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.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Back to the Books (and a Little DNA): 1850 Census, Jackson County Tennessee, Family #1108

A few weeks ago my cousin Barbara sent me an annotated list of 15 households that were living near each other on the 1850 Jackson County, Tennessee, census. She suggested we take another look at the relationships among these families. Believe me, it is not that easy in Jackson Co. TN. These are the most complicated relationships I’ve ever seen. At least it seems so to me 165 years later; I’m sure the citizens of Jackson Co. in 1850 knew exactly who they were related to. Too bad somebody didn’t write it all down. The best we can do in 2014 is try to find clues in the census, court records (of which there were many), and DNA results.

Our related families lived in District 15 of Jackson Co. The enumeration of District 15 runs 12 pages, and Barbara’s list begins with the families on page 10. (My Stephen and Elzina—enumerated as Elsy—are on page 7.) The first family on Barbara’s list, shown as Family #1108 on the census, is Polly Carter, age 68; Leroy, age 27; and Isabella, age 12.

1850 Census, Jackson County TN, District 15, Page 10

Just taking this family as an example ought to give you an idea of the craziness of Jackson County. To begin with, Polly Roberts Carter was the long-time paramour of the infamous Enoch Carter. Enoch was married to Susannah Wilkinson in Greene Co. TN in February 1794, and they arrived in Jackson Co. about 1804. While he was still married to Susannah, he lived off and on with Catie Johnson, widow of William Pharris, and helped her spend the inheritance intended for William’s children. Catie finally left him when he married Polly, with whom he had also had a long-time affair. (By the way, Enoch may have been married a couple of times before he married Susannah, and he wasn’t finished when he married Polly. In between and after his marriage to Polly, he also had relationships—and children--with Rhoda Manier and Sookie Huff.)

Barbara is descended from Enoch and his wife Susannah Wilkinson, but she has long thought that my 2nd great-grandfather, Stephen Roberts, and his brother Caleb were the children of Enoch Carter and Polly Roberts before they were married. Honestly, I resisted for a long time because I had trouble believing anybody in the 1800s could treat marriage so flippantly, but it looks like Barbara is probably right.

Following Polly back to the 1840 census was my first clue. On that census her family consisted of 2 males 15-19, 1 male 20-29, 1 female under 5, and herself (1 female 50-59.) One of the males 15-19 is probably Leroy who is 27 on the 1850 census. The 5-year-old female could be Isabella, who is 12 on the 1850 census. I know it’s not conclusive, but I just can’t help but think that the male 20-29 is Stephen. He is not enumerated by name on the 1840 census, and he is not living with his brother Caleb. Nor is there a male 20-29 living with any of the possible Roberts families.

I shared with Barbara that I was coming around to her point of view on the parentage of Stephen and Caleb. She said, “I don’t know why I never thought of this before! Why don’t you check your DNA results and see if you have any matches who show Enoch’s maternal grandparents, Daniel McPherson and Ruth Shires, in their trees? If you have even one, it’s a good bet you are also a descendant of Enoch Carter!” I have at least 8, and that’s just on A few more show up on Family Tree DNA.

Polly does not appear on the 1860 census, but Leroy is enumerated as L.S. Carter, age 37, with his daughter Mary, age 5. What in the world is his occupation? The enumerator had quite fancy handwriting. Does it say “Whiskey & Candy”? The “whiskey” is clear, but I can’t decipher the rest of it. Apparently, Leroy’s wife had died. About 1867 he married Sarah Elizabeth Samples, who had previously been married to a McKinney. On the 1870 census Leroy, age 49, is enumerated with wife Sarah, age 36; Mary, age 16; John McKinney, age 14; Feby McKinney, age 11; Linder A. McKinney, age 9; and Mariah Carter, age 2. Trees on list two more children: Nora “Nobie” Ann Carter, born 1871, and Leroy, born 1874. No occupation is listed for Leroy in 1870.

This photograph shows half-brothers Leroy Carter (son of Enoch Carter and Polly Roberts) and Enoch Chapman Carter (son of Enoch Carter and Catie Johnson.) I guess the brothers must have been close at one time, or why have their photographs taken together? However, the relationship ended in tragedy. They argued in the street one Sunday after church over a matter of scriptural interpretation. Enoch, in a pique of temper, threw a rock at Leroy and killed him. According to Carter family lore, Enoch changed his name and moved to Oklahoma, never to be seen in Jackson County again.

Leroy Carter and Enoch Chapman Carter
Photo contributed to

Well, that’s family #1, and one brick wall may have fallen. Until something convinces me differently, I think I believe that my great-great-grandfather Stephen Roberts is the son of Enoch Carter and Polly Roberts. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reviews and Previews

In a previous post I mentioned a book titled Albion's Seed by the great historian David Hackett Fischer. If you have ancestors from Massachusetts (Puritans), Delaware (Quakers), Virginia (plantation owner or indentured servant), or Appalachia (Scots-Irish), you will want to read this insightful book about how each of these areas was influenced by the customs, language, building techniques, etc. of the particular area of Britain from which it got its emigrants.

I was looking for a similar book that covered more American regions when I found American Nations by Colin Woodard. He divides North America (yes, he includes Canada and northern Mexico) into eleven "nations." However, his book wasn't really what I expected. It was not an explanation of how customs from the old country traveled to America; his book was more about ideas and opinions and how even today the thinking of the original settlers in the eleven regions affects our political and social decisions. If you want to know what your ancestor was thinking and how it affects you even today, you should read American Nations.

Turning from books to software, I'd like to recommend a new (free) genealogy program called Genome Mate. Genome Mate allows you to upload DNA results from Family Tree DNA, 23 and Me, Gedmatch, etc. so that they can be compared on one site. In addition to graphics that show matches with relatives by chromosome and segment, Genome Mate also utilizes ICW (In Common With) data, lists surname matches, suggests possible ancestor connections, and provides plenty of room for research notes. I'm working through my list of Relatives, noting email communications and ancestor connections/lineages, if I know them.

Examples from Genome Mate site

Thank goodness for this new program--I was getting so tired of looking through file folders and reading back through emails to find out if I was remembering something/somebody correctly.

Just a couple of warnings. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't been able to figure out how to cut and paste from an outside source to Genome Mate. It would be nice if I could copy the URL of a family tree and paste it to the Family Tree box on Genome Mate. Or copy an email and paste it in my Research Notes. Again, maybe it's possible and I just don't know how.

Be sure to read the fine print on uploading data from I spent five hours trying to download data from, only to read on the Genome Mate site that "Since Ancestry does not provide DNA segment data, there will not be segment data displayed on Genome Mate's main page for Ancestry." Not their fault, but mine--I should have read all the instructions before starting.

After an insanely long process, all you will have is a list of relatives and their surnames. It would be nice to have all available matches in the same place, but personally, I don't think it's worth the time it took. (I quit before all the results were downloaded.) If it showed segment matches, it would be worth it, but it doesn't.

Genome Mate instructions state that the only way to get segment information is to upload Ancestry data to Gedmatch first. True, and great that you can get it from Gedmatch, but of course, you only have that option if the owner of the DNA data uploads his results to Gedmatch. You have no control over that.

Genome Mate ( has helpful written instructions (just be sure you read all of them!) and YouTube videos to help you get started. More information is available at and a Facebook page keeps you up-to-date on new features.

A recent newsletter from Family Tree magazine informed me that the new season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC will begin July 23. Ancestral profiles for the following celebrities are featured this season: Valerie Bertinelli, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lauren Graham, Kelsey Grammar, Cynthia Nixon, and Rachel McAdams.

"Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." will begin its new season on PBS on September 23. Profiles there will include Sally Field, Ben Affleck, Carole King, and Tina Fey.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

More J. Wheat Mysteries Solved

I recently was notified of a Family Finder match on Family Tree DNA. We share 82.61 cM’s, and he and my brother share 125.23 cM’s, both suggested as 2nd-4th Cousin Matches by FTDNA. His last name is Spencer, not a known surname to me, and he listed only that surname, with locations in Texas and Oklahoma. He listed his oldest known paternal ancestor as Ollie Spencer and his oldest known maternal ancestor as Pearlie Wheat. Luckily, these two ancestors were married to each other, so I was able to find the correct family on (I did try emailing Mr. Spencer who hasn’t replied yet.)

Ollie M. Spencer married Paralee (Pearl Lee) Wheat on 23 August 1906 at Comanche, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory (southern Oklahoma.)  On the 1910 census they are living with Paralee’s step-father, Joseph T. Cook, age 42, and mother Alice E. (Brink) Cook, age 41, in Stephens County, Oklahoma.  Paralee is 21; the census gives her birthplace as Texas. Siblings of Paralee are Samuel E., age 16; Ella M., age 13; Mary R., age 12; Ethel M., age 9; Jesse E., age 7, and Fannie V., age 5, all with the surname Wheat. Others listed on the census were obviously children of Joseph T. Cook, presumably by a deceased wife, the oldest being 20 and the youngest age 9; the remaining child, Annie L. Cook, age 1, was almost certainly the child of Joseph and Alice.

1910 census, Stephens Co., OK
Cooks, Wheats, Spencers
Thanks to some Public Trees on, I found Alice on the 1870 census with her parents, Jacob and Anna Brink in Milam, Texas. Alice was 8 months old. Turning to FamilySearch, I found the marriage of A.L. Brink to J.A. Wheat on 28 May 1885 in Milam, Texas. Is this my J.A. Wheat? I’m almost certain it is. The timing is just right. The last child of J.A. Wheat and Cynthia Ming was Thomas J., born in 1884. Cynthia remarried in 1890. But where I had assumed that J.A. (Those initials again! That right there almost convinces me it’s the same man.) had died, apparently he and Cynthia either divorced, or he abandoned the family.  Many of the same Public Trees indicate that J.A. (or sometimes Joseph) Wheat was born in Scotland, which is probably why none of them have been able to trace him any further. I can’t imagine where that came from, but it’s possible one person posted it on, and others have copied that information. I’m pretty sure I can connect him to the other Wheat families of Grayson Co. (See the post “The Mystery of J. Wheat.”)

I do question how J.A. ended up in Milam County in 1885 where he married Alice. While still in northeastern Texas, it is far from his original counties of residence, Grayson and Collin. However, if you look at my Wheat family in general, they moved around a lot within that region of northeastern Texas and southern Oklahoma. Cynthia was born in Grayson Co. but moved to Collin Co. before my grandfather was a year old; she married Thomas L. Rhodes in Parker Co., TX.  My grandfather John enlisted in the Army in 1906 in Logan Co., OK, while living in Pawnee Co.—a considerable distance; John and his brother worked on a ranch in Cottle Co., TX; John married my grandmother in Hughes Co., registered for WWI in Oklahoma Co., and died in Seminole Co.  And back to J.A.--if you’re going to abandon your first wife, you want to do it as far from where she is as possible.

J.A. finally came to rest (literally and figuratively) in Stephens Co., OK. According to Findagrave, J.A. Wheat is buried in the Diamond Cemetery in Stephens Co. in southern Oklahoma. His birthdate is given as 15 February 1859, which dovetails nicely with his birthdate/age on the 1880 Collin Co. census where I originally found him with Cynthia Ming and her family.  His date of death is given as 12 April 1906, about a year after the birth of his youngest child with Alice, and a couple of years before Alice married Joseph Cook. Some Public Trees list his place of death as Haskell in northeastern Oklahoma, so it’s possible that he had wandered again and Alice had his body brought to Stephens Co., where she was living, for burial. He seems to be the only Wheat buried in that cemetery.

J.A. Wheat headstone
This is a perfect example of how traditional genealogical research and DNA results can work together to document the life of an ancestor. I am now pretty sure that I have documented J.A. Wheat’s life from beginning to end. I wish I had more definitive proof that he was the son of Henry and Caroline (Farris) Wheat, but as I accumulate more DNA matches, perhaps that will come.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ode to Poetry

April is Poetry Month, and I can't let the month go by without writing about how important poetry has been in my life and how it still brings back memories of my family.

As I mentioned in my post, "Grandparent #2: Frances (Fannie) Lou Castle," my grandmother could recite long narrative poems that she learned in the 4th grade. When I think of them, they bring back memories of childhood Christmases and birthdays, occasions when we begged her to recite them. I have searched in vain on the Internet and in old poetry books for copies of these poems. I guess the point is that, while I don't remember them in their entirety, some verses are there in my mind and come back to me clearly, even today.

So do more familiar poems, the kind by famous authors that you find in poetry anthologies. She was always reciting some small snatch of a favorite poem and certain situations still bring them to my mind. The weather or season often elicited from her some little part of a poem; on a beautiful autumn day she would talk about "October's bright blue weather." The whole first stanza of the poem by Helen Hunt Jackson says:

          O suns and skies and clouds of June,
          And flowers of June together.
          Ye cannot rival for one hour
          October's bright blue weather.

I always liked that one because October was my birthday month.

The sight of a bird in winter brought this nursery rhyme. 

          The north wind doth blow,
          And we shall have snow,
          And what will poor robin do then?
          He'll sit in a barn,
          And keep himself warm,
          And hide his head under his wing,
          Poor thing.

Stubbornness on my part might cause her to recite:

          There was a little girl
          And she had a little curl
          Right down in the middle of her forehead.

          When she was good
          She was very very good 
          And when she was bad she was horrid.

Out driving on a winter day, as we often did, might bring these first lines of "Snow-Bound" by John Greenleaf Whittier:

          The sun that brief December day
          Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
          And, darkly circled, gave at noon
          A sadder light than waning moon.

Haven't you seen winter days just like that?

My dad was my grandmother's pupil at Pleasant Porter Elementary School in 6th grade. He especially remembered two exciting narrative poems that they studied while in her room: "Sohrab and Rustum" by Matthew Arnold and "Horatio at the Bridge" by Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay. Carrying on this warlike theme, I remember choosing "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson as my poem to recite in front of the class in 8th grade. (I was in love with the 1930s/1940s actor, Errol Flynn, and had seen his movie of the same name.) I still remember most of the poem, including the refrain

          Cannons to right of them
          Cannons to left of them
          Cannons in front of them
          Volleyed and thundered.

I can't believe I stood up in front of my 8th grade class and recited:

          Into the mouth of Hell
          Rode the six hundred.

The other poem I remember from school was one we were required to recite in 9th grade. I hated it--probably because, at age 14, I didn't really understand it. I still remember lines from it, though. It was "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley.

          Out of the night that covers me
          Black as the pit from pole to pole
          I thank whatever gods may be
          For my unconquerable soul.

Nothing I had endured up until 9th grade--even reciting this poem in class--had led me to think my soul was in danger of being conquered.

My mother also loved poetry and made her own book of her Favorite Poems when she was in 6th grade.

It's nice to know that she also loved Emily Dickinson.

In his later life my dad identified with a poem by John Burroughs called "Waiting." After a couple of truly tragic things that happened to my dad in his life, it gives me peace to know he could face his future as fate tempered with hope. Here is the first stanza of "Waiting."

          Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
          Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
          I rave no more 'gainst time or fate
          For lo! my own shall come to me.

In my grandmother's later life, when she had lost so many siblings and friends to death, she often recited "The Last Leaf" by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I can only remember the final stanza:

          And if I should live to be
          The last leaf on the tree
                    In the spring;
          Let them smile, as I do now
          At the old forsaken bough
                    Where I cling.

But the poem of my grandmother's that I remembered when she died in 1992 at age 95 was "The Chambered Nautilus," also by Oliver Wendell Holmes. With some difficulty and tears, I read it at her funeral service.

          Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
          As the swift seasons roll!
          Leave thy low-vaulted past!
          Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
          Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
          Till thou at length art free,
          Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!

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.