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Are We Related?: Watson

May 15, 2024

As I continue this monthly blog series, I have expanded my surname reach beyond the Indiana Historical Society’s Archives and Library department. I reached out to my good friend, Dan, in our Exhibits department to see if he had any surnames about which he was interested in learning more. He kindly provided me with several names, and I homed in on one, Watson.

This seemed like a great option. We have several items that pop up with the name Watson when running searches in our catalog, digital collection, and website search. The Watson Dan was curious about was James ‘Harry’ Watson. So, I started there, and upon searching James Watson, one very prominent Indiana figure separated themselves from the pack throughout the searches: James E. Watson.

Group photo taken at the Rainbow Division reunion, (l to r) Sen. James Eli Watson, Sen. and ex-Gov. Samuel M. Ralston, Gen. John J. Pershing, Gov. McCray, Gen. Henri Gouraud, and Count de Vibraye, Indianapolis, 1923; Sen. James E. Watson, 1930. IHS, SC0035 (photos); Bretzman, IHS.

James Eli Watson was born in Winchester, Randolph County, Indiana in 1864. After graduating from DePauw and studying law, he became a lawyer in his father Enos L. Watson’s law firm before stepping into politics. Watson served as a Representative and later a Senator for Indiana in the US Congress, 1895-1909 and 1916-1933.

With a chorus starting with “Jim, we call him Senator Jim, our Jim, and ev’ry heart is with him,” Senator James E. Watson’s popularity and notoriety is made clear by this sheet music with words and music by Hoagy Carmicheal, 1932. IHS.

Ultimately, the problem with the name James Watson is that there are just so many of them. Dan’s James Watson came from a long direct line of men by that name, sometimes with the same middle name and sometimes different. I stopped after I had traced back to James ‘Harry’ Watson’s great-great-grandfather James.

Senator James Eli Watson had an uncle by the same name, though as noted above his father was Enos. However, his grandfather was also James. I find the farther you go back in an ancestral line the more likely you are to find a lack of diversity in naming practices, and often this leads to the everyday use of middle names causing even more confusion when piecing together a family line.

In this instance, I did NOT find that my colleague’s Watson line and that of Senator James E. Watson were related. It was a fun journey, though, through which I learned a lot nonetheless.

Visit our main IHS blog site to read previous Are We Related stories and other great content!

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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