Haplogroups and The Three Brothers

3 brothers group

Do you remember when you first started working with genealogy and you encountered your first “three brothers” story?

For those of you who don’t have one, it goes like this:

There were three brothers who came to <fill in the location.>  They had an argument about <a woman, religion, where to settle, other> and they all three went in different directions, never to see each other or speak again.

Well, of course, that might have happened and it probably did from time to time, but not nearly as often as the story would have you believe.

In my case, I had several “three brother” stories and even a “seven brother” story.  Even as a novice genealogist, I began to get suspicious when I heard the third or fourth story and they all seemed eerily similar.  Too similar.  Too convenient.

Enter the age of DNA testing.  Many of the three brothers stories seem to stem from three men with the same surname found in different or sometimes not-so-distant locations whose ancestries could not be tied nearly together, so surely someone said, “well they must have been three brothers who went different ways” and from that the “three brothers “ myth was born, to take on an entire life of its own.

But then, there are the stories that are real.  In some cases, the DNA testing does prove that those men descended from a common ancestor.  Of course, we can’t ever prove that they were brothers by their descendants DNA testing today.  We can only prove that they weren’t, if their Y DNA doesn’t match.

Recently, someone asked me a very basic DNA question, and the answer that came to mind was, “well, there were three brothers, you see…..”

The question was: “How can one haplogroup have descendants on different continents?

For example, how can a specific haplogroup include people who are Asian, European and Native American.

Let’s take a look at how that works.  It’s a lot like a pedigree chart.  In fact, it’s exactly the same.

There isn’t a haplogroup Z Y-DNA haplogroup, so let’s use that as a hypothetical example.  This example is equally applicable to mitochondrial DNA as well.

3 brothers

In our example, haplogroup Z was born a very long time ago, let’s say 30,000 or 40,000 years ago in Eurasia – we don’t know where and it doesn’t matter.

Haplogroup Z had two sons, and each one had a mutation different from the father, haplogroup Z, so the sons were named haplogroups Z1 and Z2.  One liked the hill to the west and one liked the river to the east, so they settled in opposite directions from their father.

Over time, the families and descendants of these two sons expanded until they had to move to new ground in order to have enough game to hunt.

Haplogroup Z1’s descendants had had two mutations as well.  One group, Z1a, went to Siberia and one group, Z1b went to China – or what is today China.

On the other hand, haplogroup Z2’s descendants also had two mutations that set their lines apart from each other.  One of these, Z2c went to what is now Europe and one, Z2d, went north to Scandinavia.

You can see as you look on out to the fourth generation that haplogroup Z1a, in Siberia had two sons with mutations.  Z1a1 went to Russia and Z1a2 crossed into Beringia, following game, and eventually would settle in North America.

Z1a2 then had two sons as well, both with mutations.  One of those, Z1a2a, traveled across the north and today his descendants are found primarily in eastern Canada and the US.

Now here’s the important part.  Z1a2a is known ONLY as Native American, because that mutation happened here, in the New World, and is not found in either Europe or Asia.  Z1a2b is also only Native American, found primarily in South America because that son followed the western coastline instead of traveling east cross country.

On the other hand, haplogroup Z1a2 might be found in BOTH Asia and the New World if it was born in Siberia but then migrated to the New World.  Some carriers might be found in both places, so if found in the New World, it likely indicates Native American, and yet it is also found in Siberia.  It is not found in other parts of the world though.

You can see that while the base haplogroup Z is today found worldwide, as defined by its subgroups, the subgroups themselves tend to be localized to specific regions.  You can also begin to see why determining locations of the birth of haplogroups is so difficult.  Europe is one big melting pot, and so is the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

We, as the genetic genealogy community, are still trying to sort through this, which is why you see new haplogroup subgroup designations on nearly a daily basis.  The Y tree changes almost hourly (thanks to advanced tests like the Big Y at Family Tree DNA) and the mitochondrial tree has had many additions in the past months and years, with more yet to come shortly as a result of ongoing research.

In the mitochondrial DNA world, haplogroups are still named in the pedigree type fashion.  For example, I’m J1c2f.  However, in the Y tree, the names became so unwieldy, some up to about 20 characters long, that the pedigree type name has been replaced by the defining mutation (SNP) for that haplogroup.  So, R1b1a2, the most common male haplogroup in Europe, is now referred to as R-M269.  Not as easy to tell the pedigree by looking, but much more meaningful, especially as branches are added and rearranged.  The SNP name assigned to the branch will never change, no matter where the branch is moved on the tree as more discoveries are made.

If a DNA participant only tests to the most basic of levels, they are only going to receive a rather basic haplogroup designation.  Let’s say, in our example, Z or Z1 or Z2.  Clearly, additional testing would be in order to figure out whether that individual is Native American or from Scandinavia.  And yes, we have exactly this situation in many of the Native American haplogroups – because all the Native American base haplogroups for Y DNA: C and Q, and for mitochondrial DNA: A, B, C, D, X and possibly M, were founded and born in Asia, thousands of years ago.

And yes, it seems they all had three siblings…..



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Why Autosomal Response Rate REALLY DOES Matter

In my recent article “Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?,” one of the comparison items between vendors I mentioned is response rate.  Specifically, I said, in reference to 23andMe, “Very low match response rate to inquiries.  Positive response is required to see matching DNA segments.”

This has generated some commentary, but based on the nature of the comments, both in terms of blog comments and private e-mails, I can tell that many people don’t understand why response rate matters at 23andMe.  On the other hand, some regular users of all 3 vendors felt I didn’t go far enough in explaining the difference and why response rate at 23andMe matters so much.

I’m going to see if I can make this issue a bit more clear.  Response rate really does matter and it’s not just whining!

apples oranges

At 23andMe YOU CAN’T SEE MATCH INFORMATION OR DO ANY DNA COMPARISON WITHOUT A POSITIVE RESPONSE FROM THOSE YOU MATCH.  In other words, they must reply in the affirmative – that they want to communicate with you AND that they want to share DNA results.  Otherwise, you can do nothing.

This is a process not required by either Family Tree DNA or Ancestry.  So, out the door, there is a very big difference.

At Family Tree DNA, you can see everything available WITHOUT additional correspondence, so while a response from a match would be nice, it’s not essential to being able to compare their DNA, see who you match in common, see their tree, if posted, find your common surnames, or perform any other function provided by the vendor.

At Ancestry.com, WITH a subscription, you can see your matches, their trees (if not private) and DNA Circles with no additional correspondence.  The only time you need to correspond with someone is if their tree is private or they don’t post a tree.

The operative words here are want and need.  At 23andMe, you absolutely positively NEED a positive response from each and every match (both authorization to communicate AND authorization to share DNA results) BEFORE you can DO anything.

So, comparatively speaking, a low response rate at 23andMe means that you’re only going to see a small fraction of your matches that are showing, while a low response rate at the other vendors is an irritant and comes after you’ve utilized the vendor’s tools and then asked your match for additional information.  In other words, no response at Family Tree DNA or Ancestry is not a barrier to playing.  At 23andMe, you’re dead in the water if your matches don’t respond.

In essence, 23andMe requires three authorizations to be able to see your matches DNA information: the original authorization to test, authorization to communicate and authorization to “share” DNA results.

With both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, one authorization, when you initially test, is all you need – although the tools and approach of these two vendors are very different as pointed out in the original article.

So, as you can see, the response rate at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry really isn’t essential to utilizing the tools, but it’s another matter entirely at 23andMe – so we’re not comparing apples to apples.

So, let’s look at the real effects of 23andMe’s authorization policy.

At 23andMe

At 23andMe, this is what you get, out of the box.  The person’s account I’m using for this first graphic tested for two purposes and is not interested in genealogical contact, so this is an “untouched” account, except that I’ve redacted the names, if showing, in blue to the left.  Looks good – all those matches, until you realize you can’t DO anything without contacting each and every single match.

23andme untouched

What isn’t obvious is that you can’t COMPARE your DNA or information with any of these people WITHOUT sending an introduction request.  In addition, they ALSO must authorizing DNA sharing.  And by the way, an introduction request and DNA sharing are NOT one and the same thing.  You can see the names of public matches, who have pre-authorized communications, but you cannot compare DNA with them.  You can’t even see the names of other (nonpublic) matches until you send an introduction request to them and they reply in the affirmative.  Those are the accounts above that just say “male” with no blue partially redacted name above them.

If you click on “Send an introduction,” here are your options.

23andMe intro request

You can request an intro and genome sharing in one message, but that doesn’t mean they’ll accept both nor does it mean that someone will send you a request for both.

This is what an introduction request looks like to the receiver.

23andMe contact request

Now, an introduction request only allows you to talk to your match.  If they do not ask for, or authorize genome sharing, next, you have to request to share your DNA results – and they also have to reply in the affirmative to that request too.

Not intuitively obvious you say?  Right!

Here’s the process to request to share genomes.

23andme dna share request

And here’s the reply step to authorize genome sharing.

23andme dna share authorization crop

Is it any wonder the response rate is low?

So, as you can see, just being able to see that you have a match is not the same thing as being able to utilize the information.  With Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, you can immediately utilize the information from all of your matches to the full extent of that vendor’s offerings.

At Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, here is what you see out the gate (full names redacted.)

Family Tree DNA out the gate

No contact request needed, no separate authorization to share DNA and no subscription required to see your matches, to compare DNA, to see who you match in common, to see their trees (if provided) or to see your matching surnames.  The little dropdown box under each person provides additional options.

You don’t NEED to contact your matches for anything.  You may WANT to contact them for genealogy information, especially if they have not uploaded or created trees.

At Ancestry – WITH Subscription

At Ancestry.com, to see all three available DNA related features, your matches, their trees (if provided and if public) and DNA Circles, you must have a subscription.  Ancestry offers a minimal subscription for $49, per year, for this purpose or a standard subscription covers DNA functionality as well.  You must have a subscription to see your matches trees and your DNA Circles.

Here is what your Ancestry match page looks like.

Ancestry with subscription

You don’t NEED to contact your matches to view results.  You may WANT to contact those you match and if their tree is private, you will have to contact them to request to see the tree or for the identity of your common ancestor if you have a shakey leaf.

Comparative Numbers

So, let’s look at this comparatively, for my accounts at the three vendors.

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry (with subscription)
Total Number of Matches 1373 2100 3950
Number of Matches I can see without special approvals (meaning a match response required) 0 (0%) 2100 (100%) 3950 (100%)
At 10% response rate, number of effective matches 137 (10%) 2100 (100%) 3950 (100%)
At 10% response rate, DNA accounts available to compare DNA 10% or 137  accounts 100% or 2100 accounts 0% (no chromosome browser)

This shows, in black and white, why a low response rate at 23andMe is so devastating.  The percent of people whose DNA you can see equals the response rate at 23andMe.  So if you have 1000 matches at 23andMe, but you only have a 10% response rate, it’s the same as having only 100 functional matches – because the rest are entirely unavailable to you – well except for the fact that they sit there and stare at you mockingly.

If one has a 10% response rate at 23andMe, and all of those responses are positive, and all authorize BOTH communication and DNA sharing, you are still only seeing 10% of the matches listed.  So, 1000 matches at 23andMe is not at all the same as 1000 matches at Family Tree DNA or Ancestry.

At Family Tree DNA, all of your match accounts are immediately available to you for viewing, communicating and comparison.

At Ancestry, you can see all of your matches (with a subscription), but you can’t compare the matching DNA because Ancestry offers no chromosome browser.

The Meat

The meat of genetic genealogy is comparing your actual segments to your matches.  So, let’s look at some real numbers.

I send a custom request to each of my matches at 23andMe and have been doing so since the product was introduced.

Looking at my top 100 matches, let’s see how many authorized sharing.

In a way, this is skewing the results, just so you know, because many of these matches are relatives who I recruited to test initially.  Plus I’ve worked on my closest matches at 23andMe much harder than my more distant matches, so this is an absolute BEST CASE scenario for the 23andMe numbers.  My actual response rate is about 10% for all matches.

At 23andMe, of my closest 100 matches, several of which are close family, 22 of my matches are sharing, one has declined and the rest are in limbo where I’ve sent an invitation and they have not responded. It’s interesting to note that of those 100, 23 are “public” which means that the intro step can be skipped, but they still have to be invited to share genomes.

Number of my 100 closest matches I can see:

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry
Number of 100 closest matches I can see 22 (22%) 100 (100%) 100 (100%)
Extrapolated by % to entire match total 302 of 1373 2100 of 2100 3950 of 3950

23andMe said that existing trees would be available until May 1, 2015, but I can find no trees attached to any of my matching 23andMe accounts now, although there never were many.

Number of trees I can see:

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry
Number of trees I can see 0 (0%) 33 (33%) 66 (66%)*
Extrapolated by % to match total 0 of 1373 693 of 2100 2607 of 3950

*The balance of Ancestry trees are 20 matches that have no trees and 14 that have private trees.  Twenty of the 66 have common ancestors, but of those, 6 are private trees.

Number of people with whom I can compare DNA segments in chromosome browser:

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry
Number of people I can compare DNA 22 (22%) 100 (100%) 0 (0%) (no chromosome browser tool)
Extrapolated by % to match total 302 of 1373 2100 of 2100 0 of 3950

I hope these examples help make it clear why response rate really is an important factor – unfortunately – and why a response rate discussion about Family Tree DNA and Ancestry does not have the same meaning as a response rate discussion about 23andMe.

One of the best things 23andMe could do would be to get rid of the convoluted DNA authorization courtship Macarena dance.  There is no dance instructor, people don’t discover that they need to do it until after they test, and many people simply don’t understand, don’t bother or give up.  If 23andMe isn’t going to get rid of it, the LEAST they could do is to make it easy and step you through the process.  I don’t know who benefits from this, but I guarantee you, it’s not the genealogy consumer.




I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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Elizabeth Vannoy Estes (1847-1918), Cherokee?, 52 Ancestors #60

“You do know there were two of them don’t you???”


“Yea, Elizabeth Estes and Elizabeth Estes, don’t get them confused.”


“They were sisters, well, sisters-in-law anyway.”


“Yea, they married brothers?”


“Actually there were three of them…”


“And Elizabeth was half-Cherokee, you know.”

And so began the conversation about Elizabeth Estes, my great-grandmother, or more specifically, Elizabeth Vannoy Estes.

But of course, the very first thing I did was to get confused, because, well…. it’s damned confusing.  Let’s start at the beginning.

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ann (called Betty, Bet and Bets) Vannoy, was born on June 23, 1847 to Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley in Hancock County, TN.  The family eventually moved “down the valley” to the little valley across from Estes Holler which is now called Vannoy Holler, in Claiborne County, TN.

vannoy holler

Joel built a house at the mouth of the holler, not too far from Little Sycamore Creek, a little over a mile from the main road.

The Estes homestead was at the far end, a couple miles from the road, up against the mountains, across “Little Ridge” that lay between the lands.

vannoy holler 2

On February 6, 1867, Elizabeth Vannoy married Lazarus Estes, the boy from Estes Holler, becoming Elizabeth Estes, just like Lazarus’s sister, Elizabeth Estes.

Now here’s where it starts to get complicated.

Lazarus’s sister, Elizabeth Ann Estes, was born July 11, 1851 in Claiborne County, in Estes Holler to John Y. Estes and Martha “Rutha” or Ruthy Dodson. Elizabeth Ann Vannoy and Elizabeth Ann Estes were friends, growing up as the closest neighbors and flirting with each other’s brothers.  In 1867, Elizabeth Vannoy married Lazarus Estes, and then, Elizabeth Estes, on Sept. 11, 1870, married Elizabeth Vannoy Estes’s brother, William George Vannoy, becoming Elizabeth Vannoy.  So now we have Elizabeth Ann Vannoy Estes and Elizabeth Ann Estes Vannoy. Yessiree….nothing confusing about that.

So yes, a brother and a sister married a brother and a sister.  The two females had the same first and middle names.  All I can say is thank heavens the men didn’t.

But wait, we’re not done yet, because George Buchanan Estes, brother of Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Estes (Vannoy) married neighbor, Elizabeth King, who then became….Elizabeth Estes.  Two of these couples eventually left for Texas, but for about 20 years, living within feet of each other in Estes Holler, we had Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, Elizabeth Estes Vannoy and Elizabeth King Estes, all sisters-in-law.  I’m guessing if you hollered out, “Lizzie,” several people would answer.  They may also have had nicknames to differentiate them.

We have a few photos that we know positively are of Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, because she is photographed with her husband Lazarus Estes and the photos are, thankfully, labeled.

3 Elizabeth Vannoys

But then, there is this photo, below.

vannoy siblings

I was told that this is the 3 Vannoy siblings, left to right, Nancy Vannoy Venable, JH (James Hurvey) Vannoy and Elizabeth Estes.

So, is this Elizabeth Vannoy Estes (who was married to Lazarus Estes) or is this Elizabeth Estes Vannoy who would have been married to the brother of Nancy Vannoy Venable and JH Vannoy?

If it is Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, then the woman at right should look like the rest of the photos, above.

Does she?  Is it the same person?

Uncle George, her grandson, said this woman is Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, one of the Vannoy siblings.

These people look to be between 40 and 50 years old.  That would date this picture to about 1895, given that Elizabeth was 10 years older than Nancy and JH was in the middle.  By 1895, Elizabeth Estes Vannoy had been in Texas for 2 years.  I know this is slim pickins in terms of evidence, but it’s the best I can do, in addition to the fact that the photo is represented to be siblings.  This would also make sense in that Elizabeth Vannoy Estes’s son, William George Estes started taking pictures around this time with his new-fangled camera.

If Elizabeth is half-Cherokee, her siblings are too.  Do they look half-Cherokee?

This last photo was taken sometime after 1914, based on the birthdates of the children.  The man is Charlie Tomas Estes and his wife is Nannie Greer Estes.  Their children are George, born 1911, Grace born in 1912 and Jesse born in 1914.  Elizabeth died in 1918, so the photo was taken between 1914 and 1918.  Both grandmothers are in this photo, with Nannie’s mother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Edens Greer to the far left and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes to her right, beside her son Charlie.  From the looks of Elizabeth’s mouth, droopy on one side, I wonder if she has had a stroke.

Charlie Tomas Estes with wife and both mothers

So, I have to ask myself, did Elizabeth ever smile???

The Early Years

Elizabeth Vannoy was born on June 23, 1847 to Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley Vannoy in Hancock County, TN.

In the 1850 Hancock County census, Elizabeth is shown as the second child born to Joel Vanoy and Pheby.  Joel was a farmer and the family lived next door to the Baptist minister.  Joel was born in Tennessee and Pheby (Crumley) was born in Virginia, with all of their children born in Tennessee.

Vannoy 1850 censusThe 1860 census shows them living in the same location, in Hancock County.  Joel owned land, shown below.

Vannoy Hancock Co land

Elizabeth would have been 15 when the Civil War began in 1861.  The war would  continue in full force in this area until 1865 when the South surrendered, partly at Cumberland Gap.  The Civil War ravaged this region for more than three full years.

The Cumberland Gap was a strategic location and several times, a pivotal point in the war.  The Gap wasn’t located far from where the Vannoy family lived, not to mention they were just a few miles south of the Virginia/Tennessee state line which was heavily patrolled.  Hancock County soldiers were split between the north and south.  Elizabeth’s brothers were too young, and her father was too old to serve.  Elizabeth’s sister, Sary Jane, married John Nunn in 1864 and he was a Confederate soldier.  One of Elizabeth’s uncles by marriage, although her aunt had died, was Sterling Nunn, and he fought for the Confederacy as well.  Isaac Gowins (Goins), another uncle, fought for the Union, although according to his service records, he deserted. There was no such thing as a unified family during this time, and emotions ran high in all quarters.

The Vannoy family tells of how they gathered their livestock, in particular chickens, and left their cabin, going up to the top of the mountain and hiding in a cave so that the soldiers would not take their livestock nor harm them.  They feared all soldiers, from both sides.  We don’t know where the cave was, exactly, but this is part of the ancestral Vannoy land in Hancock County.  One thing we do know, that cave was well hidden.  No one knows where it is today.

Vannoy Hancock wooded land

It was about this time that Joel Vannoy moved to Little Sycamore, eventually acquiring land and built this house which still stood more than 100 years later, in the 1980s and 1990s.

Joel Vannoy home

In the 1870 census, Joel Vanoy lived beside his daughter, Elizabeth who had married Lazarus Estes on February 6, 1867 in Claiborne County.

Elizabeth Vannoy Lazarus Estes marriage crop

Two houses away, daughter Sarah had married John Nunn as well.

Based on this information, we know that Joel had to have had a presence in Estes Holler so that his children would have an opportunity to “court” with the neighbors.  In these hills and hollers, you don’t marry who you don’t see.  And you only saw the neighbors and the other families who attended your church.

In the 1870 census, Elizabeth and Lazarus are both age 21 and have a two year old daughter, Phebe, named after Elizabeth’s mother and a baby just born in February of 1870, Rutha, named after Lazarus’s mother.  Neither of these girls would survive to adulthood, but in 1870, Lazarus and Elizabeth had not been visited by the grim reaper of death and had not yet had to bury a child.  That would happen soon enough, in another 2 years when twins were born and died the same day, and again in 1873, when daughter Ruthy died.

Venable cemetery

Their children are buried just down the road in the Venable Cemetery at Pleasant View Church.

Pleasant View church

Lazarus and Elizabeth did have a cemetery on their land as well, shown below, although I’m not sure how early it was established.

Lazarus Estes cemetery

Uncle George told me that Lazarus buried a school teacher there that died and it’s now marked with a stone that says “first grave” which was later installed by the family.  No one remembered the teacher’s name as the family had the stone set, long after Lazarus’ death.

Lazarus Estes first grave

The 1870 census also tells us that Lazarus and Elizabeth didn’t own land, but lived beside Joel who did, so Lazarus may have farmed part of his father-in-law’s land.  The deeds tell us a bit of a different story, but deeds often weren’t filed for some time after the land actually changed hands.

And, as it turns out, this family wasn’t exactly “normal,” which we’ll talk about later.

Lazarus can read and write, but Elizabeth cannot write, although the records vary over the years on this tidbit.  She apparently can read.  According to later deeds, sometimes she signs her name and sometimes with an X.

The 1880 census doesn’t show Lazarus and Elizabeth living beside Joel Vannoy anymore, but then again, it could be a function of how the census was taken.  They do still live close, and we know that they did for the rest of their lives.  To the best of my knowledge, neither Lazarus nor Joel ever moved.

Lazarus and Elizabeth are now age 32, both can read and write, they have 4 living children, Phebe age 12, William G., my grandfather, Thaddeus and Corna L.  Of those children, only William G. and Cornie would live to adulthood.  Phebe and Thaddeus would die a month apart in 1884.  This must have been devastating to Elizabeth.  It makes me wonder if the entire family was ill.  We do know that small pox visited Estes Holler at some point in time, causing several deaths.

What the census doesn’t tell us is that Elizabeth is pregnant when the census was taken, and Martha was born on October 25, 1880.

The land where Elizabeth and Lazarus lived was beautiful.   This photo was taken as Uncle George and I approached Lazarus and Elizabeth’s land for the first time on my first visit.

Approaching lazarus land

The house, located in this clover meadow, is gone today.  It was a relatively flat area, something of an oddity, located at the far end of Estes Holler.  It was shaded and had a fresh spring, an extremely valuable commodity, and no one lived “upstream” which reduced the likelihood of getting typhoid, a regular killer by contaminating water.

In the photo below, the spring is on the left by the fence and the house was in the clover, according to Uncle George.

Lazarus Estes land

This beautiful little spring brought forth cool water for Elizabeth and Lazarus and their family.  It was located just outside the house, and maybe 50 feet downstream, it joined the slightly larger creek that ran down the center of Estes Holler a mile or so to join Little Sycamore Creek.

Lazarus Estes spring

A similar creek ran down Vannoy Holler and joined Little Sycamore too.  In fact, a creek ran down the center of every Holler in Appalachia joining a larger creek at the foot of the holler.  The entire settlement of the Appalachian mountain range depended on these springs and creeks providing fresh water, while the mountains themselves with their forests provided cover for the wildlife and vegetation needed to sustain pioneer families.  Farming was difficult.  There was little flat land.  What there was, was covered with trees, and there were a lot of rocks.  LOTS of rocks – peeking out the ground everyplace just waiting to dull plow blades and trip the unwary.  Reminds me very much of the highlands of Scotland. It’s no wonder the Scotch-Irish were so comfortable here.

Uncle George and I stood quietly, reverently, beside this beautiful little spring, listening to the musical gurgling as it emerged from the earth and laughingly ran downward to join the larger creek.  Brook sounds are life giving sounds.  This moment was timeless and is with me still.  George somehow knew I needed to stand in silence for a long time. to drink this into my soul.  Maybe he was visiting Lazarus too – after all, George lived on this land and understood.

I knew that Elizabeth had heard the same thing I was hearing, standing in this same place, for most of the days of her life.  This spring was the umbilical cord tying me in the here-and-now to her across the years.  She had lived in Estes Holler, likely on this same exact spot, from the time she married in 1867 and was a young bride, looking forward to a glowing future with her oh-so-charming husband.  She walked these lands and drew water from this spring for the next 51 years, more than half a century, with every meal she cooked, every time she washed clothes and every time someone bathed.  She would have come to this spot several times a day to fill the water bucket, for her young family, her ailing children, for her mother-in-law perhaps, for her grandchildren and for her aging husband. Finally, her children and grandchildren probably visited this spring when they buried Elizabeth on that fall day in October of 1918.

George told me that when he was a boy, they had dug out a little basin in the spring and on a rock beside the basin, which is where they filled the water buckets for people and livestock both, laid a gourd dipper.  Everyone used that gourd dipper to get a drink of fresh water – share and share alike.  The family shared, kids and adults and probably neighbors shared too.  Butter and milk sat in crocks on those rocks too, with their bottoms in the water to stay cool in the shady spring on Lazarus’ land.  This was, in essence, Elizabeth’s refrigerator.

I could see that gourd sitting on the rock, reaching back in time through Uncle George to the days when Lazarus and Elizabeth drank from this life-giving spring.

Elizabeth probably also stood here and cried some days, because life was not always rosy and her family faced a dire situation.

The Problem We Don’t Discuss

Things had not been well in the Joel Vannoy household for some time.  This situation wasn’t something people talked about, but it assuredly existed, and probably with increasing severity for quite some time.  It was probably a constant worry to Elizabeth.

Regardless of the diagnosis he would receive today, Joel Vannoy became very delusional and nonfunctional.  The family had to take turns “sitting with” him night and day so that he didn’t hurt himself, someone else, or burn the house down.  Finally in May of 1886, the Eastern State Mental Hospital was opened in Knoxville for the insane.

On Oct. 4, 1886, Lazarus Estes was granted $26 by the court for “conveying Joel Vannoy to the hospital for the insane.”  It must have been a terribly sad day.  Or maybe it was a relief that Joel had some hope of getting help.

I doubt that the illness came upon Joel suddenly.  This is probably something that the family had been living with in some capacity for a long time.  I have to wonder, thinking about the stories of the Civil War, just 20 years prior, if that time and the constant fear and paranoia required to survive would have triggered a permanent condition for Joel.  We see “odd” signs in land documents beginning in 1872.

Like I said, no one talked about this.  When I discovered this notation in the court records and specifically asked, it turns out that some people did know about it, but they were very quick to say it was NOT from the Vannoy side of the family, but from his mother’s side.  Of course, his mother’s side says just the opposite.

Everyone seemed to be very embarrassed and uneasy, a full century later.  Mental illness tends to make people uncomfortable, in general.  Mental illness in the immediate family makes people VERY uncomfortable.

A series of very odd transactions began in 1872, running through 1893, which begin with a deed to Joel’s wife, Phebe and the adult children of Joel Vannoy, conveying land to them “where Joel Vannoy lives.”  Typically, the land would be conveyed to Joel, which tells us that Joel was already considered unable to attend to his affairs by that point in time.  Then, in 1877, Phebe and children convey land to Joel’s son George W. Vannoy.  A third deed conveys what appears to be Joel’s land to Joel.  There is no Joel Jr., so the deed had to be to Joel himself.  A fourth deed is to Lazarus and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes.

However, for the strangest deed I’ve ever seen, take a look at the last transaction, in 1893.  This is from Lazarus Estes to his wife, Elizabeth Vannoy Estes in which he “deeds” to her the money from the sale of her father’s land back in 1877.

I don’t know what happened, but it smells like the result of a huge fight to me.  And if they had a loud fight, you can bet that everyone up and down the holler could hear them.  The neighbors were probably were betting on the outcome and taking sides.  The preacher would have preached about it on Sunday.  Everyone would have known.

Date From To Acres Comment
January 15, 1872 John McNiel power of attorney for William N. McNiel Phebe Vannoy, George W. Vannoy, Lazarous Estes and wife Elizabeth and John Nunn and wife Sary Jane. 465 $1100, where Joel Vannoy now lives


March 22, 1877 Phebe Vannoy, Lazerous Estes and Elizabeth, Sarah and John Nunn George W. Vannoy and Elizabeth, his wife $300 the land where George now lives
March 22, 1877 Phebe Vannoy, George W. Vannoy, Lazarus Estes and wife Elizabeth, John Nunn and wife Sarah Joel Vannoy 200 $800 – land where Joel now lives – this must be Joel’s land because it mentions the Lazarus Estes line
April 17, 1877 Phebe Vannoy, George W. Vannoy, Sarah and John Nunn Lazarus and Elizabeth Estes 140 $436.65 – children and wife of Joel Vannoy convey this, but he has not died
Feb, 27, 1878 Lazarus and Elizabeth Estes James Bolton and William Parks 60 $150 adjoin lands of Lazarus and J. Y. Estes – then J. Y. signs permission for them to put a road across his property to get to their land
March 25, 1884 Joel and Phoebe Vannoy James H. and M.J. Vannoy, his wife $600 – to take effect after the death of both Joel and Phebe
Oct 15, 1888 Jechonias and Nancy Estes Lazarus and Elizabeth Estes $200 – this is not the same land as he sold to William Buchanan Estes
Nov. 30, 1893 Lazarus Estes Elizabeth Estes Paid $436.65 by money from sale of her father’s property – this is very odd

The Final Years

The 1890 census is missing, of course, but the 1900 census shows us three generations in a row, living in Estes Holler.

Lazarus and Elizabeth are now ages 55 and 53, respectively, have been married for 33 years, and had 10 children of which, 5 are living.  Since the 1880 census, Martha was born in the fall of 1880, followed by James C. (Columbus) and Charlie T. (Tomas) in 1883 and 1885, respectively.

On one side of their household lived Lazarus’s mother, Rutha Estes, now age 75 and next door, on the other side, Cornie had married Worth Epperson and William George Estes had married Ollie Bolton.

Lazarus claims he owns his land mortgage free and both Lazarus and Elizabeth can read and write.

Elizabeth’s parents had passed away, Joel in 1895 and her mother, Phoebe in 1900.  Joel lived to be 82 in spite of his mental illness and Phoebe outlived him by 5 years and lived to be 82 as well.

The 1910 census is the last census where we find Lazarus and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes.  Their 3 married children still live within sight of their home and Lazarus’s unmarried sister lives with them.  Lazarus’ mother Rutha has passed.  Cornie and William George are still living probably exactly where they were before, and Martha has been married to William Norris for 10 years.  They live beside William George Estes, but tragedy would strike in 1911, when Martha dies, probably in or related to childbirth.

Elizabeth has also buried 3 grandchildren in the past decade, children of William George Estes and Ollie Bolton – one who burned to death when William and Ollie’s cabin burned in Estes Holler.  That would have been a terrible, heartbreaking funeral, especially given that the family traditionally prepared the body for burial.

In the census, all three of Elizabeth’s children are shown as renting, not owning land, and one can rest assured that they are renting from Lazarus and Elizabeth.  I know where at least three of the houses were in relation to Lazarus’s house, which was gone by the time I found Estes Holler, and they were within a stone’s throw.

The cabin that burned was built beside the creek where this willow, below, had fallen in the 1980s.  Uncle George planted the willow when he was a young man where that cabin had stood.  This is a few hundred feet, at most, down the holler from Lazarus’s house.

Cabin burned

Lazarus and Elizabeth knew they were aging and they were faced with a dilemma.  Their daughter Martha was now dead.  Their son William George was, how shall we say this graciously, less than reliable, and their two sons, James “Lum” and Charlie were the youngest and just starting families.  The only solidly stable child of the bunch was Cornie who was married to Worth Epperson and had been since about 1895.

Lazarus Elizabeth 1915 deed

In 1915, Lazarus and Elizabeth deeded their land to Cornie and Worth Epperson, making provisions within the deed for William George and the children of their deceased daughter Martha.  Cornie and Worth, in essence, paid them cash over time for their shares.

There wasn’t enough land to divide and provide a living for all of the children, so the rest of the children moved elsewhere, except for James “Lum” who is buried on Lazarus’s land.  Charlie built the house down the hollow, but then he sold it to Lum who lived and died in Estes Holler.  Uncle George, Charlie’s son, eventually wound up living on Estes land in Estes Holler, in the house, now abandoned, shown below.  We all migrate back, it seems.

George Estes house

Elizabeth died on October 25, 1918, just 3 months after Lazarus, and her death certificate shows that she had no medical attention, which was not unusual at all in that time and place if you look at the rest of the death certificates.  She died of old age and heart dropsy, an old term for what was probably congestive heart failure.

Lazarus had no death certificate, but Elizabeth had two.  Go figure.  Death certificates were not reliably completed at this time, nor were they reliably filed.  It’s amazing that any remain.

Her second death certificate shows that Elizabeth’s father was Joel Vannoy, born in Jonesville, VA, which is incorrect.  He was not born in Jonesville, although he was born in Lee County.  It says that Elizabeth was buried in the Estes Cemetery on Oct 28th, Bill Estes listed as undertaker, which would mean who was in charge of her burial, not undertaker as embalming as we think of it today.  This is also incorrect.  As per this death certificate, she was buried in the Venable cemetery with the rest of the family.  Bill was my grandfather, William George who was not in favor at the time – but based on this, he does not seem to be entirely disenfranchised either.

Elizabeth’s other death certificate was has not been indexed or filmed and was badly smeared when I saw the originals probably two decades ago.

Elizabeth Estes death cert crop

Elizabeth was buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, then called the Venable Cemetery, right beside Pleasant View Church.  She is with her children, her husband, her mother-in-law and her parents – surrounded by her family – much in death as it had been in life in Estes and Vannoy Holler.

Venable Vannoy stones

Elizabeth’s parents stones are beside the road, above.  The Estes stones are towards the back and grouped together, below.

Venable Estes stones

Uncle George and I had stones made for Lazarus and Elizabeth, who was called Betty, Bet or Betz, in the 1980s.  I wish we had had one made for Rutha too.

Elizabeth Estes stone

George placed them at the end of their graves so that the original stones can still be seen at the heads, even though Elizabeth’s appears to have no carving on the field stone.  If it did originally, it was worn away by the 1980s.

Venable Estes new stones

The Cherokee Mystery

Elizabeth left us with an even larger mystery.  You see, she was our Indian princess.  Every Appalachian family has one it seems, and she was ours – although our story didn’t say anything about a princess.

Per Margaret and Minnie, the Crazy Aunts, Elizabeth’s granddaughters, the children of William George Estes, Elizabeth Vannoy Estes was half Cherokee Indian and half Irish and her brother claimed head rights in Oklahoma.  They knew this woman personally, having lived in Estes Holler.  Her son, William George Estes also wrote about her, and his, Indian heritage in letters.  He knew his grandmother, Phebe, who hadn’t died until he was 27 years old and he grew up just a few feet away from her house. It’s so hard for me to believe this isn’t true, because Phebe herself would have had to have said she was Indian, assuming she would discuss it at all.

And yes, Elizabeth did have a reason to lie, but not what you’re thinking.  That lie would have been that she was NOT Indian, because at that time, Indian was considered to be “of color” and discrimination was rampant.  No one in their right mind would have claimed they were any portion “of color” if they had any other choice, and most certainly would never had made up a story saying that they were.  If they were “of color” they might well have claimed they weren’t, and most mixed-race people “became white” at the very first opportunity.  In the south, that was called “passing,” as in passing for white.

Uncle George Estes, Elizabeth’s grandson, was told that Elizabeth Ann was part Black Dutch and that Lazarus was part Irish.  George wasn’t sure exactly what “Black Dutch” meant, but it was part of “that bunch” up in Hancock County “where she was born” and it probably means, whispering now, “not entirely white.”  I was then advised that the topic was best left alone.

The Vannoy family did live very near to the Melungeon families and one of Joel’s sisters married into the mixed race Melungeon Goins family.  They also came from Wilkes County, at the same time and location as many of the Melungeon families as well.  Furthermore, Phebe’s father may have married a Native woman as his second wife.  That family is still not completely sorted out and may never be.

Other family members from other family lines had some version of this same story as well, although in some, it’s Elizabeth’s mother, Phebe who is half Cherokee.

Margaret and Minnie, separately, both said Elizabeth was half Cherokee and that Lazarus was ashamed of it and would not let Elizabeth claim head rights.

Head rights was a slang term used in the 1890s and early 1900s that refers to funds paid by the government to individuals through Indian tribes who were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1830s for their land, an ordeal better known as the Trail of Tears.

In order to qualify, you had to prove that you descended from someone on specific removal rolls and join the appropriate tribe via an application process.  The allure of land or money caused many to attempt to qualify who would otherwise never had admitted they were part Native.  Those applications, both those accepted and declined still exist, and neither Elizabeth, nor her brother, are in those records.

Elizabeth’s brother did move to Texas on the Oklahoma border, so maybe that added to the confusion.

If the family story was true, then Elizabeth or Phebe’s mother or father had to have been Native.  We know for sure that the Vannoy family is not Native, so it would have had to be on Phoebe’s side.  We know for sure that Phebe’s father wasn’t Native, because we know where his father came from and who his parents were, so that only leaves Phebe Crumley’s mother, whose parentage and past is murky at best – and that’s today, after years of research.  At that time, it was entirely shrouded in mystery.

That’s it, we had nailed it, Phebe’s mother was Native…or so we thought.

It turns out that indeed, Phebe’s parentage and past is murky, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to Native American.  It can mean a lot of other things too.

I spent a lot of years pouring over the various rolls and the Cherokee removal and pre-removal records, all to no avail, I might add.  I also looked for “head rights” in Oklahoma obtained by her brother, also to no avail.  I visited Talequah looking for records.  No dice.  I have gone on so many wild goose chases and road trips tracking this down that I get invited to the wild goose family reunions now as an honorary member.

Native records were notoriously sparse and difficult to access in the 1970s and 1980s.  I know beyond a doubt that my family believed, and had believed this for decades, so it was not a story of convenience.  It’s written in early letters.  In fact, they were rather ashamed of it because it caused their neighbors to “look down” on them because of their “mixed race” heritage although no one in polite company discussed it.  It was always conveyed as a secret.  We were all “dark.”   When I was a child, I remember my mother being asked to take me and leave the play area for white children and go to the one for “colored.”

My grandfather, William George Vannoy was secretly proud of his Indian heritage and referred to his ancestor as a brave squaw, intermittently discussing this topic in several letters over decades.

I looked at the census records – no one was mixed race in that line back as far as the records go.

Finally, the age of DNA testing arrived.  The mystery of Elizabeth’s Native heritage still remained. It could neither be proven or disproven, and I knew DNA testing was the way to go.  In fact, all I needed was one person, descended from Elizabeth though all females, to test her mitochondrial DNA.  That test, giving me her haplogroup, would tell me positively – given that Elizabeth would have inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother directly, and she from her mother, ad infinitum, on up the tree.

Finally, with the help of another cousin, we found the right person, descended through Elizabeth’s daughter, Cornie Epperson.

Given the complete agreement throughout the family about the story of Native heritage, imagine my utter shock when her haplogroup came back as haplogroup J, and not just J, but the full sequence would later reveal, J1c2c – unquestionably European as shown on the haplogroup J migration map from the Family Tree DNA results pages, below.

hap j migration

Ok, so now we’re back to where we started, with “Huh?”

But what about our Cherokee history?

Let’s face it, the evidence just doesn’t add up and the haplogroup was the icing on the proverbial cake.

  1. There is no census that shows us that Elizabeth or her mother or siblings or aunts are people of color. If they were 100% Indian, they would very likely, at some point, be noted as some category other than white, probably mulatto.
  2. There is no record of Native heritage like being on the Dawes or Guion Miller Rolls.
  3. There is no record of “head rights” in Oklahoma.
  4. There is no record of delayed tribal application that would entitle the family to both citizenship and land payments.
  5. The Trail of Tears, Indian Removal was in the late 1830s, fully 90 years, or about 3 generations before Elizabeth was born. For her ancestors to remain “fully Native” for 3 generations outside of a reservation would be almost impossible.
  6. The Cherokee were highly admixed prior to removal, so finding Cherokee after the removal who were not admixed would be very unusual – in the best of circumstances.
  7. The DNA is European, not Native.

However, there are a couple of outside possibilities so let’s discuss them

  • Adoption – The Native tribes did adopt white women into the tribe as full tribal members – generally women who were kidnapped or who had been previously enslaved. If that were the case, then the tribal member would have removed to Oklahoma with the rest of the tribe.
  • An Undiscovered Native Haplogroup – Haplogroup J might be a previously unknown Native haplogroup. For it to be considered Native, it would mean that eventually we would have to find Native burials, pre-Columbus, carrying this haplogroup, and that hasn’t happened today. In the US there is limited access to Native burials, but those issues are not as prevalent in Mexico, Central and South America and Canada. To date we have never found burials carrying mitochondrial haplogroups other than subgroups of A, B, C, D, X and possibly M. Furthermore, we do have solid matches in Europe, so this is a very, extremely, unlikely scenario.  In fact, it can be ruled out.

Aside from the very prevalent family oral history, there is just no evidence for recent Native ancestry through Elizabeth Vannoy Estes’s matrilineal line.  However, that does NOT mean that she has no Native heritage at all.  Her lines do disappear into the mists of time in pre-1800s Montgomery County, VA.

If Elizabeth Vannoy had been half Native, then her children would have been 25% and their children, her grandchildren would have been 12.5%.  We have the autosomal DNA of one of her grandchildren, and he carried no Native American admixture that is detectable by Family Tree DNA, which would cover to about the 5th or 6th generation.  We also have autosomal DNA from other descendants as well, with the same results except for me, but I have known Native heritage from other lines.

I ran Elizabeth’s grandson’s results at GedMatch too, also showing no Native results.  Ok, it wasn’t exactly none, it was about one tenth of one percent, which is most likely noise.

There is simply no actual evidence at all that Elizabeth was Native or had any Native heritage.  Of course, we also can’t prove that she didn’t, but what we can say is that if she did, it’s not on her direct matrilineal side according to her mitochondrial DNA, and it was likely not in the 4 generations prior to Elizabeth’s birth according to her descendants autosomal DNA – although there are a lot of blank spaces on her pedigree chart, and one of those, upstream, still could be Native.

Elizabeth Vannoy pedigree

So, it appears that Elizabeth Vannoy Estes is not Indian after all – at least not that we can tell.  Believe me, I fully understand why people don’t like this message when they receive it from DNA testing and often question whether the results can possibly be correct.  But alas, the truth is the truth and DNA doesn’t lie – like it or not.

I’m glad to have the truth, but between you and me, I liked the story much better!  It’s difficult when we have to lay a treasured family myth to rest.




I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy – Intro by Diahan Southard

Diahan Southard gave a fantastic presentation at Rootstech 2015 about how to get started with Genetic Genealogy.  Diahan is one of the few people who has been in this field as long as I have been – 15 years now.  This is the only industry I know where 15 years makes you both one of the first and an old-timer.  Funny – Diahan doesn’t look anything like a dinosaur:)


Diahan makes DNA interesting.  Guaranteed, she will not put you to sleep.  And when I say intro, this really is – so don’t be intimidated.


As Diahan says, genetic genealogy is not mysterious, it makes sense, there’s a pattern and you utilize DNA results plus you add your traditional genealogy skills into the mix.

Diahan is right.  In her presentation, she tells you all about those tools, and why you would want to test.  And…which test would be the best for you to take to accomplish your genealogy goals.

You are a walking, living, breathing record of your ancestors!!!  Find out how to discover more!

Thanks to Rootstech for the videos and Diahan for the great intro.  The conference video is no longer available, but this note from Diahan provides directions to her great videos.

Even though the Rootstech video is no longer available, I do have that video (plus lots more!) as part of my online video tutorial series (http://www.yourdnaguide.com/#/video-training/). That same RootsTech Video is also a bonus feature of subscribing to Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Premium Membership where she provides instruction on Tech Tools like Google, Evernote, and Google Earth (http://lisalouisecooke.com/premium-membership/). You can also come learn about genetic genealogy in person if you are going to be nearby anywhere I am going to be (http://www.yourdnaguide.com/lecture-schedule).



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

MyGroups is Here

Family Tree DNA rolled the new MyGroups format yesterday.  Project administrators have the option of converting now or waiting until April 16th when all projects will automatically be converted.  Family Tree DNA is trying to sweeten the pie by offering coupons that the admin needs to sign in daily to the project to post to the group.

The purpose of the new format is to engage project members, facilitate discussion and sharing, which is, after all, what genealogy is all about.  Think of MyGroups as a new skin on the old projects we all know and love.  All of the old features of the projects are still there – and they function just like they always have.

Because it’s new and unknown, there has been a lot of anxiety this past 24 hours or so about converting and how the new features will work.

I was part of the beta with one of my projects with over 800 members.  I did not sign in daily to check on things.  People did discuss genealogy and share information, including pictures.  No, I did not create photo albums.

People have been enjoying the new format – so it has been working.  And the really good news is that other people within the project have been answering questions for others, so it has provided additional resources for the project.  I think this will be a great way to engage people and hopefully keep them engaged.

I will tell you straight out that there are a couple of drawbacks that I hope will be resolved in upcoming versions.

  1. There is no search capability – so if I remember a discussion about XYZ I can’t search for it. This is unfortunately much more like Facebook than the rootsweb system which has active and useful archives.
  2. There is no e-mail notification for either admins or participants. Yesterday someone asked me a question about yesterday’s coupon, but I didn’t see it until today. Most administrators do NOT sign on to their projects daily, nor do they want to. Participants either, but if you want to be a part of the project discussion, today, that’s the only way to keep current.

Like with all new products, there are also some bugs but those are being worked out.

Let’s step through the conversion process so admins know what to expect.  It’s actually VERY easy and there is really only one thing you need to know that isn’t obvious.

When you sign on as a project administrator, this is what you’ll see.


By clicking on the little blue box at right, “convert” you’ll see the following prompt.


Click OK.  You will then see this page.


First, you’ll want to click on the “project profile” in the green lock box.


This takes you to your regular project profile page, which looks like this.


There are two new things.

The one VERY IMPORTANT thing you’ll need to do is to make your feed private.  The default is public – meaning that the news feed, messages and photos are viewable to everyone.

In my projects, I want the discussions to be viewable by project members only, so you WILL NEED TO check the box by the first arrow, below, that says “Only members can view posts…”  The default value is unchecked – meaning viewable to the public.


The second thing you can do is to change your project banner.  Family Tree DNA has provided some nice standard options, or you can roll your own.


At the bottom of the list of stock photos is an option to upload a custom banner for your project.

Be sure to Save Profile at the bottom of the page, or it won’t.

That’s really all you need to do in terms of setup, because as best I can tell, that’s really all that has changed from an administrative setup perspective, but lets take a look at the rest.


In the green lock box, if you click on the project website link, you will be taken to your, public project setup site.  Nothing has changed and you should already be familiar with this, as an admin.


In the first box, click on “click here to go to activity feed.” you will see this.


This takes you to your new default public project page.  This new look is probably the biggest change and will take a minute to get used to.

The first thing you’ll see on your main project message page is a prompt to post the daily coupon.  This is posted as a message to the group.


I posted the coupon to the group, in case anyone wants to use it.  This is what postings look like.


As you can see, the regular project items, like DNA results are shown to the left, along with the “about” page.  These links take you to the pages we’re all familiar with.


All the features and functions that have always been in projects are still there, plus new social media functions designed to engage people.

Family Tree DNA provides MyGroups basics instructions in the Learning Center as well.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Lazarus Estes (1848-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59


I’ve always loved that name.  It’s just so interesting and different – and thankfully, not another John or William.  I have so many of those names that I can’t keep them straight.  But Lazarus is much more unique and he turned out to be a very unique individual as well, as I came to know him through various tidbits of his life.

Lazarus holds a special place in my heart.  Lazarus was my first official “find” in genealogy, you see.  Well, his marriage record anyway.

One evening, many, MANY years ago, I took advantage of a free seminar the Mormon Church was offering on searching for your ancestors.  They said to bring what records you did have, so I gathered up my family group sheets, all half a dozen of them, and off I went.  I was a bit nervous, as I knew nothing about the Mormons, except they “did genealogy,” and I was, you know, raised Baptist.

Was lightning going to strike me as I stepped into the Mormon church???  And if so, was the bolt from the Mormons or the Baptists, or both?  Or worse yet, was someone going to try to convert or recruit me??

I decided to risk it.  I later learned that my concerns were entirely unfounded.

After their little talk, they had several volunteers available to help.  One very nice lady sat down with me and looked at what I had brought along, and then suggested that we look on the “reader” for “something.”  Ok.

She did, and said, “hey, look at this.”  Now, genealogists among us know those as the Fatal Words of Addiction.

And this is what we saw…..

Elizabeth Vannoy Lazarus Estes marriage crop

Oh my gosh – it was THEM – reaching out from more than 100 years ago and touching me…my heart just stopped.

Sure enough, she had found an index entry for the marriage record of Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  And yes, I was hooked, hopelessly hooked.  We ordered the film, and then another film, and another film….and the rest, as they say, is history.  I developed tendonitis in my right arm associated with cranking microfilm machines.  All “old” genealogists are now laughing…and remembering.

Lazarus Estes was born in May 1848 in Claiborne County, TN, to John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson.  They lived in a place known as Estes Holler, right off of Little Sycamore Road, just past Pleasant View Church (below), where they probably attended, then past a couple of cemeteries, and across Little Sycamore Creek which they would have forded at the time, because there was no bridge then.

Pleasant View Church 2

Lazarus was born where two generations of Estes’s had lived before him and several would live after.  Estes families still live in Estes Holler today, and it’s still called Estes Holler – right across the ridge from Vannoy Holler.

estes holler map

Some years later, I went to visit and meet Uncle George, Lazarus’s grandson, in person.  I wanted to see Estes Holler for myself and visit Lazarus’s grave.  Uncle George and his wife, Edith, who is also my cousin on two different lines, were the most gracious hosts.

George and Edith Estes

George took me in his truck “up the mountain.”  Here we are, in the back of George’s truck, in the livestock pen.  The livestock pen?   If I said, “don’t ask,”  would that do?  Let’s just say trucks are sometimes a bit rough there.

Uncle George and Me

Uncle George, who is really my cousin, but “honored” as an uncle, remembered when Lazarus was buried, standing by his grave as a child during the funeral.  George would take me to visit the same cemetery, to stand by the same grave, some 70 years later.

When I got to Claiborne County, Uncle George had a little surprise for me.

Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy

This is a picture of Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, my great-grandparents.

I remember being utterly mesmerized by this picture – staring into the eyes of my ancestor.  It’s hard to see Elizabeth’s eyes, but Lazarus is looking right at me, across the years, almost 100 years after his death – piercingly.

In the family history center, before I went to Claiborne County, I eventually found Lazarus on a census roll.  I ordered the roll and then waited for 2 weeks for it to arrive.  Today, we just sign on to Ancestry.com and look.

Estes 1850 census

John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson hadn’t been married long, and Lazarus was their first child, named for Rutha’s father, Lazarus Dodson.  Lazarus is shown here as 2 years old, born in 1848, and I’m inclined to think this this is more correct than the 1900 census which shows that he was born in 1845.  By 1900, when Lazarus is more than 50, age can be misremembered or approximated, but pretty much everyone is going to know if their only child is 2 or not.  Furthermore, this census was taken in September, and if his birthday was in May, he would have just turned 2.  His mother was likely pregnant with her next child.  As icing on the cake, cousin Debbie found a Bible that we think belonged to his daughter after a death in the family a few years ago, and Lazarus’s birth year is given as 1848, so 1848 it is!!!

By 1860, Lazarus has 4 siblings and was 12 years old.

After that, life in Claiborne County got complicated – and downright ugly.  The Civil War erupted in January 1861 when 7 southern states seceded from the Union.  Claiborne County found itself in the middle of the conflict.  The first shots were fired in April, and although Tennessee wasn’t one of the first states to secede, they did after April, 1861, aligning themselves with the South, along with their neighbor state, Virginia. However, Kentucky, their other neighbor to the north permitted slavery but did not secede.  This created a dividing line between the states which just happened to be at the Cumberland Gap, not far from Estes Holler.

Cumberland Gap was just a few miles up the Old Kentucky Road and the Gap was a critical and strategic location to control the entrance to the north from the south and vice versa. In 1863, slaves were freed via the Emancipation Proclamation, but the war didn’t end until 1865.  No one in Estes Holler owned slaves.

The war was brutal on both sides, and fighting took place in and around Estes Holler.  People in that region were still digging cannon balls out of their land in the 1980s.

One of the houses in Estes Holler, still standing, was used as a Union hospital.  The locals know which house and where the bodies are buried too.  The area looks a lot more cheerful today!

Estes holler garden

The soldiers scavenged the countryside for food, constantly, since the thousands of men stationed at Cumberland Gap, whether from the Union or Confederacy, depending on who was holding the Gap at the time, never had enough food.

Lazarus would have been 13 when the war broke out.  He would have been 17 when it ended.  Those four years were living hell for the Estes family, their land constantly embattled and the sounds of cannon and gunfire echoing in the holler a regular occurrence.

Lazarus’s father, John Y. Estes fought for the south, as did neighbors, Sterling and John Nunn.  I was dumbstruck when I discovered this fact, especially since no one in Estes Holler owned slaves.  John Y. Estes was eventually captured and served time in a northern prison camp, being paroled at the end of the war.

Did the family know John had been captured?  Did they think he was dead?  How were they notified, if they were notified?  Sometimes, POW camps, on both sides were a fate worse than death, often followed by death.

The family, back in Claiborne County, had all they could do not to starve to death – and Lazarus, as the oldest male child, a teenager, was likely in charge.

The soldiers took the family’s one cow.  The baby of the family needed milk to drink.  Lazarus’s younger sister, Elizabeth, then 12 or 13, had been taking care of the cow as one of her chores, and she decided that she was simply going to go and get the cow.  As soon as it got dark, she slipped through the woods to where she knew the soldiers were camped.  The cow knew her voice and scent, and as soon as she found the cow, she simply slipped the bell off the cow and led the cow home, under cover of darkness.  She was the family hero and the family told that story in Tennessee and where Elizabeth eventually lived in Texas –  for the next 150 years.  Her descendants told me that story when I visited Texas in 2005!  It’s a family legend.  Another version of the story says it was the family horse that she recovered, and a third story says she did both!  In one version when she retook the horse, she snuck through enemy lines.

Her grandchildren tell of how Elizabeth, in the photo below, would regale them for hours with stories of life in a remote place called Tennessee during the Civil War when Rebel soldiers would come into their house and take everything.  She told about how the family hid, afraid they would be harmed.  She shared stories about the hardships on the trail in the covered wagon as they came to Texas and about the wagon rush when they opened up Indian Territory to homesteaders.  Maybe land is why all of Lazarus’s siblings wound up living in Texas.  In the end, only Lazarus remained in Tennessee.

Elizabeth Estes Vannoy

This is Lazarus’s sister Elizabeth Estes who married George Vannoy, the brother of Elizabeth Vannoy that Lazarus married, celebrating her 95th birthday in Nocona, Texas.  I think she looks a lot like her brother, Lazarus.

Lazarus is lucky that he was not captured and conscripted, on either side, during the Civil War.  Rutha probably depended heavily on Lazarus, as her next oldest boy wasn’t born until 1855.

John Y. Estes was finally discharged and released as a POW on March 20, 1865.  He probably walked home, begging food along the way, like so many other bedraggled soldiers, probably fearful of what he would find at home when he arrived.  Would there even be a home left?  Was his family alive?  All of them?  Part of them? Which part?

Shortly after arriving home, on October 9, 1865, John Y. Estes stated that he was moving and gave six head of sheep, one horse, fourteen head of hogs, one cow and calf, two yearlings, the corn crop, all the fodder, and all the household and kitchen furniture to his son Lazarus.  But John didn’t move.  Lazarus would only have been 17 or 18 at that time.  What precipitated this unusual transaction to an underage, unmarried boy with no household of his own?

Lazarus Estes married Elizabeth Vannoy sixteen months later, on February 6, 1867.

The 1870 census shows us a nuclear family, the way families worked in Tennessee.  Newlyweds just built a cabin by their parents.  In this case, Lazarus and Elizabeth lived beside both his and her parents.

Estes 1870 census

Now, the census can be deceptive, because the Esteses and Vannoys actually lived across the holler from each other, but that tells us that there was only one unoccupied house between them so the holler didn’t have as many people living there that it does today.

Still, they lived very close.

Lazarus lived on this V where Nunn Road and Vannoy Road leaves Estes Road.

Lazarus Estes homesite

You can see where a house used to be and a little cemetery – but that is NOT where Lazarus is buried. It is where some of his adult children are buried….and no, I do not know why.

Lazarus Estes land 2

In this picture, taken from across the road, you can see the location of the cemetery on Lazarus land, just about dead center, with a man inside and a truck to the right behind a big cedar tree.  Lazarus’s house sat to the left of the cemetery probably just inside or just outside of the picture.

There is an untold story involving the cemeteries in Estes Holler that I suspect involves a family feud of some sort.  In part, I think this because even in the 1970s, the two families living on opposite sides of the only road in Estes Holler would claim they “weren’t kin” to each other, when they clearly were.  They did not WANT to be kin to each other….so they weren’t…end of subject.  Although both families were very nice to me.  Feuds in Appalachia outlive the fueders and the descendants don’t even know WHY they are feuding, just that they are.

The “Upper Estes Cemetery” which is likely on the original John R. Estes land, eventually owned by son Jechonias, was not used by Lazarus who descended from Jechonias’s brother, John Y. Estes.  Furthermore, while Lazarus had a cemetery on his own land that included a grave for the unknown school teacher that Lazarus buried, he himself was buried in Pleasant View, then known as the Venable Cemetery, as was his wife and mother and his children that died in his lifetime.  Pleasant View is the cemetery at the end of Estes Holler, past the Cook cemetery, beside Pleasant View Church, although Lazarus was never reported to be terribly religious.  To me, being buried away from Estes land almost sounds like a protest of some sort.  I’m clearly missing some piece of the puzzle and I doubt anyone living has that piece.

We know there was some kind of problem and although the chancery court records tell us tantalizingly little – they do tell us something.

In 1888, George Estes, son of John Y. Estes, filed suit against his uncle Jechonias Estes regarding the boundaries of some land that Jechonias had sold to George in 1887.  Lazarus was the security for George, his brother, so his allegiance is clear.  From the May 1893 chancery docket, we know that Jechonias cross-filed and the court found that no one was entitled to anything from anyone, except the lawyers who put a lien on the property for payment of their fees. Jechonias had died in 1888, is buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery, and George Buchanan Estes along with his younger brother, John Reagan Estes, subsequently left for Texas where their father, John Y. Estes, was already settled.  However, at least three of George Buchanan Estes’s children are buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery.

John Y Estes clearing

This is actually the land behind Lazarus’s house, or where his house stood, but the ridge between Estes Holler and Vannoy Holler looked much the same.  I think that John Y. Estes lived in that clearing on the hillside.  The old Upper Estes Cemetery would be to the right about 3 or 4 photo-lengths, also on the hillside.  Of course, in Estes Holler, everything is on a hillside.  You can see the Upper Estes Cemetery, below in the clearing.

Upper Estes Cemetery clearing

Uncle George took me up the mountainside in his truck so that I could see the holler.  It’s a beautiful place, often bathed in the blue/grey mists that give the Smokey Mountains their name.

Estes holler mists

There is a steep wagon path, or put in modern terms, a 2 track Jeep path, over the ridge between the hollers at the end because it’s a mile or two to the front where you can go around – and then of course a mile or two back on the other side.

estes holler pano

The people who live there know every nook and cranny well – but to outsiders, it’s a confusing labyrinth of intertwined mountains, paths and valleys and very, VERY easy to become disoriented and lost.

This is the land where Lazarus was born, lived his entire life, and died.  He probably never went further than Knoxville, about 50 miles away.

This photo is labeled as Lazarus, but I’m not entirely convinced – although the woman does look something like Elizabeth.

Estes possibly Lazarus and Elizabeth

In this photo, Lazarus and Elizabeth look to be maybe 35 or 40, so this would have been taken in about the 1880s.  Lazarus, if this is him, has full facial hair, so he doesn’t even look like himself, compared to the other photos.  Furthermore, it looks like a caterpillar is crawling up one side of his nose.  I have my doubts if this is Lazarus, and I actually think it may be a photo of his father, John Y. Estes.

Update: Two subscribers offered expertise, for which I’m very grateful.

Therese overlayed the photo of the middle-aged couple onto the photo of Lazarus and Elizabeth as seniors in Photoshop and says:  “I’m sure they’re the same couple, you can take it to the bank. 😉 Even accounting for the different head angles and posture, their features lined up really well. Lazarus still had the same light-colored, slightly downturned eyes, straight brows, and the same mole or scar on the left cheek, which had grown some by his later years (Along with his ear lobes!! Too bad the ears and nose never stop growing.) The “caterpillar” appears to be some discoloration of the photo itself. The wrinkle between his brows also lines up well, although it became more pronounced with age. His shoulders appear to have atrophied some, which is to be expected. The hairlines and marionette lines for both Lazarus and Elizabeth in the two photos are also perfect matches. He even kept the same part in his hair. Elizabeth’s deep set eyes, thin lips, and square chin were little changed through the years.”

Jan says, “The sleeve of her black-striped jacket did not come into fashion until 1890. The pouf at the upper arm area grew to outrageous proportions over the next 7-8 years. With that in mind, I believe the photograph was likely take in 1890-93. It was certainly taken after 1890, making Lazarus at least 51-52.

By 1880 things had changed a bit in Estes Holler, to put it mildly.

I don’t think things were ever “right” after the Civil War.  John Y. probably witnessed the unspeakable and many men in this area fought for the Union, so he may not have been well accepted back in Estes Holler.  That deed he signed just a few months after his release tells us that something was amiss.  Perhaps his wife told him that his son, Lazarus, had taken care of all of the “man things” on the farm for the past several years while John Y. was gone.  We’ll never know.

On June 20, 1879, John Y. Estes signed papers granting James Bolton and William Parks permission to make a road across his land in order to enable Bolton and Parks to have access to their own lands. That same day, Lazarus and Elizabeth sold the men acreage and obviously, John’s land stood between that acreage and the road.  As long as the land was within family, access to the road didn’t matter, but now being sold, it did.

In the 1880 census, a year later, Ruthy is shown in Claiborne Co. with children Nancy, Rutha and John Reagan Estes, as divorced. Back then, no one ever got divorced – it was rare as chicken’s teeth.  Not to mention, this couple was 60 years old.  They had already tolerated each other most of their adult lives.  What precipitated a divorce?

John Y. Estes is shown in Montague Co., Texas, living with the S. C. Clark family as a lodger.

The Texas Estes family tells the story that John Y. Estes walked to Texas, twice – implying of course that he walked back to Tennessee once.

John Y’s last child was born in 1871, so I’m wondering if he didn’t go to Texas and return home, sign that deed, and go back to Texas by the 1880 census.  To the best of my knowledge, he never returned to Claiborne County.

And once again, Lazarus was left to take care of things.  His mother had children from the ages of 9 to 22 at home and the only son was the youngest, John.  Someone had to plow and farm and put food on the table.

The 1880 census showed Lazarus and Elizabeth with 4 living children and his occupation was a huckster.

Now that’s a very interesting occupation.  I asked cousin George about it, and he knew exactly what that meant.

Lazarus became an entrepreneur, of sorts, although not the same kind of “entrepreneur” his son, William George Estes would become.  Lazarus had a wagon and once a month he would hitch up his oxen and go to Knoxville.  It took him two days to get there and then he would sell whatever people from Little Sycamore in Claiborne had to sell or trade.  Then, he would load the wagon up with supplies and come back home.

We don’t know that this was Lazarus’s wagon, but it was in the Estes pictures and although we don’t know who is sitting in the wagon, we do know that the ox’s name is Jim Bow.

Estes wagon

In the field just across Little Sycamore creek, at the end of Estes Holler, Lazarus would park his wagon and everyone could come and visit to pick up their order or just to see what he had.  I guess he was a peddler of sorts.

Lazarus huckster field

Today, this homemade bridge is the entrance into Estes Holler, crossing Little Sycamore Creek.  There was no bridge then.

Bridge over Little Sycamore Creek

You can see, across the bridge and to the left that there is an open field.  Lazarus would pull the wagon into that field and set up shop, so to speak, according to Uncle George.

Lazarus huckster field 2

You know that word traveled like wildfire up and down the holler that Lazarus was back, and everyone wanted to see what he had brought, what was available, how much their goods sold for….and maybe more importantly, the news….what was the news.

Lazarus huckster field 3

I can see his wagon parked here, can’t you?  Is that his old wagon wheel?

However, this family had another little problem that no one probably discussed – at least not out loud.

Imagine my surprise to find this in the court records:

On Oct. 4, 1886, Lazarus Estes was granted $26 by the court for “conveying Joel Vannoy to the hospital for the insane.”  Joel Vannoy was Lazarus’s father-in-law.

That hospital was opened in Knoxville in May of that year.  You know, right about now, I’m tempted to say something like, “Well, that explains a lot.”  However, that’s probably inappropriate, because this really is very sad for everyone in the holler.  Lazarus was the one to take care of things, probably the same way he did for his mother during the Civil War.  Lazarus always seemed to be the one to “take care of things.”

So, in addition to his own mother, Lazarus now was taking care of his mother-in-law as well who had older children and grandchildren living with her.

Lazarus was one busy man.

In this photo, Lazarus looks to be about age 40-50, which would have been about 1890.  I cannot imagine wearing those long dresses in the Tennessee summer heat, but they did.

Lazarus and Elizabeth Estes 2

The 1890 census is missing, of course, so we don’t see Lazarus again until 1900.

In 1900, Lazarus and Elizabeth are living in-between Lazarus’s mother Ruthy and his son, William George Estes who married Ollie Bolton in 1894.

Estes 1900 census

William George has been out of work for 6 months.  I’m guessing Lazarus is once again, “taking care of things.”

Uncle George and the Texas family both tell us that Lazarus’s mother, Ruthy was bedfast for years, 22 years to be exact, with arthritis.  That means she would have been afflicted from about 1881, or about the time John Y. left for Texas.  Uncle George told me that Lazarus and some other family members had to go “up the mountain” and carry Ruthy “down the mountain” on a litter.  Lazarus and Elizabeth took care of her from that time forward.

The 1900 census also tells us that Rutha had 8 children and 6 were living.  Two of Ruthy’s adult daughters had died 2 days apart in 1888.  The family story says that there was smallpox in the holler and no one would bury the bodies, except Lazarus, so he buried all that died, alone.

Lazarus was no stranger to the cemetery.  The census tells us that he and Elizabeth had 10 children and 5 were living.  That wasn’t quite right.  They had 11 children, but one birth was twins who both either died the same day or were stillborn.

Lazarus and Elizabeth visited the cemetery far too often to bury children; in 1872 to bury twins, in 1873 to bury three year old Ruthy, in 1884 to bury 17 year old Phoebe, and in 1875 to bury 9 year old Thaddeus.  Of course, they buried Lazarus’s sisters 2 days apart in 1888 and his uncle as well.  Lazarus’s grandfather John R. Estes died in 1885, nearly 100 years old.  It’s hard to grieve that passing – more like a celebration of an amazingly long life.

So, you see, there was one more thing that Lazarus did, that he took care of for the family.  He hand carved gravestones.

Elihu and David Estes stone

This one was for twins, Elihu and David.

Lazarus Estes infant stone

And this one for his namesake.

These stones were for his brother, George Buchanan Estes’s children, buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery, where the land dispute would split the family in the 1880s and 1890s.  Maybe it was because the children were buried here that there was such a connection to this land.  George Buchanan Estes’s father in law, Rev. David King is also buried in this cemetery.  The Upper Estes Cemetery was located on Jechonias’ land, the original Estes land in Estes Holler.  This is probably where John R. Estes and his wife, the original Estes settlers in Claiborne County, are buried as well.

Upper Estes Cemetery

Lazarus and Elizabeth would bury yet one more child, Martha, in 1911, in Pleasant View cemetery before their four remaining children would bury them.

In 1902, William Norris, who had married Lazarus’s daughter Martha a couple of years earlier bought land from Lazarus.  I wonder if William and Martha Norris bought Rutha Estes’s old house.

In 1903, the family would bury Lazarus’s mother, Rutha, in Pleasant View Cemetery (then called Venable Cemetery), beside the church where Lazarus and Elizabeth would be buried next to her just a few years later.

Rutha Estes stone

Lazarus hand carved her stone too.  The photo below shows the area where Rutha, Lazarus and Elizabeth all rest together.

Estes area in Venable cemetery

The last census where Lazarus was enumerated was in 1910.  He is still farming.  His two youngest sons are living with him and his sister Rutha, age 50 is also living in the household, probably since his mother, Rutha’s, death. The census tells us Lazarus and Elizabeth have been married 45 years.  They’ve surely seen a lot together, especially given that they also knew each other as children.

They live one house from William Norris and Martha Estes, their daughter, who would die the following year, probably in childbirth.

In about 1915, there was a “small family issue” with William George Estes, Lazarus’s son.  William George and Ollie Bolton Estes, his wife, had left Estes Holler sometime after the 1910 census to live in Fowler, Indiana.  It seems that Ollie’s cousin, 20 years her junior, visited in Indiana, and Ollie came home and found William George “in the act” with her cousin.  As you might imagine, all hell broke loose, and they could probably hear the ensuing ruckus all the way to Estes Holler in Tennessee.  Ollie reportedly horsewhipped William George, nearly killing him.

Ollie was reportedly pregnant at that time, and the situation caused her to go into labor and lose the baby, or twins, the stories vary.  Long story short, Ollie and William split.  Their two sons, William Sterling (my father) and Joseph “Dode” somehow got lost or abandoned in the shuffle and not knowing what else to do, wound up hopping a freight train, at about ages 10-13, and making their way back to their grandparents in Estes Holler – arriving hungry, dirty and full of tales about their parents.  Lazarus was furious.

Shortly thereafter, William George reportedly also showed up back in Estes Holler, not with Ollie, the wife he left with, but with her young cousin instead, whom he would eventually marry.  The family story tells us that Lazarus was having none of that behavior, and he threw William George, along with the young cousin, out of Estes Holler, “for doing Ollie wrong” and told him if he came back, he’s shoot him.  To my knowledge, William George Estes holds the distinct honor of being the only person ever thrown out of Estes Holler – and that’s saying something!

Part of this story I know to be true, but I can’t vouch for all of it.  I do know that William George Estes was not entirely disowned, meaning he did have some inheritance, and he went back to visit his sister, Cornie, in the 1940s and 1950s, long after his parents were gone.

Apparently Lazarus knew his time on earth was limited and did not want to leave the fate of his land and possessions to chance, or to an executor, especially given the extenuating circumstances, so he took care of things himself before he passed over.

Lazarus Elizabeth 1915 deed

Lazarus created this deed leaving his land to daughter Cornie Epperson, but instructing Cornie and Worth, her husband, to pay Lazarus’s other heirs, William George and the heirs of his daughter, Martha, who had died in 1911, although William George received less.  On the second page, Lazarus reserved a life estate for he and his wife of half an acre and also states the condition that Cornie and Worth allow him to pasture a cow and horse on the property as well.

You don’t think of having problems finding death dates in the 1900s, but we had fits establishing in which year Lazarus died.  Cousin Debbie has a Bible that says he died in 1916.  His wife, Elizabeth died in October 1918 and is listed as a widow.  Cousin George, Lazarus’s grandson, who was at his funeral said he died in 1918.  Normally I’d say that the Bible is probably the most reliable, but in this case, we have a deed signed by Lazarus on March the 7th, 1918 – and as far as I know, the dead can’t sign deeds.  The death date we have, however, and it was on July 7th.  So, by process of elimination, Lazarus died on July 7, 1918.

As fate would have it, I’m not at all sure that Lazarus didn’t carve his own headstone, or at least part of it – the name.  I know that sounds morose, but for the man in the family that took care of everything, it’s somehow fitting.

Lazarus Estes original stone

Elizabeth’s stone, next to his, has no carving, at least none that remains today.

In the 1980s, George Estes and I bought new stones for both Lazarus and Elizabeth, because you could barely read Lazarus’s stone at all, in the 1980s.

Lazarus Estes new stone

The old stones were left in place, and the new stones put at the foot of the graves, shown below.

Venable cemetery new Estes stones

Lazarus and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes had the following children:

  • Phebe Ann born December 21, 1867, died August 21, 1884, not even a month after her younger brother Thaddeus died. I wonder if he was ill and she was caring of him. Phebe and Thaddeus’s are the only markers in this family that are not hand carved.

Phebe Ann Estes stone

  • Ruthy Jane born January 11, 1870, died Sept. 4, 1873
  • David born and died April 6, 1872
  • Alexander born and died April 6, 1872

Ruthy Jane, David and Alexander have hand-carved stones in the Venable Cemetery, but they are no longer readable.

  • William George Estes born March 30, 1873, died November 29, 1971, Harlan County, KY, married Ollie Bolton, Joice Hatfield and Crocie Brewer. Children who lived past childhood were Charles Estel, William Sterling, Joseph “Dode”, Margaret LeJean, Minnie May, by wife Ollie, then Virginia by wife Joice, then Evelyn and Josephine by wife Crocie.

William George Estes

  • Thaddeous Estes born Sept. 22, 1875, died July 28, 1884

Thaddeous Estes stone

  • Cornie Estes born June 22, 1878, died February, 14, 1958, married Worth Epperson and had children Edna, Bill, Edith, Catherine “Katy”, Kermit, Lucy Mae, William “Bill”, Everett and James “Bert”. In the photo below, Cornie and worth are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.

Cornie and Worth Epperson

Cornie and Worth were buried in the lower Estes Cemetery, on Lazarus old land, which was, of course, their land.

Cornie Estes Epperson stone

  • Martha A. was born Oct. 25, 1880 and died January 10, 1911, married William I. Norris and had children Jesse, Otis, Etta, Glen and Mae.

Martha Estes and William Norris family

Martha’s stone was hand carved too.  I had to dig part of it out.

Martha Estes Norris stone

  • James Columbus “Lum” Estes born March 25, 1883, died Nov. 15, 1924, married Creola “Thole” Greer and had children Myrtle, Heady “Hettie”, Charlie, Molly and Clarence. Lum and his brother, Charlie, married Greer sisters. James lived his entire life in Estes Holler and is buried in the Lower Estes Cemetery, on Lazarus’s land. He died of peritonitis because he “ruptured himself” picking apples and did not “get it taken care of.” The death certificate says he had medical attention for 3 days, but by that time, the damage was done. His death from peritonitis must have been awful.

James Columbus Estes

James Columbus Estes stone

  • Charlie Tomas (sic) born December 9, 1885, died October 2, 1927, married Nannie Greer and had children George Lazarus, Grace, Jessie, Lyde Waylen, Robert Tipton and Betty Louise. Charlie and Nannie obtained their marriage license in Claiborne County, not realizing they would not be able to marry in Hancock County. So, they married at the county line, in the road. She stood on a horse step. Charlie died of typhoid fever when he was 42. His death certificate says there was no doctor in attendance, which is not unusual in that region, although typhoid typically takes about 4 weeks to either kill the person or for them to begin to recover. George said that two of his sisters contracted typhoid too at that time, but they both recovered. His father died. Uncle George would have been 16 and Buster would have been 7. Charlie bought the farm in Hancock County, very close to the Lee County line that was still in the family when I visited Uncle Buster, his last living son, in 2005. Buster was living in the house his father had built with his own hands.

Charlie Tomas and James Columbus Estes

I particularly like this picture above of the two boys, Charlie and Lum (James Columbus) Estes, taken sometime in the 1890s.  I love their homespun shirts and pants.  You know these were their “good” clothes, yet they are barefoot.  I don’t think most of the children had shoes, and what shoes there were, were shared among family members in case someone had to go outside in the particularly cold winter months.  Of course, outhouses were all outside, so I’m guessing several trips a day were made.

Charlie, below, as an adult with Nannie Greer.

Charlie Tomas Estes and Nannie Greer

Charlie was Uncle George’s father.  Uncle George took me to see the house that Charlie built the family, in Estes Holler.  It’s where George lived until he was 10 years old, when they moved back to Hancock County where Charlie’s wife’s “people were from.”Estes house build by Charlie Tomas Estes

The land in Estes Holler, however, was sold to Charlie’s brother, Lum, when they moved to Hancock County, as reflected in the deeds, for $1.  These brothers were close their entire life.  Charlie was brought back and buried in the Lower Estes cemetery, on Lazarus’ land, near his brother, the day after he died.

Charlie Tomas Estes stone

Estes DNA and the Cousin Wedding

Estes is my maiden name.  I have always been an Estes.  I always will be.  I probably identify with my surname like most men do.  It’s mine, I own it, it owns me – and I’m very attached to my lineage.

You can understand, then, why I very much….one might say desperately….wanted to prove the Claiborne County Estes lineage to the proven ancestral Estes lineage from Kent, England.  And I don’t mean I wanted to prove it from someone 5 or 6 generations back – I mean I wanted to prove it from the current Estes family members.

Now, not that I’m saying that I had any specific reason to suspect that there might be a “problem.”  I’m not saying that at all.  Just because I’ve got a moonshiner between me and thee, Abraham Estes, immigrant, and a few other colorful characters too, is not reason to think that maybe, just maybe, “something” might have happened along the way.  Just saying, of course.  And of course, it also has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve spent more than 30 years working on Estes genealogy.  Nope, nothing to do with that either.

Unfortunately, by the time DNA testing has come upon the scene, Uncle George had passed on to the place where genealogists have all the answers.  He had no children, so that possibility was gone.  However, his younger brother, Uncle Buster was still living.  I always loved visiting with Buster.  He always came and joined in the party when I went to visit Uncle George.  He had a very dry wit, was always joking with someone and loved, just loved, a good prank.  Sometimes, it was difficult to tell when he was kidding and when he was serious.

Buster was also deaf as a post – so it’s not like you could call him up and ask him a question.  Nor was he a letter writer.  So, you just had to get in the car and go and visit Buster – 500 miles and 3 or 4 states away, depending on how you count that last winding 2 miles up the mountain on the Tennessee/Virginia border.

Now, I wish, just desperately wish, I had taken a picture from WITHIN the car when I pulled in Buster’s driveway during my last visit.  Buster was in his 90s.  He lived high up in the mountains, on the old home place, where you had to cross the state line once or twice on a twisty two-track road to get to his house.  You couldn’t see his house till you had missed it and had to turn around, but he could see you coming for 2 miles.  And that was long enough to get his gun and have it loaded, ready and leveled.  After all, no one had any business up there in “them mountains” that didn’t live there or wasn’t the postal service.  He just knew you were up to no-good – and most of the time he would have been right.  Buster was absolutely no nonsense, and everyone knew it.  I doubt he ever had to use that gun, because everyone knew unquestionably that he would.

That day, I pulled into the path to his house and pulled up, stopping maybe 20 or 30 feet before getting to his house.  He was sitting on the porch, the shotgun already on his lap and leveled.  There were only 2 things to do.

One – back the hell up and leave, or two, get out of the car, start walking toward him, smiling and waving.  Buster understands friendly gestures.  And I hadn’t come that far to turn around and leave, at least not without getting shot at, at least once.  Most people give warning shots.

My cousin, on the other hand, riding shotgun, pardon the pun, started muttering things about this not being such a good idea.  She slid down behind the dash as I got out of the car and started my friendly advance towards Buster.  About half way to the house, he lowered the gun, put it down and got up and walked out and gave me a huge hug.  I went back and got my cousin, and we went in and had a lovely visit with Uncle Buster, his Beagles and Chihuahua, Baby.  I still regret not bringing one of his puppies home.

Now, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to anyway.  Uncle Buster was one of the handsomest men I’ve ever met.  Even into his 90s, that man was not just handsome on the outside, but a lovely person inside too – and fun – such fun to be with.  Here’s Buster at about age 85.

Robert (Buster) Estes crop

That’s Buster’s “official” picture, but I like the candid shots better – not to mention he didn’t look like himself without a hat.

Buster Estes cowboy hat

Now Uncle Buster gave me an unexpected gift during that visit.  And no, I’m not talking about DNA – although he willingly gave that too.  He got a box of photos out from the bottom of a cupboard and in that box, we found photos that I never knew existed of John Y. Estes, our ancestor.  Buster thought Uncle George had already given them to me.  I don’t think George, his brother, had them, or he would have.

So Buster and my cousin and I spent a lovely afternoon at his kitchen table going through old photos and scanning them.  Here’s one of Buster on a plow in his younger years.  No tractors back then.

Buster Estes on plow

Buster told me stories that George hadn’t.  Stories about the family, about who did what to whom, and when, and why.  Stories about when his only son died in the Air Force and about his wife, before she passed over too.  And little tidbits here and there, like he thinks he recalls being told that my great-great-grandmother, Rutha, had red hair.  Buster’s parents knew Rutha, of course.  She may have had red hair, but according to 23andMe, I don’t carry the red hair gene.

As the morning wore on, the neighbors started spontaneously arriving, some on foot, some by car.  They saw my Jeep on the road too, and they knew it was a “strange vehicle” and with out-of-state plates, so it didn’t take long for their curiosity to get the best of them.  Buster wound up having a homecoming party and he didn’t even know he was expecting company.  Finally, we decided to go into town for lunch, so Buster could introduce me and my cousin to the rest of the “folk” at the one restaurant in all of Hancock County.  Buster was clearly tickled to have company.

I looked at Buster and Uncle George both and I saw my father, or the ghost of my father.  I just wanted to be positive.  I had to know – for sure.  I learned a long time ago, you can look at someone and see anything you want to see.

After we got past the shotgun on the porch incident, getting a DNA sample was a piece of cake.  I really struggled with how I was going to explain DNA for genealogy and why I needed it, to Buster.  It was, of course, complicated by his hearing loss.  I was all prepared with the best explanation I could come up with, along with drawings – and I finally decided to bag the explanation altogether and just to ask him to DNA test as a favor to me because I needed to prove I was really an Estes.  Sometimes, that’s the most effective approach.

He was perfectly willing.  However, he wanted something in return.  He wanted to go and visit his sister together.  Now, I had never met his sister, in all those years I visited Uncle George.  She was busy with her family and not interested in genealogy or meeting distant family, so I was a bit hesitant, but I could tell Buster really wanted to go and visit with her, so off we went.

Buster’s wife had passed away in 1991 and Buster had always had a “girlfriend,” never anyone he was terribly serious about, but someone to go and have lunch or dinner with and to visit with from time to time.  In fact, I think Buster might have had several girlfriends.  He certainly could have.  A man in his 70s and 80s who has enough money, a farm, can drive, has a (relatively) new truck and doesn’t want anyone to take care of him is a hot commodity anyplace!  And he was good looking and a respectful gentleman to boot!

We arrived at Buster’s sister’s house.  I was a bit hesitant, but Buster walked right in, put his arm around me, and told her that he wanted to introduce her to his new wife.

Ummm….I was not prepared for this.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  You could have knocked her over with a feather too.  I’ll never forget the look on her face.  Buster was in hog heaven. She was not amused.  I was in shock, but recovered before she did.  Let’s just say that visit did not go well, as far as I was concerned.  Buster thought it went swimmingly!  My cousin was mortified.

Here’s how it all went down.

Buster – “I want you to meet someone.”

Sister – “I heard you were in town with someone for lunch.”

Buster – “Yep, I was.  We went to the courthouse.”

Sister – “What were you doing at the courthouse?”

Buster  – Long pause, deep breath, big smile….

Buster – “Gettin’ married.”

Sister – Shocked, horrified look, mouth falls open.

Buster – “Yep, we just got hitched.  What do you think of my new bride?  Ain’t she beautiful?”  Kisses me on the cheek.

Sister – trying to recover….immediately looks at my hand and sees a wedding ring …talking to Buster, ignoring me, like I’m not there…

Sister – “I heard she was from out of town.”

Buster – “Yep.”

Sister – now looking at me…”So what brings you here?”

Nothing like being direct.

Buster – “She came here to marry me.

Sister – hands on hips, getting agitated

Sister – “Well, how do you two know each other?”

Buster – “This is Bobbi, our cousin.  Don’t you remember her???”

Sister – “WHAT????  YOU MARRIED A COUSIN???”

Buster – looking at me… “Well, we ain’t gonna have any more kids, I don’t think, are we?”

Me – shyly… “Well, I was kinda countin on it.”

Sister’s mouth fell open again….

I finally started laughing, uncontrollably, so hard I couldn’t talk.  The more I tried to stop, the worse it got.  So did Buster.  We left.  I told him he was bad for doing that, in between guffaws, when I could speak.  Tears were streaming down my face I was laughing so hard  I could barely get my breath.  Buster shook his head yes, said he knew, and kept right on laughing too.  I bet she never forgave him – or me.  My cousin was even more mortified, having been the honorary maid of honor at the mythical wedding.  Thankfully, by this time, she was laughing too.

I laugh to this day thinking about that entire bizarre situation.  Buster’s sister was NOT amused – and I heard tell that Buster’s girlfriends weren’t either. His sister called them right up and tattled on him.  So had the girls at the restaurant in town.  You can’t do anything there without everyone knowing about it.  He probably “paid” for that little trick for years!  But knowing Buster, he probably thought it was well worth it and was right proud of himself!

However, at the end of the day, my cousin and I returned to Middlesboro with a DNA kit complete with Buster’s DNA (and signature), scanned photos, including many I had never seen, and another chapter is a set of stories that never seems to end in the Estes family.  We had a lovely day, my Jeep was undamaged, which is not always the case in these remote locations, and we had not been shot at.  And amazingly, my cousin still travels with me.

I couldn’t have been more grateful – for the DNA and the wonderful memories, old and new.  And my cousins, I love my cousins – the amused, the unamused and the co-conspirators.  My life would be so diminished without them.  There is nothing in this world as uplifting and bonding as laughing so hard you cry with your cousins.

And Buster, bless his heart, God love his soul, as they say down south, may he Rest in Peace – at least till his sister catches up with him.

Buster and Baby



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NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection by David Dowell

NextGen GenealogyOne of the questions I receive regularly is about available books on Genetic Genealogy including the basics, what results mean and how to use the various types of tools.  This past year has seen three new books.  I’m excited that the genetic genealogy community is writing these books, because after all, we’re the ones who are doing this work, utilizing these tools and pushing this frontier.

David Dowell, a long time genealogist has just introduced his new book, NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection.


Dave was kind enough to provide the following information about why he wrote his book, and what you will find within the pages.

This book was written for those of you who have little or no background in genetics, it is assumed that you have a basic knowledge of the principles of traditional genealogical principles.

The primary audience for this book is not the academic community. I have deliberately chosen to communicate in the same breezy style employed in blogs. I have decided to ignore the advice of Mary Jane Frances Smith: “The style used to write on a blog, in an e-mail, or in other forums on the Internet is not the style a writer should use in a letter of reference, print magazine, professional journal, or book.” If that decision bothers you, you are probably not the intended audience whom I had in mind for this book. There is a time and place for every style. This is a book intended for novices in this exciting new field. It is not a book intended to advance the frontiers of discovery for seasoned experts.

(Roberta’s note – Dave’s book is very readable and understandable for the normal air-breathing genealogist and I like his writing style!)

NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection is intended to help you appreciate the four separate patterns by which men inherit the four discrete groupings of their DNA. The use of the term “men” in the previous sentence was done deliberately: women inherit through only three of these processes.

Being able to differentiate between these patterns of how DNA is passed from parents to child is essential to understanding which test(s) to take for genealogical purposes and how to interpret the results. Used properly they help us find connections with direct line ancestors and the cousins who are their descendants.

The family history research of most of readers will benefit if you learn to incorporate the information from within your cells with the information you collect from traditional research.

Some of you will be disappointed – at least at first. This is likely to result from one or more of the following issues:

  1. Your pedigree chart is not robust enough. Build it. If you are waiting for DNA test results, use the interval to apply documentary research and try to extend all your direct lines back as far as possible but at least eight generations. You may never quite complete this task, but it is a realistic goal. (After decades of research my own tree still breaks down on a couple of lines after only five generations.) Continue to build your tree as you analyze your DNA test results. You cannot understand where to fit DNA matches into your family unless you have the context provided by a reasonably well developed family tree.
  2. Extended family/cousins haven’t tested. Recruit them. Lots of people have taken DNA tests, but they still make up a miniscule percentage of the earth’s inhabitants. Test takers are not evenly distributed throughout all groups. Be proactive in expanding DNA databases to include those who have a high probability of matching you.
  3. You don’t know how to fish the information out. Read on. This book will not provide you with all the techniques you will ever need to know, but it should give you enough to get you started.

Chapter 1 will provide you with most of the basic genetic concepts and terms you will need to start practicing genetic genealogy. If you do not retain all of its content on first reading, come back later when you have a specific need for a review.

Chapters 2 through 5 will introduce you in turn to yDNA, mtDNA, atDNA and xDNA — the four types of human DNA that can be useful to us as genetic genealogists. Each of these chapters will help you understand the unique inheritance pattern of one of these types of DNA and appreciate how you can begin to apply test results in your own family research.

Chapter 6 extends your voyage of family history discovery into even earlier eras of your deep ancestry.

Chapter 7 raises questions about whether we should test our DNA and how each of us may arrive at different conclusions when ethical issues arise.

Chapter 8 discusses what is coming next and gives suggestions for additional learning experiences as you continue your journey into this fast evolving field.

At the end of the book, you will  recommended reading for further learning, a glossary for terms you may encounter, and a comprehensive index to help you single out specific concepts or terms of interest.

You can order Dave’s book for the Kindle here or in regular book form here.



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Thank you so much.

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Finally – A “How To” Class for Working With Autosomal DNA Results

Update: The details are out of date, but the classes are still great.

DNAadoptionI can’t tell you how happy I was to receive an e-mail this week from Dianne Harman-Hoog with the DNAadoption group announcing classes for how to work with autosomal DNA – not just from any specific vendor, but utilizing the various vendor’s products along with third party tools, like those from www.dnagedcom.com and www.gedmatch.com.

There’s even a class for Y DNA as well.

These classes are open to everyone, not just adoptees.  Adoptees face the worst possible challenge – trying to build a tree with no known relatives.  If you’re not an adoptee, your autosomal DNA situation is already improved.  If they can do it, so can you – and these classes will share the methods developed for adoptees to reconstruct their families.

Here is a list of classes and schedules.

Here is their announcement:

DNAadoption Has Reorganized And Is Proudly Presenting a Full Slate of Classes.

Registration is open now. We are working on developing a full series of classes to guide you through the whole process of using Genetic Genealogy to find your heritage. Classes were designed for adoptees but they are not just for adoptees anymore!

First Results Series

Developed by Stephanie Wyatt, Barbara Rae-Venter, Barbara Taylor and Diane Harman-Hoog

One day online classes – $5 each

This new series will be for people who just got their test results and will help them figure out the basics of what the results mean. It will be a series of 3 classes that can be taken independently.

      • Ancestry First Results
      • FTDNA First Results
      • 23andme First Results

These classes are designed for the person new to DNA testing.  We receive many requests for help starting with “I just got my results and I am so confused”. The student will learn how to navigate the site get basic information on what the results mean and how to find out more. Anyone can benefit from these classes and get started in Genetic Genealogy before taking the more complete course. They are Autosomal DNA courses.

Depending on your interests and level of comfort you can then move into Beginning Autosomal DNA or the Working With Autosomal DNA course. The Y-DNA is also an option.

Working With Autosomal DNA

Written by Mesa Foard and Utilizing a Methodology Developed and Refined by Diane Harman-Hoog, Gaye Tannenbaum and Karin Corbeil

6 week online workshop -$35

Do you want to unlock the secrets in your family tree? Are you an adoptee, a genealogist who has hit a roadblock, or just curious about your roots.

This 6 week, online self-paced course starts with a basic introduction of DNA and then goes on to use FTDNA results to explain triangulation move toward  the identification of common ancestors. This method uses spreadsheets and the great tools from DNAGedcom.com as well as third party tools to organize and analyze your data.

23andme and AncestryDNA results are then introduced and discussed and results from all three companies combined and triangulated.

The course also shows how to take advantage of the thousands of surnames introduce by all three testing companies, gedcoms and trees, along with the Ancestors of Relatives list from Ancestry DNA Helper and in combination with Gworks on DNAGedcom, work through trees to find your heritage.

We show you how to work through your own data in this course.  Over 550 people have taken the workshop.


Written and taught by Gale French this class has received rave reviews from Students

2 week on line class – $25

The Y-DNA test offers males a clear path from you to a known or likely direct paternal ancestor(s). The course will also show how women can use the test by recruiting a father, brother, cousin or uncle to do the test. Gale teaches how to interpret your Y-DNA data and explores how to use that data to search for ancestors through innovative methods.

Our Classes

    • Working with Autosomal DNA Results – This class is $35 and has been updated to include recent changes at the three major Autosomal DNA testing companies. It is a 6 week course and teachers are available for Q&A along the way.
    • Y-DNA Basics – This class is $25. We are in the process of updating this class and will open additional class dates soon.
    • First Results – Classes will focus on each company and give a basic introduction to results (AncestryDNA, FTDNA & 23andMe). Each class focuses a different company and they are $5 each.
    • Autosomal DNA for Beginners – This is an introductory course to Autosomal DNA for $25 with 3 lessons/weeks. Students will not work as much in excel but can be used as a prep course for our Working with Autosomal DNA Results class. This class is still in the development stage but we want you to know it is coming soon!

Our Schedule

Working with Autosomal DNA

  • Session 16           3/13
  • Session 18           4/10
  • Session 19           4/24
  • Session 20           5/8
  • Session 21           5/22

First Results

  • First Results: Intro to 23andMe         3/14
  • First Results: Intro to AncestryDNA   3/21
  • First Results: Intro to FTDNA            3/28

Our Enrollment Process

We are excited about our new Self Registration Process. All students have the ability to self register on the updated site. Payment for classes is accepted during the enrollment process. As always, we have a hardship policy. We want all students to be able to better understand their results. If you cannot afford our classes but need to learn more, please contact us at

We hope that through this new self-registration process, our few teachers will have more time for additional classes and less administrative work. Please let us know if you have any issues.

The log in process has tested well with more than a dozen users. If you have already taken a class through DNAAdoption and Moodle, you will use the same username/password. If you have not taken a class previously, you will need to create a profile. You will be prompted for payment through paypal or for a Hardship “Key” after choosing your preferred class.

This link will take you to registration.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Phoebe McMahon (c1741-after 1815), Frontier Wife, 52 Ancestors #58

Phebe is one of those ancestors that we know little about.  We have no pictures or signatures.  In fact, we’re not even positive of her surname.  Most of the information we have about Phebe comes through her husband’s Workman family, through a book, “Some Branches of the Workman Tree” by Ralph Hall Sayer, 1979.

According to Sayer, the following marriage record shows that Phoebe McMahon married Joseph Workman in Christ Lutheran Church in York County, PA. on August 4, 1761.

“Joseph Workman, son of Abraham, married ‘PHEBE M’RAY, daughter of Hugh (Juh.) Mecmeher”‘.

This suggests that Phebe was probably born around 1741, give or take a few years, although we don’t know where.  There is a christening record for one Hugh McMahon on March 26, 1699, the son of John McMahon in County Monaghan, Clones, Ireland.  But, we don’t know if this is the same Hugh, and if so, who he married and if Phebe was born in Ireland, in transit or in the colonies.

The original marriage record was in the Dutch or German Language and the transcriber suggested that the maiden name of Phebe might have been M’Meagher.  Subsequent research reveals that the church was unquestionably German.

So was her name Phebe McRay McMeher or was it McMeagher or McMahon as it has been later reported?

A study of “History of York Co., PA” by John Gibson, gave no verification of the presence of a family named McMeagher. There was a Thomas McCreary in York Co., PA as early as 1754. There is no evidence that Joseph Workman or Phoebe actually lived in York Co., and no record of baptism for children of Joseph and Phebe was found in the church records.

In fact, this begs the question of why they were married in York County at all.  Joseph Workman is known to have been in Chester Co, PA, in 1759, which is about 40 miles from Yorktown where they were married.

Joseph Workman, son of Abraham Workman, was born about 1736 in NJ.

“Pennsylvania Archives:, Series 5 Volume 1,” gives a record of a May 6, 1758 enlistment in Chester Co., PA in Captain Paul Jackson’s Company for the Pennsylvania Regiment of the following: “Joseph Workman, laborer, 5’8″ of thin visage, age 21”, and “Abraham Workman, laborer, 5’ 9″, of thin visage age 19” and both gave NJ as their birthplace.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has a record reflecting “Provincial Servie” of a Joseph Workman who enlisted as a private in Captain Charles Stewart’s Company April 22, 1759 at Chester, PA. For this enlistment he gave his age as 24 and his birthplace as NJ. Although there is a difference in age, it is probably the same Joseph Workman in both enlistments. These two enlistments would have given him knowledge of the unsettled territory to the west and experience in protecting himself from the Indians.

I also wonder why Joseph and Phoebe were married in a German-speaking Lutheran Church, given that McMahon is clearly Scottish, Irish or Scotch-Irish with a name beginning with Mc.  The Scots were generally Presbyterian, the Irish were Catholics and Joseph Workman was second generation Dutch.

The answer to that question may possibly be found in the Revolutionary War pension application of their oldest son, Abraham, submitted in September of 1834 in Tazewell Co., VA.  He reports that he was born on January 25, 1761, which would have been several months before his parents married.  He also reports that he was born in Washington Township, PA but he couldn’t remember the name of the county.

Abraham Workman Pension app 1834 Tazewell Co Va

Abraham Workman Pension app 1834 Tazewell Co Va2

There is a Washington Township in York County, PA although it was not incorporated until 1805.  We know that Washington County, PA was not formed until taken from Westmoreland County in 1781, so Washington Township may well have been what Washington County was called in Westmoreland County before becoming a county.  Washington County was the area where current day Pittsburg is located, no place near York County which is in the eastern part of the state.  However, Abraham Workman, Phebe’s son, entered service in Monongalia Co., VA and served at Fort Pitt which is present day Pittsburg.

Joseph Workman, Phebe’s husband, also served in Washington County, PA, so Phebe may well have seen this fort up close and personal.  In that time and place, forts were often used to shelter residents in time of danger.  She, along with her younger children, may have taken refuge here from time to time.  If nothing else, she may have brought supplies to her son and husband at the fort.

Fort Pitt

Sometimes we are left with more questions than answers. What we can glean from this is that Joseph Workman and Phoebe may have spent little if any time in the York County area after their marriage.  They were next found on the frontier in Westmoreland County, the part that became Washington County in 1781.  Where they lived in-between?  We don’t know.

A study of “Virginia Court Records in Southwestern PA 1775-1780” by Boyd Crumrine reveals that in the minute Book of VA Court held for Yohogania Co., first at Augusta Town (now Washington, PA) and afterwards on the Andrew Heath Farm near West Elizabeth from 1776 to 1780: there is a record of several trials involving those of the Workman name and others of the McMahen (also spelled as McMahan and McMahon) name. The list of these trials gave only the surnames. Several of these names which appeared in the index also appeared later in the counties of Monroe, Tazewell, Logan and Boone in VA, areas in which the Workman families also settled.

Around 1776, six Workman families settled west of Fort Cumberland, MD, in the mountains near the border with Pennsylvania and current day West Virginia.

Fort Cumberland, MD

They were Andrew, Isaac, Jacob, John, Joseph and Stephen Workman and may be presumed to be brothers. Andrew, Isaac, Jacob, John and William Workman secured military land grants in what is now Allegany Co., MD in 1788.

Allegheny, Montgomery and Washington Counties in Maryland are located adjacent and abut the Pennsylvania border.

“Pennsylvania Archives”, Series 3, Volume 26, indicates that a Joseph Workman received two land patents in 1785; 400 acres in Washington County and 300 acres in Westmoreland county, which validates Abraham’s presence there in that timeframe as well.

Joseph and Phoebe Workman apparently moved to Westmoreland/Washington County before Joseph and their son, Abraham, both served in or about 1777 and moved to Montgomery County, VA between 1785 and 1787.  Joseph and Phoebe’s son, Abraham Workman, was married in Montgomery Co., VA in 1785. Joseph Workman appears on the 1787 Montgomery Co., VA tax list and in 1788 their daughter Anne Workman married Samuel Muncy, with Joseph writing a letter of permission.

1788 Workman Muncy letter

Some records and family tradition indicate that all or some of Joseph and Phoebe Workman’s family migrated to NC about 1788 and independently returned to Virginia at varying times. They may have been led there by Joseph’s brother, John Workman, who according to census listings settled in Orange county, NC. If this is true, Phebe may have lived in NC for a short time as well, although we know where they were in 1785 and 1787, so they didn’t have a long time to be in North Carolina.

Indications are that some of the Workman family members came back into VA about 1789 to settle around Burkes-Garden in the part of Wythe county which later became Tazewell Co.

Joseph Workman, Sr., is on the 1800 Wythe Co., tax list and on the 1802 and 1803 Tazewell Co. tax lists. In 1805, he was listed as “exempt of taxes due to old age and infirmity”.

“Pheby Workman” was listed on the Tazewell tax records in 1815 which probably indicates that Joseph had died prior to that time.

She is not listed in the 1820 census in her own household, but by 1820, Phebe, if living, would have been age 80 or older.

Most of Phebe’s life is tracked by the records of her husband and children, with the exception of her marriage and the 1815 tax record.  She was born before the French and Indian War which lasted nine years, from 1754 to 1763.  She survived that and the Revolutionary War era on the frontier, having babies and worrying about the constant threat of Indian massacres.

She probably had children from 1761 until about 1785 or so, as the family was lumbering once again in a wagon moving them from Washington County, PA to Montgomery County, VA.

Whether the family moved, or the county line moved, or the family took a short side trip to North Carolina and settled in a different location upon returning, Phebe was found in Wythe County, VA in 1800 and in Tazewell County, VA in 1815.  After that, Phebe’s life fades to black, except for the DNA found in her descendants.

It Pays To Ask

In the article about Phebe’s daughter, Anne Workman, I asked for anyone who was descended from this line through all females to please contact me.  Indeed, one cousin, Jef, did, and glory be, his father is descended directly from this line though Agnes Muncy Clarkson’s daughter Sarah Shiflett and had already tested his mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, and at the full sequence level.  His mitochondrial DNA came directly from Agnes Muncy Clarkson, from her mother Anne Workman Muncy and from her mother Phebe McMahon Workman.  It’s ironic isn’t it that this DNA also came from Phebe’s mother, a woman whose name we don’t know, but we do know about her DNA.

Oh, Happy Day!!!

Jef’s father joined the Muncy DNA project so that I could take a look at the mitochondrial results.

So, what can we tell about Phebe?

Her haplogroup is H5a1 which is European.  There were no Indian princess stories in this line, but had there been, this would definitely dispell them.  Haplogroup H is the most common mitochondrial haplogroup in Europe.

Therefore, she has lots of matches.  She doesn’t have any really unusual mutations to form a personal genetic filter so many of her matches may reach back in time hundreds to thousands of years.  That’s alright though, because it will help tell us where Phebe’s ancestors lived.

Jef’s father has no exact full sequence matches.  In fact, his closest matches are two mutations different.  The “Matches Map,” below, shows the known European location of the oldest ancestor of the testers that Jef’s father matches.

Phebe McMahon match map

You can see that these balloons clump rather according to mutation distance, meaning that the yellow balloons which have two mutations difference are found primarily in Ireland in the British Isles and the green balloons which are three mutations difference are found more in England and the continent and in a more scattered and wider pattern.  This make sense since more mutations generally means further back in  time to a common ancestor – so these yellow people would have shared a common ancestor more recently than the green group – and the green group has therefore had more time to disperse.

Zooming in on the UK part of the map, we can see that there is only one yellow balloon in Scotland, one in England and four in Ireland.  None of the yellow balloons in Ireland are from the Ulster Plantation area, which is where most of the Scots transplanted into Ireland from Scotland were settled.

mcMahon match map isles

Granted, a few yellow balloons isn’t a lot to go on, but it’s better than nothing and it does provide us with some information.  Phebe was likely Irish on her matrilineal line, at least most recently, which makes sense since her father’s surname was Mecmeher or something similar.

Looking at the Haplogroup Origins tab at Family Tree DNA, which reports academic findings, we discover that at the full sequence level, where everyone listed is H5a1, the distribution is as follows.

Location Genetic Distance 2 Genetic Distance 3
England 7 30
Germany 6 8
Ireland 7 7
Scotland 6 2
UK 4 3
Finland 1 2
France 1 6
India 1
Wales 1
Russia 1
Spain 2
Netherlands 1
Norway 2
Slovenia 1
Sweden 1
Ukraine 1
Shetland Islands 1

Looking now at the H5 project at Family Tree DNA, we can see that the administrators have grouped the H5a1 participants together in a group, which means we can see where the entire group falls on a map, so long as the participants have entered a location for the most distant ancestor.

Many of these people won’t match Phebe’s descendants today, but they certainly do share an ancestor further back in time.

H5a1 map

Think of this as a distribution and settlement map of the descendants of Phebe’s common ancestor with these people, the woman who first had the mutation that defined H5a1.

What, you ask, is that mutation?

The defining mutation for haplogroup H5a1 is 15833T.  If you have this mutation, you are a member of H5a1, and if you don’t have it, then you are a member of the parent group, H5a, without the sub-branch.

How long ago did this mutation happen?

According to the supplemental information from the paper, “A ‘Copernican’ Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root” by Behar et al, this mutation happened approximately 6567 years ago with a standard deviation of 1533 years.  Translated into non-scientific speak, this means that this mutation occurred sometime between 5034 and 8100 years ago, or 3,000-5,000 BC, and based on the distribution map, probably in Europe – although sometimes distribution maps can be tricky, especially if people have not tested at the geographic origin of the mutation.

Looking backwards in time by looking at haplogroup formation is like looking through a time periscope and peeking at our ancestors at the other end.  Let’s look a little further.

Haplogroup H5a, the mother haplogroup of H5a1 is about 3000 years older and only three examples are found in the haplogroup H5 project.  Of those, one appears to be brick-walled in the US, one is found in Belgium and one in Scandinavia.

In turn, haplogroup H5, the ancestral value with no additional mutations is only represented by two people in the project and one of those is found in Scandinavia as well.

This map from Eupedia shows the distribution of haplogroup H5.

H5 heat map

H5 is only estimated to be about 500 years older than H5a, so these earlier haplogroup locations suggest that Phebe’s ancestors were living in Northern Europe 8,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale doesn’t it…long, long ago in a place far away, where night lasts for most of the winter…before Vikings were Vikings and when snow ruled the earth…

But even though this is the stuff of fairy tales, this tale is true – it’s our ancestors history, what little we can discern through the time travel of DNA.

So, we don’t know Phebe’s mother’s name, but thanks to her DNA, we can tell that she was likely Irish, at least most recently, and before migrating to the British Isles, her ancestors likely lived in northern Europe for thousands of years.

And that, all thanks to a simple DNA swab test on a person who descends from Phebe through all females to the current generation.

I can’t thank my cousin enough!



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Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?

Update: This article is now obsolete, but I’m leaving it for historical context.

Original article:

One of the questions most often asked today is which autosomal DNA test, or testing company, is the best, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA.

The answer is often that it varies depending on your goals, individual priorities and budget.  As with all things, circumstances with the vendors change over time.  They offer new products, change features and overall, sometimes their actions and choices make them more or less valuable and attractive to the consumer.

This article reflects my opinions about what is good, and bad, at each vendor, today, in February 2015, and what they do best and worst.  I am reviewing them in alphabetical order.


Best Feature

  • Ability to download matching information about who your matches match that you match as well, along with common matching DNA segments, allowing direct triangulation.

23andme best feature

In the example above, you can select the profile of any person you match and match  against the profile of anyone else you match, showing you the common DNA segments of all parties.

Good Features

  • Chromosome Browser
  • Ethnicity feature tends to report minority Native and African when other companies sometimes fail to do so.
  • Ethnicity painted on chromosome segments.
  • Matching names provided in order of frequency found – of course this assumes that the matches have entered a list of family surnames, which isn’t often the case.
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup estimate provided.

Not So Good

  • Trees – were horrible before. 23andMe has recently partnered with MyHeritage which will require a subscription if your tree is larger than 250 individuals. The jury is still out on this but the initial release has been rocky and appears untested.
  • Most of their customers are not genealogists and are not interested or know little about their genealogy. Fortunately, serious genealogists often test with multiple companies so you’re likely to catch them at either Family Tree DNA or at Ancestry.
  • Very low match response rate to inquiries.  Positive response is required to see matching DNA segments.
  • Must communicate through internal message system.
  • Unfriendly website – difficult to find information.
  • Big Pharm alliances, contracts and medical patents – and your DNA is included one way or another, individually or aggregated, depending on the level of your authorization.
  • Corporate focus is on medical and not genealogical.
  • Customer support is poor, slow and often never replies.
  • Limit of roughly 1000 matches, at which point your matches begin to be trimmed. You can retain more if you have established communications with people. I have over 1200 matches today, but I don’t know how many I have lost. This can make your effective matching threshold much higher than their published number by virtue of the fact that your smallest matches are forever being trimmed after you reach the 1000 match threshold.
  • Spit kit versus swab kit.
  • Cannot adjust matching threshold.
  • V4 chip precludes data transfer to Family Tree DNA
  • Test not available worldwide, meaning data base is not worldwide.  Also not available in NY or MD.

Worst Feature

  • Horribly cumbersome and confusing multiple introductory and authorization/acceptance hurdles cause many people to not contact, communicate with and authorize sharing with most of their matches. I wrote about this here.



Best Feature

  • The shakey leaf hints that show you who, of your DNA matches, also share a common ancestor in your pedigree chart. This drastically reduces the amount of initial footwork you need to do.

shakey leaf

Good Features

  • The size of their data base increases likelihood of matching.
  • DNA Circles provides additional evidence of ancestral connection.
  • They are a genealogy, not a medically focused company.
  • Provides list and links to matching surnames on matches trees, even when no common ancestor is identified.
  • Clean, easy to use interface, although major changes have been announced and I have no idea whether that will be a positive or negative

Not So Good

  • Some people have private trees which means they can see your match information, including a common ancestor if there is one, but you cannot see theirs.
  • Ancestry ethnicity sometimes finds minority amounts of admixture, but can also be significantly incorrect on majority ancestry, so it’s difficult to have confidence in the consistency of results.
  • Subscription required (starting at $49) to see matches/circle members which may not be fully understood before testing by consumers. In my case, I have a full subscription, so it’s a moot point, but that is not the case with everyone and it can be an unwelcome surprise.
  • Ancestry’s consent allows them to sell anonymized results to buyers, including Big Pharm, should they choose to do so. As of October 2014 when I visited Ancestry as part of DNA Day, they stated that they had not sold any DNA data at that time.
  • Communication is only through internal message system.
  • Spit kit versus swab kit.
  • Customer service is often uneducated about genetic genealogy in general, although they are responsive.
  • Combination of matching and Circles leads people to believe that these are confirmed genetic matches to that particular line, even though Ancestry states otherwise, if one reads the text.
  • DNA is an auxiliary tool and not a primary or priority corporate focus.
  • Corporate history shows lack of commitment to DNA and to clients who tested – meaning their on-again-off-again DNA history the destruction of the Y and mtDNA data bases in October 2013.
  • Academic phasing may have trimmed real matches.
  • Test not available worldwide, meaning data base is not worldwide, although Ancestry has just announced availability in the UK and Ireland.
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA ignored.

Worst Feature

  • No chromosome browser or equivalent type of tool or tools. I can’t state this strongly enough and it is a HUGE negative and requires that you transfer your results to either Family Tree DNA or to Gedmatch where you do have tools.


Family Tree DNA

Best Feature

  • Full service genetic genealogy company – focused on genetic genealogy.

ftdna best feature

Good Features

  • Accepts transfers from Ancestry and V3 chip from 23andMe
  • Partnership with National Geographic for research.
  • Chromosome browser which includes in-common-with feature, search by surname and search by ancestral name.
  • Matching Matrix individually and within projects for administrators.
  • Projects and the ability within projects with advanced matching to see everyone you match autosomally within that project.
  • Match names and e-mails provided – not forced to utilize an internal messaging system.
  • Consent signed when ordering test is all that is needed for full matching and all features.
  • Does common surname matching with all matches – bolding the results.
  • Matching attempts to take highly endogamous populations into consideration.
  • Includes access to other genetic genealogy tools like various levels of Y and mtDNA tests.
  • Data base includes results for all tests, in one place, and resulting matches show Y and mtDNA haplogroups if that test has also been taken.
  • Searches can include multiple types of test results, like everyone who matches both the mtDNA and the Family Finder test.
  • Archives DNA for 25 years, allowing upgrades to be done on order without re-swabbing if DNA is adequate and viable.
  • Testing performed in in-house lab.
  • Project administrator liaison provided.
  • Educational webinars for general genetic genealogy education and new product/feature releases. Archived webinars available on demand.
  • Project administrator conference annually for the past decade.
  • New features regularly released.
  • Swab kit versus spit kit.
  • Responsive to customer and project administrator needs and requests.
  • Their customers more likely to be serious genealogists versus someone who tested initially for medical information (at 23andMe before December 2013) or impulse buyers.
  • They do not sell and do not request consent to sell your personal or aggregated data to outside buyers. If your DNA data is ever requested for an academic research project, you will be individually contacted for consent.
  • No subscription that increases actual cost of utilizing the test results.
  • Available worldwide (unless illegal in the location, like France.)

Not So Good

  • Cannot see if your matches also match each other on a specific segments, so cannot directly triangulate.
  • Cannot adjust matching threshold for initial match, but can after initial match.
  • Ethnicity often does not pick up small amounts of minority admixture found by other vendors and at Gedmatch.

Worst Feature

  • Trees are difficult to use.


1. In light of the above, my recommendation for autosomal DNA testing for genealogy if you can take only one test, order the Family Finder test with Family Tree DNA. They are unquestionably committed to genetic genealogy, have the most comprehensive set of tools, including a chromosome browser and other matching tools, and are overall the best company. The Family Finder test costs $99, unless you purchase when it’s on sale or have a coupon. (Current coupon code for $15 off is 15for15.)

2. If you can test with two companies, test with Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com. You can do this by testing with Ancestry.com and transferring your results to Family Tree DNA,  This approach costs about $187 total: to test at Ancestry ($99), for the first year basic subscription at Ancestry to see all your matching results ($49) if you aren’t already a subscriber, then to transfer the results to Family Tree DNA (free) and unlock the results ($39) unless you find 4 more people to transfer and then the unlock is free.  Note that you will still need to swab to obtain the genealogy benefits of Y and mtDNA testing if you choose to take those tests in addition – and I hope you will because those are very valuable genealogy tools too and not available at the other vendors.

3. In my opinion, 23andMe has become a distant third in DNA testing due to their floundering and lack of commitment in the genealogy market-space, their prohibitively difficult introduction system that requires individual approvals for communicating and then for sharing of DNA (meaning matching) for each person you match, their recent alliance with Big Pharm, and their continuing lack of responsiveness to requests for genealogy enhancements. Lastly, you can no longer transfer your results from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA because 23andMe moved to the v4 chip (in December of 2013) which reduced the number of SNPs tested from about 900,000 to about 600,000, making the results incompatible with Family Tree DNA. However, just because they are third doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test there if you are really serious and want to fish in all of the ponds. It’s just the third choice if you can’t test at all three.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist just wrote an article, 2015, Most bang for the DNA buck, which I suggest you read as well.  She makes some very good points, although our approach is a bit different.  But then again, I’d expect that.  I’ve spent my life doing “analytical” types of things and she has spent her life doing “lawyery” types of things, and there is nothing better than two perspectives to draw from.

The Future

It will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like a year, 2 and 5 years from now.  I think the X-prize (pardon the pun) will go to the company or companies that provide comprehensive tools and make genetic genealogy as easy and productive as possible – for both the beginner and the advanced user.  No small feat – that’s for sure!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research