Online research can be notoriously bad, thus I'm always skeptical when someone says they've discovered they're related to some famous person in history. Yeah, well, I'm also related to one of the all time chump tv/radio talk show hosts through a marriage (thus leaving me a few degrees away from nearly every famous person who has lived for the past several decades, including Kevin Bacon), but it means nothing. In my case it's true and can be verified, but for others, with dreams of ancestry grandeur, I have to say, "Check for typos." Case in point...

I bought this photo last week from a bin of photos at an antique store. The obvious information given is from the actual photo and what is written on the back. Most likely Richard Lawson Levelle worked for the railroad since his hat looks like one worn by a railroader and the carts in the background are reminiscent of baggage carts from long ago. He was a stepfather and the photo was taken in Butte. I'm guessing Butte, Montana. That's my jumping off point. And so my online research began.

Click on either image to see them larger.

Now, thinking about how many people currently live in Montana, a sparsely populated state, it would be hard to believe that in the late 1920s there would be two men of the same name, one black and one white, right? I mean, if they were both named Joe Smith I'd buy it, but "Lawson" and "Levelle" don't seem that common when put together.

Here is what I found and the odd turn it took.

Lawson Richard Levelle (as written on several online documents) was born in Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky around 1887 (though in another document “estimated birth” is listed as 1885). His father was Richard Levelle and his mother was Sarah Hibber. On December 30, 1928 Lawson married Agnes Ida Williamson, born in Pocatello, Idaho. She was 29 years old, and a widow with 5 children: Elizabeth A. Williamson (age 11), Paul H. Williamson (age 9), Genevieve H. Williamson (age 8), Eloise M. Williamson (age 5), Thelma M. Williamson (age 4). Her maiden name was Mason; her mother was Sarah Mason, her father Frank Mason. Her previous married name was Williamson.

Both Richard/Lawson and Agnes are listed as negro on various documents, except on the marriage certificate where they’re both listed as white (Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950). That seems strange. Two Richard Levelle's in Wyoming around the same time, both stepfathers. So apparently some of the information I’ve gathered is incorrect. Were there two Richard Lawson Levelle’s or Lawson Richard Levelle’s in Montana in 1930, both stepfathers and married to a woman named Agnes? It all gets a little confusing and I don’t have access to enough information to really figure this out.

I can say that a Richard Levelle died on February 6, 1944 in Deer Lodge, Montana. He was 59 years old. Marital Status is listed as “Unknown.”

Just to make things more confusing, on the marriage certificate their marriage is listed as having taken place in 1928 and yet the witness information says 1929. The record was filed on February 2, 1929. And the marriage license is initially dated December 24th 1929 with the nine then crossed out and an “8” written in. So if there’s that much confusion as to dates I’m guessing they could also confuse if Richard and Agnes were white and not “negro”…yeah, I doubt it.

Who this man was shall remain a mystery.

Again, a little piece of ephemera takes me down a confusing path.

UPDATE: Reader Karl Mousley, has contacted me with information about Richard and Agnes' dates of death via the Find a Grave site. Thank you Karl!
According to the 1940 census Karl was working as a janitor.
Richard's death Feb 6, 1944Agnes died August 23, 1977


  1. I hate to complicate your research, but Mr. Levelle is wearing the uniform of a Pullman Railway Porter. Geroge Pullman, the desinger and builder of dining and sleeper cars, didn't sell his stock, but leased it to railroads, fully staffed. He was an admirer of pre-civil war southern plantation life and sought to replicate the feel of the era by using all black employees. You might be looking for records in the wrong state. Train lines that passed through Butte, Montana would have started their runs in Chicago and finished up in Seattle. Mr. Levelle could have lived anywhere that had a railroad and used his RR pass to join up with whatever run he was assigned to.

    Too, as far as there being both a white and black Richard Levelle, in the 1880s, miscegenation, sexual relations, or marriage between races was illegal in most of the United States. Black women who had children fathered by white men would, most commonly, list the father's race as negro to avoid possible prosecution. A married white man, also involved with a black woman, could have children by both women and give the child the same family name. Two brothers, one white, one black, with the same name, could live in the same county, and not be aware of each other. Agnes is a common enough name that that could be a coincidence.

    You should look up A. Philip Randolph, if you're not already familiar with him.

  2. I did figure he was probably a porter and I also figured Butte might just be a stop off.

    The coincidental material found about a white man and a black man with the same names and wives with the same names is probably just that and I'll never know the truth about him.

  3. I am interested in finding information regarding Richard Lawson Levelle. I am a Levelle with family in Missoula, MT, and a very vague and limited understanding of my ancestry there. Were you able to uncover any other information regarding Mr. Levelle?
    -Kelsey Levelle

    1. Kelsey, I'm sorry to say that the story ends here for me. I have not found any other information, but then I do not have access to Ancestory.