Searching for Mary Ellen

“Searching for Mary Ellen,” New Era, Aug. 1999, 26

Searching for Mary Ellen

She needed my help—help I desperately wanted to give her. But first, I had to find her.

The name of my third great-grandmother, Mary Ellen Williams, stood out on the list of names I was researching because she was half Cherokee Indian. I became interested in family history when I was about 12. After a few years of researching the lives of my ancestors, I was fascinated by this small detail about her life. But finding the information necessary to submit Mary Ellen’s name for temple work was tough.

I began my search by looking through the 1900 census records. I couldn’t find what I needed there, so Mary Ellen’s name went back into the files and I continued to work on other family lines. About one year later I found an old tattered envelope which contained letters from people whom my mother had corresponded with concerning her family history. There wasn’t much information about Mary Ellen, but it stirred an excitement in me once again. I searched through cemetery records, marriage records, birth dates, and death dates. I was running out of leads, but I continued to fast and pray for any leads to Mary Ellen.

In 1996 at a family reunion, I sought help from family members and received a copy of an obituary of Grace Meador Wooden, Mary Ellen’s daughter. I read it hoping to find something about Mary Ellen. Again nothing. However, survivors listed in the obituary included a sister named Audry. I looked in the phone directory and found her number. My mother called her for me to ask for any information on Mary Ellen. Audry answered many questions and said she would send me what she could. I waited daily for news from Audry, but nothing came.

Two months had passed when I got a phone call from Audry’s daughter. Audry had not been well and had passed away shortly after she and my mother had spoken. But the search for Mary Ellen didn’t end with Audry’s death. While going through her mother’s things, Audry’s daughter found an old family Bible and said she would send me information out of it.

Another two months passed and nothing came in the mail. I couldn’t give up so I spoke out loud, “Mary Ellen, I don’t know where you are, and I have searched everywhere possible. I don’t know where else to look. If you want to be found, you have to help me.” The next day I received a large manila envelope from Audry’s daughter containing valuable information. Among the treasures was a copy of a small booklet of biographical sketches of Mary Ellen Williams. I had found her after two and a half years of searching. I immediately went to my room and thanked my Heavenly Father for answering my prayers. On August 11, 1998, my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Ellen Williams, received her temple blessings.

Illustrated by Robert Barrett