H.L. Williams

Looking to score that civil war pension? You might have had to convince H.L. Williams to get it.

Norfolk & Western listed H.L. Williams as a passenger from Johnson City, Tennessee.1 The earliest city directory for Johnson City available during the research for Lost at Thaxton was from 1908, nearly a decade after the wreck. Because of the 1921 fire that destroyed most of the 1890 census records, there is a large gap of time before and after the wreck that makes it difficult to determine H. L. Williams’s identity with certainty. The 1908 Johnson City directory had only one possible candidate, Harry L. Williams.2 Harry was a special examiner for the pension office of the US government and his spouse was named “Georgie”, but there is no specific evidence that he was the H. L. Williams in Johnson City in 1889.

Further research into the Harry L. Williams in that 1908 city directory leads to the 1910 census. In 1910, a Harry L. Williams was living in Johnson City on 206 Walnut Street, which was the same address for Williams in the 1908 city directory. He was forty-eight years old, married to Georgia A (or H) who was forty-one years old. Georgia was born in Georgia, but both of her parents were from South Carolina. Harry and Georgia had a son, Heyward, and a daughter, Ruth. Ruth was 11 years old and was born in Tennessee. Heyward was nine, and was born in “Washington”. The census record does not clarify if that was Washington, DC or the state of Washington. Some other key information in the 1910 census record indicates that Harry was from South Carolina, his father was from South Carolina, his mother from England, and Harry’s occupation was listed as an examiner of pensions.3 This seems to tie the 1908 Johnson City directory record to the 1910 census record.

If Harry’s son Heyward was born in Washington, DC, it would possibly explain a 1900 census record from that area for Harry L. Williams, his wife “Georgie”, and his daughter Ruth. The ages and birth locations are all in line with the record from 1910, but Georgie is listed from South Carolina instead of Georgia. Harry’s occupation was simply listed as a departmental clerk.4/sup>

A 1920 census record from Indianapolis shows a Harry Williams, now fifty-eight years old, married to a Georgia H (or A), a daughter Ruth, and a son Heyward G. The occupation for that Harry Williams is listed as a pension examiner. The ages listed for Harry and his family members match with previous census records, and the birth locations for each family member also match with the other Williams family records from 1900 and 1910.5

There is strong evidence to suggest that the Harry L. Williams that lived in Johnson City, TN in 1908 is the same man that was listed in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census records mentioned here. The ultimate question is whether or not that Harry Williams was the H.L. Williams that was traveling on N&W passenger train Number Two in the Thaxton train wreck. Unfortunately there is currently not enough information to say for sure.

Do you think you know who the H.L. Williams was on the train that night? If you think he might have been an ancestor of yours, or if you have some additional information that might help identify H.L. Williams I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!


  1. Fourteenth Annual Report of The Railroad Commissioner of the State of Virginia, J.H. O’Bannon Superintendent of Public Printing, Richmond, VA, 1890: p. xlv. http://books.google.com/books?id=CFopAAAAYAAJ
  2. Piedmont Directory Co., Inc., Johnson City Tennessee City Directory, 1908-1909, p. 86.
  3. Census record for Harry L. Williams, Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnson Ward 1, Washington, Tennessee; Roll: T624_1524; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 0202; Image: 831; FHL microfilm: 1375537.
  4. Census record for Harry L. Williams, Year: 1900; Census Place: Washington, Washington, District of Columbia; Roll: 158; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 18; FHL microfilm: 1240158.
  5. Census record for Harry Williams, Year: 1920; Census Place: Indianapolis Ward 2, Marion, Indiana; Roll: T625_450; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 54; Image: 975.

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