Notes on the Howell Wives: Cundiff, Rentfro, Cook 10/10/03

Mary E. Cundiff (1848-1874), married Stephen Cole Howell (1845-1924)

Thanks to Garry Cundiff for contacting me and filling me in on the ancestry of Mary E. Cundiff. While the paragraphs below are out of date now, they still have some information. The main Fuller file now has been updated with the Cundiff ancestry, and Garry given credit.

The only source we have for Mary E. Cundiff is the Worldconnect file of Robert Howell, and he has no ancestors of Mary in his file. We have been unable to locate him to see if he has any additional information. He shows Mary as being born in Indiana in 1848 and dying in 1874 in Blairsville, Illinois, the result of childbirth. We have searched the 1850 and 1860 census for any sign of a Cundiff family in Indiana or Illinois and found nothing that matches Mary. We have not found the Robert Howell family, with Mary, in the 1870 census for Illinois.

There are, however, a few clues for more looking. While the surname Cundiff is not common in Indiana and Illinois, there is a large group in Kentucky, so we suspect that Mary's family originated there.

In the 1880 census for Williamson County, Illinois, we find Stephen Howell, widower, age 34, with children James A., Elnora, George W., and John W. Next door is James T. Howell, 65, and wife Sarah. So we can be certain that this is our Howell family, and his wife Mary has died. Her children list their mother's birthplace as Indiana. Interestingly, on the previous page is listed a William B. Cundiff and family, William being 26 years old, or born about 1854, and born in Indiana. His father is born in Kentucky and mother born in Indiana. He is with wife Louisa J. (b. Kentucky) and children James W., Milo, and Luther B. A marriage record has been found for William B. Cundiff and Louisa Jane Guthrie, 2/7/1877 in Williamson County, Illinois.

The family relationships are strengthened by finding the Cundiff, Howell, and Snider families living next door to each other in Williamson County, Illinois in 1900. We have:

W. B. Cundiff with wife Lou and children Luther, Flora, Lou, and Dawson>BR> George W. Howell (Stephen's son) with wife Ida and children
Jacob Snider with wife Mollie (second wife) and children Ralph and Mary

Another interesting vital is the record from the Williamson County 1860 mortality records listing a Cundiff, Julia A., age 26, born in Kentucky succumbing to fever.

One possibility is a Wesley Cundiff residing in Posey County, Indiana in 1850. He has a daughter Elizabeth, age 3, and this could be Mary E. William B. wouldn't have been born yet. Wesley's wife is Julia, and I wonder, even if the age isn't just right, if this is the Julia that died in 1860 in Williamson County, Illinois. Unfortunately, I can't find Wesley in the 1860 or 1870 census indexes. There is a marriage record for a Wesley Cundiff in the Illinois Marriage Records, spouse Mary Holbert, county Jackson, date 21 Jan 1864. If Wesley's wife died in 1860, he may have remarried.

In the 1930 census for Williamson County, Illinois, we find Louise Cundiff and son Milo living with James and Lora Loyd. Louise is listed as "mother" but it is unclear whether this just refers to Milo, or there is some relationship with James or Lora Loyd. Two houses away are James and Mary Snider and their children.

I've run out of other research possibilities for this family, so I will post a query on the two main Cundiff forums and hope for the best.

Sarah S. Rentfro (1820-1882), married James Tolliver Howell (1816-1888)

There is one file of Robert Howell, that contains ancestors of Sarah Rentfro but no narrative. The Rentfros appear to be Virginia-Kentucky-Illinois farmers, and I haven't found any ancestors of note. There are some oddities in the Howell Rentfro file, such as the break between the first seven children of Joseph Rentfro and his last son Mark, and the age of his wife at Mark's birth, but until something else shows up, I'll take that at face value.

Charlotte Cook (1798-1867), married John Howell (1792-1839)

The ancestors of Charlotte Cook are well documented, probably based on the relationship to the famed navigator Captain James Cook who explored the South Pacific and Alaska in the 1700's and was killed by natives in Hawaii. As it turns out, Captain James Cook was a first cousin of John Hamilton Cook, a direct ancestor of Mary Sue (Cheri) Fuller. Cheri would be the first cousin, eight generations removed, of Captain James Cook.

There is some muted controversy regarding the genealogy of Captain Cook, none of it changing the issue of Cheri's relationship. I suppose that unlike many famous people, the students of Captain Cook are more concerned with his explorations than his genealogy. This may be because none of his offspring left descendants, so no one can claim direct descendancy to the Captain. Persons interested in Captain Cook can find a very good website at The Captain's direct genealogy is on this site, and does not include the James Cook (1695-) married to Grace Hamilton. It shows, as do other genealogies, James Cook ( 1694-1779) father of Captain James Cook, as a direct descendant of John Cook (1650-) married to Jean Duncan. This, of course, would mean that Jean Duncan, if she were the approximate same age as her husband, would be having children at age 50 which is unlikely. However, since there is no age for Jean, she could have been much younger that John. In any event, the Cook genealogists have debated the issue and reached no conclusion.

I've left James Cook (1675-) and Grace Janet Hamilton in the charts to remind me of the issue.

Martha Denny (1758-), married James Howell (1744-1844)

Jim Pearce