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The Joseph Frances Marion Key Family

"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 Randolph County.

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 Columbus Key.

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 she died.

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 follows:
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 his death.
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, 1992
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 7, 1979

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 night long."

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 County.

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 an opening."

© 2005 by "The Moulton Advertiser"
Moulton Advertiser , 659 Main St , Moulton , Alabama , 35650 , Phone: 256-974-1114


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