Grover Cleveland Ryman Jr.’s name is misspelled and listed as “ward” alongside his adoptive parents, Bird and Sue Williams, on the 1900 U.S. census.
1900 United States census
Dear Professor Gates:
My maternal grandfather is Grover Cleveland Ryman Jr. He was adopted sometime after age 7. His birth mother was white, and his father was Indian. We have been told by my mother that my grandfather’s parents were married in Virginia, when this was illegal. My great-grandfather Grover Cleveland Ryman Sr. was run off, and my grandfather Grover Cleveland Ryman Jr. was taken from his mother, Mary (Unknown), and put up for adoption.
I found a record of my grandfather Grover Cleveland Ryman Jr. in a 1900 census with his adoptive parents. In the 1900 census, he is listed as a “ward.” His name on the census was misspelled but can be found on Ancestry.com with his name listed as Grover C. Rimses. He was 7 years old. His adoptive parents were Bird and Sue Williams. We have no idea how my grandfather arrived in Alabama from Virginia.
My goal is to find out my grandfather’s birth parents’ names, and any other family information for Grover Sr. and his wife, Mary. I do not know how to seek out his adoption papers to see if his parents’ information is on there. I also don’t know how to find records, if there are any, of his parents’ marriage, or his birth. I have done a DNA test on my mother, and found out that she is 26 percent Irish, so maybe her grandmother Mary is Irish. My mother is 88 now, and I’d love to solve this mystery for her. —Anna Stewart
One of the most important rules to keep in mind when working on a difficult genealogical problem is to start with the known and work to the unknown.
What We Know About Your Grandfather
In your case, the first record that you have for your grandfather Grover Cleveland Ryman is the 1900 U.S. census. When we look closer at the census record, a few important details can be extracted. First, Grover C. Rimses is enumerated as black, which, according to the 1900 census instructions (pdf) was to be used for “black (negro or of negro descent).” Even though you have DNA evidence that his mother may have been Irish, this information still jibes with the census definition of black, and perhaps the census taker’s perceptions of his racial identity.
Second, the census record identifies his place of birth as Alabama. Because census data may have been procured by someone other than a member of the household, this information could be incorrect. When searching for a birth record, however, you should look in Alabama and Virginia for a birth record. And finally, the relationship between Grover and Bird and Sue Williams is identified as “ward” and not “adopted son.” As a result, Grover may not have been officially adopted by the Williams family by the enumeration of the 1900 census.
Where to Begin in Identifying His Birth Parents
Therefore, to locate evidence of Grover’s birth parents, you should first examine birth records in Virginia and Alabama. However, because Alabama did not begin to formally record birth records until 1908, a birth record for Grover Cleveland Ryman may not exist. Ancestry.com (subscription required) has a database of Virginia birth records, 1864-2014, but we were unable to find a possible record for Grover Cleveland Ryman (using many variant spellings). Akin to Alabama vital records, statewide registration in Virginia did not begin until 1912, which may explain why we cannot find a record for Grover.
You may be able to locate an adoption record, and to do so you should begin with the records in Alabama and Virginia. Adoption records can be one of the more difficult records to order, since privacy laws are often written to protect the adopted child, as well as the birth parents. As a direct descendant of the adoptee, however, you may be able to order the record.
The Alabama Department of Public Health holds records of adoption in Alabama, including the original birth record, because birth records were corrected after adoption to include the adoptive parents’ information. Additionally, early adoptions in Virginia (prior to 1949) may be located at the local court level. To locate an adoption in Virginia, you would first need to identify where the adoption may have occurred and then contact the proper court on the county level. It is also very possible, however, that Grover Cleveland Ryman was never formally adopted. If so, you will need to look for evidence of his birth parents using what was told through oral tradition.
We think it is important to note here that the birth father you call Grover Cleveland Ryman almost certainly had another name, since his father would likely have been born about 1875 (or earlier), when future President Grover Cleveland was wrapping up his service as the sheriff of Erie County, N.Y. The name “Grover Cleveland” would not be well-known across the United States until much later—maybe in 1883, when he was elected governor of New York, or in 1893, when he began his first term as president of the United States. It’s a timeline that works well for the naming of Grover Cleveland Ryman, who was born in 1892, but not for this father. As a result, we recommend looking for parents using names in addition to “Grover Cleveland.”