ZONA Bayless

This is my 7th year participating in the A to Z Challenge. In the 2015 challenge, I wrote about the Cleages formerly enslaved on the plantations of Samuel and his sons Alexander and David Cleage of Athens, McMinn County, Tennessee. Most of the people in these posts are not related to me by blood or DNA, however my ancestors were enslaved on the same plantations with them.

Late last year, I ordered the Civil War Pension files of the Cleage men who served in 1st Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery (USCHA), during that war. Through these files I learned that their lives were much richer and more complex than census, death and other records can show. I am using the information from pension files and records that I found through the pension files for this years challenge.

In the 1870 census, the transcriber saw this name as “Zona”.

I was afraid I would be unable to find a “Z” name or word related to the pension files. I was overjoyed to find in my family tree a Zona Bayless. She was the sister-in-law of George Cleage, the George Cleage who remained in Athens, Tennessee. After inspecting the only census record in which Zona Bayless appears, I discovered that there was a transcription error and her name was actually Missouri. Missouri is the name she appeared under in the 1880 census before disappearing from the record.


Department of the Interior
Bureau of Pensions

Washington D.C.
May 12 1894


You are informed that the name George “Cleage” has not been found on the rolls of I.1st U.S.C.H.A. The correct spelling of clients name should be given and if he enlisted and served under any other name than this one he now bear he should state under oath what that name was and he should prove by at least two comrades that he is the identical person who so enlisted and served. His discharge certificate should be furnished if possible.

He also state whether other was any other soldier of the same or similar name in you Co. or Regt?

Very respectfully,

Joel I. Payatt
Athens, Tenn.

I wrote about the other George Cleage here George Cleage X 2. This post is about the George Cleage who lived in Athens, Tennessee.

George Cleage was born about 1845 in McMinn County, TN. His family was enslaved on Alexander Cleage’s plantation. His parents were Jim and Hulda Hurst and he had at least five siblings, including Abram Cleage who served in UscHeavy Artillary and Katie Cleage who was the widow of a U.S.C. Heavy Artillary soldier.

I was unable to find George Cleage in the 1870 census. About that time he married Jemima Bayless, who was born into a free family of color about 1854 in McMinn County. I could not find her in the 1870 census either.

In 1880, George and Jemima Cleage had three young daughters, Anna, 6, Mary, 4 and Lizzie, 2 years old.  George was employed as a laborer. Jemima was keeping house. Neither of them could read or write. In 1893, George applied for a pension. He did not follow through and it was dropped.

By 1900 George was a widower.  Two of his daughters were enumerated with him in the 1900 census.  Daughter Anna had married Frank Cunningham who died before 1900. Anna has one child with her husband, 2 year old Mazinia Cunningham.  George’s daughter Lizzie was working as a cook.  Both of the daughters were literate, George was not.

That is the last I found of George Cleage. Lizzie disappears soon after the 1900 census. She may be the Lizzie Cleage in Knoxville or she may not. Mary and Anna ended up in Indianapolis where they died in the 1920s.  Anna is listed in the city directories as “Anna Cleage (widow of Frank) and that caused me some confusion because I thought she might have been a wife of my great grandfather Louis’ brother Frank Cleage, but that turned out not to be the case.  She must have gone back to her maiden name after Frank Cunningham died.  My grandfather and three of his siblings lived in Indianapolis at this time. I wonder if the two families crossed paths.

18 thoughts on “ZONA Bayless

  1. I second Anne’s comments. Some interesting names.
    The amount of information in those files is terrific and gave some real insights into the men who served in theCivil war and their families.
    It has been fascinating to follow along for another year of A to Z

  2. Funny how an error worked in your favor. Congratulations on another successful round of A-Z. Can I just say ONE MORE TIME, I’m amazed at the detail of the affidavits you have. I really enjoyed reading them.

    1. If you want some even better ones, look at the Katie Cleage file up there. That’s the most interesting file I’ve ever seen. A novel in a file.

    1. I didn’t either until a few years ago. The pension files are in the National Archives. They are amazing and I’m glad they saved them and they have survived too. They give a picture of life then that history books just don’t.

  3. My guess is that the woman went by the shortened name Zona as saying Missouri all the time would be tedious. Of course, census takers didn’t always get it right either. Many (read that all) of my ancestors early census records misspelled their last names and often only guessed at the first names.
    Thanks for a fun month of genealogy stories.
    Z is for Zulu Warrior in Belgium?

    1. I don’t think it says “Zona” but I’m glad someone did. Yes, about the misspelling, sometimes names are spelled three different ways on the same form or in the same file, much less in other files.

  4. Congratulations, Kristin–You did it! I like your ending on a red herring. So for the breakthroughs and wonderful discoveries, you must have to hit up against many dead ends and get led astray by shoals of red herrings (not to mention wild goose chases!). A fascinating and inspiring excavation of the pension files. Who would have thought it?

    1. Whooo Hooo! Yes, there are many dead ends and sometimes they are eventually solved. I never would have expected so much information before I started reading the files.

  5. Great A to Z Challenge series. You have a fantastic resource with these documents and they were likely helpful to many people (now and in the future). Your posts were all very interesting to follow. I look forward to seeing more of your work. Thank you for checking mine out.

  6. Kids being kids, I wonder if she was ever teased about being named after a state. I can see why she may have liked the the nickname Zona. It is a really pretty name.

    1. I hope she wasn’t. I’ve found a fair amount of girls with state names. I don’t think Zona was her nickname. I think it was just a bad transcription. Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana are just a few of the names I’ve seen. I wonder if for a time it was common to name your daughter after a state.

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