Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton (1853-1920), Who’s Your Mama?, 52 Ancestors #37


Looking down the Powell River from Cumberland Gap, we peer into the heart of the lands where the Boltons lived, near the border of Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee, just slightly south of Lee County, Virginia, along the meanders of the Powell River.

Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton was born on September 18, 1853 in Hancock County, Tennessee to Joseph Preston Bolton and his wife, Margaret Herrell (Harrell) Martin Bolton.  We don’t know what his middle initial, B., stands for, nor do we know how he obtained the nickname, Dode.  His grandson, Joseph Estes, through daughter Ollie Bolton Estes, obviously named for him, also had the same nickname.

Unfortunately, the records of Joseph Preston Bolton and Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton and their son, Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton and his wife, Margaret (Margret) Clarkson/Claxton Bolton are difficult to sort through because the names of the both couples are the same and of course, they live in very close proximity and in a burned records county.  This confirms that the genealogy Gods have a sense of humor.

Hancock County records were only partially burned, in 1885 and 1930, so we only know of Joseph Dode’s approximate marriage date/year of 1873 based on the birth of his first child and the census record in 1910 which indicates that he had been married for 37 years to wife Margaret N. Claxton (Clarkson).

Their children were:

  1. Ollie Florence Bolton, my grandmother, born May 5, 1874 in Hoop Creek, Hancock County, died April 9, 1955 in Chicago, Illinois. She married William George Estes in 1893, later divorcing about 1915.
  2. Charles Tipton Bolton born June 30, 1876, died before 1953, enrolled for the WWI Draft in Sonora, Washington Co., AK, listed his father as J.B. Bolton in Hoop, TN.
  3. Elizabeth Bolton born 1879, married E.C. Baker Dec. 20, 1901 in Claiborne Co., died before 1953.  Note:  A family member who personally knew and was friends with “Lizzie” Bolton who was married to E.C. Baker tells me that she was unquestionably the daughter of Daniel Marson Bolton.  So the Joseph’s daughter, Elizabeth, married someone else.
  4. Dudley Hickham Bolton born March 21, 1881, registered for the draft in Hoop, Hancock Co. TN for WWI, married to Matilda, known as Tilda, died in 1818 in Bell Co., KY according to the family.
  5. Dalsey Edgar Bolton born July 26, 1883, died Nov. 9, 1946, El Paso, Texas from a broken back in an auto accident in New Mexico, wife Jennie in 1940 census.
  6. Ida Ann Bolton born May 30, 1886 married Gilbert Scott Saylor, lived in London, KY, taught school, no children, died June 7, 1953 of breast cancer, buried in the Plank Cemetery.
  7. Mary Lee Bolton born June 21,1888 married Tip Richmond Sumpter, died Sept. 25, 1935 in Illinois, buried Brush Creek Cemetery, Divernon, IL.
  8. Estle Vernon Bolton born December 4, 1890, died December 1971, Truth or Consequences, Sierra Co., NM.
  9. Cerenia Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bolton, died young, before the 1900 census.
  10. Samuel Estwell H. Bolton born June 12, 1894, died October 8, 1918, France, a casualty of WWI, buried in the Plank Cemetery, Claiborne Co., TN.
  11. Henry Bolton born May 1897, probably died before 1910 as not in census.

We do have photos of a few of these people, but none of Joseph Bolton or his wife, Margaret Clarkson/Claxton Bolton.


Ida and Elizabeth Bolton, daughters of Joseph “Dode” Bolton and Margaret Clarkson.


Dalsey Edgar Bolton, son of Joseph “Dode” Bolton and Margaret Clarkson, above.

Ollie Bolton 1950s

Ollie Bolton, taken about 1950, daughter of Joseph “Dode” Bolton and Margaret Clarkson.

Bolton, Estle Vernon crop2

Estle Vernon Bolton

As ironic as it is, given that William George Estes, son-in-law of Joseph Bolton, was a photographer, there don’t seem to be any photographs of Joseph Bolton and Margaret Clarkson/Claxton.  I keep hoping that there really ARE some, someplace and eventually, someone will find and share one.  I can’t tell you how crazy this makes me.  Joseph didn’t die until 1920 – there SHOULD BE pictures!!!

Update:  My wish has been granted.  A wonderful cousin did in fact find a photo of Joseph B. Bolton in a box of family photos and has been kind enough to share with me.

Joseph B Bolton2

This photo identifies the men as Joseph and Dudley Bolton, Joseph’s son.  The cousin thinks that the child is Elizabeth Bolton, daughter of Matilda and Dudley Bolton who was born about 1910, putting this photo at about 1913 or 1914.  Joseph would have been about 60 years old at the time!

In 1900, the Bolton family had their first reunion in Claiborne County, and to the best of my knowledge, they still have them annually, or at least they were still holding them a few years ago.  In 1985, the family produced a book titled “Bolton Family History” and in the book, included a photo of the first reunion.


Given this photo above, I would think that the entire Bolton family should be in the top photo, but that family in the photo is clearly not large enough to encompass even just the Claiborne County folks.  At least six of Joseph Preston Bolton’s children were still living in 1900, and in that area.  At that time, Joseph “Dode” Bolton and Margaret would have been under 50.  James, the son of Joseph Preston Bolton and his first wife would have been about 55 here, pictured in the bottom photo.  Are Joseph “Dode” Bolton and Margaret in that top photo?  Was William Estes taking pictures?  He and Ollie were living in Claiborne County in 1900, according to the census.

Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton’s death certificate tells us that he lived in Sedalia, in Hancock County at the time of his death.  My Genealogy Hound has 1888 maps of the Tennessee Counties that include at least some place names.  You can see New Sedalia just above the headwaters of Sycamore Creek which runs along Little Sycamore Road from Springdale in Claiborne County.  The name was changed to Sedalia in the 1890s.  The Plank Cemetery, where both Joseph and Margaret Bolton are buried is found on Little Sycamore road just inside Claiborne County.  While the county line bisects this road, the people living on this road function as one community called “Little Sycamore.”


What do we know about Joseph Bolton’s life?  We know where Joseph was born, based on the 1850 census where his father, Joseph Bolton, and his first wife, Mary “Polly” Tankersley were living.  Joseph Sr. was still living in Hancock County in the 1860 census which shows the family living on 4 Mile Creek in Hancock County and Joseph Jr. was age 7.


You can see, on this map above, that Four Mile Creek intersects with the Powell River near the Atlanthis Hill area.  Rebel Hollow Road is where Rebels were hung during the Civil War, except in Hancock County, it’s called “Rebel Holler.”

The Civil War

Minnie, one of the Crazy Aunts, said Joseph fought in the Civil War for the North. She might have been talking about his father, Joseph Sr., although I checked military and other records, and there is no record of Joseph Preston Bolton or his son, Joseph, serving in the Civil War.  Joseph “Dode” Bolton would have been about 8 when the Civil War began in 1861 when 7 stated seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy.  Tennessee was officially a southern state, but the northern-most counties which did not have the type of land that supported large plantation type of farms provided many recruits for the Union forces.  Recruits would cross over the border to neighboring Kentucky, a Union state, under the cover of night to enlist, often in groups.

To a large extent, the Civil War was fought in cities and farms of Tennessee, as only Virginia saw more battles. Tennessee was the last of the Southern states to declare secession from the Union, but saw more than its share of the devastation resulting from years of warring armies criss-crossing the state. Its rivers were key arteries to the Deep South, and, from the early days of the war, Union efforts focused on securing control of those transportation routes, as well as major roads and mountain passes such as the Cumberland Gap, just a few miles away from where the Bolton’s lived.

Family history tells us quite a bit about the Civil War in Hancock County though.  Family members said that soldiers from both sides came though, mostly looking for food, and sometimes looking for recruits, willing or otherwise, which may have something to do with the hangings in Rebel Holler, according to local lore.

The Vannoy family who lived in close proximity to the Boltons found a cave and took what livestock they could and hid in the cave in the mountains.  The Estes family, who lived down Little Sycamore Road had all of their livestock stolen.  One of their daughters snuck into the Confederate camp at night and took their milk cow back.  She was the family hero.

The Civil War was very hard on the families in this area.  Not only were their allegiances terribly torn, even within families, their lands were used as a battleground.  The 1890 veterans census for Hancock County, TN is quite unique because it recorded the Civil War veterans for both the Union and the Confederacy, later marking through the Confederate veterans.  This gives us a unique view as to how many soldiers on each side were either still living, or their widows were living, in 1890.

1890 vet census Hancock co tn1

While this doesn’t tell us directly about how the Bolton family felt about the Civil War, there is some interesting information here that suggests their allegiance.

Evaline Martin, daughter of Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton through her first husband, Anson Cook Martin, married Calvin Busic about the same time her mother married Joseph Preston Bolton.  Therefore, she was a half-sister to Joseph “Dode” Bolton.  Calvin Busic is listed on the veteran’s census along with his death in 1862.  He died of malarial fever while in the service and he fought on the side of the Union.

Samuel Clarkson, the father of Margaret Clarkson/Claxton, the future wife of Joseph Dode Bolton also fought for the Union in the war.  He died in 1876 as a result of bronchitis and pneumonia contracted during the war, about 3 years after his daughter married Joseph Dode Bolton.

Samuel Clarkson’s sister’s husband, Calvin Wolfe also served in the Union forces.

In fact, if you look at the men who lived in the Atlanthis Hill area, most of them were Union sympathizers, but not all.

Elijah Wolf, Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton’s niece’s husband fought for the Confederacy and was prisoner of war at Louisville, KY.

I imagine these families didn’t have family reunions for years following the Civil War.  The four page 1890 veteran’s census for Hancock County shows a total of 25 who fought for the Confederacy and 24 who fought for the Union.  The Atlanthis Hill area seems to be heavily Union with the more southeastern end of the county, Mulberry Gap to Sneedville, more Confederate.

In the 1970s, when I was visiting one of the old farms near Cumberland Gap, their garden was edged by civil war cannonballs found on their property while plowing.  Aunt Margaret, born in 1906, said the old-timers would put their old Civil War uniforms on when she was young, went to town, and “fought that war over and over,” especially on “Decoration Day.”

There wasn’t anyone alive during that time in Hancock County or Claiborne County, Tennessee that wasn’t directly affected by the Civil War.  It truly was the worst of times between the actual fighting, marauding troops, hunger and concerns about an uncertain future.


The Bolton and Clarkson families both attended Rob Camp Church which was formed in October of 1845.  The church minutes make for very interesting reading.

rob camp

We know that Margaret Herrell Martin, Joseph “Dode” Bolton’s mother, was a member, because her first husband, Anson Cook Martin was received by experience shortly after the church was formed, and shortly before his death about 1845.

In January 1853, we find a note that Margaret Bolton was received by experience, or in today’s Baptist vernacular, was “saved” and was likely baptized.

Her son, Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton would be born that September.

Beginning in 1854, Joseph Preston Bolton was mentioned in the church minutes four times, the last time being when he was excluded from the church as his own request following accusations by another member.  In 1866, Joseph was once again received back into the flock and in 1868, he is a deacon. It’s likely that Margaret continued to attend this church, even while Joseph Sr. was excluded and that Joseph Dode Bolton grew up in this church.

Joseph Preston Bolton, Dode’s father, was also a founding member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hancock County, shown below. Joseph “Dode” Bolton would have been 15 at that time.


According to the Rob Camp Church minutes, on the second Saturday of April, 1869, Rob Camp Church released the following people from their fellowship to form the Mount Zion Baptist Church.  On the third Saturday of May, the following list of brothers and sisters met to officially constitute the church which would be located on a parcel of land belonging to William Mannon.  Most of these people were related to Margaret Clarkson, Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton’s future wife in some fashion.

  • E.H. Clarkson (Edward Hilton, 1st cousin once removed to Margret)
  • Mary Clarkson (Mary Martin, wife of E.H. Clarkson, half sister to Joseph Preston Bolton through his mother Mary Herrell Martin Bolton and Anson Cook Martin)
  • William Mannon
  • Elizabeth Mannon
  • Mary Muncy
  • Clarissa Hill
  • Sarah Shefley (cousin)
  • Farwix Clarkson (grandfather to Margret)
  • Agnes Clarkson (grandmother to Margret)
  • Nancy Furry (cousin)
  • Elizabeth Clarkson (mother to Margret)
  • Margret Clarkson (future wife of Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton – she was about 3 years older than he and would have been considered an adult at 18)
  • William Bolton (son of Joseph Preston Bolton)
  • James Bolton (son of Joseph Preston Bolton)
  • John Grimes
  • Catherine Grimes
  • Joseph Bolton (this would be Joseph Preston Bolton Sr., the deacon)

In the first church meeting of the new church, Joseph Bolton was made a Deacon.  One of the first things the new church did was to create a list of members and they all signed a very lengthy statement about the mission of the church.  Among those names is Joseph Bolton, noted as a Deacon, Margret Bolton and Margret Clarkson.  However, a note beside Joseph’s name, obviously added later, says “excluded” and a note beside Margaret’s name says “dis” for dismissed.  Obviously, things did not go swimmingly well at the new church.

The next page in the notes is a page titled “Dismissed by Letter.”  This meant that the church gave you a letter to take to your next church that basically stated that you had been baptized and were a member in good standing.  Joseph B. Bolton is on that list.  That would be the younger Joseph.  There is no date.

In the 1870 census, the Bolton family is living in the same location in the 14th district of Hancock County and Joseph Dode Bolton is found living with his parents.

Joseph Dode Bolton married Margaret Clarkson about 1873, and about the same time, his father, Joseph, was once again in trouble with the church.  The trouble boiled over into 1874 and eventually, Joseph Sr. was once again excluded from the church.

Given all of the family relationships, I’m presuming that Joseph Dode Bolton and his bride, Margaret were probably married in this church and continued to attend Mt. Zion until 1876 when Little Mulberry, below, was formed.

Little mulberry

Little Mulberry Baptist Church is located in the 5th Civil District of Hancock Co. in the lower Mulberry Community.  Little Mulberry Church was organized in May 1876 with 19 charter members:

  • G.W. Coleman
  • Mary and Norah Clarkson (first cousin to Margaret Clarkson)
  • Thomas and Jane Greer
  • William Pendleton
  • Lucy Skidmore
  • Jane Baker
  • Mr. and Mrs. H. Edens
  • James Fugate
  • C.K. Coleman
  • J.B. and Margaret Bolton (This is the younger Joseph Bolton.)
  • Thomas and Mollie Reed
  • Etta and Susan Sumpter

In 1879, there is a note in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church minutes that Joseph D. (sic) Bolton be charged with getting drunk and that E. H. Clarkson be sent to talk to him.  At the July meeting, Brother Joseph Bolton was present and made his acknowledgement to the church and was “restored back in fool fellowship.”  I don’t think that’s really what they meant, “fool fellowship,” but it surely is exactly what they said.

On the Hancock Co. 1880 tax list from the East Tennessee Roots Vol VI, number 4, Margret Bolton is listed with 55 acres, $350 value, 105 to county, 35 to state, 35 to school, 87.5 for special, 262.5 total taxes, no poll.  The 1880 census shows Joseph Sr. and Margaret living in Claiborne County.  Joseph Bolton Jr. lives beside Margret’s land in Hancock County, with no land, 1 poll (himself), but then under him it says 100 to school and 30 special and 130 total, paid to Edds.  Joseph Dode probably farms his mother’s land.

The 1880 census shows Joseph Bolton (Jr.), age 27 with his wife Margaret and their first 3 children, Ollie F., age 6, Charles J. or T., age 4 and Elizabeth, age 1.  Joseph shows his mother and father as born in Virginia.  They still live in the same district at Joseph’s parents did in 1860 and 1870.

In 1885, the Rob Camp church minutes have a list of “Names.”  On that list is Margret Bolton.  It’s unclear whether his is a current list as of that date, but I suspect that it is because Joseph (Sr.) is not to be found and he is still living.

In February 1887, the Mt. Zion Church notes mention that Brother Clinton Clouse and Brother Joseph B. Bolton talked and made the acknowledgement to the church “for living cold and out of duty and hoped to live a better life from this time forward.” Ironically, it was Clinton Clouse that was brought up on charges at the same time as Joseph in 1879, except Clinton was brought up for swearing as well.  Makes me wonder if they were best buds, or if the timing was simply circumstantial.  The 1880 census perhaps sheds some light on that question.

1880 hancock census

In June of 1888, Mt. Zion Church received Margret Bolton by letter.  This may have been Margret, the widow of Joseph Bolton, the elder, who died in December of 1887. According to the “Bolton Family History” book, in 1887, Joseph was living in Little Sycamore, in Claiborne County.  Perhaps after his death Margaret moved back to where she was more comfortable, in essence, going “home.”

Near the end of the Mt. Zion notes, after October 1896, there are several pages of members.  Upon them, Joseph B. Bolton is listed and by his name, “excluded.”  About half of the men were excluded.  I don’t know if he was in good company, but he certainly had a lot of it!

Of course, there is no 1890 census.  Prior to the 1900 census, the Joseph Bolton family lived in the 14th district but in 1900 and 1910 they live in the 8th district, so they have apparently moved.  None of the neighbors are the same, and Clinton Clouse or Cloth is nowhere to be found, which was probably a great relief to Joseph’s wife, Margret.  In 1900, their name was misspelled Bolting.

1900 hancock census

In 1910 they lived in Hancock County on Back Valley Road as is detailed in the article about their son, Samuel, who died in WWI.

Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton’s death certificate says his father, Joseph Bolton, was born in Washington Co., VA and his mother was Nancy Christie, which is dead wrong as far as we know.  Margret, his wife, notified the authorities of his death, and then herself died on March 11th, just two weeks later.  It appears that Joseph was buried on February 25th, so the family oral history that they put him out in the woodshed or barn and waited for her to die and had one funeral is not accurate.


Joseph’s death certificate says he was sick from Feb. 18th through the 24th, so died of pneumonia following the flu after being sick for only 6 days.  However, Margret’s death certificate says that she was sick from Feb. 18th through March 10th, so she got sick at the same time, but it took her another 2 weeks to die.  I wonder if she went to Joseph’s funeral – or maybe they buried the body but had a joint funeral at the church, especially if she was sick, they would probably have been waiting for her to get better.  Or maybe Joseph didn’t want a funeral at any church, given that the final note we have says that he was excluded and there is no evidence that he ever attended another church.

What a terrible blow to the family, to lose both parents within two weeks.  If they were sick, it’s very likely that many others in the community were as well.  A quick spin through the Hancock County death certificates confirms that there were several other deaths from pneumonia following the flu in the surrounding weeks.

Joseph Bolton’s death certificate is interesting.  It gives us lots of information, not all of it accurate.  Remember, death information is given by relatives, some of them quite bereaved, or perhaps distant, or maybe elderly and forgetful.  In Margret’s case, she was both bereaved and ill.  I view death certificate information as a great hint – to be proven.

In the case of Joseph, his birth location of Washington County, VA, is suspect, very suspect.  In 1850, his parents were both living in Claiborne County, TN, as they were in 1860, so unless they moved away, and back again, he was born in Hancock County, TN, not Washington Co., VA.  The portion of Hancock County where the Bolton family lived was split from Claiborne in 1845, so the family didn’t move, the county line did.

The most interesting piece of information, or in this case, misinformation, was his mother’s name.  Nancy Christie.  Joseph Bolton’s mother was Margaret Herrell.  She had previously been married to Anson Cook Martin who died about 1845 in Hancock County, leaving his widow with 9 children.  Margaret remarried to Joseph Bolton after 1850, as Joseph’s former wife, Mary Tankersley, was still living in the 1850 census which was dated in December, although it is supposed to be taken “as of” June.  I have seen cases of people on the census who have actually died, but are enumerated because they were still alive in the month the census was taken “as of.”

Margaret Martin, with her children, was enumerated in1850 as a head of household.  Margaret had two more children after marrying Joseph Bolton: Mary Ann Matilda born in 1851 and Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton born in 1853.

In the 1860 census, taken in August, daughter Mary Bolton is shown as age 9, so born in 1851, meaning she had already had her birthday for that year.  Since in the 1850 census, Joseph’s first wife was still living in December, and Mary was born in 1851, probably before August, this strongly suggests that Mary Tankersley Bolton was already dead when the census was taken in December of 1851 and Joseph married Margaret about that time.  Both people had a houseful of kids and had probably known each other for years.  Joseph’s youngest child was about 2 and Margaret’s about 6.  I’m betting their courtship lasted about a week or may simply have consisted of a visit and a chat.  I surely wish we had their marriage license.

In the 1860 census, two of her Martin children, Malinda, age 18 and Alexander, the baby at 15 are still living with Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton and Joseph Bolton.

Back to the pesky issue of the death certificate.  How can one mistake a mother’s name, or a grandmothers, especially if you knew the person well?  And not just the last name, but the first name too?  Margaret Clarkson Bolton clearly knew her mother-in-law, Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton, the grandmother to her children.  Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton didn’t die until sometime after 1880 and before 1892, so Margaret’s children, if they provided the death certificate information, would have clearly known their grandmother.  Joseph Bolton Jr. was around age 40 when his mother died.  His wife, Margaret Claxton had been a daughter-in-law to his mother for some 20 years and was a neighbor to his grandmother, Mary McDowell Harrell before that.  So these families were well known to each other their entire lives, not just after marriage.  Margaret Clarkson/Claxton was raised on the land beside her mother-in-law, Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton.  This much confusion and misinformation just makes me uneasy, especially without a marriage license, even though we clearly do find Margaret Herrell Martin’s children with Joseph Bolton’s family in 1860.

Fortunately, not all of the Hancock County records burned. Just generally the ones I want, and of course, all of the marriage licenses!

On July 1, 1878, Pleasant Smith and Serelda Smith, his wife, John Martin and Hanah Martin, his wife, sign their interest in land after the death of Marget (sic) Bolton for $100 to J.M. Martin.  That land was located in the 14th district containing 50 acres bounded by John McDaniels, Elexander Herrell and others.  That deed as also witnessed by D.M. Bolton.  The deed was registered and sworn to by D.M. Bolton on January 10, 1892. This is very likely the 50 acres that Joseph Bolton, Jr., was farming in 1880.

What this tells us is that Margaret (Herrell Martin) Bolton was still living in 1878, and that she had died before January 10, 1892.

In 1885, in Chancery Court, in Hancock County, James Spears brings suit against J. M. Martin, William Martin, Joseph Bolton and Margaret Bolton.  As interesting as the suit itself is the list of who was involved.  Cannon Herrell, Alexander Herrell and John McDowell were each paid for 2 days, likely as chainers to the surveyor.  This suit has to do with land.  James Spears is somehow connected to the Herrell family, as he testifies as to their character in other suits.  By the time this suit gets to court, the people have agreed and they survey the land.  They surveyor’s notes give us somewhat of a location for the “lands in controversy.”  Beginning at James M. Martin’s house…Spear’s line…Martin’s line…Spear’s water…bank of Powell’s River.  It should also be noted that there are Spears buried in the old McDowell Cemetery on Powell River.

Alexander Herrell is Margaret Herrells’ brother, Cannon is her half-brother and John McDowell is either her uncle or nephew.

In fact, this hand drawn representation of the Claiborne County survey book shows the McDowell, Clarkson/Claxton and Herrell land, so we can rest assured that the Boltons and Martins are living in close proximity as well.

bolton8Here’s a current topo map with the McDowell, Herrell and Clarkson land plotted.  You can see Four Mile Creek at the top to the left of McDowell and then Mulberry Creek just below the word Clarkson.


This picture was taken on a visit to Hancock County where I was standing on the McDowell land, aptly named “Slanting Misery,” looking at the Claxton/Clarkson land.


Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton started his life near 4 Mile Creek in Hancock County, perhaps within sight of this location.  He spent most of his life in that area.  He perhaps had a drinking problem and was excluded from the church.  He seemed to have a rabble-rousing friend in Clinton Clouse for at least a decade.

Getting oneself excluded from church seemed to be a Bolton family tradition, as his father has been excluded before him, as well, twice, although not for drinking.

Joseph’s brothers and father had moved down to Little Sycamore in the early 1880s, but Joseph “Dode” didn’t.  He apparently remained in Hancock County and farmed his mother’s land, at least until her death and the land was conveyed in 1892.

On March 31st 1902, a deed was filed in Hancock County by and between S.F. Clarkson who was appointed administrator of the estate of Fernando Clarkson decd, late of Hancock Co., Tn. by the county of Hancock on Dec. 11, 1900 and Joseph Bolton of Hancock Co.., stating:  On July 30 1896 Fernando Clarkson decd did sell to Joseph Bolton a certain tract of land and execute him a title for the said tract of land lying and being in the 8th civil district of Hancock Co and on the Sulphur Fork of Mulberry Creek and bounded as follows: with L. Overtons line to G. Overtons line and thence east with G Overton’s line to a conditional line between Thomas Reed and Bolton and then with a conditional line in H.S. Fugates line to a small oak on the top of Wallen’s ridge with H.E. Fugate and E. Overton’s line.  S.F. Clarkson does now convey to Bolton together with the right of way for a road through the land now held by Thomas Reed. Signed by S.F. Clarkson and witnessed by R.L. Parkey and Ollie Parkey.

Joseph was later reportedly living at Hoop Creek, both by the family and in official documents.


Hoop Creek is about half way between 4 Mile Creek and the Little Sycamore Community where his father lived and died.  The Plank Cemetery is at the location of West Teller Road and Little Sycamore, below  Hoop Creek was well known for being a mixed racial area.


The Plank Cemetery is where Joseph Presley Bolton Sr. was buried in 1887.  Twenty three years later, his son, Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton was buried there and two weeks later, to the day, his wife, Margaret Clarkson Bolton.  Fifteen months earlier, their son Samuel who was killed in WWI was buried and daughter Ida was buried there in 1953.  The cemetery can be difficult to find because it sets back a long drive into the center of a field, which is dead center in this satellite view.


You can see the Plank Cemetery, fenced, in the center of the field above.


There are many unmarked graves here.  Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton may be one of them.  Or, she may be buried with her first husband, Anson Cook Martin, up near Four Mile Creek, or maybe in the Herrell family cemetery, also in that vicinity.


I’d really like to remove any little tiny niggling nagging doubt that I might have about who Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton’s mother really was and put it to bed once and for all, forever.  Fortunately, there is a way for me to do that.

A number of Harrell descendants have DNA tested.  If Margaret Herrell is Joseph Bolton’s mother, then I, or other Joseph Bolton descendants, should match at least one of our Harrell cousins using autosomal DNA testing.

And, as you can see, on the chromosome graph below, comparing me with a Harrell cousin, we do!


The orange DNA segments above range in size from 1cM to 17 cM on chromosome 17.  That is a nice beautiful chunk of Margaret Harrell’s DNA!  Proof, at last, that Margaret Herrell is Joseph “Dode” Bolton’ mother.


As you can see, this person descends from Margaret Herrell though a child from her first marriage.  Indeed, this match is good news and proves that yes, Margaret Herrell is indeed Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton’s mother, because the Harrell cousin I match carries no Bolton DNA, and we don’t share any other ancestors – so the matching DNA has to be Harrell.

A second cousin who also descends through Joseph Bolton Sr. and Mary Tankersley also matches.  Now this gave me pause to reflect, because, she SHOULDN’T match my Herrell cousin on any common segments, because she doesn’t descend through Joseph Bolton Jr. and Margaret Herrell.  But take a look, we three have several segments in common with each other if you drop the threshold to 1cM, specifically, chromosomes 6, 7 and 12.


And yes, both matches also match each other.  This is called a huge fly in the ointment. So, right about now, I’m all set to have a little meltdown because there is obviously a problem SOMEPLACE and probably in my genealogy or maybe his mother really isn’t his mother….or…or…or

So, I took both a deep breath and a closer look at the second match’s tree, and lo and behold, guess what?  She has a questionable Herrell penciled in, spelled Harrell, so it didn’t’ show on my previous surname match.  The tentative Harrell is a possible child of….yep….Margaret Herrell.  Well, guess what…it’s not tentative anymore, it’s now confirmed!  I’ll have to let her know!  Whew, what a relief!!!


But then, it got even better.  Looking at my cousin’s Herrell matches, she had some matches that didn’t match me directly, because for me, they are below the initial matching threshold, but we all match my cousin.  Pushing all of our data through to the chromosome browser, there were now a total of 5 Herrell cousins.  Dropping our cM to 1 shows this chromosome browser match.

The reason these folks don’t show for me, except for the pink person, is because the segments are small enough that they are under the match threshold, but because we do match someone else in common, we can see them as matches by comparing everyone to the other person we match and dropping the match  threshold.

I desperately wish we could adjust the matching threshold at FTDNA, at least in specific cases.  I realize that Family Tree DNA is worried about having too many matches, but in some cases, we’re missing the confirming data by not being able to see those smaller matches.  By utilizing the standard matching, I have only one match on chromosome 17 to the pink lady, shown in the first screen shot, above, in addition to the person being matched against.  The proof of why we need to be able to adjust the threshold to capture additional matches, is all of those colored spaces below.


I’m green on this comparison.  Very interesting that I match with multiple cousins on chromosomes 10, 11, and 12.  It’s also very interesting that I match on a fairly large chunk of the X chromosome with my Harrell cousin that wasn’t sure she’s a Harrell!

On chromosome 11, there is one segment that 4 of 5 cousins carry that descends from Margaret Herrell.  We know this segment comes from Margaret and not Joseph because some of these cousins are Herrell cousins who don’t also descend from Joseph Bolton.

All of the technology and genealogy data aside, just sitting for a moment and realizing that this is Margaret Harrell’s and Joseph Bolton’s DNA showing up in orange, blue, green and pink.  By comparing to people who only descend through one of those people, and not both, in the future, we can even divide those matches, just like we did on chromosome 11, so we know which pieces are Margaret’s and which are Joseph’s.

To me, and to descendants hunting for confirmation of their ancestry, these are absolutely the most beautiful, multi-colored stars shining through the inky black night sky, illuminating our ancestral path, and winking at us along the way!  They are pieces of our ancestors found in us today, lighting the path forward, or backward…or both.



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20 thoughts on “Joseph B. “Dode” Bolton (1853-1920), Who’s Your Mama?, 52 Ancestors #37

  1. About that death record, you say, “How can one mistake a mother’s name, or a grandmothers, especially if you knew the person well? And not just the last name, but the first name too? Margaret Clarkson Bolton clearly knew her mother-in-law, Margaret Herrell Martin Bolton, the grandmother to her children.”

    You also point out that informants on such records are usually grieving, maybe ill themselves or grievously upset.

    I have seen a death record where the informant was asked the name of the deceased’s father, which was duly given (correctly). Then apparently the clerk asked “and what was his mother’s name?” The informant gave the married name of the mother of the deceased’s father (that is, a grandmother of the lately deceased). To this informant, the questions were an ordeal to get through, and few of us have more than a couple of experiences with these questions for a death record form. The question’s “his” was ambiguous, and the informant in this case replied as she thought the question was asked.

    I have also seen instances where a mother’s last married name was given. In some instances this has been a wonderfully helpful clue that probably was the only way a last marriage (in a distant County) was likely to have been found.

    Good hunting!

  2. Hi Roberta, I have been comparing some of my Family Tree and I have some of the links you have mentioned. I am Paul Morris Hilton of Harvey Station, New Brunswick, Canada with many connections to the US States and Great Britain and Canada. I have just a few of the surnames you have mentioned here- Bolton, Estes, Clarkson. There are links to the Hilton, Morris Families also. I have to dig into the DNA Data that I have in YDNA and also over 60 pages of Family Finder Data. The links so far are a bit distant, but will narrow down soon. Best Wishes with your many Faceted research. I have links to Royalty and Presidents also tot the Archibald Family. Sincerely, Paul Morris Hilton

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  13. Hello! Thank you so much for posting this! I have just learned that Dudley Bolton is my great great grandfather. This is great information and until very recently I knew little to nothing about my Bolton heritage.

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