry, although I have an opinion. This post consists of two parts. Part 1 below sets out the facts, factoids, and gaps in the records that have frustrated the search for Henry. Part 2 will offer a theory identifying his parents based on circumstantial evidence.

Here goes …

Henry is the brick wall in the Willis line of Erin Daniels who descends from Henry’s daughter Lola. Erin has searched for years for Henry’s parents and for a male descendant of Henry’s son Harry. Her story about Henry, much of which is confirmed in the 1900 census for Philadelphia:[1]

    • He was born about 1829 in Maryland. Both his parents were born in Maryland.
    • In about 1880, he married Martha Anne (Annie) Stewart born about 1846. She and her parents were born in Delaware.
    • Family legend says the couple ran off from her home near Glasgow, New Castle County, Delaware to be married in Elkton, Cecil County, Maryland near the Delaware border.
    • Henry and Annie lived in Philadelphia in 1900. She had four children between 1880 and 1885, two of whom died in infancy.[2]
    • Henry was a carpenter.

Beyond the 1900 Census and the records relating to daughters who did not survive, there are only a few pieces of record evidence about this family:  a few entries in the City Directory of Philadelphia; a baptism of their youngest son; a death certificate for Henry; the 1910 census after Henry’s death; and the 1920 censuses after the death of Annie. Here is what we learn from those data …

Philadelphia City Directories                

Henry Willis, carpenter, appears in the 1901 and 1904 city directories of Philadelphia with his home address of 1335 South Hicks . However, he does not appear in 1873, 1881, 1894, 1897, or 1898.[3] It is reasonable to conclude that he did not take up residence in Philadelphia until shortly before the 1900 Census. This obviously raises the question, “Where the heck was he?”

 Harry Willis 1888 Baptism  

Henry and Annie may have almost lost a third child. On 17 October 1888, they arranged for the minister of Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church to come to their home  and baptize their youngest child, Harry. The entry in the church record indicates the child was sick.[4] Often, a couple arranged for a home baptism if they feared their child was about to die. Thankfully, Harry lived to have children of his own.

Henry Willis 1906 Death Certificate

Carpenter Henry Willis died on 18 Sep 1906 and was buried at Hillside Cemetery in Philadelphia. His death certificate states he was born in Maryland and lived at 1335 So. Hicks Street. His death certificate does not name his parents or their place of birth. It states he died of kidney failure,[5]

1910 and 1920 Censuses

The widow Annie appears as Anna Willis in the 1910 census for Philadelphia as head of household with daughter Lola, son Harry, and five-year old granddaughter “Elsa.” [6] That census shows Lola working as a candy maker and Harry as a street car conductor. Both Lola and Harry are listed as single. Elsa apparently is Lola’s child. She appears with Lola Stevenson (neé Willis) in the next census as “Elva” Stevenson, age 14, along with four other children.[7] Harry appears in the 1920 Census with his wife Emma and four children ages eight through five. [8]

Missing Records

Here the frustration begins. There appear to be no other records that might help explain this family. For example, Henry Willis does not appear in certain census records, vital records, or probate records :

Census Records

Annie appears as Martha Anne/Annie Stewart in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses for Pencader Hundred, Glasgow Post Office, New Castle County, Delaware. She is in the household of her father James, a farmer in that community. However, Henry Willis does not appear in the 1850 through 1870 censuses for Maryland or any adjoining state. He should be named somewhere, but is not. Furthermore, Annie and Henry do not appear in the 1880 census. It is not all that uncommon for a person to be missed or a name misspelled in one census. However, it is highly unlikely for that to occur three or four times in a row, unless of course, that person wants to be missed. Erin Daniels also told me that Henry may have been a bit of a rascal or a troublemaker. It makes one guess that Henry might have used an alias.

Vital Records

There is no marriage record for the couple, nor are there birth records for any of their children except Harry’s twin Julia. There are no baptism records for any of their children except Harry, who was sick. There is no death record for Annie or for young Harry’s twin Julia. Again, some of this may be due to incomplete or lost records, or perhaps they are just not available online. However, given Henry’s absence in the census record, one has to ask, “Was the couple actually married? Did they use an alias?”

Probate Records

There are no probate records for Henry or Annie, which is not surprising. The couple apparently did not have significant assets. They did not own real estate; they always rented the place they lived. However, Annie Stewart was not from a poor family. She and her sister Mary were the only children of James Stewart and his wife Eliza. After her mother’s death between 1850 and 1860,  Annie continued living with her father. Her sister Mary married Henry Kendall in 1864,[9] and the couple lived on her father’s farm in 1870. Annie was also there in 1870. James Stewart died in 1874[10] owning real estate worth about $2,000 and $400 of personal property.[11]

There is no online probate information for New Castle County, Delaware beyond 1800. Therefore, we do not know whether Annie inherited anything. James Stewart’s probate file may not reveal anything about Henry Willis, but you never know. I will just have to make a trip to Wilmington or Dover when Covid abates, and check the original paper records.

This ends Part 1 and the litany of missing information. In Part 2 we will see if we can find Henry hiding in plain sight.

[1] 1900 Census Philadelphia, Ward 26, District 0628

https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DTG3-6M1?i=18&cc=1325221&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AM3W8-DKX

1335 Kick [sic South Hicks] Street

Henry Willis head May 1829 71 M20  MD MD MD Carpenter Rent House

Annie Willis wife Jun 1846     53 M20  4/2 DE DE DE

Lola Willis son [sic Dau] Apr 1882 18  S  PA MD DE

Harry Willis son  Oct 1885 14  S  PA MD DE

[2] A Philadelphia Death Certificate proves a daughter born in 1884 who died that same year: Elinar Jessie Willis, born 1884, died 22 Sep 1884 in Philadelphia, PA, age one month, female, father Henry Willis, mother Annie Willis, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/2233393:2535?tid=&pid=&queryId=c55646857b4faa216b36bf1856d9b842&_phsrc=DgH3&_phstart=successSource

And, a Philadelphia Birth Record proves a daughter born in 1885 who did not survive. She was a twin of Harry: Julia E. Willis, female, born 16 Oct 1885 in Philadelphia, father Harry Willis, mother Anna Willis

“Pennsylvania Births and Christenings, 1709-1950”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V2NV-K9B : 15 February 2020), Julia E. Willis, 1885.

[3] Philadelphia City Directories by various publishers as found on Fold 3.

[4] Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church Records, Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church,https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2451/images/40355_267328-00065?usePUB=true&_phsrc=tQw4&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&pId=7976645

[5] Philadelphia Death Certificate:

Henry Willis, male, white, married, date of birth unknown, date of death 18 Sep 1906, age 75 years, resided at 1335 So. Hicks Street, was ill for 10 days, chief cause of death Uraemia [kidney failure], contributing causes Nephritis [kidney disease] and myocarditis [inflammation of the heart], Dr. J. Moon Campbell/Camphill?, Philadelphia Hospital, date of burial 21 Sep 1906, place Hillside Cemetery, Undertaker Robert P. Martin, 1444 So. Broad St

“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JK37-W2X : 18 February 2021), Henry Willis, 18 Sep 1906; citing cn 23553, Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 1,319,466.

[6] 1910 Census Philadelphia Ward 40, District 1033, “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MGHQ-XJ2 : accessed 5 January 2022), Anna Willis, Philadelphia Ward 40, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 1033, sheet 7B, family 143, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1410; FHL microfilm 1,375,423.

1826 South Allison Street

Anna Willis F 63 Wid 4/2 DE DE DE Rents Home

Lola dau F27 Sing PA MD DE  Candy Maker in Candy Store

Harry son M 24 Sing PA MD DE Street Car Conductor

Elsa granddau F Sing PA PA PA

[7] 1920 Census, Philadelphia Ward 40, District 1453, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/77217633:6061?tid=&pid=&queryId=19c95d4c019145aa9bda5fa51a2c83eb&_phsrc=Vvv1&_phstart=successSource

5532 Paschall Avenue

James Stevenson M 37 PA PA PA Auto Mechanic Rents Home

Lola wife F 37                 PA DE MD

Elva Dau F 14  School  PA PA PA

James Son M 8 School  PA PA PA

Harry Son M 7 School  PA PA PA

Reba Dau F 5                   PA PA PA

Mildred Dau F 2 10/12 PA PA PA

[8] 1920 Census, Philadelphia, Ward 40, District 1461, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/77226506:6061?tid=&pid=&queryId=ccccee670eed5c7a101f6852bb057775&_phsrc=Vvv4&_phstart=successSource

6332 Theoadore Ave.

Harry Willis 34 M Phil MD DE Driver in Coal Yard Rents Home

Emma wife 28 F Phil PA PA

Harry son 8 M Phil Phil Phil in School

Ethel dau 7 F Phil Phil Phil in School

Helen dau 6 F Phil Phil Phil

Effie dau 5 F Phil Phil Phil

[9] Marriage date 28 Apr 1864 per Delaware Marriage Records, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1508&h=78789&tid=&pid=&queryId=dabeb42f303b1ebacf9892713f541bf5&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Vvv14&_phstart=successSource

[10] James Stewart (of Seth) death date 7 Dec 1874 per Presbyterian Church Records, 1701- 1970, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=61048&h=1500507877&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=7163

[11] 1850 Census Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/18428343:8054

James Stewart 44 M DE Farmer

Eliza                    44 F  MD

Mary E                     7 F DE

Martha A                5 F DE

John Stewart    46 M DE Farmer

David Willey    14 M DE

1860 Census Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, Glasgow Post Office, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/10383554:7667

James Stewart    53 M DE Farmer $2,800 real prop, $750 personal prop

Mary                         17 F DE

Martha                     14 F DE attends school

1870 Census Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, Glasgow Post Office, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/1897649:7163

James Stewart    64 M DE Farmer $2,000 real prop, $400 personal prop

Martha                     24 F DE Keeps House

Henry Kendall      35 M DE Farm Hand [second family in same dwelling]

Mary E                     27 F DE Keeps House

Mary E                     5   F DE at Home

Ella May                  3  F DE at Home

Harry                        1 M DE at Home

One thought on “Henry Willis, Carpenter of Maryland and Philadelphia (1829-1906) Part 1”

  1. Thank you for your research into my elusive ancestor Henry Willis. I am hopeful that someone reading this will have some clue as to his origins and early life in Maryland. Any tidbit could be helpful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.