DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage

Adoptees aren’t the only people who don’t know who their parents are.  There are many people who don’t know the identity of one of their two parents…and it’s not always the father.  Just this week, I had someone who needed to determine which of two sisters was her mother.  Still, the “who’s your Daddy” crowd, aside from adoptees, is by far the largest.

The DNA testing strategy for both of these groups of people is the same, with slight modifications for male or female. Let’s take a look.

Males have three kinds of DNA that can be tested and then compared to other participants’ results.  The tests for these three kinds of DNA provide different kinds of information which is useful in different ways.  For example, Y DNA testing may give you a surname, if you’re a male, but the other two types of tests can’t do that, at least not directly.

Females only have two of those kinds of DNA that can be tested.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome, which is what makes males male genetically.

adopted pedigree

If you look at this pedigree chart, you can see that the Y chromosome, in blue, is passed from the father to the son, but not to daughters.  It’s passed intact, meaning there is no admixture from the mother, who doesn’t have a Y chromosome, because she is female.  The Y chromosome is what makes males male.

The second type of DNA testing is mitochondrial, represented by the red circles.  It is passed from the mother to all of her children, of both genders, intact – meaning her mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the mtDNA of the father.  Woman pass their mtDNA on to their children, men don’t.

Therefore when you test either the Y or the mtDNA, you get a direct line view right down that branch of the family tree – and only that direct line on that branch of the tree.  Since there is no admixture from spouses in any generation, you will match someone exactly or closely (allowing for an occasional mutation or two) from generations ago.  Now, that’s the good and the bad news – and where genealogical sleuthing comes into play.

On the chart above, the third kind of DNA testing, autosomal DNA, tests your DNA from all of your ancestors, meaning all of those boxes with no color, not just the blue and red ones, but it does include the blue and red ancestors too.  However, autosomal DNA (unlike Y and mtDNA) is diluted by half in each generation, because you get half of your autosomal DNA from each parent, so only half of the parents DNA gets passed on to each child.

Let’s look at how these three kinds of DNA can help you identify your family members.


Since the Y DNA typically follows the paternal surname, it can be extremely helpful for males who are searching for their genetic surname.  For example, if your biological father’s surname is Estes, assuming he is not himself adopted or the product of a nonpaternal event (NPE) which I like to refer to as undocumented adoptions, his DNA will match that of the Estes ancestral line.  So, if you’re a male, an extremely important test will be the Y DNA test from Family Tree DNA, the only testing company to offer this test.

Let’s say that you have no idea who your bio-father is, but when your results come back you see a preponderance of Estes men whom you match, as well as your highest and closest matches being Estes.

By highest, I mean on the highest panel you tested – in this case 111 markers.  And by closest, I mean with the smallest genetic distance, or number of mutations difference.  On the chart below, this person matches only Estes males at 111 markers, and one with only 1 mutation difference (Genetic Distance.)  Please noted that I’ve redacted first names.

Hint for Mr. Hilbert, below – there is a really good chance that you’re genetically Estes on the direct paternal side – that blue line.

Estes match ex

The next step will be to see which Estes line you match the most closely and begin to work from there genealogically.  In this case, that would be the first match with only one difference.  Does your match have a tree online?  In this case, they do – as noted by the pedigree chart icon.  Contact this person.  Where did their ancestors live?  Where did their descendants move to?  Where were you born?  How do the dots connect?

The good news is, looking at their DNA results, you can see that your closest match has also tested autosomally, indicated by the FF icon, so you can check to see if you also match them on the Family Finder test utilizing the Advanced Matching Tool.  That will help determine how close or distantly related you are to the tester themselves.  This gives you an idea how far back in their tree you would have to look for a common ancestor.

Another benefit is that your haplogroup identifies your deep ancestral clan, for lack of a better word.  In other words, you’ll know if your paternal ancestor was European, Asian, Native American or African – and that can be a hugely important piece of information.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, the ethnicity of your paternal (or any) ancestor is not always what seems evident by looking in the mirror today.

Y DNA – What to order:  From Family Tree DNA, the 111 marker Y DNA test.  This is for males only.  Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide this testing.  Can you order fewer markers, like 37 or 67?  Yes, but it won’t provide you with as much information or resolution as ordering 111 markers.  You can upgrade later, but you’ll curse yourself for that second wait.


Mitochondrial DNA

Males and females both can test for mitochondrial DNA.  Matches point to a common ancestor directly up the matrilineal side of your family – your mother, her mother, her mother – those red circles on the chart.  These matches are more difficult to work with genealogically, because the surnames change in every generation.  Occasionally, you’ll see a common “most distant ancestor” between mitochondrial DNA matches.

Your mitochondrial DNA is compared at three levels, but the most accurate and detailed is the full sequence level which tests all 16,569 locations on your mitochondria.  The series of mutations that you have forms a genetic signature, which is then compared to others.  The people you match the most closely at the full sequence level are the people with whom you are most likely to be genealogically related to a relevant timeframe.

You also receive your haplogroup designation with mitochondrial DNA testing which will place you within an ethnic group, and may also provide more assistance in terms of where your ancestors may have come from.  For example, if your haplogroup is European and you match only people from Norway….that’s a really big hint.

Using the Advanced Matching Tool, you can also compare your results to mitochondrial matches who have taken the autosomal Family Finder test to see if you happen to match on both tests.  Again, that’s not a guarantee you’re a close relative on the mitochondrial side, but it’s a darned good hint and a place to begin your research.

Mitochondrial DNA – What to Order:  From Family Tree DNA, the mitochondrial full sequence test.  This is for males and females both.  Family Tree DNA is the only company that provides this testing.


Autosomal DNA

Y and mitochondrial DNA tests one line, and only one line – and shoots like a laser beam right down that line, telling you about the recent and deep history of that particular lineage.  In other words, those tests are deep and not wide.  They can tell you nothing about any of your other ancestors – the ones with no color on the pedigree chart diagram – because you don’t inherit either Y or mtDNA from those ancestors.

Autosomal DNA, on the other hand tends to be wide but not deep.  By this I mean that autosomal DNA shows you matches to ancestors on all of your lines – but only detects relationships back a few generations.  Since each child in each generation received half of their DNA from each parent – in essence, the DNA of each ancestor is cut in half (roughly) in each generation.  Therefore, you carry 50% of the DNA of your parents, approximately 25% of each grandparent, 12.5% of the DNA of each great-grandparent, and so forth.  By the time you’re back to the 4th great-grandparents, you carry only about 1% of the DNA or each of your 64 direct ancestors in that generation.

What this means is that the DNA testing can locate common segments between you and your genetic cousins that are the same, and if you share the same ancestors,  you can prove that this DNA in fact comes from a specific ancestor.  The more closely you are related, the more DNA you will share.

Another benefit that autosomal testing provides is an ethnicity prediction.  Are these predictions 100% accurate?  Absolutely not!  Are they generally good in terms of identifying the four major ethnic groups; African, European, Asian and Native American?  Yes, so long at the DNA amounts you carry of those groups aren’t tiny.  So you’ll learn your major ethnicity groups.  You never know, there may be a surprise waiting for you.

FTDNA myOrigins

The three vendors who provide autosomal DNA testing and matching all provide ethnicity estimates as well, and they aren’t going to agree 100%.  That’s the good news and often makes things even more interesting.  The screen shot below is the same person at Ancestry as the person above at Family Tree DNA.

Ancestry ethnicity

If you’re very lucky, you’ll test and find an immediate close match – maybe even a parent, sibling or half-sibling.  It does happen, but don’t count on it.  I don’t want you to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  Just remember, after you test, your DNA is fishing for you 24X7, every single hour of every single day.

If you’re lucky, you may find a close relative, like an uncle or first cousin.  You share a common grandparent with a first cousin, and that’s pretty easy to narrow down.  Here’s an example of matching from Family Tree DNA.

FTDNA close match

If you’re less lucky, you’ll match distantly with many people, but by using their trees, you’ll be able to find common ancestors and then work your way forward, based on how closely you match these individuals, to the current.

Is that a sometimes long process?  Yes.  Can it be done?  Absolutely.

If you are one of the “lottery winner” lucky ones, you’ll have a close match and you won’t need to do the in-depth genealogy sleuthing.  If you are aren’t quite as lucky, there are people and resources to help you, along with educational resources.  www.dnaadoption.com provides tools and education to teach you how to utilize autosomal DNA tools and results.

Of course, you won’t know how lucky or unlucky you are unless you test.  Your answer, or pieces of your answer, may be waiting for you.

Unlike Y and mtDNA testing, Family Tree DNA is not the only company to provide autosomal of testing, although they do provide autosomal DNA testing through their Family Finder test.

There are two additional companies that provide this type of testing as well, 23andMe and Ancestry.com.  You should absolutely test with all three companies, or make sure your results are in all three data bases.  That way you are fishing in all of the available ponds directly.

If you have to choose between testing companies and only utilize one, it would be a very difficult choice.  All three have pros and cons.  I wrote about that here.  The only thing I would add to what I had to say in the comparison article is that Family Tree DNA is the only one of the three that is not trying to obtain your consent to sell your DNA out the back door to other entities.  They don’t sell your DNA, period.  You don’t have to grant that consent to either Ancestry or 23andMe, but be careful not to click on anything you don’t fully understand.

Family Tree DNA accepts transfers of autosomal data into their data base from Ancestry.  They also accept transfers from 23andMe if you tested before December of 2013 when 23andMe reduced the number of locations they test on their V4 chip

Autosomal DNA:  What to Order

Ancestry.com’s DNA product at http://www.ancestry.com – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

23andMe’s DNA product at http://www.23andMe.com – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

Family Tree DNA – either transfer your data from Ancestry or 23andMe (if you tested before December 2013), or order the Family Finder test. My personal preference is to simply test at Family Tree DNA to eliminate any possibility of a file transfer issue.


Third Party Autosomal Tools

The last part of your testing strategy will be to utilize various third party tools to help you find matches, evaluate and analyze results.


At GedMatch, the first thing you’ll need to do is to download your raw autosomal data file from either Ancestry or Family Tree DNA and upload the file to www.gedmatch.com.  You can also download your results from 23andMe, but I prefer to utilize the files from either of the other two vendors, given a choice, because they cover about 200,000 additional DNA locations that 23andMe does not.

Ancestry.com provides you with no tools to do comparisons between your DNA and your matches.  In other words, no chromosome browser or even information like how much DNA you share.  I wrote about that extensively in this article, and I don’t want to belabor the point here, other than to say that GedMatch levels the playing field and allows you to eliminate any of the artificial barriers put in place by the vendors.  Jim Bartlett just wrote a great article about the various reasons why you’d want to upload your data to Gedmatch.

GedMatch provides you with many tools to show to whom you are related, and how.  Used in conjunction with pedigree charts, it is an invaluable tool.  Now, if we could just convince everyone to upload their files.  Obviously, not everyone does, so you’ll still need to work with your matches individually at each of the vendors and at GedMatch.

GedMatch is funded by donations or an inexpensive monthly subscription for the more advanced tools.


Another donation based site is http://www.dnagedcom.com which offers you a wide range of analytical tools to assist with making sense of your matches and their trees.  DNAGEDCOM works closely with the adoption community and focuses on the types of solutions they need to solve their unique types of genealogy puzzles.  While everyone else is starting in the present and working their way back, adoptees are starting with the older generations and piecing them together to come forward to present.  Their tools aren’t just for adoptees though.  Tools such as the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer are great for anyone.  Visit the site and take a look.

Third Party Y and Mitochondrial Tools – YSearch and MitoSearch

Both www.ysearch.org and www.mitosearch.org are free data bases maintained separately from Family Tree DNA, but as a courtesy by Family Tree DNA.  Ysearch shows only a maximum of 100 markers for Y DNA and Mitosearch doesn’t show the coding region of the mitochondrial DNA, but they do allow users to provide their actual marker values for direct comparison, in addition to other tools.

Furthermore, some people who tested at other firms, when other companies were doing Y and mtDNA testing, have entered their results here, so you may match with people who aren’t matches at Family Tree DNA.  Those other data bases no longer exist, so Ysearch or Mitosearch is the only place you have a prayer of matching anyone who tested elsewhere.

You can also adjust the match threshold so that you can see more distant matches than at Family Tree DNA.  You can download your results to Ysearch and Mitosearch from the bottom of your Family Tree DNA matches page.

Mitosearch upload

Answer the questions at Mito or Ysearch, and then click “Save Information.”  When you receive the “500” message that an error has occurred at the end of the process, simply close the window.  Your data has been added to the data base and you can obtain your ID number by simply going back to your match page at Family Tree DNA and clicking on the “Upload to Ysearch” or Mitosearch link again on the bottom of your matches page.  At that point, your Y or mitosearch ID will be displayed.  Just click on “Search for Genetic Matches” to continue matching.

Get Going!

Now that you have a plan, place your orders and in another 6 to 8 weeks, you’ll either solve the quandry or at least begin to answer your questions.  Twenty years ago you couldn’t have begun to unravel your parentage using DNA.  Now, it’s commonplace.  Your adventure starts today.

Oh, and congratulations, you’ve just become a DNA detective!

I wish you success on your journey – answers, cousins, siblings and most importantly, your genetic family.  Hopefully, one day it will be you writing to me telling me how wonderful it was to meet your genetic family for the first time, and what an amazing experience it was to look across the dinner table and see someone who looks like you.

Elijah Vannoy (1813-1850s), Homesteader on Mulberry Creek, 52 Ancestors #76

Elijah Vannoy was born in the extremely rugged backcountry of Wilkes County, during the Revolutionary War era, around the time that Tory’s were hung in Wilkesboro, behind the courthouse, on the infamous Tory Oak, also known as the Hanging Tree, the large tree shown here in a 1915 photo.

Tory Oak 1915

Wilkes County also decided in the 1900s that they didn’t need all of those musty old records taking up space, so they just burned some of them.  If you just gasped and caught your breath in your throat….so did I.

Wilkes County is quite unique.  Known as “The Moonshine Capital of the World,” it’s where NASCAR was born, out of moonshine running. If you’re getting the idea that Wilkes County is kind of wild, perhaps a little unsettled and a bit nonconformist…well…it is.  They did and do walk to the beat of their own drummer there.  Strong, tough, proud people.  Survivors, all, with a mind of their own..

Wilkes County is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway transects the county.  It’s unbelievably beautiful county, and extremely remote, even today.  The people are still very clannish, exceedingly loyal, mostly religious, and Baptist.  There are more churches in Wilkes County, per capita, than anyplace else in the US.  That means there are more preachers there than anyplace else too, although many are volunteer.  It’s an extremely unique place that truly defies description.  The citizens, a study in opposites and conflicting idealogy.

One thing, however, is beyond question.  It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Wilkes County view

The area where the Vannoys lived in Wilkes County is so remote that even I wouldn’t drive there…in my Jeep.  The local guys told me not to go there, because it was dirt one track road, hanging on the edge of a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other…and if you meet another vehicle, someone gets to back up.  The local guys won’t even drive that road.  So, I decided unless I wanted to meet my ancestors sooner than later…I’d just pass on that level of adventure.  This is the first and only time I’ve ever declined the opportunity to visit where my ancestors lived, although I was told they lived close to the intersection where I was parked.  If they are like the rest of my family, they found the deepest, darkest, most remote, hardest to reach location possible, and settled there – happy as a clam.

Vannoy Buckwheat road

This is the place – Vannoy Road.  I’m sitting at the intersection of Vannoy and Buckwheat Road.

Vannoy road sign

Today, it’s still dense with vegetation and humidity.

Vannoy road vegetation'

Vannoy Road follows the North Fork of the Reddies River from where it is born near the post office at McGrady, NC near the top of the mountain range, to where Vannoy Road joins with Old North Carolina 16 just a couple miles north of New Hope Baptist Church.

Road 1567, one of the spurs of Vannoy Road, as well as Old North Carolina 16 and Carolina 18 reach on up just a couple of miles to intersect with the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Wilkes and Ashe County.  On the map below, Vannoy Road is marked with the red balloon, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the green line above that travels left to right, and Miller’s Creek, to the south, is where the New Hope Baptist Church is located.

Vannoy road map

It’s the section from where 1501 (Vannoy Road) and 1575 (Buckwheat Road) separate to Sparta Road that the locals won’t drive.  I looked at this up close with satellite, and I see why.  Very rough switchbacks.  It’s not a short distance either.  It looks to be maybe 8 miles or so.  My poor husband would have been clinging to the door and the roll bars for his very life.

Vannoy road satellite

There Were Four Brothers

Oh, yes, and did I mention Elijah was born to parents who did not have a will or a Bible, or at least not that we’ve ever found.  Nor an estate.

For many, many years, we didn’t know who Elijah’s parents were, but we knew they had to be one of four Vannoy men living in Wilkes County, all brothers, at that time.  Elijah was born around 1784, we think.

Two of the four brothers were eliminated, after much grief and aggravation.

I thought sure I had nailed who Elijah’s father was when I discovered on a Wilkes County tax list that Nathaniel Vannoy lived beside Lois McNeil’s (or NcNiel) father.  Lois, of course, was Elijah’s eventual wife.  I decided at that point to really focus on Nathaniel…and that’s when I found it.  Nathaniel, has an extant Bible record and one just does not forget to enter their child’s birth in the Bible. I even went to Greenville, South Carolina, where Nathaniel died to see if there were any deeds, wills, estate papers, inventories….anything at all to tie into Elijah Vannoy.  There was nothing relevant…except for that Bible record.  Rats.  Foiled again.

And then there was the brother, Andrew Vannoy, who had another son, Andrew, who was born in 1784.  But Andrew (Sr.) he also had a “spare slot” in the 1790 census for a son not otherwise known, in this age bracket, so Andrew could have been Elijah’s father.  He was my next choice.

We are extremely fortunate to have the Wilkes County tax lists available, along with the 1790 and 1800 census.  Between these documents, we can bracket the ages of children, plus we can assign known children to “slots.”

A third brother, Francis Vannoy was considered to be our best possibility for a while, in part because he moved to Barbourville, KY in 1812, about 60 miles up the road from where Elijah Vannoy settled in Claiborne County.  However, a few years ago, I made contact with a descendant of Francis who had documented Francis’s children quite well, and not only wasn’t he a good fit, Francis already had every spare Vannoy child in Wilkes County given to him, in part, because he had at least 19 children, some say 22 children, and either 2 or 3 wives, or perhaps more.  Francis was difficult to eliminate, but also impossible to confirm.  He did have an estate and no place is Elijah mentioned.  Although that doesn’t necessarily prove anything.

That left the fourth brother, Daniel Vannoy.  Daniel was the youngest, quiet son.  He moved to what is now Ashe County, which fits in with the oral history of Elijah’s people being from “over yonder” and a hand-wave towards Ashe County.  They weren’t “from here” in Wilkes, according to the old people.

Unlike his brothers, Daniel never applied for land grants.  He only had two proven children, one of which was known as “Sheriff Joel.”  Elijah named one of his sons, also my ancestor, Joel.  Daniel’s son, Joel, is the only Vannoy to name a son Elijah.  Daniel disappears before 1819, and his widow may have moved back into Wilkes County, among the Vannoy clan, if she was still living.

Unfortunately, Elijah didn’t name any of his sons for any of these men…or at least not sons that survived.  They may well be buried in that lost cemetery with Elijah and Lois.

The men’s wives names were Susannah, Millicent, Elizabeth and Sarah.  Now, if a Millicent turned up, that would be really telling, because it is such an unusual name.  No such luck.  The rest are common but there is no Susannah.  There is both an Elizabeth and a Sarah, but those names are so common that it’s very dangerous to draw any conclusions or even inferences due to the naming pattern.

Because Elijah’s father was so difficult for us to identify, we began to wonder if Elijah was illegitimate, belonging to a female Vannoy who had never married and had given her child her surname.  Yes, you could say we were desperate.  I even went to the North Carolina state archives in search of bastardry bonds, to no avail.

Elijah Emerges

From Elijah’s birth to 1807 when he married is pretty much just a hazy cloud, lost to the mists of the mountains.  We know he grew up in that vicinity, because he married in Wilkes County in 1807.

The earliest record of Elijah Vannoy is an 1807 entry in the Wilkes County, North Carolina Deed Book G-H (yes, deed book, but I don’t know why).  He married Lois McNeil (daughter of William McNeil and Elizabeth Shepherd) sometime before 1810 and he is listed in the Wilkes County, NC 1810 Federal Census with his wife and one female child under 10 which was probably Permelia, born in February of 1810.  He is listed as age 16-26, which would put his birth between 1784-1794. The three years between his marriage and the birth of Permelia may imply that they lost their first child.

Knowing that Elijah married in 1807 and had a child by 1810, we know that he wasn’t age 16, and that 26 is probably much closer to reality, so that is the year we’ve used for his birth.  He could have been a couple of years younger.

In Wilkes Co., NC, December 31, 1810, William McNeil deeded 150 acres of land to Elijah Vannoy.  This land was in the New Hope section of Lewis Fork Creek.  Happy New Year, Elijah!!!

This conveyance of land suggests that the migration to Tennessee hadn’t been planned for a long time in advance.

Bedford County, Tennessee

Sometime in 1811 or 1812, the McNeil and Vannoy families migrated from Wilkes Co. to Claiborne Co., TN.

Elijah left Wilkes County, NC after 1811 with the McNeil family.  An Elijah Vannoy is listed in the Bedford County, Tennessee 1812 Tax List, along with a Joel Vannoy, possibly his brother.  Some family researchers are adamant that the Joel Vannoy who would be Elijah’s brother stayed right in Wilkes County where he was sheriff.  Regardless, here is Elijah in Bedford County, TN with some Joel Vannoy.  Clearly, there is some connection.  There are no McNiels, by any spelling, on that Bedford County tax list.  Did someone get lost???

Cemetery listings for Bedford County, Tennessee include Andrew Vannoy, born in 1783, who just happens to be the son of Nathaniel Vannoy, one of the Wilkes County Vannoy brothers.  Andrew’s brother, Joel, born in 1777, apparently lived in Bedford County for some time before moving on to Henderson County, Tennessee.

Ironically, guess what river just happens to run directly through Bedford County.  The Duck River.  Why is this important?  Because one of Elijah’s daughters, “Aunt Lou” said the family came to Claiborne via the Duck River, although that made no sense at the time to her niece who conveyed the story Aunt Lou told, or to me, since the Duck River is no place close to Claiborne County, nor is it in-between Claiborne and Wilkes County, NC.

Shelbyville to Sneedville

There is no good way to get from Shelbyville, the county seat of Bedford County, in south central Tennessee to north of Sneedville where Elijah settled, either.  It’s also a 250 mile journey, or about a month in a wagon.  And of course this begs questions of why they followed the Duck River in the first place, if in fact they did.

More questions and no answers.

I checked on www.fold.com for War of 1812 service records for Elijah Vannoy.  There were none. However, there is a Wilkes County War of 1812 record for Joel Vannoy, along with an Andrew Vannoy.  This Joel could be Elijah’s brother.  Joel’s entire file has not yet been microfilmed and indexed, so patience is in order, and maybe another donation to www.preservethepensions.org.

Claiborne County, Tennessee – The Land of…Land

The first actual record we have of Elijah in Claiborne County was found in the Josiah Ramsey papers.  Josiah was a Justice of the Peace, and he apparently kept a lot of original papers.

“One day after date I promis to pay on (or) cause to be paid to David Pugh or his assigns nine dollars—cents it being for value received of him this 8 March Day of 1817

Elijah Vannoy

Isham X Whealous (his mark)”

The question is whether or not Elijah signed that document too, or if the only original signature is Isham’s.  I’m hoping that the owner can find the original and will scan it to me.

The next records of Elijah are found in Claiborne County, Tennessee beginning in the 1812 – 1814 Court Minutes on page 39 where he was sued by one Thomas Steward, but the case was dismissed.

In 1818, the May court session, Elisha Venoy (sic) was assigned to a road crew.

In 1820, Elijah was called to be a juror, but this is the only instance I can find.  Not all court minutes are extant.

This begs the question of why Elijah was never called again, nor assigned to another road crew.  Other men were repeatedly in the court minutes for these activities.

The 1820 census for Claiborne County doesn’t exist, but in 1830 we find Elijah with his wife and 3 male and 6 female children.

In 1825, Elijah Vannoy filed for a land grant of 100 acres, described as adjoining Rheas and Robert Mann, including “said Venoy’s improvements where he lives on the waters of the north side of Mulberry Creek.”  This survey was made on August 25, 1826 and recorded on September 2, 1829.  It also tells us where he lives, and that he has been living there and built a house.

1829 Elijah grant

Elijah records another survey as well, on January 20, 1830.  The land grant was filed almost exactly a year earlier, on January 16, 1829, and it’s not exactly what you would call a square piece of land.

1830 Elijah grant

The surveyor states that the land adjoins that of John Rheas on Wallen’s Ridge, references Cole’s Corner, and is for 125 acres.  William Vannoy and Charles Baker are the chain carriers.  This survey was made on July 25, 1829 and was recorded on January 20, 1830.  I can’t imagine that this would have been fun in the stifling heat and the heavy forest overgrowth in July in Tennessee, not to mention the insects.

At this point, Elijah has a total of 225 acres.

As luck would have it, sealing the fact that this was indeed, Elijah’s land, when cousin Dan located the land, several years ago, he approached the property owner…who produced the actual land grant to Elijah Vannoy.

Elijah Vannoy original grant

This document was more than 175 years old and was issued to Elijah when he acquired the property.  It’s amazing to see the actual document that Elijah would have owned, would have held, and obviously coveted enough to keep it safe and pass it on.

In 1833, Elijah’s son, Joel would also file a land grant for 100 acres and his land would abut Elijah’s land, that of John Rhea and John Taylor. It was also on Mulberry Creek.

Joel vannoy survey2

This is not a trivial amount of land.  Between Elijah and Joel, assuming they didn’t own land we don’t know about, they owned 325 acres, which is about half of a square mile.  That means it would be a mile long and half a mile wide, or three quarters by three quarters.  From the looks of these surveys, the only thing we can discern for sure is that they weren’t square and the location where the creek exited Elijah’s land, which is how Dan located the land about 10 years ago.  Looking at the map, if the land were square, it would be almost the entire section of land from where Mulberry Creek crosses under Mulberry Gap Road, to both legs of Rebel Hollow Road.

Elijah's land

Elijah’s land via satellite.  Isn’t technology wonderful!

Elijah's land satellite

Here is a closeup of the land we know is Elijah’s.  Note the house with the bridge is at the bottom of the picture.  Someplace on this land is a cave where Joel’s family hid food, livestock and themselves during the Civil War…and someplace on this land is a cemetery.  But where?

Elijah's land closeup

On the 1836 tax list for Claiborne County, “Elijah Vonay” is listed on a list that appears to be in perhaps processioning order.”  Here are the entries a few in each direction, which would be neighbors.

  • George McNiel (Elijah’s wife’s brother)
  • Isiah Ramsey
  • Joseph Ramsey
  • James Ramsey
  • David Ramsey
  • Davis Hamlin
  • Daniel Colley
  • Robert Mann
  • Joseph Mahan
  • Sampson Mahan
  • Edward McColough
  • Elijah Vonay
  • Brail Cole
  • Arthur Edwards
  • Joshua Edwards
  • Owen Edwards
  • John Edwards
  • Nathan Lawson
  • William Lawson
  • Abner Hatfield
  • Henry Hatfield
  • Moses Hatfield
  • Jonathan Light
  • Joseph Wheeler
  • Daniel Rice
  • William Baker
  • John Baker
  • Thomas King
  • Henry Baker
  • Henry Sumpter
  • Foster Jones
  • John Chapman
  • William Simpter
  • Edward Walker (Elijah’s wife’s sister’s future husband)

The 1839 tax list is in alpha order and shows both Joel and Elijah, Jr., but not Elijah Sr.

By 1840, Elijah had lost his wife, but he is still raising children and had one male, 20-30, which would be Joel who had not yet married, a female age 15-20 who probably did the cooking and cleaning and looking after the other two female children, age 10-15.  When Elijah’s son, Joel married in 1845, it could have been a catastrophe for Elijah, but since Joel owned the adjacent land, it was easy just to build a cabin next door and for the two men to continue to work side by side.  It is rumored that Joel wound up with Elijah’s land, but not for long, as we’ll soon see.

It seems that in 1841, Elijah ran into some legal problems. On June 22, 1841, Elijah Venoy signs a deed of trust to J. H. Chapman in front of John and James McNeil.

I have this day sold and do hereby convey to J. H. Chapman for the sum of $30 to me paid, my wagon and two yoke of oxen they being the only oxen and wagon I have  but this deed is made for the following uses and trust and for no other purpose that is to say whereas John Hill became security for a stay of execution on a judgment obtained against Elijah Vannoy Senior and Joel Vannoy before Benjamin Sewell Esqr for about $28 and am desirous to secure and make sure the payment of same now if I should pay the said debt and satisfy said judgment or execution then this deed to be void but if not the wagon and team to be sold on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder with 20 days notice.  Elijah signs and William McNiel, John McNiel and Reuben Harper witness.

In 1841, Elijah sells land to Walter Evans, book P-259, for $5.  On September 21st, 1841, both Elijah and Joel Vanoy sign a deed of trust to Walter Evans for Elijah’s land , the 100 acres granted by the state to Elijah Vannoy Sr grant 16456, Maun’s chestnut, Rhes line…because Elija Venoy is indebted to William Houston merchant in Tazewell for the sum of $33 and 8 cents by note with interest due and also indebted to William Fugate for $62.50.  If Elijah fails to make the payments, Walter Evans to sell the land on the courthouse steps in Tazewell.  Signed by Joel, Elijah his mark

He also sells land that year to William Cole, book S-390, for $50.

Apparently, Elijah and Joel do lose their land.

In 1845, E and J Vannoy sell land to William L. Overton, book S 638, for $250.

May 18, 1846 – Claiborne County deed – Elijah and Joel Vanoy, 100 acres to William J. Overton.  William Fugate and James Overton appear before the court and state that they are personally acquainted with both Joel and Elijah.

Deed – October 3, 1845, deed between Elijah Vannoy of Hawkins County and Joel Vanoy of Claiborne  to William Overton, for $250, a tract of land of 100 acres granted by the state of Tennessee ot Elijah Vannoy Senr No 16456, Rheas line, Overton’s line.  Elijah Vanoy signs with his mark, Joel signs with a signature, witnessed by William Fugate, Muhlenburg Overton and James Overton.

So, as an old man, Elijah lost his land.  It does appear that it was forestalled for 5 or 6 years, but he lost it just the same and judging from the 1850 census, went to live with his daughter, Sarah.

Claiborne County Becomes Hancock County, Tennessee

In 1845, the part of Claiborne where Elijah lived became Hancock County.

That’s also when the records for Elisha stop too, except for the census, because the Hancock County courthouse burned, more than once.

Elijah is listed in the 1850 Hancock County, Tennessee census, living with his daughter and her husband, although his age is in question.  Age 76 would put his birth in 1774 which is about 10 years earlier than we had thought and was indicated by the 1810 census.  However, this does still fit into the 1790 census categories for the children of the 4 Vannoy brothers.  The 1850 and the 1810 censuses are the only direct evidence we have of Elijah’s birth year.  However, the 1850 census number puts his birth a full 5 years before the marriage of the two best candidates for his parents.  Maddening.  I tend to put more credibility in the earlier census than the latter, especially since in 1850 he was living in someone else’s household…so who knows who provided the information to the census taker.

From the census records, we can tell that Elijah can read and write.  Unfortunately, we don’t have his signature.

Elijah Vannoy 1850 census

Elijah died after 1850 and before 1860.  We don’t know when he died, exactly, nor where he is buried, although my best bet would be someplace on his or Joel’s land in a lost cemetery.

Visiting Elijah’s Land

So, where, exactly, is Elijah Vannoy’s land?  The entrance to Elijah’s land is at the little balloon on the map below.  Come along, let’s take a closer look!

Elijah's house

On the map above, Elijah’s land is located North of the little white balloon which marks the entrance to his land on Mulberry Gap Road, which is also called Brown Town Road, just southwest of the intersection with Rebel Hollow Road.  Rebel Hollow is where several murders took place during the Civil War.  Depending on the version of the story you hear, either Rebels lived there and hung a group of northern soldiers, or a group of Rebels were cornered there with no place to go, and they were hung.  Regardless of who, someone was hung, and the locals tell us that some of those ghosts reportedly haunt Rebel Holler today.

In case you were wondering, Joel, Elijah’s son, was a southern sympathizer, although this area was badly torn.

The entrance to the Vannoy land looked at once inviting and forbidding.  It looked like it led back into a secret, forbidden forest.  Maybe that’s part of why Elijah selected this location – it felt safe if he ever had to defend it.

Entrance on Mulberry Gap to Vannoy land

The land here is rocky, at best.  It would be almost impossible to plow, so the best one could hope for, I think is clearing the land for grass and grazing.

Vannoy hillside

Did I mention, it’s also quite steep?

Vannoy steep

This barn may have been on Elijah’s property and is right up against the road because Mulberry Creek is right up against the barn.  You can’t see it in this picture, but it literally runs right beside this barn.

Vannoy barn across road

Is this not an idyllic picture?  Mulberry Creek, the barn beside the road, the bridge, the house, and across the road behind the barn, the Vannoy land – those tall hills and forest.

Barn scene

The Vannoy family would be grateful for the shelter that this land would provide them, with its caverns and caves and mountainous outcrops during the Civil war – but that would be a decade after Elijah was buried, probably someplace on this land.

The far side of the road looks like the absolutely perfect American country scene, straight out of an Americana magazine.  It could be a painting, but it isn’t…it’s real.

House across from Vannoy land

This is on the flat side of the creek.  According to his original land grant, Elijah owned land on the north side of the creek, which was the hilly side.  This flat land was apparently owned by someone else.

Later, the Ramsey family would own this land, including the house with the bridge, but we don’t know how that chain of ownership happened.

Mulberry Creek at Vannoy bridge

Elijah’s land is located directly across the road from this house with the bridge.

Entering the sheltering arms of Elijah and Joel’s land feels incredibly safe, unspoiled, embracing and like taking a step back in time to when Elijah first set foot here, before it was tamed, or as tamed as it would ever be, before it was settled, before any homesteader owned this land.

Vannoy spring

It was entirely peaceful here, quiet, serene, except for the laughing bubble of the brook and the birds chirping. How could one not love this land?

This spring nurtured Elijah and Lois, their children and grandchildren, for at least 30, if not 40 or more years.

Ironically, it was this very spring that reached across time and beckoned cousin Dan, a decade ago, when he was searching for Elijah’s land.  Dan said:

“There is a small stream that comes out of the hollow and flows into Mulberry Creek. This is what helped me find the property. I noticed a stream that started as a spring located on the drawing for the land survey.”

As we moved deeper onto Elijah’s land, the mountainside forest gave way to a clearing as well, but completely surrounded by mountains, in a private valley, known here as a holler – entirely separated from humanity.  Just you, Mother Nature and the spirit of Elijah.

Vannoy acreage

In the photo below you follow the spring up into Elisha’s land, into the open area, looking northwest, land which he assuredly cleared, himself, one tree at a time, with an ax.

Elisha's land looking NW

On the other side of the trail onto the land, we saw the hillside, likely where the cave was where the family hid their belongings during the Civil War.  This land is nothing if it isn’t rugged.

Vannoy Hancock wooded land

In some places, the rocks aren’t so evident, but the land is still unrelenting.  It’s no wonder Elijah needed 225 acres to eke out a living here.

Vannoy Hancock wooded2

As we left, I looked across the road at a small patch of land and couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the cemetery.  Maybe my imagination has just run away with me.  I just know that both Elijah and Lois are buried here someplace.  There was no place other than your own family cemeteries to be buried at that time – and every family had one.

Vannoy poss cemetery

The Letter

Elijah’s daughter, Lucinda Vannoy Campbell’s memories are recanted in the following excerpts from a letter written probably in the 1950s by her niece, Essie Bolton Marsee (oldest child of Dan Bolton and Pearlie E. Vannoy), as she talks about her “Aunt Lou”.

“I shall try to write down some of the memorys as told to me by Aunt Lou Vannoy Campbell when I was a little girl.  Aunt Lou was the sister of my great-grandfather Joel Vannoy.  She was an older sister, became an old maid school teacher and in later life married a former sweetheart who had been married before.  They waited until they were older because they were some kind of cousins.

She lived in Rutledge and my mother, Pearlie Vannoy Bolton was staying with her when she got married to Dan Bolton.  She had a small confederate pension which helped her out.

She said the Vannoys left North Carolina on a flat boat and sailed down the coast and around Florida.  She mentioned being on the Duck River, but I never understood how they got from the Duck River to above Sneedville where they finally settled. They were two years on the trip and great grandfather Joel was born during this time, in 1812.


After they had been over here for some time, they learned that the governor of NC freed the slaves and since they had left some slaves in NC, Aunt Lou went back to see if she could collect for the slaves as the governor was paying something to the owners for the freed slaves.  She didn’t collect anything.

Over 40 years ago, some of us went to Sneedville to see where the people had lived.  We found a native who knew where the place was and took a picnic lunch and ate at the site of the old home.

Back row left to right: Ernest Venable, Horace Venable.  Front L to R: Bertha Venable Bray, Nancy Vannoy Venable, Sallie Venable

Back row left to right: Ernest Venable, Horace Venable. Front L to R: Bertha Venable Bray, Nancy Vannoy Venable, Sallie Venable

The house was mostly gone, but there were shade trees and some flowers growing.  We saw the cave where the family hid their valuables and food such as hams when the soldiers were foraging.  Great grandfather was a Southern sympathizer and wasn’t bothered too much by the Confederates, but they always hid everything of value when there were soldiers around.  Grandfather, James H. Vannoy, was 10 years old during the civil war.  (James Hurvey Vannoy with sister Nancy Vannoy Venable at the Vannoy homeplace, below.)

Vannoy cabin visit

The family later moved down to Claiborne County on Sycamore Creek and lived in the house where Bill Brocks now lives in the Pleasant View Community.  I remember hearing grandfather talk about playing with Lark McNeil.  The Vannoys, McNeils and Venables seem to have known each other for a long time and they seem to have been relatives of some kind.  I have always heard them speak of Uncle John McNeil.  Grandpa Vannoy’s grandmother was a McNeil.  The Vannoys and Venables have always been close and have intermarried considerable.

We have been a very lucky family.  We are fortunate in the heritage handed down from our parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  They seem to have been descended from Scotch-Irish and Dutch.  They were very strict Protestants and brought up their children in the fear of the Lord.  In general, we have all had good health and there have been no criminals or outlaws in the family as far back and I can find out.  So thank God for our family history.”

A Flatboat???

I find that story about traveling on a flatboat around Florida kind of amazing, in a sort of tall-tale way – but even that seems such a stretch for a tall tale.  I decided to look at the waterways from Wilkes County to Duck Creek.  In essence, you can’t get there from here.  There is no direct connection between the two.  The waterways out of Wilkes County flow to the south and east, not to the north and west, across the mountain ranges.

As it turns out, the Yadkin River which drains all of Wilkes County is in the PeeDee River watershed, and if you follow the rivers all the way to the end, you exit this group of rivers in South Carolina at Winyaw Bay.

Yadkin watershed

If indeed you were going to sail around to say, the Mississippi, to head back north, you would have to go around Florida.

My research on flatboats turned up a couple of interesting things.  First, flatboats floated downstream, they did not go upstream, although they could be pushed for some distance by poles.  Going upstream was a function of steamboats.

Flatboats weren’t small, typically about 16 feet wide by about 55 feet long, and they held the family, their worldly goods and even their livestock.  Think of them as floating covered wagons.

People on flatboats apparently didn’t travel alone either.  Take a look at this description of flatboat life from the Steamboat Times.

The settlers’ boat, navigated ever further down the eastern tributaries of the Mississippi in search of new land, was filled with household goods and farm stock. Such boats were a menagerie of cattle, horses, sheep, dogs, and poultry, while on the roof of the cabin that housed the family could be seen looms, ploughs, spinning-wheels, and other domestic implements. Sometimes several families would combine to build one ark.

Methodist Circuit Rider Timothy Flint recalled that it was “no uncommon spectacle to see a large family, old and young, servants, cattle, hogs [on flatboats] … bringing to recollection the cargo of the ancient ark.” Often, when they chose a place to stop, they would re-use the flatboat’s lumber when building a cabin. As these settlements multiplied, with increasing emigration to the West and southwest, river life became full of variety. In some years more than a thousand boats passed Marietta. Several boats would lash together and make the voyage to New Orleans, sometimes navigating months in company. There would be songs and dances; the notes of the violin ~ an almost universal instrument among the flatboatmen ~ sounded across the waters by night to the lonely cabins on the shores, and the settlers would sometimes put off in their skiffs to meet the unknown voyagers, ask for the news from the east, and share in their revels.

The era of the steamboat did not begin until 1811, and indeed, if Elijah and his family did take a steamboat from New Orleans north, you’d think the family would talk about that and not the flatboat since the steamboat would have been a brand new adventure.  Not to mention, they could have taken the flatboat to the Atlantic, but a flatboat simply is not going to work in the sea, so they would have had to switch to a different vessel at that point.

On the other end of the journey, the Duck River empties into the Buffalo which empties into the Ohio just above its convergence with the Mississippi.  The Duck River is not navigable along its entire length due to water falls.

Duck River watershed

It certainly would be possible to make this journey, but it would seem to be the very long way around, especially if you could just have hitched up the wagon and gone overland for all of about 160 miles.  Granted, there were mountains in the way.

Duck River route

On the map above, the blue line connects Wilkesboro in Wilkes Co., NC, to Sneedville, TN in Hancock County.  Of course, that would be a wagon route, not a boat route.  The rest of the map brackets the alternative, around Florida, route.

Or, did the family simply go on a great adventure for 2 years?  Keep in mind, this was also in the middle of a war.  The War of 1812 was being fought on several fronts, one of which was the New Orleans area, where the Mississippi meets with the Gulf of Mexico.

This trip sounds terribly impractical, on several fronts.  To make this trip, they would have had to switch from flatboat to ocean-going boat in Winyaw Bay, from ocean-going boat to steamer in New Orleans, and then to horse and wagon to cross overland from the Mississippi (or Ohio) into Rutledge County, Tennessee.  I’m left with the final question of why?  Why would they want to do this?  However, it does make a great story….AND….we do find Elijah in Bedford County.  So, he did indeed get there somehow.  Someplace in this story is a grain, or perhaps more, of truth.


Another thing we don’t know about Elijah is his religion.  We know that the Vannoy family, as well as his wife’s family, the McNiel’s, were staunch Baptists in Wilkes County.  It stands to reason that they would join the Baptist Church in Claiborne County after they moved, but we find no trace of that in the records of the churches that existed at that time.  Rob Camp, an offshoot of Thompson Settlement, would have been the closest, and there are no Vannoys in the early minutes there.  Next, Mulberry Gap was established in 1829.  The church minutes don’t begin until the purchase of a new minute book in 1852, but there are no Vannoys there either.

Did Elijah simply decide that attending church was too difficult or too far away?  Was he alienated for some reason?  It was definitely quite a distance to Rob Camp – about six miles and you had to ford the Powell River.  In late summer you could do that.  I forded it in August in my Jeep.  Thankfully I had the Jeep, because a bull was chasing me.  In the spring or the winter, no chance of fording Powell River, with or without the bull for motivation.

So, let’s end where we began.  With questions.

Who’s Your Daddy???

Who were Elijah’s parents?  Unfortunately, utilizing the available records and information of the 4 Vannoy men who were brothers and of child-rearing age in Wilkes County during the timeframe in which Elijah would have been born, there is no clear-cut winner.  Now, I know that’s not what you wanted to hear and it certainly is not what I wanted to hear either.

The first thing we did when Y DNA testing became available was to quickly recruit Vannoy males to test.  In particular we wanted to do two things.  First, to establish what the haplotype of the ancestral “Vannoy” Y DNA looked like, and second, to see if Elijah matched that DNA pattern.

In order to establish what the Vannoy Y DNA signature looked like, we had to test people who were not descended from the Elijah line.  Thankfully, there were several genealogy buffs who were anxious to test.  We quickly established the Vannoy signature.  You can see the Vannoy males in the Vannoy DNA Project at Family Tree DNA today.

Vannoy FTDNA project

By looking at the most commonly found value at each marker, we established what our Vannoy ancestor’s Y DNA would have looked like.

Next, we tested men from Elijah’s line.  To begin with they should all match each other, and they should also match the Vannoy Y DNA signature, assuming that Elijah was fathered by a male Vannoy.  If Elijah was fathered by an unknown individual, and took the Vannoy surname through his mother, then he would carry the Vannoy surname, but the Y DNA of his unknown father.

The wait was intense.  Every day I watched for results.  A few weeks can seem interminable.

And finally, the day came.  It was heralded by an announcement to me, as the project administrator, that one of our Vannoy DNA men had a match…and a few minutes later, the e-mail saying Elijah’s descendant’s test was ready arrived too.  Putting two and two together, I knew before I even looked.

Indeed Elijah’s Y DNA did match the Vannoy males.  That was one very big “what if” removed from the list of possibilities.  Now we could concentrate on solving the next question.  Which one of the four brothers really was the father?  Will Elijah’s real father please stand up?

More trips to North Carolina ensued.  I decided that perhaps the key might be in the wife’s family lines and records, so I set out to see.  Elijah’s four parent possibilities were:

  • Andrew Vannoy born 1742 and Susannah Shepherd
  • Francis Vannoy born 1746 and Millicent Henderson
  • Nathaniel Vannoy born 1750 and Elizabeth Ann Ray
  • Daniel Vannoy born 1752 and Sarah Hickerson

Fortunately, we also know the parents’ names of the wives.  Unfortunately, nothing emerged that would concretely either confirm or eliminate them as possibilities.

This research languished, er…., I mean, ripened.  Yea, it was ripening…that was it.  The truth was, I just didn’t know where else to look, so it went on the back burner while other things took precedence.  I had done all I knew to do.  I had visited the courthouse, the library, the genealogy society, the local university and the State Archives.  I purchased every book I could get my hands on and all back issues of the genealogy society newsletters.  I was out, flat out, of resources.

Autosomal DNA Saves the Day

Then, one day it happened.  It was just a glimpse, a flash in the pan, but it was enough.  After AncestryDNA reentered the DNA testing arena with their autosomal DNA test, they began creating Circles.  A DNA Circle is a group of people who match at least one other person in the group, and who share a common ancestor in the tree.  So, if there are 10 people in the circle, you may match 3 of them, but those 3 may match you and others among the 10.  All 10 match someone in the group and all share the same ancestors, at least per their family trees.

Which ancestors, you ask??

Why, Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.

Glory, glory hallejuah.  Oh, I can hear the chorus now!!!

But, the Circle was gone shortly.  Disappeared.  Poof!  Ancestry does this, here today, gone tomorrow.  But, it was long enough for me to see the circle and realize there is a genetic connection.

One thing led to another.  There is more than one way to solve a problem.  I turned to Family Tree DNA where one has the ability to search and to compare your results with others using a chromosome browser.  I was able to connect with several people who descend from the parents of Sarah Hickerson, Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.  I wrote about this experience, from the DNA aspect, in nauseating detail, here, and here, and the sheer joy and beauty of finding Bill, my new Hickerson cousin, here.  It was the best Christmas present a genealogist could ask for.  Elijah’s descendants match several people who descend from Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson.  It’s amazing what DNA can do, and that their DNA in us is enough to make that connection today.  Of course, it took several descendants of both Charles and Mary, and Elijah, to provide enough information to be relatively conclusive.  Were it not for the many cousins who have tested, I wouldn’t have enough confidence in the rather small matching segments of any one set of matchers to call this a match.

We believe we have identified Elijah’s parents – something we never, ever thought would happen.  We now know why Elijah named a son Joel – it was his brother’s name.

Elijah’s Family

Elijah probably left Wilkes County before his parents passed away, but not long before.  Records are very sketchy, but it appears that his father, Daniel, died before 1819 and his mother died sometime after 1810, possibly outliving his father, and possibly not.  Of course, Elijah would have been notified by letter, and he would never be able to get home in time for the funeral.  It’s about 160 miles from Sneedville to Wilkesboro, NC.  An easy one day drive today, even through the mountains…not so then.

Neither Elijah’s father, nor mother, died with a will.  The Ashe County courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1865, but many records survived.  Wills begin in 1799, but Daniel Vannoy’s is not among them.  Nor is a will found for Daniel or his wife in Wilkes County.

If Elijah died with a will, it burned in the Hancock County courthouse, so we’ll never know what it said.  One thing we do know.  His heirs didn’t fight enough to file a chancery suit, because those still exist.  Somehow, chancery suits escaped both fires.  What I wouldn’t give for a nice, juicy, long, drawn-out lawsuit with lots of depositions!

Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel’s well-behaved non-litigious children were:

  • Permelia “Pearlie” Vannoy, born February 21,1810 in Wilkes County, married in 1838 to John Baker and died February 5, 1900 near Springdale, Washington County, Arkansas.  There were several families from this area who settled in and near Springdale, including some of the Claxton family and my grandparents in the 1890s who would have been Permelia’s great-great-nephew.

Permelia Vannoy stone

  • Joel Vannoy born May 8, 1813, married in 1845 in Claiborne County to Phebe Crumley, died January 8, 1895 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, Claiborne County, TN, just a few miles from the home place where he and his father patented land.

Joel Vannoy marker

  • William Vannoy was born about 1816, married Harriett McClary and died in 1839, before Elijah.
  • Elizabeth Vannoy born 1817, married about 1858 to Elisha Bishop, died after 1880.
  • Elijah Vannoy (Jr.) born 1818, married about 1841 to Mary “Polly” Frost, who died about 1855.  He then married Isabella Holland.  At some point after 1880, they also moved to Springdale, Arkansas. In 1895, he is living in Goshen Township where he executes a deed.  Elijah is reportedly buried in the S. Bethel Cemetery in Bragg, Oklahoma in what was then Indian Territory.  Several Vannoy descendants are reported to have gone to a place named “Baggs” in Indian Territory.
  • Nancy Vannoy was born June 19, 1820 and married George Loughmiller about 1839.  In the 1850 census, they live beside sister Sarah and Joseph Adams.  Nancy died April 29, 1896 in Washington County, Arkansas, near Springdale and is buried in Friendship Cemetery, Springdale, Arkansas.
  • Sarah Vannoy born October 17, 1821, married in 1841 to Joseph Adams in Claiborne Co., TN.  Her father, Elijah, was living with them in the 1850 census.  Her husband, Joseph, was the Hancock County register of deeds.  Sarah died October 14, 1892 and is buried in the Fritts Cemetery, Madison County, Arkansas.

Sarah Vannoy stone

  • Angelina Vannoy born about 1825, married in 1849 in Claiborne County to Sterling Nunn. Angeline died before Elijah, sometime before October 1850.
  • Lucinda J. Vannoy was born March 15, 1828.  On July 6, 1886, she was married to  her cousin, Col. Joseph Campbell in Barry, Missouri where he is listed as being from Sneedville and she is listed as being from Madison County, Arkansas.  She apparently moved back to Tennessee, as in the 1900 census, they are living in Grainger County.  She died on April 2, 1919 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, in Claiborne County, near her brother, Joel Vannoy.  She was reported to have moved to Arkansas about 1890 with “Pearlie,” but apparently they left a few years earlier.  I surely wonder why Lucinda and Joseph were married in Missouri, where neither of them lived, of all places.  Lucinda was an “old maid school teacher” who did not marry Joseph, her childhood sweetheart, until after he was widowed because they were cousins.  His mother was Nancy McNiel, Lucinda’s mother’s sister.  They had no children.

Lucinda Vannoy Campbell

Lucinda was a woman before her time.  She had a marriage contract with Joseph Campbell, although it was signed in Arkansas more than a year after they had married.  I’m sure there is more to this story, and I’d love to hear it!

Lucinda Vannoy prenup

In addition to the above listed children, and based on the census and other information relative to the birth years of Elijah’s and Lois’s children, it would appear that they may have lost 4 children, one before 1810, one between 1810 and 1813, one between 1821 and 1825 and one between 1825 and 1828.

Lingering Questions

We have a few facts about Elijah’s life, and a lot more questions than answers.  We believe we have identified his parents, but I’d still like a slam dunk unquestionable confirmation.  We have a great Duck River story, but we don’t know if it’s true.  Personally, I really like that story and I’d like to know more.  It surely came from someplace, but where, and why, and is there truth in the story?

We know for sure that Elijah married Lois McNiel, that her father deeded Elijah land, and that after moving to Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN, Elijah obtained two land grants.  Thanks to those grants, we know where he lived.  We know from census and family records who his children were, but we don’t know where he and Lois were buried.  It appears that the family didn’t know where he was buried back in the 1950s either, so that information has long been lost.

Two of Elijah’s children died before him, but as adults.  That must have been extremely difficult for Elijah.  No parent should have to bury their child, and these pioneer parents did a lot of burying.

The last official document we have is the 1850 census where Elijah was living with his adult married daughter.  Not surprising, two of his daughters married Bakers, the near neighbors.

We do find Elijah, very sparsely, in court notes, which causes me to wonder why he was not there more often.  Other men repeatedly were assigned to road duty and jury duty – and Elijah certainly had the qualifications.  He was white, owned land, was eligible to vote and of age.  Is there something we don’t know?

Elijah died between 1850 and 1860. It’s probably a blessing that he went before the Civil War, which was a terrible, heartbreaking time in Hancock County, regardless of which side you were on.

I wonder if Elijah knew that his son, Joel Vannoy was ill.  We really don’t know when Joel’s mental health began to deteriorate, although the bond he signed in 1860 was later contested, saying the person who took the bond should have gotten a better bond.  Whether that was “sour grapes” in terms of what happened financially during the Civil War, or whether it had something to do with Joel, we don’t know.  Clearly by the late 1860s or early 1870s, Joel was “not alright.”  Did Elijah see vestiges or foreshadowings of this before his death?  Is this perhaps why Elijah lived with his daughter instead of with Joel and Phebe?  Joel’s land was adjacent Elijah’s.  Again, we’ll never know.

It’s difficult for me to leave Elijah with so many questions, and no avenue for answers.  I’m just very grateful that we have the one letter, the DNA results, a few interviews with the older people before they died and that cousin Dan found the property.  Without that, we’d have even more questions.

If I could ask Elijah three things, I’d ask him who his parents were, I’d ask about that flatboat ride and migration story, and I’d ask him about his son Joel.

How Much Indian Do I Have in Me???

I can’t believe how often I receive this question.

Here’s today’s version from Patrick.

“My mother had 1/8 Indian and my grandmother on my father’s side was 3/4, and my grandfather on my father’s side had 2/3. How much would that make me?”

First, this question was about Native American ancestry, but it could just have easily have been about African, European, Asian, Jewish….fill in the blank.

Secondly, Patrick’s initial question is a math question, but the real question is how much of a particular ethnicity do you have on paper versus how much you have genetically.

How could they be different?

Lots of ways.

Oral history in families tends to get diluted and condensed over time.  For example, maybe grandmother wasn’t really 3/4th – because her ancestors were admixed and she (or her descendants) didn’t know it.  And how does one have 2/3, exactly, with 4 grandparents.  So, the story may not be the whole story.

For our example, we’re going to eliminate the 2/3 number, because it can’t be correct.  A grandparent would be 1/4th, a great grandparent, 1/8th.  In other words, ancestors fractions come in divisions of 4, or 2, but not 3 – because it takes 2 people in each generation.

So, you could have 3 of 4 ancestors who are native, which would make the person 3/4th, 2 of 4 which would make the person half, or 1 of 4 which would make the person one quarter, but you cannot have 1 of 3, 2 of 3 or 3 of 3, because you have 4 grandparents, not 3.


First, let’s answer the math question.

Math is your friend.

There are three easy steps.

1. Divide Each Generation By Half to Current

Each ancestral generation is reduced by one half, because the DNA is diluted by half in each generation.

So, if Patrick’s mother is 1/8, Patrick is 1/16 on their mother’s side, because Patrick received half of her DNA.  With fractions, you can’t reduce the top number of 1 by one half so you double the bottom number.

If grandfather was 3/4, then father was 3/8 on that side and Patrick is 3/16th.

So, now, add the numbers for Patrick together.

2. Find the Common Denominator

The two numbers you need to add together from the above exmaple are 1/16 and 3/16.  This is easy because the denominator is already the same – 16.  But let’s say you also have a third number, just for purposes of example.  Let’s say that third number is 3/32.

How do you add 1/16, 3/16 and 3/32?

The denominator has to be the same.  If you look at the denominators, you’ll see that if you double the fractions with 16, they become fractions with 32 as their denominator.

So, for this example, 1/16 becomes 2/32, 3/16 becomes 6/32 and 3/32 remains the same.

3. Add the Top Numbers Together

Now just add the numerators, or the top numbers together.

2/32 + 6/32 + 3/32 = 11/32

That’s the answer.  In this example, our person, per their family history, is 11/32 Native or 34.38%.

Patrick, who originally asked the question is 1/16 + 3/16 which equals 4/16, which reduces to 1/4 (by dividing the same number, 4, into the top and bottom of the fraction), plus whatever amount that “2/3” really is.  So, Patrick is more than one quarter, at least on paper.


The next question is often, “how do I prove that?”  In terms of Native ancestry, the answer varies on the purpose – general interest, tribal identification or tribal membership, etc.  I’ve written about that in two articles, here and here.

You can take a DNA test from Family Tree DNA called Family Finder that provides you with percentages of ethnicity, including Native American, as well as a list of cousin matches. They also offer additional testing that may be relevant if you descend from the native person paternally (if you are a male) or matrilineally (for both sexes.)

On the diagram below, you can see the Y DNA in blue, inherited by males from their father and the mitochondrial or matrilineal DNA in red, always inherited from the mother.  While the Y and mitochondrial tests give you very specific information on two lines, the Family Finder test provides you with ethnicity information from all of your lines.  It just can’t tell you which line or lines the Native heritage came from.

adopted pedigree

Often, due to admixture in the Native population over the past several hundred years, since the Europeans “discovered” America, the amount of Native DNA is less than expected and sometimes is so far back and such a small amount that it doesn’t show at all.

An individual could well be considered a full tribal member, yet have less than half Native heritage.  Examples that come to mind are Mary Jemison, an adopted captive who was European, but considered a full tribal member, and Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee alphabet.   Even the Cherokee Chief, Benge was at least half European, sporting red hair.  His mother was a member of the Cherokee tribe, so Benge was as well.  Cherokee Chief John Ross, born in 1790, was only one eighth Native.

So, the bottom line.  Enjoy your family history and heritage.  Document your family stories.  Understand that tribal membership was historically not a matter of percentages, at least not until the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Your ancestor either was or was not “Indian,” generally based on the tribal membership status of their mother.  There was no halfway and mixed didn’t matter.

DNA testing can confirm Native heritage.  It can also prove Native heritage in a variety of ways depending on how one descends from the Native ancestor(s), using Y and mitochondrial DNA.  Depending on whether Patrick is male or female, and how Patrick descends from his or her Native ancestors, the Y or mitochondrial DNA test can add a wealth of information to Patrick’s family history.

For some people, DNA testing is how one discovers that they have a Native ancestor.

So, how much Indian do you have in you, on paper and through DNA testing?

William Crumley the Second (c1767-c1839), Methodist, Miller, Pioneer, 52 Ancestors #75

About 20 years ago, when I was really starting to dig into the Crumley line, one of the other researches on either the Crumley rootsweb or Genforum list said something very prophetic.

“Wow, it looks like these William Crumleys need a lot of work.”

I should have stopped right there and given up genealogy.  That was an understatement if I’ve ever heard one.  I had no idea how large an understatement it was.  Today, I fully comprehend.

The man who said that has now gone on to meet his ancestors, and the rest of us are left here with that pile of work.  We’ve done a lot in the past couple decades to unravel the mess, but we could surely use some assistance from the other side….if you’re listening!

Frederick County, Virginia

William Crumley (the second) was born about 1767, four years after the end of the French and Indian War, in what is now Berkley County, West Virginia, but which was then Frederick County, Virginia, on the Lord Fairfax tract, to William Crumley (the first) and his first wife, Hannah Mercer.

The Library of Congress map, shown below, shows the extent of the Fairfax Grant, including the portion in Frederick County, of which Winchester was the county seat, near the top.

Fairfax grant

William (the second’s) mother, Hannah, died when he was a boy of about 6, in about 1773. He must have been devastated.  I can see the small child, standing by his mother’s coffin in the cemetery, perhaps with a handful of flowers to put on her grave, maybe not entirely understanding the finality of death.

In 1774, William (the first) married Sarah Dunn who would be the step-mother to William (the second) and would raise him along with his 4 siblings.

We don’t really know what religion the family would have been.  William (the first) was raised Quaker, but when he married Sarah Dunn in 1774, she was disowned by the Hopewell Friends Church for marrying “contrary to discipline.”  Obviously they weren’t practicing Quakers after that and apparently William (the first) wasn’t before the marriage, but his parents were Quakers.  In 1774, William (the first’s) mother was still living but his father had passed away a decade earlier.  So William, the second, would have known his grandmother, Catherine Gilkey Crumley.  In fact, Catherine lived until after 1790, passing about the same time as the father of William (the second,) so Catherine may well have provided William comfort after his mother’s untimely passing.

Having said that, I don’t think this family was ever too far away from the Quakers.  That could be in persuasion and it could be in geography, or both.  I mention this because William’s grandson, Samuel, through his son Abraham was indeed Quaker too, in Nebraska, albeit a quarrelsome one.

Nebraska Monthly Meeting: Quaker Records:

  • 6-28-1884 Samuel Crumly & w Catherine & ch Mary S , Cynthia A , Wm R, Ida J & Owen M , rocf Richland MM, IA , dtd 6-7-1884
  • 12-26-1885 Samuel Crumly, (Crumley ) relrq
  • 7-30-1887 Samuel M Crumly, recrq
  • 11-26-1892 Samuel M Crumly, Catharine, Wm R, Owen M, & Ida, dismissed for departure from plain teaching of the Gospel by quarreling among themselves.
  • 1-28-1893 Samuel M Crumly, reinstated

William (the second) would have been a teenager in 1781 during the Revolutionary War when his father, in a later Public Service Claim, was “allowed 5 pounds for 8 days in actual service as a received in collecting the cloathing and provisions for the use of the state.”  At about age 14, William (the second) would certainly have been old enough to help his father in this endeavor and he assuredly had a clear memory of the war effort.  He and his father may have talked about the war and what it meant to them in terms of freedom and opportunity as they rode from farm to farm on a wagon pulled by horses to collect supplies.

Although there were no battles or military engagements in Frederick County during the Revolutionary War, the area was very important. General Daniel Morgan, who lived in eastern Frederick County (now Clarke County), and his “Long Rifles” played a prominent role in many battles of the Revolutionary War, including the Battle at Cowpens in South Carolina.  Many citizens furnished troops with goods and supplies, including ammunition.

A decade later, William (the second) lost his father.  He probably looked back and cherished those days riding in the wagon with his father.

William (the first) died sometime between the time he wrote his will on September 30, 1792 and when it was probated on September 17, 1793.  He must have known he was ill.  He was only 57 – certainly not an old man by today’s standards.

William (the second) is shown on the Berkley Co. tax records only once, in 1789.  He likely married about 1788 and moved before 1790.  It appears that William (the second) may have already left Virginia when his father died.

Territory South of the River Ohio

William (the second) migrated with his wife and 2 sons, William (the third) and Samuel, to an area known as “The Territory South of the River Ohio,” organized in 1790, which was the area that would, in 1796, become the state of Tennessee.

Territory south of the Ohio

An undated page torn from a Territorial Circuit Court document headed “Territory of Ye United States South of Ohio, Green County” rescheduled to Ye 2 Monday of August next, a charge of assault by David Veger? (Weger) on Joseph Williams signed by Elisha Baker, JP.  The document was witnessed by William Crumley, placing him in Greene County, in what would become Tennessee, when he was about 30 years old, before Tennessee became a state in 1796.

Crumley South of the Ohio

Greene County, Tennessee

According to Irmal Crumley Haunschild in the book, “The Crumleys of Frederick County, Virginia and Greene County, Tennessee,” published in 1975, William’s grandson wrote that William (the second) had come from Virginia to Tennessee and settled in Browns Town.  Browns Town is not a place today, at least not in Greene County, but it certainly could have been a neighborhood at that time, and might well explain why so many Crumleys married Browns.  The Browns settled in Greene County, TN in 1805.  Irmal included a copy of the original letter, a portion of which I’ve transcribed below, quaint spelling and all.

In a letter written on August 13, 1936, Thomas Atkins Crumley, born November 19, 1852, states the following:

“My great-grandfather with a cabiny of others from across the waters some what probby Scotland Irish decent.  In prospecting for a location tha cam to Lick Creek Greene Co, East Tennessee.  That part was a wilderness in that day.  Tha pitched camp.  Game was plentiful.  Tha hunted and fished.  Tha wer plenty black maple or sugar trees, up and down Lick Creek.  So tha located in that part made their own shugar from the maple trees.  Right in thar is a place called Carter Station.  Right in this old settlement Carters Station is a burial ground where some of the old set of Crumley men wer buried. But further up Lick Creek and a few miles from the creek a place or settlement called Browntown, or guesses shid, an old campground or meeting place.  Thare is whare Father’s Brothers and sister are laid away.  My grandfather and great grandfather names Aron Crumley and Abraham Crumley.  I think my grandmother’s maiden name was Brown on father’s side.  I never saw her, my grandfather Crumley.”

Thomas goes on to say that his father was born May 15, 1823 and his mother on March first, 1824.”

Note the comment about “guesses shid.”  It will be important shortly.  I didn’t understand it when I first read it, but rereading it later…it all makes sense.  Gass’s  Shed was an old campground and meeting place.  John Gass deeded a communal, nondenominational meeting house and he is buried at Cross Anchor.

Thomas was correct.  Aaron Crumley’s wife was Lydia Brown.  Aaron Crumley was the son of William (the second).  Aaron’s son was Abraham who is buried at Cross Anchor Cemetery.

It’s true that this family came to this area quite early, indeed, when it was still a wilderness.

William (the second’s) son Abraham was born on March 10, 1793 and Aaron followed two years later on January 26, 1795.

Which Way is Up?

I was able to visit Greene County in 2007 and was lucky enough to have cousin and fellow researcher, Stevie Hughes, as a guide  She spent years researching and documenting these families, as they settled and spread through this area, and then as their children and grandchildren moved on.  Stevie is not a Crumley descendant, but she is a Johnson, Brown and Cooper descendant.  Johnsons and Browns are mine as well through Lydia Brown who married William Crumley (the third), or through Betsey Johnson, in case she married William (the third) instead of William (the second.)  These families lived adjacent, intermarried and were connected through their land, their children, their churches and their culture.

This map of Greene County, provided by Stevie, shows many of the locations that are important to the Crumley family.  Unfortunately, Carter’s Station is not shown here, but both Cross Anchor and Wesley’s Chapel are on this map, just north of Greeneville, the county seat.


On the map above, you can see the Cross Anchor Cemetery near Wesley’s Chapel above Greenville, both places we’ll be visiting.  On the map below, they appear to be about 4 miles apart.

Cross Anchor to Wesley Chapel

Let’s start our visit at Carter’s Station, the first place in Greene County to be settled.

Carter’s Station

Carter's Station sign

Carter’s Station is one of the earliest locations settled in Greene County.  It is located at the intersection of Babb’s Mill Road and Lonesome Pine Trail, current TN 70, the main road through Bull’s Gap to Rogersville in Hawkins County.

The Carter’s Station Cemetery is located at the red arrow.

carter's station cem map

Notice the familiar names, Brown Spring Road, Lick Creek, Grassy Creek, Roaring Fork.  You’ll be hearing those again shortly.

The land here is beautiful and relatively flat, all things considered.

Carter's Station field

One can see why this location was chosen for a settlement.  There is water and land flat enough to farm.

The Carter’s Station Cemetery holds many unmarked graves.

Carter's Station cemetery

I particularly love this grouping, marked by a circle of trees.

Carter's Station cemetery2

My imagination can run wild as to whose grave this was, they the trees are in a circle and the significance of this group of graves.

Carter's Station cemetery3

Another area is stacked with stones, similar to a cairn.

In the distance, to the left of the cairn, you can see a wedge shaped monument.

Carter's Station cemetery4

This monument is just perfect – standing in the middle of the field of unmarked graves, with the mountains in the distance.

Carter's Station cemetery5

Something about this visage reminds me so very much of Scotland.  Of course, the people who erected this stone in 1943 would have had no way of knowing that.

Carter's Station cemtery6

What a lovely tribute to all of those who repose in this meadow.

Across from the cemetery is Carter’s Station UMC Church, established later.  By 1805, however, camp meetings were being held here.

Carter's Station church

If our William Crumley (the second) and his sons did live here, or even close by, he certainly would have participated in Camp Meetings.  Outside of court, these were the only social events in the region.  People came from miles around and stayed for days or weeks to hear the traveling preachers.

We know that William bought land on Lick Creek in both 1797 and 1805.  There is no question about that.  What we don’t know is exactly where this land was located.  Thomas Crumley, who wrote that letter, was born in 1852 and he would certainly have been in a position to know that William was a miller and where his mill was located.

Later documents suggests that at least one of William’s tracts abutted the Carter land, and the Carter land was on Grassy Creek, and Grassy Creek actually circles this church on three sides.  So we’re close, very close.

When Stevie and I visited the Carter’s Station area, very near where the station was located, where Lick Creek crosses under what is now Tennessee 70, and was then the main road, there is still evidence that a mill was once located there.

Carter's Station Lick Creek

This is Lick Creek at Carter Station.

Carter's Station Lick Creek2

In the South, old buildings don’t get torn down, they just get repurposed over and over and patched until none of the original building still remains, but it’s still called “the old shed,” or whatever.

Carter's Station Lick Creek3

This old building stands beside Lick Creek on the land where the mill is said to have been located.

Carter's Station Lick Creek4

From the back side, the white building could well have been the old mill or the miller’s home or store.

Carter's Station Lick Creek5

It was Lick Creek that sustained the settlers here, and all of the springs and branches that fed the creek.

Carter's Station Lick Creek6

Did William look off, across Lick Creek, at the mountains in the distance, in Hawkins County, and long to move, once again?

Carter's Station mountains2

William Crumley was first shown on the tax list of Greene Co in 1797 in Capt. Morris’s Company as an owner of 200 acres of land with 2 white polls, meaning males age 21 and eligible to vote.  However, a deed cannot be found in Greene Co. for more than 50 acres.  This may be explained by the custom of the time for new settlers to stake out a claim 200 acres of unoccupied land, the minimum required as the qualification as “resident” and inclusion on the census that required a minimum of 60,000 residents for statehood.

William purchased 50 acres on the waters of Lick Creek from Jacob Gass on January 20, 1797 for 27#10s Virginia currency.  Jacob Gass is the brother of John Gass, of “Gass Shed”

In 1805, William bought an addition 200 acres of land originally patented to Gass, and then in 1812, either he or his son, William (the third) bought an additional 126 acres.  William Crumley, either the second or the third, also received 2 Tennessee land grants, one on February 9, 1820 for 10 acres on Dry Fork of Lick Creek and a second for 20 acres on Filmore (is this really Tilman?) Creek on the waters of Lick Creek.

According to Greene County researcher Stevie Hughes, the Gass family was well established in Greene County, having arrived in 1783.  The Gass, Babb, Maloney, Brown, Johnson and Crumley families appear to live in close proximity, based on Greene County tax lists and other records, the Babb family also having arrived in 1787 from Frederick Co., VA.

Stevie goes on to say that the “old part” of the Cross Anchor Cemetery, across the road from the church, was originally called the “Gass Shed” and was the old Gass burial ground.  The new part of the cemetery, on the side where the church is located in where several Crumley people are buried reach back to the 1840s or earlier.  This land was deeded to the church in 1842 by Robert Maloney.  The Maloney family would marry into the Johnson family as well.

Cross Anchor Cemetery

The Mount Pleasant Cumberland Presbyterian Church is found at the Cross Anchor Cemetery.

Cross Anchor church

Look at the underside of the top of the bell tower.  I love it.

Cross Anchor crossroads

Looking directly across the road – everyplace I look, I see either Baileyton Road or Babbs Mill Road.  This is Babbs Mill.

Cross Anchor new

There are graves on both sides of the road.

Cross Anchor old

Thomas’s letter was right again, in that there are many Crumleys buried here, including his grandfather at least one of his grandfather’s siblings, just like he said.

In addition to several generations of Crumley’s, there is one that stands out.

Clarissa Marinda Crumley Graham was reported to be the sister of Phebe Crumley, the daughter of William Crumley (the third) and Lydia Brown.  By process of elimination, she really cannot be the child of anyone else, although it begs the question of why she lived and married in Greene County when her father and grandparents moved to Lee County, VA on the Hawkins County, TN border.  The mitochondrial DNA of Clarissa’s descendant matches that of Phebe’s descendant, which matches that of a descendant of Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe, the mother of Lydia Brown who married William Crumley (the third) in 1807 in Greene County.


I love the way they spelled her name on her marker.  You know that’s exactly what they called her…Clerrissee.

Sometimes trying to piece families together requires piecing the neighborhood together.  Clarissa was born in Greene County in 1817, but there are no Clarissa’s in the known family.  Who was she named after?  And is that even relevant?  The answer is…maybe.  In the Kidwell Cemetery near Hardin’s Chapel Methodist Church, which we’ll visit later in this article, we find a burial for Clarissa Hardin.  After the Kidwell Meeting House burned, the new church was called Hardin’s Chapel and it is located directly across the road from the Johnson land.  In fact, Zopher Johnson is buried in the Kidwell Cemetery.  Clearly, Clarissa Newman Hardin, born in 1787, was somehow close to Lydia and William Crumley (the third) – close enough for them to name their daughter after her.  Was she related?  We still don’t know the identify of the mother of William Crumley (the third.)

In case there is any confusion regarding the church as Cross Anchor, the Crumley’s were not Presbyterian.  They were Methodist.  So, too, were the Johnsons.  Of that, we have proof.

Wesley’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church

William Crumley (the second) was a trustee and co-founder in 1797 of Wesley’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church in Greene County and reportedly raised his children in the Methodist faith.  It’s interesting that the first church at Carter’s Station was also Methodist, as were those camp meetings that were taking place in 1805.  John Carter was one of the two Carter men to found Carter’s Station.

Wesley Chapel sign

Notice all of the Babb men.  We don’t know who William Crumley (the second’s) wife was.  It’s certainly possible she was a Babb, or a Johnson, or a Brown.  The Babb family is on the 1782 Frederick County, VA tax list along with Zopher Johnson, Jotham Brown and William Crumley (the first).  These families migrated together and were very likely related before arriving in Greene County.

These men would have lived in relatively close proximity to each other and to the church.  This land is what they would have seen then, as they looked out to the horizon, minus the power infrastructure of course.

Wesley Chapel valley

The history of Wesley’s Chapel UMC says that the church land was granted on a North Carolina land grant and was owned by John Weems in 1792.  Many of the Weems married into the Brown family and are buried in the cemetery here.  The church stands on a hill overlooking several miles of Lick Creek Valley and was known as the church on the waters of Lick Creek.

Wesley Chapel valley2

I’m turning in a circle here, standing at the sign so that we can drink in what William saw in 1797, minus the contemporary houses.  Maybe there were cabins there then, or maybe nothing at all.

Wesley Chapel old site

The original church stood about 500 feet west of where it stands now, about where this house is located.

Wesley Chapel field

The cemetery has no early burials, so either they are all unmarked or the cemetery was established about the time the new church was built.

Wesley Chapel today

The new church and cemetery carry on the legacy of the original Wesley’s Chapel Methodist Church.  William Crumley would be proud and pleased to see the church he helped to found survive for more than 200 years.  This church is a big part of his legacy.

Wesley Chapel front

I love the ancient trees in cemeteries.  If they could speak, they could tell us about our ancestors, about conversations held beneath their branches, and about many funerals – long forgotten.  The trees could tell us when the cemetery was established and whose grave isn’t marked.  They could tell us who brought flowers, and who didn’t.  Whose graves were visited, and whose weren’t.

Wesley Chapel cemetery

Even today, there are Crumleys and Browns buried here.

Wesley Chapel Crumley Brown

Gazebos are very popular in cemeteries in Greene County.  Summers are quite hot here and a gazebo provides a shady respite.

Wesley Chapel gazebo

The Crumley House on Crumley Road

Because things aren’t confusing enough in this family, in addition to the confusion created by the men with the same names, land deeds and tax lists, we also have a Crumley Road, and it’s not far from Wesley’s Chapel Church.

The first land purchased by William Crumley (the second) was in 1797, a 50 acre tract from Jacob Gass on Lick Creek.  The proximity of Lick Creek, the Wesley Church that was also founded in 1797 and Crumley Road certainly make me suspect that William’s 50 acres was in this area.  In 1820, William sells 54 acres to Abraham Crumley, so this land could have been in the Crumley family since 1797.

Crumley road

And guess what…Lick Creek runs right along Crumley Road.  Now isn’t that convenient.

Crumley Road Lick Creek

It’s also rather flat land, perfect for farming.

Crumley Road field

When we drove down Crumley Road and talked to the local folks, they told us that the “old Crumley House” still stands and they took us right to the house.

Crumley Road Crumley House

You can see it up ahead as we pull out from the creek.

Crumley House

We were excited to see just how old this house is.  It’s very old.  I wonder at the windows in the top – if they weren’t once defensive structures in the old “stations” or “forts.”

Below is a picture of the end of an old station house or private fort built by a pioneer in Washington Co., VA about the same time.  Notice those high windows.

Washington Co old station

The owners were extremely gracious letting a couple of crazy women take photos of their house.

Crumley House back

The back of the house.  On the ends, more high windows.

Crumley House end

We know that Monroe Crumley lived here in the 1900s.  We also know that roads were named originally after the early or pioneer families who lived there and settled on this land, so the name “Crumley Road” would have been “original,” even though the roads weren’t officially named until the 911 system was implemented.

We tracked Monroe’s lineage back to William (the second’s) son Aaron who married Lydia Brown.  The deed work needs to be done on this property, but it’s possible that this land was part of the original Crumley land. William sold his land to son Abraham, not Aaron, but we don’t know what happened after that.

This house is old enough to be an original house from that time period.  Brick structures that early were rare, but the original Wesley church was brick as well, built with bricks baked on site, or so the church history tells us.  William was involved with building that church, so maybe he built his own home of brick as well.

William Crumley (the second) appears several times in Greene Co. court records and was appointed a Justice of the Peace, served on juries and grand juries and was overseer of road work.  In other words, he was a normal pioneer citizen.

Which William is Which?

One of our challenges in Greene County is separating the records of William (the second), and his son, William (the third.)  William (the third) was born about 1789 in Virginia.  I don’t use the terms Jr. and Sr., unless I’m transcribing, because those terms change, for the same person, as they age.  In other words, Jr. often becomes Sr., based on whether another man by the same name lives there, and who is older or younger.

William (the third) came of age while living in Greene County, married and apparently owned land as well.  I say apparently, because the two Williams and land ownership becomes very confusing.

Stevie graciously compiled the Crumley entries on the Greene County tax lists from 1797 through 1816, where available.  I have put them in table format.  Some lists are known to be incomplete.

Year Last First Suffix Acres/Polls Location District
1797 Crumley William 100/2 Capt. Morriss
1798 Crumley William 100/1 Edward Tate
1799 Crumley William 100/1 Edward Tate
1800 Crumley William 250/0 Edward Tate
1805 Crumbley William
1809 Crumley William 200/1 Dry Fork Walter Clark
1810 Crumley William 200/1 Walter Clark
1811 Crumley William Jr 0/1 Walter Clark
1811 Crumley William Sr 200/1 Walter Clark
1812 Crumbley Samuel 0/1 Capt Clark
1812 Crumbley William 200/1 Capt Clark
1812 Crumbley William Jr 126/1 Walter Clark
1813 Crumley William 326/1 Walter Clark
1813 Crumley Samuel 0/1 Henry Bowman
1814 Crumbley* Samuel 0/1 Henry Bowman
1814 Crumbley William Sr 326/0 Tillman’s Fork Capt Bowman
1814 Crumbley William Jr. 0/1 Henry Bowman
1815 Crumbley William 0/1 Henry Bowman
1815 Crumbley William Jr 200/1 Tillman’s Fork Henry Bowman
1815 Crumbley Samuel 126/1 Lick Creek Henry Bowman
1816 Crumly Aron 0/1 Isaac Justice
1816 Crumly Samuel 0/1 Isaac Justice
1816 Crumly William Jr 126/1 Lick Creek Isaac Justice
1816 Crumly William Sr 200 Tillman’s Fork Isaac Justice

*Noted as being in the service of the US.

On the 1798 tax list of Capt. Edward Tate’s Company, William (the second) had only one white poll, raising the question of the second adult male and what happened to him after 1797.

William Crumley (the second) was reportedly a miller by trade and built a mill near Carter’s Station after February 9, 1805 when he purchased 200 acres on the branch of Lick Creek from William and Andrew Blackwood.

This Indenture Made this Ninth Day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five.  Between William Blackwood and Andrew Blackwood of the Counties of Clayburn and Jackson and State of Tennessee of the one part, and William Crumley of the County of Greene and State aforesaid of the other part Witnesseth that the said William and Andrew Blackwoods for and in Consideration of the Sum of One hundred pounds to them the said Blackwoods in hand paid down by said Crumley, the recipts Whereof is hereby acknowledged, hath and by these presents, Doth Grant, Bargain, Sell, alien, enfoeff and Confirm unto the said William Crumley his heirs and assigns forever a Certain tract or parcel of Land Containing two hundred acres situate in Greene County on a Branch of Lick creek.  Beginning at a post Oak in a Conditional line between John Gass and John Waggoner running thence West Sixty three Chains twenty four links to a White Oak, thence North thirty one Chains Sixty two links to a Stake, thence East sixty three Chains twenty four links to a Stake in said Waggoners line, thence South thirty one Chains sixty two links to the Beginning – it being the Same tract of Land that was Conveyed to said Gass from North Carolina by a Grant bearing date the twenty fourth of Septr. one thousand Seven hundred and Eighty Seven, as Reference thereto will more fully appear, together with all houses, orchards, inclosures, waters, ways, and also the Right, interest, property, use, Clame, and Demand, Whatsoever of them the Said William and Andrew Blackwoods, Either in Law or Equity, to have and to hold the Said Described two hundred acres of Land and premises and every part and member thereof to the only use of him the Said William Crumley his heirs and assigns forever, and the said William and Andrew Blackwoods for themselves and their heirs, doth further covenant and agree to and with the said William Crumley that the now at the time of sealing an delivering of these presents seized of a good sure perfect and indefeasible Estate of inheritance of and in the premises and that the(y) have good power and absolute authority to Grant and Convey the same according to the manner aforesaid and the said William and Andrew Blackwoods will warrant and forever defend to William Crumley his heirs and assigns in witness whereof we have hereunto set out hands and affixed out Seal the day and Date above Written

Witnesses                                                                  William Blackwood

John Gass

Jesse Mosley                     Wm. Blackwood impow’d for A. Blackwood  by power of attorney

State of Tennessee                      April Sessions. 1806

Greene County Court

Then was the execution of this Conveyance duly proven in open court by the oath of Jesse Mosley, a subscribing witness, and admited to Record.

Let it be Registered

                                                                                                                                                Val Sevier, Clk

Registered this 26th Day of June 1806.       By George Brown, RGC

(BK 7, p 63, Greene County Land Records)

An earlier researcher indicated that he believed that the Sylvanus Brown land was at the west side of Union Road and Baileyton.  William Crumley’s land was near Sylvanus’s land, which was also located on Tillman’s Branch.  Sylvanus Brown was the older brother of Lydia Brown who would marry William Crumley (the third) in 1807.  William Crumley (the second) had three children who would marry children of Sylvanus Brown.

On the map below, Wesley Chapel is shown at one end of the blue line, and the intersection of Union Road and Baileyton at the south end of that blue route.

Wesley Chapel to Union and Baileyton Road

The 1809 tax list tells us a little more in that William (the second) is noted on Dry Fork.

Based on the Greene County Civil District definition for Civil District 11, we know where Dry Fork was located, roughly.

Beginning at RODGERSVILLE ROAD at POGUES MILL, Thence up LICK CREEK to the mouth of the roaring fork, Thence up said fork to BABBS MILL ROAD, Thence up the road to the DRY FORK, Thence up said fork to the mouth of the branch that comes from WILLIAM MALONEYS SPRING, Thence up said branch to the head near an OLD SCHOOL HOUSE, Thence with the KNOBS that extends up between BABBS MILL and the WATERS OF LICK CREEK to the road that passes between PHILIP BABBS and ISAAC BABBS PLANTATION.

Tracing this pathway, we find the intersection of Roaring Fork and Babb’s Mill Road at approximately 1101 Babbs Mill Road today.  The instructions were to continue down Babb’s Mill Road, which ends when it intersection current day 93, Kingsport Highway, so William’s initial land had to be someplace in this general vicinity.

Roaring Fork and Babb's Mill

Kidwell Cemetery

In 2007, Stevie took me to the Kidwell Cemetery, near the Hardin Chapel Methodist Church located at Baileytown Road and Roaring Fork Road.  On the map below, you can see Hardin Chapel Church.  Just north, the next road is Brown Loop Road.  Less than a mile away, off of White House Road, you can see Gass Memorial Church.  So the Johnsons, Browns, Gasses and Crumleys all lived in this area.

Zopher Johnson’s son, Zopher, is buried in the Kidwell Cemetery.  He is probably the father of Elizabeth “Betsey” Johnson that William Crumley (the second) married in 1817.

Zopher Johnson 1754 cemetery stone

Johnson and Brown Land

This land, across from the church, is Johnson land.  Stevie says that as you proceed north, the Browns owned the property on both sides of Baileyton Road, all the way to Cross Anchor Cemetery.  Sylvanus Brown’s land was supposed to be located near the intersection of Union Road and Baileyton Road, about half way between these two locations.

Hardin Chapel to Cross Anchor

This view below is of the Johnson land right across from the Hardin Chapel Church.

Johnson land

You can see the Roaring Fork, although it’s not roaring today, in the picture below running parallel with the main road.  It just looks like a mild mannered stream, more like it has been subdued into a ditch.

Johnson land2

Clearly, this is the Johnson, Brown, Crumley neighborhood.

The Crumley Stomping Ground

We have several indications that William Crumley (the second) was a miller by trade.  Indeed, there was a mill at Carter’s Station.  Given the apparent close proximity to Sylvanus Brown, I’m not entirely convinced that William’s mill was at Carter’s Station, but clearly, it was someplace in this vicinity.  This seems to be conflicting information, but remember, there were two Williams and more than one piece of land involved.

Paul Nichols, a Crumley researcher, his information no longer online, tells us the following:

The huge stone wheels of a mill had grooves cut into them.  The grooves would need to be maintained to grind grain properly.  This is done by running a tool along the grooves with one hand and smoothing away the stone chips with the other.  Frequently, stone chips would become embedded in a miller’s hand.  To judge how much expertise a miller had, he would proudly show his left palm.  That’s where the term “to show one’s mettle” came from.

Sounds painful to me.

I wonder what William’s left palm looked like.

In 1812, William obtained another 126 acres, according to the tax list, although this is believe to be land purchased by William (the third), designated as Jr. on the tax list, but in 1813, all 326 acres were paid for by one William Crumley, the second William not being mentioned at all.

In the Greene County Court minutes, on page 39 in the book including minutes from 1812-1844, William Crumley petitioned the court that a jury be appointed to view the road…and to establish said road straight to his house…and that two public roads already laid through his plantation to the injury of his tillable land.  If one was a miller, one would certainly want the road to some directly to one’s house.  This tells us that he lived someplace where three roads are found in close proximity.

I asked Nella Myers, who unfortunately passed away before she could publish her Crumley book, if she had any direct evidence that William (the second) was a miller.  She answered me as follows:

“Reading through about 100 pages of Civil War records for Daniel Patton and John Crumley, sons of Wm. Crumley IV and Rebecca Malone, I discovered that in 1912 John stated he was born “July 16, 1844 at Albany, Greene Co. Tennessee” and in 1914 he stated he was born “at what was known as William’s Mill in Greene Co. Tenn.”  On an old surveyor’s map of 1953 we found Albany, which is located approx. 3-4 miles NW of Greeneville on the Old Rogersville Rd. on the southern bank of Lick Creek just before reaching Carter’s Station, often called Carter’s Chapel.  Mosheim is a bit further.  So, it appears that this was the location of the Crumley mill (whether Wm. III or IV).”

Albany is the current name for the area where the old Carter’s Station Cemetery is located.

I don’t particularly follow Nella’s logic that the William’s Mill is the Crumley Mill, because there were always a number of mills and millers.  In the book, “Remembering Greene County Mills,” published in 2013 by Carolyn S. Gregg, there is no reference to a Crumley Mill.  Carolyn went through “every known record” to identify all of the Greene County mills.

Furthermore, Nella obtained the following information from from Carter Cousins, Vol. II, by Marie Thompson Eberle and Margaret Henley, which reads as follows:

“192.  William Crumley II b. c1765 Old Fred. Co., VA m. in VA, name of wife unknown.  The family moved to Greene Co., TN, where they settled at Brown’s Town.  The Jotham BROWN family went from Berkeley Co., VA to Montgomery Co., where Jotham died.  His widow and children moved to Greene Co., TN before 1800, settling on Lick Creek.  William Crumley built a mill on Lick Creek near Carter’s Station sometime after 1805, when he first purchased land of William & Andrew Blackwood (9 Feb. 1805), and his first appearance on Greene Co. Tax Lists is 1805.”

The Carter information is slightly incorrect.  Phebe, with her daughter, Jane Brown Cooper and family moved to Greene County in 1803, followed by her sons in 1805.

We have a bit of a geographic challenge here, because Carter’s Station is on Lick Creek, but it’s about 5-7 miles on west of the Cross Anchor area.  However, looking at the map below, you can clearly see the familiar names nearby – Brown Springs Road, John Graham Road.  Carter Station, very close by Carter’s Station United Methodist Church, is at the crossroads of Rogersville Road, leading to the county seat of Hawkins County, and Union Road leading to Greenville, the County seat of Greene County.

Crumley stomping ground

DNA testing has sorted through part of this confusion.  The Brown family of Brown Springs Road near Carter’s Station and the Brown family of Cross Anchor were not related to each other.  The Y DNA haplogroups are entirely different.  So, finding Browns in both locations is not connecting glue.

Furthermore because of the confusing tax lists, we don’t know for sure which William owned which land.

In 1811, both William Crumley’s are enumerated on the tax list separately, with William Sr. owning the 200 acres of land and William Jr. with no land but one poll.

What happened to the 100 acres in 1797-1799 and the 250 acres in 1800, we have no idea.

In 1812, William (Sr., but not designated as such) is shown with 200 acres, William Jr. with 126 acres and Samuel with no acres and one poll.

In 1812, the US engaged in warfare with Great Britain and her Indian allies. This war was really fought on three fronts – the north, New York area, the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf area, Louisiana.  In the south, the war included warfare with the Creek Indians.  Tennessee militia were drafted or volunteered for stints lasting about 90 days, although some were longer.  Most men from Tennessee would march to Alabama, on foot, and fight there.  Three of William (the second’s) sons fought in the War of 1812.  William (the third) enlisted, but became ill and returned home.

Sons Aaron and Samuel served as well.  Aaron also become ill and was dismissed, but was eventually awarded bounty land regardless.

However, in 1813 and 1814 all 326 acres on Tillman’s fork were listed as the property of William Sr. (the second) with William (the third) Jr. owning no land.

In 1815, William Jr. (the third) is shown with 200 acres on Tillman’s Fork and William (implied Sr.) with none. Samuel, however, is shown owning the 126 acres on Lick Creek.  What the heck happened that year?

In 1816, Aaron is of age too, but neither Aaron or Samuel have land.  William Jr. (the third) is shown with 126 acres on Lick Creek and William Sr. (the second) with 200 on Tillman’s Fork.

Did these Crumley men play poker and constantly lose their land back and forth to each other?

Of course, Tillman’s Fork was also where Sylvanus Brown lived, and those two families were very busy intermarrying.  I’d bet dollars to donuts their lands were adjacent.

One of Sylvanus’s sisters, Jane, married Christopher Cooper, from whom cousin Stevie descends.  The Old Cooper Cemetery and cabin is located on Spider Stines Road, half way between Hardin Church and Cross Anchor.  Stevie located the previously lost Cooper Cemetery and placed a marker in the midst of the overgrown fieldstones.

Cooper cemetery

None of the original graves are marked with headstones, but they are eternally memorialized today, never to be entirely lost again.

Cooper Cemetery 2

Sylvanus Brown’s other sister, Lydia, married William Crumley (the third) and they are my ancestors.  Stevie and my common ancestors are Jotham Brown and his wife Phebe, 6 generations back from me.  Assuming Stevie is about the same distance removed, we would be about 5th cousins.

I think if you just drew a big circle around this entire area on the map above and labeled it “William Crumley, Brown and Johnson Stomping Ground,” you’d be dead right.

William’s Wife or Wives

It’s time to talk about William’s wife or wives because we don’t know who they were.  William (the second) may have only had one wife, or he may have had two.

It is not known who William (the second’s) first wife was.  She was the mother of William (the third) and for that matter, all of his known children.  The family reports that she may have been an Indian although we have dispelled that myth by mitochondrial DNA testing a descendant who descended from her through all females.  Her haplogroup is H2a1, very clearly European.  However, that does not exclude her from having Native heritage through a different line.  Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from one’s mother, who inherits it from her mother, etc., on up the tree.  The mitochondrial DNA haplogroup only tells us about this one line, but it tells us very clearly that she was not Native on her direct matrilineal line.  It’s odd, we know more about her DNA than we do her name.

In 1817, William Crumley Sr. (as stated on the marriage document, shown below) married Elizabeth “Betsey” Johnson in Greene County.  This marriage has stirred a great deal of controversy within the Crumley researchers.  Betsey was the daughter of either Zopher Johnson, buried in the Kidwell Cemetery, or his brother, Moses, who lived in Hawkins County.  We believe she was Zopher’s daughter, and given where these families lived, near Roaring Fork and Baileytown Roads, that certainly makes the most sense.

William Crumley Betsey Johnston marriage

It has been debated for years within the Crumley research clan whether the groom was William (the second) or his son, William (the third).

The problem is that the signatures on the two bonds, one from William Jr. (the third’s) 1807 marriage to Lydia Brown and this 1817 signature for William Sr. are for all intents and purposes, identical.  Furthermore, there are two additional signatures in 1814 and 1816, both identified as Jr. in the comparison provided by a Crumley researcher, shown below, which don’t match the 1807 and 1817 bonds.

Crumley signature comparison

These signatures have fueled a lot of speculation, but the most reasonable explanation I can find, with the least amount of stretch, is that if William Jr. – meaning the third, was born in 1788 or 1789 as the 1850 and 1852 censuses indicate, he would have been underage in 1807, only 18 or possibly 19 years of age.  His father would have had to have signed for him.  The William Crumley signature itself doesn’t say Jr. or Sr.  The document only says that William Jr. is getting married.  In 1811, the first year William Jr. (the third) is shown on the Greene County tax list, he would have been age 22,, born in 1789 – so this is very likely the answer.  Otherwise, where was he on earlier tax lists?

One last document, William’s witnessing of his son Abraham’s marriage, may or may not be William’s actual signature.  Looking at the similarity of the writing in this document from the Quaker notes from the New Hope Meeting in Greene County, TN, I have to wonder if the names were copied into the minutes by the clerk and this is not William’s original signature.

Quaker Record for Abraham Crumley son of William Greene County TN

We performed mitochondrial DNA testing, which is detailed in Phebe Crumley’s article, but in summary, descendants of Clarissa, Phebe’s sister born in 1817, Phebe, born in 1818 and Jotham Brown’s wife, Phebe, are matches, meaning that they share a common matrilineal ancestor.  In this case, that can be interpreted to mean that the most likely common ancestor is Phebe Brown, the mother of Lydia Brown, who is the mother of Phebe and Clarissa both.  Of course, Clarissa was born in April of 1817, William (the whichever) married Betsey Johnson in October of 1817 and Phebe was born in March of 1818.  Subsequence census removed William (the second) and his wife as potential parents for Phebe Crumley, so the matching DNA suggests that the women are sisters delivered of the same mother – both daughters of Lydia Brown who was the daughter of Phebe, wife of Jotham Brown.

One last piece of DNA information that is not entirely conclusive but certainly suggestive is that I have several DNA matches with individuals who descend from Jotham Brown through other children, not Lydia, and who aren’t related through any other lines.  Unfortunately, many of these matches are at Ancestry and have not downloaded their results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch where we have triangulation tools to prove descent from a common ancestor, so while the results are suggestive, they are not conclusive.

Taking all of this together, based on mitochondrial DNA evidence, the dates of the births of the children of William (the third) and the bond and marriage dates, I believe that the groom in 1817 was William Sr. (the second), not William (the third), but barring that Bible for sale on e-bay, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.  We discussed the possible options and the DNA evidence at length in the Phebe Crumley article.

I have not given up entirely and was hopeful that existing church records in Hancock (formerly Hawkins) County, TN would provide the answer.  Unfortunately, those records only began in 1852, so we’ve struck out once again.

My only avenue left to find the name of the wife of William (the third) after 1820 is in the Pulaksi County, KY records.  Never before have I ever had a situation where the only way to prove who the father DID marry was to prove who the son DIDN’T marry.  And to think that the identity of Phebe’s mother, my ancestor, depends on this.

Moving to Lee County, VA

The “Early Settlers of Lee County” book says that William Crumley Sr. from Greene Co. bought 250 acres of land from William Sparks on November 11, 1819 for $250, lying on the west fork of Blackwater Creek (Deed book 9 page 6).  It was witnessed by William Crumley Jr.  The William Sr. in this case must be this William (the second) and Jr. must be his son William (the third.)  Therefore, we have now confirmed that William (the second) did in fact move to Lee Co, along with his son, and where he lived.

William (the third) was listed in the 1820 Lee Co., Census as age 26-44 with his family, but William (the second) was not included, probably having returned to Greene County to sell 54 of his 200 acres to his son Abraham on Nov. 25, 1820 and 134 acres to Joshua Royston on March 21, 1821.

November 25, 1820 – William Crumley of Greene Co., to Abraham Crumley of same  for $333.33, 54 acres and 46 poles on Lick Creek, part of 200 acre tract of land granted to John Goss by State of NC Sept, 24, 1787 and conveyed unto Wm and Andrew Blackwood and then conveyed to William Crumley Feb. 9, 1805.

In March of 1821, William Crumley Sr. (the second) sells the 200 acre Lick Creek tract in Greene County to Joshua Royston.

This Indenture, Made the Thirty First day of March in the Year one Thousand and Eight Hundred and Twenty One, between William Crumley Senr. of the County of Greene and State of Tennessee of the one part, and Joshua Royston of the County of Greene and State aforesaid of the other part – Witnesseth, that the said William Crumley for and in Consideration of the Sum of Six Hundred Dollars to him in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, hath and by these presents doth Grant, Bargain, Sell, Alien, Enfeoff and Confirm unto the said Joshua Royston his Heirs and assigns forever, a Certain Tract or parcel of Land Containing one Hundred and thirty four Acres, more or less, Lying and being in the County of Greene and State aforesaid, on the waters of Lick Creek.  Beginning at the place where a post oak stood – it being the beginning corner of the Original Grant from North Carolina to John Gass Number 399, for Two hundred acres – thence with said original Line West one hundred & seventy two poles to a small Hickory Sapling, a Dogwood, sugar tree and Iron wood pointers, thence off from the Original Line and Conditional Line North one hundred and Twenty six poles to a White Oak on the Original line of the old survey aforesaid, thence with said Line East one hundred and Seventy Two poles to a Stake, thence South one hundred and Twenty Six poles to the Beginning, with all and singular, the woods, waters, water-courses, profits, commodities, hereditaments and appurtenances whatsoever to the said Tract of Land belonging or appertaining, and the reversion and reversions, remainder and remainders, rents and Issues,  thereof, and all the estate, right, Title, Interest, property, claim and Demand, of him the said William Crumley, his Heirs and assigns forever of in and to the same, and every part or parcel thereof, either in Law or Equity:  To Have and to hold the said one hundred and Thirty four acres of Land, more or less, with the appurtenances, unto the said Joshua Royston his Heirs and assigns forever, against the Lawful Title, claim and Demand of him the said William Crumley Senr. and all other persons whatsoever, will Warrant and forever Defend by these presents- In Witness whereof, the said William Crumley Senr. hath hereunto Set his Hand and Seal the Day and Year above written

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

In presence of

William Crumley

George T. Gellaspie,



[BK 12, p 284, Greene County Land Records]

The William Crumley as a witness must be William Crumley (the third.)

Also, in 1821, we find a tidbit that ties William Crumley (the second’s) land to Carter Station.  On March 6th, a land sale between William Luster and Thomas Justice, for $200, 100 acres on Lick Creek adjoining the lands of Hugh Carter and William Crumley.  Witnesses, James Patterson and James Gass.

Notice that H. Carter, likely Hugh, also witnesses the deed where William sells to Royston.

Also, further connecting William to the Carter’s Station area are two 1820 indentures that his son Samuel Crumley witnesses for transactions by Joseph Carter, Sr., the man who established Carter’s Station on his land and hosted those camp meetings, and John Olinger, his neighbor, for land on Lick Creek, on the west side of Grassey Creek.  This is where Carter’s Fort and Station were located, and very near where the Cemetery is located today.

The Hawkins County Lawsuit(s)

If there is a way to make a situation complex, the Crumley men find a way to do it.

There are two suits in Hawkins County, neighbor county to Greene, that involve William Crumley.  One is very short and sweet, and the second is long, drawn-out and juicy.

I am greatly indebted to Jack Goins, Hawkins County archivist, for finding these original documents.

First, let’s look at the 1825 juror signature.  This signature does not look like any of the other William signatures.  Sigh.

Crumley 1825 receipt signature

This signature was a result of William being a witness in the case of the State vs Andrew Coker, Littleton Brooks, James Willis and James P. McCarty tried in October of 1824.

I remember when I was a young married wife, back when we actually picked up a paycheck, signed the check and physically took it to the bank.  Typically I picked hubby’s check up at lunch and took it to the bank in the afternoon, because by the time he got off work, the bank was closed and there would be no money for the weekend.  Yes, this was before the days of ATM machines.  The only “ATM” was writing a check “over” for $20 or so at the grocery store where, of course, everyone knew you.  One week, my husband signed his own check and took it in to be cashed.  The tellers quizzed him mercilessly, and then the branch manager, because his signature did not match any of his other paychecks and they had never seen him before.  I had been signing them on his behalf.  He found no humor in this situation.  So as I look at this signature for William Crumley, in fact, all of them, especially the ones that don’t match and “should,” I wonder if William actually always signed for himself.

The 1822 lawsuit is much more interesting, albeit with no signature from William.

The Hawkins County lawsuit begins in Greene County in 1819 with a legal complaint document, William Crumbly vs Johnston Frazier, as follows:

On the 28th day of October 1821 I promised to pay Thomas G. Brown $50 to be discharged in grain at the market price delivered  (unreadable) this day bought of him it being for value received of him this 27 day of December 1819.  Signed by Johnston Frazier and witnessed by John Scott.

This is followed by a document on March 14, 1820 that says:

I assign my interest of the within note to William Crumbly for value and witness my hand and seal.  Thomas G. Brown, Witness Lettice Self.

William Crumley would come to regret that day.

Both Thomas Brown and Johnson Frazier were summoned to court.  Witnesses were Jesse Self, Christopher Kirby, Jacob Sands and John Scott and the trial lasted for 6 days – or at least that’s how long the longest witness was paid for.  Some were paid for only 5 days.

Summarizing the suit, Frazier says that he measured out the grain (102 bushels of corn, 6 bushels of wheat and 12 bushels of oats) on the day before the note was due but the plaintiff was not at the location.  He left the grain out overnight and “over Sunday” and by Monday the grain was problematic.

Depositions follow from people to whom he offered to sell the grain about the quality and the price.  Some said it looked to be weevil-eaten. Some said the wheat had lumps and was hot if you put your hand in the pile.  From my experience on a farm, that means it was fermenting and had “soured” and couldn’t be used.  That, in fact, was the crux of the lawsuit.  Did Frazier genuinely try to pay his debt to Crumley, or was he trying to scam him all along?

There may have been some previous bad blood between Crumley and Frazier, because the testimony is stricken, but you can still see that Christopher Kirby testified, among other things, that the William Crumley said he “had been used badly the year before by the defendant” and he wanted to take advantage, although the exact wording surrounding “take advantage” is not entirely legible.

On February 19, 1822, William Crumley appeals in Greene County court to transfer the venue of this appeal of this case to Hawkins County “owing to prejudice against him in Greene County and which has been greatly fomented by persons who have greatly injured him” and that he “cannot have a fair and impartial trial of the above case in Greene County.”  He says he also believes the same extends to Washington County where the defendants relatives live.

The next document is dated March 12, 1822 and is styled, William Crumley, appellant, vs Johnson Frazier, so he apparently lost the first case in Greene County.  This document says that attached is a transcript of the proceedings in this case and it is signed by the Greene County Clerk of Court.

William Crumley had a really bad half-decade.  There is a barely legible document written in 1825 that states in essence that the court has found against William.

Crumley 1826 Hawkins suit

One final document, that is very legible and dated April 1826 commands the sheriff of Hawkins County, which tells us that William is living in Hawkins County at this time, to confiscate the goods and chattels of William Crumly to make the sum of $269 and 20 and a half cents which John Frazier recovered against William Crumley.  The sheriff is to have the said money ready to render to the court on the first Monday of October, 1826 in Rogersville.

William would have been a lot better off to simply forget about the $50 debt.  He not only got nothing for the debt he paid a huge difference in costs.

I’m sure of one thing.  William Crumley was not a happy camper.

William’s commentary about how people felt about him in Greene County might well have had something to do with why he moved to Hawkins County.  I was hoping that this suit might give us confirmation as to whether William Crumley (the second) was a miller, as well as his wife’s name, but it does neither.

The timing of this also makes me wonder about whether this suit really is William (the second) and not William (the third) because William (the third) leaves this area between 1820 and 1830 and moves to Pulaksi County, KY.  If he lost his land and/or possessions, he probably doesn’t feel any obligation to stay in Hawkins County.  It might have been a good time to move on.

Let This Be A Lesson

I was so excited when I visited the genealogy library in Knoxville, TN to find a list of deeds out of Hawkins County that included William Crumley.  I greatly imposed on a friend in Hawkins County to copy those deeds and send them to me.

There are several deeds spanning years from 1823 through 1830 and calling him William Crumley of Claiborne County.  Furthermore, this land was on Big War Creek, in Hawkins County, not near where we know William (the second) and (the third) lived.

Even more confusing, we know where both William the second and the third lived in 1830.  One was in Pulaski County, KY and one was in Lee County, VA.  But these deeds all referred to William Crumley of Hawkins County and then of Claiborne County.  Now, granted, Lee, Hawkins, Hancock and Claiborne are all neighbors and closely tied together with a network of mountains, valleys, rivers and creeks.

Another confusing factor was that the one Crumley witness whose name I could read was Hugh Crumley.  There is no Hugh Crumley.

Then, I decided that something clearly wasn’t right.  These deeds are all hand written of course.

I decided to look for Hugh in the Claiborne County census, and what I found was Hugh Crawley, CRAWLEY, not Crumley, and sure enough, there was William Crawley right beside him.  I looked back at those deeds, and I can see why they were indexed as Crumley.  The writing was ambiguous.  But, given that I had found both William and Hugh Crawley, together, where the deeds said they lived – and my William Crumley’s are both accounted for elsewhere – I knew these men were not Crumley men.

If you get that little nagging “something’s not right here” sense, heed it – even if you don’t want to hear it.

Lee County, VA

There is no mention of William the second or third, by any name, after 1821 in Green County following William’s land sales.

We know William (the second) purchased land on the west fork of Blackwater Creek in Lee County in 1819.

Crumley 1824 land grant

Five years later, on June 30, 1824, William Crumley filed for a land grant in Hawkins County for 50 acres on Blackwater near where Walter Sim’s or Sinit’s lives, Rice’s line.  It was surveyed on August 5, 1824.  This part of Tennesee was Hawkins County before it became Hancock County.  My original assumption was that this land was near William’s 1819 Blackwater Creek land, but as it turns out, it wasn’t – not even close.

William (the second) appears on the 1830 Lee Co census age 60-70 when he would have been about 62 years old with 2 females in the household, his wife age 50-60 and a girl age 5-10, possibly a final child after marrying Betsey Johnson in 1817.  Next door to William (the second) we find Isaac, his son, with 2 males under 5, 1 male 5-10, 1 male 30-40 (Isaac), 1 female under 5, 1 female 5-10, 2 females 10-15, 1 female 20-30.  This tells us that Isaac married between 1815 and 1820.

On October 21, 1831, “William Crumley of the county of Lee and the State of Virginia” sold 47 acres on Blackwater Creek in Hawkins Co., Tn. to Peter Livesay of Hawkins Co., signing the deed as “W M Crumley”.  This signature of William (the second) may be an abbreviated version of Wm. as written by the clerk who recorded it, although it may also have stood for the middle name of  Mercer.  Or, it may not have been William (the second) at all, but William (the third.)

Crumley Livesay Road

The land is likely here, on the Blackwater Creek where Livesay Road runs alongside.

Just like men should not be able to name sons the same name, or marry women with the same first name, Creeks, especially in the same county should NOT have the same name either.

Blackwater to Little Mulberry

On this map on the far right, with the red balloon, is the Blackwater Creek along Livesay road.  In the middle is Blackwater Road, which also runs alongside, you’ve guessed it, Blackwater Creek.  The two Blackwater Creeks converge into a larger Blackwater Creek further north in Lee County, VA.  The 1819 deed which says the west branch of Blackwater made me think it was Blackwater Road, but the land sale to Peter Livesay and his land on Livesay Road convinced me that it’s the “other” branch of Blackwater.

Later, as I reevaluated these land purchases and sales, again, I realized that William Crumley had actually owned land on both branches of Blackwater Creek.  The 1819 land, which says the west branch of Blackwater Creek, also says, when the land is sold, that it’s on the south side of Powell Mountain.  Powell Mountain is on the north side of Blackwater Road.  Blackwater Road is the only possible location for this tract of land.

On the far left side of the map, you can see Little Mulberry Baptist church which is about a mile on south on the road where Phebe Crumley, daughter of William Crumley (the third) and some of her siblings would live.  This journey is about 20 miles, from Livesay Road to Phebe Crumley Vannoy’s home.  It just didn’t make sense to me that Phebe, Sarah and John would wind up together, so far from home. It’s very likely that William (the third) actually lived on the west branch of Blackwater – and it’s likely that the entire family lived there as well, meaning William (the second), William (the third) and his brothers, Isaac and possibly Jotham.

William owned the land he would sell to Peter Livesay for 7 years.  It’s certainly possible that one of his sons farmed this land during that time.  In fact, this land could have been owned by William (the third) or if it was owned by William (the second,) he could have sold it because his son, William (the third) moved to Pulaski County, KY sometime before 1830.

Here’s an aerial of the Blackwater Creek area and Livesay Road at the Virginia/Tennessee border where Lee County, VA and Hancock (then Hawkins) County Virginia intersect.

Satellite Livesay

It’s quite ironic that the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” also runs very near the Carter’s Station location in Greene County.  Or, maybe it’s not ironic at all…maybe it’s meaningful.

In 1836, “William Crumley, Sr.” (the second) was shown in the Hawkins Co. 1836 Civil District tax list, district 5, located South of Powell Mountain and North of the Clinch River.  This fits the description of Blackwater Creek and Road exactly.

In January 1837, William (the second) sold his land on the west branch of Blackwater Creek to his son Isaac, apparently shortly before his death as Isaac had to prove the deed in court when it was recorded on October 18, 1841 by the testimony of James Weston, Thomas Stapleton and Thomas Weston (husband of his sister, Hannah Crumley), the same men who witnessed the 1837 sale.  This is why there are witnesses – in case the seller can’t make his own proof statement in court.

Thomas Stapleton is likely a relative as well.  Mary Brown, Lydia Brown’s sister, married William Stapleton.  They too settled in Lee County and are buried on Blackwater Creek, in the Roberts Cemetery, located at the foot of Powell Mountain.  Their daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1819, married Thomas Testerman Livesay, son of Peter Livesay who bought William Crumley’s land on the “Livesay Road” branch of Blackwater Creek.  Elizabeth is buried in the Testerman Cemetery on Livesay Road, shown below.  Oh, what a tangled web we weave.  However, now the Livesay sale makes much more sense.

Deed book 9, page 7 – William Crumley Senior of Lee County, VA to Isaac Crumley of Lee County, land laying on the west fork of Blackwater Creek, south side of Powell Mountain, for $230…

Based on this, it would appear that William Crumley owned land on both branches of Blackwater Creek, selling one to his son, Isaac, and the other to Peter Livesay.

Unless these references are incorrect, the pages in the deed books are adjacent for the 1819 purchase and the 1837 sale, so it appears that both were filed at the same time.  William (the second) couldn’t sell the land unless he registered the purchase first.  So he physically held that deed for 18 years – and we wonder why we can never find some deeds in the books.

Then William Crumley sold some land that we have no record that he purchased.

1837, Feb 20 – Lee Co, Va – William Crumley of Lee Co. sold 100 acres on the south side of the Clinch River in Hawkins Co to William McCullough of Claiborne County and signed the deed seed as William Crumley.  The metes and bounds indicate that this land is actually on the Clinch River.

This land has to be different land than the Blackwater land because Blackwater is on the north side of the Clinch River.

Livesay Road

Here’s what the deed in Lee County and the Hawkins County land grant tell us – William owned land in both counties in both states.  Here’s the state line on Lonesome Pine trail, likely where William owned the land he sold to Peter Livesay.

The VA-TN border

Since Livesay road runs alongside Blackwater Creek here, and William sold to Peter Livesay, this is assuredly the right place.

Here’s Blackwater Creek where it goes under the road and below, the intersection of Blackwater Creek and Livesay road.

Blackwater Creek at Livesay road

Below, we’ve driven a ways down Livesay Road, which isn’t very long.  This is what William (the second), and his son William (the third), would have seen.

Livesay road drive

While there are certainly hills and mountains all around, the land along Blackwater Creek is flat.  It would have been good ground to select for farming.

Livesay road distance

Here’s the Testerman cemetery, all nicely fenced.  It’s a newer cemetery.

Livesay road Testerman cemetery

Peter Livesay was married to a Susannah Testerman.  The Livesay Cemetery is just a few feet up this side road, Kinsler, on the right.

Livesay Road at Kinsler

The first Livesay buried here was born in the 1812, the son of Peter Livesay.  I have to wonder if this was once the Crumley Cemetery.

Livesay road aerial

This aerial view shows the fenced cemetery with the requisite tree in the middle and the original homestead was likely to the right at the corner.

Livesay cemetery

William bought his land on the west fork of Blackwater Creek first, in 1819, and then acquired this land 5 year later by grant.  We don’t know if William, or any of his children, actually lived on this land.  However, we do know that the daughter (Elizabeth Stapleton Livesay) of the sister (Mary Brown Stapleton) of the wife (Lydia Brown) of William Crumley (the third) lived and is buried here.

The West Fork of Blackwater Creek

Every single thing about the life of William Crumley (the second and third) has been more complex that one would expect.  Often, an ancestor has something that is unusual, but EVERYTHING in both of those Williams’ life is off of the scale.

How many men own land on both branches of a creek in the same county with the same name?  Well, part of it is in the same county.  The rest of both of the creek branches are not only in another county, but in another state.  In most places, two branches of a creek would have two different names, so people could tell them apart.  Even if they didn’t, the chances of one man owning land on both is pretty slim.  Not in the case of William Crumley.

While the two Blackwater Creeks sound like they are close, because of the layout of the land, with the mountain ranges, you can’t just bop from one branch to the other.  It’s a long way around.  On the map below, you can see the Livesay Blackwater land with the red balloon.

Blackwater to Little Mulberry

Look two mountain ranges to the left, and you’ll see Blackwater Creek and Road together.  Look on one more range to the left and you’ll see Mulberry Gap Road where two of William (the second’s) grandchildren, Phebe and Sarah lived with their husbands.  A third child, John, marries a woman named Mahala, last name unknown, and is found in 1850 living dead center in the middle of the Melungeon community between several Gibson and Collins families.  Mahala is a common name in the Melungeon community and much less so otherwise.  Newman Ridge is the heart of the Melungeon Community, and Newman Ridge runs along the right side of Blackwater Creek and Road.

Notice also that a James Gibson signed for the marriage bond of William Crumley (the third) in Greene County in 1807.  This may or may not be relevant, but why would someone that’s not a relative sign a marriage bond?  Signing that bond meant they were on the legal hook if it was discovered that the groom had deceived the bride.  Gibson is a primary Melungeon surname.

This was the first land that William (the second) purchased upon moving to Lee County and he assuredly lived here.  He didn’t sell this land until just before his death, to son Isaac, and he is likely buried here, someplace, in a lost family cemetery.

On this map, at the top, is the confluence of both branches of Blackwater Creek.  At the bottom is Vardy, the heart of the Melungeon homeland.  According to court records, William lived in Hawkins County, but his land was deeded in Lee, so it had to be right on the border.  To give you an idea of the remoteness of this location, the road is “paved,” but about the size of a driveway with no center line or markings.  On the Virginia side, it’s not paved, and it’s more of a one track path.  How did William ever find this place?

blackwater road3

I visited Blackwater in 2007 and the local people told me that there was a mill right on the border of Blackwater Road between TN and VA.  That sounds exactly right.

This is Blackwater Road where it crossed into Virginia.  There were sheep grazing in this field when I visited.

blackwater into Virginia

Such beautiful country.  This is likely where Phebe Crumley, my ancestor, the granddaughter of William (the second) was raised.

Blackwater Road2

The land is beautiful on Blackwater Road, near where William would have lived and where the mill on Blackwater was known to be.  Newman’s Ridge is to the right and Powell Mountain is to the left, outside of the photo, above.

Blackwater road

This cleared area is where Virginia and Tennessee meet, at least according to my GPS.

blackwater va tn

Blackwater Creek runs between the road and the mountain here, at the base of Newman Ridge.  There isn’t a lot of space to farm as the valley is narrow but it’s stunningly beautiful country.  Indeed, it would be a great place for a mill.


In the 1840 census of Lee Co., an older female, believed to be the widow of William (the second) is shown as a female age 60-70 living in the household of her son Isaac.  A woman of the same age is also living with William the third.

In 1840, in addition, we show a Sotha (probably Jotham) Crumley, age 20-30 with a wife the same age and 3 children under 5.

Unfortunately, William (the second’s) wife does not appear on the 1850 census which indicates she died before 1850 – because if she had, we could confirm her name.

We don’t know where William (the second) and his wife are buried, but my guess would be on the land he sold to Isaac on Blackwater Creek, in the valley between Powell Mountain and Newman Ridge.

The children of William (the second) and his unknown wife whose haplogroup is H2a1 are shown below.

  • William Crumley, Jr. – born about 1775, married Lydia Brown in Greene Co., TN in 1807
  • Isaac C. Crumley, Reverend – born between 1787-1797 in Greene County, married Rachel Brown in 1816 in Greene County, TN, died in Greene County, Iowa in 1887.
  • Abraham Crumley – born March 10, 1793 in Greene County, died 1846 Greene County, married Mary Elizabeth Marshall in 1817 and Jane McNeese in 1830.  Buried in the New Hope Cemetery.
  • Aaron Crumley – born Jan 26, 1785 in Frederick Co., VA, married in 1814 to Lydia Brown (cousin to the Lydia Brown who married his brother, William Crumley), died in 1847 in Greene County.
  • Samuel Crumley – born between 1790-1800, married in 1819 to Mary Ritta Pogue in Greene County.
  • Sarah Crumley – born about 1799 in Greene County, married in 1818 to Moses Brown, died after 1880 in Greene County, buried in the Cross Anchor Cemetery.
  • Hannah (or Susannah) Crumley – married Thomas Weston July 1820.
  • Catharine Crumley – born about 1805 in Greene County, married John Brown in 1826.  Her line provided the descendant for obtaining the mitochondrial DNA of the wife of William (the second).

If the child in the 1830 census with William (the second) and wife was his daughter, we don’t know if she lived to adulthood, or who she was.

Update:  The missing daughter in the 1830 census appears to be Mary Brown Crumley, born Oct. 10, 1803 in Greene County  who married William Penn Testerman about 1831, probably in Lee County, VA or Claiborne County, TN.  She had their first child in 1833, in Lee County.  She died in 1881 in Sneedville, Hancock County, TN, having had 8 children.


For a man so difficult to research, we’ve actually found a lot.  William Crumley (the second’s) life was spent first on one frontier, then another.  In some cases, there were documents, and in other cases, not.  Some Frederick County VA records exist, but few do where William moved, in the area being fought over by Virginia and North Carolina known at The Territory South of the River Ohio  before Tennessee became a state in 1796.  Some of the Greene County records exist, and some don’t.  Finding documentation about William was hit and miss.  In this situation, absence of records certainly can’t be construed to mean literal absence.  As they say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

William’s life extended from about 1767, just after the French and Indian War, when the Proclamation Line of 1763 was established, forbidding settlers from crossing the line into Appalachia.  In subsequent treaties of 1768 and 1770, much of Appalachia was opened, and about 20 years later, William would follow this path into the wilderness.

Before that could happen, William saw the Revolutionary War as a teenager and may have helped his father to gather supplies.  The British had discouraged settlement in the mountains, across the divide, as stipulated in the 1763 Proclamation agreement.  After the Revolution, the Wilderness Road became the superhighway of migration.

William would have seen settlers by the thousands pass through Winchester, Virginia, considered the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, leading to Tennessee and all points west.  Along with wagons, people walked, animals were herded, the lure of the unknown adventure beckoned.  As a child he must have dreamed about joining them, until, one day, as a young married man, he did.

This was not a short trip and certainly not one to be taken lightly or without advance planning.  The route, known as the Great Valley Road (below, courtesy of Family Search) took weeks to traverse.

Great Valley Road

Today, this route parallels I81 closely and is about 400 miles.  It would take about 8 hours today, but then, if they made 10 miles a day, it took 40 days, living in a wagon, on the trail to make the journey.  These are rough lands.  Mountains.  This journey is not a walk in the park.

Great Valley Road today

There were surely a group of families from Frederick County who migrated together, because we find their names establishing the Wesley’s Church in Greene County in 1797, one year after Tennessee became a state.

William then suffered through three of his sons fighting in the War of 1812, two returning home quite ill.  As a parent, that had to be torturous – to have three of your children in danger at the same time.  As sad as he was to have ill sons return, how grateful he must have been to have sons return at all.  Many men didn’t.

William endured a 6 year lawsuit, which he lost, and lost in spades.  How much he lost – we know in dollars, but we don’t know if he lost his property in the process.

William (the second) lived for nearly another 15 or 20 years, moving to Lee County, VA, on the border of Hawkins County, TN, and started the homesteading process all over again in about 1820.  He was no spring chicken when he moved from Greene Co., TN to Lee County, VA.  At age 52, now an older man, he likely built yet another mill.  William spent his life bouncing from frontier to frontier – a true pioneer.  How I wish he had kept a journal.  I would surely like to ask him about those experiences, not to mention his wife’s and mother’s names, and yes, to take a look at his left hand.

Work to be Done

Unfortunately, William Crumley (the second) isn’t tied up as neatly as I would like.  There is no gift wrap or bow.  I’ve made progress, with the help of others, but there is still work to be done on those pesky William Crumleys.

While I’m relatively confident of William’s land location in present day Hancock County, on Livesay and Blackwater Roads, I’m much less confident about the location of his land in Greene County.  We still don’t know what happened to the 126 acres purchased in 1812, or two later grants.  Some of this land may have been purchased by his son, William (the third.)

Further deed research may shed light on whether William was actually a miller, but I have seen no actual evidence of that so far, outside of oral history.

What really needs to be done in Greene County is that the deeds for both William (the second) and (the third) need to be “run forward,” meaning tracked through sales through time to something resembling current when you have either landmarks or addresses that are currently findable.  Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  If the land has ever been sold by someone other than the owner, like an administrator of a will or due to tax sale or bankruptcy, the seller will not be the name of the person who bought that land, so the land is very difficult to track in those situations.  Often, I resort to tracking the neighbors lands forward in order to see who owned the adjacent land, so by process of elimination, I can figure out who bought the land from a tax sale, estate or bankruptcy.  Yes, it is the long way around, but it is often the only way to get there.


Other researchers providing information about the Crumley family include Stevie Hughes, Truett Crumley (now deceased), Irmal Crumley Haunschild (deceased), Larry Crumley and Nella Smith Myers (also deceased, sadly, never having published her Crumley book.)

Ancestry Reinvents my Ancestors, Again

Remember, right after April Fool’s Day, when Ancestry gave me two ancestors who weren’t?  I check my account every day, and every day for the past two months, they have been there, looking back at me, making me wonder if somehow I’ve missed something – but with no tools to figure out what, where or how.

Diedamia Lyon and John David Curnutte.

Yes, I was getting fond of John and Diedamia who I was beginning to refer to as my adopted NADs.

new ancestor discoveries

But today, today is different.  Yep, I have the same number of matches, the same number of hints, the same Circles….but my bad NADs are gone.  Bye bye John and Diedamia!

So my New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs) have apparently been undiscovered and have disappeared, or maybe got reburied, just like they never existed.  Poof.  Gone.  Never happened!

Of course, these ancestors didn’t exist in reality, but according to Ancestry they did.  But not anymore.  No explanation.  Just got up one morning and they were gone…slunk off in the night.  Not even a goodbye note.  After two months together.  I’m crushed.

disappeared nad

And look what else I found today.  Why, Ancestry reinvented my family story it seems.  The timing of this announcement is extremely ironic.  But maybe it’s the explanation I was looking for.  Reinvented.  That must be it.

Is this a joke?

reinvented story

So, Ancestry….which time were you wrong?  Two months ago or now?  Were John and Diedamia ancestors, or not?  Just how, exactly, is one supposed to know?

Which “story” is the true one?  Were you “just kidding” when you gave me those ancestors, or now that you’ve taken them away?  Not funny.

You said DNA would confuse people…and by golly…you’re right.  Only it’s not the DNA itself that’s confusing, it’s your conferring and then unconferring of ancestors – with no documentation or tools.  Without tools, we’re forced to believe you…but which version do we believe?

How are we supposed to have any confidence in these hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo, now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t ancestor discoveries?  Did I somehow miraculously stop matching all 5 of the people who descended from John and Diedamia?  Did you, ahem, make a mistake?  Crystal ball broken maybe?  If so, an explanation and maybe an apology would be nice.  You can’t just rip my purported ancestors away from me like that with no explanation.  What if I had really believed you in the first place…that John and Diedamia were my ancestors?

Thankfully, I didn’t believe you because based on 30+ years of genealogy research and chromosome browsers and similar tools provided by other vendors, I’ve confirmed my tree.  But a lot of people will believe you….what about them?

And that lovely story that came along with John and Diedamia.  You mean that story you told me about my ancestors wasn’t true?  But it was MY story…you said so.  It has all those names and dates and places and pictures. How could it be wrong?  It seemed so real.  What happened?  Oh yea, I forgot, you reinvented it.

You know, I’d check on the solidity of those matches myself, but I can’t because, well, you don’t give me any tools…you know….like a chromosome browser…because you’ve implemented a superior methodology for matching.  Instead, you’d much prefer, in fact, you require that I simply trust you based upon the excellent track record and credibility you’ve established.  You’ve suggested that I might not understand how a chromosome browser works and I might make mistakes, and that, of course, would be just awful.  Why, I might even give myself incorrect ancestors.  Thank you so much for protecting me from those grievous errors.

But hey, maybe I’ll get a new NAD soon and we can do this all over again.  Won’t that be fun!  Or maybe John and Diedemia will be back to visit.  One never knows!

Say what Ancestry….how about you don’t give me any more bad NADs or any more NADs at all, because there appears to be no way to tell the difference between authentic ancestor discoveries and bogus ones.  For that matter, don’t gift me with any more re-reinvented stories either based on cumulative bad trees.  I’ll just settle for a chromosome browser instead.  What do you think?  I don’t much care for this new  methodology of incorrect ancestor gifting, retracting and reinventing.  I’d prefer to make my own mistakes…thank you.

rabbit in hat

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make

wish list

I can’t tell you how many people write to me and tell me that we must be related because they share a match with several people at the testing companies that have the surname Estes, either today or in their family history.  And, they’d like to know what I think about that list.

What they are really hoping, or wishing for, is that I’d wave my magic Estes wand and say, “well, yes, of course, I know exactly who all of those people are and how they are related.”  If I could do that, I would not have any dead ends on my own tree, believe me.  My magic wand is broken!

A name, alone, does not a match make.  And a list of names doesn’t make an ancestral connection either.

That list of Estes people is interesting, but it really doesn’t mean much of anything, at least, not alone.  These people could be related to the tester through different ancestral lines – although many people find that hard to believe.  But it’s true, and it’s most often the answer.  Let’s take a look at why.

In 10 generations, every person has 1024 direct ancestors.  For someone born in the year 1950, and assuming 4 generations a century, 10 generations take them back to about 1700.

Given that 2 people do have a DNA match – the odds that the match is from any specific one of those 1024 people is 1 in 1024, or if from a couple, 1 in 512.

Given that there are 42,000+ people in the US who carry the Estes surname today, there are many more who don’t, but have an Estes in their tree someplace.  It’s not unlikely that someone would match people who have Estes ancestors – just by chance.  We’ve been here since the mid-1600s – and our early Estes ancestors were prolific.

I ran a little experiment,  just for fun.  I selected a group of people who do NOT have Estes ancestors, and I checked their matches at Family Tree DNA to see how many Estes matches they show.

I am quite familiar with the trees of each of these individuals.  Except for me, none of these people have Estes ancestors.  The Estes surname column is who carries that surname today that they match.  The Estes Ancestor column is the Estes ancestral surname, minus the people who appeared in the Estes surname column if they are duplicated.

I have divided these into two groups – people who came from areas where Estes family members are found, and those who did not.  For comparison, I’m the last entry at the end.

Name Geography Total Matches Estes Surname Estes Ancestor
GB Hatteras Island, NC – not where Estes lived 880 0 1
JC Tennessee – not where Estes lived 1500 3 5
PB Not where Estes lived 340 0 1
CF European ancestry, not where Estes lived 400 1 4
JK Hungarian, German 250 0 1
DL Acadian – not where Estes lived 590 1 2
RG Germanic, not where Estes lived 620 2 1
DB Tennessee – where Estes lived 1440 2 6
JG Tennessee – where Estes lived 1570 4 14
DM Where Estes lived 1090 1 4
GM Where Estes lived 1530 1 5
JZ Where Estes lived 1370 4 6
TM Where Estes lived 1430 1 16
JC Where Estes lived 1380 1 7
KH Where Estes lived 530 1 1
WH Where Estes lived 1910 2 12
WH2 Where Estes lived 1640 2 10
Me An Estes 960 4 4

As you can see, I have a very low number of matches as compared to other people who don’t have any Estes ancestry.  Clearly, those who both descend from areas where Estes families lived for long periods of time stand a better chance of matching people who have Estes in their trees.  They don’t share an Estes ancestor, but they share a common ancestor someplace.

So, while I feel for these people who write me these notes, and wish I had the answer they want – I don’t.  Their list of Estes matches means nothing without finding a common ancestor and matching on a common segment between at least 3 known Estes descendants.  If the person matching those people also matches them on that same common Estes segment, then, we’re beginning to cook.

That evaluation process is called triangulation, of course.  Family Tree DNA and 23andMe both provide tools for triangulation and segment matching, but Ancestry does not.  You can download your Ancestry results to both Family Tree DNA and to GedMatch, fish in multiple ancestor pools, and triangulate from there.

So, get busy triangulating.  No one is going to do the work for you, no matter how hard you wish!

Happy Ancestor Hunting!!!

Moses Estes (c 1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72

road to halifax

Halifax County Virginia is stunningly beautiful, a gently rolling mountain area.  While visiting there in the fall of 2002, my daughter and I could see why our Estes ancestors were attracted to this area.  The land is beautiful, the mountains so sloping that much rich pastureland is available, and there are plenty of water sources.  Just being there is nectar for the soul.

Halifax County was established in 1752 from Lunenburg which was originally formed from Brunswick County.  Its two major waterways are the Staunton River (known as the Midway in colonial times) and the Dan Rivers, both which are large and navigable.  Even today, while there is some industry along the rivers, most of the county is tobacco farmland.

The first surveyors called it the “Land of Eden.”  Apparently Moses Estes agreed.

Moses Estes Jr. was the son of Moses Estes Sr. and his wife Elizabeth.  Born probably before 1742, in Hanover County, VA, Moses Jr. married Luremia Combs, daughter of John Combs of Amelia County, probably sometime in 1762 since their eldest child, George Estes, was born in Amelia County on February 3, 1763.

By 1766, we find Moses Estes Jr. involved with the buying and selling of real estate in Lunenburg County with his wife’s Combes family.

For a few years, Moses Estes Jr. and Luremia lived in this beautiful location in Lunenburg County on land purchased from Luremia’s brother, George, in 1767 that had been owned by her father, John Combs, before his death in 1762.

Luremia lunenburg estes

On March 30, 1768, this tract of land was processioned and described as lying between “Reedy Creek, Reedy Creek old road, Coxes road and the North Meherrin River.”

Moses Jr. moved to Halifax County in 1769 or 1770.  After an initial land investment with his father Moses Sr., on (present day) Grubby Road, Moses Jr. purchased land in what is now South Boston, on what is now Estes Street, and established his own plantation of about 256 acres.  His property spanned relatively flat land from the Dan River Church to the South boundary of Oak Ridge cemetery and was ripe with orchards and fields.  This wasn’t a trivial amount of land.  For purposes of comparison, there are 640 acres in a square mile, so this land would have been slightly less than a half mile by one mile.

Moses produced his own fruit brandy as is mentioned both by descendants and in a chancery suit.  The family tells of huge flower gardens and a beautiful home with porches all the way around the lower and upper levels.  Several springs provided fresh water.  The Estes family would own this land for generations.  The burials in the family cemetery located on the Estes land were relocated to the Estes family tract in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, across the street from the original Estes homestead – although still on land originally owned by Moses.  According to family legend, all that was left of Moses was a collar bone and a casket handle when his grave was moved.

Tom Estes

This photo shows Tom Estes at the old Moses Estes Jr. home place in the early 1900s.  Tom is the great-great-great-grandson of Moses Estes Jr. through George, Susannah, Ezekiel and Henry Archer Estes.

This is the only known surviving photo of this home.  Descendants describe the house as a large house with lots of family photos lining the staircase as it rose to the second level.  Knowing that gallery of photos existed, and burned, just breaks my heart.

This house was special because it had a full porch both upper and lower.  You can see the corner in the photo.

The house was surrounded by lush orchards yielding apples, peaches, pears and cherries.  There were berries to pick as well.  The Estes family made berry wines and brandies.  There were 3 springs on the property as well as Reedy Creek, so fresh water was always abundant.  This truly was prime real estate.  No wonder Moses put down roots and stayed.

The following diagram was drawn by the Estes cousins who visited the Moses Estes home when they were children, before it burned in the 1930s.

Estes Halifax homeplace drawing

House 1 was the original log cabin which later served newlyweds as a starter home.  House 2 was the large Moses Estes Jr. home.  Houses 3 and 4 were farm houses.  Based on what we know from the tax lists and other sources, I’d say that Moses’s sons, George and Bartlett lived in these houses at least until Moses died.  Later, John R. Estes likely lived in one before he left for Tennessee about 1820.

Life in Halifax County

In the 1770s, when Moses Estes Sr. and Moses Estes Jr. are becoming established in Halifax County, there were several land transactions where one or both of them was involved.

Moses Sr. and Moses Jr.’s Halifax County land transactions are as follows:

  • In 1771, Moses Sr. buys 400 acres of land from John Pankey which is on Miry Creek just west of the Greens Folly property.
  • In 1771 Moses Jr. buys 256 acres from John and Elizabeth Owen (the transaction does not say Junior, but Sr. never shows this land on the tax records and Jr. still owns this land after Sr. dies). Moses Jr.’s estate shows this land after his death as well.  This is where the landfill is today, located on and behind Estes Street in South Boston across from the cemetery which originally was part of the Estes land too.
  • In 1772 Moses Sr. sells 200 acres of the Miry Creek land to his sons Moses Jr. and John Estes for 5 shillings – head of Branch of Miry Creek called the Pole Bridge branch being half the track bought of John Pankey.
  • In 1772, Moses Sr. sells other half to son William Estes for 20 shillings. This is where Moses Estes lives and he retains life estate.  This is likely where Moses Sr. and William are both buried.
  • In 1780, a deed from Micajah Estes to Nicholas Vaughn for 150 acres on Poplar creek mentions it abuts the lands of Moses Estes.  Micajah owned the Green’s Folly property and this would have abutted Moses Sr.’s land.
  • Moses Jr. and John Estes sell the 200 acres to Robert Bennett in 1777.  At the end of these transactions, Moses Jr. is left with the 256 acres he purchased from Owens.

In 1772, Moses Jr. was also a security for the will of Nicholas Gillington, the grandfather of Elizabeth Chism, the wife of Moses’s brother John.  In Amelia County, Moses Sr.’s land abutted Nicholas’s land, so the families were well acquainted.

Moses Jr. would eventually file for a 1780 Revolutionary War Claim for 6 bushels of Indian corn worth 15 shillings, 100 sheaves of oats worth#1-13-4, 100 pounds of fodder worth 3 shillings and 11 pounds of bacon worth 11 shillings.  This certainly implies that one of the military units was in Halifax County during this timeframe and needed supplies.  Given where Moses lived, I wonder if they camped at his place.  In the story of Luremia Combs, we discussed a legendary Revolutionary War military campaign that involved Halifax County, right close to where the Estes family lived. At least part of that campaign was literally on their doorstep.

By 1781, a decade after moving to Halifax County, Moses Jr. was well established in the community and was appointed surveyor of the road from Boyd’s Ferry, which is present day South Boston.  Boyd’s Ferry is where one crossed the Dan River at South Boston.  Moses was surveyor from Boyd’s Ferry to Powell’s Ferry on the Banister River.  I’ve been unable to discover where Powell’s Ferry is located on the Banister, but I think it’s just beyond the present day town of Halifax, then called Banistertown.

In 1786, Moses was reappointed and that appointment called for him to be the road surveyor from Boyd’s Ferry to the courthouse, which is located in the present day town of Halifax.  Another reappointment mentioned to the lower Banister River bridge, I suspect that was the original Powell’s Ferry.  The main road ran right directly through Moses Estes’s land in South Boston.

Moses road map

On the map, above, Boyd’s Ferry was located at the current day railroad tressle in South Boston, at the bottom of the map, shown with the red arrow.  Moses’s land is noted in South Boston by the second red arrow.  Halifax, where the courthouse is located is pointed out by a red arrow, as is Banister River, now Banister Lake, just above Halifax.  In total, this is probably 10 miles of road.  Moses is noted in court records as living 5 miles from the courthouse.

The original road through South Boston is present day 129 which started at Boyd’s Ferry.  Route 501 was constructed later and was not the main road at that time.  Moses owned a significant piece of what would become South Boston.

South Boston map

About this same time, in 1781, Moses Jr. is called upon to serve in the Revolutionary War.  Moses’s eldest son, George, served in place of his father, Moses Jr., returning from his father’s 3 month stint just in time to return for his own term of service in October.

This arrangement makes me wonder how both men felt about this.  It’s hard not to project how I feel today onto Moses and George who clearly lived in a very different cultural time and place.  I wouldn’t want my child endangered in my place – under any circumstances.  But then again, perhaps there was a financial incentive that was considered a good opportunity. Perhaps George wanted to go and would have enlisted anyway.  We just don’t know what factors went into that decision.  Moses and George were obviously extremely close as they lived together or adjacent on the same land for their entire lives, and George was the executor of Moses’s estate.  I wish one of these men had kept a journal.

We know, based on the history of the unit where George was serving, that the enemy was indeed camped at Boyd’s Ferry, in South Boston while George was serving elsewhere.  This is the very road where Moses was surveyor, meaning he was responsible for the road maintenance.  It’s somehow ironic that while George was gone and did not see active battle, his father who remained at home wound up in the middle of the Dan River campaign.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

The tax lists for this time survive, although they are often not terribly robust.

In 1782, Moses Jr. is listed with 11 family members, meaning 9 children, and 1 negro.  This is the only time I have ever seen or heard any suggestion of Moses being involved in any way with slavery – although we don’t know that the negro wasn’t free.  We only know that the negro was tithed with Moses Jr.

The fact that Moses had 9 children in 1782 tells us that at least one child was born after 1782, probably Judith.  We know, according to Moses’s will and estate that he had 10 living children in 1799.

Moses EStes 1782 signature crop

This image is Moses Estes’s signature on a November 6, 1786 petition of vestrymen opposed to a repeal.

Moses first child to marry was Clarissa, in August 1786 to Francis Boyd, of the Boyd’s Ferry family.

Clarissa Estes Francis Boyd marriage

Clarissa Combes Estes marriage bond to Francis Boyd, above.  Moses Sr. may have signed this, given the shakey handwriting.

In December 1786, Moses Jr.’s oldest son, George, married Mary Younger on the same day that his son Bartlett married Rachel Pounds.  There must have been a huge celebration at the Estes plantation with lots of brandy!

Moses did not sign for George, who would have been about 23, but he did sign for Bartlett, which makes me wonder if Bartlett was not yet of age.  In fact, Moses penned this note so we have a wonderful example of his beautiful handwriting.  It’s very different than the Moses signature above on Clarissa’s marriage bond.

It’s interesting that Rachel Pounds signs for herself, and that John Douglas is her surety.  That’s a name we’ll see again

Bartlett Estes Rachel Pounds marriage

Moses’s handwriting is just beautiful.  I can tell you I didn’t inherit that from him.  And, I have to wonder, what was Moses’s “urgent business.”

In 1787, George is listed on the tax list with Moses, obviously farming the plantation, and that same year, George’s first son, John R. Estes was probably born on the Estes land.  John R. Estes is my great-great-great-grandfather who would marry Ann Moore in 1811 and by 1820, settle in Claiborne County, TN, where he would found that branch of the Estes family.

On the 1787 tax list, Bartlett is shown living next door to Moses.  At this point both Bartlett and George are probably living in those farm houses.

On July 19th, 1787, something happened that no child ever wants to witness. Moses’s father, Moses Sr. granted power of attorney and everything he owned to his son, Moses Jr., because he could no longer care for himself.  That must have been a terribly sad day.

I, Moses Estes Sr. unable to take care of such worldly estate wherewith it has pleased God to bless me – give to my son Moses – grant full power of attorney – all stock of cattle except 1 white cow yearling, 1 white mare, 1 grey horse, 2 sows, 2 barrows, 2 goats, man’s saddle, bridle tools, carpenters, coopers and plantation tools, all household furniture, tubs, pots, pails, kettles, butter pots and everything else in my estate – Moses Estes mark – William Powell, William Younger, Rachel Younger witnesses

Moses Jr.’s father, Moses Sr. died a few months later, in late 1787.

It was also about this time that Moses and Luremia completed their family.  They had at least 10 children, and probably 11, between 1763 and about 1787.

In 1790, Moses served on an inquisition into “the death of a negro woman on the plantation of Isaac Coles.”

In 1791, Moses was presented for a misdemeanor to the court, but we don’t know what it was because the charge was dismissed in 1792.

In 1792 and 1793, a responsible and trusted citizen, Moses was appraising estates as his neighbors passed away.

In April 1793, Moses is listed as a defendant in a Chancery suit in Halifax County.  I love these suits, because they give us such a flavor of the place and time.

“Daniel Chumbley and Moses Estes at the mansion house of Estes – heard parties make swap of bonds – Chumbley gave Estes bond on William A. Smith and Estes gave Chumbley bond on Thomas Davenport for 45 shillings, Estes to pay Chumbley the difference on some other day which was computed to be at that time, after said Chumbley having some cyder of said Estes 3.3.0 given under my hand Thomas Davenport. Next deposition is from Patience Estes saying Daniel gave Moses Estes the William Smith note upon the condition that if Estes got $$ from Smith he was to pay hisself and then return the balance to said Chumbley and if Estes could not get the $$ and return him the note and he would find property.”

Now can’t you just see these men on a hot summer day, sitting under the trees, sipping “cyder” and making deals?  Maybe someone drank a bit too much.  Daniel Chumbley was the husband of Moses’s niece, Luana, daughter of William Estes and Mary Harris.

I should note here that the phrase mansion house doesn’t necessarily mean what it sounds like it means.  I found this another time, and later discovered that the “mansion house” was something like a 12X20 foot cabin.  Mansion house was often used to indicate the primary home on the property, whether it was a mansion or not.  Every man’s house was his mansion!  Although, given what we know about Moses’s house, maybe by comparison to others – it was indeed considered a mansion.

Moses Estes 1795 signature

On a November 17, 1795 petition opposing the sale of the glebe lands we find the signature of Moses Estes along with George Estes and William Younger, their neighbor.  I love the old style s that looks like an f.

In the Antrim Parish Vestry book, in 1795, we find a note that 10 shillings was brought forward.  What we don’t know is if this entry simply depicts the mandatory payment of taxes or if it also implies church membership.

In 1796, it looks like Moses wound up in jail for a bit of time.

“Alexander Spiers-John Bowman and Company versus Moses Estes, John Douglas surety – deft to pay costs, surety, brought Moses Estes, plaintiff by his attorney and prayed the deft in the custody of the sheriff which was accordingly ordered.”

Now, you know there’s a soap-opera-worthy kind of story buried here someplace.

Since 1791 or 1792, Moses had been feuding with the Douglas family, the families filing dueling lawsuits.  He was then an appraiser for a Douglas estate, so there must have been some connection, someplace.  I was surprised to see John Douglas as Moses’s surety for this lawsuit – but maybe it wasn’t as innocent as it looks.  If your surety thought they were in danger of losing their bond, they could ask the court to take you into custody – and it appears that’s exactly what John Douglas did.

Was he being vindictive or was Moses being difficult or unreliable?  Was this a ploy?  A misunderstanding?  Oh….I’d love to know.  That case, whatever it was, was subsequently dismissed in 1797 with no further explanation.

Throughout this time, Moses continued to be a road hand, testified at court in other cases, and continued with the rhythmic, lyrical pace of southern plantation life in Halifax County.

In 1799, the tax lists shows Moses with 2 white males, no blacks and 3 horses.

Also in 1799, when Moses was 57 years old, something possessed him to write his will.  Normally, at that time, one didn’t write a will unless one thought they would need it imminently.  In his will, he states that he’s in good health, but he also tells us that he is concerned about issues – so maybe all is not well in Eden.

Moses didn’t die until 1813 and he remains actively engaged with the community, signing several petitions, going to court, testifying…doing what southern gentlemen did at that time.

He may have been ill in 1799, because he signed his will with an X, but by 1802, he is once again signing with his name.

Moses Estes 1802 signature

Moses signature from a Dec. 21, 1802 petition wherein Alexander Hey, minister of Antrim Parish, was protesting his dispossession of the glebe lands.

In 1800 and 1801, Moses testified in court a total of 8 times, so he was apparently feeling just fine and attending court.

On the tax lists between 1801 and 1806, Moses increased his total number of horses to 5.  He obviously has a penchant for horses.  His brother, William, who died in 1780, was reportedly a drover of horses.

Judith Estes Andrew Juniel marriage

Moses may have signed in 1806 for his daughter, Judith’s marriage to Andrew Juniel.  Notice that his son Moses is now a player and we again see the designation of Sr. and Jr., but now Moses born about 1742 would be Moses Sr. and his son would be Moses Jr.  Is this Jr. or Sr. above?

Moses begins to slow down after Judith’s marriage.  In 1807 he is a defendant in a lawsuit, which is normal in Virginia in that time and place, and his tithes were ordered to perform road maintenance, also normal.

He isn’t mentioned in the court notes again until 1811 when he is again involved in a debt suit.

We do know, again, from tax lists, that his horse count has increased now to 6 from 1810 until his death 1813.

Moses died in 1813, at the age of about 71.  His will was probated October 25, 1813 but was first entered in the court records on October 6th, suggesting that he had perhaps died in September.

His widow, Luremia Combs (Combes) lived for at least some time after Moses’s death, as in 1816 she was at his estate sale and appears to have been living with son George in the 1820 census.

Berryman Green, Moses’s friend refused executorship and testified that the will had been changed or tampered with.  Maddenly, he doesn’t say in what way.  Moses’ estate was not settled until 1837 and the land not divided until 1842.  It appears that Luremia had died by 1830, so the extreme delay wasn’t due to Luremia living to be ancient.

Moses must have had some inkling that his estate would be a problem, because his will specifically states that he does not want issues. Moses’s will is recorded in Halifax County, will book 9, pages 353-355.

I, Moses Estes of the county of Halifax in the Commonwealth of Virginia being of perfect sense and memory and in good health thanks to God for the same but calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is appropriate for all men once to die and not knowing when that period will arrive to me have thought it necessary and expedient to make and publish my last will and testament in manner to wit:

It is my will and desire that whatsoever I have heretofore given to any of my children herewith named, be ? and considered ? so much in ordriemee of their position of the distribution of my estate and to the end, that the amount of what they have to receive from me may be justly known and to prevent disputes respecting the same I will mention each respectively.

To George Estes my oldest son I have given a horse, saddle, bed and furniture and a cow value 40 pounds.

To my daughter Clarissa who intermarried with Francis Boyd a horse and saddle, a bed and furniture and a cow values at forty pounds.

To Bartlett Estes my son one mare and saddle, a bed and furniture and a cow valued at 40 pounds.

To my daughter Patience who intermarried with Peter Holt one bed and furniture valued at 8 pounds.

To my son Laban property to the value of 30 pounds.

To Winston Estis my son property to the same value, 30 pounds.

It is my will that whatsoever I may die possessed of that at the death of my beloved wife Luremia Estis and not before be equally divided amongst all my children viz George, Clarissa, Bartlett, Patience, Laban, Winstone, Judith, Josiah, Moses and Patsey (the said Patsey now intermarried with Robert Jackson) in as fair and equitable a manner as possible, counting in the sums advanced to the said George, Clarissa, Bartlett, Patience, Laban and Winstone, as a part of their share as aforesaid, and so distributing the whole, that each of my said children shall in the end the share shall be equal.  Wife Luremia Estes to remain in possession of my land and plantation, household and kitchen furniture and property of every kind, and all of my stocks of every kind…unless she should remarry.  Executors wife Luremia, son George and friend Berryman Green, signed by Moses Estes his mark – pronounced by Moses to be his last will and testament in the presence of Arm. Watlington Jr, John Barksdale and H. David Greene.

Moses Estes willMoses Estes will1Moses Estes will2Moses Estes will3Moses Estes will4Moses Estes will5Berryman Green was assigned as executor and his bond was $5000 – a huge amount of money at that time.  This translates into Moses having an estate that was perceived to be worth a great deal.  According to Dave Manuel’s inflation calculator, $5000 in 1813 would be over $75,000 in 2014.

Berryman Green eventually testified that the witnesses changed the will, but by the time Moses’s estate was settled, the witnesses were all dead as were many of Moses’s children.  While this was horrible for the families involved, it is a boon for genealogists today. Were it not for this lawsuit, I don’t know how we would have ever pieced this family together.

Moses’ Estate Inventory

It’s easy to skip over things when you’re tired in a courthouse, after a day of aerobic exercise consisting of lifting oversized books for hours on end, and you just want to go back to the hotel and take a hot bath.  That’s exactly what I did with Moses estate inventory.  I failed to copy it – keep in mind that when I was extracting these records, copying was entirely by hand.  At that time, I didn’t understand what a valuable list this was in terms of understanding Moses’s life.

So you know what I got to do.  I couldn’t go back, so I retained a very kind genealogist who retrieved the pages from microfilm from the Library of Virginia.

Moses’s estate was extensive and allows us a wonderful glimpse into his life and the time in which he lived.

As I read through this, I had to wonder from time to time what some of these things looked like.  I would particularly have loved to have seen the sword, the bed rugs, the pewter dishes and the sewing items.

Halifax County Will Book 9, page 360

  • 4 pairs harness
  • 2 bridles
  • 2 ropes
  • 5 old sturips
  • 4 ewes bels
  • 2 sheep shears
  • 1 small bell
  • 1 hammer
  • 2 backband hooks flat iron marking iron
  • Some old copper
  • A set of shoemaker’s tools (his grandson John Y. Estes was a shoemaker)
  • Socks, stirrups and large parcel of irons
  • Hinger? 3 pairs
  • 2 rarps?
  • 2 files
  • 4 bridle bits
  • 8 chisels?
  • 3 scraping gouges cold
  • Chisel ? and several pieces of old iron
  • 6 moulding planes and a plough plane
  • 5 chisels and 3 gouges
  • drawing knife (picture below)

drawing knife

  • 2 pistols, 2 hammers

flintlock pistol

  • 2 gimblets (apparently a woodworkers tool)
  • 1 pair consrusrer?
  • 1 pair tongs
  • 1 plumb line
  • Purse and heap of Iron
  • 6 luers and lantern
  • 7 augers and bung boxes and a gouge
  • 1 drawing knife
  • 6 files
  • 1 trowel ring and square
  • 1 carrying knife
  • 1 sword and 2 plume irons
  • 1 addz and small chissel
  • 1 stock 5 bits 1 square and line
  • 7 plains and iron
  • 2 guns
  • 1 cross cut saw
  • 1 ship saw
  • 2 wedges
  • 1 tracer?
  • 1 pole ax
  • 1 broad ax

Halifax County Will book 9, page 361

  • 1 Howel
  • 1 round shave coopers ax, crew?
  • 1 box of old leather and old irons, gourd, nails
  • 3 hilling and weeding hoes, 1 grubbing hoe
  • 1 cutting box
  • 2 knives
  • 1 scythe blade
  • 3 ploughs
  • 1 coulter
  • 1 harrow
  • 3 swingle trees
  • 4 chr
  • 1 grind stone
  • 2 flax wheels
  • 2 pair of breeching
  • 2 pair of hermes
  • 2 pair of plough gears complete
  • 1 saddle and bridle
  • 2 half bushels
  • 2 baskets
  • 1 hogshead
  • 4 barrels
  • 2 runletts
  • 1 half bushel
  • 4 old barrels
  • 2 barrels rum (did Moses distill rum too?)
  • 1 pair stardleards?
  • 5 Hevys
  • 1 pear flat irons
  • 1 kittle and tubit
  • 2 tubs
  • 1 churn
  • 1 can
  • 3 pregins
  • 1 coffee pot
  • 1 candle stick and turnpit and moles
  • Knives and forks and pear large shishers (scissors?)
  • 1 tin pan
  • 2 cups
  • 1 pepper box and funal
  • 3 pewter basins
  • 6 pewter plates and 8 spoons
  • 2 pewter beaow? & earth plate
  • 2 butter pots

butter pot

  • 1 bottle
  • 1 gug
  • 1 nogin
  • 1 horn bellars
  • 2 dishes
  • 1 dutch eaven (oven) and lid

dutch oven

  •  1 flack weale and hakil (flax wheel)
  • 1 loom temples and shuttle
  • 1 pot and hooks over cover
  • 1 pot
  • 1 skillet
  • Will Book 9 page 362
  • 5 tanned sheep skins
  • 1 flax break
  • Warping ban and spool frames
  • 1 folding table
  • 1 chest
  • 6 chairs
  • 1 pine chest and little trunk
  • 9 old books (I’d love to know which books.)
  • 1 bed, bedstead, 5 covers
  • 1 bed, bedstead, 4 covers under beds
  • 4 pairs of cards
  • 1 cupboard
  • 1 cotton wheel
  • 1 pair saddle bags
  • 1 bald face horse
  • 1 bay horse
  • 1 bay mare colt
  • 1 bay mare colt
  • 1 may mare
  • 1 rorrp?
  • 1 bee hives

beehive crop

  • 2 vials of honey
  • 2 revzorz (razors?)
  • 1 bottle strap ?? knives
  • 12 head sheep
  • 1 yoke of steers, yoke and bell
  • 1 proted cow
  • 1 black and white cow and calf
  • 1 cow and black calf
  • 1 little steer
  • 1 heifer
  • 1 small heifer
  • 4 pair harmer
  • 5 house sheats
  • 2 sows and 16 pigs
  • 10 young hogs
  • Black walnut bed posts
  • Parcel of plank
  • Meal sifter

Will Book 9 page 363

  • Table and flax hackle
  • One cart body sheeves and aaletree?
  • Lock chain
  • 1 waggon
  • 2 pr harness
  • 4 gun locks (cocks?0

Filed Nov. 24, 1813

Purchasers at Moses estate sale were:

  • Dr. Granville Craddock
  • Charles D. Fontaine
  • Bartlett Estes
  • John W. Ragall
  • John Thomas
  • Woodson ?
  • William Fitzgivens?
  • ? Boyd
  • Isaac Hart
  • Henry Thomas
  • Robertson Owen
  • John Petty
  • Joseph Estes
  • James Smith
  • William Arnett or Jarrett
  • Moses Palmer
  • Anthony Green
  • Daniel Perry
  • John Hughes
  • Branch Sally
  • Elizabeth Perkesson
  • Thomas Kent
  • Samuel Landrum
  • William Huntin
  • Edmund Chisholm
  • William Abbot
  • John W. Rice
  • Miles Perkison
  • James Dicken?
  • William Owen
  • Richard Throgmartin
  • John Standley?
  • Moses Dunkley
  • Peter Hudson

George Estes bought:

  • 1 bay colt bought by G. Estes and J? Holt

While Moses’s widow, Luremia, legally, may have been entitled to one third of her husband’s estate, and according to his will, she was to be left with the use of everything – she clearly wasn’t.  She had to purchase items at the estate sale.  Apparently at that time, it was perceived that everything, literally, except for his wife’s clothes belonged to the husband – and if the wife wanted anything at all, she had to purchase it at the estate sale.  She even had to buy her coffee pot, dishes, silverware, pots and pans back.  These sales must have been devastating for the widows.

Lurana (Luremia) Estes bought:

  • 2 stays?
  • 1 kettle and trivit
  • 2 tubs and a churn
  • Coffee pot
  • Candle molds and sticks
  • 6 pewter plates and 8 spoons
  • 2 pewter basins
  • 2 dishes
  • 1 flax wheel and hackle?
  • 1 pot
  • 1 skillet
  • 5 tan sheep skin
  • 1 flax loink?
  • 1 warping bars and spool frames
  • 1 folding table
  • 1 chair
  • Books (does this imply she could read?)
  • 1 bedstead
  • 5 bed covers
  • 1 bed, bedstead, 4 covers under bed
  • A cupboard
  • 1 cotton wheel
  • 1 bay mare
  • 1 sheep

Sale filed with the court July 22, 1816.

What does this inventory list tell us about Moses’s life?

He owned books, a rare commodity at that time.  We know he could write, so we can suppose he read those books.  I’d love to know what they were.

And speaking of books, where is Moses’s Bible in this list?  We know he had one, because George refers to it in his Revolutionary War pension application when referencing proof of his birth.

We know Moses was a carpenter and probably a shoemaker too – at least he had the tools for both.

Moses had diverse farm animals including sheep, cows, horses, pigs and bees.  He tanned the skins for leather.

Luremia and the women spun thread.  There is specific mention of both a flax and a cotton wheel.  There are also sheep in evidence which means wool was available for spinning as well.  The family also owned a loom and various tools for the loom.  It must have been a very interesting household.  I wonder if Luremia made the bed rugs.  What I wouldn’t give for a peek.

One thing notably absent, especially with an estate of this size, is slaves.  Moses could clearly have afforded slaves.  I wonder what kept him from utilizing slave labor.  If it wasn’t money, it had to be morals.  While Moses’s father-in-law did own slaves, Moses’s father did not, at least not to the best of our knowledge.

Moses Children

The will lists Moses’s children, and the settlement lists their children when they have died in the interim.  Moses children are listed as follows, in order stated in the will:

  • George Estes, stated as the oldest son – born in 1763, died in 1859. He married Mary Younger (daughter of Marcus Younger) in 1786. Because George is alive, his children, other than Susannah, are not involved in the estate settlement.
  • Clarissa Combs Estes was born before 1770, probably about 1765.  She married Francis Boyd August 8, 1786 with Moses Estes as surety (with very shakey handwriting – probably Moses Sr. before he died) and William Maclin as witness. She was not living in VA in 1837. In 1835 she signs a document from the state of Georgia as to her brother George’s Revolutionary War service.
  • Bartlett Estes born approximately 1764. Bartlett and George, his brother, were married on the same day in Dec. 1786, George to Mary Younger and Bartlett to Rachel Pounds. Bartlett lives near his father for many years, but before the estate settlement, has moved to Tennessee. Bartlett dies during the estate settlement in about 1836, and prior to his death lives outside the commonwealth. His heirs are listed as Allen, John, William and Thomas Estes and Jane Boyd.
  • Patience Estes born about 1777 married Peter Holt and went to Smith Co. TN. She was dead by 1824. Her daughter sells her portion of the estate to Elisha Hodge. Her heirs were in Smith Co. TN in 1837 and were listed as John Holt, Richard Holt and Cintha Holt married to Johnson Moorefield. It has been thought that Patience married Peter Holt before 1797 due to her oldest daughter’s marriage date. However, looking closely at the records, her eldest daughter’s last name was Estes, so was apparently born before her marriage to Peter Holt. Cintha Estes married John (Johnson) Moorefield on January 23, 1817 in Halifax County. Patience Estes witnessed a deed as late as 1798 with her father Moses, and in his will in 1799 he does not refer to her as married, but he does with Patsy.
  • Laban Estes born approximately 1768 and married Priscilla Chism in 1804. By 1837 they were in Davidson Co. TN. His heirs are Barbara Buchanan, Josiah Estes, Susan (John) White, Prisciana (Joshua) Neely, Susan Estes, and Patience Estes.
  • Winston C. Estes born approximately 1770 (pre 1780) and in 1837 was not living in Virginia. His share was conveyed to Susannah, daughter of George. He left for either Tennessee or Arkansas.
  • Judith Estes was born pre-1785 and married Andrew Juniel on Jan. 24, 1806 with Laban and Moses Estes as witnesses, and Moses, her father, as surety. She signs her own consent meaning she was over 21 (born before 1785). She was dead by the time the estate was settled in 1837, probably by 1834 and her heirs were listed. She went to Henderson Co. KY. Her children are noted as Nancy who married John Hust?, Jane who married Charles Winfrey and Sally who married Benjamin Hicks.
  • Josiah Estes (also occasionally called Joseph) born approximately 1774-1777 married Elizabeth Chism (Chisum) (born circa 1789 – died after 1870) March 4, 1814 in Halifax. In 1834 he sells land from Giles Co. TN.  Laban married a Chism also – were they sisters?
  • Moses Estes born approximately 1776 and married Selah Palmer in 1802. He is in Smith Co. TN. in 1834 when he sells his interest in his father’s estate.
  • Patsey J. (Martha) Estes – born about 1780 married Robert Jackson pre 1799 – Moses specifically says in the will “now intermarried with Robert Jackson.” This must be the Martha who later marries a Lax and sues the estate as “Martha Lax”.

The following “child” is not mentioned in the will, but is referenced in the lawsuit, but not consistently.  However, in several places the will and lawsuit very specifically say that Moses has 10 children and then specifically names each one.  Who is Maga?  We may never know.  Maga is a mystery!

  • “Maga Estes,” born about 1772, which could really be Martha, married William Patrick Boyd on Feb. 1, 1792. Moses gives consent for his daughter saying “we”, implying her mother is alive. William Lampoon Is witness and Edward Wallington? as surety. Records surrounding this person are confusing.  There is clearly a marriage record and an estate distribution, but little in-between. She is not mentioned in Moses will. This omission, whether intentional or not, may be the source of some of the controversy, but she is not one of the siblings contesting the will.

Moses wife’s name was Luremia (sometimes spelled Lurana) Combs.   Some records indicate that there was an earlier wife Susanna Combes, but I found the source of this misinformation to be a mis-transcribed name in a deed.  Luremia would be easy enough to misinterpret given the state of early handwriting as it is a rather unusual name.

Surprisingly, Moses didn’t name any of his children Luremia, unless the child died.  Given the ages of Moses children, the only logical break in their ages seems to possibly be between Clarissa born 1765 and the next group of children who were born in the 1768, although we don’t know their birth years for sure.  We do know that three were born in the 1760s, George in 1763, Bartlett about 1764 and then Clarissa about 1765.  Laban was born about 1768, then the next group of 5 in the 1770s, then 2 more in the early 1780s (pre 1785).  This would be the span of years that one woman would be expected to be bearing children, from about 1763 through about 1785.

Moses Jr.’s  Estate Settlement

Moses estate settlement from the chancery suit reads as follows:

“Lax vs Estes – subpoena awarded against defendants George Estes and Elisha Hodge and they not having answered the plaintiff’s bills within 4 months from the filing thereof and still failing to answer the same the said bill is taken as confessed as to them.  Plaintiff’s appearing to have proceeded against defendents; Winston C. (Combs?) Estes, Clarisa Boyd, Moses Estes, Josiah Estes, John Holt, Richard Holt, Cintha Holt, who are not inhabitants of this commonwealth and have not appeared – plaintiff’s bills taken as confessed.  Came on this day to be heard on the bill and answers of the defendents William Boyd and Jane, his wife, Allen Estes (where does he live?), John Estes, Thomas Estes and William Estes and ex? and was agreed by counsel that Joseph C. Terry, Henry Terry and John Jennett or any 2 of them the older Joseph C. Terry being one of them are appointed commissioners for the purpose to ascertain value of the land of which Moses Estes decd died siezed of and to divide into 10 parts by metes and bounds in such quantities in each lot in valuation as well make an equal division amongst the divisees named in the will or among such as are alive and the legal heirs at law of such taking into consideration the advancements made to the divisees particularly as follows; to George Estes advancements to the value of 40#, Clarisa Boyd 40#, Bartlett Estes 40#, Patience Holt 8#, Laban Estes 30#, Winston Estes 30#, and that they assign to Martha Lax one share to Jane Boyd, Allen Estes, John Estes, Thomas Estes and William Estes, children and heirs of Bartlett Estes 2 shares to wit and the share of George Estes sold to said Bartlett, to Clarissa Boyd one share, to John, Richard and Cintha Holt the children and heirs of Patricia Holt one share, to Elisha Hodge purchased from the children and heirs of Laban Estes one, to the plaintiff Susannah Estes (George’s daughter to whom George conveys his interest in the estate) and share to wit of Winston Estes transferred to Susannah, to Elisha Hodge purchased from the heirs of Judith Juniel one share, to Josiah Estes one share, to Moses Estes one share.”

Does the above mean that Bartlett gets two shares plus the one George sold him?  If so, why?  After analyzing the estate settlement and survey and related court records, I believe that George initially sold Bartlett his share, but that Bartlett probably never paid for it, and after Bartlett’s death, George conveyed his share to his daughter Susannah.  Was this an above-board deal, or did George take advantage of the fact that Bartlett had died and there was no proof of ownership?  Did Susannah pressure her father, as George’s response to the lawsuit hints that he is offering this land to Susannah who sued her father as part of his response for not settling the estate sooner.  Was there some other reason why Susannah would wind up with the shares of both Winston and her father, with no record of money changing hands.

The heirs of Moses Jr., his living children and his deceased children’s heirs, are listed in the estate settlement in 1837 as follows:

Moses Child/Spouse Child’s Heirs Advance Shares Awarded Sold To Comment
George 40# 1 share Bartlett, then Susannah *see below
Winston C 30# 1 share Susannah Winston not resident, share transferred to Susannah
Clarissa Boyd/ Francis Boyd 40# 1 share Not resident
Moses 1 share Smith Co, Tn.
Josiah 1 share Giles Co., Tn.
Patience Holt (dead) John Holt 8# 1 share to children & heirs of Patricia Not resident
Richard Holt Not resident
Cintha Holt Not resident
Bartlett (dead) Jane/Wiliam Boyd 2 shares and the share of George Estes sold to Bartlett – eventually gets one share Children and heirs of Bartlett
Allen Estes 40# Children and heirs of Bartlett
Thomas Estes Children and heirs of Bartlett
John Estes Children and heirs of Bartlett
William Estes Children and heirs of Bartlett
Laban (dead) 30# 1 share to Elisha Elisha Hodge Elisha purch share from Children and heirs of Laban
Maga and William Boyd 1 share Implied Maga dead
Judith Juniel/Andrew Juniel 1 share Elisha Hodge Purch from children and heirs of Judith Juniel
Patsy (Martha) Jackson Lax

*George (04) Estes – defendant for not acting (executor) – got 40# advancement of inheritance – initially sold his share to Bartlett, later Susannah winds up with George’s share.

Patsy Jackson must be the same person as Martha Lax.  Otherwise there is a child missing in Moses will?  If not, Patsy Jackson must have died with no heirs between 1792 and 1799?  Martha Lax is definitely NOT listed in the will in any capacity.  Is this part of the lawsuit issue?  Is this part of what was changed by the heirs causing this decades-long lawsuit?

In 1842, the land was finally surveyed and divided, ending the 29 year long wait to settle Moses’s estate.

Moses 1842 survey

The Land

When I first visited Halifax County, Moses’s land was the first Estes land that I found by running the deeds forward in time until I found the deed for the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Oak Ridge entrance

The Estes plot is located just inside the entrance, shown here by the bright white stones. As an aside, the beautiful cobblestone wall surrounding Oak Ridge was created for the cemetery out of the cobblestones from the main road when it was originally paved.  Knowing that Moses Estes was responsible for road maintenance on this segment of road, it’s not only likely that some of these stones were from his property, it’s also likely that he laid them himself.  I’m so glad that they were preserved in this manner.

It’s a genealogists dream to find a landmark adjacent to or on ancestral land – because it means the land is readily identifiable today.  This was this same visit where I met two Estes cousins who knew where Moses’s land was, having played there as children – and who told me about Estes Street and how it used to lead down to the Estes farm – still in the family beyond the 1930s.  According to the cousins, some descendants refused to sell to the city of South Boston when they purchased the land for the landfill and still retain ownership, having granted the city a long-term lease for the landfill.

estes street sign

Today, the water plant sits on the left of Estes Street, and the landfill has replaced the Estes farm at the end of Estes Street, which is now gated.

Estes Street dead end

The family sold off some lots on the main road years ago, and those homes still stand, but behind them, and behind the trees, where the Estes plantation once stood is the landfill today.

Estes land from cemetery

In the photo above, Main Street is hidden behind the cobblestone wall, and Estes Street runs perpendicular to Main Street beside the blue water tower on the left.  This was once all Moses’s land.

I really wanted to see what I could of the original Estes land.  All that was left in the early 2000s was some woods.  I went behind the landfill and photographed across that area in order to catch at least a glimpse of the woods and Reedy Creek which ran though the Estes property, and still does.

In these photos, you can orient yourself because you can see the blue water tower to the right in the first photos, and to the left in the second photo – so the two form a panorama.

George Estes landfillGeorge Estes landfill 2

The road that you see coming from near the water tower is an extension of the original Estes street that led to the homes.  Reedy Creek is running left to right on the forest side of the landfill access road in the bottom of this photo.

Further north, we see more forest and a meadow.  I wonder if this land was ever entirely cleared.

Estes land rear landfill

Estes Halifax google

A Google Maps view of this area today.  The Estes plot in the Oak Ridge Cemetery is marked with an arrow.

On this enlarged map, you can see Reedy Creek to the right, and you can also find it on the 1842 survey map.  The main road is 129 today.  The landfill where the houses stood is that brown bare-earth patch.

This enlargement shows the area where Estes Street remains today, the blue water tower, and the place where Estes Street is now gated, just beyond that water tower.

I was able to speak with the man who actually did the bulldozing of the buildings on the Estes land after the city made the purchase, and he indicated that the houses were located where the landfill is today, along with the original cemetery.  This makes sense, looking at the photos.

Estes Halifax google3

Note that Younger Avenue is shown at the bottom center of this image.  Moses Estes’s land adjoined that of William Younger, and Moses’s son, George, married Mary Younger, daughter of Marcus Younger in 1786.  No link between William and Marcus Younger has been established, but it’s a coincidence too unusual to be ignored.  Finding Younger Avenue also helps us establish the boundaries of Moses’s land.

Reading the various deeds involved, we discover that one of the springs on the Estes land was called the Waddell Spring.  Today, Waddell Woods is a subdivision created to the far north of this piece of property, shown with the upper arrow in the satellite view below. Indeed, it includes a spring, called Waddell Spring

Estes Halifax google4

Based on the information from various sources, including the 1842 land division survey and subsequent deeds, I believe that Moses’s land extended roughly from the west side of 129 including Oak Ridge Cemtery, north through Waddell Woods, south to Younger Avenue and then east to about the right arrow.  Of course, those survey lines weren’t straight – but this gives us some idea.  To make sure I wasn’t terribly askew, I converted acres to square feet and compared to the Halifax County map dimensions, and this looks very close.  He could have owned slightly further east.

The Graves and the Landfill

During my early trips to Halifax County, I was haunted by the knowledge that my ancestors were not only under the landfill, but that their bones, or what were left of them, were probably dug up and scattered.  I was very relieved during later visits to hear the stories told by my cousins of the graves being moved, and the oldest grave, that of Moses, holding only a collarbone and casket hinges.  We know they were moved to the Oak Ridge cemetery, across the street from the original Estes land, but we don’t know exactly where they were buried on the Ezekiel Estes family plot.  This cemetery was established in 1885, and Ezekiel, who died that year, may have been the first burial in the official “Oak Ridge” Cemetery, owned by the city of South Boston.  Now, his ancestors, as well as his children, rest with him.

Oak Ridge Estes plot

On the Estes plot, some graves are well marked and others are only marked with a stone.

Oak Ridge stone marker

Or marked by a flower…

Oak Ridge flower marker

There is a large area of unmarked graves.  Of course, among these would be Moses Jr., his wife Luremia Combs, his son George Estes and George’s wife, Mary Younger.  There are probably children of these couples buried with them as well.

Estes Oak Ridge unmarked graves

About ten years ago, the Estes cousins in Halifax Co. cleaned the markers and discovered that they are all white marble.  Look at the difference in the Estes plot 3 photos above, taken in 2002, and the photo below, taken in 2005.  Unfortunately, all the early graves aren’t marked.  We still don’t know where Moses Jr. and his son George are buried, but we just have to have faith that they were moved and buried someplace on this family plot.

Oak Ridge Estes stones cleaned

There is also a possibility that the Oak Ridge cemetery, established in 1885, was actually the  or an original Estes family cemetery.  In fact, I found information that said exactly that in a historical article on Halifax County cemeteries at the local library.  If this is the case, then there were 2 different Estes cemeteries on the same original plot of land.  This does not surprise me, especially given the long and difficult settlement of Moses’s land and the subsequent dividing of his property between his heirs.  Furthermore, there seems to have been a lot of drama in this family.  Our Estes family makes Oprah and Dr. Phil look boring!


DNA has been invaluable in reassembling this family.  Many descendants today know they carry the surname Estes, or a derivative, but they have no idea how they connect back to any ancestral line.  If they have a male Estes to test, we can easily confirm their membership in the ancestral Estes group (or not) by testing their Y chromosome at Family Tree DNA – and joining the Estes DNA project, which is free for anyone who tests at (or transfers results to) Family Tree DNA. We have connected several people with their specific lines utilizing line marker mutations, when they exist, in combination with autosomal testing.

In the article about Moses Estes Sr., I discussed the Big Y test and how I’ve utilized it to likely dispel the rumor about the Estes family being descended from the House of d’Este in Italy.

Something else we can learn about is the in-between time – from the time surnames end, in the 1300s or 1400s, and back as far as we can go in terms of who our DNA tells us we match relative to different surnames.  In other words, we’re related, but adopted different surnames when that time came.

One of the ways we can know if we descend from a group of people who are found in a remote location is to utilize the Big Y test and look for others whose deep ancestry is found in that location.

Not only did we find no Italian or Iberian DNA matches on either the regular Y DNA STR panel markers or the SNPs, we found our closest deep SNP match to be to the Gallagher family.  They are Irish.  Ireland was settled by the Celts, and our DNA looks to be Celtic as well – so we are likely related to the Gallaghers BEFORE they settled in Ireland.  How about those potatoes?  Not only do I love to discover more about my Estes ancestors after they adopted the surname Estes, but I love to discover their history before we were Esteses.

I wrote about this experience in the article, Estes Big Y DNA Results.

Perhaps the most surprising finding based on the Big Y was that we share an ancestor with Niall of the Nine Hostages, a very early Irish king from the 4th or 5th century, an ancestor of the Ui Neill family dynasty.  You just never know what kind of secrets your DNA is going to surrender!

One Line Complete

This article completes a series of 13 articles about each of my Estes direct line ancestors – meaning those who carry the Estes surname, beginning with my playboy father, William Sterling Estes and ending with my eleven times great-grandfather, Nycholas Ewstas, born in 1495, probably in or near Deal, Kent, England.  As you can see, this is the line of the surname I carry – so I am heavily invested in researching this line and discovering as much as possible.  It’s what brought me to genetic genealogy initially.

In order, my Estes line and the associated articles are:

William Sterling Estes (c1902-1963), The Missing Years, 52 Ancestors #5
William George Estes (1873-1971), You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, 51 Ancestors #53
Lazarus Estes (1848-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59
John Y. Estes (1818-1895), Civil War Soldier, Walked to Texas, Twice, 52 Ancestors #64
John R. Estes (1787-1885), War of 1812 Veteran, 52 Ancestors #62
George Estes (1763-1859), Three Times Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #66
Moses Estes (c1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72 – this article
Finding Moses Estes (1711-1787), 52 Ancestors #69
Abraham Estes (c1647-1720), The Immigrant, 52 Ancestors #35
Sylvester Estes (1596-c1647), Sometimes Churchwarden, 52 Ancestors #31
Robert Eastes (1555-1616), Householder in Ringwould, 52 Ancestors #30
Sylvester Estes (c1522-1579), Fisherman of Deal, 52 Ancestors #29
Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1533), English Progenitor, 52 Ancestors #28

It’s quite ironic that I don’t have the requisite Y chromosome to be tested myself – but thankfully, I found Estes cousins who did.  Several in fact, which enabled us to do the Y DNA project along with, eventually, the Big Y study.  The Y DNA results, combined with autosomal DNA allowed me to prove my connection to the Estes line – even without that elusive Y chromosome.

Genealogy research is a combination of both genetic genealogy and plain old traditional paper gruntwork research – the more courthouses, the better.  During this decades-long Estes adventure, I’ve visited countless states, counties and courthouses in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.  My search finally took me to Deal, in Kent, England.  Although initially hesitant, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I went.  Deal is the birthplace of our Estes family as we know it today.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like standing and walking where your ancestors trod, lived, loved and died.  Knowing that a part of you not only sprung from there, but remains there, with them, is incredibly powerful.

However, in our Estes line, we’ve literally exhausted all of the available records.  In England, there are no earlier records in Kent where we first find our ancestors.  I’ve scoured, along with other cousins, the Virginia County records that aren’t burned counties.  There is and was no place left to look, except in our DNA – the ultimate gift from our ancestors.

The DNA aspect of this project enabled us to do several things we would otherwise have never been able to do:

  • Confirm that lineages are ancestrally Estes.
  • Establish what the Y DNA of our oldest progenitor looked like by triangulating the Y DNA of the various descendants on each marker.
  • Confirm through autosomal testing that people who do not carry the Estes Y chromosome and therefore who cannot take the Y test are Estes descendants – through the Family Finder autosomal DNA test.
  • Learn which families we are the most closely related to before the advent of surnames.
  • Determine the migration path of our Estes ancestors in Europe.
  • Dispel the myth that the Estes family descends from the d’Este family – although I’d be much happier if we could just find a male from the paternal d’Este line to test directly on the Y chromosome.
  • Discovered that we are probably Celtic.
  • Discovered that we share an ancestor with Niall of the Nine Hostages.

It has been quite a journey and one that would have been sorely lacking…no…impossible… without the DNA tools that we have at our disposal today.

It is with more than a tinge of sadness that I end this series about the direct Estes line.  Of course, that’s mixed with a dash of relief to finally have this done.  I was more than a little concerned that if I continued to delay this publication project, all of my research would either go to my grave with me, or be found sitting beside the trash can on the curb – a wall of boxes, a few days after my passing.

Thankfully, that’s not going to happen.  And I have lots more ancestors to document.  Please continue to join me for more of my ancestral journeys, wanderings, musings and DNA adventures in my continuing 52 Ancestors series.