I wasn’t looking for him when I found him. That’s the way it is many times with genealogy, you find an ancestor or relative in the least likely place or when you least expect. I was filling in some information on my 4th Great-grandmother Rebecca Covey b. about 1825 in Virginia and died sometime after 1870 most likely in Missouri. Rebecca was married to George W Graham, a grandson of James Whitecotton. While looking at my notes and the information I had for Rebecca’s siblings I could see that I was missing death dates for a number of them. So I set out tracking that information.
Census records for 1850 and 1860 show John Humphreys Covey b. 1812 in Virginia and married to Susannah Petty and living in Missouri.
Pretty cut and dried, don’t you think? There he is in black and white, children being born right along, so obviously he is in Missouri. In the 1870 census, still in Missouri, John has a new wife and some step-children. Not uncommon. After 1870 though, there are no more records of John and his 2nd wife Jane in Missouri. All of the online trees I consulted showed both John and Jane as dying in Missouri sometime after 1870.
I left the dates blank and went on to the next sibling, Benjamin Covey. Benjamin was born in 1817 in Virginia and is in the 1850 Federal Census living in District 75, Ray County, Missouri, near his other siblings, just where I expected to find him. However, in 1860, Benjamin is living in Consumes, Sacramento County, California. California? Sometime earlier, I found a John H Covey in the 1852 California Census but discounted him because I found it difficult to believe he went from Missouri to California and back again in just a matter of 2 years. I thought it was most likely another man named John H Covey.
But armed with this information on Benjamin I took a closer look. My goodness! John is on page 42 of the 1852 census and his sister’s brother-in-law, Axton Graham is on page 49 of the same census. No mistake. John traveled the Oregon Trail (about a 3 month trip one way) sometime about 1851 and was in the goldfields of California in 1852, then he took the Oregon Trail back to Missouri about 1853. John however, must not have been content to stay in Missouri after his second marriage, because armed with this new California link, I looked for him again and found John and Jane living in Shasta County, California in 1880. So once more, John traveled the Oregon Trail, this time about 1871, now with a wife and small children in tow. They settled in the Millville/Whitmore area, a small mining and logging community in the foothills above Redding in Northern California. John died in 1883 and is supposed to be buried in the Whitmore/Josephine Cemetery. Jane died in 1925.
Maps show the cemetery as just a 50 minute drive from where I live, so I asked my sister how she would feel about celebrating her birthday with a picnic lunch while searching out a cemetery in the foothills. She thought it was a grand idea, so we packed up the car, picked up our mother and set off for an adventure. And adventure it was. We found the cemetery, sadly disappointed to find it decayed and almost forgotten, a victim of vandals. The community of Whitmore (population 160) has surrounded it with a fence for protection, but they don’t have the funds for restoration. I couldn’t locate John’s grave but am confident he is indeed buried in Whitmore. There are descendants still living in the area but I haven’t connected with them yet, hopefully sometime in the future.
2 thoughts on “Finding John Humphreys Covey”
I am a descendant of John H. Covey and Susannah Petty. I appreciated your post, however, I am wondering how you know that John traveled via the Oregon trail as I have never found information that specific. If you have information confirming that I would greatly appreciate knowing about it. Also, I’m not sure if you were aware, but John’s second wife was a Civil War widow prior to her marriage to John. There are a number of interesting CW pension records on Fold3. I would be glad to send them to you. Would love to talk to you more about John, can you please email me at jh seeley @ gmail.com (remove the spaces). Thank you!
As to the Oregon Trail question, the only way in and out of Northern California at that time was on the Oregon Trail Road (parts of it are still around in this area today). Even today we are limited in the directions we can travel, north to Oregon or east across the Sierra Nevadas, with the most common route going over Donner Pass and along the Donner Party Trail.