"The Moulton Advertiser" - published
on March 17, 2005
Moulton Advertiser , 659 Main St , Moulton , Alabama , 35650
, Phone: 256-974-1114
Man locates most of
father's 21 siblings
By Brette Martin Burnes, Staff Writer
The headstone of Joseph Francis Marion Key,
buried at Shiloh Church Cemetery in the William B. Bankhead
National Forest, is plain and simple. It states that Key was
a private in the Confederate Army, serving in Company G of
the 47th Alabama Infantry. The stone also states that he was
born May 9, 1831 and died April 18, 1918. A smaller stone
underneath is simply engraved, "Father."
That is it. The stone tells nothing more of
the man's 86 years on this earth. It doesn't tell that he
fought in more than 20 major Civil War battles, including
Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Chickamauga, and that he was
injured at Spottsylvania. The stone doesn't tell that he fathered
a total of 22 children by three different wives, or that he
was a farmer and a millwright.
It took his grandson, John Key of Decatur,
to uncover the details of Joseph Francis Marion Key's life.
After an exhaustive genealogical search that has taken more
than 30 years, Key is nearing the end of his research, but
he readily admits that there is always more to learn.
Key first became involved with his search in
1972 when a supervisor at BP-Amoco called Key into his office
to discuss the possibility of a common relative. According
to Key, the supervisor's sister had married a Key from Jefferson,
Texas, and the supervisor wanted to know if they may be related.
After visiting with the man from Texas, Key was astounded
to discover that the man was his father's half-brother's son,
or Key's first cousin.
After that encounter, Key was hooked on genealogy,
dedicating the better part of more than three decades to finding
out all he could of his roots. His research took him back
to George Key, born in 1733 in Virginia. George Key was a
Revolutionary War soldier who fought for American independence.
Like his future grandson, George Key also had three wives.
His first, Nancy Edwards, bore him six children. Nancy was
sickly, so George brought in a woman named Mary Center to
help run the household.
The story goes that George was having children
with Mary Center at the same time he was having children with
his first wife, Key pointed out. Nancy eventually died, and
George married Mary Center. They had a total of five children,
evidently some before the marriage and some after.
One of their children was Stephen Key, who
was John Key's great-grandfather. Throughout the family lines
there has been question about the legitimacy of some of George's
and Mary Center's children, so DNA testing was recently performed
on some descendants. The test proved that Stephen Key was
truly the son of George.
After Mary's death, George married Isabella
Kennedy and had six children with her.
Key's research found that Stephen married Elizabeth "Betsy"
Jordan and fathered nine children, the eighth of which was
Joseph F.M. Key, born in 1831 in Bowden, Georgia. Stephen
died in 1857 in either Mississippi or Alabama, but records
have recently indicated he is buried in the Key Cemetery in
JFM Key's first wife was Mary Taney, with whom
he had five children born between 1855 and 1863. Their children,
in order of their birth, were Mary Rebecca C. Key, Young Lamar
Key, Sarah T. Key, Joseph Francis Marion Key Jr. and Martha
At this point, the family had settled in Wedowee
in Randolph County. The Civil War broke out in 1861, and in
May of 1862, JFM Key walked from Wedowee to Loachapoka and
signed up to serve in the Confederate Army for the duration
of the war. " For whatever reason, Grandpa Key left Mary
Taney with four kids and one on the way," Key told The
Advertiser. "He had nothing, and he left them with nothing.
My main concern was, how could a man leave his wife with four
kids and pregnant?" Key continued. "What interest
would he have in serving in the Civil War?"
According to records housed at the Lawrence
County Archives, Key served as a blacksmith during the war.
The records also indicate that several members of the family
said he even shod Old Traveler, Gen. Robert E. Lee's horse,
but there is no way to prove the claim.
Based on JFM Key's muster records from the war, he was injured
during the battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse. War records
also indicate that JFM Key served under the command of General
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, until Jackson's death.
JFM Key's unit reorganized and command of the brigade was
given to Evandar Law. According to Key, Law's Brigade consisted
of the 4th, 15th, 44th, 47th and 48th Alabama Infantries.
In February of 1865, JFM Key requested and was granted a furlough
to go home. Mary Taney died on the last day of the war, April
8, 1865, but know one knows whether JFM Key made it home before
Less than two months later, JFM Key married
Lucy Bell White. They remained in Wedowee, and she bore him
five children between 1867 and 1877. Those children were T.
Jesse Key, Carter Wilson Key, Georgia Arizona "Annie"
Key, Robert E.L. "Bob" Key and Thomas J. Key. Carter
Wilson Key and Robert E.L. Key eventually moved to Jefferson,
Texas, and it was Carter's son who Key met in 1972.
Two and a half months after Lucy Bell White
died, JFM Key married for the final time, this time to Mary
Jane Tyree Key, who was 31 years his junior. The couple moved
with four children from Wedowee to the William B. Bankhead
National Forest during the 1890s, where they staked a homestead
that eventually became known as Key Mill Branch, located near
what is now the Owl Creek Horse Camp. JFM Key and Mary Jane
Tyree Key had 12 children, and it is from their children that
many of the Lawrence County Keys are descended. There is also
another branch of Lawrence County Keys who descended from
JFM Key's great-uncle, Dabney Center Key.
JFM Key and Mary Jane Key's children were as
Cora Delia Key, b. March 8, 1889, d. May 9, 1960
Cluster Bogard Key, b. Oct. 5, 1887, d. July, 1972
Calley Key, stillborn in 1889
George Washington Key, b. June 14, 1890, d. Jan. 28, 1964.
He left Lawrence County and settled in Millington, Tenn.
Tandy W. Key, b. Oct. 10, 1892, d. Jan. 17, 1938.
Benny Frank Key, b. Sept. 2, 1894, d. Sept. 15, 1945. Never
married, he was deaf and Mute and lived in Danville until
Burl Jackson Key, b. Sept. 10, 1896 d. April 26, 1978
James Clyde "Cicero" Key, father of John Key and
his brothers, Martin and Leon. b. April 3, 1899, d. May 16,
Lawrence Archie Key, b. May 12, 1901, d. April 28, 1977
Walter Stephen Key, b. Jan. 6, 1902. d. Jan. 9, 1902
Lewis S. Key, b. Feb. 6, 1905, d. May 30, 1983
John Floyd "Jack" Key, b. March 16, 1907, d. June
JFM Key died in 1918 after being injured while
working on a water mill wheel, according to archives records.
Mary Jane Key lived a long life, dying August 28, 1962, at
the age of 101. She is buried at Aldridge Grove Cemetery.
Both John Key and his brother Martin remember their grandmother
as being quite a character. She drank about a tablespoonful
of whiskey every morning and smoked a corncob pipe, Martin
recalled with a smile. She was half Cherokee Indian, and her
hair remained black, even at 101. She collected a Civil War
widow's pension until her death. In a March 16, 1961 article
published in The Moulton Advertiser, Mrs. Key, who survived
her husband by more than 44 years, talked of being one of
the last surviving Civil War widows at that time.
"The best meal he said he ever had was
made up of spoiled flour worked into dough and cooked on the
ramrod of a gun with the heart of beef over a pine knot fire,"
Mrs. Key said of her husband's war service. "He had gone
without something to eat for three days and three nights when
he finally got to eat these vittles. He also told me about
the best night's sleep he ever had," she continued in
the article. "He was in the hills of Virginia and laid
down to sleep one night. When he woke up the next morning,
he was covered with a blanket of snow, but kept warm all the
John and Martin Key also recalled stories that
their father had shared of JFM Key's war service.
They said their grandfather's regiment often waited months
between battles, and during the cold winter months it was
difficult to find food. One winter, somewhere in Virginia,
the troops were cold and wet and had run out of food. They
came upon a farm, and the farmer told them they could have
any of his livestock they wanted, but asked them not to eat
his old peacock because it always sounded an alarm when someone
was coming. After the troops had gone through every animal
on the place, the farmer came out and told them they could
go ahead and eat the peacock.
Somebody said, "He's in the pot. We're cooking him now,"
John recalled with a laugh.
According to Key, all descendants of JFM Key
and Mary Jane Key's 12 children remained in Lawrence County
except for George's children. Tandy also moved away to Arkansas,
but when he and his wife died in 1938, Key's father, Cicero,
traveled to Arkansas and brought his children back to Lawrence
After 33 years of research, Key has managed
to track down and make contact with descendants from all of
Joseph Francis Marion Key's children except two, Mary Rebecca
C. Key and Sarah T. Key, both of whom were born in Randolph
County to JFM Key's first wife. "I just wish I could
find somebody, a descendant of theirs, and get a little bit
of history about their families," Key said. "I hope
one day I will find somebody."
Key said cemetery records have provided him
with some of his most significant finds during his research.
"My experience has been that the most difficult people
to get information from are the ones who are still living,"
Key said with a smile. "If family members are doing genealogy,
everyone ought to be able to share information and pictures."
Key said with today's technology, old photos
can be borrowed, scanned into a computer and returned unharmed.
He said he's found some resistance from older relatives because
they don't understand the technology and are unwilling to
part with their pictures.
Key acknowledged that genealogy can sometimes
become expensive, especially with the cost of long-distance
phone calls. It is extremely time consuming, as well. "It's
addictive, too," Key said.
Although John Key is hooked on researching his family tree,
brother Martin doesn't see what all the fuss is about. "I
don't disagree with (genealogy), but I don't have an interest
in it," Martin stated.
" History is just interesting to me,"
John Key said. "We all came from somewhere. Those people
who came before us, just look at the struggles and trials
and situations they went through," Key continued. "I've
already written our story, and it was tough living."
"George Key (Key's great-great-grandfather)
was a Revolutionary soldier, and that couldn't have been easy.
He did it so we could have a free country, and we now have
that," Key pointed out.
"My granddaddy, for whatever reason, saw something in
the Civil War that he believed in and that was important to
him," he added.
Key said he is always amazed to find little
tidbits of information of those who came before him and helped
to form who he is today. He said at the present time, his
daughters aren't interested in their roots, but he is hoping
that someday they will change their minds.
With the Key family research almost wrapped
up, Key is moving on to study the history of his mother, Vera
Mae Reid Key. If Key's past experience is any indication,
he may be in for another long and interesting ride. One thing
is certain, however. He won't give up until he finds every
little bit of information available.
"In genealogy, persistence pays off"
Key pointed out. "If you run into a wall, then just bounce
off and go on to another one. Sooner or later, you'll find
© 2005 by "The Moulton Advertiser"
Moulton Advertiser , 659 Main St , Moulton , Alabama , 35650
, Phone: 256-974-1114