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.  www.gedmatch.com and www.dnagedcom.com 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!

23andMe

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 www.dnagedcom.com, 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.

Ancestry.com

At Ancestry.com, 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

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

Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, 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.

burr

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

chocolate

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

Family Tree DNA Holiday Sale, Including Mystery Rewards, Starts Now

ftdna 2014 holiday

Family Tree DNA’s holiday sale starts today and lasts through 11:59PM Central time, December 31st.  Holiday prices are shown below and most of their products are on sale, including upgrades.

ftdna 2014 holiday prices

But wait – there’s more.

As a bonus for existing customers, Family Tree DNA has added something new this year – Mystery Rewards.  What fun!  Kind of like DNA lotto – but everyone wins!

For this holiday season they’ve got an exciting new twist to the sale – Mystery Reward discounts!  The Mystery Reward will be a randomized discount (up to $100 off) that can be applied on top of the already reduced Holiday Sale prices.

ftdna mystery reward

The Mystery Reward icon will appear on testers’ myFTDNA dashboard each week and the code will expire the night before the next Mystery Reward appears.

When you click the icon, you’ll to go to the reward page to open the Mystery Reward for savings up to $100. Family Tree DNA will also send an email notification to the kit’s primary email address when a new code is available for use or sharing.

ftdna mystery reward package

Best of all, there will be a new Mystery Reward every week. Customers can use the discount or can share it with a friend.

mystery reward sharing

In addition, all customers who have purchased the Big Y test will receive a coupon for $50 off a Big Y test.

That’s ON TOP of the sale price. Yes, you read that right. A coupon that can be used on top of a sale price. The coupon can also be “regifted,” meaning shared with a friend or fellow project member.

ftdna 2014 holiday big Y

The Mystery Rewards will be randomized, selected from among 11 offers, everything from $5 off any purchase to $100 off Big Y. There are both product specific and cart-wide discounts. For example, there’s $5 off any purchase, $10 off any purchase, $25 off Y-37…even $49 off of FF.

I’m already making my list of cousins who I would like to upgrade and people I’d like to purchase kits for. Yes, this is Santa’s list, and I’m not sure if these gifts are really for them or for me…but at these prices, it doesn’t really matter.  Now if I can just be lucky enough to get the Mystery Rewards I need.

Be sure to make your list now so you can watch for the specific Mystery Rewards you want. The good news is that this isn’t like Black Friday at Walmart – there’s plenty to go around for everyone!!!

If you’re looking for a specific mystery reward, post what you want in the comments of this article and maybe someone who has a Mystery Reward that you want will be kind enough to share with you!

Click here to sign in (beginning about 10AM central time today) to see your first Mystery Reward!!!

Fairwix Clarkson/Claxton (1799/1800-1874), In His Right Mind?, 52 Ancestors #47

Fairwix – what kind of a name is that?

Seriously?

I’ve never been able to figure out where it came from, literally or figuratively.  I can’t find it’s derivative, Fairwick either, or Farwix, or Farwick or even Farwich or Fairwich.  I’m sure if I could figure out the derivative of the name itself, there would be a huge hint there as to where the family came from – at least one of his ancestral families – whichever one Fairwix inherited the name from.

They didn’t just make a name like that up.

Did they?

I mean, with a name this unusual, he had to have been named after someone.  But who?  I’ve spent years now looking for anything Fairwick or Fairwix or any derivative…and so far…nothing.  The only Fairwicks I’ve found are his descendants.

In his honor, I’ll be changing how I spell both his first and last name every sentence or two – because – well, that’s what this family did!

Fairwick was probably born in then Claiborne, now Hancock County, TN around the turn of the century – that would be the 1799/1800 century. If the 1800 census was existent, we would know a lot more about this family, but it isn’t and we don’t.  His parents were James Lee Claxton/Clarkson and Sarah Cook. Who were reportedly married on October 10, 1799.  If so, then Fairwix was likely born in 1800.  He was their oldest child.

Fairwix died on February 11, 1874, possibly in the very same house he was born in – assuredly on the very same land he grew up on. How many people can make that claim?  Given that he died in February, and we know from later depositions that he was age 74 – it’s most likely that he had his 74th birthday in 1873, so born in 1799, or he was born between January 1 and February 11th of 1800.

In 1815, Fairwix’s life would be forever changed. His father, James Lee Claxton, died on February 20, 1815, in the service of his country, at Fort Decatur, Alabama in the War of 1812.  One has to wonder if James had a father/son talk with Fairwix before he left.  Maybe he asked him to help his mother with the chores, the farm work and the younger children while he was gone.  They probably never imagined that gone would be forever – just thought it would be for a few months.  The War of 1812 militia groups in East Tennessee were generally mustered for about 90 days.

The family didn’t even get to have a funeral. I wonder how, and when they were notified of his death.  James was buried beside the fort where he died.  Fairwix would have been 15 when his father died.  Certainly old enough to work the farm, but awfully young for the full brunt of responsibility that would fall upon his shoulders.  Fairwix was the only male child until his youngest sibling, Henry, was born sometime between 1813-1815.  In essence, Fairwick became the man of the house.

Fairwick married Agnes Muncy in about 1819 because their first child, James, named in memory of his father, was born about 1820. Agnes was born in 1803 in Lee County, VA and died sometime after 1880.

Fairwick and Agnes Muncy Claxton/Clarkson had 8 children:

  • James R. 1820-1845/50, unknown spouse, their 4 children living with Fairwick and Agnes in the 1850 census
  • Henry Avery 1821-1864, married Nancy “Bessie” Manning, died in the Civil War
  • William “Billy” 1815-1920 (that is not a typo), married Mary Walker, widow of Henry Claxton (son of James Lee Claxton and Sarah Cook) married second to and Eliza J. Manning william clarkson stone
  • Samuel 1827-1876 married Elizabeth “Bettie” Speaks

clarkson cemetery samuel

  • Sarah “Sally” 1829-1900 married Robert Shiflet
  • Nancy 1831/33-before 1875 married John Wolfe
  • Rebecca 1834-1923 married Calvin Wolfe
  • John 1840-1863 never married, died in the Civil War

If the 1810 or 1820 census were existent – we’d know more about this family….but we don’t.

Fortunately, until about 1845 or so, this part of Hancock County was in Claiborne County, and Claiborne’s records didn’t burn. Hancock lost part of their records during the Civil War, and then the courthouse burned…twice.  Miraculously, some records survived at least the second fire.

Fairwick didn’t wait long after his marriage to begin to build his land holdings. On Monday, November 12, 1821, in the Claiborne County Court notes, in the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1821-1824, Fairwick Claxton obtains a deed from Enos Hobbs for 30 acres and the deed was ordered to be recorded.  That deed is never found in the deed books.

I love court records, because they speak to the normalcy of community life, whatever that was, wherever they lived.  In early Appalachia, court days were big social events.  The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions was held just like it says – quarterly – four times each year, beginning in January.  Everyone went to town, to participate, to watch and to commune with the neighbors.  Well, not everyone – most women and children stayed home.  But the men attended and often imbibed.  In one session, the court had to be adjourned because the judge and jurors were so drunk they fell out of their chairs.  Yes indeed, court days were very interesting.  Reality TV before TV.

The following records were transcribed from the Claiborne County court and minute books.  Spellings have been, for the most part, retained.

On Monday, November 11, 1822, Farrwix Claxton is appointed a juror to the next court session (page 167).

1825 – Farwise Claxton (sic), deed from Harmon Houston, 1825, Deed Book I-187 for $120 – original states March session 1826 – Oct 8th 1825 between Farwix Claxton and Harmon Hutson of Claiborne County, said Fairwix for $120, 30 acres granted by the state of TN on the North side of Wallens Ridge, on the waters of Powels river beginning on a spur of said ridge near John Grimes old sugar camp.  Farwix Claxton signed in the presence of William Rogers, register by his deputy Walter Evans.

In his lifetime, Fairwix seemed to have accumulated quite a bit of land, although without the Hancock County deeds, we can’t fully understand his land transactions.

This photo is taken from the neighboring McDowell lands, called Slanting Misery, looking across the Powell River and onto the Clarkson/Claxton lands.

Slanting Misery looking to Clarkson land

As you can see, this territory was anything but tame.  The Peter Parkey land survey, below, shows the locations of the family lands involved, with Claxton’s bend labeled to the left of the Parkey land survey – the square in black on the river.

parkey survey 2 crop

Dec. 19, 1826

Page 45 – Fairwick Claxton juror

Page 47 – Fairwick Claxton constable in the bounds of Capt. Mcnight’s company – he gave bond and security

Dec. 20, 1826 – page 63 – Fairwick Claxton ordered to next court as constable

March 19, 1827 – page  72 – Henry Cook overseer of the road from Waggon Ford on the Powell River to 4 mile creek and have hands Thomas Lawson, Gabriel Ayres, Drury Lawson, Reuben Lawson, John Riley (2 hands), Henly Fugate, (2 hands), William Fugate, Hugh Montgomery, James Dooley, Enoch Townsen, Henry Grimes, John Overton, Shadrack Moore, Thomas Hobbs, Fairwick Claxton and John Plank

Road orders are actually very interesting. During this time in history, all taxpayers were required to provide “road hands” for the maintenance of public roads.  These road orders tell us who lived in the neighborhood and used that road.  They were the people assigned to work on the road – to keep it free of potholes and brush and fallen timber.  Henry Cook may well have been related to Fairwick through his mother, Sarah Cook.  Road records are a wonderful way to establish neighborhoods, in addition to or when census records are lacking.

March 20, 1827

Page 87 – Fairwick Claxton constable appointed by the court to attend at the grand jury at the present term

June 1827

Page 109 – Fairwick Claxton to attend court as constable this term to attend grand jurors

Sept 1827 – Page 152 – Farwick Claxton constable appointed to attend at the present session

September 15, 1828

Page 203 – Fairwick Claxton overseer of road from Powell’s River to 4 Mile Creek near McDowell’s in stead of Henry Cook, hands Hugh Montgomery, James Montgomery, Peter Riley, John Plank, Henry Cook, Joheal Fugate, Thomas Lawson, Arnor Lawson, Gabriel Ayres, Riley and Figate hands (road of 2nd class)

Page 283 – Fairwick Claxton overseer of road from Powells River to 4 Mile Creek near McDowells instead of Henry Cook.

December 15, 1828

Page 320 – In Capt. McNight’s company Farwick Claxton duly elected constable

Page 1829 – March – Martin Reace of Claiborne County to Joseph Campbell of Hawkins County for $300, 40 acres north of Clinch River beginning at a line that Johnson conveyed to James Givens, line between Reece and John Rhea. Signed Martin Rease.  Witnesses were John McNiel and Farwix Claxton (Claiborne Deed book I page 101-103)

March 18, 1829 – Fairwick Claxton to attend court as constable

June 16, 1829, Page 402 – Fairwick Claxton constable

June 17, 1829

Page 415 – Fairwick Claxton constable again for 2 years

December 21, 1829 – Page 31 – Fairwick Claxton overseer of road from Powell River to 4 Mile Creek near McDowell’s instead of Henry Cook

Page 38 – Farwick Claxton allowed $4.68 for stone hamer to ?? out of the ?? ??

May 15, 1830 – Page 57 – Fairwick Claxton, ? Vandeveter, Joseph Mahan, Jonathan Teepey, Abner Hatfield, John Skidmore, Stephen Wilborn lay off road from Abner Hatfields and leaving Mulberry road crossing Wallen’s Ridge at Bales Gap then best way to VA line near Nedham Iron Works

Page 60 – Fairwick Claxton a constable to attend court of present term

December 20, 1830

Page 176 – Farwick Claxton constable in bounds of Capt. Ward’s company for ensuing 2 years

The 1830 census shows Fairwick with the following:

  • Fairwick 20-30
  • Male 10-15 (James R.)
  • 2 males 5-10 (Henry and William)
  • 1 male under 5 (Samuel)
  • wife age 30-40 (Agnes)
  • female 50-60 (possibly Agnes’ mother)
  • female under 5 (Sarah)

The only names that appear in the 1830 census are those of the head of household. I have added the names of the family members who are known to fit those dates, in parenthesis.

September 20, 1831 – Page 304 – Farwick Claxton testified 2 days as witness for state in trial of St vs Samuel H. Gully (paid $1)

Page 307 – Fairwick Claxton witness for state – 2 days – $1

June 18, 1832

Page 363 – Fairwick Claxton constable to attend present session

Cousin Dolores send me a wonderful gift some years ago, back before the days of the internet. Imagine how pleased I was to open a letter, one from the real mailbox by the road, and find Fairwix’s signature.

Furthermore, it looks like Fairwix was the sheriff. It also appears that he signed his name as Fairwix Clarkson.

Fairwick Clarkson signature

In 1832, 25 acres was surveyed for Farwix Claxton on the Powell River adjoining his mother’s land. His brother, Henry, was a chain carrier for the surveyor.

Fairwick Clarkson 1832

In 1833, 50 acres was surveyed for Fairwix Clarkson. This land abutted both Henry Clarkson, his brother and the land of Sarah, his mother, as well.  Again, Henry was the chain carrier.

Fairwick Clarkson 1833

You know that Fairwick was right there when his land was being surveyed. There are very few days in the life of an ancestor, especially in the 1830s, more than 180 years ago, where we know exactly where they were.  The 1832 survey was in May.  This is the Clarkson land and barn in May 2006.

clarkson barnyard

The 1833 survey was taken on January 10th.  It was likely cold then.  The average temperature in Hancock County is 25-44 in January.

snow at the gap

This is snow on the pinnacle overlooking Cumberland Gap. It does snow in this part of Tennessee, and when it does, it’s quite ugly – although people didn’t have to worry about cars and mountains back then.  Hopefully, they just stayed home.  Generally, the snow doesn’t last long and melts rather quickly because the ground generally doesn’t freeze.

snow in the woods

In the 1833 tax list Fairwick is listed as free white and 21 or older.

Jan-June 1833 – Page 4 – Fairwick Claxton allowed $3 to serve on traverse jury

A traverse jury is a trial jury – a jury impaneled to try an action or prosecution, as distinguished from a grand jury which reviews evidence submitted by the prosecutor and determines whether a person should be charged with a crime (indictment.)

Dec. 16, 1833 – Page 159, 161 – Fairwick ordered to sell land at public sale (probably as constable.)  I note that Sarah is also mentioned on page 159 so it is very likely James Claxton’s land. Here is the entry:

Hugh Graham vs Fairwick Claxton – Fidelie S. Hurt JP returned with warrant judgement and execution for sum of 38.30 with the following returned endorsements on said execution to wit: There being no goods or chattels of def in my county I have levied this execution of F. Claxton “undivided interest in 100 acres of land on Powels River whereon Sarah Claxton now lives – June 16, 1834”.  Order of sale issued.

Page 174 – Fairwick Claxton reports on laying out road

December 27, 1833

Page 80 – mentions Claxton’s company

In 1834, Fairview Claxton (now we know this has to be Fairwix) bought land from Sarah Claxton, deed book O, page 233, for $70. This would have been his parents land, probably the land adjacent his own. He apparently bought it just 3 months before the court order for the land to be sold.

1834 – Fairview Claxton from Sarah Claxton, 1834, O-233 for $70.00 – original reads March 27th, 1834, between Farwick Clarkson, Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala, John Plank and wife Elizabeth, Levi Parks and wife Susannah, John Collinsworth and wife Rebecca, Jacob Parks and wife Patsy, heirs at law of James Clarkson deceast of the one part and Sarah Clarkson widow of the aforesaid James Clarkson decd of the other part, all of Claiborne Co. Tn.  In consideration of:

  • Farwick Clarkson, $70 (signs – but all of the rest make marks. Fairwix wife is not included for some reason.)
  • Andrew Hurst and wife Mahala – $70
  • John Plank and wife Elizabeth – $70 or 20 (Debra’s note – marked through)
  • Levi Parks and wife Susannah – $70
  • John Collensworth and wife Rebecca – $20
  • Jacob Parks and wife Patsy “Polly” – $20

From Sarah Clarkson, widow aforesaid, 100 acres, in Claiborne county on the N side of Powell river where Sarah lives and land that was conveyed to James Clarkson from John Hall of Sumner Co.. Tn. – beginning at Hobbs line, bank of Powell river.  Witnessed by John Riley and Johiel Fugate.  Registered Jan. 12, 1841

Note that the order to sell the property was issued three months after this deed was made. However, this deed wasn’t recorded until in 1841, so it apparently still was relevant at that time.  Was this sale the children’s attempt to keep their mother from losing her land?  There’s certainly a story here…if we just had access to a time machine.

March 18, 1835 – Page 319 – Fairwick Claxton reports as juror

Page 345 – Fairwick Claxton no longer overseer of road

Page 353 – juror – Fairwick Claxton

In 1836, on the Claiborne County tax list, the surname has been misspelled Clanton, and was surely supposed to be Claxton. Fairwiss, Sarah and the heirs of Henry are shown on pages 139 and 140.  Then Farwick Claxton is shown as well on page 133.  Henry is paying taxes on two separate parcels of land.

In 1839, Fairwix, Sarah and the heirs of Henry Claxton are all three on the Claiborne County tax list.

1840 – Page 181 – Settlement made with Johile? Fugate admin to the estate of Henly Fugate, decd, sales of property to Farwix Claxton $34.25 and second, Farwix Claxton’s act proven July 16 1839 (Yearry)

Fairwick and his mother both apparently patented additional land, based on what was found in the Tennessee Land Grants from the book of the same name, found in the Middlesboro, KY library.

Last First Year Acres District Book Page Grant County
Clarkson Fairwick 1841 75 E dist 25 459 24242 Claiborne
Clarkson Fairwick 1841 50 E dist 25 451 24339 Claiborne
Claxton Fairwin 1853 100 E dist 29 693 28765 Hancock?
Claxton Sally 1849 30 E dist 28 564 27436 Hancock?

In the 1840 census, Fairwick’s children align the same except for the following changes that are inconsistent with 1830.

  • Fairwick is 40-50
  • female not his wife is 70-80
  • additional male under 5 (John)
  • additional 2 females 5-10 (Nancy and Rebecca)

The female, age 70-80, based on the 1850 census, is very likely Fairwix’s mother-in-law.

Fairwick Clarkson 1850 census

In the 1850 census, we find 4 additional people with Fairwick plus Nancy (Workman) Moncy (Muncy) age 81 born in Va. This is definitely Fairwick’s mother-in-law.  However, it took me forever to figure out what G. Chile was.  Care to guess?  Think southern.  Say it out loud.

Gran chile or grandchild. These were Fairwix’s grandchildren through son James and an unknown wife.  James wife died after 1842 and probably before 1845 and James died between 1845-1850.

  • Nancy G. Chile 13
  • John Chile 10
  • William G. Chile 10
  • Fernando G. Chile 8

The census says that Fairwix was born in Virginia. If so, it was probably in Russell County, just before James Lee Clarkson moved to the Powell River area on the Lee County/Claiborne County border.

clarkson 1850 census

In addition to living with his grandchildren, Fairwix is also living beside sons William and Samuel Claxton. That relationship would turn ugly and William would move away, for unknown reasons, causing a rift between father and son and eventually between the two brothers as well.  We don’t know if the rift was the reason for moving, or the result.

On February 17, 1851, Fairwick Clarkson was received by experience into the Rob Camp Church. His wife, Agnes has been received by letter in 1850, so the family was attending Rob Camp at this time.  Within a few months of Agnes joining the church, children Sary, Rebecca and Henry A. Clarkston were received by experience.  Fairwix followed a few months later.

Rob Camp church was located about 2 miles from where Fairwick lived, indicated by the red balloon, below.

Rob Camp church map

On August 2nd, a Saturday in 1854, Farwick Claxton and John Bolton were delegates to the Mulberry Association which would meet at Chadwell Station in Lee County.  They were to bear a letter and a contribution of $1.50.

Settlement of the Estate of William Graham, deceased.  Notes returned in the inventory: Fairwix Claxton note $19.50

Notes returned insolvent: Fairwix Claxton $19.50

The Graham administrator’s report is dated December 2, 1854

Survey Book 29 – page 693, Claiborne Co. TN number 28765 March 16, 1826 – Farwix Claxton assignee of JP Shackleford, assignee of Farwix Claxton, assignee of Sarah Claxton – 100 acres granted to Farwix Claxton and his heirs lying in the county aforesaid adj Sarah Claxton on the north side of Powell’s river, crossing a public road, Sarah’s old corner. Surveyed October 14, 1826, filed June 4, 1853, chainers Henry Cook and John Plank

Sarah Claxton 1826 survey

This probably wasn’t filed for 27 years because Sarah and then Fairwix didn’t have the money.

On Saturday, February 2, 1856, in the Rob Camp church notes, Fairwick Claxton was reported for drunkenness.

On March 2nd, the case of Brother F. Claxton was deferred until May “in order to give the brother time to become reconciled in his feeling.”  In May, the case was deferred to June, but in June, Brother Fairwick Clarkston was “restored by giving satisfaction to the church.”

In August 1858, Fairwix’s sons Samuel and William were both received by experience into the church as well as daughter Nancy, within three days of each other. This sounds very much like a revival was held.  There was a note in the church records a few days later that “converts were baptized by church elders.”

The 1860 census is extremely difficult to read. Fairwick still claims a birth in Virginia as does his wife Agnes.  Grandchildren John, Nancy and William are still living with them, but all of their children have flown the coop.  However, as amazing as it seems, Agnes’s mother, Nancy Muncy, age 99, shown as “feeble,” is living with them.  She too is born in Virginia.

Next door, we find Sary Clarkson, age 85. Sarah is Fairwick’s mother.  With her is living Robert Shifley (Shiflet) and wife Sary along with Elizabeth, age 1.  This is Sarah “Sally,” daughter of Fairwix and Agnes, and they are clearly living with their grandmother, next door, to help out.  She probably helps them too with the baby.  The picture below is of Sarah Clarkson Shiflett.

Sarah Clarkson Shiflett

We only have pictures of two of Fairwick’s children, Sarah, above, and Samuel’s Civil War photo, below.

Clarkson, Samuel Civil War

I must admit, I look at the two of these photos because their common features would be those of their parents, Fairwick and Agnes…and seeing these two photos is as close as we’ll ever come to seeing Fairwick and Agnes.

On May 4, 1863, William Claxton, the grandson that Fairwick and Agnes had raised since their son James death, nearly 20 years before, was killed in the Civil War. He mustered in on March 13, 1862 and his record states the following:

Left in hospital sick at Camp Division Ohio December 28, 1862. Reported dead May 4, 1863.  Died in hospital at Camp Denison May 4, 1863 – 22 years old.  Record of death and interment:  William Clarkson, grave 199 –  then it says number 287, not sure what this number is.  We know this is our William, because in 1876, his sister Nancy states that she is going to get money for her dead brother from the government.

Their grandson John also disappears from all records about this time. He died, without heirs, sometime between the 1860 census and when the chancery suit was filed in 1875.  I did not find John in the 1870 census.  Family oral history states that he was a war casualty as well.

???????????????????????????????

Mount Zion Baptist Church

On the second Saturday of April 1869 Rob Camp Baptist Church released the following from their fellowship:

  • H. Clarkson (Fairwix nephew through Henry, decd)
  • Mary Clarkson (Mary Martin, wife of E.H. Clarkson, through Margaret Herrell and Anson Martin, Margaret Herrell remarried to Joseph Bolton)
  • William Mannon
  • Elizabeth Mannon
  • Mary Muncy (probably Agnes Muncy Clarkson’s relative)
  • Clarissa Hill
  • Sarah Shefley (Fairwix daughter, married to Robert Shiflet)
  • Farwix Clarkson
  • Agnes Clarkson
  • Nancy Furry (Fairwix granddaughter through son James, decd)
  • Elizabeth Clarkson (Elizabeth Speaks, wife of Samuel Clarkson, son of Fairwix)
  • Margaret Clarkson (daughter of Samuel Clarkson and Elizabeth Speaks Clarkson, Margaret would marry Joseph Bolton Jr. in 1873)
  • William Bolton (son of Joseph Bolton)
  • James Bolton (son of Joseph Bolton)
  • John Grimes
  • Catherine Grimes
  • Joseph Bolton (husband to Margaret Herrell Martin, father to William and James)

Fairwix was related in one way or another to almost everyone in the new church.

These members were released for the purpose of constituting Mount Zion Baptist Church. On the third Saturday of May 1869 these brothers and sisters met, along with representatives from Cave Springs, Big Spring Union and Chadwell Station to officially constitute a church.  The church would be located on a parcel of land belonging to William Mannon.  A short time later William deeded over to the church without reservations 3.4 acres of land where today (three buildings later) the church still stands.  The property is now in the NW corner of district 5.

Initially I thought that they would have formed a church closer to where they lived, but that wasn’t the case, so there must have been another reason.  The new church was about twice as far as the old one, 4 miles distant.

Mt. Zion Church map

There is no date on the record, but at some point, Fairwick is noted in the church records as deceased, as is Agnes.

Fairwick’s Final Years

In the 1870 census, Fairwick is age 70, a retired farmer and Agnes is 66 and keeping house. Women never get to retire.

samuel clarkson 1870 census

In the 1870 census, a Nancy Furrah, age 30, and a child Janah or Sarah age 5 of the same last name, are found living with Fairwick. This is Fairwix’s widowed granddaughter.  She may have lost her husband in the Civil War as well.

Son Samuel is living next door. Son William has apparently moved as he is not found in 1870 in Hancock County.

On February 11, 1874, Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton dies and is buried in the cemetery on his farm.

Estate of Melbourn Overton, after Fairwick’s death, shows 1 “note of hand” on Farewick Claxton for $2.

The Chancery Suit

Our big find…meaning breakthrough… in the Clarkson family research was a suit filed by William, Fairwick’s son, against two of Fairwick’s other children, Samuel Clarkson and Rebecca Wolfe and a grandchild, Nancy Furry. Chancery suits are a genealogists dream, although they were probably very clearly a seemingly never-ending nightmare for the people involved.  These suits include a great deal of family history information and depositions that, cumulatively, allow us a peek into their lives.  In this case, we get to view Fairwick’s final days with an amazing lens of clarity.  I can just envision these scenes, especially having visited the actual locations.  The vivid descriptions allow us to sit by his bedside as a silent, invisible visitor some 140 years later.

In a way, it’s much like reading the script for a soap opera, but it’s our own personal family soap opera!

I am including all of the depositions and filings in this case except for minor things like receipts and notifications of service of paperwork. To read these documents in their entirety gives one a sense of the situation and allows us to be present in some small way.  However, I have bolded the important sections of the testimony.

On January 19, 1875 in Hancock Co., a Chancery Suit was filed as follows:

Complaint

William Clarkson vs Samuel Clarkson, etal

Enrolling docket – chancery court – Page 167 – January 19, 1875 – To the Honorable H.C. Smith chancellor for the first chancery district of Tennessee sitting at Sneedville…your orator William Clarkson, a resident of Union Co., Tn., that on the 11th day of Feb. 1874, his father Fairwix Clarkson died intestate in the said county of Hancock.  A few days before the death of said Fairwix and while on his death bed, and in his last sickness, he was by means of undue influence induced to sign deeds which purported to convey his real estate to his son Samuel Clarkson and one of his granddaughters, Nancy Furry, and a daughter Rebecca Wolfe, each getting a separate tract by a separate conveyance.  The deed to the said Samuel Clarkson conveyed a tract lying in the 14th civil district of said county of Hancock adjoining the land of Melburn Overton, James Overton and others, the tract conveyed to said Nancy Furry lies in the same civil district and adjoins lands of Montgomery and Clarkson and others and the tract conveyed to Rebecca Wolfe lies in the same civil district and adjoins the lands of Rhoda Shiflett, Henry Yeary and others.  Said lands are valuable and are worth $2000 or more. The consideration named in each of said deeds in the sum of $150 but nothing was paid.  These lands constituted almost the entire estate of said Fairwix.  He left a widow surviving him and several other children and grandchildren who were in no way provided for by said intestate. 

(page 168)Your orator shows dates and expressly charges that the two said deeds were pretended to have been made and executed, the said Fairwix Clarkson was so enfeebled in mind that he was incapable of doing any binding act, and that therefore the said pretended conveyances were not his acts and deeds and that he really died the true owner of said lands and the same of rightly belong to his heirs-at-law.

He left a widow Agnes Clarkson and two other surviving children aside from your orator and said Samuel, viz, Sarah Shiflet, wife of Robert Shiflet and Rebecca Wolf wife of Calvin Wolfe. He had a son James Clarkson who died some years ago leaving two children viz the said Nancy Fury a widow and Fernando Clarkson.

He also had a son Henry Clarkson who died in his lifetime leaving 4 children, viz. Elizabeth Harris, wife of Burrell Harris, Hugh Clarkson, Jerusha C. Clarkson and Sarah C. Clarkson.

He also had a daughter Nancy Wolfe who died in his lifetime leaving two children, viz., Sterling Wolfe and William Wolfe. The above noted children and grandchildren were the only heirs at law of the said Fairwix Clarkson.

The said Sterling Wolfe, William Wolfe, Jerusha C. Clarkson and Sarah C. Clarkson are minors without a general guardian.  The said parties all reside in Hancock Co. except your orators and the said Sterling Wolfe who lives in Claiborne Co and William Wolfe who lived in Union County in said state.  The premises considered your orator prays that all of the above named parties that process issue, that the defendants be required to answer fully, but an answer an oath is expressly named, that the said Samuel Clarkson, Nancy Furry and Rebecca Wolfe be required to file with their answers said pretended deeds, which rest as a cloud upon the title to said land, that a guardian ad litum be appointed to defend for said minors, that….the rights of said widow be declared in said land and dower assigned her in case she is entitled, therefore that commissioners be appointed to portion said lands among the parties entitles thereto or in case it is necessary, that the same be sold for partition and if in anything he is mistaken in his proper ?? for relief he prays for all such …(page 169) and further and general relief that equity and good conscience will entitle him to.   Vincent Mayers and F. M. Fulkerson def for complaintant.

William Clarkson swears at to the truth of his statements and signs with his mark.

Answer to Complaint

(page 184) June 2, 1875 – The answer of Samuel Clarkson, Nancy Fury, Rebecca Wolf and Agnes Clarkson to the bill of complaint of William Clarkson filed in the chancery court in Sneedville…these respondents reserving all the benefits of exceptions to the complaints said bill answering say – They admit the death of Fairwick Clarkson as stated and that he died intestate – that 5 days before his death he executed the deeds mentioned in the bill and while in his last sickness and in his proper mind. That some 12 months or two years before his death, (page 185) he expressed the same feeling and agreed to the same contracts as mentioned in the deeds as being his free and voluntary act and such as he intended to carry out.  He was in his proper mind all the while during his last sickness and equally so 12 months or two years before the execution of the deeds mentioned in the bill and the deeds only carried out his expressed contract two years before his death and without any undue influence or inducement of any kind whatever.  These respondents admit the conveyance were made to them and made in good faith and for a valuable consideration – Respondent Samuel Clarkson’s 100 acres more or less lies in the River Bluffs and is of little value.  Respondent Nancy Furry has about 100 and 20 acres on the top of the river bluffs in the limestone and cedar and Rebecca Wolfe has about 56 acres on the same lonts? of land.  These respondents state they have paid fully for the land and will probably have to pay more than their contracts on the debts on matters the deceased much desired should be paid and hence said deeds were executed in good faith and for the purposes stated.  Respondents have lived with the deceased and his wife, now his widow, for at least 7 years working hard for his support and his hers?, who has relinquished her dower interest to these respondents.  The lands are properly bounded and located by the bill, but the estimated value is too much. Respondents admit the number of heirs stated, respondents now repeat and state that their Father the deceased was properly at himself when the deeds were executed and only executed a contact contemplated 12 months before that time – the there was no undue influences used or persuasion to induce the execution of the deeds, that they were freely and voluntarily executed by the deceased.  Respondent also shows the estate was indebted and no personal estate to payment and these respondents has paid up the debts.  Respondents here file therein deeds as required in the bill.  Jarvis and David – solicitors for respondents – filed June 2, 1875.

Answer of Sterling Wolfe, William Wolfe, Jerusha Clarkson, and Sarah Clarkson by their Guardian

(page 248) March 15, 1876 – The answer of Sterling Wolfe, William Wolfe, Jerusha Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson by their guardian ad litum, Isaac W. Campbell to the bill of William Clarkson filed against them and others in the chancery court at Sneedville – Respondents answering say they admit the death of Fairwix Clarkson, that he left the children and grandchildren named his heirs at law, that he ? the pretended deeds mentioned and they admit that they (page 249) were signed at a time when the said Fairwix was incapable of doing any binding act. They admit that the said pretended deeds were the result of undue influence brought to bear upon said Fairwix in the enfeebled condition of his body and mind and that the same were not his acts and deeds.  Respondents ask that the court will protect their interests in this case and having answered they pray to go home.

Robert and Sarah Shiflet Depositions

January 26, 1876 Wm Claxton vs Samuel Claxton, Rebecca Wolf, Nancy Furry, Agnes Claxton – In the Chancery Court of Hancock County and State of Tennessee. Depositions of Robert Shiflet and Sarah Shiflet, M. B. Overton, Henry Yeary, J. T. Montogomery, Ferdinand Clarkston, Williams Owens, James Owens, Calvin Brown, Rhonda Shiftet, Granvile Shiflet, Narcisses Bottom, and witnesses for Plantiff in the above case taken upon notice on the 26th day of January 1876 at the dwelling house of Emuel Stafford Exq. In the presence of the plantiff (Defer).

The said witness Robert Shiflett age forty eight years being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by complainant – State if you were well acquainted with Farwick Clarkston and if you served him during his last sickness. 

Answer – I was well acquainted with him for 25 years. Yes sire I was there pretty near every day and some of the nights ??? to his death claimed him.  

State whether or not the said Fairewick Clarkston was in his proper mind for the last week before his death…(page 2) and coming to his sickness was he in a condition to do business properly.  

Answer – He was Not – He was Not.

By same – State all about the condition of his mind during his last sickness and up to his death.

Answer – He was out of his mind for about 10 days before his death at times and as he grew weaker he was more so.  

By same – State if you were with said Fairwick Clarkston on Saturday before he died and Wednesday following and if so when was the condition of his mind.

Answer – I was there part of the day. I don’t consider that he was in his proper mind on that day.  

By the same – State if you are well acquainted with the lands owned by said Farewick Clarkston before his death and the land mentioned in the Bill and if so.. What would be a fair valuation of the rents by the year.

Answer – I was well acquainted with it. It suppose it to be worth one hundred dollars a year.

By same – Would that amount have been sufficient to have supported the said Clarkston and his wife. (page 3)

Answer – I suppose that it ought to support them.

By same – State who cultivated that land for the last seven or eight years before the death of the said Clarkston.

Answer – Samuel Clarkston apart of the time or about seven years also Calvin Wolf a part of the time and the old man Clarkston tended it apart of the time.  

Cross Examination by Defendant – Question are you any way related to Farwick Clarkston.

Answer – I am his son in law.

Question – Are you intrusted [interested] in this suit.

Answer – My wife is.

Question – Who cultivated the land for said Clarkston.

Answer – He had Calvin Wolf’s boys two years.

Further more this deposat say it not…. Robert X Shiflet (his mark)

Sarah Shiflet next examined aged 48 years being duly sworn deposed as follows. States she has heard the fore going deposition of Robert Shiflett and adopts the same as her sworn deposition and further thus deponent sath not.    Sarah X Shiflett (her mark)

William Owens Deposition

(page 4) William Owens aged 40 years being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question – State if you seen Fairwick Clarkston during his last sickness and if so state if you seen him out of his right mind during that time. 

Answer – I saw him in his last sickness and saw him out of his write mind one time.

By same – State if you was present a few days before his death and seen the said Clarkston see give the deeds to the spaitrer? mentioned in the Bill.

Answer – I did.  

By same – State if the deeds were read and there contents fully explained to the said Farewick Clarkston at the time he assigned them.

Answer – They were not read in my presents, but said Clarkston acknowledged to the contents though the contents were not explained to him.

Question by complainant – At the time of the execution of the deeds mentioned in complete bill did you consider Fairwick Clarkson the maker of the deeds of sain and disposing mind.

Answer – According to my judgement I consided him capable of transacting business as any sick man and that he’s my uncle and was well acquainted with him.

Further more this deponent deposeth further. Signed William Ownes

M.B. Overton Deposition

M.B. Overton age 52 years and after being sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by complainant – State if you was present and seen Farewick Clarkston during his last sickness. 

Answer – I was there during his sickness frequently.

By same – State if you seen him Clarkston sign the deeds mentioned in complainants bill and if so was the deeds read to him and the contents explained to him.  

Answer – I saw him sign the deeds. The deeds were not read to him at that time and the content was not explained. 

By same – State if you are or was one of his administrators and if so what amount of debt came against the state.

Answer – I was one of his administrators and there was some where seventy five or a hundred dollars.

By same – State whether or not there was any consideration paid for the lands conveyed at the time the deeds was executed.

Answer – The wasn’t any that I know of.

Cross examination – Question by respondent

State how long you had been acquainted with Fairwick Clarkson the maker of the deed mentioned in complete bill.

Answer – I have been acquainted 40 years.

2nd question – Was he a schooled man capable of adding and considerable …..

Answer – He was a man of considerable business, capable of riting and understanding a deed.  

3rd  – State all you know about this circumstance as of the execution of the deeds mentioned in the …..

Answer – I was there when Mr. Yeary came in with the deeds. He went to the bed and spoke to him and he said not until after breadfast. Not long after that he was raised in the bed and said to Mr. Yeary to bring them deeds or….. and he said to me Burg I want you to come here and witness this deed and Mr. Yeary unfolded one of the deeds and laid it down on the books.

Mr B. Overton

Deposition of Granville Shiflett

Granville Shiflett age 24 years being sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by complainant.  State if you was with and seen Farewick Clarkston during his last sickness.

Answer – I was there a portion of the time.

2nd by same – State whether his mind was good all the time or was he out of his mind any of the time. 

Answer – I don’t think that he was write at all times.

3rd by same – Are you well acquainted with the land mentioned in the pleading and if so what is the value of the lands.

Answer – I am ??? well acquainted with the said land – a thousand dollars is as much as I would give for it.

4th by same – What would be a fair valuation for the rents of the lands by the year.

Answer – One hundred and twenty five dollars a year.

Further more this deponent sayeth not.   Signed Granville Shifilet

James Owens Deposition

James Owens aged 30 years old being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by complainant – State if you are acquainted with the lands mentioned in the pleadings and if so what is the value of said lands.

Answer – yes, I am acquainted with the land and I recond it would be worth twelve hundred dollars.

2nd by same – What would be a fare valuation of the rent of said lands by the year.

Answer – I recond something like one hundred dollars.

Further more this witness sayeth not.   James X Ownes (his mark)

Calvin Brown Deposition

Calvin Brown age 39 years being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by complainant – State if you are acquainted with the lands mentioned in the pleadings and if so what is a fair valuation of said land.

Answer – I am tolerable well acquainted with it and I would not give more than one thousand dollars.

2nd by same – What would be a fare valuation for the rents of said lands.

Answer – I would not give more than fifty dollars for it. Further this deposed sayeth not.

Calvin X Brown (his mark)

E. H. Clarkson Deposition

E. H. Clarkston age 40 years being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by complainant – State if you was well acquainted with Fairwick Clarkston and if you seen him often in his last sickness. 

Answer – I was well acquainted with him and stayed there two knights.

2nd by same – if you seen him in his last sickness out of his proper mind. 

Answer – I did not consider him in the later part of his sickness in his write mind. He called the doctor that night 6 or 7 different names. 

3rd by same – What is the value of the lands mentioned in the findings.

Answer – I think it would be worth fifteen hundred dollars.

4th by same – What would be a fair valuation for the rents of said lands by the year.

Answer – Well the way the land is I would put it at one hundred dollars.

Cross examiner – Question by respondents – Was you present at the time the deed mentioned in the pleadings was executed.

Answer – I was Not.

2nd – at the time you say you think Fairwix Clarkson was not in his proper mind was that before or after the execution of the deeds. 

Answer – Before and after the deeds were signed.

3rd – What kin are you to Wm Clarkson the complainant in this case. 

Answer – Cousin and step son.

Further more this witness sayeth not.   Signed E. H. Clarkson

Deposition of John Montgomery

Depositions of Henry, John L. Montgomery, Isaac Parky, Fernando Clarkson, Narcisus Bolton, taken on the grant of the complainants by ?? on the 11th day of February 1876 before Emuel Shafford Esq. at his residence in Hancock County to be ?? in said court.

The said John F. Montgomery aged 44 year being duly sworn deposes at follows:

1st question of complainant – State whether so not you was with Fairwick Clarkston repeatedly during his last sickness. 

Answer – I was.

By same state – What was the condition of his mind for the last weeks before his death was he in a condition to do business?

Answer – I could state that he was out of mind at any when I saw him at every time that I saw him.

By same state – If you are acquainted with the lands owned by the said for Fairwick Clarkston and the lands mentioned in pledings and if what is said lands worth?

Answer – I was what was it worth it was worth and Thousand Dollars.

By same State – What would be a fare valuation of the rents of said lands by the year.

Answer – It was worth sixty dollars.

Cross examination

Question 1st.  Did Fairwix Clarkson tell you at any time what disposition he was going to make of his lands and of at what time was that.

Answer he told me that he intended to give Nancy Ferry beginning at ferry it Montgomery loine with the bigrade to the cross fence to graveyard. Then with that crop fence this being the lands on which she now resides.  Not being long before his last sickness.

Examination by complainant – State if the title executed by Clorvernt? Clarkston to Nancy Snavely alias Furry cover the same lands as shown and pointed out to you by said Fairwick Clarkston that he said he intended to convey to said Nancy Furry or does this here cover more land than said and pointed out by said Fairwick Clk.

Answer – It covers more land than should he pointed out to me according to the Calls of the Deeds it must go leave where he shade me.

2nd by complainant – do you know who waited upon Fairwix Clarkson and attended to his affairs for some years before he died and for who?

Answer – I have a knowledge of Samuel Clarkson and family cropping him would and doing his milling.

Oral Examination of complainant – state if Samuel Clarkston lived on the land so mentioned and cultivated the same during the time.

Answer – he was living on the place and cultivated part of it.

Farther this oath – John T. Montgomery

Isaac Parkey Deposition

The said Isace Parkey after being duley sworn age 37 years deposes as follows:

1st question by complainant.  State if you was with Fairwick Clarkston during his last sickness and if so was he out of his proper mind any of the time. 

Answer – I was there Saturday before his Death. I went in and spoke to him and don’t think he made me any answer.  I don’t think that he was not calculated to do himself he was suffering a grate deal.

By same state if you are acquainted with the land mentioned in the pledings and if so what is it worth?

Answer – now the land it is worth the hold land is worth eighteen hundred dollars.

By same state – What would be a fair valuation for the rits [rents] of the lands to mentioned including the orchard by the year. 

Answer – I think it is worth from seventy five to one hundred dollars farther more….

Witness oath Isacc Parkney

Fernando Clarkston Depositio

Fernando Clarkston next examined aged 30 years being duly sworn deposed as follows:

1st question by complainant.  State if you was with Farewick Clarkston repeatedly during his last sickness and state if he was out of his proper mind any of the time. 

Answer – I was with him during his last sickness from the talk he used I don’t think he was on Saturday, before he died on, Wednesday ??? in his write mind this was about a week died on Wednesday weake.

By same state if you are acquainted with the lands in the pleadings and if so what is said land worth.

Answer – I am acquainted with it I was raised on it. It worth from eighteen to two thousand dollars.

By same state what would the rents of said lands be worth by the year.

Answer – its worth one hundred and twenty five dollars a year.

No. 204 Filed March 13, 1876

Deposition of Henry Yeary

Taken March 1876 at the hotel of Joseph Brooks of Sneedville. Henry Yeary about 65 years of age deposes as follows:

I was at Fairwix Claxton’s while he was sick and he called me to his bed and told me he wanted me to write a deed from him to Nancy Furry. I asked him how and he said he wanted to begin at or near the lower end of his land near the upper side of the road, then with the road to the second cross…the well…include the peach trees at Wolfe’s, then with the hollow as to divide the well(?).  So at to leave Fernando Clarkson 50 acres.

He said he wants to preserve the full use and benefit of the same for life. He said he would give me a deed to write by and that I could go home to do the writing.  He then called some member of the family to give him his box containing his papers and he got the deed and give it to me.  I asked him what was the consideration.  He told me $150.  He told me when I got the writing done he wanted me to write some more.  I got the deed done and took it back to him next morning when he said he wanted me to write one to Rebecca Wolfe and Samuel Clarkson.  I know he wanted them written and he said he wanted Rebecca to have the land above the road and Samuel to have the land below the road and the consideration was to be $150 and that he wanted to reserve the use of the lands during his life.

I omitted a sliver of land from Samuel Clarkson’s without being instructed to do so for Fernando to have access. I took the deeds back to Fairwix the second day and he told me to keep all 3 of them.  I told him I had all 3 deeds with me and that B. Overton was there if he wished to sign them.  He said “very well” and he called to his son Samuel and Calvin Wolfe to prop him up in the bed, which they did.  He called for his spectacles and a pen and ink and a docket book to write on and I opened the deeds one at a time and handed them to him and he signed them.  When he had finished signing, I asked him if he wished M. B. Overton and myself to witness them and he said that he did.

I asked him is he ? the deeds for the purpose herein contained and he said he did. We then witnessed them.  There was nothing said between us about the strip I had left out.  I understood from Fairwix that Fernando was to have a passway but I never heard him speak of it that I remember.  I lived about a half mile from Fairwix and lived about that distance from him some 35 or 40 years and knew him during that time.  He could read and write and was a very good judge of business.  He was a Justice of the Peace at the time of his death.  I considered by the way he acted and done at the time he signed the deeds that he was in his right mind so far as anything was called to his attention.  Oweing to the weakness of his body, he may not have given attention to everything as a man would in good health.  I considered his mind good at the time.  ???  I was well acquainted with the land and knew its location according to the way he told me to write the deeds. 

The day I wrote the first deed I did not leave it he told me to keep it until I wrote the others. He did not read the deed.  The day I brought all the deeds, M. B. Overton was there when I went there.  Fairwix did not read the deeds.  I don’t think he took the time.  He might have read some of the first part of them.  We did not read the deeds to him.  I left out a little piece of the deed to Nancy Furry to make a passway for Fernando Clarkson.  There was a piece left out of Fernando Clarkson’s for the same purpose.  He spoke to me about writing the first deed on the 5th of July, 1874.  I wrote the other 2 deeds on the 6th and he signed on the 7th.  I suppose he was somewhat weaker on the day he assigned the deeds than on the day he first spoke to me to write them.  I don’t know that there was a material difference.  He was rather going down all the time.  I reckon he was sick some 2 weeks.  I don’t exactly recollect.  It might have been a little longer.  I think the doctor said his disease was stricture of the bladder. 

Nancy Furry lived with him and had lived there several years. Samuel Clarkson had lived on the place some years before that time and lived there when the deeds were executed.  Rebecca Wolfe lived on the place when the deeds were executed and had lived there some 2 years before.  The plaintiff William Clarkson had moved out of the county some years before the execution of the deeds.  I did not see or know of any of the consideration mentioned in the deeds having been paid.  Myself and M.B. Overton…the land is worth ? hundred dollars, the 3 pieces together.

The ??? of said three deeds have paid some of the debts of the estate of Fairwix Clarkson to between $60 and $80. I do not know of the complainant paying anything on the debts of the estate.

Filed March 13, 1876

Deposition of Jonathan Boles

June 14 1876 – William Clarkson vs Samuel Clarkson et. al – In the Chancery Court at Sneedville, Hancock County, Tennessee

Deposition of Samuel Clarkson & Jonathan Boles witnesses for the defendant in the above cause taken upon notice on the 9th day of June 1876 at the Clerk & Master’s office in Sneedville Hancock County Tennessee in presence of plaintiff and defendant Samuel Clarkson and their attorney.

The said witness Jonathan Boles aged 52 years old being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by respondent.  State if you were acquainted with Farwick Clarkson in his life time and how long and the distance you lived from him? 

Answer – I was acquainted with Farwick Clarkson in his lifetime, for thirty years, lived four miles and one half from him.

2nd question by respondent – State how long before his death you saw him last? 

Answer – Two or Three days before he died, on Sunday, before hid died. I think he died on Tuesday or Wednesday after I was there on Sunday.  (page 2)

3rd question by respondent – State if Farwick Clarkson was in his proper mind when you last saw him? 

Answer – I thought he was.              

Jonathan Boles

Deposition of Samuel Clarkson

The said witness Samuel Clarkson aged about 49 years being duly sworn deposed as follows.

Please state if you are the son of the said Fairwick Clarkson and one of the defendant in this case.

Answer – I am said to be the son of Fairwick Clarkson and am one of the defts in the case.

2nd question – State if you were well acquainted with your father before his death and for what length of time?  

Answer – I was well acquainted all of my life with him.

3rd question – State where you lived at the time of your father’s death? 

Answer – In the 14th Civil District of Hancock County Tennessee on the lands I got of my father.  

4th question – State how far you lived from your father?  (page 3) 

Answer – I live some two hundred and fifty or three hundred yards from father.

5th question by defts – State who provided for your father before his death and how long? 

Answer – I provided for my father about seven years before his death. I made the grain and took care of it for him, and paid the rents of my own crop.  And I also got his firewood for him, that is the principal part of it – and prepared it for the fire place and put it on the fire for him.  

6th question by respondent – State if your father was properly in his mind up to the time of his death?

Answer – To my knowledge he never was out of his proper mind.

7th question – State how long before your father’s death he contracted to you the part of the land you live on, and any thing you may know about the balance owned by the other defendants? 

Answer – My father contracted the land to me that I now live on in the year 1867. And he died in the year 1874.  He said that he was going to strike off the lands on the side of the road he lived to Nancy Furry and Rebeca Wolfe except fifty acres to Furnando Clarkson. 

8th question – State if at any time (he) your father ever showed you any of the lines and what he said about them? 

Answer – (He) my father showed me a corner tree to the part I got of him. He said that was the corner to which he was going to make me deed.  He said he was going to go and show deft Wolfe his line he said that his wife had paid him for it and was going to make them a deed to it.  He said he was going to cut-off to Rebecca Wolfe about fifty acres, and deed the other to Nancy Furry.  He said she had paid for it value received and he was going to make her a deed to it.  The deeds were after words made to Defts.  This talk all passed before he was taken down sick.  The deeds were made after wards. 

9th question – State if you paid for your part of the land and how? 

Answer – I did pay for it… In pure hard labor. I am still paying for it by taking care of my mother as was my contract.  I paid about thirty five dollars and Calvin Wolfe and wife and Nancy Furry paid about forty-five dollars.  On fathers debts since his death. 

10th question by same – State if the above payments were part of the consideration of the deed mentioned. 

Answer – No they were not (page 5)

Deposition of Agnes Clarkson

July 15, 1876 – Wm Clarkson vs Samuel Clarkson et al – In the Chancery Court of Sneedville, Hancock Co., Tenn – Deposition of Agnes Clarkson, Nancy Ferry others with Nancy Snavely.

Taken by agreement on the 15th day of July at the house of Agnes Clarkson in the ?? and their attorney before H. F. Coleman a Justice of the Peace for Hancock County to be read as evidence on the trial of said case and behalf of the defendants.

The said witness Agnes Clarkson aged 74 years being duly sworn deposes as follows:

Question 1st by defendant.  What relationship are you to the parties of this said and are you the widow of Fairwic Clarkson dec’d.

Ans – I am the mother of William & Samuel Clarkson and the widow of Farwix Clarkson.

Question 2 by defendant – Were you with your late husband Fairwix Clarkson during his last sickness and up to the time of his death?

Ans – I was.

By same – What was the condition of his mind during his last sickness was he cognizant of his business and of sane and disposing mind?

Ans – He seemed like he was I never saw him out of his mind but one time a little and that was from the effect of medicine and that was but a few minutes his sister came in during the time and he knew her.

By same – Was the time you speak of being a little out of mind before or after the execution of (page 2) the deed by Fairwix Clarkson decd to defendandts for the lands in controversy in this case?

Ans – It was before.

By same – Did you hear the decd Fairwix Clarkson say any thing about the disposition he had made of the lands in dispute in this case as what he intended to make of said land and at what time did you hear him talk about the matter? 

Ans – I have years ago heard him talk about what disposition he intended to make of it.

By same – Please state what he said before to the disposition of said lands.

Ans – He and my self were alone and he said he wanted his business wound up that he intended to make three deeds one to Samuel Clarkson, one to Rebecca Wolf and one to Nancy Ferry (was then). I asked him what he intended to do with his other children and he said he would do by them as they had done by him they had left him in a bad condition and he had nothing for them.  I persuaded him to leave same land for them and he said I need not talk to him for he would not.

By same – Did Fairwix Clarkson die say any thing to you about the matter after the deed was made to the lands in controversy and if so state what he said?

Ans – He did, he said he had his business as he wanted it that he had left Rebecca a little home on the other side of well hollow next Rhonda Shifletts and Samuel the old home place below the road and Nancy the west side of the well hollow this was on Sunday morning after the deeds were made.

(page 3) Cross Examination by complainant – Question – State if you can the day of the week and the day of the month that Fairwix Clarkson died.

Ans – He died on Wednesday morning the 11th day of February I think.

By the same – State whether or not Fairwick Clarkson sold them the lands mentioned in the pleadings or give it to them.

Ans – He sold the land to them.

By the same – At what time did he sell the lands to them and what did pay him for the land.

Ans – I cannot tell at what time he sold the land. They paid him in various ways there was a right smart of money paid, but I do not know who paid the money now nor do I recollect any thing else they paid him in particular.  They made him a crop every year and paid him the rent own there own crop besides.

By the same – State if any one besides your self heard the conversation that Farewick Clarkson had to you about what disposition he had made of his lands after the execution of the deeds.

Ans – Clementine Clarkson came in when he was talking to me and I think she heard the conversation.       

Agnes X Clarkson – Her mark

Nancy Snavely Deposition

Nancy Snavely aged 39 years after being duly sworn deposed as follows.

Question 1st by defendant – State if you are one of the defendants in this suit and (page 4) where you resided at the time of the death of Fairwix Clarkson decd. 

Ans – I am a defendant in this suit I resided with Fairwix Clarkson when he died as one of the family.

By same – What was the condition of his mind during his last sickness and at the time he executed the deed to the lands mentioned in this case.

Ans – I did not see any thing wrong with his mind at the time he signed the deeds.

By same – State which payments you made upon said lands deeded to you by Fairwix Clarkson decds. In what you paid the same and at what time as you can.

Ans – I paid a good portion in money. I paid him sixty five dollars at one time at other times paid him small amounts. And other things that he accepted of as payments.

Cross examination by complainant – 1st question by complainant.  State at what time you purchased the lands from your grand father and what amount you was to give for the same and where you paid the same. 

Ans – I do not remember the time but I think it was about eight years before his death. I was to give one hundred and fifty dollars for the land and have paid for it.  I paid back flour & lard besides what money I paid.

By same – state whether or not when you went to your grandfathers to live you had child and if so how old was the child.

Ans – I did and it was seventeen months old (page 5)

By same – state what amount of means you possessed or had coming to you available at the time you went to live with your grandfather.

Ans – I had nothing but my house plunder? But had money coming from the Government that was due my deceased brother and received one hundred and two dollars and some cents.

By same – State if your child is still living and what has been your occupation since you have lived with your grandfather.

Ans – My child is still living. I have followed working in the house and out of doors.

By same – State if you hold a note executed to you by Farewix Clarkson and if so for what amount.

Ans – I did have one for sixty dollars

By same – State whether or not that note was executed to you by Farewix Clarkson for money loan him and was the money the same that you speak of drawing from the government and what has he came of that note.

Ans – He gave me the note for the money above spoken of and said I could hold it until he made me a right to the land. I have the note yet.

Reexamination of defts – Do you hold the note you say you have against Fairwix Clarkson decd now as a claim against the estate or do you consider the (page 6) note paid by the execution of the deed to you.  State also if you have ? claimed any thing from said estate  – only the land described to you by said decd. 

Ans – I consider the note paid by the execution of the deed and do not hold it as a claim against the estate.

Re Cross Examination by complainant – State whether or not you have presented the note since the death of Farewix Clarkson to the Overton or Henry Yearry the administrators of Farewix Clarkson for acceptance and payment.

Ans – I presented the note to M.B. Overtan one of the Administrators of Farewix Clarkson decd but I don not know wheather he excepted it or not but I do not hold it as a claim against the Estate.

By same – State if you did not call on Overton to pay off the note and did not Overton agree to pay the note. Please produce the note now. 

Ans – I did not call on him to pay off the note and he did not pay it off.  

Nancy X Snavely (her mark)

The foregoing depositions were taken before me as stated in the caption and reduced to wrting by me and I certify that I am not of him nor course to either of the parties nor no wise interested in the cause. And that I delivered them to Henry Tyler C & M without being out of my possession or altered since they were taken. Given under my hand this July 15th 1876.  H. F. Coleman, Justice of the Peace for Hancock County.

Deposition of Robert Sandifer

August 9, 1876 – William Clarkson vs Samuel Clarkson estate in the Chancery Court Hancock County, Tennessee. Deposition of Robert Sandifers witness for defendant in the above case taken by agreement of the plaintiff an defendant on the 9th day of August 1876 at the dwelling house of James Brown Esq.  in the presence of the plaintiff and defendant.   The said witness Robert Sandifer aged 45 forty five years being duly sworn deposed as follows.

1st question by defendant – Are you acquainted with Fairwick Clarson if so how long. 

Answer – I was acquainted with him about three years before his death.

2nd question – Was you there before his death in the time of his sickness. 

Answer – I was from Saturday evening until Tuesday morning next before his death.

3rd question – Was he in his rite mind in during ………    he seem to be as much as a man could be in the fist he was in and suffering as he was.   

4th question – please state what conversation he had to you when you went there. 

Answer – he said he was in his rite mind. He seem to answer me correctly in all the talk I had with him. 

5th question – What conversation did he have with you about a certain piece of land he pouinter? His lands and showed to you previous before his sickness. 

Answer – I was at his house, he saw his granddaughter Nancy Furry had been staying there and waiting on him the intended for her to have a home at his death. Them that do the most for him he intended to do the most for them.

Cross examination by plantiff – State whether during the time of his sickness while you was there if the old man Clarkson was speechless.

Answer – He was speechless on Saturday & threw the day on Sunday he could talk.  

Signed Robert S. Sandiefer.

The fore giving deposition were taken before me as stated in the caption and reduced to writing by me and I certify that I am not interested in the cause nor of kin or council to either of the parties and that I sealed them up and delivered it to James Snavley with out being altered after it was taken given under my hand this 9th day of August 1876.  signed James C. Brown, J. P.

Deposition of James Smith

Fairwix was at my house and while there told me that he had divided his land among three of his children. He said he given his son Sam all that lay on the south…rest between Bethey Wolfe his daughter and Nancy Furry his granddaughter.

Did Fairwick say anything about the ? or payment for said lands.

I asked him if the other heirs would not complain and he said that he had made deeds or would make them for $150 in hand paid. He said that he would do nothing for them that did nothing for him.  This was about a year before his death

Filed Aug. 22, 1876

Samuel Clarkson’s Death

(Page 27) March 13, 1877 – In this case the death of the defendant Samuel Clarkson is suggested and admitted to be true and the deft left a widow Elizabeth Clarkson and several children viz., Margaret Bolton wife of Joseph Bolton, Rena Clarkson, Clementine Clarkson, Jane Monday wife of Luke Monday, Catharine Clarkson, Matilda Clarkson, Jerusha Clarkson, Mary Clarkson, Elizabeth Clarkson, John Clarkson, Henry Clarkson and the two first named children being adults. Thomas McDermott solicitor of said minors, Elizabeth, Rena and Joseph Bolton and wife Margaret Bolton enter their appearance and waives service of process.  It is therefore ordered and decreed that this cause be and the sheriff is ordered to summon Luke Monday and the other children of said deceased to appear at the next term of this court to show cause if any why this suit should not be revived against them.

(page 53) August 21, 1877 – In this cause it appearing that at the last term of the court the death of the def Samuel Clarkson was suggested and admitted of record and scire facias awarded to reddie the cause against his surviving children namely Clemenoria (all Clarksons), Catharine, Matilda, Jerusha, Mary, Elizabeth, John and Henry and Sarar scire facias was subsequently issued and duly served upon them notifying them to appear at the present term and to present any cause why this suit should not be filed upon them. Be it further mentioned that said children are minors without guardian, a motion is ordered that William B. Davis, a solicitor at the bar be hereby appointed guardian at litem to make defense on behalf of the children.  (Note – the married children are not listed here.)

(page 63) August 22, 1877 – William Clarkson vs Samuel Clarkson et al – On the cause scire facias having been awarded at the last term to bring Luke Monday and wife Jane Monday, Clementine Clarkson, Catherine Clarkson, Matilda Clarkson Jerusha Clarkson, Mary Clarkson, Elizabeth Clarkson, John Clarkson and Henry Clarkson before the court of the present term to show cause why this suit should not be revived against them….the cause is revived against them. The complainants may retake the deposition of M.B.? Overton and Fernando Clarkson provided the same should be done at Sneedville during the next January term of the court and that the complainant may take by service notice alone on James Snavely. And the marriage of def. Nancy Furry with James Snavely being suggested and admitted to be true by consent this cause is revived against James Snavely and wife Nancy Snavely, formerly Nancy Furry.

Fernando Clarkson Deposition

State of Tennessee, Hancock County

(Page 1) This the 2 day of March 1878 I have on this day proceed to take the deposition of Fernanado Clarkson and M. B. Overton witnesses for the plantiff. Fernando Clarkson aged 32 years and M. B. Overton aged 54 years taken by agreement of the parties at Breeding & Parkey’s Store in presents of the plantiff and defendents to be read as evidence in a suit now pending in the Chancery Court in Sneedville Hancock County and State of Tennessee where in Wm Clarkson is plantiff and Rebecca Wolf and Nancy Snavely and others is defendents.  The said Fernando Clarkson and M. B. Overton after being duly sworn on the Holy Evangilist to speak the oath and the hole truth and nothing but the truth considering the matters in dispute between the said parties.  Deposes as follows.

Fernando Clarkson deposes as follows.

Questions by the plantiff. State the number of cross fences there is along the road and if the line (Page 2) claimed by Nancy Snavely does not go to the fourth cross fence.

Ans – They was four cross fences when the line was done.

Ques – State whether the line claimed Nancy Snavely goes to the fourth cross fence.

Ans – It did at the time the line was run.

Ques – State all you know about the note that Nancy Snavely held on Fairwix Clarkson.

Ans – I heard her say it was and my understanding it was money that she deserved from the government that her brother.  What was in the army and I heard her different times tell Fairwix Clarkson that he aut to give her his note for the money.

Question by the defendants. Please state if a fence has been moved since Nancy Snavly obtained a deed for said land.

Ans – I do not know.

Question – Did you ever hear Farwick Clarkson say that he intended his home place for Nancy Snavely.

Ans – I heard him say that if Nancy stayed at home and did as she had done that he intended to give her a little home.

(Page 3) Question – Did you hear Fairwix Clarkson say that he intended Rebecca Wolf to have the land she now lives on?

Ans – He said that he intended to give Calvin Wolf a home if he staid where he there was, if he done right –

Furthermore this witness deposeth at…….. Fernando Clarkston

M. B Overton Deposition

M.B. Overton Deposed as follows:

Question – Did Nancy Snaveley present to you after the death of Farwix Clarkson a note for him to pay off as the adm. of Farwis.  

Ans – I was at Nancy Snaveley’s one day and she asked me what she must do with the note she held on her grandfather (Farwix Clarkson).   I asked her what she wanted to do with it she said they had them sued for the land and if they taken the land a way from her she thought she ought to have the money.  She said she did not intend to collect the money if she held the land.  I said to her to present the note to me as administrator and I would mark on it presented and if she lost the land she could collect her money.

(Page 4) Question – What was the amount and date of the note.

Ans – The amount I think was sixty dollars

Question – What became of the note.

Ans – I gave it back to Nancy Snaveley.

Question – Did Nancy Snaveley present an acct and call for the note an account.

Ans – She came to my house and proved the account and stated if she lost the land she intended to have pay for what she done, as to the amount I can’t recollect but I think it was between two and three hundred dollars

Furthermore this witness deposedth not. M. B. Overton

I certify that the foregoing depositions are all written under my controle. That I am in no wise related to either of the parties.  That the same were taken before me on the day at the place in the presence of the parties set forth in the case and it has not been out of my possession or in any wise altered added to or changed since it was signed by the said M. G. Overton & Fernando Clarksons till it was delivered to Fernando Clarkson.  The said day of March 1878.

William Hest, J. P.

Partial deposition of Dr. Bales

How long have you been practicing as such?

I’ve been practicing about 6 years…attended Fairwix Clarkson in his last sickness till a few days before he died. I believe I saw him on Saturday preceding his death on Wednesday.  He was of sound mind and disposing memory.  To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think he was entirely rational by same state if he was very low and weak and he as low but he had rite smart strength.

Final Decree

(page 76)March 14, 1878 – Final Decree – Be it remembered that this cause to be finally heard…upon the pleadings….proof ?? the deeds made by Fairwix Clarkson to the defendants Samuel Clarkson, Nancy Furry and Rebecca Wolfe which were filed with and as parts of defendants answers and are hereby ordered to be made a part of the record in this cause. From all which it appears to the satisfaction of the court that the execution of said deeds was not procured by the said ?? y the exercise of any undue influence or improper means but that the said Fairwix Clarkson was of sound mind when he made the same and that the bill attacking said deeds on the grounds appeared and misstate imbecility on the part of the maker the ?? as the date of their execution is not sustained by the proof.  And it is therefore ordered and adjudged and decreed by the court that complainant is entitled to no relief, that his bill and the same is hereby dismissed and that defendents recover of complainant costs.  The cost of the cause for which execution was awarded – and it appearing that Jarvis and Davis and McDermott and Kyle solicitors for the def have entered their certain services in this cause in ?? defending their titles to the lands in controversy and their application the court is pleased to declare a ?? in their favor respectively to secure the payment of such fees as may be due them for their said services, and it further appearing that some of the defendants are minors and incapable of contracting with said solicitors in reference to the claim for said services it is ordered that the matter be referred, the matter to ascertain and report what would be reasonable compensation to said solicitors for their said services, and the cause is retained in court for the purpose of enforcing the lien? Heretofore declared in their favor.  And from its decree discussing his bills the plaintiff prays and appears to the next term of the superior court late held at Knoxville on the second Monday of September 1878 which is granted on condition that he execute a proper appeal bond or otherwise (page 77) comply with the law within one month close of the present term. Upon the hearing the def. objected to the deposition of Robert Shiflet and wife on the ground that they are incompetent witnesses for or against each other and the same were excluded by the court and will not be included in the transcript for the supreme court.  As parties to the cause, def also objected to court evidence of all the witnesses (except the subscribing witnesses to the deeds and the physician in attendance) who gave their opinions as to whether the maker of said deeds was of sound or unsound mind, unsupported by any facts observed by themselves, and on the hearing of the cause the deposition of Agnes Clarkson was excluded on the application of the complainant, and will be excluded from the transcript to be made out for the superior court. In this case the complainant submits a bill of exceptions which is signed and sealed by the court and ordered to be made a part of the record of the cause.

March 1881 – Order Clarkson vs Clarkson et al – an application of the defendants unto leave is given them to withdraw their title papers filed in this cause by leaving a receipt for paid title deeds with the clerk ……..

And off they went to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Cemetery

The cemetery played a part in the case of Fairwix’s land division. This cemetery is part and parcel of the Claxton/Clarkson family land, the heart of it, along with the hand dug well that nourished the family for generations.  Fairwix’s mother, Sarah Cook Clarkson and his mother-in-law, Nancy Anne Workman Muncy both rest here, as do Fairwick and Agnes and their son Samuel and his wife Elizabeth along with some of their children.  Rest assured that babies and children of earlier generations are here too, some never known to those who live today.  This cemetery remained under the watchful eyes of all the family.  Everyone walked by this hallowed land every day as they did their chores.  Their ancestors, several generations of ancestors and kinfolks, were never far removed.  Burials started here, probably with any children lost by James Lee Clarkson and his wife Sarah Cook Clarkson after they arrived in the area not long after 1800 and before James’ death in 1815.

We know that Fairwick’s son James is probably here too, because Fernando deposes that he was raised on this land.

Fairwix stone at barn

Here is a picture of Fairwix’s tombstone with its broken corner, looking at the barn and the location of the house which stood between the cemetery and the barn. In the Google satellite image, below, the arrow points to the fenced cemetery.

clarkson cemetery on map

The cemetery is on the historic Clarkson land, of course, at the junction of River Road and Owen Ridge Road. It is at the farm right on the corner and it is fenced and behind the barn.  You can see it from the road.  There is a newer Owen cemetery within view just up from it on River road.  You can access the Clarkson cemetery through the barnyard.  In 2005, J. Howard Cavin ( rhymes with gave in) and his wife owned the property.  Just up Owen Ridge Road is the Jubilee Camp run by the Ronnie Owen Evangelical Ministeries and if you follow the signs you’ll find the farm at the corner of River Road and Owen Ridge Road.  Mrs. Cavin said the original road ran right beside the cemetery, but they moved the road when they paved it and it is further away today.  She also said that the original house sat behind the cemetery in the clearing, shown below, and that there were three different families who lived in the general area.

Clarkson house clearing

There was a spring back in the holler, looking up Owen Ridge Road from the barn/cemetery and the families dug a 20 foot well or so and it always flowed into the basin. The women went down there to wash clothes.

Those three original families were likely Samuel, his sister and his niece – and their descendants – those three deeds executed by Fairwick just days before his death. The 1900 census tells us that Elizabeth, Samuel’s widow was still living in her own home in that area at that time.

This was James Lee Clarkson’s original land and in the deeds and chancery suit it states that what is now known as River Road is the main road from Tazewell to Jonesville.  Fairwick bought this land along the road from his mother and more than 40 years later deeded the “old home place,” “below the road” to Samuel.

Ironically in 1891, Fernando Clarkson deeded land to Joseph Bolton, who had married Margaret Clarkson, daughter of Samuel Clarkson. It’s very possible that the land that Joseph Bolton bought was originally the land that Samuel Clarkson had deeded Fernando.  Stranger things have happened, especially in my family.

clarkson land on map

Clarkson/Claxton by Whatever Name – Origins

We’ve learned so much about Fairwick or Fairwix Clarkson or Claxton or Clarkston in death, due to the chancery suit, but we haven’t learned a thing about where his family was from. That wasn’t relevant to the land in Hancock County in the 1870s.  However maybe we can still discover something about the genesis of the Clarkson family from those who have passed before and those who are living today.

I decided to look at the matches for the Clarkson family men in the Clarkson/Claxton DNA project. This is the matches map from one of the Claxton men in the match group that includes the Hancock County family.

Clarkson DNA matches map

At 37 and 67 markers, there were no matches other than to other Clarkson men, but at 25 markers, there are some matches to other surnames as well. The map above shows the location of the oldest European ancestors for those matches who know (and have provided) that information.  You’ll notice that in the UK, all of the markers are in England.  There are none in Scotland, Wales or Ireland, so this family looks to be of English origin.

Twelve marker matches, below, take us back even further in time to a common ancestor, but we’re still looking at the same type of settlement pattern.

Clarkson DNA matches map 12

This strongly suggests that we should be omitting Scotch-Irish groups and looking at early colonial English settlements for our Claxton immigrant ancestor.

In Summary

The first thing we know about Fairwick, aside from his birth, is that his father died when he was just 15, and from that time forward, Fairwick was the patriarch of the family. As difficult as that had to be, Fairwick seems to have risen to the occasion.

By the time he was 20, he had married Agnes Muncy and in another couple of years, he began to amass a significant amount of land on the Powell River, on River Road, the main road from Tazewell to Jonesville, according to the deeds.  Fairwick and Agness would be married for about 55 years – that’s amazing for that time and place.  I wonder if they remembered the date on their 50th anniversary, in 1869?.  Did Agnes mention it to him?  Did he pick her flowers from the field?  Did the kids come over and make a pie or cake and celebrate, or did milestone anniversaries in that time and place go unnoticed?

We learned in the depositions that Fairwick was an astute business man. In the 1820s, when he was in his early 20s, he was a constable, served on juries, managed road crews and collected taxes.  Those tax receipts are how and why we have a copy of his signature.  Someplace in those mountains, he learned to read and write when most men didn’t.

Fairwick homesteaded land and obtained land grants. He planted and valued his orchards.  He eventually bought his parents land and lived in the main house.  Later, he deeded that same land and house to son Samuel who died not long after his father.

Fairwick joined the Rob Camp church in the 1850s, probably as a result of a revival and at the behest of his wife. His children joined about the same time, and they were all likely baptized in the Powell River.  He and his family went on to be founders of the Mt. Zion church, a few miles up the road from where the family lived.

Fairwick died at age 74, in 1874, but he was ill and somewhat incapacitated for 7 years prior to his death, which dates to 1867, just a couple years after his son Samuel came home from the Civil War, nearly dead with pneumonia.

Fairwick and Agnes saw more than their share of grief and heartache. After Fairwick’s father, James Lee Claxton/Clarkson died in 1815, his mother lived for another 48 years, until 1863.  In that time, Fairwick’s sister Elizabeth and his only brother, Henry died in the late 1830s and early 1840s.

In about 1845, or between 1845 and 1850, Fairwick’s son James died, along with James’ wife. They left 4 children which Fairwick and Agness would raise, along with their own.  Two of those grandchildren died, but the other two would remain on the home land and take care of their grandparents until their death, both winding up with some of Fairwick’s property because they “did right” by their Grandpa.

In 1856, it seems that Fairwick tipped the bottle a little too far, or in front of the wrong people, and was reported to the church for drunkenness.

The Civil war devastated this family. Fairwick’s son John died in March of 1863 in the Civil War, just a few months before his mother’s death.

Fairwick’s mother, Sarah, died in December 1863, not long after the beginning of the Civil War, and not long after several of her grandsons mustered into the service. If she was a religious woman, she had a very long prayer list every day.

Fairwick’s son Henry died in February, 1864, just two months after Fairwick buried his mother.

Fairwick’s daughter, Nancy was married to John Wolfe who died in the war in March, 1864, just a month after Fairwick’s son Henry.

Fairwick’s grandson William, whom he raised, enlisted and died in the service in May 1864, just 2 months after Henry and a month after John Wolfe.

John, Fairwick’s other grandson that he raised died about this time as well. Fairwick’s granddaughter, Nancy was widowed between 1865 and 1867, possibly as a result of the Civil War. She, along with her infant daughter, lived with Fairwick and Agnes from then until Fairwick died.

Fairwick buried one adult daughter before he died, as well. Nancy died about or not long after 1860, so may have been part of those couple of years of grief in the early/mid 1860s.

That’s 7 or 8 deaths within a relatively short time period and several within just months or days of each other. Fairwick and Agnes must have dreaded seeing anyone they weren’t expecting walk or ride up their path to the house.  Of all of the Clarkson men and family members who enlisted, only two, Samuel and Fernando came home alive – and Samuel, barely.  He would die as a result of the Civil War, but it took 11 miserable years.  Most of the time, the family never received the soldier’s body as they were buried where or near where they died.

Samuel fought in the war and came home in 1865, nearly dead and severely disabled. He cared for his father for the last 7 years of his life in spite of his own disability.

Fairwick’s son, William, known as Billy, had moved away from the family by 1870 and apparently some sort of rift occurred either before or after the move.

According to the depositions of family members, Fairwick was sick and miserable towards the end of his life. He didn’t receive the blessing of the big old widow-maker heart attack in the field as he worked.  Nope, he died of uremic poisoning, as he had “stricture of the bladder,” which in essence means that he couldn’t urinate.  The results, as you might imagine are horrible and eventually the individual dies of kidney failure if not a septic infection or other resulting disease process.  Strictures, which are in essence a blockage, can be caused by a physical injury, a disease process like kidney stones that are passed but causing injury that results in scar tissue buildup in the urethra, or an actual disease like prostate cancer that presses on the urethra reducing or eliminating the body’s ability to urinate.  Generally, urination becomes difficult, requiring straining and then, eventually, impossible.  Today, this could be easily treated, but then, it was fatal.

Fairwick’s decision about what to do with his land and how to divide it reflected his pain that only two of his children and his two grandchildren that he raised helped him in his hour, or in his case, months and years of need. Fairwick surely didn’t miss the fact that his son, Samuel, who was himself disabled, was the son who stayed to help.

Fairwick’s daughter, Sarah Clarkson Shiflet was deposed. She married Robert Shiflet and for some reason, they were judged to be unreliable witnesses.  Rebecca married Calvin Wolfe and stayed on the homeplace or nearby to help Fairwick.

Fairwick was obviously very hurt by William and Sarah’s departure, and for right or wrong, he voted with his land – the only tool he had available. Fairwick would surely have been saddened had he been witness to the lawsuit after his death.  It would likely have confirmed his opinions of his various children. We know that the Hancock County court upheld the three deeds in question and determined that no undue influence was exerted.  We know the case was appealed to the state Supreme court, but we never discovered the outcome of the case.  Given that we found no record of William ever owning any of the land in that area, it’s most likely that the case was upheld at the Supreme court level.  That would have left William with some hellatious lawyer bills to pay since it was found in Hancock county that he had to pay all expenses for the defendants.

And with that, sometime in the 1880s, after 1881, at least 7 years after Fairwick’s death, the suit was finally settled one way or the other, and the horrible domino series of events that began with the onset of the Civil War in 1863 finally came to rest – two decades later.

clarkson cemetery fairwix

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

circles

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

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

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.

circles2

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.

circles3

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.

circles4

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.

circles5

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.

circles6-2

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.

circles7

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.

circles8

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.

circles9

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.

circles10

Match above, tree below.

circles11

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.

mousetrap1

mousetrap2

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.

mousetrap3

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.

mousetrap4

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

mousetrap5

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.

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.

Yet.

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….