Monday, February 24, 2014

Mappy Monday - Keeping Up With the Willbanks Family

Places associated with the Willbanks family.
A - Cherokee County, GA; B - Texas; C - Arkansas; D - Marshall County, AL;
E - Marion County, AR; F - Pontiac, MO
(map created using Google Maps Engine Lite)

Some members of my husband's Hillhouse relatives were born, raised, and died in Cherokee County, Georgia.  Others, like his Great Grand Aunt Sarah Hillhouse Wilbanks, moved to a number of different areas.  Just glance at the map above to see their travels.

A - Sarah, the daughter of my husband's GGGrandfather, Elijah Hillhouse, was born in Cherokee County, Georgia, in 1838 and married William Willbanks there in 1861.  Sarah and William stayed in Cherokee County through the 1870 census, having four of their eight children while in Cherokee County.

B, C, D, E - By 1874, according to William Willbanks' obituary, the family moved for a brief time to Texas before moving on to Arkansas in 1875.(1)  Somehow, the family and their now six children were in  Marshall County, Alabama at the time of the 1880 census although they had lived in Arkansas in the mid 1870s when their two youngest children were born.  Sometime between the 1880 and 1900 censuses, the family returned to Arkansas.  This time they remained in North Fork, Marion County, Arkansas for a number of years.

I was in for a real surprise when I looked at the 1900 census record for William and Sarah Hillhouse Willbanks.  Right next to their family entry were some familiar names, those of Sarah's brother William F Hillhouse and his son William H Hillhouse.  

1900 census, Arkansas, Marion, North Fork, sheet 11A

Thanks to a Marion County, Arkansas GenWeb Project, I found a listing of original landowners in the area formerly known as Van Buren County, Arkansas.  Even better was a colored map indicating the names and initial year of ownership of Marion County land.  It was clear that William F Hillhouse (blue area) had obtained his land grant in 1884 while William Willbanks (pink area) received his land in 1894.

Original Grantee's Land, Van Buren County, Arkansas, Township 21N, Range 15W (2)

Through the 1910 and 1920 census I learned that William Willbanks, now a widower, resided with several of his children in different parts of Marion County, Arkansas.  Then, by 1930 William could not be found in census records.'s Arkansas Death Index indicated that a William H Willbanks had died in Marion County, Arkansas on March 14, 1927; Sarah, however, wasn't listed in the index.  That meant that I needed to try and find where William and Sarah Hillhouse Willbanks had been buried and hopefully determine a death date for Sarah.

BillionGraves had no listing for either William or Sarah.  FindAGrave did list both a William Willbanks and a Sarah H Willbanks; however, both of the graves were in Pontiac, Missouri.  This was also the same town mentioned in the obituary that was part of my initial research.  

F - How did William and Sarah come to be buried in Missouri?  It took looking at Microsoft Streets and Trips to find an answer to that question.  It turns out that Marion County, Arkansas and Ozark County, Missouri are just across the state line from each other.  Even without knowing the exact location of the Willbanks farm in Arkansas and the cemetery in Missouri, it is less than a 10-mile drive between North Fork and Pontiac.  Their final journey was not one of a great distance after all.

Route from North Fork, AR to Pontiac, MO
source:  Microsoft Streets and Trips
Lessons learned:  
  • It was not that unusual for family members to move to new locations and live close to each other.
  • Thanks to wonderful volunteers, there are some great USGenWeb projects available to help in our research.
  • Streets and Trips or other present day mapping software can sometimes help answer questions about the past.

(1) "A Good Man Gone", obituary from unknown newspaper, unknown date, attached to Ancestry public member tree #9184625, person #1462549160.
(2)  Risener, Lynn. "Original Grantee's Land Map".  Marion County, Arkansas GenWeb,


  1. My name is Julie Willbanks my Great Great Great Grandmother is Sarah Hillhouse Willbanks. My records show Sarah's death in 1919. Research Jasper Big Creek MO. for the Willbanks Family Farm.

    1. Thank you for this information about Sarah Hillhouse Willbanks.