Sideways Through a Brick Wall

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For many years, I’ve been trying to find further information about the parents of Mary Ann Mustain nee Arnott. I knew pretty definitively that her father was of Scottish ancestry, if not a first-generation immigrant, but I knew less about her mother. In part, I labored under the assumption that her mother was Nancy Ann Lewis (or Lewin) as shown in more than a few incorrect family trees for John Arnott. But I discovered quite a few things when I finally went back and reviewed primary sources and discovered a few new pieces of information. As with many others, the information I started with was the appearance of John Arnett in the 1850 census for Henderson County, Illinois. Also appearing in the census are his wife Nancy and two children, Mary A. and Matilda.

John Arnott and family in the 1850 federal census for Henderson County, Illinois

However, finding the parents of either, the whereabouts of Matilda, or what happened for Mary Ann to wind up in the household Nathan Mustain in 1860 were all mysteries until I searched in the Old Bedford Cemetery of McDonough County and not in Henderson County like the census would have led me to believe. All the dates on John Arnott’s grave marker matched John Arnett in the 1850 census, but his wife appears on the same stone as Maria. Also appearing on the same marker are John Wilson and his wife Mary Wilson and second wife Sarah Wilson. By the dates, that would make Mary the mother of Maria. Referring back to the 1850 census, John and Sarah Wilson appear on the same page as John and Nancy Arnett.

Turning to the records of Illinois marriages, there are two marriages for John Arnott. In addition to John Arnott’s marriage to Nancy Ann Lewis, again matching the 1850 census:

Groom Bride Date Volume Page Lic No. County

Searching for Maria Wilson turns up the following record:

Groom Bride Date Volume Page Lic No. County

As previously mentioned, the 1860 census turns up Mary Ann Arnott without her parents and there’s no record of John or Nancy. All of that is consistent with the grave marker showing John Arnett dying in 1855. But if Mary Ann appears in the census, how about her sister Matilda? She would be 11 in 1860, so it might be possible to find her in the 1860 census as a means to find her parents. Surprisingly, she appears in Iowa as part of the household of Levi and Nancy Ann Snelson in the 1860 census. Along with her three sisters, she also retains the Arnett surname (spelled this time as Arnot). Searching once again for Nancy Snelson turns up her information in Warren County, Iowa, the same as the census. Confirming this is likely the former wife of John Arnott is the obituary for Nancy Ann Snelson uploaded along with the picture of her grave marker.

Putting the pieces together, then, there’s good reason to believe that John Arnott married Maria Wilson and had a daughter, Mary Ann. Maria’s untimely death a couple of years after Mary Ann’s birth led to John remarrying, this time to Nancy Ann Lewis. Between 1848 and 1855, they had four daughters before John died. Nancy Ann then remarried in turn to Levi Snelson (or perhaps moved and then remarried, there being no record in Illinois of her marriage). Nancy Ann took with her the four daughters she had given birth to, leaving behind her step-daughter Mary Ann to be employed by the Mustains who resided nearby (Nathan Mustain may have lived even closer than the rest of his family and there are also Woodsides and others with known connections to the family enumerated in the same section of the 1850 census with the Arnotts and the Wilsons.

All of it still still gives little to trace John Arnott/Arnett/Arnot back to his roots, but provides me with a wealth of detail on Mary Ann’s maternal side, something that experience has always shown to be the more challenging side from which to glean additional information.

  • Rochelle N. (Callahan) Males


    I am a direct descendant of John Arnott and Nancy Ann Lewin through their daughter Lucinda Alice (Arnott) Wheeldon. I am not sure how much information I can share with you that you don’t already have, but would be interested in talking with you about what you have on the Wilson and Mustain families. I just opened both of these lines up on my own tree very recently (though, had I been paying closer attention I would have realized sooner what route to go), so what I have on them is next to nothing, unfortunately. I also would like to ask your permission to save and use a few of the pictures/obits you have posted on the site for my own research files (and/or the family history website I am attempting to put together). I would, of course, properly credit where I obtained them (and link back to them here if they are uploaded to my site).

    Thank you so much for at least reading this comment! I hope to hear a response from you.


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