George William Rakestraw was the brother of my great great grandmother, Zerilda Rakestraw Springer. Unlike his sister, he is very well documented. Even so, I’ve had a difficult time researching him. He had an uncle who was also named George William, so he went by William or Willie, but he also had a son named William, who seemed to go by Willie as a child. Willie also had a son, Charles Marion and a cousin, Charles Marion. I understand wanting to honor family members, but at some point, it’s just too much. After hours upon hours of searching, deciphering, and some math, I have Willie mostly figured out.
George William “Willie” Rakestraw was born on August 20, 1873 in New Albany, Indiana, to parents Francis Marion and Mary Elizabeth (Gilliland) Rakestraw. He had dark hair and blue eyes. He was the baby of the family, as his sister was five years older.
An article appeared in the New Albany Evening Tribune, saying that Willie had married a Mamie Haine on February 2, 1891.
I could not find a marriage record for them in Floyd county, surrounding counties, or Illinois, where I though Mamie might be from. Willie would’ve been seventeen at the time, so he also would’ve needed parental permission to marry.
I did find that Willie married Mamie Haney in Floyd County, Indiana on October 9, 1891. It also appeared in the paper the following day.
It seems their honeymoon period was short-lived because the paper on October 24, 1891 reports that Mamie had filed suit against Willie for support.
I couldn’t find what became of that suit, but I believe that Mamie went to Illinois without Willie and was pregnant at the time. I’ve looked at several family trees that say Mamie gave birth to Otto William Rakestraw in Mound City, Illinois on December 25, 1891. I have a copy of a photo of Otto Rakestraw that I got from my grandfather, but I have no proof of his relationship. I’ve sent letters out to try and obtain a copy of a birth record and I hope to hear from someone soon. Willie is listed as being in New Albany in both the 1890 and 1892 Caron’s City Directories, which is how I know he didn’t go with Mamie.
Here is where the timeline gets messy. That’s right, it wasn’t messy before. On October 8, 1893, William W. Rakestraw was born, the son of Willie by Lillian Margaret Bennett. At least, according to both of William W.’s marriage records (1917 and 1933). The 1900 Census and the transcription of the Rakestraw Family Bible both give October 8, 1894. I’m inclined to believe the marriage records, as Census are often wrong and I don’t have access to the original Rakestraw Family Bible to know if there were any transcription errors. There is no birth record on file for him, and his death record gives his birth date as October 8, 1898 (I’m thinking this was written by the informant as 1893 and misread by the clerk as 1898). I’m still holding out hope for a primary source to prove one or the other.
In those same family trees that mention Otto’s birth, it is written that Willie and Mamie were granted a divorce from Mound City on October 23, 1893. I have inquiries out on this as well, but it seems logical to me that infidelity would cause Mamie to file for divorce.
Willie married Lillie Bennett on April 14, 1894 in Floyd County, Indiana.
There are articles (I’ll get to them in a bit) that give marriage dates of January and April 1893, but since Willie and Mamie were still married that wouldn’t be possible, or at least not legal. I also couldn’t find any marriage records for Willie and Lillie on those dates.
Charles Marion Rakestraw was born on January 22, 1896 in New Albany, Indiana. He is the second son of Willie and Lillie.
Things go downhill for Willie and Lillie the following year. On April 9, 1897, Lillie filed suit against Willie for maintenance. The suit was dismissed on June 11, 1897.
Lillie then filed for divorce on December 1, 1897. This must have been a long process. It was listed on the court docket on January 14, 1898 and then again on October 1, 1898 and still the divorce was not granted.
On February 20, 1899, Louise Rakestraw was born. Three weeks later, Lillie petitioned to dismiss the divorce case.
On May 24, 1899, Willie filed for divorce and it was granted by the court on June 17, 1899. He asked for and was granted custody of William and Charles.
Lillie and baby Louise went to live with Lillie’s mother. Willie, William, and Charles moved in with Willie’s parents and his niece, Mildred Springer.
On June 5, 1902, Willie married Lorena Bender in Louisville, Kentucky. By 1910, Willie and Lorena were living in Madison County, Illinois, but William and Charles were still living with Willie’s parents. Charles did spend some time in Illinois with his dad, as this letter, dated December 15th, indicates.
Willie and Lorena moved to Louisville at some point after 1918 (Willie’s draft registration shows he was still in Illinois). Willie and William ran a music store in Louisville until Willie’s death in 1935.
I still have to wonder about Otto and Louise. Why did Willie not seek custody for either of them? Why didn’t he even acknowledge them? With all of my grandfather’s stories that had been passed down through the Rakestraw family, I had never heard of either one until I started researching Willie. William’s obituary said that he was survived by a sister, Louise, so I suppose he must have had some contact with her. I guess these are questions to which I may never know the answers.
Lillie’s mom lived in New Albany. Where did you hear they went to Chicago? She is on the 1900 Floyd Co. Census.
Just yesterday (2/7/2017) I was wishing I had your dad to talk to because this family must have had more secrets than we’ve found over the years. Today I found your page and think Sanford led me here to find you.
William’s son lives not far from you in KY. However, his DNA test does not match up with any Rakestraws. It suggests he is a Perkins. I’m trying to figure out why Willie and Lillie would name a son William William/s Rakestraw. Did your grandfather share the letter Lillie sent to Mildred? So many questions, once in a while a bit more trickles out.
Oh, I noticed you said William said his mother was Lillian Bennett on two of his 3 marriage records – he stated Lorena Bender was his mother in the marriage to “Dixie”.
I must have confused my records when I was initially writing. I do see that is says New Albany on that census and a later census has Louise in Chicago by herself. I’ll correct that.
I have yet to see a letter from Lillie to Mildred. Grandpa never showed it to me. I may come across it as I go through his boxes of paperwork, though.
I also wondered about William Williams. At first I thought it might have been his mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name, but I couldn’t find a connection.
I first heard about Otto from your grandfather. I don’t know where he found the information. I might have it in a file here, somewhere. Your grandfather wrote me quite a few letters over the years. I’ll read through them soon to see if there are any clues. I’ll also see how big the pile is to see if it is feasible to copy them all and send on copies.
I’m hoping you can find a photo that has my grandparents and their children (along with Sanford’s family and even Willie is in it). At the time Sanford made a copy of it for me, New Albany didn’t have a good laser printer so he copied it at church. It would be nice to have a crisp copy.
I recently noticed a Perkins signed some paperwork in a marriage or some other event of the family. I’m wondering if this is the family that cousin George in KY might descend from? I first learned about Otto from Sanford. He gave me the article with the photo. He said he asked Charlie if he’d like to meet his brother but Grandpa declined. Aunt Louise had been a great disappointment. He told Sanford he’d had enough relatives.
I found the copy of the letter that Lillie sent. I’ll re-read the other pages for questions you had and let you know if I have anything that might answer them.
I found the letter your grandfather wrote to me about meeting Otto. He said he’d never heard of Otto until around 1940 when he came by trying to trace his family.
Here is a transcription of the letter Lillie sent to Ella.
Correspondence dated 10 Nov 1893 from Lillie Bennett to Ella Rakestraw. (original in possession of Sanford Wiseheart)
Mifs Ella Rakestraw Kind Friend Though personally unknown I though(t) I would take the liberty of writting you a short note which I trust will be exceptable. If it is agreeable with I would like for you to come down to my house before Sunday if you possibly can as I would like to you on particular business. I will ask of you as a favor to keep this a secret from Willie and your Mamma as I dont want them to know any thing about this. Hoping that my favor will be granted I will close. Yours Truely. Lillie Bennett #208 West Main St. between 7th & 8th
I did see a copy of this where the sender’s name had been cut off. I haven’t seen the original. But, it definitely helps to know who sent it.
Dug out my Rakestraw notes, including all the letters I received from your grandfather. I’m going to start entering any missing facts he shared on my ancestry.com page to make sure the info is out there. Once I’m done, I’ll send you the originals.
Found some more letters about Otto tonight. Makes it even more confusing. I don’t know if the dates are incorrect.
The WWI draft card says he was born December 25, 1891.
The WWII draft card says he was born December 25, 1895.
The SSI says he was born December 25, 1891.
About Otto. Sanford says in one letter that they first met in 1940. That Otto was passing through New Albany looking for family. Sanford says he doesn’t think Otto ever met William.
A couple of letters had more info –
9 Jan 1996 – Sanford wrote to say he found Mamie filed from divorce from William 24 July 1893 and it would be final 23 Oct 1893.
(On 10 Nov 1893, Lilly writes to Ellenora and wants to meet with her. Is she wondering if William is finally divorced?) Both Sanford and Naomi gives Otto’s birthdate as 25 Dec 1893.
(Lilly and Mamie – their families lived next to each other in 1880).
Mamie’s family appears to have moved prior to 1890 – her father dies in Nebraska on Feb 4 1890. He’s buried in NE. Why did she end up in New Albany a year later to marry William? I suspect the first marriage was annulled.
14 Jan 1996 – Sanford says he found two letters from Otto Rakestraw. The one is dated 4-28-1960. Otto is ill and his wife is in the hospital. Otto’s mother has died (April 6, 1960). She lived in St. Louis.
As for the proof of William being the father of Mamie’s son. We can connect the names of the parents in the wedding records. Otto believed he was a Rakestraw. Since he had no children there is no way to prove otherwise.
I don’t think William believed he was the father and that is why he left Mamie in 1891. I’ve also wondered if he believed he was the father of Louise.