Martha McElroy Hilliard

Martha A.E. McElroy Hilliard was my third great-grandmother. Her parents were James McElroy and Rebecca Stokes. She married William Daniel “Dan” Hilliard. She lived her whole life in Stewart County, Tennessee.

My grandfather took an Ancestry DNA test and matches high to McElroy descendants — the McElroy blood must be strong! I wanted to learn more about this family, starting with Martha. She is often listed with initials “A.E.”, but I don’t know what it stands for. One could guess “Ann Elizabeth”, but there’s no proof. My grandfather also corrected my pronunciation of the last name Hilliard when I asked him about his great-grandmother. It’s “hee-lurd“.

martha mc

Martha’s tombstone in the Boyd Cemetery in Tharpe, Stewart County lists her birth date as December 13, 1837 and her death date as July 10, 1879. (The above photo was added by LesaK on FindAGrave.) On FindAGrave and Ancestry family trees, Martha’s birthday is listed as the 17th and not the 13th like on her tombstone. Could be a transcription error, but I see no documentation that it’s anything but December 13.

I’ve examined records to learn more about Martha’s life.


1840 – Census – Martha was living with her parents, James and Rebecca, in Stewart County. She is listed as under five, not by name, as the 1840 census didn’t list names besides the head of household.

1847 – Martha’s father passes away. She is only 10 years old. I couldn’t find any records to confirm James’s death in 1847, but we know he passed away between the 1840 and 1850 census. This passing must have been tough on the whole family.

1850 – Census – Martha is living with her widowed mother, Rebecca, and brothers in Stewart County.

May 28, 1856 – At age 18, Martha married William Daniel “Dan” Hilliard in Carroll County, Tennessee.

Marriage record for Martha and Dan

I wish I could fill in the blanks on how they met, but I don’t know. Dan was originally from Carroll County, and was living there on the 1850 census.

1860 – Census – The young family is living in District 7, Dover, Stewart County, Tennessee. Martha and Dan have two children: George and Mary (my great-great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hilliard Dennis). They are only a few houses away from Martha’s mother and family.

1870 – Census – In the same area, the family has grown. Living with Martha and Dan are Martha’s elderly mother, Rebecca, along with five children: George, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Allen (Robert), Jackson, and Anderson.

1872 – Daughter Isadora is born according to the 1880 census.

February 15, 1877 – Twins?! Daughter Ester is born according to the 1880 census. (Family trees give her birthday as February 15.) Son Jerry Thomas was also born according to his tombstone. (More on him below.)

July 10, 1879 – Martha dies from dysentery. It’s often caused by contaminated water or food. Learn more about dysentery here. The mortality schedule lists her approximate birth year as 1843. Going from her birth date on her tombstone, she was only 41. I imagine she had a painful death. She left eight children and her husband, Dan. (Source: 1880 Mortality Schedule for Stewart County and Ancestry)

September 1, 1879 – Not even two months later, more tragedy for the Hilliard family. Twin Jerry “Thomas” passed away from pneumonia. Attending physician for both Thomas and his mother was N.M. Trawick. The mortality schedule lists him as age 4, but his tombstone lists his age as 2. The schedule lists him as Thomas, and his tombstone lists his name as Jerry T. (Source: 1880 Mortality Schedule for Stewart County and Ancestry)

Jerry Thomas Hilliard’s tombstone. Photo by LesaK.

Martha, Thomas, Dan and other family members are buried in the Boyd Cemetery in Tharpe, Stewart County, Tennessee.

Unfortunately, that’s all we know about Martha and her life. It makes me sad to read about my ancestor’s short lives and their sometimes very sad endings. From the Ancestry DNA tests, I know Martha’s DNA lives on through my grandfather, father, and me. Martha would have never imagined, 138 years later, that her great-great-great-granddaughter would be researching her and also mourning her passing.

Last updated 12/29/2017

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