Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What's in a Name?

A friend of mine recently got her DNA results from and was showing me her Ethnicity Estimate. I remembered that Ancestry had come out with a whole new version of ethnicity results last fall, and I had never really looked at mine since the new version appeared on their website. So I did.

On a previous post, "Where in the World Am I From?" I reported the results from my first ethnicity profile on Ancestry. I was 44% Central European, 33% British Isles, 21% Scandinavian, and 2% Uncertain. I knew that Ancestry got a lot of flak from experts in the field of DNA genealogy for the high proportion of Scandinavian ancestry in a large number of people who wouldn't be expected to have it. I wasn't especially skeptical of my Scandinavian numbers, because first of all, it's cool to be a Viking, and second, I figured my Irish and Scots forefathers probably did have some Scandinavian ancestry.

Well, now they don't. My new Ethnicity Estimate is 79% Great Britain, 15% Ireland, and 6% Trace Regions. These include 3% Europe East, 1% Europe West, 1% Italy/Greece, <1% Scandinavian, and <1% Iberian Peninsula. I've gone from 21% Scandinavian to less than 1%. However, I'm not really surprised at my overwhelmingly English/Scots/Irish roots, as I would be hard-pressed to find a surname in my tree that can't be traced to those regions.

I thought it might be fun to do a little survey of the surnames in my tree--where they come from and what they mean. Since none of my ancestors are recent immigrants and I haven't been able to trace very many of them conclusively to their mother country, surnames are the only evidence I have for country of origin. Let's see if my surname origins match up with the origins that estimated from my DNA.

FYI: Surnames did not come about until the Middle Ages, when populations grew large enough that individuals with the same given names had to be differentiated from each other. There are four major ways in which surnames were given: based on the father's name (for example, Johnson, "son of John"); based on the occupation of the individual (John the Baker, John the Carpenter, etc.); based on a place (John Hill, John Meadows, John London); or based on a characteristic (John Little, John Brown.)

On my dad's dad's side, I have Smith, Williams, Simmons, and Soles. Just for fun, let's throw in Banks and Perkins, the surnames belonging to my brother's y-DNA matches. We know they are related to us--we just don't know how. I'm using's surname information, which can be found at

SMITH--English: occupational name for a worker in metal
WILLIAMS--English (also very common in Wales): son of William
SIMMONS--English (southern): son of Simon, or Anglo-Norman: son of Simund
SOLES--Old English; from sol, a muddy place, or possibly from Middle English (Latin solus), "single" or "unmarried", or if spelled
SOULE or SOULES--uncertain origin; perhaps derived from "soul" as a term of affection
BANKS--English or Scottish: name for someone who lived on the slope of a hill or by a riverbank
PERKINS--English (also mid and south Wales): son of Perkin

On my dad's mom's side, surnames include Castle, Sargent, Bays, Day, Lewis, Reed, Horton, Kendrick, Lea, Oney, McGrady, Cock, Patrick, and Henson.

CASTLE--English: someone who lived or worked at the castle (However, if the original spelling was Kassell or Cassell, as many Castle genealogists have speculated, my Jacob "the Longhunter" would have had a German, not English, origin.)
SARGENT--English and French: originally, an occupational name for a servant
BAYS--English: son of Bay
DAY--English: a pet form of David or other personal name; or, from a root word meaning "to knead" (related to dough), name for a dairy maid or servant of either sex
LEWIS--English (but most common in Wales): from the Norman personal name Ludovicus, or from the Welsh Llywelyn, or from the Irish/Scots Lughaidh
REED--English: nickname for a person with red hair or a ruddy complexion
HORTON--English: from one of many places in England with this name; from Old English horh "dirt" + tun "enclosure" or "settlement"
KENDRICK--Welsh, Scottish, or English: from the Welsh personal name Cynrig; shortened version of the Scots MacKendrick; or from the English Cyneric, meaning "royal power"
LEA--English: someone who lived near a meadow
ONEY--English: probably originally Olney, from two different places in England. One meant "Olla's island"; one was originally Onley, "single" + "clearing"
MCGRADY--Irish: son of Bradach, "proud"
COCK--English: "male bird or fowl," originally someone who struts like a rooster, then became generalized to "youth" and incorporated in names such as Alcock and Hancock
PATRICK--Scottish and Irish: son of Padraig, originally Latin Patricius, "son of a noble father"; popularized, of course, by St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland
HENSON--English: son of Henne (short for Henry), Hayne, or Hendy

On my mom's dad's side, I have Wheat, Farris, Stephenson, Whitley, Ming, Beasley, Fullen, Bordley, and Logan.

WHEAT--English: grower or seller of wheat, from hwit, meaning "white" because of its use in making white flour
FARRIS--Scottish: son of Fergus; in southeast England, possibly variant of Farrar, "worker in iron," "shoer of  horses" 
STEPHENSON--English and Scottish: son of Stephen; sometimes shortened to Stinson. My Stephensons are supposed to be Scottish.
WHITLEY--English: place name, from hwit "white" + leah "wood"
MING--English: of uncertain origin; perhaps from shortened version of personal name, Dominick
BEASLEY--English: from a place in Lancashire; perhaps beos, meaning "bent grass" + leah, meaning "woodland clearing"
FULLEN--English: same origin as Fuller, an occupational name for a person who helped make cloth by wetting and walking on it
BORDLEY--English: place name, originally bord, "board" + leah, "woodland clearing"
LOGAN--Scottish or northern Irish: from a place name, originally lagan, "hollow"

And finally, from my mom's mom's side of the family: Bell, Roberts, Powell, Fowler, Crudup, Cooper, Battle, Dixon, and Huff. DNA evidence also points to Pharris, Broyles, and Wilhoit.

BELL--Scottish or northern English: bell maker, or someone who lived near the bell
ROBERTS--English: son of Robert. Very frequent in Wales and west central England.
POWELL--English (of Welsh origin): Anglicized form of Welsh ap Hywel, "son of Hywel," a personal name meaning "eminent"
FOWLER--English: occupational name for a bird-catcher (a common medieval occupation)
CRUDUP--Probably an Americanized version of North German Gratop, a nickname for an old man. From German gra (gray) + top (braid)
COOPER--English: occupational name for a maker and repairer of wooden barrels
BATTLE--English and Scottish (of Norman origin): habitational name from the place of a battle
DIXON--Northern English: son of Dick
HUFF--English: habitational name, meaning "spur of a hill." German: from the personal name Hufo. My Huffs were Dutch, so probably the German meaning.
PHARRIS--Irish variant of Farris. I'm still not completely certain that my Farris and Pharris ancestors weren't originally the same family.
BROYLES--American form of German Breuhl (one of my Germanna families)
WILHOIT and various spellings--German: from Willeit, wil "small settlement" + leite "slope" (another Germanna family)

Kindof fascinating, isn't it? Certainly bears out the ethnicity estimate of almost 95% Great Britain and Ireland. It's also fun to see what characteristics distinguished a person or place back then and to compare medieval occupations to those we have today. Can you imagine having a job that required you to walk on wet cloth or catch birds?

Try this little exercise with your own list of surnames. What does it tell you about the origins and occupations of your ancestors?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sugar Camps, Stills, and Saltpeter Caves

If you have researched Jackson County, Tennessee, you have probably heard the name of Betty Huff Bryant. I knew she had written a couple of books about Jackson County, but I had never seen them and didn't know if I could find them. I recently discovered that they were available from a genealogical book store and finally broke down and bought them. Thank goodness for her and the people that she calls Specific Historians--the volunteer researchers that "want to know how things really were and who was really there." (From Building Neighborhoods, 1992.)

The two books that she wrote make it possible for those of us unable to travel (for the moment) to Jackson County or to the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) in Nashville to have access to court cases and land records of the 1800's. In addition, she has done the hard work for us--deciphering the handwritten entries and abstracting the important details.

One book, titled Jackson County, Tennessee Chancery Court Minutes 1840-1861, contains abstracts of the minutes of the Chancery Court. According to the website of the Tennessee State Courts at, “Chancery Courts are courts of equity that are based on the English system in which the chancellor acted as the ‘King’s conscience.’ A chancellor, the judge who presides over chancery courts, may modify the application of strict legal rules and adapt relief to the circumstances of individual cases. Chancery Courts handle a variety of issues including lawsuits, contract disputes, application for injunctions and name changes. A number of matters, such as divorces, adoptions, and workers’ compensation, can be heard in either chancery or circuit court.”

You can see why details from these court cases could be very helpful to a genealogist. In addition, her notes on various cases are instructive, and her explanation of the various men of Jackson County named James Pharis might have actually, finally, straightened them out in my mind.

The other book, the one I want to talk about in this post, is Building Neighborhoods, in which she abstracts early land records (prior to 1820) of Jackson County. In her introduction she tells readers that she did this research in "an attempt to discover exactly who were the earliest settlers on Martin's Creek." One of the few things I know about my Elzina Huff is that she said in her 1874 divorce complaint that she had lived her entire life on Martin's Creek. Luckily for me, the very records researched by this Specific Historian are the ones I am specifically interested in. If you want to know "how things really were," there are certainly clues in these land records.

Each entry in Building Neighborhoods describes the piece of property involved in a land transaction. Prior to the Revolutionary War, the metes and bounds system was used to describe the boundaries of lands being surveyed. The thirteen original colonies and the state land states, such as Tennessee, used this method. Metes are measures, like poles (16.5 ft.), rods (26.5 ft.), and furlongs (664 ft.) and bounds are physical features that are used as boundary markers. (It reminds me a little bit of the softball games we used to play when I was a kid. “First base is that tree over there, second base is the swing set, third base is the lawn chair, and home base is this rock.”)

That example is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Listen to this description of a piece of land registered by Samuel Huff in 1812: “100 acs Beg on a black oak about 20 poles SW of a spring on waters of Brimstone Cr on N side of Cumberland…” I’m really surprised that the Chancery Court minutes are not full of people suing each other over the boundaries of their properties.

What I found interesting were the references to features that are quintessentially 19th century. Several entries described land that was valuable because it contained a spring, a turnip patch, a cleared field, or a “mill seat,” a location suitable for a mill. Many, many entries included a reference to a “sugar orchard,” or more usually, a “sugar camp.” For example, the book includes this abstract, interesting to Huff researchers: “Enoch Carter…8 acs…dry fork of Martin’s Cr…to include William Huff’s old sugar camp.” Mrs. Bryant doesn’t give a definition of “sugar camp,” although a Google search turned up lots of definitions of “sugar camp”: places in or near orchards of sugar maples where sap is collected to make maple syrup.

The trouble is, that's not the definition I had heard from one of my Huff cousins; she said "sugar camp" was a nice 19th century eumphemism for "still." This definition seems more likely when you read another land description in Building Neighborhoods: “Beg at a sugar tree running east then south…so as to incl William Huff’s Sugar Camp in the dark Cave.” Okay. You surely wouldn’t have an orchard of sugar maples in a dark cave, but you might have a still. (And to give William Huff the benefit of the doubt, the cave could also contain the equipment needed to turn the sugar maple sap into syrup.)

Now maybe there’s some other information that I don’t have that would make this all clear. However, as it often happens, I recently heard a radio story on NPR about a legal battle over the definition of “Tennessee whiskey” that I think might explain why a sugar maple orchard could also be the site of a still. Tennessee whiskey, according to the Jack Daniels distillery which markets 90% of the stuff, is made mostly from corn, filtered through maple charcoal, and aged in oak casks; hence, the location of a still near a sugar orchard would be a definite advantage.

Lynchburg, Tennessee

Jack Daniels Distillery
Lynchburg, Tennessee

I visited the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg on a trip to Tennessee a few years ago. It was a last-minute detour from our itinerary, but it was really interesting, and I was glad that we went. Jack Daniels definitely promotes the idea that their whiskey is Tennessee born and bred. The beef that some other distilleries have with JD’s definition of Tennessee whiskey is that it is JD’s recipe, and there are other ways to make Tennessee whiskey that are just as authentic. The artisanal whiskey makers of Tennessee apparently pride themselves on the spirit of the moonshiners that lives on in their products.

Jack Daniels

Another important feature in many of the land descriptions also required a Google search. “Cave fork of Knob Cr of Cumberland R…the north side of said fk…mouth of salt petre cave formerly worked by…Anderson who erected furnaces several years past at sd cave…”
“On a fork of Knob Cr of Cumberland…to incl Huff’s and Givin’s old salt petre cave.”
“One ac…Brimstone Cr…to include a salt petre cave out of which a hole goes out at the top of the mountain.”

What was a saltpeter cave?

Saltpeter is potassium nitrate and can be extracted from the soil of limestone caves, like those found in Kentucky and Tennessee. It is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder. Saltpeter mined in east Tennessee was used to make gunpowder for the Revolutionary War; by the time of the land transactions in Building Neighborhoods, saltpeter from Jackson County was being turned into gunpowder to fight the War of 1812. An apocryphal story has gunpowder processed from Jackson County saltpeter making it to Andrew Jackson’s troops at the Battle of New Orleans.

In 2014 you can buy maple syrup in a bottle at the grocery store, order a Jack & Coke at your neighborhood bar, and pick up some ammunition at the closest Walmart, so it’s hard to imagine making any of this stuff from scratch. This is the beauty of a book like Building Neighborhoods; it gives you a clearer picture of who your ancestors really were, what they thought was important, and what kinds of tasks took up their days.

I've learned more than I ever thought I would from Betty Huff Bryant. I hope you are lucky enough to have a Specific Historian for your neck of the woods!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Laying Out the Facts

Okay, here's the thing--if there was a credible paper trail that proved a line of descent, you wouldn't need DNA to make your case. Sometimes you have a hypothesis and DNA proves it right or wrong; sometimes you don't even know what you don't know until DNA results guide you to it. In the absence of birth, marriage, or census records that connect an individual to a family, a genealogist has to lay out the facts, including DNA results, to make her case. And getting help from fellow genealogists doesn't hurt either.

Fact 1: DNA results posted to Gedmatch show that a group of testers from various companies match in fairly large segments on Chromosome 6

A couple of weeks ago I was playing around with Gedmatch's new Segment Triangulation feature. Gedmatch has developed this new tool to take the place of the old segment analyzer that let you find matches based on entering the position of a particular segment on a particular chromosome. The new tool color codes matching segments so you know when you have a matching segment with someone, and when you both have a match with someone else.

I emailed ten people who matched either me or my brother in the same place on Chromosome 6. One of them was Nancy, with whom I corresponded over a year ago. We each worked a couple of days back then, trying to make a connection, but we were never able to find an ancestor in common. She was the first person to reply to my new email, and she had two more names to add to the list that were recent matches to her--also on Chromosome 6.

One of those new matches was Linda--also a match to me--and in her tree she had a couple of names that looked familiar.

Fact 2: Given names and places of residence in Linda's tree and my tree match up

Linda's 3rd great-grandfather was Ira Bell and his father was Benjamin Bell. My great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Bell, had four brothers: one of them was Benjamin Franklin Bell, a common enough name in those days, but another brother was Joseph Ira--and Ira is not that common.

The father of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Joseph Ira was James W. Bell, who lived in Marshall Co., Mississippi. On the 1850 census James, age 9, is living there with his parents, Thomas and Elizabeth, and sisters Catharine, Mary, Elizabeth, Martha, and Winifred (also spelled Winniford in some documents and shortened to Wincey in others.)

Family of Thomas Bell, 1850 census, Marshall Co. MS

I had always based Thomas's birth year/place on his age of 44/North Carolina on this census (and had always wondered at the fact that his wife Elizabeth at age 52 was 8 years older), so I had always searched for him with a birth date of 1806. However, when I looked at the 1860 census, Thomas was 64, so I revised his birth date to 1796. Based on that small change in birth date, I was able to find Thomas on the 1870 and 1880 censuses in Marshall Co., information that I had not had before. (Apparently, Elizabeth had died, because his wife on these two censuses was Sarah, who was 24 years younger than he was.)

Meanwhile, Nancy had found a Thomas Bell on the 1830 census in Montgomery Co., NC, in the same area where Linda's 3rd great-grandfather Ira and 4th great-grandfather Benjamin lived. Nancy and Linda had also been emailing each other and had discovered that they shared common Ledbetter ancestors. Linda is descended from both Bells and Ledbetters. On her father's side she is descended from Benjamin Bell and his wife Elizabeth Ledbetter. On her mother's side her 3rd great-grandmother is Winniford Ledbetter. Winniford married Benton Jones and died in Marshall Co., MS.

Fact 3: It's possible to place Thomas Bell as a son of Benjamin Bell and a brother of Ira Bell, based on census records and DNA

Circumstantial and DNA evidence suggest that possibly my Thomas Bell, father of James W. Bell, is a previously undocumented son of Benjamin Bell and Elizabeth Ledbetter and a brother of Ira Bell. Here I am relying on member trees posted on, which I don't really like to do, but I don't know what original documents they consulted to find the names and birthdates of Benjamin and Elizabeth's children. 

Beginning in 1789, the Bells had children about 2 years apart except for a period from the birth of Charles in 1795 to Elizabeth in 1800. Using the revised birth date of 1796 for Thomas, he fits easily in this gap. In addition, several trees also list an "unnamed male" and an "unnamed female" in the list of Bell children. Of course, these could be children who died before they were named, or at some point someone knew that the Bells had had a certain number of boys and a certain number of girls, but didn't have the names to go with them. 

In addition, trees on show that Ira Bell's early children were born in Montgomery Co., North Carolina, and later children were born in Carroll Co., Tennessee. Ira appears on the census in Carroll County in 1830 and 1840, then disappears there and appears on Marshall County, Mississippi censuses in 1850 and 1860.

Family of Ira Bell, 1850 census, Marshall Co. MS

As I mentioned before, a Thomas Bell is found on the 1830 census in Montgomery Co., NC, then my Thomas Bell appears in Marshall Co., MS, on the 1850 census. A Thomas Bell was in Marshall County as early as 1841, but as no family is listed, I can't conclusively say that this is my Thomas.

Fact 4: My DNA and extended family tree match Linda's and Nancy's BUT...

It's easier to explain my connection to Linda, and it seems reasonable based on our common Bell ancestors. Linda's 2nd great-grandmother was Melissa Bell, eldest daughter of Ira Bell. She married John Wofford in Marshall Co., MS, in March of 1850, so she is not listed in the census above with her birth family. I believe that Linda's Ira and my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas were brothers. That would mean that our most recent common ancestor is Benjamin Bell of Montgomery Co., NC, our 4th great-grandfather.

My relationship to Nancy of 3rd-5th cousin, predicted by FTDNA, isn't completely explained by our theoretical Ledbetter connection. Our most recent common ancestor would be Francis Ledbetter who was born in Charles City, Virginia, in 1653. He is my 7th great-grandfather, and although I haven't done the math, I assume he's just as far back for Nancy. It may be that we have another, as-yet-undiscovered connection that makes our relationship appear closer than it is. No wonder we had such a hard time finding our common ancestor last year!

Do I think that Thomas Bell is an undocumented child of Benjamin Bell and Elizabeth Ledbetter? Yes.
Do I think that Nancy and I have found our primary connection? No.
Do I think that there is more documentation that needs to be done? Yes.
Do I think that we have found Ledbetter DNA on Chromosome 6? Remains to be seen.

If anybody out there has proof for or against my hypothesis, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Old Questions with New Answers

My Smith great-grandparents, Stephen and Fannie, came to Oklahoma in 1894, bringing most of their children with them from Alabama, even those that were already adults. One adult daughter, Ella, stayed behind in Alabama with her husband. The youngest Smith sibling, my grandfather Weaver, was born in Indian Territory in 1895.

Both of my Smith great-grandparents have been a pain, genealogically speaking. I spent years thinking that Fannie's maiden name was Cotton, then I thought it was Mansell, then I found out that it was probably neither. Her paternal line is a mystery because I don't know who her father was--and may never know. I have a few more clues with her maternal line, enough that I may someday figure out who her grandparents were. At least, through the years, there has been some movement on her side of the family.

Not so with Stephen. I know that his mother was named Mary E. and that from 1850 on, she was the single parent of Stephen, his sister Cynthia, and his brothers John, Alexander Jackson, Minor Jefferson, and Moses Calvin. I know a little about Stephen's siblings and their future lives. I long suspected that Mary's maiden name was Williams, and that finally was confirmed by the death certificate of her son Alexander Jackson. I know that Stephen's father was probably named John Smith. And that's it. I don't even know for sure where John and Mary came from before they came to Alabama. In fact, I don't have solid evidence that John ever lived in Alabama.

1850 Coffee Co. AL census
Mary E. Smith and children: Synthia A., John, Jackson A.,
Minor J., and Stephen A.

Then in the last month it seems like every genealogical clue I've been given is about the Smiths. First, I got an email from a Perkins descendant. In my post, "Will the Real Ancestor Please Stand Up?" I talked about the fact that my brother's y-DNA test results show matches, not to Smiths, but to men named Banks and Perkins. (Not only did John Smith have to have a difficult paper trail, he had to have difficult DNA, too.) She related that she had also corresponded with a Banks descendant; all three of us were looking for a connection among our Smith, Perkins, and Banks ancestors.

James Washington Perkins, the oldest known ancestor of the Perkins descendants, was born in Georgia and died in Texas. My Smith family, as far as I know, never lived in those states. The Banks descendant that matches my brother on 37 markers was from Bulloch County, Georgia, where his family has lived for 8 generations. After having their y-DNA tested and results compared, several Banks descendants believe their oldest known ancestor is Charles Banks of Edgefield County, South Carolina.

John Smith was supposed to have been born in Virginia, but I always wondered where he met his wife Mary. On several censuses Mary E. Williams Smith reported her place of birth as South Carolina. A little research on the Perkins family revealed that they also had a connection to South Carolina. The grandparents of James Washington Perkins, James and Rebecca (Corley) Smelley, were from Edgefield County, South Carolina. So I might not have found a person that ties the Banks, Perkins, and Smith families together, but I might have found a place. At the very least, I thought I could narrow my search for Williams and Smith families to Edgefield County, South Carolina, where there are several to choose from.

Next, out of the blue, I got a message on from a new match who turned out to be a 2nd cousin on my Smith side. His grandmother, Barbara Smith, was the sister of my grandfather Weaver. I asked him to upload his results to Gedmatch, which he did in short order, and I now have a Smith family member to compare matches against. It's also really interesting to compare our DNA on Gedmatch. He is now my largest match, next to my brother, with a whopping 312.8 cM's. He has even more in common with my brother--389.6 cM's.

Using the Triangulation feature on Gedmatch, I found a list of people that match both my Smith cousin and me. I contacted a few of them and heard from one--let's call him Mr. F. I actually realized later that he had once contacted me but we couldn't find the ancestor we had in common. This time I had just researched the Perkins family, so my email to him asked if he had an ancestor by that name. He did; his Ann Perkins (or Parkins), born 1800, married William Orr. Their daughter Rachel Orr was his great-great-grandmother. I compared Mr. F. and several of his relatives on the FTDNA Chromosome Browser and found that they all matched in a certain segment of Chromosome 7. Then I switched over to Gedmatch and compared my Smith cousin to them. (He tested on so is available on Gedmatch but not FTDNA.) And guess what? He lines up in a great big segment at the same place on Chromosome 7 as Mr. F. and his relatives.

Then within a week--I am serious--I got another message on, this time from a lady who just wanted to help me with my great-grandmother Fannie's maiden name. I explained that even though Fannie listed Mansil as her last name on her marriage license, she couldn't really be the daughter of John Mansell. I was curious if she was a relative, so I asked why she had been looking at my tree.

Fannie and Stephen's marriage license

It turns out that she also has Smith ancestors in Coffee Co., AL. We determined that we are not related--her family has had y-DNA testing done and they are descended from a known Smith. But what she told me next kindof rocked my world. Her ancestors in Coffee Co., who were next-door neighbors of my Mary E. Williams Smith, were Prescotts and Donaldsons--and they moved there from Edgefield Co., SC, along with several other families, including the Williamses.

1860 Coffee Co. census
Mary E. living near Prescotts, Williamses, and Donaldsons

In light of all this new information, I am completely revisiting what I think I know about John A. Smith. The death certificate of Andrew Jackson Smith, Stephen's brother, lists his parents as John Smith and Mary E. Williams. So at least as far as Andrew Jackson knew, his father's name was John Smith. I think the erroneous information starts with a marriage license issued in Chesterfield, Virginia, in 1828 for a John A. Smith and an Elizabeth Williams. I think people assumed that this was our John Smith and that he came from Virginia. A lot of people on, and even genealogists in my own family, have listed his birthdate as 1805, but it couldn't be if he is the John Smith in Chesterfield, VA, who was listed on the 1820 census. He would only have been 15 years old.

In 1840 there is a John A. Smith in Pike Co., AL, whose census information has been attached to my John Smith. But again, he couldn't be my John Smith. He has way too many children, and I hate to say, I didn't even question this, but--the Smiths didn't live in Pike Co. in 1840. They didn't move there until sometime between 1860 and 1880. He also is supposed to be buried in the same place as Mary--in Pike Co.--but again he wasn't living in Pike Co. around 1850 when he was supposed to have died.

For this reason, one researcher on thinks that John Smith, the husband of Mary E. and father of Stephen, is the completely different, and much older John W. Smith, who is listed on the 1850 Census Mortality Schedule with a death date of February 1850 at the age of 87. She has compared the census records of two John A. Smiths in Coffee Co. and concluded that neither of them could be the father of my Smith family. I don't know if I agree with all her conclusions, but she has certainly given me something to think about. It just makes sense to question everything when years of research have gotten you no closer to an answer. What do I know? John Smith may have really been born a Perkins.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy Blogiversary to Me

Today is the first anniversary of the day my blog appeared on Geneabloggers. In reality, it's been about a year and two weeks since I started writing Becky's Bridge to the Past. I've written 65 posts and had over 7,000 pageviews. I've been contacted by a couple of cousins and gotten some encouragement from other bloggers. I can say that it's been very helpful to put my genealogical notes in narrative form and has totally been worth the hours I've spent trying to get my words and images just right.

The post that has gotten the most hits is "Genealogy on the Road: Waterloo, Alabama," about the trip my brother and I took to the town our great-grandparents lived in before they came to Oklahoma in 1894. I have a feeling that has more to do with motorcycle riders researching their rally route than with anybody trying to find out about my rather unexciting (but enjoyable) trip to Alabama. I always wonder at someone's reaction when they Google something and get my little blog as a result.

I started the year by listing what I knew about the four branches of my family--my two paternal grandparents and my two maternal grandparents and their ancestors. This is information I have collected in over 25 years of doing genealogy--first by visiting genealogical libraries in Oklahoma and then by using and the free research tools I could find online. Recently, my posts have been all about using DNA to search for ancestors and some of the new cousins I have found through this medium.

In just the last month I have identified two of my DNA matches--one on each side of my family. The common ancestor of Leo Pentney Gaines and myself is our great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Simmons, which would make us 3rd cousins. Herbert Archie Miller has been my biggest match on FTDNA (aside from my brother) since I first got my results, but I finally got some help in identifying him as a Ming cousin.

We haven't been successful YET, but a number of Huff cousins have been working hard this year trying to untangle the family relationships in Jackson County, Tennessee. My new cousin Barbara and I are still related, although we now know through DNA testing that our great-great-grandmothers Elzina and Ellender Huff were not sisters. I found out that I somehow have a previously undocumented connection to the Pharris family of Jackson County. And to make things more complicated, in the last month we have discovered that we are also related to the Broyles, Wilhoite, and Blankenbaker families of the 1717 Germanna Colony of Virginia. Hopefully, the solution to that puzzle will help us find the parents of our 3rd great-grandmother, Mrs. Susannah Huff.

In the past year I have visited ancestral homelands in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama with my brother. We finally found the graves of our Castle great-great grandparents in West Liberty, KY, and saw the town in Virginia named for our ancestor, Jacob Castle.

What are my goals for the coming year? I hope to find more cousins through DNA testing and solve the Huff and Germanna puzzles. DNA has brought us closer in the last year than 20 previous years of chasing the paper trail. In the last week I have been contacted by a Smith cousin who found me through DNA testing from I so hope we can collaborate to find out more about the ancestors of our great-grandfather Stephen Albert Smith. This summer my brother and I will visit North Carolina and Virginia. I hope by the time we visit Germanna, I will know how I am connected there.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I have mentioned a couple of times that I have a DNA match named Herbert Archie Miller. Aside from my brother, he is my largest match, at a 2nd cousin level. We share 134.68 cM's. At a 2nd cousin level, I couldn't understand why I didn't know him or any of his surnames, which were mostly German. He hadn't posted a family tree but using the surnames he'd listed, I found a tree on that I thought was his Miller family.

Then this weekend I had a revelation. (Wrongly, it turns out.) Maybe Mr. Miller was one of the Germanna descendants. Miller (or Mueller) wasn't one of the listed surnames, but maybe one of the other surnames on his tree was a Germanna name. So--I looked on for the tree I found before. I have got to start saving stuff like that on Ancestry's Shoebox feature. Of course, I couldn't find it again.

So I googled "Herbert Archie Miller."

And guess what? I got a hit--to a beautiful, extensive website devoted to the Miller and related families. It's called Troy's Genealogue and is the work of Troy Goss. I emailed Mr. Goss, and true genealogist that he is, he emailed me right back and asked for places and surnames that he could try to connect to Mr. Miller, who is his cousin. I really didn't have much hope since I couldn't figure out how my family and his family could ever have crossed paths, but I sent him a list of surnames and places.

"Ming" was the magic word. In my list of surnames from my mother's side of the family was the surname Ming. And Ming was the maiden name of Herbert Archie Miller's grandmother.

Troy even sent census records. The first one, in Crawford County, Arkansas, in 1850, was my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas Ming's family. And, it turns out, Mr. Miller's family, as well. Mr. Miller's great-grandmother was Francis, age 15. My great-great-grandfather, William F. Ming, her brother, was already out on his own. By 1860 he had his own family. That was the second census report. In 1860 William F. Ming was living in Grayson County, TX, with his wife and children. His youngest child, (Cynthia) Francis, my great-grandmother, was one year old.

The third census report listed the members of the Craig family of Sonoma County, California, in 1870. They included John W. Craig, age 44; Fannie M. (Ming), age 35; and three little girls under the age of 3. Lulu May would come along in 1872. According to notes given to Troy Goss by Herbert Archie Miller's daughters, which I quote here with their permission:

"Lulu May (Craig) Miller was one of seven children born in San Jose, May 6 1872, of John Craig, a California pioneer and gold miner and wife whose maiden name was Ming. The mother had been married first to Robert Craig, John's cousin, a butcher by trade, who had died of blood poisoning. There were no children by her first marriage. John Craig mysteriously disappeared in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and was never heard from again. The mother died soon afterwards. Her seven small children went to live in an orphanage in San Jose until they were put up for adoption. May Craig (as she was called) went to live with a family by the name of Sykes who had a ranch near Davis in the Sacramento Valley. She lived there until she was 20 years old. May's younger sister, Ida, had gone to live with a family named Johnson in the same area. When she came of age, Ida married a son of that family, Will Johnson, about 1890. Will and Ida had taken up farming in the San Luis Obispo area. A while after this, when May Craig was visiting her sister, she met John Miller, a neighboring rancher. John and May were married not too long afterwards. Shortly after they homesteaded land near Parkfield in southern Monterey County where several of their 12 children were born."

"John Valentine Miller died in his 84th year, April 13, 1940. Lulu May Craig Miller died in San Jose shortly after her 88th birthday on July 2, 1960."

Herbert Archie Miller was the youngest of the 12 children of John Valentine Miller and Lulu May Craig Miller. Thomas Ming was our common ancestor. Mr. Miller's line is Thomas Ming to Francis Ming to Lulu May Craig to Herbert Archie Miller. My line is Thomas Ming to William F. Ming to Cynthia Francis Ming to John W. Wheat to Ida Belle Wheat to me. That makes us 2nd cousins, twice removed.

Thanks to genealogist Troy Goss I have found three new cousins: Herbert Archie (who goes by Herb and will be 99 on his next birthday!) and his two daughters, and I am reminded again how very difficult were the lives of our ancestors. 

Herb originally tested to add to information about the Miller side of his family, so that is why Ming wasn't in his list of surnames on FTDNA. (Troy plans to add Herb's maternal surnames to FTDNA soon.) Because of further testing that didn't prove fruitful to his Miller relatives at the time, he showed up as my biggest match on FTDNA. Almost by accident I found Troy's website and my connection to Herb Miller. Troy calls it "serendipity," and it truly was. Herb's daughter Sandy hopes this blog post will help us discover other relatives. Let's hope some serendipity happens again.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Germanna Colony

In the last week I've discovered a whole new group of ancestors. Not only that, but they are connected to something historic, and that's one of my favorite things about genealogy. History comes to life when you know that your ancestors were part of it.

It all started back in August when my new Huff cousin Barbara heard from one of her DNA matches and discovered that she had ties to the surname Wilhoite (spelled in various ways, including Willhoit, Wilhite, Wilheit, and even Wilhoyte.) As she began to discover that more of her previously identified Huff matches had Wilhoite connections, she even set up a separate tree on since she didn't know how they connected with our Huffs.

Just before Christmas we both got a new match named Pickler. Now this seems random, but believe it or not, it's all going to come together in a minute. Barbara emailed Mr. Pickler who sent her the name of his ancestor from McNairy County, Tennessee. Tennessee sounded promising, so I looked up the ancestor's name on I found a tree posted by someone whose name I had seen as a match on Family Tree DNA. I emailed her and found out that two more of my matches were her mother and brother, and another was someone she had matched who had similar surnames. Five matches accounted for!

Using some of the tools on FTDNA and Gedmatch, I verified that all the Pickler matches indeed had DNA in common with my Huff matches. Still didn't know how, but it was definitely there. I looked at the family trees posted by my new Pickler relatives and was confused by the fact that the surname changed from Blankenbaker to Pickler in one generation. I thought it might be a mistake, until I found out that the Pickler surname was originally Blankenbuhler or Blankenbaker. Pickler apparently was a more easily pronounced translation and contraction. I came across a great explanation of how that happened, but of course, I can't find it now. And yes, Kellie Pickler is a descendant of this family.

Doing research on the Wilhoites and Picklers, it's hard not to stumble across the Germanna Colony, because those two surnames are associated with Germanna, especially what they call the Second Colony of 1717. At about the same time that I found Germanna online, Barbara heard from another Wilhoite match who told us about the many books and articles that have been written about the Germanna Colony.

I'm certainly no expert on the Germanna Colony. Heck, I'd never heard of it a month ago. What I know I've learned online on Wikipedia and websites like What I've learned is that Virginia Governor Alexander Spottswood brought 42 colonists from Germany in 1713 to create a mining industry in Virginia. He named the colony Germanna, combining "German" with the name of Queen Anne, the ruler of Britain at the time.

The so-called Second Colony arrived in 1717, and their story is truly bizarre. The ship's captain they hired to bring them to America used their fares to pay off his own debts, then sold the passengers (who thought they were headed to Germantown in Philadelphia) to Spottswood as indentured servants. The surnames of the 20 families, who came from the Palatinate region of Germany, include Wilhoite, Blankenbaker/Pickler, Clore (originally Klaar), Broyles (originally Breuel), and Yager. Once we knew to look for them, these names popped up everywhere in lists of surnames from our DNA matches. Using the Chromosome Browser feature on FTDNA, I think I have found the point at which dozens of us match on Chromosome 7 from position 86131629 to position 87246282. The colored lines below represent five of my brother's matches who have Germanna surnames. They line up exactly at these positions on Chromosome 7.

Since so many Huff cousins from different branches seem to have these same matches, we think that perhaps the Germanna lineage came into our Huff family with Susanna or "Sookie," the wife of William Nathan Huff. For years and on many trees, Susannah was given the maiden name Toney, but no-one ever seemed to have any proof of that. We know that branches of the Wilhoit and Broyles families lived in Greene Co., TN, and so did someone that eventually ended up in Jackson Co.--Barbara's ancestor Enoch Carter. He was a neighbor to the Huffs in Jackson Co. and had a relationship later in life with Sookie. Barbara thinks that Sookie may have been a Wilhoit or Broyles who came to Jackson Co. with Enoch and his wife, perhaps as a servant. There she met and married William Nathan Huff.

Some of my new relatives also match in much larger segments on Chromosome 19. Remember when I said I had found a dozen new cousins who matched on Chromosome 19? Well, it turns out they are also Germanna descendants.

We still have ends to tie up and further data may bring us to different conclusions, but we would never have known without DNA that we had any connection to Germanna's Second Colony. My brother and I even plan to modify our trip to North Carolina this summer and travel north into Virginia to visit the site of the Germanna Colony, about an hour and a half south and west of Washington, D.C. 

Germanna Visitor Center