Chromosome Browser War

There has been a lot of discussion lately, and I mean REALLY a lot, about chromosome browsers, the need or lack thereof, why, and what the information really means.

For the old timers in the field, we know the story, the reasons, and the backstory, but a lot of people don’t.  Not only are they only getting pieces of the puzzle, they’re confused about why there even is a puzzle.  I’ve been receiving very basic questions about this topic, so I thought I’d write an article about chromosome browsers, what they do for us, why we need them, how we use them and the three vendors, 23andMe, Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, who offer autosomal DNA products that provide a participant matching data base.

The Autosomal Goal

Autosomal DNA, which tests the part of your DNA that recombines between parents every generation, is utilized in genetic genealogy to do a couple of things.

  1. To confirm your connection to a specific ancestor through matches to other descendants.
  2. To break down genealogy brick walls.
  3. Determine ethnicity percentages which is not the topic of this article.

The same methodology is used for items 1 and 2.

In essence, to confirm that you share a common ancestor with someone, you need to either:

  1. Be a close relative – meaning you tested your mother and/or father and you match as expected. Or, you tested another known relative, like a first cousin, for example, and you also match as expected. These known relationships and matches become important in confirming or eliminating other matches and in mapping your own chromosomes to specific ancestors.
  2. A triangulated match to at least two others who share the same distant ancestor. This happens when you match other people whose tree indicates that you share a common ancestor, but they are not previously known to you as family.

Triangulation is the only way you can prove that you do indeed share a common ancestor with someone not previously identified as family.

In essence, triangulation is the process by which you match people who match you genetically with common ancestors through their pedigree charts.  I wrote about the process in this article “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA.”

To prove that you share a common ancestor with another individual, the DNA of  three proven descendants of that common ancestor must match at the same location.  I should add a little * to this and the small print would say, “ on relatively large segments.”  That little * is rather controversial, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.  This leads us to the next step, which is if you’re a fourth person, and you match all three of those other people on that same segment, then you too share that common ancestor.  This is the process by which adoptees and those who are searching for the identity of a parent work through their matches to work forward in time from common ancestors to, hopefully, identify candidates for individuals who could be their parents.

Why do we need to do this?  Isn’t just matching our DNA and seeing a common ancestor in a pedigree chart with one person enough?  No, it isn’t.  I recently wrote about a situation where I had a match with someone and discovered that even though we didn’t know it, and still don’t know exactly how, we unquestionably share two different ancestral lines.

When you look at someone’s pedigree chart, you may see immediately that you share more than one ancestral line.  Your shared DNA could come from either line, both lines, or neither line – meaning from an unidentified common ancestor.  In genealogy parlance, those are known as brick walls!

Blaine Bettinger wrote about this scenario in his now classic article, “Everyone Has Two Family Trees – A Genealogical Tree and a Genetic Tree.”

Proving a Match

The only way to prove that you actually do share a genealogy relative with someone that is not a known family member is to triangulate.  This means searching other matches with the same ancestral surname, preferably finding someone with the same proven ancestral tree, and confirming that the three of you not only share matching DNA, but all three share the same matching DNA segments.  This means that you share the same ancestor.

Triangulation itself is a two-step process followed by a third step of mapping your own DNA so that you know where various segments came from.  The first two triangulation steps are discovering that you match other people on a common segment(s) and then determining if the matches also match each other on those same segments.

Both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, as vendors have provided ways to do most of this. and both augment the vendor offerings.  Ancestry provides no tools of this type – which is, of course, what has precipitated the chromosome browser war.

Let’s look at how the vendors products work in actual practice.

Family Tree DNA

1. Chromosome browser – do they match you?

Family Tree DNA makes it easy to see who you match in common with someone else in their matching tool, by utilizing the ICW crossed X icon.

chromosome browser war13

In the above example, I am seeing who I match in common with my mother.  Sure enough, our three known cousins are the closest matches, shown below.

chromosome browser war14

You can then push up to 5 individuals through to the chromosome browser to see where they match the participant.

The following chromosome browser is an example of a 4 person match showing up on the Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.

This example shows known cousins matching.  But this is exactly the same scenario you’re looking for when you are matching previously unknown cousins – the exact same technique.

In this example, I am the participant, so these matches are matches to me and my chromosome is the background chromosome displayed.  I have switched from my mother’s side to known cousins on my father’s side.

chromosome browser war1

The chromosome browser shows that these three cousins all match the person whose chromosomes are being shown (me, in this case), but it doesn’t tell you if they also match each other.  With known cousins, it’s very unlikely (in my case) that someone would match me from my mother’s side, and someone from my father’s side, but when you’re working with unknown cousins, it’s certainly possible.  If your parents are from the same core population, like Germans or an endogamous population, you may well have people who match you on both sides of your family.  Simply put, you can’t assume they don’t.

It’s also possible that the match is a genuine genealogical match, but you don’t happen to match on the exact same segments, so the ancestor can’t yet be confirmed until more cousins sharing that same ancestral line are found who do match, and it’s possible that some segments could be IBS, identical by state, meaning matches by chance, especially small segments, below the match threshold.

2. Matrix – do they match each other?

Family Tree DNA also provides a tool called the Matrix where you can see if all of the people who match on the same segment, also match each other at some place on their DNA.

chromosome browser war2

The Matrix tool measures the same level of DNA as the default chromosome browser, so in the situation I’m using for an example, there is no issue.  However, if you drop the threshold of the match level, you may well, and in this case, you will, find matches well below the match threshold.  They are shown as matches because they have at least one segment above the match threshold.  If you don’t have at least one segment above the threshold, you’ll never see these smaller matches.  Just to show you what I mean, this is the same four people, above, with the threshold lowered to 1cM.  All those little confetti pieces of color are smaller matches.

chromosome browser war3

At Family Tree DNA, the match threshold is about 7cM.  Each of the vendors has a different threshold and a different way of calculating that threshold.

The only reason I mention this is because if you DON’T match with someone on the matrix, but you also show matches at smaller segments, understand that matrix is not reporting on those, so matrix matches are not negative proof, only positive indications – when you do match, both on the chromosome browser and utilizing the matrix tool.

What you do know at this point is that these individuals all match you on the same segments, and that they match each other someplace on their chromosomes, but what you don’t know is if they match each other on the same locations where they match you.

If you are lucky and your matches are cousins or experienced genetic genealogists and are willing to take a look at their accounts, they can tell you if they match the other people on the same segments where they match you – but that’s the only way to know unless they are willing to download their raw data file to GedMatch.  At GedMatch, you can adjust the match thresholds to any level you wish and you can compare one-to-one kits to see where any two kits who have provided you with their kit number match each other.

3. Downloading data – mapping your chromosome.

The “download to Excel” function at Family Tree DNA, located just above the chromosome browser graphic, on the left, provides you with the matching data of the individuals shown on the chromosome browser with their actual segment data shown. (The download button on the right downloads all of your matches, not just the ones shown in the browser comparison.)

The spreadsheet below shows the downloaded data for these four individuals.  You can see on chromosome 15 (yellow) there are three distinct segments that match (pink, yellow and blue,) which is exactly what is reflected on the graphic browser as well.

chromosome browser war4

On the spreadsheet below, I’ve highlighted, in red, the segments which appeared on the original chromosome browser – so these are only the matches at or over the match threshold.

chromosome browser war5

As you can see, there are 13 in total.

Smaller Segments

Up to this point, the process I’ve shared is widely accepted as the gold standard.

In the genetic genealogy community, there are very divergent opinions on how to treat segments below the match threshold, or below even 10cM.  Some people “throw them away,” in essence, disregard them entirely.  Before we look at a real life example, let’s talk about the challenges with small segments.

When smaller segments match, along with larger segments, I don’t delete them, throw them away, or disregard them.  I believe that they are tools and each one carries a message for us.  Those messages can be one of four things.

  1. This is a valid IBD, meaning identical by descent, match where the segment has been passed from one specific ancestor to all of the people who match and can be utilized as such.
  2. This is an IBS match, meaning identical by state, and is called that because we can’t yet identify the common ancestor, but there is one. So this is actually IBD but we can’t yet identify it as such. With more matches, we may well be able to identify it as IBD, but if we throw it away, we never get that chance. As larger data bases and more sophisticated software become available, these matches will fall into place.
  3. This is an IBS match that is a false match, meaning the DNA segments that we receive from our father and mother just happen to align in a way that matches another person. Generally these are relatively easy to determine because the people you match won’t match each other. You also won’t tend to match other people with the same ancestral line, so they will tend to look like lone outliers on your match spreadsheets, but not always.
  4. This is an IBS match that is population based. These are much more difficult to determine, because this is a segment that is found widely in a population. The key to determining these pileup areas, as discussed in the Ancestry article about their new phasing technique, if that you will find this same segment matching different proven lineages. This is the reason that Ancestry has implemented phasing – to identify and remove these match regions from your matches. Ancestry provided a graphic of my pileup areas, although they did not identify for me where on my chromosomes these pileup regions occurred. I do have some idea however, because I’ve found a couple of areas where I have matches from my mother’s side of the family from different ancestors – so these areas must be IBS on a population level. That does not, however, make them completely irrelevant.

genome pileups

The challenge, and problem, is where to make the cutoff when you’re eliminating match areas based on phased data.  For example, I lost all of my Acadian matches at Ancestry.  Of course, you would expect an endogamous population to share lots of the same DNA – and there are a huge number of Acadian descendants today – they are in fact a “population,” but those matches are (were) still useful to me.

I utilize Acadian matches from Family Tree DNA and 23andMe to label that part of my chromosome “Acadian” even if I can’t track it to a specific Acadian ancestor, yet.  I do know from which of my mother’s ancestors it originated, her great-grandfather, who is her Acadian ancestor.  Knowing that much is useful as well.

The same challenge exists for other endogamous groups – people with Jewish, Mennonite/Brethren/Amish, Native American and African American heritage searching for their mixed race roots arising from slavery.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this problem exists for anyone looking for ancestors beyond the 5th or 6th generation, because segments inherited from those ancestors, if there are any, will probably be small and fall below the generally accepted match thresholds.  The only way you will be able to find them, today, is the unlikely event that there is one larger segments, and it leads you on a search, like the case with Sarah Hickerson.

I want to be very clear – if you’re looking for only “sure thing” segments – then the larger the matching segment, the better the odds that it’s a sure thing, a positive, indisputable, noncontroversial match.  However, if you’re looking for ancestors in the distant past, in the 5th or 6th generation or further, you’re not likely to find sure thing matches and you’ll have to work with smaller segments. It’s certainly preferable and easier to work with large matches, but it’s not always possible.

In the Ralph and Coop paper, The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry Across Europe, they indicated that people who matched on segments of 10cM or larger were more likely to have a common ancestor with in the past 500 years.  Blocks of 4cM or larger were estimated to be from populations from 500-1500 years ago.  However, we also know that there are indeed sticky segments that get passed intact from generation to generation, and also that some segments don’t get divided in a generation, they simply disappear and aren’t passed on at all.  I wrote about this in my article titled, Generational Inheritance.

Another paper by Durand et al, Reducing pervasive false positive identical-by-descent segments detected by large-scale pedigree analysis, showed that 67% of the 2-4cM segments were false positives.  Conversely, that also means that 33% of the 2-4cM segments were legitimate IBD segments.

Part of the disagreement within the genetic genealogy community is based on a difference in goals.  People who are looking for the parents of adoptees are looking first and primarily as “sure thing” matches and the bigger the match segment, of course, the better because that means the people are related more closely in time.  For them, smaller segments really are useless.  However, for people who know their recent genealogy and are looking for those brick wall ancestors, several generations back in time, their only hope is utilizing those smaller segments.  This not black and white but shades of grey.  One size does not fit all.  Nor is what we know today the end of the line.  We learn every single day and many of our learning experiences are by working through our own unique genealogical situations – and sharing our discoveries.

On this next spreadsheet, you can see the smaller segments surrounding the larger segments – in other words, in the same match cluster – highlighted in green.  These are the segments that would be discarded as invalid if you were drawing the line at the match threshold.  Some people draw it even higher, at 10 cM.  I’m not being critical of their methodology or saying they are wrong.  It may well work best for them, but discarding small segments is not the only approach and other approaches do work, depending on the goals of the researcher.  I want my 33% IBD segments, thank you very much.

All of the segments highlighted in purple match between at least three cousins.  By checking the other cousins accounts, I can validate that they do all match each other as well, even though I can’t tell this through the Family Tree DNA matrix below the matching threshold.  So, I’ve proven these are valid.  We all received them from our common ancestor.

What about the white rows?  Are those valid matches, from a common ancestor?  We don’t have enough information to make that determination today.

chromosome browser war6

Downloading my data, and confirming segments to this common ancestor allows me to map my own chromosomes.  Now, I know that if someone matches me and any of these three cousins on chromosome 15, for example, between 33,335,760 and 58,455,135 – they are, whether they know it or not, descended from our common ancestral line.

In my opinion, I would think it a shame to discount or throw away all of these matches below 7cM, because you would be discounting 39 of your 52 total matches, or 75% of them.  I would be more conservative in assigning my segments with only one cousin match to any ancestor, but I would certainly note the match and hope that if I added other cousins, that segment would be eventually proven as IBD.

I used positively known cousins in this example because there is no disputing the validity of these matches.  They were known as cousins long before DNA testing.

Breaking Down Brick Walls

This is the same technique utilized to break down brick walls – and the more cousins you have tested, so that you can identify the maximum number of chromosome pieces of a particular ancestor – the better.

I used this same technique to identify Sarah Hickerson in my Thanksgiving Day article, utilizing these same cousins, plus several more.

Hey, just for fun, want to see what chromosome 15 looks like in this much larger sample???

In this case, we were trying to break down a brick wall.  We needed to determine if Sarah Hickerson was the mother of Elijah Vannoy.  All of the individuals in the left “Name” column are proven Vannoy cousins from Elijah, or in one case, William, from another child of Sarah Hickerson.  The individuals in the right “Match” column are everyone in the cousin match group plus the people in green who are Hickerson/Higginson descendants.  William, in green, is proven to descend from Sarah Hickerson and her husband, Daniel Vannoy.

chromosome browser war7

The first part of chromosome 15 doesn’t overlap with the rest.  Buster, David and I share another ancestral line as well, so the match in the non-red section of chromosome 15 may well be from that ancestral line.  It becomes an obvious possibility, because none of the people who share the Vannoy/Hickerson/Higginson DNA are in that small match group.

All of the red colored cells do overlap with at least one other individual in that group and together they form a cluster.  The yellow highlighted cells are the ones over the match threshold.  The 6 Hickerson/Higginson descendants are scattered throughout this match group.

And yes, for those who are going to ask, there are many more Vannoy/Hickerson triangulated groups.  This is just one of over 60 matching groups in total, some with matches well above the match threshold. But back to the chromosome browser wars!


This example from 23andMe shows why it’s so very important to verify that your matches also match each other.

chromosome browser war8

Blue and purple match segments are to two of the same cousins that I used in the comparison at Family Tree DNA, who are from my father’s side.  Green is my first cousin from my mother’s side.   Note that on chromosome 11, they both match me on a common segment.  I know by working with them that they don’t match each other on that segment, so while they are both related to me, on chromosome 11, it’s not through the same ancestor.  One is from my father’s side and one is from my mother’s side.  If I hadn’t already known that, determining if they matched each other would be the acid test and would separate them into 2 groups.

23andMe provides you with a tool to see who your matches match that you match too.  That’s a tongue twister.

In essence, you can select any individual, meaning you or anyone that you match, on the left hand side of this tool, and compare them to any 5 other people that you match.  In my case above, I compared myself to my cousins, but if I want to know if my cousin on my mother’s side matches my two cousins on my father’s side, I simply select her name on the left and theirs on the right by using the drop down arrows.

chromosome browser war9

I would show you the results, but it’s in essence a blank chromosome browser screen, because she doesn’t match either of them, anyplace, which tells me, if I didn’t already know, that these two matches are from different sides of my family.

However, in other situations, where I match my cousin Daryl, for example, as well as several other people on the same segment, I want to know how many of these people Daryl matches as well.  I can enter Daryl’s name, with my name and their names in the group of 5, and compare.  23andMe facilitates the viewing or download of the results in a matrix as well, along with the segment data.  You can also download your entire list of matches by requesting aggregated data through the link at the bottom of the screen above or the bottom of the chromosome display.

I find it cumbersome to enter each matches name in the search tool and then enter all of the other matches names as well.  By utilizing the tools at, you can determine who your matches match as well, in common with you, in one spreadsheet.  Here’s an example.  Daryl in the chart below is my match, and this tool shows you who else she matches that I match as well, and the matching segments.  This allows me to correlate my match with Gwen for example, to Daryl’s match to Gwen to see if they are on the same segments.

chromosome browser war10

As you can see, Daryl and I both match Gwen on a common segment.  On my own chromosome mapping spreadsheet, I match several other people as well at that location, at other vendors, but so far, we haven’t been able to find any common genealogy.

At, I have exactly the opposite problem.  I have lots of people I DNA match, and some with common genealogy, but no tools to prove the DNA match is to the common ancestor.

Hence, this is the crux of the chromosome browser wars.  I’ve just showed you how and why we use chromosome browsers and tools to show if our matches match each other in addition to us and on which segments.  I’ve also illustrated why.  Neither 23andMe nor Family Tree DNA provides perfect tools, which is why we utilize both GedMatch and DNAGedcom, but they do provide tools.  Ancestry provides no tools of this type.

At Ancestry, you have two kinds of genetic matches – ones without tree matches and ones with tree matches.  Pedigree matching is a service that Ancestry provides that the other vendors don’t.  Unfortunately, it also leads people to believe that because they match these people genetically and share a tree, that the tree shown is THE genetic match and it’s to the ancestor shown in the tree.  In fact, if the tree is wrong, either your tree or their tree, and you match them genetically, you will show up as a pedigree match as well.  Even if both pedigrees are right, that still doesn’t mean that your genetic match is through that ancestor.

How many bad trees are at Ancestry percentagewise?  I don’t know, but it’s a constant complaint and there is absolutely nothing Ancestry can do about it.  All they can do is utilize what they have, which is what their customers provide.  And I’m glad they do.  It does make the process of working through your matches much easier. It’s a starting point.  DNA matches with trees that also match your pedigree are shown with Ancestry’s infamous shakey leaf.

In fact, in my Sarah Hickerson article, it was a shakey leaf match that initially clued me that there was something afoot – maybe. I had to shift to another platform (Family Tree DNA) to prove the match however, where I had tools and lots of known cousins.

At Ancestry, I now have about 3000 matches in total, and of those, I have 33 shakey leaves – or people with whom I also share an ancestor in our pedigree charts.  A few of those are the same old known cousins, just as genealogy crazy as me, and they’ve tested at all 3 companies.

The fly in the ointment, right off the bat, is that I noticed in several of these matches that I ALSO share another ancestral line.

Now, the great news is that Ancestry shows you your surnames in common, and you can click on the surname and see the common individuals in both trees.

The bad news is that you have to notice and click to see that information, found in the lower left hand corner of this screen.

chromosome browser war11

In this case, Cook is an entirely different line, not connected to the McKee line shown.

However, in this next case, we have the same individual entered in our software, but differently.  It wasn’t close enough to connect as an ancestor, but close enough to note.  It turns out that Sarah Cook is the mother of Fairwick Claxton, but her middle name was not Helloms, nor was her maiden name, although that is a long-standing misconception that was proven incorrect with her husband’s War of 1812 documents many years ago. Unfortunately, this misinformation is very widespread in trees on the internet.

chromosome browser war12

Out of curiosity, and now I’m sorry I did this because it’s very disheartening – I looked to see what James Lee Claxton/Clarkson’s wife’s name was shown to be on the first page of Ancestry’s advanced search matches.

Despite extensive genealogical and DNA research, we don’t know who James Lee Claxton/Clarkson’s parents are, although we’ve disproven several possibilities, including the most popular candidate pre-DNA testing.  However, James’ wife was positively Sarah Cook, as given by her, along with her father’s name, and by witnesses to their marriage provided when she applied for a War of 1812 pension and bounty land.  I have the papers from the National Archives.

James Lee Claxton’s wife, Sara Cook is identified as follows in the first 50 Ancestry search entries.

Sarah Cook – 4

Incorrect entries:

  • Sarah Cook but with James’ parents listed – 3
  • Sarah Helloms Cook – 2, one with James’ parents
  • Sarah Hillhorns – 15
  • Sarah Cook Hitson – 13, some with various parents for James
  • No wife, but various parents listed for James – 12
  • No wife, no parents – 1

I’d much rather see no wife and no parents than incorrect information.

Judy Russell has expressed her concern about the effects of incorrect trees and DNA as well and we shared this concern with Ancestry during our meeting.

Ancestry themselves in their paper titled “Identifying groups of descendants using pedigrees and genetically inferred relationships in a large database” says, “”As with all analyses relating to DNA Circles™, tree quality is also an important caveat and limitation.”  So Ancestry is aware, but they are trying to leverage and utilize one of their biggest assets, their trees.

This brings us to DNA Circles.  I reviewed Ancestry’s new product release extensively in my Ancestry’s Better Mousetrap article.  To recap briefly, Ancestry gathers your DNA matches together, and then looks for common ancestors in trees that are public using an intelligent ranking algorithm that takes into account:

  1. The confidence that the match is due to recent genealogical history (versus a match due to older genealogical history or a false match entirely).
  2. The confidence that the identified common recent ancestor represents the same person in both online pedigrees.
  3. The confidence that the individuals have a match due to the shared ancestor in question as opposed to from another ancestor or from more distant genealogical history.

The key here is that Ancestry is looking for what they term “recent genealogical history.”  In their paper they define this as 10 generations, but the beta version of DNA Circles only looks back 7 generations today.  This was also reflected in their phasing paper, “Discovering IBD matches across a large, growing database.”

However, the unfortunate effect has been in many cases to eliminate matches, especially from endogamous groups.  By way of example, I lost my Acadian matches in the Ancestry new product release.  They would have been more than 7 generations back, and because they were endogamous, they may have “looked like” IBS segments, if IBS is defined at Ancestry as more than 7 or 10 generations back.  Hopefully Ancestry will tweek this algorithm in future releases.

Ancestry, according to their paper, “Identifying groups of descendants using pedigrees and genetically inferred relationships in a large database,” then clusters these remaining matching individuals together in Circles based on their pedigree charts.  You will match some of these people genetically, and some of them will not match you but will match each other.  Again, according to the paper, “these confidence levels are calculated by the direct-line pedigree size, the number of shared ancestral couples and the generational depth of the shared MRCA couple.”

Ancestry notes that, “using the concordance of two independent pieces of information, meaning pedigree relationships and patterns of match sharing among a set of individuals, DNA Circles can serve as supporting evidence for documented pedigree lines.”  Notice, Ancestry did NOT SAY proof.  Nothing that Ancestry provides in their DNA product constitutes proof.

Ancestry continues by saying that Circles “opens the possibility for people to identify distant relatives with whom they do not share DNA directly but with whom they still have genetic evidence supporting the relationship.”

In other words, Ancestry is being very clear in this paper, which is provided on the DNA Circles page for anyone with Circles, that they are giving you a tool, not “the answer,” but one more piece of information that you can consider as evidence.

joel vannoy circleJoel Vannoy circle2

You can see in my Joel Vannoy circle that I match both of these people both genetically and on their tree.

We, in the genetic genealogy community, need proof.  It certainly could be available, technically – because it is with other vendors and third party sites.

We need to be able to prove that our matches also match each other, and utilizing Ancestry’s tools, we can’t.  We also can’t do this at Ancestry by utilizing third party tools, so we’re in essence, stuck.

We can either choose to believe, without substantiation, that we indeed share a common ancestor because we share DNA segments with them plus a pedigree chart from that common ancestor, or we can initiate a conversation with our match that leads to either or both of the following questions:

  1. Have you or would you upload your raw data to GedMatch?
  2. Have you or would you upload your raw data file to Family Tree DNA?

Let the begging begin!!!

The Problem

In a nutshell, the problem is that even if your Ancestry matches do reply and do upload their file to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch or both, you are losing most of the potential information available, or that would be available, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser and matrix type tool.

In other words, you’d have to convince all of your matches and then they would have to convince all of the matches in the circle that they match and you don’t to upload their files.

Given that, of the 44 private tree shakey leaf matches that I sent messages to about 2 weeks ago, asking only for them to tell me the identity of our common pedigree ancestor, so far 2 only of them have replied, the odds of getting an entire group of people to upload files is infinitesimal.  You’d stand a better chance of winning the lottery.

One of the things Ancestry excels at is marketing.

ancestry ad1

If you’ve seen any of their ads, and they are everyplace, they focus on the “feel good” and they are certainly maximizing the warm fuzzy feelings at the holidays and missing those generations that have gone before us.

ancestry ad2

This is by no means a criticism, but it is why so many people do take the Ancestry DNA test. It’s advertised as easy and you’ll learn more about your family.  And you do, no question – you learn about your ethnicity and you get a list of DNA matches, pedigree matches when possible and DNA Circles.

The list of what you don’t get is every bit as important, a chromosome browser and tools to see whether your matches also match each other.  However, most of their customers will never know that.

Judging by the high percentage of inaccurate trees I found at Ancestry in my little experiment relative to the known and documented wife’s name of James Lee Claxton, which was 96%, based on just the first page of 50 search matches, it would appear that about 96% of Ancestry’s clientele are willing to believe something that someone else tells them without verification.  I doubt that it matters whether that information is a tree or a DNA test where they are shown  matches with common pedigree charts and circles.  I don’t mean this to be critical of those people.  We all began as novices and we need new people to become interested in both genealogy and DNA testing.

I suspect that most of Ancestry’s clients, especially new ones, simply don’t have a clue that there is a problem, let alone the magnitude and scope.  How would they?  They are just happy to find information about their ancestor.  And as someone said to me once – “but there are so many of those trees (with a wrong wife’s name), how can they all be wrong?”  Plus, the ads, at least some of them, certainly suggest that the DNA test grows your family tree for you.

ancestry ad3 signoff

The good news in all of this is that Ancestry’s widespread advertising has made DNA testing just part of the normal things that genealogists do.  Their marketing expertise along with recent television programs have served to bring DNA testing into the limelight. The bad news is that if people test at Ancestry instead of at a vendor who provides tools, we, and they, lose the opportunity to utilize those results to their fullest potential.  We, and they, lose any hope of proving an ancestor utilizing DNA.  And let’s face it, DNA testing and genealogy is about collaboration.  Having a DNA test that you don’t compare against others is pointless for genealogy purposes.

When a small group of bloggers and educators visited Ancestry in October, 2014, for what came to be called DNA Day, we discussed the chromosome browser and Ancestry’s plans for their new DNA Circles product, although it had not yet been named at that time.  I wrote about that meeting, including the fact that we discussed the need for a chromosome browser ad nauseum.  Needless to say, there was no agreement between the genetic genealogy community and the Ancestry folks.

When we discussed the situation with Ancestry they talked about privacy and those types of issues, which you can read about in detail in that article, but I suspect, strongly, that the real reason they aren’t keen on developing a chromosome browser lies in different areas.

  1. Ancestry truly believes that people cannot understand and utilize a chromosome browser and the information it provides. They believe that people who do have access to chromosome browsers are interpreting the results incorrectly today.
  2. They do not want to implement a complex feature for a small percentage of their users…the number bantered around informally was 5%…and I don’t know if that was an off-the-cuff number or based on market research. However, if you compare that number with the number of accurate versus inaccurate pedigree charts in my “James Claxton’s wife’s name” experiment, it’s very close…so I would say that the 5% number is probably close to accurate.
  3. They do not want to increase their support burden trying to explain the results of a chromosome browser to the other 95%. Keep in mind the number of users you’re discussing. They said in their paper they had 500,000 DNA participants. I think it’s well over 700,000 today, and they clearly expect to hit 1 million in 2015. So if you utilize a range – 5% of their users are 25,000-50,000 and 95% of their users are 475,000-950,000.
  4. Their clients have already paid their money for the test, as it is, and there is no financial incentive for Ancestry to invest in an add-on tool from which they generate no incremental revenue and do generate increased development and support costs. The only benefit to them is that we shut up!

So, the bottom line is that most of Ancestry’s clients don’t know or care about a chromosome browser.  There are, however, a very noisy group of us who do.

Many of Ancestry’s clients who purchase the DNA test do so as an impulse purchase with very little, if any, understanding of what they are purchasing, what it can or will do for them, at Ancestry or anyplace else, for that matter.

Any serious genealogist who researched the autosomal testing products would not make Ancestry their only purchase, especially if they could only purchase one test.  Many, if not most, serious genealogists have tested at all three companies in order to fish in different ponds and maximize their reach.  I suspect that most of Ancestry’s customers are looking for simple and immediate answers, not tools and additional work.

The flip side of that, however, if that we are very aware of what we, the genetic genealogy industry needs, and why, and how frustratingly lacking Ancestry’s product is.

Company Focus

It’s easy for us as extremely passionate and focused consumers to forget that all three companies are for-profit corporations.  Let’s take a brief look at their corporate focus, history and goals, because that tells a very big portion of the story.  Every company is responsible first and foremost to their shareholders and owners to be profitable, as profitable as possible which means striking the perfect balance of investment and expenditure with frugality.  In corporate America, everything has to be justified by ROI, or return on investment.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA was the first one of the companies to offer DNA testing and was formed in 1999 by Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, both still principles who run Family Tree DNA, now part of Gene by Gene, on a daily basis.  Family Tree DNA’s focus is only on genetic genealogy and they have a wide variety of products that produce a spectrum of information including various Y DNA tests, mitochondrial, autosomal, and genetic traits.  They are now the only commercial company to offer the Y STR and mitochondrial DNA tests, both very important tools for genetic genealogists, with a great deal of information to offer about our ancestors.

In April 2005, National Geographic’s Genographic project was announced in partnership with Family Tree DNA and IBM.  The Genographic project, was scheduled to last for 5 years, but is now in its 9th year.  Family Tree DNA and National Geographic announced Geno 2.0 in July of 2012 with a newly designed chip that would test more than 12,000 locations on the Y chromosome, in addition to providing other information to participants.

The Genographic project provided a huge boost to genetic genealogy because it provided assurance of legitimacy and brought DNA testing into the living room of every family who subscribed to National Geographic magazine.  Family Tree DNA’s partnership with National Geographic led to the tipping point where consumer DNA testing became mainstream.

In 2011 the founders expanded the company to include clinical genetics and a research arm by forming Gene by Gene.  This allowed them, among other things, to bring their testing in house by expanding their laboratory facilities.  They have continued to increase their product offerings to include sophisticated high end tests like the Big Y, introduced in 2013.


23andMe is also privately held and began offering testing for medical and health information in November 2007, initially offering “estimates of predisposition for more than 90 traits ranging from baldness to blindness.”  Their corporate focus has always been in the medical field, with aggregated customer data being studied by 23andMe and other researchers for various purposes.

In 2009, 23andMe began to offer the autosomal test for genealogists, the first company to provide this service.  Even though, by today’s standards, it was very expensive, genetic genealogists flocked to take this test.

In 2013, after several years of back and forth with 23andMe ultimately failing to reply to the FDA, the FDA forced 23andMe to stop providing the medical results.  Clients purchasing the 23andMe autosomal product since November of 2013 receive only ethnicity results and the genealogical matching services.

In 2014, 23andMe has been plagued by public relations issues and has not upgraded significantly nor provided additional tools for the genetic genealogy community, although they recently formed a liaison with My Heritage.

23andMe is clearly focused on genetics, but not primarily genetic genealogy, and their corporate focus during this last year in particular has been, I suspect, on how to survive, given the FDA action.  If they steer clear of that landmine, I expect that we may see great things in the realm of personalized medicine from them in the future.

Genetic genealogy remains a way for them to attract people to increase their data base size for research purposes.  Right now, until they can again begin providing health information, genetic genealogists are the only people purchasing the test, although 23andMe may have other revenue sources from the research end of the business is a privately held company.  They were founded in the 1990s and have been through several ownership and organizational iterations, which you can read about in the wiki article about Ancestry.

During the last several years, Ancestry has purchased several other genealogy companies and is now the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world.  That’s either wonderful or terrible, depending on your experiences and perspective.

Ancestry has had an on-again-off-again relationship with DNA testing since 2002, with more than one foray into DNA testing and subsequent withdrawal from DNA testing.  If you are interested in the specifics, you can read about them in this article.

Ancestry’s goal, as it is with all companies, is profitability.  However, they have given themselves a very large black eye in the genetic genealogy community by doing things that we consider to be civically irresponsible, like destroying the Y and mitochondrial DNA data bases.  This still makes no sense, because while Ancestry spends money on one hand to acquire data bases and digitize existing records, on the other hand, they wiped out a data base containing tens of thousands of irreplaceable DNA records, which are genealogy records of a different type.  This was discussed at DNA Day and the genetic genealogy community retains hope that Ancestry is reconsidering their decision.

Ancestry has been plagued by a history of missteps and mediocrity in their DNA products, beginning with their Y and mitochondrial DNA products and continuing with their autosomal product.  Their first autosomal release included ethnicity results that gave many people very high percentages of Scandinavian heritage.  Ancestry never acknowledged a problem and defended their product to the end…until the day when they announced an update titled….a whole new you.  They are marketing geniuses.  While many people found their updated product much more realistic, not everyone was happy.  Judy Russell wrote a great summary of the situation.

It’s difficult, once a company has lost their credibility, for them to regain it.

I think Ancestry does a bang up job of what their primary corporate goal is….genealogy records and subscriptions for people to access those records. I’m a daily user.  Today, with their acquisitions, it would be very difficult to be a serious genealogist without an Ancestry subscription….which is of course what their corporate goal has been.

Ancestry does an outstanding job of making everything look and appear easy.  Their customer interface is intuitive and straightforward, for the most part. In fact, maybe they have made both genealogy and genetic genealogy look a little too easy.  I say this tongue in cheek, full well knowing that the ease of use is how they attract so many people, and those are the same people who ultimately purchase the DNA tests – but the expectation of swabbing and the answer appearing is becoming a problem.  I’m glad that Ancestry has brought DNA testing to so many people but this success makes tools like the chromosome browser/matrix that much more important – because there is so much genealogy information there just waiting to be revealed.  I also feel that their level of success and visibility also visits upon them the responsibility for transparency and accuracy in setting expectations properly – from the beginning – with the ads. DNA testing does not “grow your tree” while you’re away.

I’m guessing Ancestry entered the DNA market again because they saw a way to sell an additional product, autosomal DNA testing, that would tie people’s trees together and provide customers with an additional tool, at an additional price, and give them yet another reason to remain subscribed every year.  Nothing wrong with that either.  For the owners, a very reasonable tactic to harness a captive data base whose ear you already have.

But Ancestry’s focus or priority is not now, and never has been, quality, nor genetic genealogy.  Autosomal DNA testing is a tool for their clients, a revenue generation source for them, and that’s it.  Again, not a criticism.  Just the way it is.

In Summary

As I look at the corporate focus of the three players in this space, I see three companies who are indeed following their corporate focus and vision.  That’s not a bad thing, unless the genetic genealogy community focus finds itself in conflict with the results of their corporate focus.

It’s no wonder that Family Tree DNA sponsors events like the International DNA Conference and works hand in hand with genealogists and project administrators.  Their focus is and always has been genetic genealogy.

People do become very frustrated with Family Tree DNA from time to time, but just try to voice those frustrations to upper management at either 23andMe or Ancestry and see how far you get.  My last helpdesk query to 23andMe submitted on October 24th has yet to receive any reply.  At Family Tree DNA, I e-mailed the project administrator liaison today, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, hoping for a response on Monday – but I received one just a couple hours later – on a holiday weekend.

In terms of the chromosome browser war – and that war is between the genetic genealogy community and, I completely understand both positions.

The genetic genealogy community has been persistent, noisy, and united.  Petitions have been created and signed and sent to Ancestry upper management.  To my knowledge, confirmation of any communications surrounding this topic with the exception of Ancestry reaching out to the blogging and education community, has never been received.

This lack of acknowledgement and/or action on the issues at hand frustrates the community terribly and causes reams of rather pointed and very direct replies to Anna Swayne and other Ancestry employees who are charged with interfacing with the public.  I actually feel sorry for Anna.  She is a very nice person.  If I were in her position, I’d certainly be looking for another job and letting someone else take the brunt of the dissatisfaction.  You can read her articles here.

I also understand why Ancestry is doing what they are doing – meaning their decision to not create a chromosome browser/match matrix tool.  It makes sense if you sit in their seat and now have to look at dealing with almost a million people who will wonder why they have to use a chromosome browser and or other tools when they expected their tree to grow while they were away.

I don’t like Ancestry’s position, even though I understand it, and I hope that we, as a community, can help justify the investment to Ancestry in some manner, because I fully believe that’s the only way we’ll ever get a chromosome browser/match matrix type tool.  There has to be a financial benefit to Ancestry to invest the dollars and time into that development, as opposed to something else.  It’s not like Ancestry has additional DNA products to sell to these people.  The consumers have already spent their money on the only DNA product Ancestry offers, so there is no incentive there.

As long as Ancestry’s typical customer doesn’t know or care, I doubt that development of a chromosome browser will happen unless we, as a community, can, respectfully, be loud enough, long enough, like an irritating burr in their underwear that just won’t go away.


The Future

What we “know” and can do today with our genomes far surpasses what we could do or even dreamed we could do 10 years ago or even 5 or 2 years ago.  We learn everyday.

Yes, there are a few warts and issues to iron out.  I always hesitate to use words like “can’t,” “never” and “always” or to use other very strongly opinionated or inflexible words, because those words may well need to be eaten shortly.

There is so much more yet to be done, discovered and learned.  We need to keep open minds and be willing to “unlearn” what we think we knew when new and better information comes along.  That’s how scientific discovery works.  We are on the frontier, the leading edge and yes, sometimes the bleeding edge.  But what a wonderful place to be, to be able to contribute to discovery on a new frontier, our own genes and the keys to our ancestors held in our DNA.

Sarah Hickerson (c1752-?), Lost Ancestor Found, 52 Ancestors #48


Sarah Hickerson.  That was her name.  It’s a new name to me, well, new in the sense of being an ancestor… rolling around on my tongue like sweet dark  chocolate – the best – from Belgium – my favorite.  Let me say it again and savor its flavor.

Sarah Hickerson.

Sarah was my great-great-great-great grandmother.  Those are glorious words, because before now, she was a brick wall – a maybe and nothing more.  I want to introduce you to Sarah, but first, I need to introduce you to Harold.

Cousin Harold

Harold is my long-suffering cousin.  I met Harold more than 20 years ago now, probably about a quarter century ago.  I remember things relative to life events – landmark events in my life – and I know where I was living when I met Harold and that it was before my previous husband’s massive stroke.  He is my longest-standing genealogy research partner – what a testimony to his endurance!

Harold and Jayden

Harold with Jayden, his great-granddaughter.

You see, this week when I mentioned that we had broken through a 30 year brick wall, he told me that for him, it was more like a 45 year brick wall.  Suddenly my 30 year brick wall didn’t look nearly so bad.  Or maybe I should say his 45 year brick wall made me even more jubilant.

Harold and I didn’t know each other before we met through genealogy.  You’d think we would.  Our common ancestors, Joel and Phoebe Crumley Vannoy died in 1895 and 1900 respectively, and their children were our great-grandparents who clearly knew each other – and so did their children.  It seems that it was in our parent’s generation that the families lost track of each other – probably that the generation who began to move away from Appalachia in earnest – often in order to find jobs elsewhere.  Harold’s grandparents moved to Missouri, and mine moved to Arkansas and then Indiana, before divorcing a decade later and a half later, in the 19-teens.  The families moved apart and not only lost track of each other, the next generation didn’t even know the other families existed.  That was the generation of our parents.  So it was something of a miracle when Harold and I found each other, and even more amazing when we discovered we lived within 35 miles of each other in an entirely different state.

It was progress that divided the family, plus maybe a bit of bootlegging on my grandpa’s part, and it was genealogy that reunited us more than half a century later.

Harold and I are both old fashioned genealogists – meaning diggers – think of us as hound dogs after a bone.  Both of us have visited many locations over the years and we share our results and research with each other.  In this case, it’s the cumulative effort of both of our research work that has brought us this breakthrough – although in this case, much of the Hickerson research, especially the pieces that led to Higginson, is entirely Harold’s.

Who Was Elijah Vannoy’s Father?

The Vannoy family in Hancock and Claiborne Counties of Tennessee had kept good records, for the most part, since they had moved from Wilkes County, North Carolina to then Claiborne County in about 1812. Before that, not so much.

The earliest record of Elijah Vannoy is an 1807 entry in the Wilkes County, North Carolina Deed Book G-H.  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. He left Wilkes County, NC after 1811 with the McNeil family and an Elijah Vannoy is listed in the Bedford County, Tennessee 1812 Tax List.

Later in 1812, he appears in the Claiborne County, TN court notes where he lived for the rest of his life, even though his homeplace shifted to be in Hancock County in the 1840s when Hancock County was formed.

The problem is that we didn’t know who Elijah’s father was.  This should not have been so tough.  There were only 4 candidates.  All 4 Vannoy men who lived in Wilkes County in the 1784 timeframe when Elijah was born were sons of John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Baker Anderson.  How tough can this be?

Very tough, let me tell you.  Half a century tough!

Not all Wilkes County records are existent.  Seems that at some time, or times, in the past, the clerk decided to have a large bonfire because they didn’t need those old records anymore.  If you’re cringing and groaning, well, so was I.  I still do, every time I think of that being done intentionally.  The county next door, where we think Elijah and his parents may have lived for at least part of the time, Ashe, has incomplete records as well.  Ashe County was created from Wilkes in 1799.

The four candidates for Elijah’s father are:

  • Nathaniel Vannoy (1749/50-1835) and wife Elizabeth Ann Ray (1754 – before 1830), daughter of William Ray and Elizabeth Gordon
  • Andrew Vannoy (1742-1809) and Susannah Shepherd (1758-1816), daughter of John Shepherd and Sarah J. Rash(?)
  • Francis Vannoy (1746-1822) and Millicent Henderson (1754-1794/1800), daughter of Thomas Henderson and Frances, last name unknown
  • Daniel Vannoy (1752-before 1819) and Sarah Hickerson (1752-?), daughter of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle (Little)

Fortunately, the Wilkes County local tax records are still existent as well as the 1790 census records.  Utilizing those records, I reconstructed, as best I could, the family structures and rough ages of the various children.  Then, utilizing family records, Bibles, deeds and such, I assigned the children to the parents.

At the end of this process, I had narrowed the parental candidate to either Daniel or Nathaniel Vannoy.  Harold had an uncle who told him that Elijah was “Nathaniel’s boy” and given what we had, we pretty much took that at face value.

But then, then, a Bible record emerged from a family member.  Nathaniel’s Bible, and guess what….there was no Elijah.  Now, people didn’t leave children out of the Bible.  Nonetheless, I tried to decide if there was “room” for Elijah there, because Nathaniel seemed to be such a good fit.  And there was, barely, but not very reasonably.  He would have had to have been conceived when his sibling was about 3 months old, and left out of the Bible – and both of those things individually were very remote possibilities, let alone to have happened together.

Nathaniel died at the home of his daughter in 1835 in Greenville, SC.  A few years ago, I visited Greenville, SC, on the way to another destination.  I spent the night and the next day in the local courthouse pouring over will records, deed records, probate records….anything and everything, only to determine that Nathaniel had pretty much distributed his estate to his children before his death.  However, there was no mention of an Elijah.

Daniel was the most difficult of the men.  He died early, for one thing, we think, as did his wife, leaving very few records.  Daniel married Sarah Hickerson on October 2, 1779.  He filed for a land patent in 1780, obtained the grant in 1782 and was on the Wilkes County tax list with 100 acres until 1787.  After that, he was still taxed, but he was no longer taxed on land.  He shows up in the 1790 census and on the personal property tax lists until 1795, but in 1796, he is gone and there is nothing further.  However, we know the family didn’t move away, because Elijah is living there when he married Lois McNiel not long before 1810.  Their proven son, Joel, also married in Wilkes County in 1817, so they had to be living someplace in the vicinity!

If Daniel died and had no land, there was likely no estate.  Furthermore, his widow would not have been required to pay tax because only adult males over the age of either 16 or 21 were taxed, depending on where they lived and the laws of the time.  In 1795, unquestionably, Elijah was under the age of 16 and any child born after 1880 would have been as well.

The 1800 census doesn’t exist, but in the 1810 census, we find Sarah Vannoy shown with three females.  There is no further record of Sarah, unless an 1820 census record that shows a Sarah Vannoy age  26-45 is Daniel’s widow.  This seems extremely unlikely, unless someone simply counted the boxes on the census form incorrectly, because in 1820, someone 45 years of age would have been born in 1779, the year Sarah was married to Daniel.  That’s an awfully large mistake to make.

The only known male child of Daniel Vannoy is Joel, known as “Sheriff Joel” in the family.  A daughter Susannah is also attributed to Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.  In the 1790 census, they had two male children, and given that we only know of one son, Joel, the slot for a second male born before 1788 is enticingly vacant.

In 1810, Sarah Vannoy is shown to be age 26-45, which is too young for our Sarah.  If this is our Sarah, she is shown with three females, which would make three daughters and 2 sons, at least, if it is Sarah Hickerson Vannoy.

I tried to correlate names as well.  Elijah’s oldest son was named Joel, the same name as Daniel’s only known son.  Elijah had a daughter named Sarah too, but no male child named Daniel…at least not that survived.  But then, Joel didn’t name a son Daniel either, but he did have one named Elijah.  We didn’t have a lot to work with here.

So there we stood, for more than a decade.

I had journeyed to Wilkes County, NC, Greenville, South Carolina and the NC State Archives in Raleigh.  Harold had been to the Allen County Public library searching for Hickerson information.  That’s where he discovered that the Hickersons were originally Higginsons.  We had information alright, but nothing to tie it all together and nothing to tie it to any specific Vannoy male.

It was still only data, information, not evidence.

The New Age – DNA

When DNA testing first became available, Harold and I decided that we could at lease rule in or out one possibility, and that was that Elijah wasn’t the son of any of the Vannoy men, but was instead illegitimate or adopted.  Harold tested, and we found other males as well not in our line of descent, confirming that Elijah was indeed a Vannoy male genetically.  At least one possibility was removed.

I surmised years ago that the only way I was ever going to solve this mystery was through the wives lines.  By that, I mean that because we are going to match descendants of all 4 men utilizing both Y and autosomal DNA, because they all 4 shared a father, that the only differentiating factor was going to be the DNA of the various wives lines.

To make this even tougher that means that we had to match someone ELSE, preferably multiple someone elses, descended from the wives lines utilizing autosomal DNA.

We have just one more fly in the ointment.  Harold and I are descended from one of the wives too.  Yep, everyone married their neighbors and it was inevitable.  Andrew Vannoy’s’s father-in-law, John Shephard is the brother of our ancestor, Robert Shephard who married Sarah Rash and had daughter Elizabeth Shepherd who married William McNiel.  William and Elizabeth had daughter Lois who married…you guessed it….Elijah Vannoy.  And around and around we go.

So, if Elijah’s father was Andrew Vannoy, we were up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  And we’d never know it because only sign would be if many people who descended from the other wives lines tested and we consistently did NOT match any of them.  That’s not exactly proof – not at more than 6 generations removed.

Fortunately, Andrew had been fairly well ruled out pretty early in the game as a candidate to be Elijah’s father.

I tentatively entered Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson as Elijah’s parents in my genealogy software, more than anything as a placeholder because I knew who Elijah’s Vannoy grandparents were, unquestionably and I needed someone to connect the generations.  I felt Daniel was my best shot, although I really hesitated when I added this record to Ancestry because I felt the link was so tenuous and I didn’t want anyone else copying it as gospel.

So, that brings us to today, or this week, anyway.  It seems appropriate that I’m finishing this article on Thanksgiving day!!!

Periodically, I’d go and look, rather half-heartedly to see if I had any DNA matches with any Hickersons, Hendersons or Ray/Reys and periodically, I would find out that I didn’t…or not anyone I could connect to anyway.

Each of the three autosomal DNA vendors has the ability to search on surnames, including ancestral surnames.  However what I didn’t do was twofold.  I only searched my own account.  I did not ask Harold to search his, nor did I search the accounts that I manage who also descend from Elijah.  Duh!!!  What was I thinking?

Actually, truthfully, after so many years of that wall standing so firmly, I thought it would never fall and so I stopped pushing the envelope.  We are right at that 6 generation threshold, so I was painfully aware that I might not match someone on a big enough piece of DNA to be over the threshold for matching.

Here’s my direct line to Sarah.

  • Sarah Hickerson married Daniel Vannoy (1752-c1796)
  • Elijah Vannoy (c1784–1850/1860) married Lois McNiel (c1786-c1839)
  • Joel Vannoy (1813-1895) married Phebe Crumley (1818-1900)
  • Elizabeth Vannoy (1846-1918) married Lazarus Estes (1845-1919)
  • William George Estes (1873-1971) married Ollie Bolton (1874-1955)
  • William Sterling Estes (1902-1963)
  • Me

We don’t yet have advanced tools that are flexible enough to say “find all the Hickersons in the data base, drop the threshold to 3cM and tell me if I match them and if they match each other.  Oh yes, and tell me if any of my Vannoy cousins match these people too.”  Nope, not here yet, still a dream… so I searched my own account periodically with no results.

Secondly, I didn’t search for the surname Higginson.  I have a really good excuse for that.  I didn’t realize that Higginson was the earlier form of Hickerson.  Cousin Harold shared that with me this week.  He found it a couple years ago when he visited the Fort Wayne library, and while it didn’t seem to matter at the time, today, it matters a great deal.

A Bad Day Improves

It’s winter in Michigan…far too early, way too cold and rather a brutal and dramatic entrance.  The wind was howling the snow blowing straight sideways.  Here, just look out my back window for yourself.  You used to be able to see a lake, but not anymore!

Michgian early winter

I had just spent two days researching and writing about the new Ancestry DNA Circles rollout.  Truthfully, this seems “cute” and very easy and enticing, but certainly not adequate as compared to what genetic genealogists want and need, and not terribly relevant to me.  By this, I mean that the only thing that DNA Circles does, is, well, group your DNA matches and those who also match each other’s DNA and have a common ancestor in a pedigree chart.  That doesn’t mean that all of your DNA matches because you descend from this ancestor, but it does increase the odds, the more people in the circle.

For example, the only circle I have that is relevant to this discussion is a circle for Joel Vannoy that is made up of me, cousin Harold, a kit he administers and a fourth cousin who doesn’t reply to messages.

joel vannoy circle

Joel Vannoy circle2

I already know I’m descended from Joel Vannoy, so really, there is nothing for me here.  Now if there had been a  Hickerson circle, THAT would have been news!!!!

Given Ancestry’s suggestive “soft science” approach, I was terribly frustrated and rather grumpy when you combine the hours that the articles took and the terrible weather.  Grumpy cat’s got nothing on me.

However, because I was writing about the before and after aspect of Ancestry’s new software, I had to review all of my shakey leaf matches, before and after.  Among other things, ancestry changed the way their software sorts and matches.

Before, I had no shakey leaf match to a descendant of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle, but afterwards, I did.

Ancestry Hickerson match

There it was, in color, sitting there just calmly staring at me.  OMG!!!!

Was this the real McCoy??  Or was this the proverbial case that we have so often found on Ancestry where the DNA does match and the pedigree does match, but they point to two different ancestors?

Need I mention that there are no tools at Ancestry, no chromosome browser, nada, to solve or resolve this issue?  Ancestry feels we don’t need them.  I’m here to tell you, we do.  Here’s the perfect example of why.

So, what was I to do?

I did what any good genealogist cousin would do.  I e-mailed Harold right away with the news!!!!  I asked him to check his results at Ancestry and those of his brother as well, and let me know if he matches the same person, or any Hickerson descendant.

And then, I waited, of course, for his answer.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Harold’s brother had a Charles Hickerson/Mary Lytle match at Ancestry too.

Vannoy Hickerson match

Neither Harold nor his brother matched the same person that I did, but one of the people they both matched was very interesting, because a third cousin, Cindy also shared a match with this person.  Cousin Cindy descends through her ancestor known as “Sheriff Joel Vannoy,” the proven son of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.  This match is shown above, with the current tester’s screen name and current generation removed.

So three Vannoy cousins, one not through Elijah, but through his suspected brother, all match the same Hickerson descendant.

OMG this is enticing, but the problem is that we can’t prove it because we have no tools.  This is exactly why we need a chromosome browser that shows us they not only match the same descendant, but match on the same segment of DNA.  That’s confirmation of a genetic match – and the only way to provide that confirmation.  So close but so <insert swear word of choice here> frustratingly far away.

Below, a little summary table of our Hickerson/Higginson matches at Ancestry.

Hickerson Higginson
Me 1 0
Harold 3 1
Harold’s Brother 2 2

About this time, I received another message from Harold. He told me that while cousin Cindy had tested at Ancestry, her brother had tested at Family Tree DNA – and she had just joined him to the Vannoy DNA project which Harold and I administer.

If I was ever glad that I have embraced autosomal participants in surname projects, today is that day.

Digger the Dog

I quickly signed onto the the Vannoy project and looked at Cindy’s brother’s Family Finder results.  Utilizing the “ancestral surname” search capability, I discovered that Cindy’s brother indeed matches three people who descend from a Hickerson line, including one who descends from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through a son.

Oh, I’m in Digger the Dog heaven now, because I do have tools at Family Tree DNA – and I also have cousins – lots of cousins.

I hadn’t really realized the true power of cousins until this exercise.

There are a total of 10 cousins, nine of whom descend from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel and one from Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson’s son, Joel, who have tested at Family Tree DNA, all of whom are in the Vannoy DNA project.

Needless to say, I searched each one for both Hickerson and Higginson ancestral suranme matches, and what I found was a goldmine.  Individually, these results were interesting with a nugget or two, but cumulatively, it was the Gold Rush!!!

After I made a matrix of who matched whom, I then began the process of pushing the results into the chromosome browser.  I won’t bore you with the many iterations of that exercise, but suffice it to say that it’s very exciting to see the Vannoy, Hickerson and Higginson segments overlap.

In this example, individuals are being compared to my cousin Buster at 1cM.

  • Me – orange
  • Harold – blue
  • Reverend John Higginson descendant – green
  • Hickerson descendant – pink
  • Vannoy cousin – yellow

vannoy higginson hickerson browser

At the end of the day, we had the following match matrix.  All of the Vannoy cousins are shown at left, including William who descends from Sheriff Joel Vannoy, proven son of Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.  The rest of the cousins all descend from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel.  The top row represents all of the individuals who show Hickerson or Higginson in their ancestral surnames.  The two green individuals descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle (Little).

vannoy hickerson higginson matrix

You’ll notice, above, that there are several instances where more than one cousin matched the same Hickerson/Higginson descendant.  This was very important, because it allowed me to compare their DNA by segment in the chromosome browser.

I downloaded all of the match data for the matches to the Hickersons and Higginsons, and to each Vannoy cousin as well.  Needless to say, the Hickerson and Higginson matches won’t be displayed at Family Tree DNA unless they are over the matching threshold of around 7.7cM, which does not mean they would not match at lower segment thresholds.  That can be discovered by a composite spreadsheet in which all of the matches of all of the cousins plus the Hendersons and Hickersons are compiled. Downloaded match data at Family Tree DNA includes segments of 1cM or above.

The spreadsheet is 614 rows and includes 64 matching clusters of individuals which include Vannoy cousins and at least one Hickerson/Higginson match.  Some of these matches are as large as 20cM with 6000 SNPs.  More than twenty Hickerson/Higginson triangulated matches are over 10cM with from 1500 to 6000 SNPs.   Many are much smaller.   An excerpt of one match cluster is shown below.  This is the same group as is shown on the chromosome browser on chromosome 2, at the very top of the graphic.

vannoy hickerson higginson SS

Note that the cousins are matching each other on this segment, and they are also matching the Hickerson/Higginson descendants as well on this same segment, which strongly suggests that this “Vannoy” segment is descended from the Hickerson/Higginson line of the family.

Bingo!  Checkmate!  Wahoo!!!!  Happy Dance!

Sarah Hickerson – you are now MY confirmed ancestor, along with your husband Daniel Vannoy.  Welcome back to the family – we’ll be celebrating you at the Thanksgiving table today.  You have been resurrected to us, reconnected after more than 100 years of being lost!

The dead may be dead, but our ancestors don’t have to be dead to us, even if the records are gone – they aren’t.

Their DNA runs in our veins, and that of our cousins.  The power of this solution was found in the many cousins who have tested.  Without all of us, the ancestral connection would not have been revealed.

Thank you, cousins, on this wonderful Thankgiving Day!!!!  Thank you Harold for your tireless research, and for never giving up.

And thank you Family Tree DNA for the chromosome browser, the matrix and other tools necessary to break down this brick wall.

I am truly thankful!

brick wall breakthrough

Ancestry’s Better Mousetrap – DNA Circles

This is it…the big day.

Ancestry’s better mousetrap is called DNA Circles and it launched today.

DNA Circles is a result of three things.

  1. Phased data
  2. Improved genetic Matching
  3. Pairing DNA matches with submitted trees

Yesterday I wrote about my matches in the old version.  So, let’s take a look at the new version, available now.

All three of the autosomal DNA genetic genealogy testing companies have the same issue and that’s how to provide us with quality matches, eliminate false IBS matches while preserving real ones, and making the consumer experience both productive and easy to use. All three of the companies approach this challenge in different ways.

23andMe has an arbitrary cutoff on the number of matches you can have, at 1000, unless you’re in contact with your matches and then you are allowed more. Family Tree DNA has both a cumulative match threshold of about 20cM and then an individual segment threshold of about 7.7cM.  The word “about” appears in that last sentence because the matching algorithm contains some situational variables.  Until today, Ancestry really didn’t have a good tool to eliminate low confidence, spurious or IBS (identical by state) matches.

At 23andMe, I have just over 1000 matches, which is to be expected based on their 1000 cutoff. At Family Tree DNA, I have about 1875 matches and at Ancestry, until today, I had over 13,000 matches.  Clearly, Ancestry needed to refine their matching process, and they have.

Ancestry has implemented population based phasing to help reduce false positive matches. Blaine Bettinger wrote an excellent article about how Ancestry is accomplishing this task, why it works, and how, in his article, Finding Genetic Cousins – Separating Fact From Fiction.

As I described in my article, DNA Day with Ancestry, Ancestry has discovered that we all have what they describe as pileup areas where many people from the same population will match.  This means that those matches, while they do come from specific ancestors, aren’t actually genealogical in the way we might think.

genome pileups

Here’s an example of my own genome and my pileup areas, as provided by Ancestry.

You can see that in one region I have almost 800 matches – and clearly that’s not from one ancestor, especially given that most of my match numbers are under 200, and most are significantly under 200.

genome pileups2

Here’s my same chart AFTER they ran the phasing algorithm on my matches and removed those pileup areas. Please note that the scale is different.  Now my highest number of matches is about 25.

Are some of those phased regions probably valid matches? Sure.  Are some of them occurring in people whom I match in other regions too?  Of course.  And those people will remain as matches, where people I only match on pileup regions will be removed.  In other words, any match to me in a pileup region won’t be considered a match, regardless of how many other places we match.

Ancestry did not provide us with a list of regions by chromosome that were removed in the experiment above. I wish they had, because I have a couple of chromosomal areas that I’ve been finding confusing because I have multiple matches with proven connections to specific different families from the same parental line that match me on the same segments.  Let me say that again, another way.  On Mom’s side, two different families match me on the same chromosomal segment region.

Now, unless those separate families are interrelated, that is impossible.  Those families being interrelated certainly isn’t impossible, but given one line is French (Acadian) pre-1600 and one is Swiss Brethren from the mid-1600s, an interrelationship between these families had to have occurred before 1600 which is more than 12 generations ago – and probably many more generations before that, given their strong religious leanings and lack of geographic proximity.

So, I’m presuming here that these confusing segments are an example of pileups and that explains why the multiple family lines match to the same segments.

Ancestry’s Updated Product

So how has this new technology changed your Ancestry results?

  • New Home Page
  • Updated Match List
  • DNA Circles
  • Updated Help Page and White Papers


Your home page now has a new category, DNA Circles.

But first, before we look at the circles, let’s look the matches.


Yesterday, I reported on my matches and how they were distributed. I had 262 pages of matches, or about 13,100.  Today, I have 67 pages, or about 3,350 matches.  My matches were reduced by about 75%.

Yesterday Today Shakey Leaves Yesterday Shakey Leaves Today
Total Matches 13,100 3,350
2nd Cousins 1 – 99% confidence 0 – shifted to third cousin 0 0
3rd Cousins 10 8 – shifted to fourth cousins 2 1 (shifted to 4th cousin)
4th Cousins 243 161 10 14
Distant Cousins 12,846 3,181 36 18

Of the fourth cousin shakey leaf people, three that were distant cousins are now shifted up into the fourth cousin range, my third cousin is shifted down to fourth cousin range, and one prior fourth cousin shakey leaf match is gone entirely.

However, the numbers aren’t the entire story. I compared my list of shakey leaf people from yesterday to today, and I discovered that some were missing, but I also have 6 new shakey leaf matches in the distant cousin category that I didn’t have yesterday.

And one of those shakey leaf matches, if it is correct – meaning that if the DNA does point to the genealogy – would shatter a very long-standing brick wall.

Now, before I share this with you, I want to be very, VERY clear – just because we share DNA and a common genealogy line does NOT MEAN that we are genetically connected via this genealogy path. However, having said that, it’s a very good hint and a wonderful place to start.

In my case, Elijah Vannoy was born in1784 to one of 4 Vannoy men in Wilkes County, NC. The question is, which one?  Based on census, tax, Bible and other records, I’ve positively eliminated one candidate and probably eliminated a second.  But that leaves two and possibly a third.  I decided a long time ago that this quandry would and could only be solved via a DNA connection to the wife’s line of the men involved.

  • Nathaniel Vannoy married Elizabeth Ray (Rey) – Eliminated as Elijah’s possible father via Nathaniel’s Bible record
  • Andrew Vannoy married Susannah Sheppard (I am related to Susannah’s father through a different family line.)
  • Francis Vannoy married Millicent Henderson
  • Daniel Vannoy married Sarah Hickerson.  Her parents were Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

Based on tax lists that include males of specific ages, my “best choice” is Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson. That’s who I have in my tree at Ancestry, even though I strongly debated entering that couple since it was so tentative.  Am I EVER glad that I did.

Here’s my new match.


I can tell you, when I saw this, it took my breath away!  Lordy, lordy, I’ve caught a mouse.  But now what do I do with it???

Now, for the frustrating-makes-me-screaming-insane part – I have NO WAY TO VERIFY THIS without a chromosome browser. So, what am I going to do?  I’m going to contact this person, and pray, PRAY, that they reply to me.  I’ll be glad to pay for them to transfer to Family Tree DNA where I have a chromosome browser to work with and can prove that this individual indeed does match other descendants of Elijah Vannoy and not just me.

If this is just true….

But wait, maybe there is more evidence at Ancestry. Let’s look at their new DNA Circles.

DNA Circles

DNA Circles is a composite tool that links people who are genetically connected with people who have the same ancestors in their trees, and puts them together in a circle.

In other words, all of these people genetically match at least one other person in the circle, but they don’t all match each other. The only matches you can see are people that match you.  The common link, is, of course, that in addition to genetically matching someone in the circle, they all share a common ancestor in their tree.  Now, yes, it does go without saying that if everyone has the same wrong ancestor – the circle will show that ancestor. Conversely, if you are the only one with the right ancestor’s name, and everyone else has the wrong name, then you won’t be shown in that circle.

Now, for the caveats.

You must be an Ancestry subscriber to see Circles.

If you have a private tree, Ancestry is respecting your request to remain private and you will not be included in Circles.  If you make your tree public, you may or may not have circles.  Not everyone does.  Ancestry updates their data base every 3-4 hours, so if you make your tree public, it won’t take effect immediately.

Of course, if you have no tree, there is no way to include you in any circles.  Ancestry is looking back 7 generations for circles, so if you’re entering a tree, enter at least 7 generations.

Having said that, both private trees and no tree matches are still included in match lists, if they pass the new matching criteria, but they won’t be included in the new Circles feature.

So, let’s take a look. Please note that the new Circles feature is in Beta.

Here are my 12 DNA Circles.  I was actually surprised that there weren’t more.  However, one person in our blogger group had no circles.  How disappointing.


Sadly, the Hickerson ancestor I was hoping to see is not identified as a circle. Maybe someday.

Let’s look at my smallest circle, Jacob Lentz.


Ancestry refers to this as an emerging circle. I match one individual genetically, but not the second individual, which I would presume (how I hate that word) means that H.C. and pawruby match each other genetically.  How I would love to see the three of us in a chromosome browser.

I can click on “View Details” to see how they both connect to Jacob.


The tree above is from my DNA match. The tree below is from the other member of the circle who I don’t match genetically, but who presumably matches H.C.


Jacob Lentz’s wife is Frederica Moselman or Musselman. The spelling of the name varies in documents.  I was curious as to why there is no circle for Frederica, so I looked to see if perhaps her name is absent from the trees.  As it turns out, two trees show her as Moselman and one as Musselman, so the disparate spelling has defeated the creation of her circle.  During the discussions with Ancestry about this product, I specifically asked about situations like this and they indicated that they have soundex and other matching tools and they felt that this would not be a problem.  Obviously, in this case, and others, those tools didn’t work.

If you want to learn more about how DNA Circles works, and you are a member of a DNA Circle, click on the “Learn More” button at the bottom of the DNA Circles information box.


Learn more takes you to this page where you can read about how the circles are created, grouped and the white paper which describes the technology behind the circles.


My larger Nancy Mann circle shows that I have 12 members in this circle, of which I match 4 by DNA and the rest have a DNA connection with other member(s) of the group. We all have a common ancestor in our trees – Nancy Mann.

To clear up any misconceptions here, ancestry has very specifically stated that they are NOT using trees to do DNA matches, but only after DNA matching is completed, they are searching for common ancestors in trees of matches.


Of the Nancy Mann circle members, I match 4 people utilizing DNA. Three of those show on my match list, but one, C.M. doesn’t show on my match list today nor on my old list.  This is a strong match, so I find this confusing.

One of my non-DNA tree matches used to be a DNA match, but isn’t anymore. This would be one example of where a legitimate match was removed by the new matching routines, but I can still see that there is a circle connection to a common ancestor.  While Circles don’t confirm a genetic connection, they are another tool that is certainly suggestive that the DNA connections between these individuals lead to a common ancestor.

Nancy Mann’s husband was Henry Bolton. She was his second wife, so there will be people who connect to Henry, via his first wife, but not to Nancy Mann.  What this means is that everyone in Nancy’s circle should also be in Henry’s circle, but some people in Henry’s circle won’t be in Nancy’s circle.

When looking at why someone in my Nancy Mann circle wasn’t in my Henry Bolton circle, I noticed that Williamlowe94 does list Henry Bolton, but has spelled his name “Henry Bolton (Boulton)” and apparently the parenthesis name was considered a non-match. C. M. has spelled Henry’s name Boulton, so that’s why C.M. is in the Nancy Mann group, but not the Henry Bolton group.

Another circle, Joseph Preston Bolton, was Henry Bolton’s son. There are 4 members of that circle, one of which I match via DNA.  There is one new member of this group that is not in the Henry Bolton group, and who is not on my DNA match list.  I wondered why they aren’t on Henry’s list, so I looked at their pedigree chart and their chart stops at Joseph Preston Bolton.  This would seem to be a good opportunity for Ancestry to utilize the power of their software to see if she actually DOES fit into the Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann circles and suggest to her that in fact, she does.  For her, this might indeed tear down a brick wall.  Most people aren’t looking for confirmation of what they have, they are looking for that next step – that elusive ancestor who isn’t identified.

That is why we do DNA, and genealogy.

The John Campbell tree only has 3 members and both of the other Circle members are a DNA match to me. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are a DNA match to each other.  All 3 of us show John’s wife to be exactly the same person, spelled exactly the same way Jane “Jenny” Dobkins, but there is no circle for her.  I wonder if somehow the quotes interfered with the circle creation.  Given that all 3 of us form a circle for John, we should also form that exact same circle for Jane.

Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy hold another odd match. One charlenecarlson0126 shows to be both a DNA match and a tree match, but she does not appear on my DNA match list, nor does her tree include any Claxton or Clarkson at all.  This has to be a bug of some sort, but it seems odd that it would pass both criteria, DNA matching and the tree.


Match above, tree below.


What I was actually searching for is why Fairwick’s father, James Lee Clarkson/Clarkston/Claxton is not listed as a circle. My suspicion is that the name is not spelled consistently.  Of the 5 Circle members, one is spelled, Claxton, 2 Clarkson and 2 Clarkston.  This looks like another miss that could be a hit.

My John Hill circle is actually quite interesting. There are only 3 people and I match one via DNA.  I’ve been working with my non-DNA match on this genealogy line.  It’s nice to see him in the Circle, even though our DNA doesn’t match directly.

The John Hill group, again, begs the question of why there is no wife’s group. She was Catherine Mitchell and all 3 of us list her as such.

In Summary

Ancestry has certainly improved their methodology and utilized their new tools to add the DNA Circles feature.

Certainly, we had too many matches to deal with before and now we have a much more reasonable number. Ancestry’s shakey leaf remains one of the best tools they have ever implemented and their user interface remains clean, crisp and easy to use.  There are a few bugs, but this is a beta version and with feedback, I’m sure they will resolve those in short order.

In order to get a handle on what was really occurring, I created a spreadsheet of my pre-Circles shakey-leaf matches as compared with my matches in the new Circles version. The individuals in bold are the ones that appear in both versions, the pre and post Circles.  Non-bolded were in one or the other versions, but not both.  In some cases, like with the first 4 matches in this group, I wonder why they don’t form a James Lee Claxton group.  Me plus two more would be enough for an emerging group, and we have that for sure.

Shakey Leaf Matches and Ancestor Previous Current Circle Members
Rodneybranch1 – James Lee Claxton and Sarah “Sary” Cook distant gone
urbadntx – James Lee Claxton and Sary Cook absent distant
Ctkatherine – Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy 4 4 Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy
Dbreeding63 – Fairwix Claxton and Agnes Muncy 4 4 Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy
charlenecarlson0126 Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy
Petwin73 – John Hill and Catherine Mitchell distant gone John Hill
Greatpyr616 – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann distant distant Nancy Mann, Henry Bolton
Marsha Bolton – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann distant gone Nancy Mann
Ctlynch01 – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann distant gone
C.L.M. – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann distant distant
Tjfhorn1 – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann distant gone
johnryder42 – Nancy Mann absent distant Nancy Mann, Henry Bolton
Dblrich – Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille distant distant
Rkoelpin – Francois Lafaille distant gone
William Lowe94 – Joseph Preston Bolton distant distant Nancy Mann, Joseph Bolton
E.J.H. – John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Anderson distant gone
Rheainhatton – Francis Vannoy and Catherine Anderson distant gone
Viero111777 – John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Anderson distant gone
Maggiejames113 – John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Anderson distant gone
J.M. – John Vanoy distant gone
annelynnward1 – Jothan Brown absent distant
RWECIII – Jotham Brown distant gone
Raymond Brown – Jotham Brown distant distant
Tgbils917 – Jotham Brown distant gone
Skyrider3277 – Jotham Brown distant gone
Browndavid239 – Jotham Brown distant distant
R.G. – John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore distant gone
Chuck2810 – John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore distant distant
Lodikid – Andrew McKee distant distant
C.A.W. – Daniel Miller and Elizabeth Ulrich distant distant
Ostate4454 – John Campbell and Jane “Jenny” Dobkins distant distant John Campbell
melby01 – John Campbell and Jane Dobkins absent distant John Campbell
A.F.B. – Nicholas Speaks and Sarah Faires distant gone
nellf_1 – Nicholas Speaks and Sarah Faires absent distant Nicholas Speaks, Sarah Faires
Razzanozoo1 – Lois McNiel distant gone
EHVannoy – Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley 3 3 Joel Vannoy, Phoebe Crumley
D.V. – Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley 3 4 Joel Vannoy, Phoebe Crumley
Spklegirl- Francois LaFaille 4 gone
H.C. – Jacob Lentz and Frederica Moselman 4 distant Jacob Lentz
Alyssa- Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy 4 4 Joel Vannoy, Phoebe Crumley
J.L.B. – Daniel Miller and Elizabeth Ulrich 3 4
drjcox51 – Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle absent distant
M.S. – private tree distant gone Not in circles
Christine414 – private tree distant gone Not in circles
DDicksson – private tree (Jane Dobkins and John Campbell) distant distant Not in circles
FruitofVine – private tree distant gone Not in circles
Lisa36ang – private tree distant distant Not in circles
J.M.F. – private tree distant gone Not in circles
1_perry22 – private tree distant gone Not in circles
Jcarolynbh – private tree distant gone Not in circles
Nanbowjack – private tree 4 4 Not in circles
L.W. – private tree (John R. Estes) 4 4 Not in circles
P.B. – private tree 4 4 Not in circles
1_cmarse – private tree 4 4 Not in circles
MDgenealogy20 – private tree 4 4 Not in circles
Susanharmon – private tree 4 4 Not in circles

Obviously, several people are in multiple circles.  There are a total of 15 DNA matches distributed between 12 circles.  That leaves 3,335 matches that aren’t helping me or correlated in any way.  While I do like the circles, I’m disappointed that so few of my matches sync up with pedigree charts.  It looks like there would be a lot more if Ancestry would review the matching routine, and perhaps more yet if they would reach beyond 7 generations.  But first steps first.

Some circles contain only DNA matches.  Others have more non-DNA matches (to me) but have a pedigree match to everyone in the DNA Circle. That’s really what these are, DNA circles that happen to have a common ancestor in their family tree.

Does a circle confirm that the connection to that ancestor is via DNA? Nope.  Does it confirm that your DNA connection to your match is from that ancestor?  Nope.  You still need a chromosome browser to do that – but this certainly helps.  It’s a step in the right direction.  It gives us another tool.  And, in some cases, like my Elijah Vannoy, changing the suspected parents periodically from one possibility to the other might be viewed as a new method of fishing.  So might changing the surname spelling.

And regarding that chromosome browser from Ancestry, well, all I can say is don’t hold your breath…

Truthfully, I’ll tell you exactly when we’ll get a chromosome browser.

Tim Sullivan, Ancestry’s CEO, is a genealogist, just like the rest of us. The day he has to transfer his autosomal file to a competitor to use their chromosome browser to confirm an ancestral match…well…I’m betting that’s the day a chromosome browser will become a priority for Ancestry.

So Tim, my friend, I wish for you a lot of new circles – including one just like my Hickerson match – one that you have been desperately seeking for say, about 30 years. Wouldn’t that be a great Christmas gift?  But, you see, I know that having a hint but not knowing, i.e., no proof, is going to just about kill you.  It will break your genealogist’s heart.  It will make you beat-your-head-against-the-wall insane.  Screaming yellow zonkers nuts.  I don’t want that to happen to you, or anyone else, for that matter.

So, while you’re waiting for Ancestry’s chromosome browser to be developed, here’s the link to Family Tree DNA so you can confirm your genetic ancestral match…assuming of course that you can also convince the other people to download their results from Ancestry to Family Tree DNA as well:)

In Anticipation of Ancestry’s Better Mousetrap

Knowing that Ancestry’s leaner, meaner, better mousetrap is forthcoming shortly, I decided to take a final look at the old mousetrap at Ancestry and collect some information so that I can reliably compare said old mousetrap with the new and improved version.

On November 17, 2014, I had 262 pages of matches, at 50 matches per page, for approximately 13,100 matches. Clearly, I’m never going to contact all of those, or even most of those.

My matches break down as follows:

  • 1 second cousin who doesn’t reply to messages. Their tree is visible, but I don’t see a common ancestor.
  • 10 third cousins, of whom 2 are known cousins prior to DNA testing. Three others have no family tree. Other than my known cousins, I can only find one genealogy connection, thanks to a shakey leaf.
  • 243 fourth cousins
  • 12,846 distant cousins, few of which have any connecting genealogy information to me

Let’s take a look at how this breaks down.



My third cousin match (that I didn’t previously know) has a shakey leaf that shows the following common ancestors. You might notice that even though we are predicted as third cousins with a range of 3rd to 4th and a confidence rating of 98%, we are actually 5th cousins.  That’s the nature of random DNA recombination in each generation.


That cousin and I match through Daniel Miller and Elizabeth Ulrich.

Actually, that’s not true – but it’s so easy to say and infer. In truth, we don’t know HOW we match, but we do have a DNA match and we do have a shared genealogy paper-trail ancestor in Daniel Miller and Elizabeth Ulrich.  So, we MAY have a genetic match through these ancestors – or it might be through another line – known or unknown.  But there is no way to tell for sure – at least not today at Ancestry.

Case in point…just very recently, when dealing with this exact same Miller line, I discovered that I did match one of my cousins at Family Tree DNA on the Miller line, but that we also have a second unknown genetic link on the X chromosome that could not have come from that Miller couple.

The problem with the matches at Ancestry is that they are suggestive and not in any way conclusive. Why?  Because there is no chromosome browser or other tool to show that these people match on the same chromosomes.  That would be step 1.  A tool to see that those two people match another descendant on the same segment would be step two in truly identifying and confirming a common genetic ancestor.  But neither of these steps exist at Ancestry today.  Many people either don’t know or don’t understand that, or flat out don’t care – because they are meeting paper trail cousins.

If meeting paper trail cousins is your goal – then you can do a bang up job of that at Ancestry!  In fact, I could meet 13,100 new cousins today. Just don’t assume that because you match them on DNA and on paper that the paper trail IS the genetic trail, because it might well not be.  Never assume.

When looking at my Miller match’s tree, I notice that they have not only the incorrect, or at least unsubstantiated Rochette surname for Daniel’s mother, but they have also added another surname…out of thin air apparently – Maugens. Groan.  Another incorrect tree – and this single ancestor is incorrect in two distinct ways.


I checked to see what sources they noted, and they gave the “Family Data Collection of Individual Records” as a source for every record. I’m sorry, but someone else’s hearsay isn’t a record source.  However, I’ll leave source records to the experts and move on with genetic genealogy.  However, word to the wise…. with Ancestry’s new and better mousetrap, accurate trees become exponentially more important.

Yes, I have seen a beta version mousetrap preview.

Today, I have 243 fourth cousins, 10 of which have shakey leaf hints, meaning that we do show a common paper-trail ancestor:

  1. Spklegirl- Francois LaFaille (also show Brown as a shared surname)
  2. Dbreeding63 – Fairwix Claxton and Agnes Muncy
  3. H.C. – Jacob Lentz and Frederica Moselman
  4. Alyssa- Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy – no response to messages (last logged in May 12, 2014 – not a good sign)
  5. Nanbowjack – private tree
  6. L.W. – private tree
  7. P.B. – private tree
  8. 1_cmarse – private tree
  9. MDgenealogy20 – private tree
  10. Susanharmon – private tree

Six of my 10 fourth cousin shakey leaf people have private trees, more than half.

Of the entire group of 254 matches of 2nd – 4th cousins, 44 have private trees.

Of those 254, another 52 don’t have trees uploaded. This is like cutting your nose off to spite your face.  It’s easy to create an abbreviated tree, if nothing else, if you don’t want to upload your full tree from your genealogy software.  That gives Ancestry’s software something to work with – a way to look for pedigree matches.  No tree, no shakey leaf hints.  Include at least 7 generations, if you have them.

So, of those 254 matches, I know that I’ll positively lose 96 due to private trees and no trees. Truthfully, I’m absolutely fine with that.  Those matches are of absolutely no use to me.  My efforts to communicate with Ancestry matches have been relatively unsuccessful, to the point that I’ve wondered if there is a glitch with my mail and their system – until a cousin sent me a test message to see if it was working.  So, I’m glad to be rid of unproductive no tree matches that simply clutter up the works.  I don’t want to see private tree teasers that I want and can’t have.

It will be interesting to see how many of my shakey leaves, if any, I’ll lose. Maybe I’ll acquire some new ones!!!  I can always hope.

Shakey Leaves


Speaking of shakey leaves, by utilizing the shakey leaf hint filter ability, I can see only my shakey leaf hint matches, eliminating the rest. This is what I normally do, right after I see if I have any new close matches.

In my distant cousin matches, I have 36 additional shakey leaves, as follows, arranged by ancestor matches:

Ctkatherine – Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy

Rodneybranch1 – James Lee Claxton and Sarah “Sary” Cook

Petwin73 – John Hill and Catherine Mitchell

Greatpyr616 – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann
Marsha Bolton – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann
Ctlynch01 – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann
C.L.M. – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann
Tjfhorn1 – Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann

Dblrich – Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille

Rkoelpin – Francois Lafaille

William Lowe94 – Joseph Preston Bolton (share 8 surnames plus Combs – Herrell family is the same)

E.J.H. – John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Anderson
Rheainhatton – Francis Vannoy and Catherine Anderson
Viero111777 – John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Anderson
Maggiejames113 – John Francis Vannoy and Susannah Anderson

J.M. – John Vanoy

RWECIII – Jotham Brown
Raymond Brown – Jotham Brown
Tgbils917 – Jotham Brown
Skyrider3277 – Jotham Brown
Browndavid239 – Jotham Brown

R.G. – John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore
Chuck2810 – John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore (multiple ancestral line in this tree)

Lodikid – Andrew McKee

C.A.W. – Daniel Miller and Elizabeth Ulrich

Ostate4454 – John Campbell and Jane “Jenny” Dobkins (wrong parents for John)

A.F.B. – Nicholas Speaks and Sarah Faires

Razzanozoo1 – Lois McNiel

M.S. – private tree
Christine414 – private tree
DDicksson – private tree
FruitofVine – private tree
Lisa36ang – private tree
J.M.F. – private tree
1_perry22 – private tree
Jcarolynbh – private tree

DNA Testing Goals

I realized this week when I received an e-mail from someone requesting assistance that goals and expectations surrounding DNA testing vary widely in the genetic genealogy community. This person said, “I thought when I took a DNA test that all of my brick walls would just melt away.”

Clearly, that’s not the case.

I think with the increasing popularity of DNA testing that a wider range of people take the tests, and often without really understanding DNA testing, the various kinds of tests, or what DNA results can or might do for them.

DNA testing is a toolkit, and which tool, under what circumstances, is best for the job varies based on your goals. It’s like picking the right sized socket wrench.


Let me be very specific about my personal goals.

I want to learn everything I can about my ancestors. I am not interested in inferring a genetic match when said match can be proven.

1. I want to know the haplogroup of every single ancestor in my tree – both male and female. Why? Because Y and mitochondrial DNA testing is the only direct line information I can obtain on those ancestors, and it stretches back far beyond any prayer of written records or surnames. It tells me their ethnicity and often, where they came from – sometimes in general terms and sometimes in much more specific terms.

2. I want to map my ancestor’s DNA on my chromosomes. In other words, I want to know that my DNA on chromosome 1, section 1-10,000 came from the Ferverda line on my mother’s side and from John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson on my father’s side. This opens the door to do things like Ancestor Reconstruction as well as to identify where those other 12,846 people without shakey leaves fall on my tree, based on WHERE they match me.

While I am interested in meeting my cousins, especially cousins who are actively researching our common ancestral line, I’m not interested in meeting endless cousins who are just copy/pasting data from tree to tree. Rhetorically speaking, what the heck would I do with 13,000 new cousins.  I can barely remember the names of the ones I have!

For me, the end goal is not meeting cousins, specifically, although I do enjoy many of the cousins I meet through genealogy. Some of my very closest friends are my genealogy cousins.  But this isn’t a genealogy singles bar and I’m not interested in doing DNA speed dating, so to speak.

3. My goal is to discover every shred I can about my ancestors and to break down brick walls utilizing DNA.  See number 2, above.

To match my cousins whom I already know is great confirmation that I’m really a family member, but it does little more except provide the foundation for chromosome mapping utilizing chromosome browser tools. I need tools to find those missing wives lines, and to add to the tree – maybe to discover who someone’s parents actually were.  Those are the kinds of genetic genealogy dreams I have.  That’s my idea of a better mousetrap.

Ancestry’s New Mousetrap

During our meeting in October and follow-up conference call, Ancestry indicated that their new processing methods would result in many fewer matches, but much higher quality matches, based on their new phasing routines and new features. I welcome both of those improvements.

I wrote about the Ancestry visit here.  Judy Russell wrote about it here, and Blaine Bettinger wrote about it as well.  Anna Swayne, who leads the effort in genetic genealogy education at Ancestry wrote about the upcoming DNA release and referenced information provided by Ken Chahine, the AncestryDNA general manager.  So, now that you know what to expect, it will be interesting to see the real McCoy…er…I mean the new and better mousetrap.

The close and shakey leaf matches I’ve discussed above are the only ones I really care much about – because they are the only ones that are actually useful to me under the current circumstances. I would love to find a way to make the balance of my 12,846 matches useful.  That would be an exceptional mousetrap.

It will be interesting to see how many of these shakey leaf matches I lose, what, as a consumer and Ancestry subscriber I will gain, and how the new mousetrap will help genealogists break down brick walls.

In the end, that’s really the measure of usefulness of any genetic genealogy mousetrap.

One Match, Two Ancestors – Never Assume

Woman with HeadacheA few days ago, I received a note from someone who descends from my Miller line. Specifically, from our common ancestor, Philip Jacob Miller (1726-1799) and his wife, Magdalena (1727-1808).

Many records give Magdalena’s surname as Rochette, but I have found not one shred of evidence as to that or any other surname, nor can I find where the information about the Rochette surname originated.  So call me stubborn, but until there is some sort of proof, I’m not using it.  I will say one thing though.  Philip Jacob Miller was Brethren, as were his parents, and it’s very likely that his wife was also from the Brethren community – and there was no Rochette in the Brethren community or even in the same county.  And yes, I’ve personally checked the records.

Philip Jacob Miller and wife Magdalena had two sons, David, who my newly found cousin descends from, born in 1757, and Daniel, who I descend from, born in 1755. My cousin and I had “met” on 23and Me a year or so ago, but since she was not at Family Tree DNA, she could not join the Miller-Brethren surname project and I couldn’t compare her results to those of other known Miller descendants.  The Miller-Brethren DNA project focuses on the Miller families who were members of the Brethren (or similar) religions – and yes – there was more than one genetic Miller family – even in the same county and congregation.  They even moved cross-country together, yet they were not all from the same Miller ancestral line.  Y DNA busted that assumption years ago, but it was not at all what we expected to find!

When I received a note from my cousin that she had taken advantage of Family Tree DNA’s (almost) free transfer opportunity, I was thrilled, because we could then compare her to the rest of the clan.

In the Miller-Brethren project, we have three other cousins, all of whom descend from Daniel Miller in one way or another, that my cousin matches. Her best match is to my mother with 82 shared centimorgans and next, with me at 64.

You can see the comparison on the chromosome browser, below, at the default thresholds. Green is my mother, orange is me and blue is cousin Herbie who descends from another son of Daniel Miller.  You can see that there is a very large chunk of DNA on chromosome 14 where we all match.  A fourth cousin, shown in pink, also descended from Daniel, does not carry this segment of DNA on chromosome 14.

miller match

Dropping the threshold to 1cM produced more matching segments, but still no pink on chromosome 14, so clearly our pink cousin did not receive any Miller DNA on chromosome 14. However, we can attribute a huge chunk of chromosome 14 to Philip Jacob Miller and wife, Magdalena.  This segment is quite large, a total of 48cM and 12,894 SNPs.

miller match2

A second very interesting match is on the X chromosome. It’s fairly large too, a total of 11.84cM broken into three segments.  You can see that both mother and I match my cousin on the same X segments – obviously from Philip Jacob Miller and Magdalena.  Right?  Wrong.  Wrong.  Very wrong.

If you’re scratching your head about now, you’re not alone.  Keep reading…

Do you ever just get a sense that something isn’t right? A second sense that you need to check again?  Well, in genetic genealogy, never assume.  After I thought for just a second, I decided to grab my X chromosome map, because something just didn’t seem right.  So glad I did, because Philip Jacob Miller and Magdalena are NOT on the X inheritance path of my mother (and therefore not me either) so the X match CANNOT come from them.

miller match3

Using Charting Companion software, I can easily see, in pink and blue, who my mother’s X chromosome comes from in her lineage.  You can also see that Philip Jacob Miller isn’t on the X path, and neither are his descendants for two downstream generations – not until David Miller’s wife, Catharine Schaeffer, brings her X to the game.  So, the X match cannot be through this Miller line.

So, where did it come from?

In addition to this chart, I also sent an X chromosome pedigree chart to my cousin. She looked it over, and made a discovery.

Moving to my grandmother’s X chart, because the print is too small to read if I add another generation on my mother’s chart, you can now see Maria Magdalena Weber.

miller match4

Maria Magdalena Weber was born in 1724 in Mutterstadt, Germany to Johann Martin Weber and Maria Magdalena Schunck.

As it turns out, my cousin has another ancestor Eva Maria Weber, born in 1709, someplace in the Phalz portion of Germany, first found in Oley, PA. Now, it turns out, that Oley, PA is also where some of my other ancestors lived.  The DeTurks, Hochs and Deharcourts married into the Schaeffer family who migrated to Montgomery County, Ohio and married into the Miller family.  And yes, for those who are wondering, the Schaeffer line IS in my X path and yes, there are brick walls there that need to fall.

miller match5

Looking back at the first fan chart, Catharina Schaeffer is the wife of David Miller, son of Daniel Miller, son of Philip Jacob Miller and Magdalena. Yep, it’s a small world.  And truth is stranger, sometimes, than fiction.

So, is our common ancestor a Weber? And if it is a Weber, is it from the Mutterstadt Weber line, or is it a mystery person from Oley, PA – a brick wall that hasn’t fallen yet?

We don’t know.


We’re still working on it.

Now all I need is a tool to find every other person who matches me and my cousin on that same X segment and see who their ancestors are.

Webers or Oley, PA people, or both????

Or are they one and the same?

Webers who are from Mutterstadt and who went to Oley, PA and…

would it be…

could it be…

possible that I descend through that line twice????

Oh, my head hurts.

The genealogy Gods certainly have a perverse and twisted sense of humor.

The lesson here is never assume. Just because you have positively identified your common ancestor with a match, and proven it with triangulation, doesn’t necessarily mean that is your ONLY ancestor that you share with that match.  You know what assume does.

Among other things, it gives you a headache.

Just saying….

Kostenki14 – A New Ancient Siberian DNA Sample

k14 skeleton

This week, published in Science, we find another ancient DNA full genome sequence from Siberia in an article titled “Genomic structure in Europeans dating back at least 36,200 years” by Seguin-Orlando et al.. This sample, partially shown above, is quite old and closely related to the Mal’ta child, also found in Siberia from about 24,000 years ago. Interestingly enough, K14 carries more Neanderthal DNA than current Europeans. This skeleton was actually excavated in 1954, but was only recently genetically analyzed.

k14 mapFrom the paper, this map above shows the locations of recently analyzed ancient DNA samples.  Note that even though K14 and Mal’ta child are similar, they are not located in close geographic proximity.

k14 population clusterAlso from the paper, this chart of population clusters is quite interesting, because we can see which of these ancient samples share some heritage with today’s indigenous American populations, shown in grey. UPGH=Upper Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherer, MHG=Mesolithic Hunter Gatherer, which is later in time that Paleolithic, and NEOL=Neolithic indicating the farming population that arrived in Europe approximately 7,000-10,000 years ago from the Middle East

You can see that the Neolithic samples show no trace of ancestry with today’s Native people, but both pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherer cultures show some amount of shared ancestry with Native people. However, to date, MA1, the Malta child is the most closely related and carries the most DNA in common with today’s Native people.

Felix Chandrakumar is currently preparing the K14 genome for addition to the ancient DNA kits at GedMatch.  It will be interesting to see if this sample also matches currently living individuals.

Also from the K14 paper, you can see on the map below where K14 matches current worldwide and European populations, where the warmer colors, i.e. red, indicated a closer match.

K14 population matches

Of interest to genealogists and population geneticists, K14’s mitochondrial haplogroup is U2 and his Y haplogroup is C-M130, the same as LaBrana, a late Mesolithic hunter-gatherer found in northern Spain. Haplogroup C is, of course, one of the base haplogroups for the Native people of the Americas.

The K14 paper further fleshes out the new peopling of Europe diagram discussed in my Peopling of Europe article.

This map, from the Lazardis “Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans” paper published in September 2014, shows the newly defined map including Ancient North Eurasian in this diagram.

Lazaridis tree

K14 adds to this diagram in the following manner, although the paths are flipped right to left.

K14 tree

Blue represent current populations, red are ancient remains and green are ancestral populations.

Dienekes wrote about this find as well, here.

Paper Abstract:

The origin of contemporary Europeans remains contentious. We obtain a genome sequence from Kostenki 14 in European Russia dating to 38,700 to 36,200 years ago, one of the oldest fossils of Anatomically Modern Humans from Europe. We find that K14 shares a close ancestry with the 24,000-year-old Mal’ta boy from central Siberia, European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, some contemporary western Siberians, and many Europeans, but not eastern Asians. Additionally, the Kostenki 14 genome shows evidence of shared ancestry with a population basal to all Eurasians that also relates to later European Neolithic farmers. We find that Kostenki 14 contains more Neandertal DNA that is contained in longer tracts than present Europeans. Our findings reveal the timing of divergence of western Eurasians and East Asians to be more than 36,200 years ago and that European genomic structure today dates back to the Upper Paleolithic and derives from a meta-population that at times stretched from Europe to central Asia.

You can read the full paper at the two links below.

It’s been a great year for ancient DNA analysis and learning about our ancestral human populations.

However, I have one observation I just have to make about this particular find.

What amazing teeth. Obviously, this culture did not consume sugar!

Henry Bolton (c1759-1846), Kidnapped, Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #45

Henry Bolton is a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, we know a lot about him, especially after he settled in Botetourt County, Virginia.  We know something about him when he immigrated, and we know nothing, or almost nothing, about his life before that except for misty shreds of oral history.

My line of the Bolton family descends through Henry’s second wife, Nancy Mann, through son Joseph Preston Bolton, through his son Joseph “Dode” Bolton, through his daughter Ollie Bolton who married my grandfather, William George Estes. The Joseph Preston Bolton family, along with three of Joseph’s siblings, moved from Giles County, VA to Hancock County, TN in the mid-1840s and Henry’s descendants are found in both Hancock and Claiborne County, Tennessee.  Of course, there are also many scattered to the winds today.

The Bolton family in Claiborne and Hancock County formed a family association in about 1900 and through at least the 1990s, had regular, annual meetings. In that area, these often took place over Memorial Day weekend, known as “Decoration Day” and were spent, in part, tending to family cemeteries.  Often, you have several events to attend on that same weekend and many people intentionally ‘came home’ at that time.  Finding a hotel anyplace in that vicinity was impossible during that timeframe.

The fact that there was a family association of some sort was extremely beneficial, because it allowed the family to preserve pictures and stories of the earlier generations.

Given that Joseph Preston Bolton only died in 1887, and his son, Dode, in 1920, you’d think that both of those men would have known about the early life of Henry Bolton, and passed those stories to their children. There is a story, as told in the Bolton Family History published in 1985 by the Bolton Family Association, but it is frustratingly sketchy.

Henry Bolton Sr. was born in 1755 and died November 24, 1846. There are several stories, somewhat different, as to how the two brothers, Henry and (Condery) Conrad came to America.

Reports from the family members, Mrs. Holt, late of Arizona and Mrs. Bunker of Iowa, say that Henry Sr. and his brother Conrad came from London, England around 1770-1774. Someone was showing the boys the scenes at the harbor when suddenly the vessel started to move out to sea.  The boys felt that they were tricked into being on the boat.

When they landed in America, the boys were taken to a farm near Hagerstown, Maryland and were bound out to a Mr. Moore for a number of years to pay for their passage to America. Their duties consisted of caring for Mr. Moore’s horses.

One day while Henry was thus employed, a stranger came to look at Mr. Moore’s horses with the idea of obtaining horses for the Continental Army, which was encamped near Hagerstown. The gentleman told Henry that if he would join the Army, he would no longer be bound to Mr. Moore.  The next day Henry went to the place where the soldiers were camped and joined the Army.  He saw the gentleman with whom he had talked the day before and to his surprise, learned he was General George Washington.  He served under him until the end of the war.  This is documented in the Pennsylvania State Archives, Philadelphia County Militia 6th Services, Vol 1, page 799.

Henry took part in the battle of Brandywine and during this battle he was wounded in the hip and as a result of this wound, he walked with a limp. After the battle, he was laid across a cannon and taken from the battlefield.  The battle of Brandywine was fought near Chad’s Ford, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1777.

Henry never received a pension because his papers were lost in a fire during the War of 1812, some say the Hagerstown fire, some say when the British buried the White House.  “He was with the Fourth Battalion of Philadelphia Co., Pa, Eight Company, under Captain Isaiah Davis.  8th Class under William Coats  – Henry Boulton.”

According to the books written about the Bolton families of England, Boldon, Bolton, Boulton, and Bolten were all common variations of the name which was Anglo-Saxon in the first place.

We still hear a great deal of Anglo-Saxon English in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. “Have you eaten?” is the way we ask the question in mainstream American English.  “Have you et?” is the way it would be said in most of England, even in sophisticated households.  This is our true Anglo Saxon we sometimes sound like those of the British rather than those of the mainstream English.

Since the formative years of English language, irregular verbs have given its users more trouble than any other part of our speech. Mountain speech has preserved some of these different forms.  We don’t’ hear them as much as we did a few years ago.  We still hear expressions as : halp or holped for helped; clumb for climbed; seen or seed for saw; fotch for fetched; was borned for born; wropped for wrapped and on and on.  The use of more than one negative to make a strong statement has always been common in the Germanic language and English is much more Germanic than it is anything else.  Chauser, six centuries ago used double negatives, we have found some of the older Boltons closer to Chaucer in some respects than to the “Latin Learning” halls of learning.  So whether it was English or German, brothers often spelled the name differently in the old days when spelling was not formalized anyway.

In Passengers to America, 1977, by Michael Tepper, page 366, we find the statement that Henry Bolton, age 15 and his brother Condery, age 16, immigrated from the Port of London, England to Maryland between March 13 and 20, 1775 on the vessel Culbert. Both were listed as laborers and being indented servants for 7 years.

After the close of the Revolutionary War, Henry Bolton Sr. married Catherine Chapman, August 17, 1786. They had six children: Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary “Polly”, Jacob, Peter and Sarah.  Catherine Chapman Bolton died, August 17, 1798.

The files in the state library in Harrisburgh, PA reveals the following: There is an indexed in the published Pennsylvanian Archives a marriage of Henry Bolton of Swedes Church (Gloria Dei), Philadelphia, the church may have the complete record.

Here in Pennsylvania, their first child, Elizabeth Bolton was born on November 6, 1787. She married Absolem C. Dempsey on October 26, 1809.  This is listed on page 677 in the original Henry Bolton Bible.

In the 1790 census of Washington County, MD, both Henry and his brother Conrad are listed as heads of families. Henry is listed with one free male over 16 and one free while male under 6 and two free white females and one other free person. Page 117

At the time of the 1810 census of Botetourt County, VA, Henry Bolton is listed as head of a family with 3 males under 10, 1 male age 10-16, 1 male age 16-20, 1 male 45 and up, 3 females age 0-10, 1 female age 10-16, one age 26-45. Page 52.

Henry’s first wife Catherine Chapman Bolton died on August 17, 1789 and he married Nancy Mann on April 5, 1799. This is recorded on page 403 of the Annals of Southwest Virginia by Lewis P. Summers.  Marriage bond was signed by James Mann.

We don’t know the exact date, but sometime after the first census in 1790, Henry Sr. moved to Botetourt County, VA. He and Nancy Mann Bolton lived several years at Pearisburg, Giles Co., VA.  Giles County was formed in 1806 from Montgomery, Monroe, Tazewell, Gray, Mercer and Wythe Counties.

Henry’s Bible still had a small valentine “tucked” between the pages in 1972. Nelle Patterson Serry, daughter of Elyan Bolton Patterson, owner of the Bible told the story that it was from his sweetheart.  It had something written on it in the German language.

In personal appearance, Henry Bolton Sr., was a large, tall man, but a very gentle man.

In addition to his children, he “raised” Sarah Bolton, the daughter of his brother Conrad. The parents of Sarah both died rather young.

In the 1790 federal census, Washington County, MD on page 118, Conrad Bolton was listed as head of a household with 1 free white female. Then in the 1810 census of Botetourt County, page 52, Conrad is listed, one male 45 and up, one free female 0-10, one free female 26-45.  The census of 1830 doesn’t show Conrad.

In the census of 1810 and 1820 reveal that Henry and Conrad are listed as heads of family living in Botetourt Co., Va. In 1830, 1840 and 1850 lists Henry as living in Giles County.

In the back of this book, pages 148 and 149, we find pictures of the Henry Bolton Bible. These pages were subsequently used for DAR membership.

Henry Bolton Bible

Henry Bolton Bible2

The entries are transcribed as well on pages 150 and 151 and given in the table later in this article.

As it turns out, this cannot be the original Henry Bolton Bible, although the family in Claiborne County refers to it as such. Also as unfortunately, the DAR has it included in Henry’s file as “the Henry Bolton Bible,” even though it can’t be the original.  How do we know?

First and foremost, the Bible’s publication date of 1811 is many years after some of the entries, so it’s obvious that this was a later Bible and the entries from an earlier Bible were probably copied into this one.

I ordered Henry’s DAR application, years ago, and it is quite a mess. It appears that someone reused an application for a different ancestor.  There is nothing on the application that we don’t have from another source.

The Bolton book discusses two Bibles and refers to this one as “the original Henry Bolton Bible”, then says the following:

The one called ‘The Polly Bolton Bible’ was taken to the San Juan Islands by James Francis Bolton and George Bolton, sons of Peter and Polly. James F. copied the genealogical pages out of the old Bible before taking it to the San Juan Islands for his sister Adaline Capman Bolton (Ensign.)  Later his niece Marguerite Francis Wright, daughter of Mary Bolton Wright, copied Adalin’s records.  She then copied it again for Jane Virginia Berringhausen Sarnoff.  Marguerite has this copy notarized.  Jane Virginila Sarnoff has the notarized copy at this time.

I obtained a copy of a book, years ago, written about the Peter Bolton family who undertook the long wagon trip to Cedar County, Iowa in 1855. This was so long ago the copy is on slippery copy paper.  Peter Bolton married Mary Fall or Falls in January 13 or 16, 1822 in Fincastle, Botetourt Co., VA.  The license was dated December 26, 1821.  They moved to Giles County about 1830 and then on October 1, 1855 they sold their land on Big Stony Creek near Pearisburg in Giles County, and moved to Cedar County, Iowa, joining William Henry Bolton, Peter’s younger brother who had settled there in 1836.

In this book, they too discuss two Bolton Bibles. One of the two Bolton Bibles they discuss is called the “Polly Bolton Bible,” Polly being the wife of Peter Bolton, the second son of Henry Bolton.  However, their second Bible is actually a copy of this Bible that was made and then taken to the San Juan islands.  The author states that the Polly Bolton Bible was the one taken to the San Juan Islands, and the Peter Bolton Bible is the copy that remained in Iowa, and that was the copy subsequently notarized.  The author has that notarized copy.  There is yet a third Bible in Iowa that was copied from one or the other as well.  She has compared the two Iowa Bibles and the Polly Bolton Bible includes information about Henry Bolton’s other children, while the other does not.  The Peter Bolton Bible includes more information about Peter’s children and descendants.

Copies of the Bible pages are included, but I am not reproducing them here. The Bible was printed in Philadelphia by Jesper Harding who printed Bibles from 1829-1859, so we know from this date and from the history of the Bible that this one is newer than the Claiborne County one.  The handwriting is the same in all of the older entries as well.

So this brings us to a total of four Bolton Bibles, the 1811 Bible being the oldest.

The author then states that she received a letter in 1974 from Elyan Bolton about the “original” Henry Bolton Bible, which is the Bible referred to in the Claiborne County Bolton Family book. She speculates that perhaps the Bible they have is the Bible of Catherine Chapman, Henry’s first wife.  Unfortunately, that isn’t a possibility for either Bible with publication dates of 1811 and 1829-1859.  Catherine died in 1798, before these Bibles were printed.

What follows is the text of the notarized copy of the Iowa Bolton Bible.

This is a copy of Frances Wright’s copy taken from the Bible of Mary Bolton (Polly) who was born May 6, 1796 and died in 1875. The copy was made by Jams Francis Bolton, son of Mary and Peter Bolton for his sister Adeline Bolton Ensign, before he took the Bible to Lopas Island.

Mary was the wife of Peter Bolton. They were married in Pearsburg (sic) in Giles County, Virginia and came to Tipton Co., Iowa in 1854.

Frances Wright, daughter of Mary Frances Bolton Wright made this copy from that of my great Aunt Adeline Ensign.

Henry and William Bolton started from England to America with their parents in 1751 – or there about. They suffered shipwreck and Henry and William alone survived.  They both enlisted in the US Army.  William was never again heard of by Henry.  The name has originally been Bolder but was changed accidentally and thru shyness to correct officers during army enlistment.

Henry settled in Virginia and founded the family. He was married twice.

Henry Bolton born Nov. 24, 1741 – England

Died in 1846 – ages 105 years

Married Catherine Chapman who died in 1798

Married Nancy ? in 1799, died 1842

Obviously, some of this is incorrect or incomplete, based on records that we do have, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely incorrect.

I am listing Henry’s children and other individuals from the Bibles in the table below. One column is from from the Claiborne County Bolton Bible, a second from the Iowa Bible and a third with any additional information.

  Henry Bolton Children with Catherine Chapman Claiborne County Bible Birth Iowa Bible Birth Additional Information
1 Elizabeth Born Nov. 6, 1787, married Oct 26 to Absolum Dempsey Nov. 6, 1787 Married in 1809, died in 1874
2 Catherine June 17, 1789 Married Daniel Wrightsman March 7, 1815, died after July 1862 Washington Co., TN
3 Mary March 15, 1791- d 1809 Died Nov 25, 1809
4 Jacob April 27 1793 Married Virginia Inksell March 20, 1816, died Nov. 25, 1859, Georgia
5 Peter Sept. 28, 1796 – d 1888 Married Mary “Polly” Falls Dec. 20, 1820, died Mar. 7, 1858, Cedar Falls, Iowa
6 Sara Sally, died April 15, 1798 Sept. 15, 1797 – d Sept 10, 1798 Alternate birth is 1795
7 Children with Nancy Mann
8 Henry Jan. 11, 1800 Married Sept. 7, 1826 Elizabeth Obenchain, died before April 20, 1875
9 Margaret June 1802 Married Jacob Keister Feb. 23, 1824
10 George Dec. 24, 1804 Married Margaret Duncan Jan. 29, 1828
11 Sara 1806
12 William Nov. 10, 1807 Also known as William Henry, died 1863/1864 Cedar Co., Iowa
13 Patrick Oct. 21, 1809
14 Patsy Oct. 21, 1809 Martha Patsy, married George Pearis French Nov. 26, 1828, died after 1880
15 Nancy Oct. 21, 1809 Oct. 30, 1811 Married Thompson Harvey Peters March 18, 1830, died 1855
16 Christine Sept. 9, 1812 Married July 24, 1833 to Oliver Cline Peters, died after 1880
17 Christinery Month illegible, 6th, 1813 Same as above
18 Joseph July 28, 1816 July 18, 1814 Born July 28, 1816, married Mary Tankersley March 26, 1838, died Dec., 28, 1887 Claiborne Co., TN.
19 John B. 1814 July 30, 1816 Born July 30, 1814, married Sarah F. Tankersley June 29, 1835, died 1864 Cedar Co., Iowa, buried in Inland Cemetery.
20 Absolom August 1, 1818 Aug. 1, 1818 Absolem Dempsey Bolton, married Jan. 23, 1843 to Elizabeth Ann Henderson, died June 2, 1892 Crowley Co., KS
21 Daniel Last day of May, 1920 May 31, 1820 Married Elizabeth Jane Fulenwider, died 1887
22 Elyan April 6, 1822 April 1, 1822 Married Isaac Russell Patterson May 30, 1854 Giles Co., VA, died Aug. 9, 1903 Claiborne Co., TN
23 James July 9, 1824 James Madison, married Elsie Virginia Thorne Aug. 12, 1851, died May 26, 1904
24 David January 9, 1826 Jan. 9, 1828 Married Rebecca Henderson July 26, 1847, died Sept. 22, 1859, Hancock Co., TN
25 Other
26 Rebecca Henderson March 10, 1820 married on Aug 3 or 8, 1847 Wife of David Bolton
27 Rebecca Bolton Died November 18, 1856 Wife of David Bolton, children raised by David’s sister, Elyan
28 Truly Ann Dailey March 28, 1836
29 Olive Peters Johnson June 1887
30 Nancy Bolton Died October 16, 1841 This is Nancy Mann
31 Henry Bolton Died November 24, 1846 Henry himself.
32 Sara E. Jane October 15, 1864
33 Nancy C. Bolton February 13, 1850
34 Sarrah A. N. Bolton August 25, 1851
35 Martha V. Susan Bolton May 15, 1853
36 William Abslem Patterson January 19, 1866
37 Sally Bolton Died April 15, 1798 This is Sara, last child with Catherine Chapman
38 Cathy Bolton Died August 17, 17?? This is Catherine Chapman who died on this date in 1798.

It’s clear that neither of these Bibles is actually Henry Bolton’s original Bible, because neither has a full list of his children by either wife. Furthermore, it’s equally as unlikely that these Bibles belonged originally to his wives.  It’s unlikely that either wife was literate, and the list of children is incomplete for both wives.  Furthermore, both Bibles were printed after the wives respective marriages to Henry, and in the case of Catherine Chapman, both were printed after her death.

The records from the Claiborne County Bible were extracted by Hazel Venable Barnard and she stated that she couldn’t read much of the writing, so we know that there were entries not transcribed. Hazel’s transcription, along with a copy of the Bible pages, as shown here, were hand written and then notarized by Mary Trent on November 23, 1981 with the note that this can be used by any of the generations listed in this book, meaning the Bolton Family book, to join the D.A.R.

At the end of the book about the Peter Bolton family, the author included a pedigree chart of the Bolton family of Bolton and Blackburn in Lancashire as a possible progenitor family of Henry Bolton. That chart, found in a book titled, “Bolton Family” by Robert Bolton, John A. Gray, printer, 1862, does not continue through Henry Bolton’s generation, but she found several Henry’s and Williams in the chart.  Of course, William and Henry are both painfully common names in England, both having been names of Kings.  A Y DNA test with any Bolton male from that Bolton and Blackburn family would tell us immediately.

Another book, titled “Bolton and Culver (Colver) Family Tree” published in 1964 by Dorothy Bolton Bunker adds a few details. She says that Henry served as a deacon for 50 years in the Baptist Church.  In his youth he had been connected with the Methodist Church as he had a card showing his attendance at a Wesley School in England.

I contacted the school in England several years ago and they had no records of a Henry Bolton. Of course, that doesn’t disprove anything, it simply means we can’t confirm this information.  For all we know, the card Henry carried might have been equivalent to a Sunday School attendance card today.

And of course, no family story would be complete without the Crazy Aunts. They told me years ago, and I’ve also seen this story elsewhere too, that the Boltons were “proud Germans.”  I don’t know where they got that, unless it is a remnant story brought about by those German Bibles, but there is ample evidence today that the Bolton family was English, at least at the time that Henry and Conrad migrated, intentionally or unintentionally.

Henry from the Beginning

Now that you’ve heard the various stories about Henry, what do we actually know about him?

Absolutely nothing until he immigrates.

Henry Bolton Immigration

The first record we have of Henry Bolton is his immigration along with his brother Conrad, also called Condery. They left the port of London in March of 1775.  Henry was age 15 and Conrad was 16, both were laborers.  This puts Henry’s birth in 1760.  They sailed on the ship, the Culvert, and landed in Maryland.

Both boys are listed as “of London.” I notice there are many who would be indentured servants for 4-7 years as it states, but there are only 4 young boys of the ages 15 and 16, and 3 of those are from London, so they could have been kidnapped on the docks of London as some of the family stories state.  The story below includes the kidnapping, but with a bit of a different twist.

From the book “Biographical History of Pottawattamie County, Iowa.”

George Bolton was born in the Territory of Wisconsin (now Iowa), December 9, 1840. His father, William Bolton, was one of the seven men who first settled in Cedar County, in 1836. His grandfather, Henry Bolton, when a lad in his teens, was kidnapped and brought to America from his native country, Germany. He made his escape and a short time afterward enlisted in the cause of the colonies and fought in the Revolutionary war under General Washington.

From the book, London, The Biography by Peter Ackroyd:

London has always been a city of immigrants. it was once known as the “city of nations” and in the mid-18th century Addison remarked that “when I consider this great city, in its several quarters or divisions, I look upon it as an aggregate of various nations, distinguished from each other by their respective customs, manners and interests.

Fresh generations with their songs and customs arrived at least as early as the time of the Roman settlements, when London was opened up as a European marketplace. The working inhabitants of the city might have come from Gaul, from Greece, from Germany, from Italy, from North Africa, a polyglot community all speaking a variety of rough or demotic Latin.  By the 7th century, when London rose again as an important port and market, the native and immigrant populations were thoroughly intermingled.  There was also a more general change.  It was no longer possible to distinguish Britons from Saxons and after the northern invasions of the 9th century, the Danes entered the city’s racial mixture.  By the 10th century the city was populated by Cymric Brythons and Balgae, by the remnants of the Gaulish legions, by East Saxons and Mercians, by Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, by “Londoners”.  A text known as IV Aethelred mentions that those who “passed through” London in the period before the Norman settlement were “men from Flanders, Pontheiu, Normandy and the Ile de France” as well as “men of the emperor: Germans.”

 London map 1300

London about 1300 shows St. Katherine’s Hospital, where the docks were located, to the right of the tower at the furthest eastward development.

Ackroyd continues:

The immigrant roles of 1440-41 provide an absorbing study in ethnicity and cultural contrast. Some 90% were classified as Doche, this was the generic term including Flemish, Dane and German, but more than half in fact came from Holland.  In the city wards the Italians comprised “a commercial and financial aristocracy” although there were differences within the group.  There were Frenchman, a number of Jews, and the “Greek, Italian and Spanish physicians”, but the underclass of that period seems to have been Icelanders who were commonly employed as servants.

When it comes to European melting pots, London is an extreme case, but Ackroyd’s brief survey of its immigrant history provides some idea of how difficult it will be to figure out the precise origins of many European paternal ancestors, not just Londoners. People have moved around for a long time.  Our genes allow us to look through a keyhole into the distant past and in time may allow us to chronicle the journey from today back in time to the long-forgotten.

Cousin Dillis represents our male Bolton line and has graciously agreed to have his DNA tested, several times now. The good news and the bad news is that the Bolton men have a very unique DNA signature above 25 markers.  At 67 markers, Dillis only matches Boltons plus an Elliott and a Sheldon, both families hailing from England.

At 12 markers, Dillis has many matches on the Matches Map, which signify matches to an earlier common ancestor since many of these matches don’t hold at higher markers. This is particularly useful in showing the migration and settlement path of Henry’s ancestors.  Note that while England is the most prevalent, the Germanic region is the most prevalent on the continent, suggesting a connection with that region in the distant past.

bolton matches map

When I visited London in 2013, we visited the dock area at St. Katherine’s, which was, at the time Henry and Conrad would have been hanging about the docks, the poorest section of the city. St. Katherine’s is located beside the Tower of London on the Thames River, shown below, in a 1746 map.  This would have been just a few years before Henry and Conrad were here, willingly or unwillingly.

1746 London Map

Here’s a picture today of the Thames River and the Tower Bridge, very close to this location.

London Bridge

Kidnapping of young boys was not uncommon. A ship’s captain did not want to sail partly empty, so if he was short a few bodies, he would kidnap some strapping lads and hold them captive just long enough to depart.  After they were underway to America, their fate was sealed and upon arrival, they were sold into indentured servitude, auctioned upon arrival, with the auction fees paying the captain for their passage.

If it’s true that the boys were kidnapped, then it’s likely that Henry and Conrad were abducted from this dock area as it was the main dock for London and we know from the manifest this is where the ship sailed from.

I can just see two teen-age boys messing around, getting themselves into trouble and making a nuisance of themselves – just before they were nabbed. And I can hear their mother warning them against doing just that….can’t you?  In fact, maybe they were enticed onto the boat with the promise of a treat, food or payment for some odd job.  Maybe this is the same place that they lived and unwillingly departed for America. The tenements, the poor area, were adjacent the docks and everyone left the stench of the overcrowded quarters in the day.

One of the family stories related is that Henry and Conrad’s mother had died, and the step-mother “arranged” for them to depart. The other tidbit of that story is that they lived “on London Bridge.”  Today there are no houses on London Bridge itself, but at that time, or just prior, there were – so this could be true.

London Bridge pano

This 1632 painting, “View of London Bridge,” by Claude de Jongh, shows the detail of London Bridge including the houses and shops built on the bridge itself. This is not information that someone in the US would know, especially several generations later and after the original London Bridge was demolished in 1831.

By the 1600s there were some 200 buildings on the bridge. Some stood up to seven stories high, some overhung the river by seven feet, and some overhung the road, to form a dark tunnel through which all traffic must pass, including (from 1577) the palatial Nonsuch House, a model shown below.

nonsuch house

The roadway was just 12 feet (4 m) wide, divided into two lanes, so that in each direction, carts, wagons, coaches and pedestrians shared a passageway six feet wide. When the bridge was congested, crossing it could take up to an hour. Those who could afford the fare might prefer to cross by ferry but the bridge structure had several undesirable effects on river-traffic. The narrow arches and wide pier bases restricted the river’s tidal ebb and flow, so that in hard winters, the water upstream of the bridge became more susceptible to freezing and impassable by boat. The flow was further obstructed in the 1700s by waterwheels installed under the two north arches to drive water pumps, and under the two south arches to power grain mills; the difference in water levels on the two side of the bridge could be as much as six feet, producing ferocious rapids between the piers. Only the brave or foolhardy attempted to “shoot the bridge”—steer a boat between the starlings when in flood—and some were drowned in the attempt. The bridge was “for wise men to pass over, and for fools to pass under.”

The southern gatehouse became the scene of one of London’s most notorious sights: a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes and dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements. The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate, in 1305, starting a tradition that was to continue for another 355 years. Other famous heads on pikes included those of Jack Cade in 1450, Thomas More in 1535, Bishop John Fisher in the same year, and Thomas Cromwell in 1540. In 1598 a German visitor to London Paul Hentzner counted over 30 heads on the bridge. Heads were still reported on the bridge at late as 1772.  So, this is something that young Henry and Conrad would have witnessed, perhaps with great awe and fascination.  Or perhaps, with fear.

London Bridge 1616

In this 1616 drawing, you can see Old London Bridge with the spiked heads of executed criminals in the foreground above the Southwark Gatehouse in the lower right hand corner.

Another drawing from a 1682 map, below.

London Bridge 1682

By 1722 congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the said bridge: and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the said bridge.”

In 1758–62, all houses and shops on the bridge were demolished through Act of Parliament. The two center arches were replaced by a single wider span to improve navigation on the river. If the Bolton family did have a house or shop on London Bridge, they would have lost it about this time, which is about when Henry and Conrad were born.

Whether or not Henry and Conrad left London willingly, or unwillingly, this area and adjacent St. Katherine’s dock would have been where they departed.

London map 1806

In this London map of 1806, you can still see the Tower and the docks, to the right of the tower, are marked in a teal blue box.

If you’d like to fly through a 3D animation of London before the 1666 fire, click here.  It’s well worth the time.

After arriving in American, both Henry and Conrad were indentured servants for 7 years. This would mean, under normal circumstances, that Henry and Conrad both would have been serving their time as indentured servants to pay for their passage until that same time in 1783.  Most crossings took about 60 days, so May or June of 1783.

Indentured servants were not allowed to marry until they finished their indenture.

We know they were indentured to someone, and several different accounts tell us that it was a Mr. Moore, one family history adding, near Hagerstown, Maryland.

One fact that argues against Henry Bolton being a poor child who was kidnapped is that he knew how to write, and judging from the letter he wrote asking for the clerk to issue his daughter a marriage license, he was far more literate than just having the ability to sign his name. It’s unlikely that a poor child would have learned how to sign their name, let alone write a letter.  Having said that, it’s possible that he learned during his indentured servitude, but rather unlikely.

Yet another story adds a bit more dimension. This one is from the Iowa Bolton family.

He enlisted through the direct influence of George Washington, who came to the barn where he was caring for the horses of a man by the name of Moore who he was bound out to. Washington wore a long coat and asked Henry if he would like to draw his own pay. (He) said, “I understand you are a bound boy and I see you take good care of the horses.” His answer was, ” I would like to, but Mr. Moore is very good to me.” Washington said, “You come to my tent in the morning at nine o’clock and we’ll will arrange it.” Henry said, “Who are you?” He said, “George Washington. The boys will tell you where my headquarters are.” So in the morning Henry went and was taken to headquarters where the guard asked Washington if he had an appointment with a young man at nine o’clock. He said yes. Washington advised him to enlist and go back and take care of his horses till further orders. He was assigned to the artillery. He was at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at York. After the war he returned and worked for Mr. Moore. The story says that he was married while working for Mr. Moore then moved to … (end of transcription).  Reference: A typed page stating: “BOLTON HISTORY. This was copied from information Grandma Lewis had copied from the Bolton history book that Uncle Will (?) Bolton had.” Unknown where this book is available today (March 16, 1997).

We do have documentation that Henry was in the Revolutionary War, although I’ve never found anything on Fold3 or any other location, aside from the record from the Pennsylvania Archives, below, where he is listed as having served.

Ref. Penn. Archives, sixth Series, Vol. 1, page 799:

Military Record: Fourth battalion of Philadelphia Co., PA, Eights company, under Isaiah Davis, eighth, class under Lt. William  Coats – “Henry Bolton”

Oral history tells us that Henry was at the Battle of Brandywine. Oral history of his Revolutionary War service descended through several different lines that separated when his children left Virginia and had no subsequent opportunity to infect each other with Henry Bolton stories.

Battle of Brandywine

The Battle of Brandywine, also known as the Battle of Brandywine Creek, was fought between the American army of General George Washington and the British army of General Sir William Howe on September 11, 1777. The British defeated the Americans and forced them to withdraw toward the American capital of Philadelphia. The engagement occurred near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania during Howe’s campaign to take Philadelphia, which he ultimately did and held until June of 1778.

Here is a picture of the field where the Battle took place, looking toward the American position. If Henry truly was shot at the Battle of Brandywine, this was where it occurred and where he was rolled off of the field on a cannon, if that part is true.

Battle of Brandywine battlefield

Here’s the battlefield from another angle.

Battle of Brandywine battlefield2

With a little imagination, I can see the men from both sides.  It looks so serene today, but it wasn’t on September 11, 1777.

The painting below, Nation Makers by Howard Pyle depicts a scene from the battle and hangs in the Brandywine River Museum.

Battle of Brandywine by Pyle

In 1779, Henry is listed on the tax rolls of Providence Twp., Philadelphia Co., PA, taxed in the amount of 5.0, which would have been pounds and no shillings. Henry was clearly not in the military if he was farming at this time.  He also would not have been indentured.  This was only 4 years after his arrival and he would only have been 19 or 20 years old, unless there was a second Henry Bolton in that area.

If indeed, Henry was also at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, as claimed, that would have happened on October 19, 1781.

It would be unusual for him to be in the military in 1777, farming in 1779, in the military in 1781, on a tax list in 1783 and then finishing his indenture in 1787 when he was married.

This timeline doesn’t quite make sense from several angles.

This painting below depicts the surrender at Yorktown.

Yorktown surrender

Henry would have been 21 at this time.  Was he truly there?  Did he care for the horses?

One account says that Henry finished his time with Mr. Moore after he finished in the war. Another account says that George Washington told Henry that he was no longer bound.

We find Henry in 1783 in Limerick, Township, Philadelphia Co., PA on a tax list with no land, no horses, 1 cattle and no negroes. Were he indentured, he would not have been listed individually.

It’s recorded in the Bolton book that Henry married Catherine Chapman on August 17, 1787 in Olde Swedes Church, Philadelphia, PA. However, in the Old Swedes church records, compiled from the original records, I did not find a confirmation of this marriage. Note that there is no index and I read for several years in each direction.

Old Swedes Church

One story claims that Henry’s marriage took place during his indenture, and that he went back and finished his time with Mr. Moore. If Mr. Moore was living near Hagerstown, Maryland, it would be very unlikely for Henry to be marrying in Philadelphia.  Not to mention, no father would want his daughter marrying an indentured servant, a man of no means to support said daughter.  I expect, by the time that Henry was married that he had finished his indenture and had a trade or some ability to support a family.

In the 1790 census, we find both Henry and Conrad in Washington Co., Maryland, along with an unknown John Bolton:

  • Conrad Bolton – – 1 (this is free white females)
  • John Bolton 1 1 1 – – (free white males over 16, under 16 and females)
  • Henry 1 1 2 1 – (free white males over 16, under 16, females and other free persons)

So, by 1790, Henry appears to be married and he is living in the county where Hagerstown is the county seat.

Based on the reported birth locations of Henry’s children, he would have moved from Maryland to Botetourt County, VA between 1791 and 1793.

He is not on the Botetourt County 1793 tax lists, but in 1794, we find Henry in Hugh Allen’s District: Henry Boltan, 2 tithables, 2 horses. We then find him for the next many years on various tax lists.  Conrad does not appear until the 1820 census.

Tithables mean the number of people being taxed. Exact specifications vary depending on the time and place, but white males over either 16 or 21 and people of color of either gender, of any age beyond childhood, generally age 12 or 16, and over, were taxed.  One would assume it would be a man and his sons and any slaves.  In families of color, the wives were taxed too.

  • 1795: Henry Bolton, 1 tithable, 2 horses.
  • 1796, Robert Harris District: Henry Bolton, 1 tithable, 3 horses.
  • 1798: Henry Bolton, 1 tithable.

Catherine Chapman Bolton died in Botetourt County on August 17, 1798. 1798 was a particularly difficult year for Henry, because his infant daughter, Sarah, also died within just a couple of months of Catherine’s death.  Two accounts tell us she died in April, and one on September 10th.  Regardless of when, it’s apparent that Henry had a lot of loss, along with 5 children to care for between the ages of 2 and 11.  I wish we knew where Catherine and Sarah were buried.

In 1799, Henry Bolton is on the Botetourt County, VA personal tax list, but Conrad is either not in Botetourt County or is one of Henry Bolton’s tithables.

  • 1799: John Holloway District: Henry Bolton, 5 tithables.

On April 5th 1799, Henry Bolton married Nancy Mann, 8 months after Catherine’s death.  In January 1800, Nancy had the first of 14 children she would have with Henry.

Henry Bolton signs his marriage bond to Nancy Mann, below, along with James Mann’s mark. It’s uncertain how James Mann and Nancy Mann are related, but traditionally, a father would sign for his daughter, if he were living.  If not, perhaps a brother or uncle.

Henry Bolton Nancy Mann marriage

Beginning in 1803, and then for many years, we find Henry on the Botetourt County tax lists.

  • 1803: George Rowland District: Henry Bolton 1 tithable, 3 horses
  • 1804: George Rowland District: Henry Bolten, 1 tithable,. 4 horses.
  • 1805: George Rowlands: Henry Bolton 1 tithable and 5 horses.
  • 1807; George Rowland District: Henry Bolton 1 tithable 3 horses.
  • 1810: Joseph Hannah’s District: Henry Bolton 2 tithables 3 horses.
  • 1811: Joseph Hannah’s District: Henry Bolton 2 tithables 3 horses
  • 1814: Joseph Hannah’s District: Jacob Bolton, 1 tithable – Jacob is Henry’s oldest son born in 1793.  He would have been 21 this year.  He is also likely Henry’s second tithable in 1810 and 1811.

Henry’s son, Henry, was born in 1800, so this second Henry on the 1814 list cannot be Henry’s son. Henry may have been recorded twice.  Sometimes, on other tax lists, men are recorded twice if they own land in two places.  However, we have no evidence that Henry owned any land at all.

  • 1814: James McClanahan’s District: Henry Bolton 2 tithables, 5 horses, also Henry Bolton 3 tithables, 6 horses, 7 cattle
  • 1816: James McClanahan’s District: Henry Bolton 2 tithables 5 horses
  • 1817: James McClananah’s District: Henry Bolton, 2 tithables, 5 horses and Jacob Bolton, 1 tithable, 1 horse

In 1817 and1818, in Joseph Hannah’s District, a Robert Bolton (1818) and Robert Bolton, Jr. (1817) are introduced, with one tithable. Interestingly enough, DNA testing shows that these two Bolton lines, meaning Henry Bolton and Robert Bolton, do not share a common ancestor.

  • 1819: James McClanahan’s District:  Henry Bolton, 2 tithables, 7 horses, Peter Bolton, 1 tithable, Jacob Bolton, 1 tithable, 2 horses.  Peter Bolton was Henry’s second son, born in 1796.
  • In 1820, in James Trevor’s district, we find Henry Boulton with 2 tithables and 7 horses, Josiah Boulton with 1 tithable and 1 horse, Robert Boulton with 1 tithable and 1 horse and Edward Boulton with 1 tithable. Clearly Josiah and Edward were not sons of Henry, unless Josiah is actually Jacob.

In the 1820 census, Henry Bolton is in Botetourt County with 13 people, his son Jacob with 5 people and Conrad with 3 people. Where had Conrad been all of this time?

  • 1821a: James Trevor’s District:  Henry Boulton, 5 horses, Henry Boulton Jr., 1 horse and Jacob Boulton, 1 horse.
  • In 1822, on James Trevor’s list, Henry appears with 5 horses and his son, Henry Jr., appears with 1 horse.
  • In 1822, on Matthew Wilson’s list, Jacob Bolton is shown with 1 horse.

In 1828, Henry’s daughter married George P. French, and Henry pens and signs the following letter to the county clerk.

Henry Bolton French marriage auth

The above note reads:

David French


You will please issue a license for George P. French to marry my daughter Patsy Bolton. Given under my hand and seal this 26th day of November 1828.

Signed Henry Bolton
William Bolton
George Bolton

We are quite fortunate to have a picture of Martha Patsy Bolton French.

Martha Patsy Bolton French

I look at her and wonder if she looks like Henry or Nancy, or both.

The other picture we have is of Henry’s oldest daughter by Catherine Chapman, Elizabeth, who married the Reverend Absalom Dempsey.

Elizabeth Bolton Dempsey

Elizabeth’s portrait, painted about 1840 is located at the Mill Creek Baptist Church in Fincastle, Botetourt County, Virginia.  The church did not send the painting of Elizabeth’s husband, Absalom Dempsey, but it does hang in the church.

Mill Creek Baptist Church

Family stories report that Henry Bolton was a member of Mill Creek Church for 50 years, one story says a deacon, and if that is the case, it would have included the time when his son-in-law, Absalom Dempsey was minister there, and earlier. It’s evident that Henry thought a lot of Absalom, because Henry and Nancy named one of their sons after Absalom.  It may well be that Nancy Mann Bolton and daughter Sarah are both buried here beside the Mill Creek Church.  Abraham Dempsey and his wife rest here.  His stone is below.  Her grave is unmarked.  She died in 1874, two years after Absalom and is very likely buried beside Absalom.

Dempsey headstone

I would love to know what Henry Bolton looked like. We have two photographs of Henry’s sons, Peter Bolton (son of Catherine Chapman) and wife Mary Falls, and Daniel Bolton (son of Nancy Mann) and Elizabeth Fulwider that I have been prohibited from sharing by the individual who sent me the photos.  Additionally, we have photos of Elizabeth Bolton Dempsey, daughter of Catherine Chapman, and Martha Patsy Bolton French, daughter of Nancy Mann, both shown above.

I can tell you that Daniel, in one of the photographs I can’t share, looks incredibly like Abraham Lincoln. Had I not known it wasn’t, it would be a very easy mistake to make.  I can also tell you that I don’t see a lot of resemblance between the siblings.  Of course, one is a painting, one is a very poor tintype and two are fairly early photographs.  The photo of Martha Patsy French is by far the best.

The photo below, at left, is Joseph “Dode” Bolton, Henry’s grandson with wife Nancy Mann through son Joseph Preston Bolton.

Joseph B Bolton2

There is one more old photo, William Henry Bolton, grandson of Henry Bolton, the immigrant, and wife Nancy Mann, through son Henry Bolton and Elizabeth Obenchain.

In the 1830 census, Henry Bolton Sr. is living in Giles County with 11 children in his household, while his son, Henry Bolton Jr. is living in Botetourt County.

In the 1840 census, Henry Bolton Sr. is living in Giles County with 1 male under 10, 2 males 15-20, 1 male 20-30 and 1 male 80-90. Nancy seems to be missing although she reportedly did not die until 1841.  In 1846, Henry died as well. They reportedly lived near Pearisburg, in Giles County.

A cousin reports that a comment by a neighbor was recorded regarding Henry’s death: “One lady told me as though it happened yesterday. ‘It was a pity. He was getting better from the fever and feeling hungry he got up from his bed and went to the kitchen and ate beef stew that was on the stove and that finished him.'” I feel sorry for whoever made that stew.  Nancy Mann had died earlier, but Henry was obviously living with someone.

At one point in my research, I became quite excited because I thought sure we had found the Henry Bolton Cemetery. Turns out, we had, but not the original Henry, one of his descendants, his grandson Henry through son Jacob Bolton and Virginia Inksell.  Grandson Henry (1823-1890) married Mary Catherine Shue (1821-1915) and they build Rose Hill.

The book, Related Families of Botetourt County Virginia states that many of the early Bolton families are buried at Rose Hill on land that passed from the Boltons to the Firebaugh family and although this is not Henry’s original land, it probably was in the same general vicinity. According to local historian, Alice Firebaugh, the old Rose Hill farm is located on Route 630, Blackburg Road. This is where the “Bolton Cemetery” is located that caused me such great initial excitement.

A piece of that history lies on the ridge of Rose Hill Farm. The Firebaughs call it Cemetery Hill because that is where the Bolton Cemetery is located.

Bolton cemetery

The cemetery is in a state of disrepair.

Bolton cemetery2

Given the information we have, we know that the original Henry Bolton family was enumerated in two tax districts, McClanahan’s and Hannah’s.

The book also tells us that the McClannahan’s live on Catawba Creek. That the area is near Eagle Rock, and that the Hannah’s are on Craig’s Creek and that the Hannah family is buried in the Godwin Cemetery.  The Godwin Cemetery, according to FindAGrave, is dead center in the middle of the town of Fincastle and the Firebaugh family Cemetery is found on Virginia 735 .

These land marks give us some barometers to use to find the general area of Henry Bolton’s land in Botetourt County before he moved to Giles County before 1830.

Bolton Botetourt landmarks

803 Shawnee Trail is an address in the Shawnee Woods subdivision where the Bolton cemetery was cleaned up so that it didn’t get bulldozed when the subdivision was being built.

Catawba Creek runs out of Fincastle, shown on the map above, and extending the map distance, we can see Eagle Rock to the north, on the map below.

Catawba and Eagle Creek

Zooming in on that area, we find that Craig Creek dumps into the James River as does Catawba Creek.

Craig Creek James River

There is a Bolton Cemetery at Rose Hill, but it’s later members of the Bolton family that are buried in that location.

Mill Creek Church was 5 miles due east of the center of Fincastle.

Mill Creek Church

Henry Bolton’s land was probably in this vicinity, between roads 360 and 735.

Here’s a view of the area from near Fincastle. Looks beautiful, but quite imposing.

Fincastle view

The Bolton family moved a nontrivial distance from the Fincastle area to the Pembroke area of Giles County. After locating the Bolton land in Giles County, I marked the location as well as the Mill Creek Baptist Church outside of Fincastle.  Today, it’s an hour and a half on mountain roads.  In those days, it would have been probably a 2 or 3 day journey, if not more.  The average wagon speed was 20 miles a day, and that wasn’t through mountains.  Clearly, they didn’t go back and forth to church at Mill Creek from Giles County, so Henry’s membership at Mill Creek would have terminated about 1830 when he is first found on the census in Giles County.

Fincastle to Stoney Creek

Henry died at Big Stony Creek, Pembroke, Giles County, Virginia. It’s unclearly whether this was on son Peter’s land on Big Stoney Creek, on Henry’s own land although no deed was found, or on another relatives land.  One thing is for sure, a man in his 80s or 90s had to have some help in that place and time.  Henry could not have been farming at the time he died.  If born in 1760, he would have been 86 when he passed.

A cousin sent me an aerial partial view of the Bolton lands in Giles County where Henry and Nancy reportedly lived shortly before they died in the 1840’s.  She said that in 1975, there were still old rock foundations visible, and a dug out cellar.  A distance from the old foundations by traversing an old overgrown road was the Bolton cemetery, with all but two graves unmarked.  Most of the graves were sunken between 1-2 ft, indicating the use of disintegrating wooden caskets.  There was a remnant of a high, wide stone fence just beyond the graveyard.

Stoney Creek land

I didn’t receive any further information from the cousin, but I did search the Giles County maps along Big Stoney Creek where the Bolton family lived, according to the Giles County deeds when Peter sold his land in 1855.

Indeed, I found the land matching this screen shot above on road 627, also called Darnell Mountain Road which intersects with Big Stoney Creek Road.

Here’s the entrance to State Road 627 from 635, Big Stoney Creek Road.

Stoney Creek road

As you can see, it’s heavily forested.

Stoney Creek road2

Backing away a bit, you can see where road 627 turns off of Big Stoney Creek Road.

Stoney Creek Pearisburg

As you can see, this area is near Pearisburg, Pembroke and the Virginia/West Virginia border.

Stoney Creek Pearisburg2

Behind the Bolton property was nothing but mountains. Cascade Falls is shown on the map.

Giles county waterfall

Henry Bolton Estate Inventory

We may not know exactly where Nancy Mann and Henry Bolton died and are buried, although I strongly suspect it’s on the land where he lived in Giles County, but we do know something about what he owned at the end of his life.

Recently, with the help of a professional genealogist, Henry’s estate was located in Giles County. However, the film was too poor to read, so a second professional genealogist was retained to physically go to the Virginia State Archives and access the originals.  We were lucky, very lucky.  I could read most of the items and transcribed them, as follows:

Giles County, February 22, 1847 – Inventory and appraisement of the personal estate of Henry Bolton. Will Book B, pages 446 and 447

Note – Do means ditto

Items Amount in Dollars
Cupboard $5, one desk $4, One bureau $9 18
One wooden clock $8, one sugar box 12.5 cents 8.12
One family Bible $.75, two German Bibles, two hymn books rethence? confession of faith one hymn book vesper (or verger) Baptist $.75 1.50
One split bottom chair $3, one iron chur? 3.37 ½
1 falling leaf table $1, one high ? bedstead and other furniture $8, one ? posted Do (ditto, probably meaning bedstead) and its furniture $7 16.00
One Do $3.50, one Do $5, three candlesticks 18.75 7.50
One set of spools 50, one looking glass and slate 25 cents .75
One hand sun? auger chain and square 75 cents and one flat iron and sheep shears 75 cents and one pair saddle bags 25 cents 2.00
One hone for rasures 25 cents and bed pot 10 cents one set of shoe tools 25 cents three bed screws one resure (razor) and strap 12 ½ cents .72 ½
One pair of and irons and fire shovel 75 cents, one coffee mill candle moles and one stay? 37 ½ cents 1.12 ½
One spinning wheel and big wheel and reel 150, two churns and one half bushel ? and old irons 75 cents 2.25
One hand axe and three falling axes 1.50 and old box and old irons 50 cents 2.00
One falling leaf table and two pairs 1.50 one loom and its contents 1.50 3.00
Two pairs of hams and chains and two collars and two bridles , one pair hams and chains $5 and one pair brick lands and head stall? Bridle 75 cents 5.75
One pair stillyards and cutting knife steel draw knife sythe anvil 2.00
Relag gen saddle old bridle 25 cents four tubs and one box 87 ½ cents one large kettle and hooks 1.50 2.62 ½
One biscuit baker and lid one oven and pot and hook 2.75
One tea kettle and two pot racks 1.25 one half a crite of corn supposed to be two hundred bushels at 37.5 cents per bushel when measured 72.5 bushels 28.42 ½
One lot of pickled pork 6.82 at 4 cents per pound 27.28
One fat stand and lard 1.25, one bedstead and cord and grine stone 125 one sythe and cradle 100 3.50
One double tree two devises 50 two pair streature and log chains 2.62 ½ one patton felon 150 4.52 ½
Eleven head of sheep at 75 cents a head 8.25
One ball face horse for $35, one bay mare for $20, 55.00
Nine ? hogs $10 one dun cow 1 calf 8 18.00
One year old steer $3, one year old heifer $3 6
Half of two stacks of oats $2, one lot of flax %, one horse bucket one tube? Old shade? Two hoes two iron wedges and bull tongue and ring 1.60
Two shovel plows 1.50 one doe tray and maul rive? 25 cents 1.75
One cockle sieve and kittle hammer and old tick 75 cents .93 ¾
Hackle bull tongue and auger two little stacks of rye 38 cents and one lot of stack fodder 6 6.35

Signed by Hugh Johnston, Edward Eaton and David Eaton

Next, we have the bill of sale for the property of Henry Bolton, as follows:

Purchaser What How much $
James Stafford Two clevises? and double tree and single tree $1, one smoothing iron 50 cents 1.10
William Simpson? One patton ? 3.12 1/4
Washington Gordon One cupboard 3.63 ditto one collar and bridles 1.52 ½ 5.25
Henry Sadler One stack of flox 1.05
Andrew Gott One rasure strop and rasure 12 ½, do to four chairs 1.05 ¼ 1.18 ¾
John Morrison One ball faced horse 39.75
Absolum Bolton One pair big streachers $1, do to one pair one horse 31 ¼, do to one log chain 1.87 ½, do to one iron wedge 3 ½, two hoes 75 cents, one meal tub 12 1.2, one sieve wood bread tray 25 cents, one pot rack 90 cents, one pot rack 90 cents, one keg 50 cents, one pair of sheep shears 15 cents one arm chair 1.30, one bedstead and its furniture 5.25, one cutting bon? steel 20 cents, 11 head of sheep 11.55, two tacks 62 ½, one bay mare 15 43.26 1/2
James Johnson One bon .12 1/2
Edward Eaton One meal tub 15 cents, one falling leaf table 82 cents, one pair brick bands $1, one grine stone 88 cents white show 2.75, eight stock hogs 1.50 per head for $12 17.90
Richard Eaton One spade and ring 25 cents, one old saddle and old bridle 1.20 1.46
Samuel Thompson One pair candle moles and coffee mill 8 cents, one falling ? $1 1.08
John E. Stafford One bull tongue and bucket .25
John C. Farley One set and irons 75 cents, one box and old irons 1.00, one pair saddle bags 25 cents, one falling leaf table $1, one lot stock fodder $3 6.00
Subtotal here 118.78 1/4
Joseph Eaton Two chairs? $1, one half ? and old irons 1.12 ½, one square and auger and chisel 75 cents 2.87 ½
Reuben Hughes One sythe stake .12 ½
William Oliver Two candlesticks 17 ½ 17
Peter Meadows Two pailes 27 ½
Elean Bolton One wood clock $1, one bureau $1, one bedstead and its furniture $1, one do $1 4.00
David Eaton One oven and hooks 75, one tub 55 1.30
Olive C. Peters One iron wedge 37 ½, one big kittle and hooks 2.25, one spinning wheel 1.50, one chamber pot 15 cents, one candlestick 14, one bucket and auger 37 ½ one pair of gears 162 ½, bolt? of ayes? 2 8.92 1/2
William Morrison One shovel plow 1.12, one fret? 1.42, one felling ax 55 cents, one collar and bridle $2, one tin kittle 50 cents 3.66 ¼
David Bolton One tub and ? 50 cents, one sythe and cradle 1.37, one lot shoe tools 1.12 ½, one wheat sieve and hammer 50 cents, face ax 60 cents, one family Bible 50 cents, two German Bibles 5 cents, one lot of books 25 cents, half oat stack $4, one slate 16 ¼, one old hone 25 cents 9.00
Russle Johnson Biscuit baker and lit 1.06 ¼, set of spools 37 ½, one desk 1.50 3.93 ¾
James Eaton One pair of gearo? 2.12 ½
Subtotal here 46.50
Hugh Johnson One shovel plow 75 cents, six chairs 2.62 ½, one bedstead and end 50 cents 3.87 ½
Edward Johnston Sugar box 12 ½ cents, one big wheel 75, one hand ax 80 cents, one hand saw 37 1/2 , one cow and calf $11, two years old steer 3.14, one year old heifer 3.79 17.18
William B. Mason One lot of pickled pork 29.19
Peter Fizer One lot corn 25.37
Amount 77.62

Signed, Edward Johnson, admin of Henry Bolton decd, filed Feb 22, 1827, bill of sale

Note – Elean Bolton is Henry’s daughter who married Russell Patterson in 1854 and moved to Hancock County, TN. She and her husband wound up raising the children of David Bolton who also moved to Hancock County where he and his wife both died.

You can tell a lot about how a man lived by what was left when he died.  Henry farmed, had an assortment of livestock, and shaved.  He had a clock, which was a luxury, as was a desk.  Henry had 3 candlesticks and molds to make 2 candles at a time.  He owned shoemakers tools which he likely used himself, as there is no record of Henry ever having slaves.  He had a set of spools, a spinning wheel and a loom, which appeared to be loaded, meaning a project had been left half finished, probably by Nancy, before she died.

Henry drank coffee, because he had a coffee mill.  Like all pioneer homesteads, cooking was done in the fireplace and a potrack held the pots as they cooked, plus utensils sometimes.  A typical colonial fireplace in Jamestown is shown below.  This probably looked a lot like Henry Bolton’s home where the fireplace was also the only source of heat.  There is no stove as mentioned in the statement about Henry’s death – that he ate stew from the stove.  Perhaps he did not die at home.

colonial fireplace Jamestown

Henry had two horses, a saddle and saddlebags to carry whatever needed to be carried back and forth. Of note, he did not have any oxen which would have been used to plow, nor a farm wagon.  He may have previously sold those.

Henry had quite a bit of furniture in addition to the desk.  He had a cupboard and a total of 9 chairs, one of which was an “arm chair,” probably “his” chair.  There were two tables including one noted as a fall leaf table.  He had three bedsteads and a bureau. His house was probably quite full.

Further confirming Henry’s ability to read was a group of books.  I’d love to know the titles, as that would tell us even more about Henry Bolton.  I can just see Henry sitting by the fireplace, in his arm chair, reading a book on the table by the light of the fire and a candle as Nancy wove on the loom or spun on the wheel.

And now, we also have an answer about the Henry Bolton Bible, or Bibles. Did you catch that?

David Bolton bought the “family Bible” for 50 cents and two German Bibles for 5 cents. The “family Bible” was most likely Henry Bolton’s Bible dated 1811.  Why was Henry’s Bible dated so late?  Perhaps this was not the first Bible.  Cabin fires were very common in frontier America and if the cabin burned, so did everything inside the cabin.

So, where did David Bolton live? You guessed it…Hancock County, TN.  He died in 1859 and his wife preceded him in death.  Elyan, his sister, who married Isaac Patterson raised his children.  This entire group, including Joseph Preston Bolton lived very near each other in Hancock County – which explains how the “original Henry Bolton” Bible came to be in the possession of Elyan Bolton Patterson’s descendants.  Perhaps the Germany rumors were fueled by those 2 German Bibles.  So, there were indeed 3 Bibles owned by Henry Bolton, but the 2 German Bibles seem to have disappeared over time.  Where did they come from in the first place, whose were they and why did Henry Bolton have them?  We believe that Catherine Chapman was English and that Nancy Mann was Irish, but were they? I just hate it when new information causes me to second guess and question what I thought I knew!

In total now, we have 6 Bibles associated with this family.

  • The “original” Henry Bolton Bible that was sold at Henry’s estate sale, noted as the family Bible, to son David. This Bible, dated 1811, came to Hancock County and was subsequently owned by Hazel Venable Barnard whose mother was Susan Bolton, daughter of Milton Bolton, son of Joseph Preston Bolton and Mary Tankersley. Joseph was the son of Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann.
  • Two German Bibles, current whereabouts unknown, also sold to David Bolton at Henry’s estate sale.
  • The Polly Bolton Bible printed sometime between 1829-1859. Polly (Mary) Falls was the wife of Peter Bolton, son of Henry Bolton and Catherine Chapman. Peter is probably who Henry lived with in Giles County. Peter sold his land on Big Stoney Creek in 1855 and moved to Iowa.
  • Two additional Bibles, information copied from the Polly Bolton Bible, one of which went to Lopas Island in Washington State, and one stayed in Iowa.

It was 34 years after Henry Bolton’s death in 1846, in the 1880 census, that we obtain the final confirming piece of the puzzle indicating that Henry was born in England and that his wife, Nancy Mann, was born in Virginia.

The 1880 census was the first US census to list the location of the birth of parents. Joseph Preston Bolton in Claiborne County, TN listed his parents’ birth location as England for his father and Virginia for his mother

1880 Joseph Bolton census

Hints of Henry in England

Periodically I revisit searches that I have undertaken previously to see if anything new turns up. After all, records are being added to the major data bases everyday.

Searching for Conrad and Condery provided one record, but the dates are a bit off and the name doesn’t match exactly.  But look where the christening took place…at St. Katherine’s by the Tower in London…right where the boat docks are located.

Conrath Bolten

Searching for Henry, also at FamilySearch, unfortunately, doesn’t give us anything compelling, nor a birth to the same parents or location as Conrath, above. However, Conrath’s father’s name was indeed, Henry and both Henry and Conrad named daughters Sarah.  It’s enough to make you wonder, but not enough to do anything else.

Henry Bolton England

Henry’s DNA

Utilizing the autosomal DNA of the descendants of Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann, we see the confirmed Henry Bolton/Nancy Mann segments below.

Henry's painted DNAI have not been able to “prove” all of the possible segments through triangulation, but if all of the segments are indeed Bolton segments, then Henry’s chromosome map would look like the map below. Clearly, we need a lot more descendants to test to create more color on Henry’s chromosome map, but still, it’s pretty amazing that we can recreate this much of Henry’s chromosome map from these few descendants.

Henry's possible painted DNA

I don’t know how many descendants Henry has, but figuring that he had 20 children total and of those, 2 died fairly young. Of the remaining 18 children, most had 7 or 8 children.  I don’t have complete information for some.

Using a 30 year generation, Henry could have a huge number of descendants.

Year Multiplier Descendants
1760 Henry born
1790 Henry has 18 children
1820 8 144 grandchildren
1850 8 1152 great-grandchildren
1880 8 9216
1910 8 73,728
1940 2 (birth control had become prevalent) 147,456
1970 2 294,912
2000 2 589,824

If this is anyplace close to accurate, Henry Bolton could have well over half a million descendants today. If you add Sarah, Conrad’s daughter into the mix, you could well have another 4000 descendants in the US of the unknown parents of Henry and Conrad Bolton.

If you are a descendant of Henry or Conrad Bolton, please consider taking the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA and joining the Bolton DNA project.  We’d love to have you!


I’d like to thank cousin Hazel Venable Barnard, now deceased, for being such a wonderful steward of that Bolton Bible record, cousin Dillis for Y DNA testing and for lots of research over the past 30 years, so much that I no longer remember what was mine and what was his, cousin Pam for the Google screenshot of the Giles County property and Henry Bolton cause of death information, and Anita Firebaugh for the Firebaugh, Bolton cemetery and Rose Hill information. In addition, a descendant of the Robert Bolton who is not related contributed the Bolton land tax information, extracted by Yvonne Mashburn-Schmidt, a professional genealogist specializing in southern records at I’d also like to send a special thank you to Yvonne for finding both the Henry Bolton estate inventory and the genealogist in Virginia to retrieve the originals.  Plus, she helped me decipher some of the difficult handwriting, especially pertaining to those all-important family Bibles.

Genealogy is not a hobby that one can undertake alone, or at least, it’s much more productive and enriching when people share their findings. Without the collective contributions and collaboration of all of these people, our knowledge of Henry would be scant indeed.  I hope this is a fitting tribute to our immigrant ancestor, Revolutionary War Veteran, Henry Bolton, on Veteran’s Day.