In this installment of Is Your Granny a Liar? we tackle two family legends in one and hopefully give readers some tips for getting to the bottom of an “oh – by the way, that ancestor was adopted” story!

The Legend

The submitter of this family legend was always told that they were related to the explorer and frontiersman, Zebulon Pike, through their ancestor Joe Lee Pike.

They didn’t know where to begin because they also heard a rumor that Joe was adopted, but the circumstances surrounding this are unclear. Supposedly, his parents, Lee Wisdom and Josephine Pike, were unable to have children of their own. One day Lee came home from the rail yard where he worked with a baby and an altered birth certificate. The family legend says that the baby may have belonged to a relative who was unable to care for him.

The Adoption Legend

First, we’ll start with the adoption legend to see if we can find any evidence to indicate whether or not Joe Lee Pike was adopted.

According to his death certificate, Joe was born on 3 July 1933 in St. Louis, Missouri. 1 His parents were listed as Lee Wisdom and Josephine Harriet Pike. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to list adoptive parents on a death certificate, but this record does give us a good starting off point to find more information since we now have a date and place of birth.

The first census record for Joe Lee in 1940 shows that he was living with his parents, Lee and Josephine, at 301 W. Texas Street in Denison, Grayson County, Texas.

Joe Lee Pike in the 1940 Census (click to enlarge)

Joe was listed as being six years old, and the state of his birth was listed as Texas. Josephine was the person who gave this information to the census taker. It’s fairly common for the place of birth to be off in a census record, but it is interesting that Joe was only 6 years old and his own mother, who should know his place of birth, was supplying the information. This record also shows that Lee worked as a carpenter in the bridge department of the local steam railway.2 Interestingly, Joe is an only child, which does support the story that Lee and Josephine were unable to have children of their own.

Since Joe was born in 1933, we could not easily search or view a birth certificate as there are only a few incomplete collections covering the 1930s and no comprehensive index after 1910. The state of Missouri only offers certified copies and since I am not related to Joe, I am ineligible to request one. Unfortunately, they don’t have a public index of births either from that time period (although Reclaim the Records is working to change this), so I couldn’t even verify whether or not he had a birth certificate filed in the State of Missouri. The state of Texas does have an index of birth records, which includes records for Grayson County for this time period, but I did not find any promising leads or records documenting Joe Lee’s birth.

If he was adopted, finding files is more difficult because the adoption records are often sealed. However, if Joe was actually born in St. Louis, under the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act (Section 193.125 and 193.128, RSMo), direct lineal descendants of Joe, are able to request an informational copy of a deceased adoptees birth certificate. Unlike Missouri, the State of Texas seals adoption records and redacted copies are only available to the adoptee.

Other records, such as this World War I Draft Registration Card 3, give us more details about Lee Wisdom Pike’s employment on the MK&T Railroad Company.

Lee Wisdom Pike WWI Draft Registration Card (click to enlarge)

The MK&T was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad, which was colloquially known as the “Katy.” According to this record, he was a carpenter that worked at the rail yard in Denison.

Interestingly, one of the endpoints for the MK&T railroad is St. Louis, so you can see from this map below how easy it would be for Joe’s parents to go to St. Louis on the train around the time of his birth. As such there are two possibilities: (1) Lee and Josephine were traveling to St. Louis when their son was born, or (2) they traveled to St. Louis to adopt a child. At this point, without any further documentation, both of these possibilities are speculation.

1904 Map of the MK&T Railroad showing the distance between Denison and St. Louis Source of Original Map: The Katy Railroad Historical Society’s website

Local Denison newspapers are digitized and online for the year of 1933, so I searched this collection to see if there was any news of Mrs. Pike giving birth on a trip to St. Louis or even a birth announcement. There were a couple of mentions of L. W. Pike and Joe Lee Pike in the newspapers, however, nothing about Joe Lee Pike’s birth.

If there was an adoption, it occurs after the height of the Orphan Train movement, which peaked at the turn of the twentieth century.

DNA Testing

Although it is challenging to find adoption records today, an easy way to determine whether or not an ancestor was adopted is to take a DNA test. From here the submitter could build out their family tree and see how it lines up (or doesn’t line up) with their DNA matches. This wiki entry from the International Society of Genetic Genealogists and Blaine Bettinger’s book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, are great resources on getting started with Genetic Genealogy.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike Connection

Regardless as to whether or not Joe Lee Pike was adopted or not, he was still raised by Lee Wisdom Pike, and if an adoption occurred they would not be genetically related, but the family history of the parents who raised him will still be a part of his life’s story. Given this, let’s see if we can find whether or not Lee Wisdom Pike is related to the explorer and namesake of Pike’s Peak.

Portrait of Zebulon Montgomery Pike

Zebulon Montgomery Pike was born on 5 January 1779 near Trenton, New Jersey. As a young man, he enlisted in the military and worked at a variety of outposts in the unsettled lands of the newly formed United States of America. He undertook several expeditions in unsettled territories. In his second expedition in 1806, he and his team were exploring the southwestern portion of the Louisiana Territory and they encountered a large peak in present-day Central Colorado. They attempted to climb to the summit, but were unsuccessful due to poor weather conditions. The peak was later renamed Pike’s Peak in commemoration of the expedition. They eventually crossed into the border with Mexico and were captured and held by Commandant General Salcedo. After some time, they were brought back into the Louisiana Territory and released. Zebulon was later promoted to Captain in the military and served during the War of 1812. He was killed by wounds sustained from the British ammunition magazine explosion at the battle of York on 27 April 1813. 4

Before his first expedition, he married Clarissa Harlow Brown in 1801. Only their daughter, also named Clarissa, survived to adulthood, and as such he would have no direct descendants bearing the Pike surname. 5 So while the Pike family of Denison may be related to Zebluon, they cannot be direct descendants.

The Connection to the Pike Family of Texas

According to his death certificate, Lee Wisdom Pike was the son of W. L. Pike and Laura Womack. 6

Also, in the 1900 Federal Census, he was living with William and Laura Pike in Denison, Grayson County, Texas. From this record, we now know that Lee’s father’s name was likely William and he was born circa July 1855 in Texas. 7

William Pike in the 1900 Census (click to enlarge)

From the 1860 8 and the 1870 Federal Census returns,9 it seems likely that William Pike was the son of John L. Pike, born circa 1832 in Tennessee.

Joe L. Pike in the 1860 Census (click to enlarge)

Joe L. Pike in the 1870 Census (click to enlarge)

According to John L. Pike’s wife, Theadora’s, Confederate Widows Pension application, the two were wed on 2 October 1849 in Henderson County, Tennessee. 10

Excerpt of Theodora Pike’s Confederate Widow’s Pension (click to enlarge)

This 1850 Federal Census record shows John L. Pike in the household of Hugh L. Pike. Hugh was born circa 1805 in North Carolina in Henderson County Tennessee. 11 Although Theadora and John should have been married by 1850, she’s not enumerated in the household. It’s important to remember that she was filling out the pension application at the age of 79, so she could have failed to remember her exact marriage date from several decades before. Next, I searched for the original marriage record, but unfortunately, many records were lost in a courthouse fire.
And here’s where the connections between generations become much tougher to prove.

Joe L. Pike in the 1950 Census (click to enlarge)

We already know that Hugh L. Pike was living in Henderson County Tennessee. Interestingly, in the 1850 Federal Census there’s a John Pike living nearby in the same county. He is 85 years old, blind, and like Hugh was also born in North Carolina. 12 These are the only two Pike households enumerated in the 1850 census in Henderson County at the time. Jacob is about the right age to be a sibling of Hugh.

It’s not the strongest connection, so I decided to check some other sources to see if I could find more information.

The Pike Surname DNA Project

From here I found this website on the Pike Surname DNA Project. Surname DNA Projects are when a group of individuals with a shared surname compiles the results of Y-DNA tests to determine if they share common ancestors. This is a good way to trace back a family surname because Y-DNA is passed from a father to son who traditionally will carry the family surname (unless there is a non-paternal event). This is typically supplemented with traditional genealogical research to clarify relationships.

The Pike Surname DNA Project is well done. Each person who submitted a Y-DNA test for the project also included a pedigree chart. On this website, I found an entry for John Pike, born circa 1765 in North Carolina. According to the entry, John’s children who stayed in Tennessee were John, Jacob, and Rhoda (who married William N. Fowler). Other children Samuel M, Hugh L, and Joseph all left Tennessee and moved to Panola County, Texas between 1845 and 1855.” 13

It also contains a detailed graphic that shows the Y-DNA signature for each participant and maps together with the relationship of each to see the common ancestor.

There are several groups of related Pikes in the project. The descendant of John Pike of Henderson County, Tennessee are genetically related to the Pikes from Hampshire and Wiltshire, England and so is Zebulon Pike!

Zebulon is a descendant of another man named John Pike, who was born in Wiltshire, England and settled in Newbury, Massachusettes in 1635. What is interesting to note, is that because of the DNA variations in the descendants of John Pike (the one born circa 1765 of Henderson County, Tennessee), is not a direct descendant of the John Pike, the early New England Settler, but the because of a noted variation in the DYS-390 marker, the common ancestor between the line of Zebulon Pike and John Pike of Henderson Tennesee is much older and could be in the 1500s or earlier. So from the DNA we know that the families are related, but very distantly. 14

The Results

This granny is not a total liar! A DNA test and a little more research could help determine whether or not Joe Lee Pike was adopted. Regardless, Lee Wisdom Pike, either the adopted or biological father of Joe Lee, is “related” to Zebulon Montgomery Pike! Although the common ancestor likely lived in England in the 1500s or earlier and Joe Lee’s family is not a direct descendant of Zebulon Pike and they likely had no connection to the man during his lifetime.