When I began my genealogy journey, I carefully sorted the papers inherited from my dad’s research and started building my family tree. Those were the days before online trees so I used Personal Ancestral File (PAF). I worked hard to document each person and generation with sources – using the newly digitized censuses available on Ancestry and research done at the Family Search Library in Salt Lake City. Eventually, though, I came to a stopping point on each line where the records didn’t clearly identify my ancestor.
Robert Cisnie Royston, my second great-grandfather was one of those. I dug into the records and learned how to research all the possibilities and collect enough evidence to connect him to his parents, Cynthia Dillard and Thomas Beverly Royston. I continued working on the Royston line and eventually connected up to the emigrant ancestor, Thomas Royston of Virginia. Y-DNA testing of a descendant of Robert Cisnie Royston added further evidence of a biological connection to the Virginia Royston’s. It all started with Robert!
Starting Point – U.S. Federal Censuses and Cemetery Marker
Husband of I.B. Royston
Born Feb 9, 1848
Died May 2, 1915
A death certificate for Robert might have listed his parents, cause of death, and other life details, but death registration did not begin in Oklahoma until statehood in 1908 and was not widely complied with until 1930.2 Correspondence with the Division of Vital Statistics confirmed that Oklahoma does not have a death certificate on file for Robert.3 Cemeteries often keep burial records, but the Parks Cemetery, also known as the “Old Santa Fe” Cemetery is a small rural cemetery seemingly without additional records.4 I was able to visit this cemetery in person in October of 2022 and can attest to the truth of that statement. I shared more about this cemetery in my blog post, Taking a Family History Road Trip: 5 Tips for Success.
With no death record listing parents, a combination of census and probate records and naming patterns provide the evidence that is needed to place him in the family of Thomas Beverly Royston and Cynthia (nee) Dillard of Chambers County, Alabama.
The 1900 census was the last time Robert was enumerated on a census before his 1915 death and it shows him as the head of household with Isabella his wife and his youngest son, Everett. 5
Important identifying information is his birthplace of Alabama and that of his parents as Virginia and Alabama. This census also had a check in the column for whether a veteran of the Civil War and a C for the Confederacy. It would be years later that I’d revisit this census and discover Isabella’s pension record. I wrote about this in “Clueing in to Census Records.” I correlated the census with the family group sheet – noting that the census listed Isabella as having had seven children and all seven were alive. The census also reported this was Robert’s first marriage and Isabella’s second with 31 years in their marriage.
Robert C. Royston Head M 63, m (1), 31, Alabama, Virginia, Alabama, Confederate Army
Esbell Royston Wife F 55 m (2) 31, 7,7, Missouri, Missouri, Alabama
Everett Rosyton Son M 18 S Oklahoma, Alabama, Missouri
Working back in time, I examined the 1900 census for clues to Robert’s origins. 6 This census enumerator recorded his middle initial as an “H” instead of a C, but the wife and children matched the family group sheet. His parent’s birthplaces were both listed as Alabama in this census – adding more clues of an Alabama family. I saw that the family likely moved from Texas north to Indian Territory between 1887 and 1892 based on the birthplaces of the youngest children, Effie and Everett.
Robert H Royston Head M Feb 1850 50 M 23, Ala, Ala, Ala
Isabelle Royston Wife F Mar 1860 40 M 23, 7 7 Mo, Mo, Ala
Eddie Royston Son M Jan 1878 22 S TX, Ala, Mo
Charley Royston Son M Feb 1879 21 S TX, Ala, Mo
Oscar Royston Son M Apr 1884 16 S TX, Ala, Mo
Effie Royston Daughter F Apr 1887 13 S TX, Ala, Mo
Everett Royston Son M Jan 1892 8 S Ind Terr, Ala, Mo
The 1890 census returns were damaged and no longer extant so the twenty-year gap found Robert and Isabella Royston in Texas, before their move north to Indian Territory. Interestingly, the household was enumerated twice- once in precinct 1 of Johnson County7 and the other in precinct 38. Although this is the same family, different people reported the information quite differently.
Isabella had been married before to John H. Carpenter and their daughter, Mary “Clemsy” Carpenter was born in 1875.9 One census names her as Mary Royston, age 4, daughter, and the other as Clemsy Carpenter, age 4 with no relationship. Isabella likely gave the family information listing Mary as a daughter and Robert likely gave the information about her as having no relationship. Where it seems that Robert was the informant, he gave his father’s birthplace as Georgia and his mothers Virginia.
No other record gave clues to Roberts’s origins, so my hypothesis in furthering the research was that he was born on 9 February 1848 in Alabama to parents born in either Alabama, Georgia, or Virginia. Despite searching earnestly, Robert was not to be found on the 1870 census, so the 1860 census could place him in a birth family.10
A Birth Family for Robert C. Royston
As so often happens when tracing a migrating ancestor, it can be a challenge to tie the records of one location to those of another. How could I determine that any Robert Royston’s found in the 1860 census in Alabama would be for my ancestor? This required research, correlation, and analysis of the records.
The 1860 census of Chambers County, Alabama, did find a Robert C. Royston in the household of Thomas B. Royston and Cynthia.11 He was listed as age 14 – two years too old for his reported birth year of 1848, but perhaps that had been a misreporting. He also had ten inferred siblings in the household including a set of twins named Joseph and Benjamin. All the children were Alabama-born and the parents were both born in Georgia.
The 1850 census would be the first census of Robert’s life and should show him as about two years old. The family of Thomas and Cynthia was again listed in Chambers County, Alabama.12 The census is split over two pages and Robert is listed toward the end of the children as age 3. This census also adds the older children – in all Cynthia gave birth to 14 children and all survived infancy and childhood.
The census research seemed reasonable, but I wondered if there were other records that would add evidence to the hypothesis that Thomas and Cynthia Royston were Robert’s parents. I had noticed that Thomas was a landowner and reasoned that he could have probate records. I sent away to the Chambers County, Alabama, courthouse and received a copy of Thomas’ 1867 will naming two of his sons – one being Robert C. Royston.
“I also give & Bequeath unto my Sons Joseph Royston & Robert C Royston that part of my Dozier place lying East of the Chickaseknocksee Creek & that part of my Parker place lying South of the Vernon Road to go into possession of the said lands at any time after the present year 1867.”
Still, I wondered if this was my ancestor. When I sought the rest of the probate file, I found so much more. I learned that after Thomas’ death in 1868, his widow, Cynthia, and several of the children moved to Texas.13
In the course of administering the remainder of the estate of Thomas B. Royston, several documents between 1882-1883 list the heirs in Texas. Each includes a reference to “Robert C. Royston” or R.C. Royston” of Kaufman County, Texas, post office Elmore.” Most likely this reference is to the settlement in Kaufman County named Elmo. A post office branch opened there in 1873 and by 1883 was a thriving community of 900 residents.
The proximity of Johnson and Kaufman County, Texas, locations mentioned in the census, and probate documents lends credibility to the premise that Robert C. Royston of Chambers County Alabama, son of Thomas B. Royston and Cynthia, is the same individual as Robert C. Royston married to Isabella.
None of the records that I located gave “Cisnie” as Robert’s middle name, so where did that information come from? When my dad started his research, he wrote letters to his relatives seeking information. He also encouraged several aunts and his dad to write their life histories. His Aunt Loraine talked of her oldest brothers who died young and explained that their names were: “Robert Cisnie and William Linard and Robert was named after “Grandpa Royston.”14
A final clue for connecting Robert C. Royston to his parents came from researching Thomas B. Royston’s parents – another challenge. The research found Thomas’ parents to be John Royston and Polly Baker Cessna Royston. Polly had been married previously to Samuel Cessna and had three children with him – one was named Robert Cessna. Thomas resided near Robert Cessna in Georgia before moving to Alabama and named one of his younger sons after this half-brother.15
Using cemetery, census, and probate records as well as naming patterns, I was able to identify the father of Robert Cisney Royston in Thomas Beverly Royston of Chambers County, Alabama. This research became part of my 4 generation project for Accreditation and you can read my full report on Robert’s memory page on FamilySearch.
Best of luck as you seek to identify your end-of-line ancestors!
- Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13395707/robert-cisney-royston: accessed 12 July 2016), memorial 13395707, R.C. Royston (1848-1915), Parks Cemetery, Stephens County, Oklahoma; gravestone photograph by Debbie, member 46637435.
- The Handybook for Genealogists, (Draper, Utah: Everton Publishers, 2002), 549.
- Division of Vital Statistics, Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; negative search for death certificate of “Robert Cisney Royston” 1908-1919.
- Tammy and Karla K Willis Sharp, “Parks Cemetery, Stephens County, Oklahoma,” (http://stephenscogen.org/ ; accessed 12 July 2016); cemetery description and transcription indicates size and remote nature.
- 1910 U.S. Census, Howard County Arkansas, population schedule, Dillard township, enumeration district (ED) 24, sheet 13B (penned), dwelling 251, family 256, Robert C. Royston household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 29 April 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll: 1254.
- I1900 U.S. Census, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, population schedule, Township 2S Range 5W, enumeration district (ED) 166, sheet 24B, (penned), dwelling 379, family 397, Robert C Royston household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com accessed 17 February 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1849.
- 1880 U.S. Census, Johnson County, Texas, population schedule, precinct 1, enumeration district (ED) 81, sheet 271A (stamped), p.41 (penned), dwelling 356, family 362, Robert C Royston household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 26 April 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1313.
- 1880 U.S. Census, Johnson County, Texas, population schedule, precinct 3, enumeration district (ED) 83, sheet 293C (stamped), p.14 (penned), dwelling 161, family 166, Robt Royston household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 28 April 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1313.
- Dallas County, Texas, photocopy of marriage license, Carpenter-Weatherford, 3 Jan 1874, Volume E Page 407, County Clerk, Dallas.
- 1870 U.S. Census,population schedule, negative search for Robert C Royston; database with images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 April 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M593.
- 1860 U.S. Census, Chambers County, Alabama, population schedule, Northern Division, Milltown Post Office, page 130 (penned), dwelling 915, family 895, Thomas B. Royston household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 29 April 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M653.
- 1850 U.S. Census, Chambers County, Alabama, population schedule, 19th District, p. 318 (stamped), dwelling 749, family 749, Thomas B Royston household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 August 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 2.
- “Chambers County, Alabama Estates, box 26 folder 24, Thomas Beverly Royston; “Alabama, Wills and Probate Records, 1753-1999,” case file for Thos B Royston, 1867-1883, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 19 August 2016), digital images 138-140
- Effie Lorain Shults Bassett (Sanger, California) to [Bobby Gene Shults], letter, 5 May 1966; privately held by author, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 2016. [Bob Shults gave letter to author].
- Diana Elder, “Research Report for Thomas Beverly Royston 1806-1868, Memories, Thomas Beverly Royston (KFR2-8KY), FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/37518085 : accessed 11 March 2023).
I feel as though everyone who listens to your podcast knows Cynthia (Dillard) Royston at this point. You’ve done such extensive research on this family, and I hope you plan to share your research process and findings as part of the webinar series.
Thanks for the suggestion – I definitely think Cynthia deserves a presentation for the webinar series! Even though I haven’t proven a father for her yet, it would be great to show the various steps I’ve taken so far in the research.