Lost then found – McGowin descendants conduct search for father

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 26, 2010

Searching for one’s ancestry has become quite popular with many individuals. The recent programs produced by Ancestry.com and shown on television on Friday evenings amazed folks as to how much one might learn about their family heritage. For example, in one program, Brook Shields discovered she had connections to royalty in Italy and France. As the progress of her search was revealed, it showed how one might access numerous resources to learn about one’s own family lineage.

Today’s narrative will share an experience this writer had with a gentleman wishing to learn what had become of his natural father and any related genealogy. Jerry McMillan, currently of Van, Texas, was born in Andalusia in 1936 as Jerry Hamner McGowin. (His middle name came from a local family physician, Dr. S.C. Hamner. His natural father was Jackson Lewis “Jack” McGowin and his mother was Aria Ethel (Lovelace) McGowin. Jerry had a brother, William Jackson McGowin, who was born two years earlier. William “Bill” McMillan and his family live near Jerry in Texas.

Jerry’s parents separated when he and Bill were very young boys, and they lived with their mother and her parents. Within a few years his mother was married to Claude Elliott McMillan, a native of Mississippi, who was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed at Eglin Air Force Base. The couple resided in Crestview, Fla., and the two boys lived with them and their Lovelace relatives. Later, Claude was transferred to Hensley Field in Grand Prairie, Texas, and the boys moved there with them where they lived until they left home.

Through the years, Jerry and Bill remained close to their Lovelace relatives and visited them in Andalusia quite often. There seemed to have never been any mentioning to them about their natural father who had moved away from this area. At least, if the adults knew anything, they did not share it with the two young boys.

At 16, Jerry enlisted in the U.S. Marines. At the young age, he had to have his parents’ permission to be accepted. He had been reared as Jerry McMillan and continued to use that name during his service tenure. When he completed his service at age 20 he was married and had a young son. He chose at that time to officially have his name declared legally as Jerry Hamner McMillan in case there was ever any question. He had long lost contact with his natural father and did not have any significant memory of him.

Jerry had also married at age 16 to Barbara Wilson of Dallas, Texas. They reared the following three sons: Jerry Wayne, single; Johnny Colt, m. Nancy Carter; and Wade Elliott, m. Tammy Gaston. He later married Frances Jane Davis of Big Sandy, Texas. His brother, Bill, was married first to LaRita Kelley with whom he had two children, William Wayne and Teresa. He was married second to Barbara, and they have a son, Grant.

After a successful career as a mechanic and work with elevators, Jerry established his own company in elevator sales and repair. After 18 years, he sold the company and retired to his farm in Van, Texas. In the last few years, he began to seriously reflect upon his past. He especially developed a keen interest in learning whatever happened to his natural father. Did he ever remarry, and did he have other children? Do he and his brother, Bill, have any half-siblings or other family connections? Thus, a genealogical quest was created.

Jerry engaged the help of a cousin residing in Andalusia to put him in touch with someone who might be of some assistance. The cousin contacted this writer to see what ways there might be to help Jerry find answers to his burning questions. This initiated a regular communication that has resulted in a rewarding friendship and discoveries related to Jerry’s natural father and related genealogy.

The only thing Jerry knew about his natural father was that he was born in 1910 and that he had a full head of red hair. He was able t secure copies of two small black and white pictures of his dad with a few other relatives. He knew something about his Lovelace ancestry, but he had practically no knowledge of the father’s McGowin family.

A book entitled McGowan Family, located in the genealogy section of the Andalusia Public Library, revealed some valuable data. Jerry’s father, Jackson Lewis McGowin, was born on December 10, 1910, in the Pleasant Home community, several miles south of Andalusia. His parents, William L. (probably for Lewis) and Sarah Agnes (Padgett) McGowin, also had a second son, Jacob “Little Jakie” McGowin, who was born on Dec. 2, 1902, and died April 7, 1904, He was buried in the Pleasant Home Baptist Church Cemetery. This means Jackson Lewis was reared as an only child.

Sarah Agnes Padgett’s parents were William H. “Bud” Padgett and Nancy C. Hart who lived in the Conecuh River and the Pleasant Home communities of Covington County. They reared the following children: Sarah Agnes, b. ca 1876, m. William L. McGowin; Dennis E., b. 1880; Idella, b. 1883; James A., b. 1885; Elijah, b. 1888; and Bernice, b. 1894.

William L. McGowin’s parents were Jacob Lewis and “Sally” (Douglas) McGowin. Jacob Lewis had previously married Rebecca Francis Moore who died in 1871 and was buried in the Old Moore Cemetery. It appears that he and Sally had the following children before her death in 1888: William L., b. 1873, m. 1902 Sarah Agnes Padgett (ca 1875-1944); John R., b. 1875, d. 1934, m. Ethel S. Moore; Jacob F., b. 1877, m. Mollie Clements; Walter G.; Maye Emaline; Maggie Lou; and twins, David and Stacey. After Sally’s death, Jacob Lewis was married to Donnie Sowell who helped him rear the children.

Jacob Lewis McGowin was the son of John McGowin I and his wife, Mary Lewis. In addition to Jacob, b. 1836, d. 1899, they had the following sons: Alex, Anthony, Samuel, James II, and John. John McGowin I was the son of David and Elizabeth McGowin.

The primary subject of this story, Jackson Lewis McGowin, was married in Andalusia in 1932 to Aria Ethel Lovelace, daughter of James Wesley and Mary Victoria (Burke) Lovelace. After the birth of their two sons, Jack and Aria separated, and Aria and the two boys lived with her parents at their home south of Andalusia.

Aria met Claude Elliott McMillan who was serving in the Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base. They were eventually married and lived in Crestview, Fla. They had two additional children: James Aaron “Jimmy,” b. 1948; and Joan Karen, b. 1950. Both of them had two sons and a daughter, and both deceased.

No one seemed to know what happened to Jackson Lewis McGowin after he moved from the area. After considerable searches including tracing social security records, his son, Jerry, was able to find answers to his questions.  His dad moved to the Tampa, Fla., area where he lived out his life. He was found dead by a friend on Nov. 2, 1980, and the medical records indicated he died from a heart attack. At the time he was 69 years of age and living alone. County records there revealed he was buried in Rest Haven Memorial Park in an unmarked grave, located in Space 16 So., Row 31. Jerry and Bill hope to visit the site in the near future and place an appropriate marker. This means an end to a long but rewarding search for one’s natural father.

Interviews with Jerry McGowin/McMillan were the primary source for this writing. Local records and the McGowan Family book were quite helpful. Jerry and other members of his family would be most interested in hearing from anyone in the McGowin or Padgett families who might have information to share or who might just want to communicate with them. He may be contacted at 903-963-8860; P.O. Box 756, Van, TX 75790; or email: jmcmillan5136@aol.com.

Anyone who might have any question related to any of the above information is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.