Albert Colvin vs. Elbert Colvin: Establishing the Two Sons of John R. Colvin (1820-1876).

In working on the family group of John R. Colvin, I came across two names of two of his heirs seemingly being the same person. But a little further digging revealed they were two very separate people, with different wives, heirs, and other attributes.

John R. Colvin is part of the Midwestern branch of Colvins of this line which includes descendants located in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. In John’s case, he was born  ca. 1820 in Montgomery County, Ohio to Boswell Colvin (1793-1878) and Lydia Hatfield (1801-1865).[1] Boswell is part of the Colvin Culpeper, Virginia branch, the oldest branch.  John R. was one of 14 children born to his parents – all of whom have been confirmed through census and other records.  John was  Boswell and Lydia’s second born and the eldest of six sons. Boswell married Lydia on 15 October 1817 in Montgomery County, Ohio, but prior to that had served as a private under Captains John McFee and James Ellis during the War of 1812.[2] He’d enlisted  27 August 1812 and was discharged 10 March 1813.  He re-enlisted six months later on 10 September, 1814 for another six-months and was discharged  on 10 March 1815. His widow’s pension records show he received bounty land for his service. However,  the military tracts used by the government as military bounty lands for veterans of the War of 1812 were located along Illinois westernmost border which was demarcated by the Mississippi river. That was two states away from where  he married his wife in Ohio two years after being discharged and where, three years after that,  John R. was born.

Sometime between 1830-1840, Boswell relocated his family to Rush County, Indiana. And it was here on 11 August 1842 that John R. Colvin married Mary Ann Pyle (1827-1912) an Indiana native, but about whose parentage little is currently known.[3]

Like his father, John R. Colvin sired a large family: nine children in all, seven sons and two daughters. Two of the sons were Albert Colvin (1861-?)  and Elbert “Bert” Colvin, (1861-1944). Confusingly,  both appear to have been born in 1861, which has exacerbated a lack of care by some genealogists in distinguishing one from the other. [4] In reviewing some of their work, there is a clear habit of attaching attributes belonging to Elbert to Albert and vice versa. It is also the case, adding to the confusion that record keepers themselves have mislabeled Elbert for Albert and so forth.

However, a careful review of their individual family groups and other attributes will make clear these were two separate sons of the same father — John R. Colvin, and how to tell them apart.

To begin with, John R. Colvin, for example,  is listed  as the father on Elbert Colvin’s death certificate  as is his mother,  “Mary Ann Pyles”.  Elbert’s wife, “Abbie” Colvin, is listed as “informant”.[5]  Albert Colvin’s  death certificate, however, has not yet been obtained and so his death date has not not yet been fixed. But we can still see Albert  is John R. Colvin’s son because  he and Mary Pyle’s names are listed as parents on Albert’s marriage  registry when he wed Etta L. Sowers (1858-1943) on 2 May 1886 in Adam’s County, Indiana.[6]  The two documents, in other words, show and confirm these two brothers had the same parents.

But wait, there’s more. Albert’s wife, “Etta” was the daughter of  Joseph Sowers and Martha Howard. Elbert’s wife, conversely,  was  Abigail “Abbie” M. Pratt (1862-1943) whom he married 24 March 1886 in Allen County.[7] She was the daughter of  George H. Pratt and Hannah Hammond. In short, these Colvin men not only had different wives and  different marriage dates, but also a different set of in-laws. Only their parents were identical which the documents reveal.

There’s still another way to help separate these two and distinguish them: their heirs. In no case do the heirs of Elbert Colvin ever turn up in the household of Albert Colvin nor vice versa. If Albert and Elbert were the same man, this would surly be the case. Albert and Etta had four children born between 1887 and 1902 which are consistent throughout census and other records:[8]

Roscoe Arthur Colvin (1857-1958)

Della Myrtle Colvin (1889-1968)

Rudy Sampson Colvin (1898-1968)

Roy Lemuel Colvin (1902-1937)

In Elbert’s case, he and Abigail had only two children, a boy and a girl,  found also in census records and elsewhere[9]:

May Jetta Colvin (1887-1977)

Cody Carter Colvin (1889-1953)

In none of the census examined do these children ever appear in the households of the wrong parents. Most telling, when examining census especially, the wives names remain constant. Most often it is the father’s name (the head of house) which is misspelled or mistranscribed. Moreover, the burial location of the Elbert Colvin family group is known, with all members’ internment accounted for. [10] Albert’s burial location, regrettably,  is not yet known. Still, owing to several documents, such as May Jetta Colvin’s death certificate and her marriage registry entry,  which lists her father as “Albert” Colvin, rather than Elbert, it’s understandable some genealogists have been misled.

Also significant in helping to separate the two men is geography and their occupations:  Between 1906-1910, Albert Colvin, with wife Etta, with sons Roy and Rudy (misspelled “Luttie”)  relocated to Texas County, Oklahoma, where he is listed there as a farmer  in the  census.[11] His brother, Elbert,  in the same census, meanwhile,  is still in Allen County, Indiana,  with his wife, “Abbie” and their children, listed as “brick mason”.[12]  By 1917, Albert had relocated again, this time to Finney County Kansas, according to his son, Roy Lemuel Colvin’s WWI draft Registration card. Roy lists his nearest relative when he registered at the draft office located at Syracuse, Kansas as “Albert Colvin (father)” He gave his father’s address as, 6th and Maple, Garden City, Kansas.

Vigilant, patient research involving comparative analysis  was essential in establishing the two different men and the family groups they headed. In doing so I have been able to show  Albert and Elbert Colvin, though born of the same parents,  clearly had  very separate lives. This was established through a judicious review of extant primary documents and careful analysis of their contents, despite confusing data on some of them.


[1]  No known birth record exist for John R. Colvin; there is known to  exist a family bible with a “birth” listing, however, the resolution of  the digitized original  when reviewed by this researcher was of such poor quality when enlarged, no date could be ascertained. However, John gave his age in the 1850 federal census for Whitley County, Indiana as “30” and his birthplace as “Ohio”. That census features, along with his wife,  his 3-month old son, David, (1850-1850) who did not survive the year,  and  his three eldest sons: William (1843-1911);  Henry (1845-1934), and Jesse (1848-1870).  See: John R. Colvin household, 1850 U.S. federal census, Taylor, Howard County, Indiana, hh 4, (no line numbers) In the John R. Colvin household of the 1860 census,  David is absent, but the same 3 sons are present, along with their mother, and John’s eldest daughter, Lydia (1850-1939) is enumerated.  See: John R. Colvin household, 1860 U.S. federal census, Jefferson, Whitley County, Indiana,  hh 821,  lines 19.-24. This data comports well with his age given as “42” when he  enlisted into Company B,  74th  Infantry Regiment  during the Civil War according  in his military records. He was discharged prematurely on 4 April 1863, due to an unspecified injury. See John R. Colvin, Civil War Collection, Indiana Digital Archives, Indiana State Archives,
[2] Digitized original marriage record, Boswell Colvin to Lydia Hatfield, 15 October 1817, Montgomery County, Ohio.  See also digitized original, Lydia  Colvin, widow’s pension application index card, War of 1812 Pension Application Files Index, 1812-1815 database,
[3] John R. Colvin to Mary Ann Pyle, 11 August 1842, Rush County, Indiana, Marriages Through 1850, Indiana State Library  Genealogy Database,
[4] In the 1900 census for Washington, Allen County, Indiana, Albert gave his birth as “February 1861” although in the 1910 federal census, he gave his age as “50” implying he was born in 1860, which is likely closer to the truth. See  Note 14, Albert Colvin household. Of the three census records examined for Elbert Colvin in which he appears (1910-1930) he most consistently gives an age which would place his birth year at 1861. It seems reasonable that Elbert was the elder of the two brothers.
[5] Digitized original, Elbert Colvin Death Certificate, 11 Oct 1944, Whitley County, Indiana,  Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 database,
[6]  Digitized original Marriage License,  Albert Colvin to Etta Sowers, 21 May 1886, Adams County, Indiana, Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 database,
[7]  Digitized original Marriage License, Bert Colvin to Abbie Pratt, 24 March, 1886, Allen County, Indiana. Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 database,   Among the witnesses was Elbert’s brother, Joseph Colvin (1863-1943)
[8] Two of Albert’s three sons, Rudy Sampson and Roy Lemuel Colvin appear with their father in the 1910 federal census for Texas County, Oklahoma. See note 14; All four of his children appear in his household along with his wife in the 1900 census. See digitized original, Albert Colvin household, 1900 U.S. Federal census, Washington, Allen County, Indiana, 71 Fran Klein Ave. hh 128, line 15.
[9]  See  Elbert Colvin household, digitized original, 1910 U.S. federal census, Ft. Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, 1703 Franklin Ave., hh 363, line 60, database. Elbert, his wife, Abbie, his married daughter, May Jetta “Parker” ,  as well as her husband, Trever Parker  and his only son, Cody,  are all present in this census. In addition, both parents names appear on the digitized original  Marriage License for May Jetta Colvin and Trevor Parker. This is also true of the digitized original of the Marriage license for Cody Colvin who married Emma Minnie Becker (1890-1953) daughter of Henry Becker and Hanna Rippe, on 2 September 1911 in Allen County, Indiana.
[10]  See Elbert Colvin virtual memorial # 65041091, Linwood Cemetery, Ft. Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, which also features a faithful transcript of his obituary as it appeared in the October 12, 1944 edition of the Journal-Gazette. See also: Abbie M. Colvin virtual memorial # 65039962 at  May Jetta Colvin is buried with her husband, Trevor E. Parker, (1884-1968)  whom she married 22 December 1908 in Allen County. They are also interred in  the Linwood Cemetery, memorial numbers 84263279 and  84263094 respectively. Likewise, Cody Carter Colvin is interred at Linwood Cemetery. Memorial number # 65041083.
[11]  Albert and Etta listing, digitized original, Huntington City Directory, 1906, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 database,  Albert and Etta are listed for several years in the Huntington City (Huntington County) Indiana directory. Albert occupation  in 1906 is listed as a “boiler washer.” Boiler-washers were railroad workers who cleaned the engines of steam locomotives of grime and scale. It was considered skilled but dangerous work.
[12] Digitized original, Albert Colvin household, 1910 U.S. federal census, Hooker, Texas County, Oklahoma, hh 17, line 90,  database. See also, digitized original, 1910 U.S. federal census, Elbert Colvin household, Ft. Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, 1703 Franklin Ave., hh 363, line 60,  database.

About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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