Tracking Great-Grandmother Laura Mae (Fields) Pace across Texas

Laura Mae Fields Migration Map
Texas counties in which Laura Mae (Fields) Pace lived. Adapted from a public domain United States Census Bureau Image.1
This past Sunday, I wrote about last week’s big research find…the discovery of an obituary and death certificate for my husband Jeff’s great-grandmother Laura Mae Fields (1896-1933).

Laura Mae was the mother of Jeff’s paternal grandfather and nine younger children. She was married to great-grandfather Andrew Jackson “A.J.” Pace (d. 1961). Laura Mae died tragically young, leaving her husband to raise eight minor-age children ranging from 17 years old to just a few months old. The oldest child (my husband’s grandfather) was of adult age at the time of his mother’s death, and another child died shortly after her mother.


Laura Mae’s descendants know very little about her life and childhood. I am piecing together something of a life story for them, one research question at a time, using methodology that follows the Genealogical Proof Standard.


According to her death certificate and obituary, Laura Mae Fields was born 8 October 1896 in Van Zandt County, Texas.2, 3 Husband A.J. Pace is identified as the informant on the death certificate, and likely served the same role for the obituary, so these documents only provide secondary (yet direct) evidence of Laura Mae’s birth since it is highly doubtful that husband A.J. was an eyewitness to her birth.

I do not yet have an actual birth certificate or even index birth record for my husband’s great-grandmother, which would provide primary and direct evidence of her birth. I am not even sure if an official birth certificate exists. According to the FamilySearch Wiki, although birth registrations in some Texas counties began as early as the 1840s, most did not actually begin this practice until statewide registration of births became mandatory in 1903.4 I will have to check at the county or town level for a possible birth registration, or for alternative documentation such as a baptism record.

The death certificate provides no information about the mother of Laura Mae, and only notes the surname for her father (Fields, no given name).5 The only other clues about her childhood nuclear family unit are references in the obituary to a surviving brother and sister.6

1910 U.S. Census

Knowing from both the death certificate and her obituary that Laura Mae Fields married Andrew Jackson Pace on 24 November 1912 (she was 16 years old) in Mesquite, Dallas County, Texas, I looked for Laura Mae on the 1910 U.S. census, where I assumed she would be living with her parents and two siblings.5, 6

In this census, I find three possible candidates, with the same name and same approximate birth year, residing in Texas in 1910. Only one candidate is identified as “Laura May” [Mae] versus just “Laura” and only one candidate is living in Dallas County–the same county in which our great-grandmother was married two years later.

Laura Mae Fields 1910 US Census Search

Great-grandmother Laura Mae Fields was enumerated in the U.S. census on 25 April 1910, in Justice Precinct 4, Dallas County, Texas, living with her brother and sister-in-law.9

Fields Family 1910 US Census Texas

The family is living in a rented home, not on a farm.

  • Julius E. Fields is identified as the head of household, age 19 (born about 1891). Married, in his first marriage, currently married for less than one year. He is noted as born in Texas, with a father born in Texas, and a mother born in Georgia. Julius is “working as a farm worker out w [west?],” not unemployed, able to read, able to write, and did not attend school the past year.
  • Essay F. Fields is identified as the wife of Julius, age 23 (born about 1887). Married, in her second marriage, currently married for less than one year. She and her parents are noted as born in Texas. Essay does not work, is able to read, and is able to write.
  • Laura May Fields is identified as the sister of Julius, age 13 (born about 1897). She is single, and is noted as born in Texas, with a father born in Texas, and a mother born in Georgia. Like her brother Julius, Laura Mae is “working as a farm worker out w [west?],” not unemployed, able to read, able to write, but did attend school the past year.

Sister-in-law Essay is the likely information who spoke with the census taker, since she did not work, and it would appear that Julius and Laura Mae were working away from the area.

Without any corroborating records identifyng a brother named Julius, what makes me think this is the right Laura May Fields?

  • She is the only Laura Fields living in Dallas County, in the couple years prior to her marriage in that county.
  • She is the only Laura Fields recorded with the middle name of May/Mae.

At this point in the research process, we do not have sufficient evidence that this is indeed our Laura Mae Fields.

1900 U.S. Census

Armed with a brother’s name of Julius, I next looked for great-grandmother Laura Mae Fields on the 1900 federal census, the first census on which she would appear if born in 1896. Laura Mae Fields was enumerated in the 1900 census on 4 June 1900 in Justice Precinct 1, McLennan County, Texas. She is living with her mother, brother, and sister.10

Fields Family 1900 US Census Texas

This is the first document I have found identifying the name of Laura Mae’s mother and sister. Her mother shares the same given name as Laura Mae’s oldest daughter, Dollie Eleanor Fields, which makes it very likely that Great-Aunt Dollie is named after Laura Mae’s mother.

  • Dollie Fields is identified as the head of household, age 25 (born August 1874), and widowed [this is not true, but that is the topic for a later post]. She gave birth to four children, three of whom are still living in 1900. Dollie is noted as born in Georgia, with both parents born in Georgia. She is able to read and write.
  • Julius Fields is identified as Dollie’s son, 9 years old, born in July 1890. He is noted as born in Texas, with both parents born in Georgia. Julius is attending school.
  • Clara B. Fields is identified as Dollie’s daughter, 5 years old, born in January 1896. She is noted as born in Texas, with both parents born in Georgia, and not yet in school.
  • Laura M. Fields is identified as Dollie’s daughter, 3 years old, born in October 1896. This birth month and year are in agreement with what husband Andrew Jackson Pace reported in her 1933 death certificate and obituary.5, 6 She is noted as born in Texas, with both parents born in Georgia.

Nobody in the Fields household is identified as working. This makes me wonder how Dollie was able to financially provide for her three children.

Since Dollie was not working away from the home, and the children are nine years old or younger, it can be inferred that Dollie was the informant who talked to the census taker.

Following Her Footsteps

Great-grandmother Laura Mae’s life becomes easier to document and track after her marriage, at 16 years of age, to great-grandfather A.J. Pace, particularly through records that document where many of her ten children were born.

Laura Mae Fields Migration Map
Texas counties in which Laura Mae (Fields) Pace lived. Numbers correspond to the timeline.
Adapted from a public domain United States Census Bureau Image.13
I have discussed the movements by the family across Texas in depth, in recent posts:

  1. Tracking the Andrew Jackson Pace Family in Rural Depression Era Texas, 1930 and 1940 US Censuses,
  2. Great-Aunt Clara Irene Pace Tragically Taken by Meningitis at 15 Years Old,
  3. Finally Finding a Death Certificate and Obituary for Great-Grandmother Laura Mae (Fields) Pace.

From discoveries reviewed in the aforementioned posts, I am able to now expand upon my working timeline for Laura Mae Fields: what life event, on what date, where it happened, and how we know (which source, F = footnote/citation). The Key ID refers to the corresponding number on the above map.

Key When What Where How
1 8 October 1896 Born Van Zandt County F2, F3
2 4 June 1900 Residence Justice Precinct 1,
McLennan County
3 25 April 1910 Residence Justice Precinct 4, Dallas County F9
24 November 1912 Marriage Mesquite, Dallas County F2, F3
? 19 October 1913 Birth of son
Roy Delmar Pace
? F1414
4 1913 United with the
Baptist church
Donohoe, Bell County F3
? 16 September 1915 Birth of daughter
Dollie Eleanor Pace
Barlett, Bell or
Williamson County
5 24 September 1917 Birth of daughter
Clara Irene Pace
Mesquite, Dallas County F1616
6 12 September 1918 Residence Campbell, Hunt
? About 1920 Birth of son
Hulon Pace
? F1818
? About 1922 or 1926 Birth of daughter
Willie Mae Pace
? F18, F1919
6 About 1924 Birth of son
Leo Jackson Pace
Commerce, Hunt County F2020
? 3 March 1926 Birth of son
Ray Earl Pace
? F18
7 18 November 1928 Birth of son
Ladell Pace
Littlefield, Lamb
8 14 April 1930 Residence Justice Precinct 6,
Hockley County
7 January 1931 Birth of son
Charles Wayne Pace
Levelland, Hockley County F2222
8 11 November 1932 Birth of son
Jack Pace
Lamb County F2323
9 18 February 1933 Hospitalization at
Lubbock Sanitarium
Lubbock, Lubbock County F3
21 February 1933 Death Lubbock, Lubbock County F2, F3
10 21 February 1933 Burial at
Whitharral Cemetery
Hockley County F2, F3

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Next Steps

What new research questions do these two new census records raise?

  • What happened to Laura Mae’s mother between the 1900 and 1910 U.S. census? Family accounts have told me the answer, but I need documented evidence.
  • If Laura Mae’s mother Dollie was widowed by the 1900 federal census, who was her husband and when did he die? Again, I know that identifying herself as a widow was not correct, but that is a topic for future posts.

What new tasks do these new documents and questions warrant?

  • Locating documentation that provide’s mother Dollie’s maiden name.
  • Conducting a reasonably exhaustive search for possible birth records for Laura Mae Fields and her two siblings, even though all three were born prior to statewide birth registration became mandatory in 1903.
  • Locating documentation that identifies the father of Laura Mae Fields.


#52Ancestors: Chasing 3rd Great Grandfather Miles Washington Harless to Historic Castoria (French Camp)

French Camp
A promising stop on our family history adventure!

My 39th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

My 39th ancestor is my husband’s 3rd great grandfather, Miles Washington Harless (1826-1891). Miles was the father of Leonard Jackson Harless (1858-1946), who I discussed in my last blog post. Miles, his wife Margaret Gann (1830-1919), and newborn son Leonard Jackson emigrated from Missouri to California, crossing over the Sierra Nevada range via Ebbetts Pass in the summer of 1858. Miles also provides our family’s roundabout connection to the famous Hatfields and McCoys.

Harless, Miles Washington Household - 1860 US Census
1860 US Census, Castoria Township, San Joaquin County, California. The Miles Washington Harless household. Courtesy of Click to view larger image.

The 1860 U.S. Census is the first federal census that records the family living in California (16 June 1860), roughly two years after following the old emigrant route through Ebbetts Pass. The Harless household resided in Castoria Township (San Joaquin County) at this time, served by the Marietta Post Office.

Harless Miles Washington - Ancestry iPhone - French Camp
I plotted notes on a custom genealogy road trip Google Map before setting off on this trip. But, failed to print the map ahead of time and was afraid of what sort of data signal we might encounter that day. So I took a bunch of screenshots of the day’s maps.

A little bit of research taught me that Castoria was another name for French Camp, an unincorporated area that once served as the southernmost regular camp site for the Hudson Bay Company, who traded furs from Fort Vancouver. French Camp is also a California registered landmark.

Here was the terminus of the Oregon-California Trail used from about 1832 to 1845 by the French-Canadian trappers employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Every year Michel La Framboise, among others, met fur hunters camped with their families here. In 1844 Charles M. Weber and William Gulnac promoted the first white settlers’ colony on Rancho del Campo de los Franceses, which included French Camp and the site of Stockton. (California Office of Historic Preservation)

French Camp is located 5 miles south of Stockton, and is considered “the oldest non-Indian settlement in San Joaquin County.” (San Joaquin Historical Society & Museum)

Awesome! Sounds like a cool place with which to have an ancestral connection and to visit! After all, French Camp is just 82.5 miles (1 hour, 40 minutes) from Dorrington, which is where we were camping after crossing Ebbetts Pass. A simple day trip across the San Joaquin Valley.

So the day after hiking in the footsteps of these ancestors on a stretch of the Old Emigrant Trail, my husband Jeff and I loaded up the RV and the dog, and set off for historic French Camp (aka Castoria). A quick internet search prior had revealed a huge sign put up by the chamber of commerce welcoming visitors “to historical French Camp, the oldest community in San Joaquin County, established 1828”. Such a proud well-advertised claim by a local chamber surely meant that there would be a cute preserved historical district, where we would hopefully be able to find at least one or two structures dating back to 1860 when Miles Washington Harless and his family lived there. And definitely a cute little downtown business area in that historical district, where we could grab a relaxing lunch, sit outside on the patio with our dog, and soak in the surrounding history. I anticipated a little museum, where I could chat with a local historian who might recognize the Harless name and be able to point out the current location of the area noted as their home on that census record.

Not quite.

French Camp
Alright, so the sign, when seen in person, isn’t quite as big as the versions floating around on the internet appear. But, this IS prominently placed on the main highway into town, and it does still boast about the community’s history.

Driving into French Valley, we saw that big proud sign from the chamber of commerce. We weren’t sure where to find the historical district, so we just kept driving. And driving. And driving. In circles. Taking a bunch of different roads through town, and around town. Looking for signs to the historic district. Signs that did not exist. Because no cute little historic district exists. The town looked like any small community that has seen better days. We found one or two old homes, and the California landmark plaque at the school, but nothing else that would ever make someone who hadn’t seen that big fancy chamber sign think this was a town of any sort of historical significance.

French Camp
Driving the main highway around town.
French Camp
The livestock auction yard post-dates our ancestors’ time in French Camp, but I imagine that there was some sort of similar setup around back in 1860.


French Camp
We drove around town, looking for old buildings that might date back to 1860. This home looks sort of old. Maybe?
French Camp
Now we’re talking! Jeff and I chose to pretend that this might have been the 1860 Harless home.
French Camp
The school is one of the few older looking building, but no where near as old as we were hoping.
French Camp
The elusive historical landmark plaque is located in the school parking lot.

And lunch? We spotted two fast food type places. That was it. Lunch would happen somewhere else.

French Camp was a huge disappointment, on so many levels. I really should have investigated more before our vacation, sparing us the 4 hour round-trip drive across the entire San Joaquin Valley for nothing. It did however, provide us a glimpse of where our Harless ancestors lived after crossing over Ebbetts pass (and most likely taking their same route, along what is now Highway 4). So even Jeff admitted the trip was not a total waste. Fortunately, my husband loves to drive, loves road trips, loves country roads full of a lot of nothing, and can find humor in any situation.

I have no doubt my husband knows very well that he will spend many more years going on genealogy wild goose chases with me.

The trip wasn’t a total loss. My husband got to check another Bass Pro location off his bucket list, since Manteca was so close.

Bass Pro Manteca
Jeff didn’t consider this road trip across the San Joaquin Valley a total loss. Bass Pro Manteca…the only Bass Pro we have encountered that does not allow dogs.

When we headed to Maricopa for the third and final leg of our Sierras genealogy camping trip, I smartly decided to stop at the local history museum first before doing any exploring out that way. What a well done museum! Staffed with helpful, friendly volunteers who are very knowledgeable about the area. When I mentioned to one of them that we recently drove across the valley from the mountains to visit our ancestral home in French Camp, the docent started laughing and asked me how we liked French Camp, and what we found there. Yeah… we all got a good laugh out of that.

Highway 4, Outside French Camp
Highway 4 heading out of town. On to our next Harless stop.
Highway 4, Outside French Camp
A lot of corn growing alongside this part of Highway 4. Since our Harless folks were farmers and raised livestock, I imagine this area still looks pretty similar to what they saw here in 1860.
Highway 4, Outside French Camp
Picture this view minus the asphalt and utility wires, and Highway 4 probably looks like it did back in our Harless days.

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#52Ancestors: Retracing Leonard Jackson Harless’s 1858 Ebbetts Pass Trans-Sierra Route into California

Old Emigrant Road, Ebbetts Pass, Jeff and Colleen Greene
Jeff, Holly Beagle, and I at the summit of Ebbetts Pass.

My 38th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

My 38th ancestor is my husband’s 2nd great grandfather, Leonard Jackson Harless (1858-1946). I first wrote about Leonard in a post last year about the anniversary of his birth in 1858. I have also written about his father Miles Washington Harless (1826-1891), who ties us in a round about way to the Hatfields and McCoys, about Leonard’s 2nd great grandfather Ferdinand Harless (1755-1853), and about his 4th great grandfather John Philip Harless (1716-1772), the first Harless from this line to immigrate to the colonies in America.

Leonard Jackson Harless
Leonard Jackson Harless.

A few years ago, I learned from published histories that Leonard was born “on the plains” in 1858 while his parents Miles Washington Harless and Margaret Gann (1830-1919) emigrated from Missouri to California. Leonard and his family crossed into California using the emigrant route that scales the Sierra Nevada range at Ebbetts Pass. The pass and parts of that original emigrant route now constitute a 61-mile long national scenic byway that includes Highways 4 and 89. The pass is usually closed November through March due to heavy snow, and vehicles over 25 feet long are not advised to travel the steepest parts of the eastern byway. The byway runs from Markleeville (Alpine County) in the east to Arnold (Calaveras County) in the west.

I immediately wanted to travel this route! Jeff and I are huge outdoors buffs who are in heaven in the Sierra Nevada range. So a road trip up to Ebbetts Pass and back for a long weekend isn’t a chore for us. But, I wanted to put together more of the pieces of the Harless family’s history in their new California homes to make the most of the trip. Jeff and I finally quit making excuses and took what morphed into a 10 day road trip this past July retracing his Harless ancestors’ steps across Ebbetts Pass and following where they migrated to in central California.

These photos are highlights from the road trip across Ebbetts Pass, which pertain specifically to Leonard Jackson’s journey. I am working on a much longer, broader, more detailed write-up of the entire scenic byway for our outdoors blog,

Ebbetts Pass
Heading to Markleeville from our campground near Bridgeport.
Harless, Leonard Jackson, Ancestry profile in iPhone
Firing up my iPhone’s app, and taking screenshots of key facts before losing my data signal.
Old Emigrant Road, Ebbetts Pass, Harless
Starting the western climb up from Markleeville. Aside from the paved road, did our Harless ancestors see this same view during the summer of 1858?
Old Emigrant Road, Ebbetts Pass, Harless
Looking back towards Markleeville. Imagine making this climb in a wagon, on horse, or on foot?
A stretch of the original emigrant trail. Yes… the VERY trail our Harless ancestors walked, crossing the Sierra Nevada range.
Old Emigrant Road, Ebbetts Pass, Harless
Another view of the original emigrant trail, located across the valley from today’s paved road. Thankfully, the guide book clearly calls attention to where this can be seen, and there is a pull out to park and look.
Old Emigrant Road, Ebbetts Pass, Harless
A pasture across from the landmark sign at the summit of Ebbetts Pass (see photo at the top of this post). Why this photo? If today’s cattle find it a pleasant enough spot to graze, might our Harless ancestors have stopped here too to water and feed their animals?
Old Emigrant Road, Harless
A remaining piece of the original emigrant trail. Located west of Alpine lake. It was beyond COOL for us to hike here…walking where Jeff’s ancestors walked in 1858. The wide path through the trees lends evidence to wagons trekking this route for years.
Old Emigrant Road, Harless
God bless the ranger and volunteers who are signing and restoring still-accessible segments of the original Emigrant Trail for hikers and history nerds like us!
Old Emigrant Road, Alpine Lake, Harless
The original emigrant route used to pass where Alpine Lake now rests. The former river was later dammed and flooded, causing the route (now the byway) to get moved. Jeff soaks in the gorgeous views of this serene lake, looking out over where his ancestors trekked in 1858.
Old Emigrant Road, Harless
Another remaining stretch of the old emigrant trail.
Old Emigrant Road, Harless
We had an incredible 10 day vacation. But, this journey across Ebbetts Pass and the old emigrant road was worth the whole trip!

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