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  • Writer's pictureGregory Winters

The Mystery of Creta Mae and John Vier Hollen

If you've ever wondered what kind of work goes into sorting out all the puzzles in genealogy research (or if you've had to actually do this yourself), you'll appreciate the following story.

Earl Williams, Karen Hollen, and Gregory Winters at "the little schoolhouse" in Ten Mile, Upshur County, West Virginia. the 2006 Hollen Family Reunion

Karen Hollen, grand-daughter of James Luther and Susan Catherine Wayts Hollen, has been a tireless contributor to our database and has done a lot of recent running around gathering stories and information from a number of Hollen relatives and descendants. Of particular note was the lineup of the children of James and Susan. Karen has spent a great deal of time getting this list as accurate as possible, but there were still a few discrepancies.

Normally, I'm able to prioritize opinions in regard to specific records. I give precedence to those which have official citations, but I try to take into account what the family has to say about it, as well. Usually, there isn't much of a problem other than to note that folks have differing opinions as to what the record should say.

In the case of the Hollen children, however, it was a tough call. Karen had a solid list of thirteen children: Wilburt, Fred, Shirley, Dewey, Creta May, Freda, James, Veatrice, Rose, John, Fern, Clem, and Burl (her father). As you can see, she is directly related to this line and would naturally be considered a serious source of information about it. However, there are a number of other Wayt researchers who have performed investigational work on this line, most notably, Shirley Rabinoff Duke, the grand-daughter of George Leslie and Olive Rachel Stalnaker Wayt. George is Susan Catherine's brother, making Shirley, also, quite close to this line.

I'll have to admit that I was quite taken aback by this information, but I looked into it...

Shirley's records matched Karen's in just about every way (with the exception of some spelling variances), but there were two large discrepancies: Shirley had two additional Hollen children in the list! I brought this to Karen's attention and she was baffled by these two phantoms, but worked hard with her relatives to try and solve the mystery. These two additional kids were Lueda May Hollen (b. Nov. 1899 Upshur County), and Richard Veere Hollen (b. 1903 Upshur County).

Although Shirley had alluded to census records in her original paperwork, I wrote her and asked for additional information, if possible, while Karen continued to work her end of things. Shirley sent me back the following: "T623 WVa Upshur Co Banks Dist 5 June 1900..Sheet 3 Line 72Federal Census lists Lueda May, dau born Nov 1899, six months." I'll have to admit that I was quite taken aback by this information, but I looked into it and...I couldn't find the reference! I know Shirley would not make this up, so I was stumped.

Meanwhile, Karen came back from her research activities and declared flatly that there couldn't be any additional kids. She had the Hollen family Bible, which meticulously lists all of the children and their birth dates, as well as testimony from older members of the family. No one had ever heard of Lueda May or Richard Veere Hollen.

What I finally decided to do was a complete scan of the Upshur County census for the year 1900. This would be a long task, but I couldn't imagine this large family being overlooked by the census taker. The search bore tremendous fruit. As you can see from the image below, 'Lueda May' is indeed there, but the handwriting is so sloppy that her real name - Creta May - is misread by the person who transcribed the 1900 Upshur County index.

1900 Upshur County, West Virginia Census showing birth date of "Nov 1899" and age as "6/12".

The initial problem was caused by the misspelling of 'Hollen' as 'Holland.' (Those familiar with SoundEx know how bad it is. When I ran that, I got about every name in the book starting with the letter 'H' except Holland!) With the discovery of this new information, we have reduced the discrepancy of the number of children to one.

The next issue at hand was Creta May's birthdate. The family had it as November 1900, but the census taker has it marked here as November 1899 along with a '6/12' indicating her approximate age when the enumeration took place. Since the census is a summer proposition, it would not be possible for Creta may to be born in November of 1900 and show up on the 1900 census, especially with the additional information of 'Nov 1899' and '6/12' attached to her name. However, this wasn't exactly a slam dunk.

There is simply no way for the census taker to simply conjure her up out of thin air.

When I related this information to Karen, she did some more legwork and wrote back that she had asked a friend at the courthouse in Buckhannon to look into the birth date controversy. The friend wrote back: "....In October 1955, a G. McCue filed an affidavit with the State of WV, changing/transferring the birth date of Creta May Hollen, from November 1899 to November 1900." Here you see a case of two parties being 'correct' about a certain fact, but in reality talking apples and oranges. There's little doubt that Creta May Hollen was actually born in November of 1899. There simply is no way for the census taker to simply conjure her up out of thin air. However, Creta May's 'official' birthdate is indeed November 1900 as declared by the Upshur County courts!

This story has one last twist: the Hollen family Bible. The listing in this Bible was created long before October 1955 when G. McCue went to get the record changed, yet the year listed for Creta May's birth in the Bible is 1900! It will remain to be seen if we ever get to the bottom of this most interesting mystery.

The Richard Veere/John Vier issue still remains open. Again, we have absolute family records which show that there was indeed a John Vier Hollen and he also had descendants. Richard Veere, however, can only be directly verified by Shirley's records. There is no census record of him...unless the 'Vier Hollen' b. 1903 listed in the 1910 Upshur County census is this Richard. Karen insists, however, that John Vier Hollen was born in 1910.


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