Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA

If I had a dollar for every time I get asked a flavor of this question, I’d be on a cruise someplace warm instead of writing this in the still-blustery cold winter weather of the northlands!

So, I’m going to write the recipe of how to do this.  The process is basically the same whether you’re utilizing Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, but the details differ just a bit.

So, to answer the first question.  Can you find your Indian tribe utilizing DNA?  Yes, it can sometimes be done – but not for everyone, not all the time and not even for most people.  And it takes work on your part.  Furthermore, you may wind up disproving the Indian heritage in a particular line, not proving it.  If you’re still in, keep reading.

I want you to think of this as a scavenger hunt.  No one is going to give you the prize.  You have to hunt and search for it, but I’m going to give you the treasure map.

Treasure mapI’m going to tell you, up front, I’m cheating and using an example case that I know works.  Most people aren’t this lucky.  Just so you know.  I don’t want to misset your expectations.  But you’ll never know if you don’t do the footwork to find out, so you’ve got nothing to lose and knowledge to gain, one way or another.  If you aren’t interested in the truth, regardless of what it is, then just stop reading here.

DNA testing isn’t the be-all and end-all.  I know, you’re shocked to hear me say this.  But, it’s not.  In fact, it’s generally just a beginning.  Your DNA test is not a surefire answer to much of anything.  It’s more like a door opening or closing.  If you’re looking for tribal membership or benefits of any kind, it’s extremely unlikely that DNA testing is going to help you.  All tribes have different rules, including blood quantum and often other insurmountable rules to join, so you’ll need to contact the tribe in question. Furthermore, you’ll need to utilize other types of records in addition to any DNA test results.

You’re going to have some homework from time to time in this article, and to understand the next portion, it’s really critical that you read the link to an article that explains about the 4 kinds of DNA that can be utilized in DNA testing for genealogy and how they work for Native testing.  It’s essential that you understand the difference between Y DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing, who can take each kind of test, and why.

Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

For this article, I’m utilizing a mitochondrial DNA example, mostly because everyone has mitochondrial DNA and secondly, because it’s often more difficult to use genealogically, because the surnames change.  Plus, I have a great case study to use.  For those who think mito DNA is useless, well all I can say is keep reading.

Y and mito

You’ll know from the article you just read that mitochondrial DNA is contributed to you, intact, from your direct line maternal ancestors, ONLY.  In other words, from your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and on up that line.

In the above chart, you can see that this test only provides information about that one red line, and nothing at all about any of your other 15 great-great grandparents, or anyone else on that pedigree chart other than the red circles.  But oh what a story it can tell about the ancestors of those people in the red circles.

If this example was using Y DNA, then the process would be the same, but only for males – the blue squares.  If you’re a male, the Y DNA is passed unrecombined from your direct paternal, or surname, ancestor, only and does not tell you anything at all about any of your other ancestors except the line represented by the little blue squares.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome, which is what makes males male, so this doesn’t apply to females.

First, you’ll need to test your DNA at Family Tree DNA.  This is the only testing company that offers either the Y (blue line) marker panel tests (37, 67 or 111), or the (red line) mitochondrial DNA full sequence tests.

For Y DNA testing, order minimally the 37 marker test, but more is always better, so 67 or 111 is best.  For mitochondrial DNA, order the full sequence.  You’ll need your full mitochondrial haplogroup designation and this is the only way to obtain it.

I’m also going to be talking about how to incorporate your autosomal results into your search.  If you remember from the article, autosomal results give you a list of cousins that you are related to, and they can be from any and all of your ancestral lines.  In addition, you will receive your ethnicity result estimate expressed as a percentage.  It’s important to know that you are 25% Native, for example.  So, you also need to order the Family Finder test while you’re ordering.

You can click here to order your tests.

After you order, you’ll receive a kit number and password and you’ll have your own user page to display your results.

Fast forward a month or so now…and you have your results back.


I hope you’ve been using that time to document as much about your ancestors as you can in a software program of some sort.  If so, upload your GEDCOM file to your personal page.  The program at Family Tree DNA utilizes your ancestral surnames to assist you in identifying matches to people in Family Finder.

It’s easy to upload, just click on the Family Tree icon in the middle of your personal page.

Family Tree icon

Don’t have a Gedcom file?  You can build your tree online. Just click on the myFamilyTree to start.

Having a file online is an important tool for you and others for ancestor matching.

Your Personal Page

Take a little bit of time to familiarize yourself with how your personal page works.  For example, all of your options we’re going to be discussing are found under the “My DNA” link at the top left hand side of the page.

My dna tab

If you want to join projects, click on “My Projects,” to the right of “My DNA” on the top left bar, then click on “join.”  If you want to familiarize yourself with your security or other options, click on the orange “Manage Personal Information” on the left side of the page to the right of your image.

Personal info

Preparing Your Account

You need to be sure your account is prepared to give you the best return on your research efforts and investment.  You are going to be utilizing three tabs, Ancestral Origins, Haplogroup Origins and various projects, and you need to be sure your results are displayed accurately.  You need to do two things.

The first thing you need to do is to update your most distant ancestor information on your Matches Map page.  You’ll find this page under either the mtDNA or the Y DNA tabs and if you’ve tested for both, you need to update both.

matches map

Here’s my page, for example. At the bottom, click on “Update Ancestor’s Location” and follow the prompts to the end.  When you are finished, your page should like mine – except of course, your balloon will be where your last know matrilineal ancestor lived – and that means for mitochondrial DNA, your mother’s mother’s mother’s line, on up the tree until you run out of mothers.  I can’t tell you how many men’s names I see in this field…and I know immediately someone is confused.  Remember, men can’t contribute mtDNA.

For men, if this is for your paternal Y line, this is your paternal surname line – because the Y DNA is passed in the same way that surnames are typically passed in the US – father to son.

It’s important to have your balloon in the correct location, because you’re going to see where your matches ancestors are found in relationship to your ancestor.  Your most distant ancestor’s location is represented by the white balloon.  However, you will only see your matches balloons that have entered the geographic information for their most distant ancestor. Now do you see why entering this information is important?  The more balloons, the more informative for everyone.

The second thing is that you need to make sure that the information about the location of your most distant ancestor is accurate.  Most Distant Ancestor information is NOT taken from the matches map page, but from the Most Distant Ancestors tab in your orange “Manage Personal Information” link on your main page.  Then click on to the Genealogy tab and then Most Distant Ancestors, shown below.

genealogy tab

If your ancestral brick wall in in the US, you can select 2 options, “United States” and “United States (Native American).”  Please Note – Please do not, let me repeat, DO NOT, enter the Native American option unless you have documented proof that your ancestor in this specific line is positively Native American.  Why?  Because people who match you will ASSUME you have proof and will then deduce they are Native because you are.

This is particularly problematic when someone sees they are a member of a haplogroup that includes a Native subgroup.  Haplogroup X1, which is not Native, is a prime example.  Haplogroup X2 is Native, but people in X1 see that X is Native, don’t look further or don’t understand that ALL of X is not Native – so they list their ancestry as United States (Native American) based on an erroneous assumption.  Then when other people see they match people who are X1 who are Native, they assume they are Native as well.  It’s like those horrible copied and copied again incorrect Ancestry trees.

distant ancestor US optionsIt’s important to update both the location and your most distant ancestors name. This is the information that will show in the various projects that you might join in both the “Ancestor Name” and the “Country” field.  As an example, the Estes Y project page is shown below.  You can see for yourself how useless those blank fields are under “Paternal Ancestor Name” and “Unknown Origin” under Country when no one has entered their information.

estes project tab

While you are working on these housekeeping tasks, this would be a good time to enter your ancestral surnames as well.  You can find this, also under the Genealogy Tab, under Surnames.  Surnames are used to show you other people who have taken the Family Finder test and who share the same surname, so this is really quite important.  These are surnames from both sides of your tree, from all of your direct ancestors.

surnames tab

Working With Results

Working with mitochondrial DNA genetic results is much easier than Y DNA.  To begin with, the full sequence test reads all of your mitochondrial DNA, and your haplogroup is fully determined by this test.  So once you receive those results, that’s all you need to purchase.

When working with Y DNA, there are the normal STR panels of 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 markers which is where everyone interested in genealogy begins.  Then there are individual SNP tests you can take to confirm a specific haplogroup, panels of SNPs you can purchase and the Big Y test that reads the entire relevant portion of the Y chromosome.  You receive a haplogroup estimate that tends to be quite accurate with STR panel tests, but to confirm your actual haplogroup, or delve deeper, which is often necessary, you’ll need to work with project administrators to figure out which of the additional tests to purchase.  Your haplogroup estimate will reflect your main haplogroup of Q or C, if you are Native on that line, but to refine Q or C enough to confirm whether it is Native, European or Asian will require additional SNP testing  unless you can tell based on close or exact STR panel matches to others who are proven Native or who have taken those SNP tests.. 

Y Native DNA

In the Y DNA lines, both haplogroups Q and C have specific SNP mutations that confirm Native heritage.  SNPs are the special mutations that define haplogroups and their branches.   With the new in-depth SNP testing available with the introduction of the Big Y test in 2013, new discoveries abound, but suffice it to say that by joining the appropriate haplogroup project, and the American Indian project, which I co-administer, you can work with the project administrators to determine whether your version of Q or C is Native or not.

Haplogroups Q and C are not evenly distributed.  For example, we often see haplogroup C in the Algonquian people of Eastern Canada and seldom in South America, where we see Q throughout the Americas.  This wiki page does a relatively good job of breaking this down by tribe.  Please note that haplogroup R1 has NEVER been proven to be Native – meaning that it has never been found in a pre-contact burial – and is not considered Native, although speculation abounds.

This page discusses haplogroup Q and this page, haplogroup C.

Haplogroup C in the Native population is defined by SNP C-P39 and now C-M217 as well.

Haplogroup Q is not as straightforward.  It was believed for some time that SNP Q-M3 defined the Native American population, but advanced testing has shown that is not entirely correct.  Not all Native Q men carry M3.  Some do not.  Therefore, Native people include those with SNPs M3, M346, L54, Z780 and one ancient burial with MEH2.  Recently, a newly defined SNP, Y4273 has been identified in haplogroup Q as possibly defining a group of Algonquian speakers.  Little by little, we are beginning to more clearly define the Native American genetic landscape although there is a very long way to go.

With or without the SNP tests, you can still tell a great deal based on who you match.

For Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA (not autosomal), at the highest levels of testing, if you are matching only or primarily Jewish individuals, you’re not Native.  If you’re matching people in Scandinavia, or Asia, or Russia, nope, not Native.  If you’re matching individuals with known (proven) Native heritage in Oklahoma or New Mexico, then yep….you’re probably Native

We’ll look at tools to do this in just a few minutes.                              

Mitochondrial Native DNA

There are several Native founder mitochondrial DNA lineages meaning those that are believed to have developed during the time about 15,000 years ago (plus or minus) that the Native people spent living on Beringia, after leaving continental Asia and before dispersing in the Americas.

Those haplogroups (along with the Native Y haplogroups) are shown in this graphic from a paper by Tamm, et al, 2007, titled “Beringian Standstill and the Spread of Native American Founders.”

beringia map

The founder mitochondrial haplogroups and latecomers, based on this paper, are:

  • A2
  • B2
  • C1b
  • C1c
  • C1d
  • C4c
  • C1
  • D2
  • D2a
  • D4h3
  • X2a

Subsequent subgroups have been found, and another haplogroup, M, may also be Native.  I compiled a comprehensive list of all suspects.  This list is meant as a research tool, which is why it gives links to where you can find additional information and the source of each reference.  In some cases, you’ll discover that the haplogroup is found in both Asia and the Americas.  Oh boy, fun fun….just like the Y.

Be aware that because of the desire to “be Native” that some individuals have “identified” European haplogroups as Native.  I’ll be writing about this soon, but for now, suffice it to say that if you “self-identify” yourself as Native (like my family did) and then you turn up with a European haplogroup – that does NOT make that European haplogroup Native.  So, when the next person in that haplogroup tests, and you tell them they match “Native” people with European haplogroups – it’s misleading to say the least.

When working to identify your Native heritage, some of your best tools will be the offerings of Family Tree DNA on your personal page.  The same tools exist for both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA results, so let’s take a look.

Your Results

If your ancestor was Native on your direct matrilineal line, then her haplogroup will fall within one of 5 or 6 haplogroups.  The confirmed Native American mitochondrial haplogroups fall into major haplogroups A, B, C, D and X, with haplogroup M a possibility, but extremely rare and as yet, unconfirmed.  Known Y DNA haplogroups are C and Q with O as an additional possibility.

Now, just because you find yourself with one of these haplogroups doesn’t mean automatically that it’s Native, or that your ancestors in this line were Native.  If your haplogroup isn’t one of these, then you aren’t Native on this line.  For example, we find male haplogroup C around the world, including in Europe.

Here is the list of known and possible Native mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and subgroups.

If your results don’t fall into these haplogroups, then your matrilineal ancestor was not Native on this particular line.  If your ancestor does fall into these base groups, then you need to look at the subgroup to confirm that they are indeed Native and not in one of the non-Native sister clades.  Does this happen often?  Yes, it does, and there are a whole lot of people who see Q or C for the Y DNA and immediately assume they are Native, as they do when they see A, B, C, D or X for mitochondrial.  Just remember about assume.

Scenario 1: 

Oh No! My Haplogroup is NOT Native???

Let’s say your mitochondrial ancestor is not in haplogroup A, B, C, D, X or M.

About now, many people choke, because they are just sure that their matrilineal ancestor was Native, for a variety of reasons, so let’s talk about that.

  1. Family history says so. Mine did too. It was wrong. Or more precisely, wrong about which line.  Test other contributing lineages to the ancestor who was identified as Native.
  2. The Native ancestor is on the maternal line, but not in the direct matrilineal line. There’s a difference. Remember, mitochondrial DNA only tests the direct matrilineal line. What this means is that, for example, if your grandmother’s father was Native, your grandmother is still Native, or half Native, but not through her mother’s side so IT WON’T SHOW ON A MITOCHONDRIAL DNA TEST. In times past, stories like “grandma was Indian” was what was passed down. Not, grandmother’s father’s father’s mother was Waccamaw. Any Indian heritage got conveyed in the message about that ancestor, without giving the source, which leads to a lot of incorrect assumptions – and a lot of DNA tests that don’t produce the expected results. This is exactly what happened in my family line.
  3. Your ancestor is “Native” but her genetic ancestor was not – meaning she may have been adopted into the tribe, or kidnapped or was for some other reason a tribal member, but not originally genetically Native on the direct matrilineal line.  Mary Jemison is the perfect example.
  4. My ancestor’s picture looks Native. Great! That could have come from any of her other ancestors on her pedigree chart. Let’s see what other eividence we can find.

At this point, you’re disappointed, but you are not dead in the water and there are ways to move forward to search for your Native heritage on other lines.  What I would suggest are the following three action items.

1. Look at your family pedigree chart and see who else can be tested to determine a haplogroup for other lineages. For example, let’s say, your grandmother’s father. He would not have passed on any of his mother’s mitochondrial DNA, but his sisters would have passed their mother’s mitochondrial DNA to their children, and their daughters would pass it on as well. So dig your pedigree chart out. and see who is alive today that can test to represent other contributing ancestral lines.

2. Take a look at your Family Finder ethnicity chart under myOrigins and see how much Native DNA you have.

FF no Native

If your ethnicity chart looks like this one, with no New World showing, it means that if you have Native heritage, it’s probably more than 5 or 6 generations back in time and the current technology can’t measurably read those small amounts.  However, this is only measuring admixed or recombined DNA, meaning the DNA you received from both your mother and father.  Recombination in essence halves the DNA of each of your ancestors in each generation, so it’s not long until it’s so small that it’s unmeasurable today.

You can also download your raw autosomal data file to and utilize their admixture tools to look for small amounts of Native heritage.  However, beware that small amounts of Native admixture can also be found in people with Asian ancestors, like Slavic Europeans.

The person whose results are shown above does have proven Native Ancestry, both via paper documentation and mitochondrial DNA results – but her Native ancestor is back in French Canada in the 1600s.  Too much admixture has occurred between then and now for the Native to be found on the autosomal test, but mtDNA is forever.

If your Y or mtDNA haplogroup is Native, there is no division in each generation, so nothing washes out. If Y or mtDNA is Native, it stays fully Native forever, even if the rest of your autosomal Native DNA has washed out with succeeding generations.  That is the blessing of both Y and mtDNA testing!

FF native

If your myOrigins ethnicity chart looks like this one, which shows a significant amount of New World and other areas that typically, in conjunction with New World, are interpreted as additional Native contribution, such as the Asian groups, and your Y and/or mtDNA is not Native, then you’re looking at the wrong ancestor in your tree.  Your mtDNA or Y DNA test has just eliminated this specific line – but none of the lines that “married in.”

You can do a couple of things – find more people to test for Y and mtDNA in other lines.  In this case, 18% Native is significant.  In this person’s case, she could eliminate her father’s line, because he was known not to be Native.  Her mother was Hispanic – a prime candidate for Native ancestry.  The next thing for this person to do is to test her mother’s brother’s Y DNA to determine her mother’s father’s Y haplogroup.  He could be the source of the Native heritage in her family.

3. The third thing to do is to utilize Family Finder matching to see who you match that also carries Native heritage. In the chart below, you can see which of your Family Finder matches also carry a percentage of Native ancestry. This only shows their Native match percent if you have Native. In other words, it doesn’t’ show a category for your matches that you don’t also have.

ff native matches

Please note – just because you match someone who also carries Native American heritage does NOT mean that your Native line is how you match.

For example, in one person’s case, their Native heritage is on their mother’s side.  They also match their father’s cousin, who also carries Native heritage but he got his Native heritage from his mother’s line.  So they both carry Native heritage, but their matching DNA and ancestry are on their non-Native lines.

Lots of people send me e-mails that say things like this, “I match many people with Cherokee heritage.”  But what they don’t realize is that unless you share common proven ancestors, that doesn’t matter.  It’s circumstantial.  Think about it this way.

When measuring back 6 generations, which is generally (but not always) the last generation at which autosomal can reliably find matches between people, you have 64 ancestors.  So does the other person.  You match on at least one of those ancestors (or ancestral lines), and maybe more.  If one of your ancestors and one of your match’s ancestors are both Native, then the chances of you randomly matching that ancestor is 1 in 64.  So you’re actually much more likely to share a different ancestor.  Occasionally, you will actually match the same Native ancestor.  Just don’t assume, because you know what assume does – and you’ll be wrong 63 out of 64 times.

Sharing Native ancestry with one or several of your matches is a possible clue, but nothing more.

Scenario 2:

Yippee!!  My Haplogroup IS Native!!!

Ok, take a few minutes to do the happy dance – because when you’re done – we still have work to do!!!

happy dance frog

Many people actually find out about their Native American heritage by a surprise Native American haplogroup result.  But now, it’s time to figure out if your haplogroup really IS Native.

As I mentioned before, many of the major haplogroups have some members who are from Europe, Asia and the America.  Fortunately, the New World lines have been separated from the Old World lines long enough to develop specific and separate mutations, that enable us to tell the difference – most of the time.  If you’re interested, I recently wrote a paper about the various European, Jewish, Asian and Native American groups within subgroups of haplogroup A4.  If you’re curious about how haplogroups can have subgroups on different continents, then read this article about Haplogroups and The Three Brothers.  This is also an article that is helpful when trying to understand what your matches do, and don’t, mean.

So, before going any further, check your haplogroup subgroup and make sure your results really do fall into the Native subgroups.  If they don’t, then go back to the “Not Native” section.  If you aren’t sure, which typically means you’re a male with an estimated haplogroup of C or Q, then keep reading because we have some tools available that may help clarify the situation.

Utilizing Personal Page Y and Mito Tools to Find Your Tribe

Much of Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA genetic genealogy matching is “guilt by genetic association,” to quote Bennett Greenspan.  In other words we can tell a great deal about your heritage by who you match – and who you don’t match.

Let’s say you are haplogroup B2a2 – that’s a really nice Native American haplogroup, a subgroup of B2a, a known Beringian founder.  B2a2 developed in the Americas and has never been found outside of the Native population in the Americas.  In other words, there is no controversy or drama surrounding this haplogroup.

It just so happens that our “finding your tribe” example is a haplogroup B2a2 individual, Cindy, so let’s take a look at how we work through this process.

Taking a look at Cindy’s Matches Map tab, which shows the location of Cindy’s matches most distant ancestor on their matrilineal line (hopefully that’s what they entered.)  Only one of Cindy’s full sequence matches has entered their ancestor’s geographic information.  However, it’s not far from Cindy’s ancestor which is shown by the white balloon.

Cindy full seq match

Please note that Cindy, who is haplogroup B2a2, has NO European matching individuals.  In fact, no matches outside of North and South America.  Being Native, we would not expect her to have matches elsewhere, but since the match location field is self-entered and depends on the understanding of the person entering the information, sometimes information provided seems confusing.  Occasionally information found here has to be taken with a grain of salt, or confirmed with the individual who entered the information.

For example, I have one instance of someone with all Native matches having one Spanish match.  When asked about this, the person entering the information said, “Oh, our family was Spanish.”  And of course, if you see a male name entered in the most distant ancestor field for mtDNA, or a female for Y DNA, you know there is a problem.

While the full sequence test is by far the best, don’t neglect to look at the HVR1 and HVR2 results, because not everyone tests at higher levels and there may be hints waiting there for you.  There certainly was for Cindy.

Cindy HVR1 match

Look at Cindy’s cluster of HVR1 matches.  Let’s look at the New Mexico group more closely.

Cindy HVR1 NM matches

Look how tightly these are clustered.  One is so close to Cindy’s ancestor that the red balloon almost obscures her white balloon.  By clicking on the red balloons, that person’s information pops up.

You will also want to utilize the Haplogroup and Ancestral Origins tabs.  The Haplogroup Origins provides you with academic and research data with some participant data included.  The Ancestral Origins tab provides you with the locations where your matches say their most distant ancestor is from.

Cindy’s Haplogroup Origins page looks like this.

Cindy haplogroup origins

Keep  in mind that your closest matches are generally the most precise – for mitochondrial DNA meaning the group at the bottom titled “HVR1, HVR2 and Coding Region Matches.”  In Cindy’s case, above, at both the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, she also matches individuals in haplogroup B4’5, but at the highest level, she will only match her own haplogroup.

Next Cindy’s Ancestral Origins tab shows us the locations where her matches indicate their most distant ancestor is found.

Cindy ancestral origins

These people, at least some of them, identified themselves as Native American and their DNA along with genealogy research confirmed their accuracy.

Now, it’s time to look at your matches.

Cindy fs matches

If you’re lucky, now that you know positively that your results are Native (because you carry an exclusive Native haplogroup), and so do your matches, one of them will not only list their most distant ancestor, they will also put a nice little heartwarming note like (Apache) or (Navajo) or (Pueblo).  Now that one word would just make your day.

Another word of caution.  Even though that would make your day, that’s not always YOUR answer.  Why not?  Because Native people intermarried with other tribes, sometimes willingly, and sometimes not by choice.  Willingly or not, their DNA went along with them and sometimes you will find someone among the Apache that is really a Plains Indian, for example.  So you can get excited, but don’t get too excited until you find a few matches who know positively what tribe their ancestor was from.


So let’s talk about what positive means.  When someone tells me they are a member of the Cherokee Tribe for example, I ask which Cherokee tribe, because there are many that are not the federally recognized tribes and accept a wide variety of people based on their family stories and little more except an enrollment fee.  I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m saying you don’t want to base the identity of your ancestor’s tribe, unwittingly, on a situation like that.

If the answer is the official Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, for example, whose enrollment criteria I understand, then I ask them based on which ancestral line.  It could well be that they are a tribal member based on one relative and their mitochondrial DNA goes to an entirely different tribe.  In fact, I had this exact situation recently.  Their mitochondrial DNA was Seminole and they were a member of a different tribe based on a different lineage.

If the match is not a tribal member or descended from a tribal member, then I try, tactfully, to ask what proof they have that they are descended from that particular tribe.  It’s important to ask this in a nonconfrontional way, but you do need to know because if their claim to Native heritage is based on a family story, that’s entirely different than if it is based on the fact that their direct mitochondrial ancestor was listed on one of the government rolls on which tribal citizenship was predicated.

So, in essence, by your matches proving their mitochondrial lineage as Native and affiliated with a particular tribe, they are, in part, proving yours, or at least giving you a really big hint, because at some point you do share a common matrilineal ancestor.

You may find that two of your matches track their lineage to different tribes.  At that point, fall back to languages.  Are the tribes from the same language group?  If so, then your ancestor may be further back in time.  If not, then most likely someone married, was kidnapped, adopted or sold into slavery from one tribe to the other.  Take a look at the history and geography of the two tribes involved

Advanced Matching

It’s difficult to tell with any reasonable accuracy how long ago you share a common ancestor with someone that you match on either Y or mtDNA.  Family Tree DNA does provide guidelines, but those are based on statistical probabilities, and while they are certainly better than nothing, one size does not fit all and doesn’t tend to fit anyone very well.  I don’t mean this to be a criticism of Family Tree DNA – it’s just the nature of the beast.

For Y DNA, you can utilize the TIP tool, shown as the orange icon on your match bar, and the learning center provides information about mitochondrial time estimates to a common ancestor.  Let me say that I find the 5 generation estimate at the 50th percentile for a full sequence match extremely optimistic.  This version is a bit older but more detailed.

mtdna mrca chart

However, you can utilize another tool to see if you match anyone autosomally that you also match on your mitochondrial or Y DNA.  Before you do this, take a look at your closest matches and make note of whether they took the Family Finder test.  That will be listed by their name on the match table, by the FF, at right, below.

mtdna matches plus ff

If they didn’t take the Family Finder test, then you obviously won’t match them on that test.

On your mtDNA or Y DNA options panel, select Advanced Matching.

advanced matching

You’ll see the following screen.  Select both Family Finder and ONE Of the mtDNA selections  Why just one?  Because you’re going to select “show only people I match on selected tests” which means all the tests that you select.  Not everyone takes all the tests or matches on all three levels, so search one level of mtDNA plus Family Finder, at a time.  This means if you have matches on all 3 mitochondrial levels, you’ll run this query 3 times.  If you’re working with Y DNA, then you’ll do the same thing, selecting the 12-111 panels one at a time in combination with Family Finder.

The results show you who matches you on BOTH the Family Finder and the mtDNA test, one level at a time.  Here are the results for Cindy comparing her B2a2 HVR1 region mitochondrial DNA (where she had the most matches) and Family Finder.

advanced matches results

Remember those clusters of people that we saw near Cindy’s oldest ancestor on the map?  It’s Cindy’s lucky day.  She is extremely lucky to match three of her HVR1 matches on Family Finder.  And yes, that red balloon overlapping her own balloon is one of the matches here as well.  Cindy just won the Native American “find my tribe” lottery!!!!  Before testing, Cindy had no idea and now she has 3 new autosomal cousins AND she know that her ancestor was Native and has a very good idea of which tribe.  Several of the people Cindy matches knew their ancestor’s tribal affiliation.

So, now we know that not only does Cindy share a direct matrilineal ancestor with these people, but that ancestor is likely to be within 5 or 6 generations, which is the typical reach for the Family Finder matching, with one caveat…and that’s endogamous populations.  And yes, Native American people are an endogamous group.  They didn’t have anyone else to marry except for other Native people for thousands of years.  In recent times, and especially east of the Mississippi, significant admixture has occurred, but not so much in New Mexico at least not across the board.  The message here is that with endogamous populations, autosomal relationships can look closer than they really are because there is so much common DNA within the population as a whole.  That said, Cindy did find a common ancestor with some of her matches – and because they matched on their mitochondrial DNA, they knew exactly where in their trees to look.

Identifying your Tribe

Being able to utilize DNA to find your tribe is much like a puzzle.  It’s a little bit science, meaning the DNA testing itself, a dose of elbow grease, meaning the genealogy and research work, and a dash of luck mixed with some magic to match someone (or ones) who actually know their tribal affiliation.  And if you’re really REALLY lucky, you’ll find your common ancestor while you’re at it!  Cindy did!

In essence, all of these pieces of information are evidence in your story.  In the end, you have to evaluate all of the cumulative pieces of evidence as to quality, accuracy and relevance.  These pieces of evidence are also breadcrumbs and clues for you to follow – to find your own personal answer.  After all, your story and that of your ancestors isn’t exactly like anyone else’s.  Yes, it’s work, but it’s possible and it happens.

In case you think Cindy’s case is a one time occurrence, it’s not.  Lenny Trujillo did the same thing and wrote about his experience.  Here’s hoping you’re the next person to make the same kind of breakthrough.



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Mary Younger (c 1766-1820/1830), A Really Rough Decade, 52 Ancestors #65

Mary Younger was born about 1766, give or take a few years, to Marcus Younger and his wife, probably Susanne, whose last name is believed to be Hart, but is not confirmed.  Mary was probably born in Essex or King and Queen County, VA where Marcus lived before arriving in Halifax County, VA, where he is listed on the tax list for the first time in 1785.

It wasn’t long before Mary Younger married George Estes, in 1786.  There has been some suspicion for years that there is an earlier connection between these two families in King and Queen and Essex Counties, because they were near neighbors there.  At the least, they would have known each other.  They also could have been related, because we have unknown ancestors in both family lines and a seeming familiarity with each other upon arrival in Halifax County.  Or, a really big coincidence.

In Halifax County, George Estes lived next door to a William Younger who owned the land adjacent George’s father, Moses’s, land.  Did Marcus come to visit William Younger and maybe stay with that family long enough for his daughter, Mary Younger, to meet George Estes?  Perhaps.  We’ll likely never know.  We do know that the land that Marcus purchased is not close to the Estes land, roughly ten miles distant.

Estes Younger map

William Younger had no male children, so there is no Y DNA to test to see if that line connects with the Marcus or Thomas Younger line.

The first time we actually find Mary Younger in a record is when she married George Estes on December 19, 1786, six days before Christmas.  She married George on the same day his brother, Bartlett Estes married Rachel Pounds, so that Christmas at the Estes household was one full of celebration and the richness and hope of new love.  Maybe they received gifts to help them set up housekeeping.

estes younger marriage

Younger marcus signature

Like couples of that timeframe, the first baby arrived the next year and then every couple years thereafter, like clockwork.

Given that Mary’s father, Marcus Younger didn’t buy land until 1788, it’s very likely that Mary and George spent their first few years of married life on Moses Estes’s land in what is now South Boston, across from the Oak Ridge Cemetery, shown below.

Estes land blue tank crop

In the google image above, Estes Street is the street to the left that runs beside the water plant and today, down to the landfill, behind those trees.

Below, the Estes land from the east at the recycling center today.

Estes land recycle

Below, overlooking the Estes land from the back side.

Estes land rear landfill

There is no 1790, 1800 or 1810 census for Halifax County, so we can’t tell anything about Mary and George’s children until the 1820 census.  By this time, Mary and George have been married 34 years and several of their children would have been born, grown up and left the nest, with families of their own.  Mary probably stopped having children about 1810 or so, when she would have been about 44 years old.  We’ve had to piece their family together from other documents.  Mary Younger and George Estes had the following children:

  • John R. Estes born in 1787 who married Ann Moore in 1812 and removed to Claiborne County, TN. about 1820.
  • Marcus Estes born about 1788, died 1815, married Quintenny, surname unknown, and may have had one child, Marcus.
  • William Y. Estes born 1785/1786 and died 1860/1870, married Rebecca Miller in 1815.
  • Susannah Y. Estes born in 1800, died in 1870, never married but had 5 children.
  • Polly Estes born 1801/1808, died after 1880, married James Smith.
  • Sally Estes married Thomas Estes, her first cousin, about 1819.

There may have been other children, but based on the 1842 estate settlement of Mary Younger’s sister, Susannah, to Mary’s heirs, these are the children who survive or had died but had heirs.

In 1805, Mary’s father, Marcus must have become quite ill, because he wrote his will.  That’s not something people did in that place and time in advance, which is why so many people actually died without wills.

However, Marcus Younger recovered from whatever ailed him and did not die until ten years later, in 1815.  Marcus’s wife, whose name we think was Susannah, was not mentioned in his 1805 will, which tells us that she had already died.  So, in 1815, when Marcus died, that would have been the last of Mary’s parents.  She would have been just about age 50.

Given that Mary Younger married George Estes in 1786, and Marcus Younger didn’t purchase his land on the Banister River until 1788, we don’t know if Mary actually ever lived on this land before she married.  Marcus could have been renting it before he purchased the land.

However, in the 1790s, we find George Estes along with John Younger, Mary’s brother, who owned land adjacent Marcus, assigned as road hands together among the Younger family group – so at one time it appears that George and Mary lived on Marcus’s lands, or nearby.

Given that George Estes is not individually taxed as late at 1810, and Marcus Younger is taxed with two white males, it’s certainly likely that George and Mary lived on the Younger land for several years.  This means that their children born from about 1788 through about 1815 were likely born on the Younger land on the Banister River, and not in South Boston.

We know that there were several houses on Marcus’s land.  One house would have stood by the original well, near Yellow Bank Creek.  All that is left today, are some daffodils, a stone that was either the cornerstone or the step, and the well, both shown below.

Younger step

younger well

Another house on the property still stands today, or did a few years ago.

younger house

Mary’s life was probably pretty rough about that time.  In 1813, Mary’s father-in-law, Moses Estes, died and it’s very likely that the care of Luremia, her mother-in-law fell to Mary and George which may ultimately have been part of the reason they moved back to South Boston – that plus they would be inheriting part of George’s father’s land there.  In 1814, Mary’s 14 year old daughter had a baby without being married, and in 1815, Mary’s father died. Mary probably wondered what would strike next.  Sadly, it would be her son, Marcus’s, death as well.

Mary’s mother and father would be buried in the Younger Cemetery, on Marcus Younger’s land.  All of the graves are in a wooded area on private land that Marcus owned at the time, and all marked only by fieldstones.  If you didn’t know where this cemetery was, you would never, ever, find it.  It took 3 tries and I nearly didn’t – and I never would have found it had it not been for the generosity of the current landowner.

younger cem

Mary may also have some children buried in this cemetery as well, including son Marcus who died in 1814 or 1815 who may be buried near his grandfather, for whom he was named.  This land may well have been very close to Mary’s heart.  In fact, it may have been Mary who lovingly planted the flowers that bloom in the spring here, in the heart of the forest wilderness, today.  The periwinkle, below, wasn’t in bloom a the time, but it covered the entire cemetery – obviously planted intentionally by someone.

younger cem 4

By the 1820 census, the Mary Younger/George Estes household is back in South Boston and is shown with 1 male over 45 and one male under 10, which would be Mary’s grandson, Ezekiel through daughter Susannah.  There is one female under 10, 2 females 16-26 and 2 over the age of 45.  One of those older women would be Mary.  The female under 10 would be Sarah, Susannah’s second child born in 1818.  Susannah herself would be one of the females age 16-26 (although she was age 30) and the second would likely be her sister, Polly.

The other woman over the age of 45 is likely George’s mother, Luremia.  If so, that would mean 4 generations under one roof.  Depending on how well people got along, that could be a very good thing…or not.  I’m guessing that the events of 1813, 1814 and 1815 were extremely stressful for this family, and for Mary, in particular.

After Mary’s father’s death, the family moved from her father’s land to South Boston, among the Estes family.  Things didn’t calm down much either, because Susannah continued to remain unmarried and have children – a second child born in 1818.  Mary’s son, John R. Estes and Marcus would marry and then in 1814, march off to serve in the War of 1812.  John R. Estes came back.  Marcus died either during that time, or shortly thereafter, as his estate was probated in 1815.

By 1820, Mary was saying goodbye to John R. Estes, forever, as he and Ann Moore packed a wagon with what belongings they could and set out with their young family for the frontier.  I wonder if Mary’s grandchildren waved to her from the back of the wagon until they were out sight.  Did they know they would never see their grandmother again?Mary surely knew.

John R. and Ann’s house on the Estes land would have been vacant, at least for awhile, a silent reminder of the family Mary would never see again.  Perhaps it was their house that Susannah moved into before the 1830 census.

John R. wasn’t the only child who left.  Sally who married Thomas Estes moved to Tennessee as well about the same time.  Another wagon to wave goodbye to…and cry.

And then there is the mystery child – the one we know was dead by 1842 and left a son named Mark.  Given that there is only one heir mentioned, one child, Mark, it’s likely that the Estes parent died young and Mary would have buried that child as well.  Mary’s son, Marcus’s estate mentions nothing about a child, but the 1842 documents suggest that perhaps Marcus, the grandson, was the son of Marcus Estes who died in 1814/1815 after all.  I wonder if Mary raised grandson Mark after her child died.

By 1830, George Estes is shown as living alone, and Susannah is shown living in her own household, so it’s very likely that Mary and Luremia have both died.  I wonder if George is enjoying the silence or if he is lonely.  Maybe it depends on when you ask him.

There is a bit of confusion about when Mary Younger Estes actually died.  Mary’s sister, Susannah Younger had a will dated 1831; Halifax Co., Va. pg. 25–Will Bk. 15, pg. 422, which, among other things, states that she leaves her clothes to her sister, Mary Estes.  Another version says to Susannah Estes, which would be Mary’s daughter.  If Mary was dead by 1831, these clothes would not have helped her and might explain the second version, mentioning Susannah. Of course, we don’t actually know when this will was physically written, but it suggests that Mary died closer to 1830 than 1820 and perhaps not until after 1831 – although she is not accounted for in the 1830 census.  Mary is assuredly dead by 1833 when George deeds land to daughter Susannah without Mary’s signature to release her dower rights.

We don’t know if Mary Younger Estes is buried in the Younger Cemetery on her father’s land, then owned by her brother John’s heirs, or if she is buried in the Estes Cemetery in South Boston.  If she is buried in the Estes Cemetery, she could have been originally buried in what is believed to be the Estes family cemetery,  now Oak Ridge Cemetery which was originally part of the Estes land, shown below.

Estes Oak Ridge cleaned stones

Or, depending on who was feuding with whom at the time, Mary could have been buried in the “new” Estes cemetery in what is now under the landfill.  If Mary was buried there, the graves were moved to the Estes plot in the Oak Ridge Cemetery.  So, you could say she might have a migrating grave.

I know that there were some terribly stressful times in Mary’s life, and that once they began, never ended.  Her daughter Susannah had to be a constant, lifelong concern for Mary.  How would Susannah ever support those children?  It became evident that Susannah was going to continue having children and wasn’t going to marry.  There is more to this story that we’ll never know.  Many women had their first child out of wedlock and went on to marry and have a family.  Why didn’t Susannah?

I hope that the difficult times did not overshadow the good times for Mary.  And surely, there were good times.  Mary did have 5 grandchildren through Susannah, 11 through William Y., at least 4 through Polly, plus the mystery grandchild Mark who may have lived in close proximity.  That’s 21 grandchildren that she got to love and interact with, at least the ones born before her passing.  She lived with some of these grandkids for many years so you know she had a special bond with them.

Mary’s other 17 or 18 grandchildren lived in Tennessee, but she did get to be with John R’s oldest children for the first few years of their lives.  The older children likely carried warm and loving memories of their grandmother, Mary, in their hearts forever.  There is just no one like a grandmother to make you feel loved and special.

Thankfully, Mary had some daughters who had some daughters.  If we can find someone who descends from Mary Younger Estes through all daughters today, we will be able to test them for Mary’s mitochondrial DNA.  From that, we may be able to tell where in the world, in a general sense, her mother’s family originated.

Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on.  So, we’re looking for someone, male or female, who descends from Mary through all females to the current generation.

Mary’s daughters and their daughters who had daughters were:

1. Susannah Y. Estes born about 1800 who had two daughters who had daughters:

  • Sarah Estes born in 1818 who married John Mountcastle and had at least 4 daughters, Sally, Martha, Harriett and Sallie Mountcastle

Sarah Estes Mountcastle

Sarah Estes Mountcastle, at left, with daughter Sarah.

  • Mary Mildred Estes born in 1828 who married William Greenwood and had daughters Nannie Elizabeth and Mary Jane Greenwood.  After William Greenwood died, she remarried to Jessie Jacobs and had daughter Susan E. Jacobs.  Nannie married John Thomas Murray, Mary married James Nathaniel Murray and Susan married Samuel Carroll Miller.  All 3 daughters had daughters.

Mary Mildred Ested Greenwood

Back of photo: Mother Mary Mildred Estes Greenwood after she remarried to a Jacobs with daughters Mary Jane Greenwood Murray and Nannie Elizabeth Greenwood Murray.

2. Polly Estes born between 1801-1808 who married James Smith in 1824 and had 2 daughters:

  • Elizabeth Y. Smith born 1824
  • Sarah Smith born about 1839

3. Sally Estes married Thomas Estes and moved to Giles and Montgomery County, TN, having 4 daughters:

  • Rachel W. Estes born about 1825
  • Eliza A. Estes born about 1830
  • Julia A. Estes born about 1842
  • Sarah W. Estes born about 1847

If you descend from this family, please get in touch.  We’re kin.  If you descend from all women, maybe we can unravel a bit more of Mary’s life.

The lives of these pioneer women were difficult, which probably meant they appreciated their brief respites of beauty more profoundly than we do today.  You can always tell where a homestead stood, and the cemetery, by the spring wildflowers growing nearby.  This daffodil was growing in the Younger cemetery in Halifax County, and I like to think it symbolizes my family buried there – never entirely gone – not as long as we remember them.  For all we know, Mary may have planted this herself on her parents’ or her child’s grave.

Younger daffodil



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Sean Hayes – Who Do You Think You Are – “Endless Chain of Chaos”

Sean Hayes

Sean Hayes, probably best known for his role in the sitcom, Will and Grace, finds more than he bargained for when he set out to search for his roots.  Growing up without his father, Sean searches for the cause of his estranged father’s troubled past and uncovers a shocking trail of tragedy with tendrils that reach back generations.

I had to laugh, because in the realm of “famous last words,” Sean introduces himself as “Sean Hayes and I’m not named for anyone I know of.”

Well Sean, you should have included your middle name, Patrick, because it’s going to become important!  And by the way, um….yes you are named for someone.

No one really writes letters anymore, but Sean’s brother does, and in the letter is a photo of Sean’s grandparents. Sean didn’t even know their names, and now he has their picture.

Sean Hayes 1

What Sean does know, is that for some reason his father and his father’s 3 siblings wound up in an orphanage after their mother broke her hips. He had also heard that his grandfather, literally, “died in the gutter.” Was that true?

To find out more, Sean heads to Chicago to begin his journey, where his father and grandparents were from and where he was born.

Unfortunately, alcohol and alcoholism play a huge part in many family histories. It did in mine and it does in Sean’s as well. And unfortunately, all too often alcohol abuse and self-medication is generational until someone steps up to break the cycle of abuse.

Sean discovers that his grandfather, William, was once successful, but met an early demise on skid row – a death that was most likely the result of alcoholism. Sean finds that at the time of his grandfather’s death, his grandmother was an invalid, which Sean concludes led to his father and his siblings being placed in the orphanage.

Inside of a ten year span, Sean’s grandfather, William, had gone from being the wealthiest man in his neighborhood to destitute, without food, anorexic and living in a flop house. This pains Sean, visibly, but while making this discovery, Sean also discovers the name of his great-grandfather, Patrick.

Digging past his grandparents, Sean discovers that his great grandfather Patrick Hayes immigrated to Chicago from Ireland in 1901. Patrick appears to have been a responsible, ambitious man – someone who’s broken the chaotic family pattern.

Sean is really very visibly excited and moved to find Patrick, his namesake’s naturalization records, along with his signature. I just love it when people get this excited about their ancestors. It bring them to life again.

Sean Hayes 2

So, it’s off to Dublin for Sean where an unwelcome surprise is waiting. Sean finds his great grandfather, Patrick, actually had lengthy court records for various crimes and did hard labor in jail.

I hope Sean didn’t think too badly of Patrick, because the charges were for assault which certainly could have resulted from a variety of circumstances. In fact, Patrick was with his brother, and sister, when the assault occurred. And are you ready for this – they assaulted their father.

Surely, there is far more to this story.

Both Patrick and William were sentenced to hard labor, which was literally just that, and Patrick immigrated immediately upon release. He did, indeed, set forth to find a better life. A very brave man. Sadly, it appears that he had been raised with alcohol playing a large role in the life of his father, although things aren’t always as they seem.

Sean Hayes 3

Further research reveals that much of the Hayes clan – including Sean’s great, great grandfather, Patrick Hayes Senior – constantly ran afoul of the law, and even faced each other in court over family brawls. These assaults fell more into the realm of family spats – throwing stones at each other. Seriously….hard labor for that. That seems a little harsh.

But what’s priceless is Sean’s face when he sees these records. And I’m sure that “Holy Moley” was not what he said on the first take:)  I must admit, this part of the segment just kept on getting better and better.

Next we discover that Patrick’s father, Patrick Sr., who prosecuted his own children, spent much of his life in trouble as well. It seems that before he married, he was a bit of a wild child, had 10 years of good behavior and after his wife’s death, when his children were still quite young, was constantly in trouble in the village where he lived for drunk and disorderly conduct, along with other offenses as well.

While this isn’t a legacy that Sean wants to pass on, and he’s glad he has broken the cycle personally, it certainly helps to understand why this may have happened – that Patrick Sr. was probably medicating his grief – albeit in a very unhealthy way. Patrick Jr. saw it and lived with the results, and his son William, continued the unhealthy behavior as did Sean’s own father.

Sean comes away with a sense of forgiveness for the circumstances beyond the control of his ancestors as well as a sense of gratitude for what they contributed to him – traits that he has used in a positive way. Sean is able to find their commonality in spite of their differences.

Sean Hayes 4

My husband said he felt badly that this episode didn’t have a happy ending, but I think it does have a happy ending. Watch on Sunday and let me know what you think.

Want a sneak peek? Click here.

Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 10/9c on TLC



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Estes Big Y DNA Results

In late 2013, a new Y DNA product called the Big Y was introduced by Family Tree DNA.  The goal of this new test was to read virtually all of the Y chromosome that was useful for genealogical purposes.

I decided to wait and see how useful this tool actually was, and how to effectively use the information before delving into a family study, in part, because the individuals tests are quite expensive. We began our Estes Big Y family study in 2014 and I have now completed a report for family members.  With their permission, I’m sharing this information with the hope that other groups will see the potential in combining STR and full sequence SNP testing for family groups.

The temptation, of course, especially in the case of the Estes lineage is to see if we could reach back further in time to see if we can connect with, confirm or dispel the persistent myth that the Estes line is descended from the d’Este family line of Italy.  Of course, if there was a direct line male from that family that existed, or was willing to test, that would answer the question in a heartbeat but that’s not the case.

The belief that the Estes family was descended from the d’Este’s is an old one and not just limited to the American Estes family or the Estes family itself.

Long-time Estes researcher and archivist, David Powell, gathered several instances where various families in England used the d’Este name, at least one of which was suggested by King James himself.

King James I of England and Scotland (reigned from 1603 to 1625) was convinced that a gentleman in his service by the name of East was in fact a descendent of the d’Este family and suggested he change his name to Este. One did not gainsay a suggestion from the king in those days!

Even earlier, the English printer Thomas East (1540-1608) used the names East, Est, Este and Easte and hinted at a connection with the d’Este family, although his motivations were much more obvious – he made his fame publishing Italian music in England and suggesting a connection to the d’Este’s would certainly not have adversely affected his sales! Thomas’ son, Michael (1580-1680), who was a composer in his own right, also used the names East, Est, Este and Easte.

Somewhat more recent was the case of Sir Augustus d’Este (1794-1848), who despite the surname, was pure English. Augustus was son of the Duke of Sussex and the daughter of the Earl of Dunmore. The marriage of his parents was without the King’s consent and he (George III) subsequently annulled the marriage, thus making Augustus illegitimate *after* his birth.  After the annulment, Augustus and his sister were given the name d’Este by their father, a name that was “anciently belonging to the House of Brunswick”. There were several other instances where English aristocrats named Este or East changed their name to d’Este, including one family in the 1800’s that changed their name from East and claimed the non-existent title “Baron d’Este.”

The Big Y test holds out the promise, or at least the possibility, of being able to connect the outside limits of the standard genealogy Y DNA STR tests and bridge the hundreds to a couple thousand year gap between STR testing and haplogroup definitions.

In our case, we needed to know where our ancestors were and what they were doing, genetically, between about 500BC and 1495AD when we both find them (coming forward in time) and lose them (going backward in time) in Deal, Kent, England.

Had they been in Kent forever, without a surname or with a surname, but not reflected in the available records, or had they truly been royalty on the continent and recently immigrated?

In the article, Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1533) English Progenitor, I found and compiled the various list of Estes/d’Este ancestral stories.  The most reasonable seems to be found in David Powell’s article, “Origins of the Estes/Eastes Family Name,” as follows:

“…Francesco of Este, who was the son of Marquis Leonello [1407-1450], left Ferrara [1471] to go and live in Burgundy, by the will of Duke Ercole [Francesco’s uncle, who succeeded Leonello] .. and, in order that he should go at once, he gave him horses and clothes and 500 ducats more; and this was done because His Excellency had some suspicions of him .. ‘Francesco .. went to Burgundy and afterward to England’. These were the words written on the back of the picture of Francesco found in a collection of paintings near Ferrara.”

Many of the details are similar to earlier stories. But why would Francesco flee Italy? In 1471 Francesco’s brother, Ericolo, led a revolt in an attempt to overthrow Duke Ercole. The attempt was unsuccessful and in typical royal tradition, Ericolo lost his head and Francesco exiled, if only because he was Ericolo’s brother. Did Francesco really travel to England? The only evidence for this is the writing in the back of the painting, the existence of which is unconfirmed. Essentially the same story is told by Charles Estes in his book:

“.. Francesco Esteuse (born c.1440), the illegitimate son of Leonnello d’Este. Francesco was living in Burgundy. In the time of Duke Borso he came to Ferrara, and at Borso’s death was declared rebellious by Ercole because of efforts made by his brother, Ericolo, to seize power. Francesco returned to Burgundy and was heard of no more from that time (1471). As the time coincided with that when Edward conquered [sic] England with the aid of Burgundy, it was possible that Francesco followed Edward and after Edward’s victory made England his home.”

I checked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art who indicated no such notation on the painting and provided additional information showing that it’s likely that Francesco died in Burgundy.

If Francesco was the progenitor of the Estes family of Kent, who were mariners, the family in one generation, in essence, in one fell swoop, went from royalty to peasantry in Kent.  Nicholas was born in 1495 and two other Estes men, Richard and Thomas, found nearby, born about the same time.  Extremely unlikely, but not impossible.

The d’Este family of Italy was said by Edward Gibbon in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to originate from the Roman Attii family, which migrated from Rome to Este to defend Italy against Goths. However there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

The names of the early members of the family indicate that a Frankish origin is much more likely. The first known member of the house was Margrave Adalbert of Mainz, known only as father of Oberto I, Count palatine of Italy, who died around 975. Oberto’s grandson Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan (996–1097) built a castle at Este, near Padua, below, and named himself after it.

Este Castle

The city of Mainz is the capital of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. It was the capital of the Electorate of Mainz at the time of the Holy Roman Empire which began in 962. In antiquity Mainz was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire; it was founded as a military post by the Romans in the late 1st century BC and became the provincial capital of Germania Superior.

Mainz Germany

The city is located on the river Rhine at its confluence with the Main opposite Wiesbaden, in the western part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main.  The painting above shows Mainz looking toward the Rhine, across the old part of the city, in 1890.

There is absolutely no question that the Romans occupied Mainz as the remnants of architectural structures such as Roman City gates from the 4th century and Roman aqueducts (below) permeate the landscape yet today.

Mainz Roman aquaducts

The town of Frankfurt was adjacent Mainz and the name of Frankfurt on Main is derived from the Franconofurd of the Germanic tribe of the Franks plus Furt, meaning ford,  where the river was shallow enough to be crossed by wading. The Alemanni and Franks lived there and by 794 Charlemagne presided over an imperial assembly and church synod, at which Franconofurd (-furt -vurd) was first mentioned.

The Franks and the Alemanni were both Germanic tribes.  The Alemanni were found in what is today German Swabis and Baden, French Alsace, German-speaking Switzerland and Austrian Voralberg.  Their name means “all men” as they were a Germanic confederation tribe.  One historian, Walafrid Strabo, a monk of the Abbey of St Gall wrote in the 9th century that only foreigners called the Alemanni by that name, that they called themselves the Suebi.

This map shows the approximate location of the original Frankish tribes in the third century.

Frankish Tribes 3rd Century

“Carte des peuples francs (IIIe siècle)” by Odejea – Own work, d’après : Patrick Peron, Laurence Charlotte Feiffer, Les Francs (tome 1 – A la conquête de la Gaule), Armand Collon Editeur, Paris, 1987, isbn 2-200-37070-6. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Franks, who eventually conquered the Alemanni, were found predominately in northeastern Europe in what is now Belgium and the Netherlands along the lower and middle Rhine, extending into what is now France.

Another source claims that the Italian d’Este family roots were found as the Marquis of Sicily, affiliated with Lombardy, which was ruled by the Lombards. If this is true, the Lombards were also descendants of the Suebi, having originated in Scandinavia, and the Franks defeated the Lombards as well, so either way, the DNA would appear in the same locale.

Lombard Migration

“Lombard Migration” by Castagna – Own elaboration from Image: Europe satellite orthographic.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Relative to the Estes family of Kent, if they do descend from the d’Este family of Italy, based on this information, their Y DNA should look like and correlate with that of either Italians or Germanic tribes such as the Franks and the Suebi.

Aside from answering this origins question that has burned for years, what other types of information might we learn from Big Y testing?

  • Does the Estes family have any mutations that are unique? In other words, specific SNP mutations have evolved in the Estes family and would, in combination with other SNPs and STRs, identify us uniquely. Someday, in hundreds of years, as we have many descendants, these individual SNPs found only in our family line will define our own haplogroup.
  • What other families are the closest to the Estes family?
  • When and where did we “split” with those other families? Does their family history help define or identify ours?
  • Can SNP mutations in combination with STR mutations help identify specific lineages within the Estes family? This is particularly important for people who don’t know which ancestral line they descend from.

These same questions would be relevant for any family interested in doing a Big Y DNA study.

The Estes family is fortunate that we have several people who are interested in the deep history of the family, and were willing to pay for the Big Y test, along with the full 111 marker Y STR tests to facilitate our research and understanding.

The Estes family is first found in Kent, England in 1495 with Nicholas whose name was spelled variably, as were all names at that time.  Estes is spelled in many ways such as Ewstas, Eustace, Estes, Eastes, Estice and more.  I am using Estes for consistency.

I have created a pedigree chart of sorts to show the descent of the Estes Big Y testers.

Estes pedigree

Robert Estes and Anne Woodward had two sons, Silvester and Robert, who have descendants Big Y testing today.

Silvester had two sons, Richard and Abraham who have descendants who have Y DNA tested, but only Abraham’s descendants have taken the Big Y test.  Robert had son Matthew whose descendant also took the Big Y test.  Note that Abraham and Matthew are shown in green which indicates that they immigrated to America.  Richard, in blue, between Abraham and Matthew did not immigrate and his descendants did not take the Big Y test.

Of Abraham’s sons, we have Y DNA tested descendants from 7 sons, but only descendants of 5 sons are participating in the Big Y project.  We are uncertain of the direct lineage of kit 199378 as noted by the ? with Elisha’s name in his ancestry.  We know positively from his DNA results that he is biologically an Estes, but he could be descended from a different son.

We are also very fortunate that we have been able through several volunteers and professional genealogists to document the Estes line reliably both back in time into Kent and forward in time to current through several lines.

The Estes DNA project is somewhat unique in the fact that we have 10, 11 and 12 generations to work with in each line.  Our closest participants are 7th cousins and our furthest, 10th cousins once removed.  We have a total of 65 separate DNA transmission events that have occurred, counting each birth in each line as one transmission event, introducing the possibility of either STR mutations or new SNPS in each new generation.

STR mutations show up in the traditional 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker panels.  SNP mutations  show up in the Big Y report as either SNPs or Novel Variants which is a newly discovered SNP that has not yet been assigned an official SNP name, assuming is isn’t just a family occurrence.

Let’s look at the STR markers first.

All of our participants except one extended to 111 markers and that individual tested at 67.  Of the 111 markers, 97 marker locations have identical marker values in all participants, so have no mutations in any line since our common ancestor lived.  Of course, this means that our common ancestor carried this same value at this DNA location.

I created a virtual Estes ancestor, in green, below, by utilizing the most common values of the descendants and compared everyone against that ancestor.  Of course, this is a bit skewed because we have several descendants of Silvester’s line through Abraham and only one descendant of Robert through Matthew.

Estes ancestral Y

The reconstructed or triangulated ancestral value is shown in green, at the top, and the results that don’t match that value are highlighted.  I can’t show all 111 markers here, but enough that you get the idea.  You can see all of the Estes STR test results on the Estes DNA project page.

Comparing against the recreated ancestor, Matthew’s descendant, kit 166011, only has 7 mutations difference from our recreated Estes Y ancestor.  At 111 markers, this averages out to about one STR mutation every 1.5-2 generations.

The chart below shows Matthew’s descendant kit, 166011, compared to all of Abraham’s descendants.  Matthew’s descendant, of course, is the kit furthest genealogically from Abraham’s descendants.

The number in the intersecting cells shows the number of mutations at both 67 and 111 markers compared to kit 166011.

Kit Numbers 9993 13805 244708 366707 199378
166011 at 67 6 6 6 6 5
166011 at 111 10 10 11 11 No test

When compared to each other, and not the ancestral values, kits 244708 and 366707 are not shown as matches to kit 166011 at 111 markers at Family Tree DNA, but are at 67 markers.  When possible, I match participants to a recreated ancestor (on my spreadsheet) as opposed to matching to each other within a surname project, because it gives us a common starting point, providing a more realistic picture of how the DNA mutated to be what it is today in each line.

The Kent Estes Y DNA falls within haplogroup R-L21.  From Eupedia, here’s a map of where haplogroup R-L21 is found.


L21 is known for being Celtic, not Germanic, meaning not the same as Franks and Suebi.  Scholars are not unified in their interpretation of the maximum influence of the Celts.  Some show no influence at all in Italy, some show a slight eastern coastal influence and this genetic maps shows a Sicilian influence.

However, because nothing in genealogy can every be straightforward, and people are always migrating from place to place, there is one known exception.

According to Barry Cunliffe’s book, “The Celts, a Very Short Introduction”, in 391 BC Celts “who had their homes beyond the Alps streamed through the passes in great strength and seized the territory that lay between the Appennine mountains and the Alps” according to Diodorus Siculus. The Po Valley and the rest of northern Italy (known to the Romans as Cisalpine Gaul) was inhabited by Celtic-speakers.  While Este is somewhat north of this region, Este history indicates that there were fights with the Celts and then assimilation to some extent, so all is not entirely black and white.

The descendants of these invading Celts, having inhabited Italy for approximately 2500 years would be expected, today, to have some defining mutations that would differentiate them from their more northern European kinsmen and they would form a cluster or subgroup, perhaps a sub-haplogroup.

However, if the d’Este family was from the Mainz region of Germany, then Celtic influence in the Po Valley is irrelevant to their Y DNA.  Unfortunately, because this history is cast in warm jello, at best, we need to consider all possibilities.

The various haplogroup project administrators are working very hard to analyze all of the Big Y results within their haplogroup projects and to make sense of them.  By making sense of them, I mean in regards to the haplogroup and haplotree as a whole, not as individuals.  The point of individual testing is to provide information that citizen scientists can utilize to flesh out the haplotree, which in turn fleshes out the history of our ancestors.  So it’s a symbiotic relationship.

The Y DNA haplotree has gone from about 800 branches to 12,000 branches with the announcement of the Genographic 2.0 test in July of 2012 to over 35,000 SNPs that the Big Y is compared against.  And that doesn’t count the thousands of new SNPs discovered and yet unnamed and unplaced on the tree.

This scientific onslaught has been termed the “SNP tsumani” and it truly is.  It’s one of those wonderful, terrible, events – simply because there is so much good information it overwhelms us.  Fortunately, the force of the tsunami is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the haplotree is broken into haplogroups and subgroups and many volunteer administrators are working feverishly to assemble the results in a reasonable manner, determining what is a leaf, a twig and a branch of the tree.

Mike Walsh is one of the administrators who maintains the L21 project and tree and has been extremely helpful in this process, providing both guidance and analysis.  The project administrators have access to the results of all of the project participants, something individuals don’t have, so the project administrator’s assistance and perspective is invaluable.  We’d be lost without them

Mike has created an extended tree of the R-L21 haplogroup

R-L21 tree crop

The Estes men are here, in the DF49 group indicated by the red arrow.

The Estes men have tested positive for SNPs which include:

  • L21
  • DF13
  • DF49

Downstream, meaning closer in time to us, the haplogroup DF49 project administrator, Peter M. Op den Velde Boots, has created a tree rooted from the DF49 mutation.

I’m pleased to say that we are on that tree as well, towards the right hand side.  The ZP SNPs on this tree are placeholder names created by the administrator so he could create a tree until an official name is issued for Z SNP locations.

DF49 tree crop2

The interesting thing is that Mike Walsh had predicted that both the Estes and a few other surnames would fall into a common subgroup based on our unusual values at three different STR markers:

  • 460<=10
  • 413=23,24
  • 534>=17

Surnames that fell into Mike’s cluster based on Y STR marker values include:

  • Gallagher (Ireland)
  • Churchville (Ireland)
  • Killeen/Killian (Ireland)
  • Hall (England)
  • Mahon (Ireland)
  • Estes (England)

We’re seeing a lot of Irish names, and Ireland was settled by Celtic people.

Initially, the Estes men matched each other fairly closely, but had many differences from any other individuals who had tested.  I have bolded the Matthew descendant kit that is the furthest from the other men who descend from Abraham.

SNP Differences With Other Estes Men

John 244708 Edward 13805 Garmon 9993 Emory III366707 Howard 166011 Dennis 199378
John 244708 x 1 (Z2001) 0 2 (Z2001, F1314) 1 (Z2001) 2 (Z2001, PF682)
Edward 13805 1 (Z2001) x 0 1 (F1314) 0 0
Garmon 9993 0 0 x 1 (F1314) 0 0
Emory III 366707 2 (Z2001, F1314) 1 (F1314) 1 (F1314) x 1 (F1314) 1 (F1314)
Howard 166011 1 (Z2001) 0 0 1 (F1314) x 0
Dennis 199378 2 (Z2001, PF682) 0 0 1 (F1314) 0 x

SNPs are haplogroup subgroup defining mutations.  SNPs with a number assigned, as shown above, prefixed by a capital letter, means that the SNP has been registered and the originating letter indicates the lab in which it was found.  SNPs discovered in Big Y testing are prefixed by BY for example.

Not all SNPs with numbers assigned have been placed on the haplogroup tree, nor will they all be placed on the tree.  Some may be determined to be private or personal SNPs or not widespread enough to be of general interest.  One certainly doesn’t want the tree to become so subdivided that family members with the same surname and known ancestor wind up in different haplogroups, appearing to not be related.  Or maybe we have to redefine how we think of a haplogroup.

Case in point, these men with known, proven common Estes ancestors have differences on three SNPs, shown in the columns, below.

Estes Men Unique SNP Mutations

Z2001 F1314 PF682
John 244708 Yes No Yes
Garmon 9993 ? No ?
Edward 13805 No No ?
Emory III 366707 No Yes ?
Dennis 199378 No No No
Howard 166011 No No ?

What does this mean?

This means that John has developed two SNP mutations that none of the other Estes men have, unless some of the men with no-callls at that location, indicated by a ?, have that mutation.  The common ancestor of all of the Estes participants except Howard is Abraham Estes, so SNP Z2001 and PF682 have occurred in John’s line someplace since Abraham.

PF682 is quite interesting in that two Estes men, both descendants of Abraham did have results for this location, one with an ancestral value (Dennis) and one with a derived, or mutated, value (John.)  What is so interesting is that the four other men had ambiguous or unclear results at this location. In this case, I would simply disregard this SNP entirely since the results of reading this location seem to be unreliable.

Emory III, also a descendant of Abraham has developed a mutation at location F1314.

In these cases, these SNPs would fall into the category of line marker mutations that are found in that family’s line, but not in the other Estes lines.  These are similar to STR line marker mutations as well.

The next type of SNP mutation reported in the Big Y results are called Novel Variants.  Novel Variants are SNPs that haven’t yet been named, because they have just recently been discovered in the past few months in the testing process.  The Big Y test compares everyone against a data base of 36,288 known SNPs.  The balance of mutations found, called novel variants, are discoveries in the testing process.

Shared Novel Variants Between Estes Men

John 244708 Edward 13805 Garmon 9993 Emory III 366707 Howard 166011 Dennis 199378
John 244708 x 88 84 89 89 84
Edward 13805 88 x 84 88 89 85
Garmon 9993 84 84 x 83 84 81
Emory III 366707 89 88 83 x 89 87
Howard 166011 89 89 84 89 x 86
Dennis 199378 84 85 81 87 86 x

In essence, the Estes family has 30 differences from the DF49 base.  Translated, that means that in essence, our Estes family line broke away from the DF49 parent haplogroup about twice as long ago as the infamous M222 subclade named after Niall of the Nine Hostages.  So, our ancestor was the ancestor of Niall of the Nine Hostages too, some 4000 years or so ago.

Finally, a Gallagher male tested, and the Gallagher and Estes families share a block of DNA that no one else shares that is comprised of 18 different individual mutations.  As these things go, this is a huge number.

The numbers below are “addresses” on the Y chromosome because SNP names have not yet been assigned.  The first letter listed is the ancestral value and the second is the mutated value found in the Estes/Gallagher combined group.

  • 07457863-C-T
  • 07618400-G-A
  • 07738519-G-A
  • 07956143-A-G
  • 08432298-A-G
  • 14005952-AATAAATAA-A
  • 14029772-C-T
  • 15436998-C-T
  • 15549360-A-C
  • 16286264-C-T
  • 17833232-TT-T
  • 18417378-G-A
  • 18638729-A-G
  • 19402586-G-A
  • 22115259-T-C
  • 22445270-G-A
  • 22445271-A-G
  • 23560522-G-A

This DNA will very likely define a new subclade of haplogroup R and has been submitted to obtain SNP names for these mutation locations for the Estes/Gallagher subclade.  Unfortunately, they will not call it the Estes/Gallagher subclade, but we can for now:)

The Estes line still shares another dozen SNPs between themselves that are not yet shared by any other surname.  At this point, those are considered family SNPs, but if others test and those SNPs are found outside the Estes family, they too will receive SNP names and become a new subclade.

So how long ago did all of this happen?  When did we split, genetically, from the people who would become the Gallaghers?

The estimates for the number of average years per SNP creation vary, but range from 110 to 170.  Utilizing this range, when comparing how long ago the Gallagher and the Estes family shared a common ancestor, we find that our common ancestor lived between 1320 and 2040 years ago.  What we don’t know is whether that ancestor lived on continental Europe or in the British Isles.  Certainly, this was before the adoption of surnames.

Another interesting aspect of this testing is that the Estes and Gallagher families don’t match above 12 markers, but they do match at 12 markers with one mutation difference.  If the Estes and Gallagher participants weren’t in the same haplogroup project, they wouldn’t even see this match since they do have 1 difference at 12 markers and only exact 12 marker matches are shown outside of projects.  This shows that sometimes very basic STR testing can reach far back in time if (multiple) mutations haven’t occurred in those first 12 markers.

I was interested to check the TIP calculator to see how closely in terms of generations the calculator expected the common ancestor to be at the 50th percentile, meaning the point at which the common ancestors is equally as likely to be earlier as later.  The calculator indicated that 17 generations was at the 50th percentile, so about 425 to 510 years ago, allowing 25-30 years per generation.  At 24 generations, or 600-720 years, which is as far as the calculator reaches, the likelihood of a common ancestor was still only at 68% and the TIP calculator would reach the 100th percentile at about the 34th generation, or 850-1020 years – if it reached that far.

It’s interesting to compare the results of the two tools.  Both agree that the common ancestor is far back in time, and extrapolating now, very likely before the advent or surnames.  The SNP estimate of 1320-2040 does not overlap with the STR estimate of 850-1020 – although in all fairness, a 12 marker TIP estimate is expecting a lot in terms of this kind of extrapolation.

After the Gallagher and Estes lines split, probably between 1300 and 2000 years ago, or between 700AD and the time of Christ, did the Estes men then find their way to Italy by the year 900 when the d’Este family is unquestionably found in Italy, and back again to Europe before we find Nicholas in Kent in 1495AD?  It’s possible, but quite unlikely.  We also have found absolutely no DNA, either utilizing STR markers or SNPs that suggest any connection with any line in or near Italy.

The Estes line is and was unquestionably L21, a haplogroup closely allied with the Celts for the past 4,000 to 5,000 years, with no indication of an Italian branch.  Unless very unexpected new data arises, I think the Estes family can put the d’Este family story away, at least as far as cold storage – unless new data arises in the form of a proven male Y-line d’Este descendant testing or matching Italian L21 DNA participants.

As it turns out, the DNA was simply the final blow to the d’Este story.  As I worked with English and European historical records, and in particular records of wealthy nobles and lesser nobles, I came to realize that children were an asset of the families to be married off for political and social favor.  This sounds terrible by today’s cultural standards, but by the standards of the times in which our ancestors were living, politically advantageously arranged marriages were the best way to provide for your children’s well-being as well as your own.  What this means to us is that no royal d’Este family member would ever have fallen into the working, peasant class.  Even if they weren’t loved or even liked, they were still valuable and would simply have been married off far away.  Our Estes family was a group of hard-working mariners in Deal, certainly not nobility.  And now we know, they were Celts in Europe before they were Deal mariners.

Our more realistic claim to royalty, albeit very distant, lies in the fact that our ancestors were also the ancestors of the Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages, King of Tara who died about the year 405 and was the progenitor of the Ui Neill family that dominated Ireland from the 6th to the 10th centuries.  Niall of the Nine Hostages and his descendants were very prolific, with about 3 million people being descendants.  This means that the Estes family is distant cousins to just about everyone.  It indeed, is a very small world, made smaller by the connections we can now make via DNA.

celtic tree



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The Legacy of Humor Lives On – aka – Having a Baby in the Back of Bob’s Van

legacy tree Five years ago, when I was on an archaeology dig on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I received a phone call that a friend, Dianne, had suddenly died.  She was too young to die, and hadn’t been sick, so to say it was a shock was an understatement. I had known Diane for more than 30 years.

When I first moved to Michigan, I met Dianne and Bob, her husband.  We were all volunteers with the local Humane Society. Then one day, the conversation turned to genealogy.  One thing led to another, and to the Family History Center, where Bob and Dianne were volunteers for over 30 years.

Did you notice that word?  Were?  Yes, Bob followed Dianne’s example and a couple of weeks ago, at the church, keeled over and died.  The only consolation in all of this is that they are together now, and their last rescue cat died of old age just two weeks before Bob.  Neither of them suffered.

It’s really difficult when these doors close for us, especially when they slam so unexpectedly.  Thirty five years is a generation.  We knew each other’s children when they were pre-schoolers, grade-schoolers – and then terrible teens – and then somehow blossomed into decent human beings.

But this isn’t about Bob and Dianne’s untimely deaths – it’s about their lives, the fun we had and the memories we made.  I’m going to reminisce and share a bit with you – because, well, there are just some great stories.  And you see, Bob never did get even with me…..

Yes, it was a dastardly thing I did to him….but I wasn’t alone…I had help.  And yes, I probably should be ashamed of myself, but well….I’m not.

Bob and Dianne were both known for their sense of humor, and Bob for his never-ending practical jokes.  Everyone loved both of them, and they were always together in whatever they did.  Not to say there wasn’t an occasional eye-roll, but they were truly a well-matched, loving couple.

Halloween 2Bob and Dianne loved Halloween parties. Ok, Dianne loved Halloween parties and Bob knew what was good for him.

They decorated their house and property and planned for weeks every year.  They sent you an invitation, and if you didn’t answer, Dianne would call you and remind you and hound you until you agreed to attend, solely out of self-defense.

In 1993, my life hit a major milestone, a quite unwelcome roadblock when my former husband had a massive stroke.  To say my life changed in an instant is an understatement.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I didn’t see Bob and Dianne very much for quite some time.  I didn’t have time for genealogy or anything else.  Dianne, good friend that she was, continued to keep in touch.

Then, one year, she called me again and pestered me to come to the Halloween party.  I had lots of excuses, but none of them cut the mustard with Dianne.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity for some mischief.

Dianne, and everyone else, knew the circumstances in my personal life – so I told Dianne that I couldn’t come because I was pregnant, and embarrassed about the situation.  Dianne bent over backwards to assure me that no one was going to be judgmental or anything else terrible and I really needed to come – regardless.  I finally agreed after much arm-twisting.

Do you know how difficult it is to get a pillow to stay put without a belt around your waist?  And I didn’t have any stretchy pants, so I went to Goodwill to find maternity clothes. It was a pretty cheap Halloween costume.  And I must admit, the very best one ever.

When I arrived at the party, I let Dianne’s best friend, Cathy, in on the secret, and we decided that I needed to go into labor, in the bathroom. Dianne became very worried and “talked me into” letting Bob take me to the hospital after my water broke.

Cathy and I and a nurse who was also at the party got into the back of Bob’s van and headed for the hospital several miles away over very rough dirt roads – except – well – we didn’t make it.  The nurse told Bob to pull over, that she couldn’t deliver a baby on the bouncy dirt road, in the dark and she needed the overhead light on.

We could see Bob white-knuckling the steering wheel as the gals “delivered” the baby amongst much screaming and carrying-on.  We deserved an Academy Award for that performance:)  The baby was one of Dianne’s life-like baby dolls from her collection that we had kidnapped from the house.  Cathy told Bob he had to help and hold the baby, so she shoved this blanket with the baby doll in Bob’s lap.  After a minute or so, she told him to check it’s breathing – when he looked in the blanket and discovered that it wasn’t breathing, and he had been….well…..had. baby boy

Bob whipped around and looked at the three of us – which he had very graciously avoided doing while we were “delivering” the baby – and let’s just say he had a couple choice words for us as we all three bursted out laughing – the laughter we had been stifling all along.  His indignant anger lasted about 10 seconds, and you could just see the light bulb of opportunity click on.

He asked, “Does Dianne know?” “No,” we answered, shaking our heads in unison, and off we went, to prank Dianne.  Bob was in his prime – in his glory.  The prankee became the prankor.

Our prank on Bob became legendary, because Bob was always the prankster, never the other way around.  In fact, people were talking about it at his funeral, even though that baby would be about 20 years old now – had it been real. Someone I didn’t know walked up to me at the luncheon after Bob’s memorial service and said, “I know who you are and what you did.”  I started laughing, and hoped they would elaborate so I didn’t have to guess!  It seems, in retrospect, Bob liked that prank almost as much as we did and told the story regularly.  “Did I ever tell you about the time they delivered a baby in the back of my van???”

A few years later, I was standing in WalMart and Bob walked up to me, out of noplace, and said, “I still owe you and you never know when I’m going to get even,” and just walked off.  Left me chuckling, all over again.

One day, my phone rang, and someone told me that they had picked up my business card and had some DNA questions for me.  Now, this is kind of odd because my card doesn’t have my phone number on it and I do not give out my phone number because I don’t like to talk on the phone.  But I wasn’t going to be rude. Finally, they got to the point (which is part of why I dislike phone calls) and asked me if one of their cats was peeing on the floor if they could collect the urine and have the DNA sampled to see which of their cats was peeing.

There was finally silence on the other end of the phone then, and all I could think of to say was, “Did Bob give you my phone number?”  The sudden outburst of laughter on the other end of the line was all the answer I needed.

That wasn’t the first or only time we were involved in some kind of ruckus.

One night in the Family History Center, I found a name in something I was reading that caused me to laugh.  Libraries now may not be quiet zones, but they were then, and I finally had to get up and go outside to laugh.  A laugh is kind of like a sneeze and if you try to stifle it, it just gets worse and makes you snort.  And who wants to snort.

Dianne came out into the hallway to see if I was OK and more importantly, to find out what was so funny.  I told her the name and she started laughing too.  Then she started telling me some funny names she had found.  Before long, we had a list and other people at the FHC were adding to it too. We would all send our findings to Dianne and we all enjoyed taking an occasional look at the list – and having a good laugh.  Some probably weren’t church-appropriate – which – of course made them all the funnier.

When Dianne passed away, and I found another name, I suddenly realized that there was no one to send it to.  No one to share with.  No one to laugh about it with.  It’s the little things that get to you.

Bob sent me Dianne’s list, but it wasn’t the same as Dianne and I doing it together.  And so, it languished, until today.  And today, I decided that I really needed to pass it on and share the humor with you.  So, I went and found Dianne’s list and I have since added a DNA component, of course.  Would you expect any less from me?

Unusual Names

  • Baby Lone Lane (WI Draft)
  • Andrew Baldy
  • Bang
  • Barefoot
  • Bery Dredful (1869 Cherokee West Census)
  • Bituminous Coleman
  • Blizzard
  • Boner
  • Boo
  • Brat
  • Butlicker – 1880 census
  • Buttugger
  • But Isaac (WWI draft registration)
  • Chicken, Young
  • Churchyard, Oliver – Pastor
  • Comfort Castle – found in 1830 Columbia County, NY.
  • Constant Chase – found in 1830 Boston, Suffolk Co, MA.
  • Colliflower, John
  • Cotton Tufts – found in 1830 Weymouth, Norfolk Co, MA.
  • Crapster
  • Crow, John married Olive Bird
  • Cucumber Pickell
  • DeCay
  • Devils Ramrod (Seneca, War of 1812)
  • Dickensheets
  • Dodge Fatty (Seneca, War of 1812)
  • Douthit Bible
  • Easter
  • Easter, Darkass (I think this was the original entry that I found that was so funny)
  • Elizabeth Martin Bird Crow Robin Buzzard (married several times)
  • Fanny Rumble
  • Fanny Slappy
  • Farry Jacobs (male, on his draft registration)
  • Fight Thompson
  • Firestarter
  • Fix
  • Flowerdew
  • Forest Hunt
  • Frost Snow – found in 1920 Reed Island, Pulaski Co, VA.
  • Fudge
  • Bethia Furbush
  • Gassaway Sellman
  • Getting Down (1869 Cherokee West Census)
  • Gloomy Jones
  • Gotcha
  • Green Peter Dam & Resevoir
  • Green Fields
  • Guts Diver (1869 Cherokee Census)
  • Hardon
  • Hazzard & Hore Law Firm
  • Hoig, Harry (WWI draft registration)
  • Fannie Hickey
  • Fanny Heiney who married her Heiney cousin making her Fanny Heiney Heiney
  • Fanny Pack
  • Fanny Packer
  • Finder Binder – female shot in the arm in Randolph Co., AL
  • Hank Squared
  • Hardin Short
  • Harry Badass – 1885 Nebraska census
  • Harry Dick and then Harry Dick Jr.
  • Henry Henry
  • Hohos
  • Honor Hill married Mr. Mountain and became Honor Mountain
  • Hott
  • House marries Davenport
  • Huckleberry Birdchopper
  • Hugh Askew
  • Hugh Pugh
  • Icy Frost
  • Icy Louise P. Green
  • Ima Hogg (wife of the governor of Texas)
  • John Deady, funeral director, Philadelphia
  • John, Saucy
  • John Will Hunt
  • Joy Noel
  • Joy Rider – found in 1930 Bennington, Morrow County, OH.
  • Jinks Mistaker (Onandoga, War of 1812 roster)
  • Justin Quiring
  • Kitchen Faucett
  • Kittle, Big
  • Knipple
  • Larry A. Holle
  • Laughter
  • Lawrence Horney m. Elizabeth Burns
  • Leafy Plant (female)
  • Leak Locklear
  • Lemon and Orange, twins of Lemon Pitcher, Great Melton, Norfolk, England 1736
  • Long, Peter
  • Lovie McAtee marries Willoughby Loveless
  • Lovely Hooker
  • Mabee
  • Mabe Sampson
  • Malehorn
  • Mercedes Mouser
  • Milder Currey
  • More Badass (1920 census NY)
  • Mr. Cobb weds Miss Corn – El Paso, TX
  • Mrs. Graves lived on Cemetery Road
  • Mumper (given name)
  • Mycock
  • Nathaniel Bacon marries Hannah Mayo
  • Nicewanger
  • Noble Crapper – found in 1790 Worcester Co, MD.
  • Oldfather
  • Olive Green
  • Orange Field – found in 1930 Miller County, GA.
  • Otta B. Weaver
  • Outerbridge Horsey Jr.
  • Owen Owen Owens
  • Oyster
  • Page Turner – found in 1880 Putnam County, GA.
  • Pecker
  • Peter Putterhead
  • Phlegm
  • Cucumber Pickell – 1860 Michigan census
  • Pink Woods
  • Pleasant Cox
  • Poole, Gene
  • Potter Plant
  • Preserved Fish
  • Purchase
  • Purple Winter
  • Rex A. Lot  (Driving Instructor)
  • Rhoda Jones married Joe Buffalo becoming Rhoda Buffalo
  • Roach, Pet
  • Robin Redwing
  • Rock Fields
  • Roten Locklear
  • Runaway Swimmer
  • Rusty Bell, a redhead
  • Sandy Beach
  • Sandy Box
  • Savior
  • Shewasa Griffin (think about this one)
  • Silence Belcher
  • Smoker Hunter
  • Snowball
  • Snow, Frost and
  • Snow, Ice and
  • Snow, Deep
  • Snow White (a man)
  • Soggy Hill (WWI service registration)
  • Soggy Youngbird (WWI service registration)
  • Songs
  • Songster
  • Stair Walker
  • Strange Backhouse
  • Suchadoll
  • Susie Tinkle
  • Swallow, Birdie
  • Sweatt, Fanny May
  • The Geezinslaws
  • Thankful Mills married Oliver Lord, making her Thankful Lord
  • Tiny Little – found in 1930 Chatooga County, GA.
  • Tobacco, Chaw (Seneca, War of 1812 roster)
  • Trick
  • Truebody
  • Turley Curd
  • Turnipseed
  • Ulickham, Henry
  • Useless Love
  • Violet Tulip
  • Wealthy Case
  • Wilden Wooley
  • Will Billy
  • Worst
  • Yankee
  • Yawn
  • Young Booger
  • Young Fry


  • Annus-Biter Wedding
  • Bair-Teets Wedding
  • Bate-Bass Wedding
  • Beaver-Aiken Wedding
  • Beaver-Benders Wedding
  • Beaver-Weaver Wedding
  • Bird-Bath WEdding
  • Blue-Berry Wedding
  • Bone-Husband Wedding
  • Breast-Mash Wedding
  • Broker-Knuckle Wedding
  • Bushy-Johnson Wedding
  • Butt-Driver Wedding
  • Butts-Fudger Wedding
  • Catlip-Legg Wedding
  • Cockman-Dickman Wedding
  • Coke-Head Wedding
  • Crap-Beer Wedding
  • Creamer-Utter Wedding
  • Daylong-Johnson Wedding
  • DeLong-Boner Wedding
  • DeMoney-Hyder Wedding
  • Devine-Ho Wedding
  • Dick-Tulek Wedding
  • Dooher-Christopher Wedding
  • Drilling-Cousin Wedding
  • Duer-Early Wedding
  • Eaton-Titlow Wedding
  • Eubanks-Mounts Wedding
  • Ferguson-Crotchfelt Wedding
  • Fillerup-Standing Wedding
  • Fine-Bousum Wedding
  • Fite-Staab Wedding
  • Flem-Greene Wedding
  • Flynt-Stone Wedding
  • Fuller-Beers Wedding
  • Funk-Kee Wedding
  • Fur-Burns Wedding
  • Fox-Goose WEdding
  • Gentle-Bange Wedding
  • Gin-Bourbon Wedding
  • Godown-Gross Wedding
  • Good-Lauck Wedding
  • Goosie-Gander Wedding
  • Gory-Butcher Wedding
  • Granny-Mount Wedding
  • Gross- Pantti Wedding
  • Gross-Tingley Wedding
  • Hang-Wright Wedding
  • Hay-Sailors Wedding
  • Hog-Paradise Wedding
  • Holder-Moore Wedding
  • Hole-Drilling Wedding
  • House-Recker Wedding
  • Houser-Annas Wedding
  • Hunt-Peck Wedding
  • Johnson-Feast Wedding
  • Johnson-Hummer Wedding
  • Johnson-Wacker Wedding
  • King-Bishop Wedding
  • Knapp-Sack Wedding
  • Knott-Bow Wedding
  • Kroetch-Crater Wedding
  • Large-Tinkey Wedding
  • Long-Ouch Wedding
  • Looney-Ward Wedding
  • Lotsa-Peter Wedding
  • Lusting-Johnson Wedding
  • McMaster-Bates Wedding
  • Manley-Pickle Wedding
  • Makin-Peeples Wedding
  • Maus-Knapp Wedding
  • Moore-Bacon Wedding
  • Moose-Greaser Wedding
  • Muff-Masterman Wedding
  • Must-Reamer Wedding
  • Nutter-Boner Wedding
  • Partee-Moore Wedding
  • Peters-Sohre Wedding
  • Piccirilli-Pecorelli Wedding
  • Pickle-Ryder Wedding
  • Puls-Johnson Wedding
  • Outhouse-Burns Wedding
  • Poon-Fisher Wedding
  • Ramsbottom-Moore Wedding
  • Rather-Grim Wedding
  • Reamer-Oiler Wedding
  • Ruff-Goings Wedding
  • Sawyer-Cherry Wedding
  • Sawyer-Hiney Wedding
  • Schmitt-Head Wedding
  • Seaman-Sample Wedding
  • Sell-Schmel Wedding
  • Sharpe-Payne Wedding
  • Sheepshanks-Ramsbottom Wedding
  • Small-Husband Wedding
  • Small-Knob Wedding
  • Smelley-Farkas Wedding
  • Speedy-Zieper Wedding
  • Staples-Bottom Wedding
  • Steel-Iron Wedding
  • Steele-Kage Wedding
  • Strange-Slappy Wedding
  • Stranglen-Johnson Wedding
  • Stoker-Dailey Wedding
  • Swift-Kalonick Wedding
  • Tinker-Butts Wedding
  • Toole-Burns Wedding
  • Tune-Narup Wedding
  • Van Halen-Prince Wedding
  • Wannamaker-Popp Wedding
  • Wang-Crumpler Wedding
  • Wang-Holder Wedding
  • Weiner-Frost Wedding
  • Whyde-Hole Wedding
  • Widener-Moore Wedding
  • Wooden-Coffin Wedding
  • Wrinkle-Johnson Wedding

DNA (Ancestry search)

  • Dna Day (new holiday)
  • Dna For (what?)
  • Dna Marvel
  • Dna Waters
  • Dna Gropper (trying to get DNA from your date:)
  • Dna Ray (kind of like the death ray, but different)
  • Dna Wisdom
  • Dna Miner (swab harder….)
  • Dna May (answer your questions)
  • Dna Bone
  • Dna Regester
  • Dna Center
  • Dna Dume (new game)
  • Dna King
  • Dna Brothers
  • Dna Call
  • Dna Rush (what you get when your relative agrees to test)
  • Dna Edge (what people whose relatives will test have over those whose relatives won’t test)
  • Dna Scatt (another way to obtain DNA for the very desperate)
  • Dna Seaman (not touching this one – no way, no how)
  • Dna Valentine (oh, now there’s an idea…..)
  • Dna Conn
  • Dna Heller (what we do with DNA conns)
  • No Goo Dna
  • Dna Ball (new geeky toy)

Yes, I know these DNA entries are probably misspelled or mis-transcribed, but they are fun anyway and that’s what Dianne’s list was about in the first place.  Having fun.

It’s sad, truly sad, for both Dianne and Bob to have left this earth too soon, with so many more years to offer – but their legacy is a wonderful one.  They made a lifetime of difference to each and every one of the many animals they rescued over the years.

Their 30 years of service to genealogists is unparalleled and their entire three decades was delivered with a smile and laughter.  They brightened everyone’s day.  That is their legacy.  I hope Dianne’s list has made you smile a bit too and brightened your day.  Feel free to share.

Oh, and as for Bob getting even with me…my phone has been ringing half a ring with no caller ID two or three times a day, for days now.  I do believe Bob is testing his wings.  I shudder to think…. wisteria



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John Y. Estes (1818-1895), Civil War Soldier, Walked to Texas, Twice, 52 Ancestors #64

John Y Estes

John Y. Estes, whose photo we believe is shown above, started out years ago with a question, one that is probably answered now, but every time we think we answer one question about him, another dozen take its place.

Let’s start from the beginning.  When I first saw John’s name, I immediately noticed the Y.  Two things occurred to me…first, that’s someone’s last name and second, that’s shouldn’t be too difficult to find.  Y is not like S that would include something like Smith and takes up 10% of the alphabet.  Famous last words, or first thoughts, because assuredly, that second thought was NOT true.

Now don’t laugh, but one time I was at one of those fortune telling places.  The fortune teller asked me if I had any more questions.  I said yes, and asked her about John Y. Estes’s middle name.  She said something like Yarborough or maybe Yancy.  She wasn’t right about anything else either.

Nope, never let it be said that genealogists are a desperate group!

John Y. Estes was born on December 29, 1818, in Halifax County, Virginia to John R. Estes and his wife, Nancy Ann Moore.  Hmmmm, that middle initial R. might be someone’s last name….never mind….

We know that John R. Estes and his wife, Nancy Ann Moore, along with five if not six children made the long wagon journey from Halifax County, Virginia to Claiborne County, TN. sometime between 1818 and 1826 when John R. Estes had a land survey in Claiborne County.  The 1820 census doesn’t exist for Claiborne County and John appears to be gone from Halifax by then, so we’re out of luck knowing where John R. was in 1820.

In the 1830 census, John R. Estes was living in Claiborne County in the vicinity of Estes Holler, shown below.

Estes Holler 2

How do I know that?  Because these families have all become very familiar to me over my 30+ years of research.  John is living beside William Cunningham, who, in 1871 signed as a character witness for John R. Estes.  And six houses away we find John Campbell, the grandfather of Ruthy Dodson who likely raised her after her mother, Elizabeth Campbell died.  Rutha Dodson was the future wife of John Y. Estes.  And next door to John Campbell lived Mercurious Cook whose son’s widow John R. Estes would marry in another 40 years – but that is a story for a different day.

In the early 1830s, John R. Estes took his family to live in Grainger County for a short time.  Nancy Ann Moore’s two uncles, Rice and Mackness Moore lived there, Rice being a Methodist minister.  John R. Estes’s daughter, Lucy, married in Grainger County in 1833.  By 1835, John was back in Claiborne County when Temperance married Adam Clouse, so they didn’t stay long in Grainger County.

For the most part, John Y. Estes grew up in or near Estes Holler, below, from the cemetery, which, of course, is why it’s called Estes Holler today.

estes holler 5

By 1840, John Y. was probably courting the lovely Ruthy Dodson, likely at her grandfather’s house.  John Campbell had died in 1838, but his widow Jenny Dobkins Campbell didn’t die until between 1850 and 1860, so she would have still been living on the old home place, on Little Sycamore Road, below, when young John Y. Estes came to call.

Campbell house

We don’t find John R. Estes in the 1840 census, but by 1841, John R. Estes had to be living someplace in the vicinity because both his sons Jechonias and John Y. Estes married local gals.

On March 1, 1841, John Y. Estes married Ruthy Dodson, just a couple months after his 23rd birthday.

John Y Estes Rutha Dodson marriage

Ruthy Dodson’s mother, Elizabeth Campbell died before Elizabeth’s father, John Campbell, did in 1838.  After John’s death, a guardian was appointed for Elizabeth’s children to function on behalf of their financial interests in his estate.

In the 1830 census, the John Campbell household has small children, so it’s very likely that the grandparents, John and Jenny Dobkins Campbell were raising Elizabeth Campbell’s children she had with her husband, Lazarus Dodson.

On September 5th, 1842, John Y. Estes signed a receipt for receiving part of Ruthy’s inheritance.  This seems to have been paid yearly, at least until the children reached the age of majority.

“John Y. Estes rect. dated 5th Sept. 1842, $54.35. Ditto rents for the year 1841, $1.50. Ditto order for what ballence may be in my hands as guardean, amt. $56.61.”

By 1850, we find John Y. Estes living in Estes Holler along with the rest of the Estes clan.  John is listed as a laborer, age 30, Ruthy as age 25 and Lazarus as age 2.

Given that John and Ruthy were married in 1841 and their oldest child in 1850 is only 2, this suggests that John and Ruthy had already buried several children.  If they had one child per year and the child died at or shortly after birth, they could have buried as many as six children in this time.  The Upper Estes cemetery, as well as the Venable Cemetery at the end of the road have many, many unmarked graves.  The Upper Estes Cemetery was within view of the John Y. Estes home place.

Upper Estes Cemetery

Furthermore, we know that John Y. Estes was living on this land, even though we find very few records of John Y. Estes in official county documents.

This land was originally granted to William Devenport and would eventually, in part, become the property of Rutha Estes, John Y.’s wife – but that wouldn’t happen for another 30 years.

William Devenport, April 17, 1850 – James McNeil trustee to William S. McVey, Districts 6 and 8, 475 acres, Buzzard’s Rock Knob – corner of grant to James M. Patterson, from Devenport’s spring, grant to Drewry Gibson, 50 acres #14072, line of Drewry Gibson, crossing Gibson’s branch, S with John Dobkins grant owned at present by Leander and Greenberry Cloud near N.S. McNeil’s line crossing Gibson’s branch on top of Middle Ridge, Planks fence of old Wier place, John Mason’s corner and line, Cunningham’s line, Devenport-Lanham’s corner, Weatherman’s spring, middle ridge – all of above contained in grant 16628 from the St. of Tennessee to William Devenport.

Second tract – 130 acres of land on the S. Side of Wallen’ ridge, corner of D. Gibson’s 50 acres tract #14072, Houston’s line, NW of Devenport’s line, Harkins corner, large rock on top of knob called Buzzard’s Rock, Harkins corner, Abel Lanham’s corner, Henderson’s line, 100 acre tract of WH Jennings, Bise’s corner, top of Wallen Ridge at Bise’s stake corner of Hardy tract, Henderson’s corner, the above contained in grant 27438 St. of Tn. to Devenport.

Also a 25 acre tract known as the Weatherman place.

1851 – William Devenport tax sale to William McVey – bid July 7, 1851 at courthouse, land in the 8th district, but due to a change in the lines now in the 6th district living near the lines of the 6th and 8th, sold for the taxes of 1845 and 1846, $16.77, 200 acres.

Tract 1 – S side Wallen Ridge near Little Sycamore adjacent lands of William Houston, Mordica Cunningham on the South, Samuel Harkins on the North, on NE Cunningham, William Houston’s, the land commonly known as the Weatherman place where William Devenport and John Estes now live.  Census records show that this is John Y. Estes, not John R. Estes that lives beside William Devenport.

So, in 1851, William Devenport is losing his land and apparently, neither he nor John Estes can do anything about it.  John is not bidding on the land.  William S. McVey purchased this land and in 1852, William McVey also purchased a very large tract of land granted to William Estes, John’s brother, which John Y. Estes witnessed.

By 1876, this same land is being conveyed by Henry Sharp to W.H. Cunningham.  How do we know this is the same land that is where John Y. Estes lived?  Metes and bounds are included, it states that is was William Devenport’s and it says that is where David A. King lived when he died.  The Reverend David A. King, a Methodist minister fought for the Union in the Civil War, died in 1873 and is buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery.  His daughter, Elizabeth married the son of John Y. Estes, George Buchanan Estes, in 1878.  I wonder if the old Reverend rolled over in his grave to have his daughter marry the son of a Confederate.  Yes, the secret is out, John Y. Estes was a Confederate.

David King

1876, Mar 30 – Henry Sharp of Campbell Co., TN to W.H. Cunningham of Claiborne for $400, 2 tracts of land in Claiborne on the waters of Little Sycamore Creek on the South side of Wallen’s Ridge adj the land of William Houston, decd and constitute the farm on which David A. King lived at the time of his death, one part is an entry made by William Devenport and bounded as follows: Beginning at a hickory stump on a red bank in Houston’s line thence north 9 deg west with Hentins? Line 94 poles to the Buzzard Rock on the top of Wallen’s Ridge thence with the top of Wallen’s ridge 240 poles to a chestnut oak and when redused to a strait line is south 60 deg west 234 poles then south 75? Deg east on Houston’s line 34 poles to a stake in the other line of Houston’s then with the same north 70 deg east 93.75 poles to a double chestnut and gum on a spur at Houston’s corner thence with lines of Houston’s land south 390 deg east 43 poles to a maple at the branch then east 62 poles to a hickory stump then with lines of Houston’s land south 30 east 43 poles to a maple at a branch then east 62 poles to a hickory stump then north 62 poles to a large white oak corner then east 9 poles to the beginning containing 90 acres more or less.

This land would eventually be owned by Rutha Estes, the wife of John Y. Estes.

The second parcel bounded by…Houston’s line, Devenport’s grant line, 25 acres.  Witness JW Bois, WW Greer.

This was a very, very indirect “round the mountain” way to track John Y. Estes, but it worked.  However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s go back before the Civil War.

On March 8, 1856, in the court records, we show that John Y. Estes had an account in the estate of Thomas Baker – in other words, he owed Thomas money.

In the 1860 census, John and Rutha have four more children, although with a gap of 4 years between Lazarus and Elizabeth, it looks like they lost at least one more child.

John Y Estes 1860

Interestingly, John Y. Estes is a shoemaker.  John is shown as owning no land, but he does have a personal estate of $173, which isn’t exactly trivial.

I think in 1860 that John Y. Estes is not living in Estes Holler.  He is living beside carpenters, stage drivers, a wagon maker, a wagoner and a carriage maker who was quite wealthy.  That sounds suspiciously like he was living in town which would have been Tazewell.

The Civil War

Shortly after 1860, life would change dramatically for the Estes family.  Tensions were escalating towards the Civil War, and in 1861, they erupted when initially 4, then 7, then 11 states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederacy.  Tennessee did secede, but not initially.  Claiborne County was badly torn between the North and South, the blue and grey – and families were torn apart as different brothers and sons joined opposite sides.  Loyalties were divided and family members fought against one another.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell as part of the greater struggle for the strategic Cumberland Gap. When the Confederates evacuated the town in November of that year, a fire followed, destroying much of Tazewell.  In essence, anyone who could leave, did, because Tazewell was a target of continuous raids for food and supplies.

We know by 1870, positively, from the census, that the John Y. Estes family is back in Estes Holler.  We also know from family stories about the Civil War that they spent the majority of the War in Estes Holler.

But what we didn’t know was something far, far more important.

Aunt Margaret told me that while the war was over, it was really never resolved in Claiborne County.  The Crazy Aunts used to tell stories of the men in Claiborne County wearing their Civil War uniforms once again, on Memorial Day, and head for town to “refight” the war, as long as there were any veterans left to do so.  I suspect that most of the fighting was verbal and in the form of relived memories, but assuredly, not all, especially if region’s notorious moonshine was involved….and you know it was!

The aunts, Margaret and Minnie, lived in Estes Holler as a child, and while I knew none of my direct Estes ancestors had served in the Civil War, obviously some people from that area had.  Just a couple years ago, I decided to look for Estes men in Claiborne County, TN to see if any of them had fought in the Civil War at  Was I ever in for the surprise of my life.

My great-great-grandfather, John Y. Estes served in the Civil War – but for which side?

John Y Estes reference slip

Look what that says.  Confederate.

John’s service records are confusing, to say the least.  There are documents in his file from both sides, it seems.  How can that be?  Let’s start with the basics.

The Civil War began in earnest in April, 1861 when confederate forces bombarded the Union controlled Fort Sumter, SC in Charleston Harbor.

Many people who lived in Claiborne County fought for the North and joined the Union troops, but not all.  The Civil War was a source of dissention within and between families in Claiborne County.  Few people there held slaves, so slavery was not a driving force.  By searching for his unit, I confirmed that John Y. Estes had joined the Confederate Army, but I was stunned.  All of my other family members in my various lines fought for the Union – including the families from that area.

The history of Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry Regiment F, formed in Claiborne County shows that it was formed on August 10, 1862 by Captain R. Frank Fulkerson who lived near John Y. Estes in the 1860 census.  There is no existing muster roll, although I recreated one as best I could from the various men’s service records in his unit.  Reading John’s record, along with the other men’s records in his unit, (along with regimental and other histories,)  is also how I reconstructed where that unit was, when, and what they were doing.

We don’t know when John enlisted, although it was likely when the unit was formed, nor do we know if he ever applied for a pension.  John would have been 44 years old in 1862, so no spring chicken.  His daughter, Nancy Jane has been born in November of 1861.  He had a wife and 6 children at home ranging in age from Lazarus born in 1848, so 13, to newborn.  His wife probably wanted to kill him for enlisting and save the Union Forces the trouble.

What we do know is that on March 20, 1865, in Louisville, KY, John Y. Estes signed the following allegiance document.  I later discovered that he had been captured and this was one way men obtained their freedom. This document tells us that he had dark skin, dark hair and dark eyes and was 5 feet 7 inches tall, just slightly taller than me. Information I didn’t have before.  If you look closely at John’s picture at the beginning of this article, he may have been mixed-race.

John Y. Estes allegiance

And look, we also have his signature.

So, how did John Y. Estes get to Louisville, KY in 1865 from Claiborne County?  To answer that question, I tracked the activities of his unit.  That was much easier said than done.

Here’s what we know about the activities of Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry Regiment.

Prior to the organization of the regiment, the battalion had been operating in the neighborhood of Cumberland Gap and Big Creek Gaps, at present day LaFollette, TN, about 33 miles distant from each other, along the line of the railroad.

When the regiment was organized it was assigned to Brigadier General John Pegram’s Cavalry Brigade in Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith’s Department. This brigade was composed of Howard’s Alabama Regiment, 2nd (Ashby’s), 4th (Starnes’), I. E. Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, and Marshall’s Battery.

Prior to the Battle of Murfreesboro, on December 29, 1862, Carter’s Regiment joined Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler’s Brigade, and participated in his raid around the Federal Army from Jefferson Springs to LaVergue, to Nolensville, to Murfreesboro, TN. The unit was engaged on December 31 along the Murfreesboro Pike.

Following this battle, the regiment returned to Pegram’s Brigade, in the Department of East Tennessee under Brigadier General D. S. Donelson.

With Pegram’s Brigade, the regiment took part in operations in Lincoln, Boyle and Garrard Counties of Kentucky, and was engaged March 30, 1863 at the junction of the Stanford and Crab Orchard Roads where it was under the command of Colonel Scott, of the 1st Louisiana Regiment. General Pegram’s comment on this operation is interesting: “For Colonel Scott’s operations, I refer you to the accompanying report. Touching this curious document I have only to say that I cannot but admire the ingenuity with which Colonel Scott has attempted to account for disobedience of orders and dilatoriness of action which it is my sincere belief lost us the fight.” Colonel Carter reported five officers and 32 men as casualties in this operation.

It was not a good day to be a Confederate soldier.  John saw his comrades die. It probably wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

On April 25, 1863, Colonel J. I. Morrison was reported in command of the brigade, now listed as composed of 1st Georgia, 1st and 2nd Tennessee Regiments, 12th and 16th Cavalry Battalions, and Huwald’s Battery. The brigade was at Albany, Kentucky on May 1; at Travisville, Fentress County, Kentucky on May 2.

On July 23, the Chief of Staff, at Knoxville, ordered Colonel Scott, then commanding the brigade, to send 300 horses of 1st (Carter’s) Regiment to Loudon, Tennessee.

On July 31, Pegram’s Brigade, consisting of 1st and 6th Georgia Regiments, 7th North Carolina Battalion, 1st Tennessee Regiment, Rucker’s Legion, and Huwald’s Battery was reported at Ebenezer.

From December of 1862 to August of 1863, John Y. Estes’s unit covered over 1000 miles and marched from East Tennessee, near the Cumberland Gap to central Tennessee to Kentucky, back to central Tennessee and then back to the Cumberland Gap.

John Y Estes civil war map

On August 15, Carter’s Regiment was reported as operating near Clinton and participated in the fighting around Cumberland Gap.  This fighting occurred on the land previously owned by John Y. Estes’s wife’s father, Lazarus Dodson.  The photo below is on Tipprell Road, on Lazarus’s land, looking North towards Cumberland Gap.

dodson land tipprell road

This is where Lazarus Dodson’s father, Lazarus Dodson’s Revolutionary War marker stands today, in the Cottrell Cemetery, below, now on land owned by Lincoln Memorial University.  This photo is standing in the cemetery, looking North towards the mountains and Cumberland Gap.

Cottrell cem looking north

This map shows LMU complex, the location of the cemetery with the upper red arrow and the location of the Dodson homestead with the lower arrow.  You can see the now abandoned road that used to connect the homestead with the cemetery.

Dodson homestead Cottrell Cem

The map below shows the larger area.  It’s probably a mile between the Dodson homestead and the LMU campus across the back way and maybe two and a half miles to Cumberland Gap, up Tipprell Road from the Dodson home.

Cumberland Gap Dodson homestead

This Civil War map shows where the troops camped, at Camp Cottrell, at Butcher Springs.  Lazarus Dodson had sold this land in 1861 to David Cottrell whose residence is marked on the map.  That was the old Lazarus Dodson homestead.  The main road, now called Tipprell Road, was called Gap Creek Road at the time.  It connects the valley, passes Butcher Springs and continues up to Cumberland Gap along the creek and now the railroad as well.  The road heading to the right above the Cottrell homestead used to go up to the cemetery, but is no longer a road today.

camp cottrell civil war map

This photo shows that area today.  It’s flat, so perfect for camping.  Butcher Springs is to the right in this photo, below, just out of sight.


This is me standing in the Cottrell Cemetery.

Me in Cottrell Cemetery

Butcher springs would be behind me in the valley to the right.  On the Civil War map, Patterson’s Smith shop would be the cluster of buildings where you can see the church, to the left in the picture, in the distance, across the road.

Cumberland Gap was captured by the Federal troops on September 9, 1863, but the Confederate regiment had escaped up the valley before the surrender, and on September 11, Colonel Carter was reported in command of the brigade near Lee Courthouse.  Lee Courthouse is present day Jonesville, VA, about 35 miles from Cumberland Gap.  I’ve added Estes Holler here for context.

John Y Estes Cumberland Gap Lee Courthouse

On September 18, Carter’s Regiment was driven from the ford above Kingsport, TN after a severe fight.  This fight was only 7 days later and Kingsport was another 45 miles distant over rough, mountainous terrain.

John Y Estes Jonesville Kingsport

Somewhere about this time, the regiment was assigned to Brigadier General John S. Williams’ Cavalry Brigade, composed of the 16th Georgia Battalion, 4th Kentucky Regiment, 10th Kentucky Battalion, May’s Kentucky Regiment, 1st Tennessee and 64th Virginia Regiments, which on October 31, 1863 was reported at Saltville, Virginia, 60 miles northeast of Kingsport, TN.

The unit received orders to proceed to Dalton, GA, but despite these orders, Carter’s Regiment was reported near Rogersville on November 1, in Williams’ Brigade, with Colonel H. L. Gutner commanding.

Rogersville was back, through Kingsport, about 90 miles “down the valley,” so to speak.

John Y Estes Rogersville Saltville

In the meantime, Captain Van Dyke’s Company “C” had returned from Mississippi, and on November 24, 1863 was at Charleston, Tennessee with Colonel John C. Carter’s 38th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. Charleston was 145 miles from Rogersville.

John Y Estes Rogersville Charleston

Colonel Carter highly commended Captain Van Dyke and his 44 men for the part they played in helping his forces to evacuate Charleston without being captured.  On April 16, 1864, the regiment was transferred to Vaughn’s Brigade, of Brigadier General J. C. Vaughn’s Division, and reported 248 men present. It remained in this brigade until the end of the war.

By May of 1864, the majority of the fighting had shifted to Virginia.  Between mid-April and May, John Y. Estes’s unit traveled almost 400 miles, from Charleston, TN to the Lynchburg, VA region.

John Y Estes Charleton Lynchburg

The Civil War was becoming a series of constant battles which were referenced as the Campaign in the Valley of Virginia which lasted from May-July of 1864 as shown on this map by Hal Jespersen.

Shenandoah Valley Campaign 1864

As part of Vaughn’s Brigade, the regiment moved into Virginia in early 1864, fought at the Battle of Piedmont, New Hope Church, and in the subsequent campaign in the Valley of Virginia under General Early.

Germanna Ford

This drawing from Harper’s Weekly shows the troops crossing at Germanna Ford during the Battle of New Hope Church, also called the Mine Run Campaign.


This drawing shows the “Army of the Potomac at Mine-Run, General Warren’s Troops attacking.”

Battle of Piedmont

This is the location, today, of the Battle of Piedmont.  This battlefield looked very different when John Y. Estes stood here on June 5th, 1864.  There were men, horses and blood all over this battlefield.  After severe fighting, the Confederates lost, badly.

It was this point, nearing the end of this chapter of the war, that John Y. Estes entered the hospital on June 12th.  But, that doesn’t mean he was done…the worst, perhaps, was yet to follow.  What happened next?  There has to be more.

Hmmm, let’s check the 1890 Civil War veterans census.  Nope, nothing there.

Well, let’s look under Eastice.  His folder says that name was used as well.

John Y Estes private

Well, Glory Be, look what we’ve found.  His index packet, indeed, under Eastice.

John Y Estes absent

This regimental return of October 1864 says that he was an absent enlisted man accounted for, “Without Cane Valley of Va. Aug. 28.”  That’s odd phrasing.  Does it mean “without leave?”  But it says he is accounted for?

John Y Estes deserter

Uh-oh, this doesn’t look good.  Now he’s on the list of deserters as of March 18, 1865.  It says he was released north of the Ohio River.  That goes along with the “Oath of Allegiance” document that he signed on March the 20th.

John Y Estes POW

Wikipedia says that during the Civil War, prisoners of War were often released upon taking at “oath of allegiance.”  General Sherman was known to ship people to Louisville and those who signed were freed, north of the Ohio, and those who didn’t remained in prison.

This documents John Y’s oath of allegiance, and the faint writing says that his name also appears as John Y. Estus.  How many ways can you spell Estes?  I checked and there are no additional records under Estus – at least none that are indexed yet.

John Y Estes transfer

This document says that he was a Prisoner of War, but this kind of Prisoner of War was a Rebel Deserter.  He was apparently “caught” on March 6th, 1865, send to Chattanooga, then to Louisville apparently in late March where he was taken across the Ohio River.  I’m thinking John Y. considered this a very bad month.

John Y Estes desertion info

This page gives us a little more info.  Apparently he deserted at Staunton, Va. on June 30 of 1864, just days after his hospitalization and release.  Where was he between June 30, 1864 and March 6 of 1865?  And where was he captured?  The first document says that in October of 1864, he was accounted for which I would interpret to mean that they knew where he was and whatever the situation, was OK.  Nothing confusing about these records….

John Y Estes medical

Well here is at least part of the answer.  On June the 12, 1864 he was hospitalized and had a partial anchyloses of his knee.  On June the 19th he was sent to a convalescent camp.  The 30th of the same month, he was reported as having deserted at Staunton.

What they don’t say here is that Staunton was devastated by the Union in June of 1864 – everything was burned including shops, factories mills and miles of railroad tracks were destroyed.  If that is where he was convalescing, it’s no wonder he deserted, or simply left.

He was accounted for in October, but sometime between then and March 1865, he apparently deserted for real, or he already had in October.  I wonder if he simply went home, or attempted to go home.  Where was he when he was caught, or deserted?  If you are a Confederate deserter, and the Union forces “catch” you, do they still hold you prisoner?  Maybe the Confederates only thought he deserted and he was in fact captured?  But the Union paperwork indicates he was listed as a Rebel deserter.  So many questions.

Ankylosis or anchylosis is a stiffness of a joint due to abnormal adhesion and rigidity of the bones of the joint, which may be the result of injury or disease, sometimes resulting from malnutrition. The rigidity may be complete or partial and may be due to inflammation of the tendons or muscular structures outside the joint or of the tissues of the joint itself.  Sometimes the bones fuse together.  This disease is considered a severe functional limitation.

So here is what we know about John Y. Estes and the Civil War.  He probably joined when the regiment was formed on August 10, 1862, although he may have been participating in the unofficial unit since 1861.  The Fulkerson’s in Tazewell, his near neighbors, were instrumental in raising Confederate volunteers in Claiborne County.  John Y. Estes fought and served until he was either injured or a previous condition became so serious in 1864 that he could not function, although he participated in some of the worst fighting and most brutal battles of the war.  John is reported to have been admitted to the hospital in Charlottesville, VA on June the 12th, transferred to a convalescent camp on June 19th, and deserted at Staunton, Va. on June the  30th.  In October, 1864 records say he was accounted for, but absent.  By March 6th of 1865, he was in prison, captured as a deserter, transferred to Chattanooga, signed the allegiance oath and by the end of March, had been taken to Louisville before being deposited on the north side of the Ohio River, having agreed to stay there for the duration of the war.

He didn’t have long to wait.  General Lee surrendered at the Battle of Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865.  But then John probably had to walk home on that injured leg.

That leg apparently didn’t slow him down much.  John Y. Estes eventually walked to Texas, not once, but twice, according to the family, which means he walked back to Tennessee once too.  The family said one leg was shorter than the other and he walked with a cane or walking stick.  It’s about 950 miles from Estes Holler in Claiborne County, Tennessee to Montague County, Texas.  I surely want to know why he walked back from Texas to Tennessee.  After making the initial journey, on foot, taking months, what could be that important in Tennessee?  Was he hoping to convince his wife to relocate with him?  Even then, land and other legal transactions could be handled from afar, so it must have been an intensely personal reason.  Maybe he only decided to return to Texas, forever, after he had returned to Tennessee.

I have to wonder how John’s Civil War allegiance and subsequent desertion, if that is actually what it was, affected John himself and the way that the people in Claiborne County viewed him.  He went back home and lived for several years.  His neighbor in Estes Holler, David King, fought for the North.  So did his sister’s husbands and children.  I’m betting holidays were tough and there was no small talk at the table.  Maybe there were no family gatherings because of these polarized allegiances.  They would have been extremely awkward and difficult.  Maybe John was quietly ostracized.  Maybe that’s part of why he eventually left for Texas.

On October 5, 1865, just six months after being released on the north side of the Ohio River, John Y. Estes did a very unusual thing.  He deeded his property, mostly kitchen items and livestock, to his son Lazarus who was about 17 years old and lived in the family home.

Transcribed from book Y, pages 286 and 287, Claiborne County, Tennessee, by Roberta Estes.

Deed of Gift From John Eastis to Lazarus Eastis :

State of Tennessee, Claiborne County. Personally appeared before me J. I. Hollingsworth, clerk of the county court of the said county, J. R. Eastis and Sallie Bartlett, with whom I am personally aquainted, and after being duly sworn depose and say that they heard John Y. Eastis acknowledge the written deed of conveyance, for the purpose therein contained upon the day it being dated. Given under my hand at office in Taswell this 9th day of October, 1865. J. I. Hollingsworth, clerk. Know all men by these presents that I, John Eastis of the County of Claiborne, State of Tennessee in consideration of the natural love and affection which I feel for, my son, Lazarus and also for divers good cause and consideration, I the said John Eastis, hereunto moving, have given, granted and confirmed by these presents, do give, grant and confirm unto said Lazarus Eastis all and singularly, the six head of sheep, one horse, fourteen head of hogs, one cow and calf, two yearlings, the crop of corn that is on hand, and all the fodder, and all the household and kitchen furniture, to have and to hold and enjoy the same to the only proper use, benefit and behoof of the said Lazarus Eastis, his heirs and assigns, forever and I the said John Eastis for myself and my heirs, executors, and administrators all and singular the said goods unto the said Lazarus Eastis, his heirs and assigns, against myself and against all and every person, or persons, whatever shall and will warrant and forever defend by these presents in witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 5th day of October 1865.  John Y. Eastis.

ATTEST: John R. Eastis, Sallie Bartlett. I certify this deed of gift was filed in my office, October 9, 1865 at 12:00 and registered the 10th day of the same month. E. Goin, register for Claiborne County. [ stamped on page 58 ].

John R. Estes is the father of John Y. Estes who would have been close to 80 years old at that time.

Is this somehow in conjunction with or a result of the Civil War?  Did it take him that long to find his way back to Claiborne County?  Was he angry with his wife?  Lazarus was only a teenager and didn’t live in his own home, and wouldn’t for another 18 months.

The verbiage in this transaction, “hereunto moving” does not mean that John was literally moving, but refers to what motivated him or moved him to make this transaction.  So, in this context, love and affection for his son “moved” John to convey this property.  Of course, this begs the question, “what about your wife?”  Rutha would be the person to use all of that kitchen gear to prepare meals for the entire family.  What about Rutha?

In the 1870 census, John is shown with his wife and family, with another baby, Rutha, named after his wife, born in 1867. John and his wife, Ruthy Dodson, would have one more child, John Ragan (or Reagan or Regan) Estes, born in March of 1871.

We know that in 1879, John Y. Estes was in Claiborne County, but whether he was “back” from Texas or whether he had not yet left, we don’t know.  On June 20, 1879, John Y. Estes signs an agreement 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 land that they had just purchased from Lazarus Estes, John Y’s son.  This is the last document that John Y. signs in Tennessee.  And actually, it’s the only deed, ever.

Deed records show no evidence of John Y. Estes ever owning land or a conveyance to or from John Y. Estes.  My suspicion is that John was buying this land “on time” and when he failed to pay, the transaction was simply null and void and the deed never filed.  It’s still odd that he would sign to grant access on land he did not officially own.  This is very likely the same land that Rutha would eventually own in her own name.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

We know that by June of 1880 when the census was taken, John Y. Estes is living in Texas and his wife Rutha, is shown in Claiborne County as divorced, although no divorce papers have been found.  Maybe divorce was less formal then.  Given the distance involved, about 900 miles, and give that John could probably not walk more than 8 or 10 miles a day, the walk to Texas likely took someplace between 95 and 120 days, or 3 to 4 months, if he walked consistently every day and didn’t hitch rides.  So John likely left Claiborne County not long after the signing of the 1879 deed.  In fact, that might have been the last bit of business he took care of before departing.

The family in Texas tells the story that John Y. was wounded in the leg as a young man, although they don’t say how, and that one leg was shorter than the other.  He walked with a stick.  It causes me to wonder if the injury was truly when he was a child or if it was a result of his time in the Civil War, or maybe some of each.  It’s a wonder they would have accepted him as a soldier if he was disabled and his military battle history certainly doesn’t suggest a disability.  Maybe they were desperate or maybe the old injury got much worse during his military service – or maybe the injury occurred during one of the Civil War battles.  John was hospitalized and I find it difficult to believe he would have been hospitalized for an old injury.

During John’s absence, Claiborne County was not immune to the effects of the war.  In fact, they were right in the middle of the war, time and time again, and without a man in the household, Rutha and the family weref even more vulnerable.

During the Civil War, soldiers from both sides came through Estes Holler and took everything they could find: food, animals, anything of value. They didn’t hurt anyone that we know about, but the people hid as best they could. Adults and children both were frightened, as renegade troops were very dangerous.  Elizabeth Estes, born in 1851, was the second oldest (living) child of John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson.  After the soldiers took all the family had, the 4 smaller children were hungry and crying. The baby had no milk. Elizabeth was angry, not only at what they had done, but the way they had been humiliated. She was a strong and determined young woman, about age 14 or 15, and she knew the soldiers were camping up on the hillside. She snuck into the camp of the soldiers that night, past the sentries, and stole their milk cow back. She took the cow’s bell off and the cow just followed her home. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but another story adds that she went back the second night and took their one horse back too. That one horse was all the family had to plow and earn their living.

Today, not one family member knew that John Y. Estes had served in the Civil War, not even the Crazy Aunts.  Given the way his service ended, it’s probably not something he talked about.  He would have been considered a traitor by both sides.  He didn’t claim his service on the 1890 veterans census either.  It seems a shame to have served for most of the war, in many battles, and survived, only to have had something go wrong in the end that seems to be medically related.  The term “deserter” is so harsh, and while I’m sure it technically applies, I have to wonder at the circumstances.  During the Revolutionary War, men “deserted” regularly to go home and tend the fields for a bit, showing back up a month or two later.  No one seemed to think much of it then.  That’s very likely what happened to John when he supposedly deserted in June of 1864, right after his injury.  He probably just left and went home.

I’m sure there is more to this story, much more, and we’ll never know those missing pieces.  And it’s a chapter, a very important chapter in the life of John Y. Estes and who he was.  It’s very ironic that none of his descendants alive today knew about his Civil War Service.

The Walk to Texas

Initially, I had no idea John Y. Estes ever left Claiborne County.

When I first visited Claiborne County, I did what all genealogists do – I went to the library.  I had called the library and the librarians seemed friendly enough, and they told me they had these wonderful things called “vertical files.”  I didn’t know what that was, so the nice lady sighed and said, “family files.”  Now, that I understood.

The first day I arrived in town, I went straight to the library.  I looked through the books and the family histories that had been contributed.  Most of those were for the “upstanding families” whose members had been judges and public officials.  That would not be my family.  In fact, there was very little for my family.  I was sorely disappointed.  Those promising vertical files either held little or there were none for my surnames.

I had packed up and was leaving, walking past the shelves that held so much disappointment, when one of the files literally fell off the shelf and about three feet onto the floor.  I was no place close to it, so it was prepared to fall with no help from a human, but the librarians looked up at me, and then down at the file on the floor, with great disdain and disgust.  They, obviously, felt I was careless and had knocked the file onto the floor.

I had no problem picking the file up, but I wished they hadn’t been so put out with me.  The file hit sideways and all of the papers fanned across the floor.  Most of them weren’t stapled together, so I was trying to make sure that I put them back in the file in order that they had come out, without mixing things up.  I have no idea the surname on the file.  I had already checked all of mine.  But as I was gathering those papers back into the file, a familiar name crossed my vision, Vannoy, then another, and then Estes.  I stopped and actually looked at the papers in the file.

I was holding a story about John Y. Estes, written by a Vannoy who had moved to Texas.  I put my bag and purse down, and sat down – on the floor – in the aisle way – oblivious to the librarians and their stares, now glares.  I read all three pages of the story and sat in stunned disbelief.  This had to be the wrong man. It was in the wrong family file.  Otherwise, someone would have told me….wouldn’t they?

My family didn’t go to Texas.  Did they?

This story says John Y. Estes walked to Texas, not once, but twice.  This man injured his leg somehow as a child and walked with a limp, one leg being shorter than the other. He walked with a cane or a stick, and still, he walked to Texas, twice, and back to Tennessee once.  This man had tenacity.  Of course, when I was reading this, I didn’t realize he had also fought through the Civil War with this lifelong challenge. I wouldn’t know that piece of the puzzle for another 30 years. I hesitate to call it a disability, because John Y. apparently didn’t treat it as such.  In fact, it just might have saved his life in the Civil War.

Fannie Ann Estes, John’s grand-daughter, said that John Y. brought a skin cancer medicine from Tennessee and sold it in Texas.  He traveled throughout north Texas selling his remedy and established a relationship with William Boren, a merchant that sold goods on both sides of the Red River throughout the Red River Valley.  This was also the location where the Chisolm Trail crossed from Texas into Oklahoma, so comparatively speaking, it received a lot of traffic.

So John Y. Estes was either a snake-oil salesman or a genius on top of being a shoemaker, according to the census, a Civil War veteran and a former Prisoner of War.  This man was certainly full of surprises.  What a great plot for a book!

His grandchildren said that as an old man, they remember him being short and fat.  Hardly a fitting legacy.  Thankfully, one person remembered more and wrote it down.

To the onlooker, it appears that John Y. Estes basically left his family in Claiborne County, TN and absconded to Texas.  But looking at what happened next, his children apparently did not seem to hold a grudge against him for leaving their mother….in fact, John Y. Estes seemed to be more leading the way than abandoning the family.

It’s clear from Rutha’s 1880 census designation as divorced that she viewed the relationship as over.  She never intended to leave Claiborne County, nor did she.  But that didn’t stop her relatives from going to Texas – and they all settled together, including her husband.  Many are buried in the same cemetery.

William Campbell, Ruthy’s uncle, and his family were in Texas by 1870. Barney J. Jennings married Emily Estes, daughter of Jechonias Estes, and they went to Montague Co., TX, as well.

Many of John Y’s children, in fact all of them except Lazarus, eventually moved to Texas, including brave Elizabeth who married William George Vannoy.  She left with William Buchanan Estes and Elizabeth King in 1893, in a wagon train.


The following children were born to John Y. and Ruthy Dodson Estes:

  • Lazarus Estes, born in May 1848 in Claiborne Co., died in July of 1918 in Claiborne Co., married Elizabeth Ann Vannoy.  Both buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery.
  • Elizabeth Ann Estes, born July 11, 1851 in Claiborne Co., died July 7, 1946 at Nocona, Montague Co., Texas.  On September 11, 1870, she married William George Vannoy, brother to Lazarus’s wife and son of Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley.  They settled in Belcherville, TX in 1893 and her husband was buried in the Boren Cemetery in Nocona on Sept. 12, 1895, only seven days before her father died and was buried in the same cemetery.  I wonder what killed both men.  This must have been a devastating week for Elizabeth.  She spent most of her life in Texas as a widow – more than 50 years.

Elizabeth Estes Vannoy

Elizabeth Estes Vannoy’s 95th birthday. She liked to sit on an old seat out under a tree.  Elizabeth is buried in the Nocona Cemetery, not with her husband.

Elizabeth Estes Vannoy stone

  • Margaret Melvina Estes, born July 19, 1854 in Claiborne Co., died April 7, 1888 in Claiborne Co., buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.  Never married and no children.

Estes, Margaret Melvina2

  • George Buchanan Estes, born December 17, 1855 in Claiborne Co., died July 1, 1948 at Nocona, Texas, buried at Temple, Cotton Co., Oklahoma. In 1878 he married Elizabeth King, daughter of David King, in Claiborne Co. She died in 1920 and is buried at Temple, Oklahoma.

George Buchanan Estes and Wanda Hibdon

George Buchanan Estes and granddaughter Wanda Hibdon Russell in 1945.

  • Martha Geneva J. Estes, born October 6, 1859 in Claiborne Co., died April 9, 1888, buried in Cook Cemetery on Estes Road. She married Thomas Daniel Ausban in Claiborne Co. April 17, 1884.  It’s not believed that she had any surviving children.
  • Nancy J. Estes, born November 1861 in Claiborne Co., died at Terral, Jefferson County, Oklahoma in 1951, married a Montgomery.  Buried in the Terral cemetery.  No children.

Nancy Jane Estes Montgomery

  • Rutha Estes, born January 7, 1868 in Claiborne Co., died at Terral, Jefferson Co., Oklahoma in 1957.  She married Thomas Vannoy in 1902 in Claiborne County, or at least she took the license to marry him.  They may have never actually married, as she never used the Vannoy surname, nor is she ever found living with him.  She married William H. Sweatman after 1920 in Texas or Oklahoma and is buried in the Terral Cemetery.  No children.

Ruthie Estes Sweatman

  • John Reagan Estes, born March 25, 1871 in Claiborne Co., died July 8, 1960 in Jefferson Co., Oklahoma. On April 10, 1891 he married Docia Neil Johnson, daughter of William Johnson and Jinsey Nervesta King in Claiborne Co., She was born November 7, 1872 in Claiborne Co. and died August 30, 1957 in Jefferson Co.  John and Docia are both buried at Terral, Oklahoma.

The Texas family provides this information about John Regan Estes.

John Regan Estes grew to manhood in Claiborne Co. Tennessee, he received his schooling on the old split log seats and was taught to the “tune of a hickory stick”. On April 9, 1891 he married Docia Neil Johnson in Tazewell, with Rev. Bill Cook, the old family preacher, reading the vows. John and Docia were wed on horseback. A daughter, Fannie Ann, was born to them on May 4, 1892 at Tazewell.

In 1893, John Regan Estes had the ambition to go west. On the first day of November 1893, he stepped off the train at Belcherville, Texas. He was accompanied by his brother, George Buchanan Estes and family, Clabe Bartlett, and Lewis Taylor Nunn. He worked on the Silverstein ranch until January 1894.

He saved his money and sent it back to Docia and on February 9, 1894, Docia and Fannie, aged 20 months, arrived at the train station in Belcherville. At this time, they went to Oscar, Indian Territory. He located on a farm in the Oscar area and lived there until moving to the Fleetwood community in 1901. John’s farm was located on the Red River across from Red River Crossing where the Chisholm Trail crossed into Oklahoma. He had a shop near his barn and shod horses, sharpened plows, and did other metal work for the community.

Cousin Gib’s grandmother, granddaughter of John Y. Estes through John Reagan Estes told of life in Texas when they first arrived:

Fannie wrote about the Estes family living conditions at the time that Lula was born. She said that they lived in an old log house at the end of Ketchum Bluff, this is the area where the road going south from Oscar, Oklahoma makes a turn along a high rock formation an goes to where, at a later time, there was a toll bridge built going into Texas.

Ketchum Bluff map

Courtesy Butch Bridges

Note that the old trestle of the toll bridge can still be seen on the shore of Ketchum Bluff in the aerial photo, below, about one fourth of the way from the right hand side, directly across from the sand bar.  The bend in the river at the turn is in the lower left hand corner of the photo.  The bluff, of course, lies along the river.

Ketchum Bluff aerial

Courtesy Butch Bridges

Lula was born January 29, 1899 and Fannie said that it was extremely cold and they had snow on the ground for about six weeks. The sun would come out about noon each day for a little while and then it would cloud up again and snow all night. She said that their father would cut wood all day and carry it into the house. He did not have any gloves and his hands would crack open and bleed and hurt so bad that at night he would sit by the fire and cry from the pain.

In 1901, John got the farm a little farther west of here, just east of Fleetwood, and that is where Lula grew up.

The Estes family had moved to Indian Territory in 1894 and Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907. During this time it was pretty much every man for himself and gunfights were common. John Reagan worked as a farmer, blacksmith, farrier and lawman. The family remembers him wearing a gun.

Once, a man named Joe Barnes sent word to John that he was coming to kill him. John only had a black powder shotgun and he told Barnes to stop and to not come any closer. Barnes kept coming and John blew him full of birdshot. John had a bullet hole in his stomach and would tell the grandchildren that he had two navels.

John Reagan Estes circa 1905

John Reagan Estes about 1905.

John Reagan Estes family 1905

John Reagan Estes and family in 1905.

John Reagan Estes

John Reagan Estes in 1943.

Uncle George said that John R. Estes came to visit in the 1940s in Claiborne County Tennessee and that he was extremely tall and had very long eyebrows.

John Reagan Estes stone

The Texas family members, tell another secret too, that John Y. Estes had another family in Texas, but a search of marriage records produced nothing.  However, when I visited, I realized that the location where John lived was on the Choctaw land.  Perhaps he did have a second family without benefit of a legal marriage.  Laws and customs on Indian lands on the Texas/Oklahoma border were quite different than back in “civilized, orderly” Tennessee.  Furthermore, Indian tribes were considered sovereign Nations.  We will probably never know the details unless another family member steps forward.

John Y. Estes died on September 19, 1895 and is buried in the Boren cemetery, northeast of Ringgold, Texas.

Old Time Texas

In 2005, I visited my cousin, Gib, in Texas.  Gib had come back to Claiborne County, TN the year before and had visited Estes Holler.  Now, I was visiting Texas to retrace the steps of my great-grandfather, John Y. Estes.

Gib gave me a great piece of advice before I set out on my great adventure to Texas.

We went to see the movie “Open Range” starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. The setting for the movie is 1882 and they are “free grazing” a herd of cattle on the open range as they are moving toward market. They pass through a little town, cross a river, and are tending their herd.

John Y. Estes was in Montague County Texas in 1880. The Chisholm Cattle trail came right through the little town of Red River Station which was two miles south of the Red River. From the information that I have, the movie town was exactly like what Red River Station was like in 1882. I really got intrigued with the movie by imagining John Y. being in a place just like that. This was where he would have been at that time because Nocona and Belcherville were not founded until 1887 when the MKT railroad came through going from east to west. Ringgold was not founded until 1892 when the Rock Island railroad was built going south to north and crossed the MKT at the site of Ringgold.

Of course no good western movie would be worth the price of admission without a good gun battle. They had one and people were killed. The next thing that grabbed me was the burial scene. They dug graves out on top of a hill and hauled the wooden caskets out in a wagon. This setting was just like what I found at Boren cemetery.

Another thing that caught my attention was the heavy rain storm that they experienced at the little town. Red River Station was pretty much wiped out by a Tornado in the late 1880’s and all the business moved to Belcherville and Nocona.

Anyway, go see the movie and imagine John Y. being one of the residents of the little town and then visualize all of our relatives crossing the Red River on horseback as they did in the movie. The River depth shown is also accurate of Red River. Later, John Reagan Estes owned the land on the Oklahoma side and the Campbells and Vannoys owned ranches on the Texas side.

Go see where John Y. lived in 1882, let your imagination run wild and enjoy it.

 I agree 100% with Gib’s recommendation.

The Chisolm Trail

The Chisolm Trail cut through the Estes land.

Chisholm Trail

Not far from Ryan is one of the cuts in a creek bank  worn by the pounding of thousands of hoofs when the Chisholm Trail was noted for its cattle drives from Texas to Wichita, Kansas.

This map shows Ryan and Terral, OK, and the ghost location of Fleetwood.  All that is left today is a store full of bullet holes and a cemetery.

Fleetwood OK

According to Gib, that cut is still visible on the Estes property. Although highway U.S. 81 mostly follows the route of the old Chisolm Trail, at times Engineers had to diverge from the trail itself in the interest of safety, mileage and economy. The original route crosses a cow lot owned by a man who probably knows more about that trail than anyone in this area. ( Note: the worn cattle trail rut up the hill was just west of the Estes cow lot. ) The location is about three miles east of Fleetwood.

The Chisolm Trail crossed the Red River at Red River Station.  On the Oklahoma side, or Indian Territory at that time, this was at Fleetwood and a marker has been placed today.  On the map below, you can see the balloon of the marker at Fleetwood and below the Red River, Red River Station Road.

Red River Station

Turning on the satellite image, here’s that part of the Red River near Station Road where the cattle would have crossed into Oklahoma.  Apparently, this is the area where the Estes land was located.  I thought sure I’d still be able to see the Chisolm trail today, but I can’t.

Red River Chisolm Crossing

There was a large dugout in the side of the hill where the Estes family lived while their house was being built.

dugout house

You really have to want to visit the Boren Cemetery.  It’s nearly impossible to find, to begin with, and after you to locate it, getting to it through 3 or 4 farm gates is another problem entirely.  And then there’s the issue of wild hogs – and they are not friendly.  In fact, they’re pretty testy – and they aren’t looking to you to feed them, but are looking at you as food.  I fully understand why people here carry guns – plural.

The Boren Cemetery

Boren cemetery crop

The Boren cemetery isn’t far from the Chisolm Trail and not far from where the Estes land was located.  On the map below, you can see the cemetery, marked by the red balloon, and you can also see the Red River Station Road to the right and Fleetwood on the Oklahoma side of the border.

Boren Cem near Red River Station

The Boren Cemetery is located in rolling Texas hill country – and sometimes those rolls are a bit steep.

Gib says to me, “It’s over there somewhere.”

Boren cemetery approach

Ok, Texas is a mighty big place and I don’t SEE anything that looks like a cemetery.

Gib had obtained directions and he and his wife had come out once already and scouted the area.  His wife opted not to come a second time.  That should have been a clue.

Gib had called the local farmer, so he had the lock combinations to the several gates we encountered.

Eventually, we entered a field and started driving across the field, then up the hill, then Gib’s 4 wheel drive vehicle bottomed out.  We were on foot from here on.

Gib forgot to mention about the snakes to me.  Those would be rattlesnakes.  Now, I have snake-boots at home, but those boots at home weren’t helping me one bit here.  I was not to be deterred.  Gib was wearing cowboy boots and walked in front of me.


We found the path that led up to the cemetery,

We had to crawl under the barbed wire fence, or climb over it – because there was no gate.  By now, I could feel the rivulets of sweat running down my back.  Gib, the consummate Texas cowboy, was entirely unphased.  They make ’em tough down there – I’m telling ya!

Boren cemetery cactus

And if the barbed wire doesn’t get you, the cactus will.  Yes, that’s a bone.  I don’t know is the answer to your next question.  Just don’t ask.

Boren cemetery stones

It’s kind of rough country here, with the stones scattered in no order, graves dug where there were no rocks to interfere with the shovels.  At home on the Indiana farm where I grew up, we would have called this scrub, scratch or hard-scrabble.  Here, it is normal.  But that’s why they need a lot of it to make a living.


This stone in front is the marker for John Y. Estes.  It’s beside a Campbell and Vannoy marker, in fact, John’s son-in-law who was buried just a week before John was.  Did John stand at his son-in-law’s grave just a week before he would be buried beside him?  John’s marker is actually very unique, as gravestones go – and the only one here like it.  In fact, it’s the only one I’ve ever seen like it.


John’s stone was cast in concrete and then the information was drawn in the wet concrete with some kind of object – freestyle.  This tickled Gib a great deal because he had spent many years of his life working in the concrete business – so this somehow seemed fitting.


Tracking John Y. Without GPS

So now we’ve followed John Y. Estes across half of the United States.  While his son, Lazarus likely never ranged further than Knoxville, John Y. Estes not only was very widely traveled, the biggest part was on foot – at least the Tennessee to Texas to Tennessee to Texas part – and probably much of the Civil War part too.

Let’s look at where John Y. Estes was and when.  I can’t keep track.

Location Date
Halifax Co., VA 1818 – birth location
Claiborne Co., TN 1820s, 1840-1870s
Grainger Co., TN 1830s
Tazewell, Claiborne Co., TN 1860
Claiborne County, TN Aug. 10, 1862 – Confederate Unit Formed
Murfeesboro, TN Dec. 29, 1862 – Civil War battle
Murfeesboro Pike, TN Dec 31, 1862 – Civil War battle
Stanford and Crab Orchard Road, KY March 30, 1863 – Civil War battle
Albany, KY May 1, 1863 – Civil War battle
Travisville, Fentress Co., KY May 2, 1863 – Civil War battle
Ebenezer, TN July 31, 1863 – Civil War activity
Clinton, TN August 15, 1863 – Civil War activity
Cumberland Gap, TN August 15, 1863 – Sept. 1863 – Civil War activity
Lee County, VA Courthouse Sept. 18, 1863 – the North took the Gap – Civil War battle
Kingsport, TN Sept. 18, 1863 – Civil War battle
Saltville, VA Oct. 31, 1863 – Civil War battle
Rogersville, TN Nov. 1, 1863 – Civil War battle
Charleston, TN Nov. 24, 1863 – Civil War battle
Battle of New Hope Church, Orange Co., VA Nov 27 – Dec. 2, 1863
Valley of Virginia Campaigns, Shenandoah Valley, VA May-July, 1864
Battle of Piedmont, Augusta Co., VA June 5, 1864
Charlottesville, VA June 12, 1864 – hospital
Stanton, VA June 30, 1864 – deserted
Chattanooga, TN March 6, 1865 – POW
Louisville, KY March 20, 1865 – POW signed oath of allegiance – released north of the Ohio
Claiborne Co., TN 1865-1879
Nocona, TX 1880-1895

I would have loved to sit for a day and talk to this man.  What stories he had to tell.

The John Y. Part of Me

I have to tell you, this man had hootspa.  He was tenacious.  He walked to Texas, twice, using a cane or stick to walk, more than 900 miles each way, when he was 61 years of age.  And it didn’t kill him.  I can’t even begin to imagine this trip, once, let alone once there, walking back to Tennessee and then back to Texas, again.  In essence, just one of those trips took 3-4 months.  Three of them probably took more than year of his life.

The concept of that just baffles me. What could be that alluring about Texas?  And why go back to Tennessee once you had arrived in Texas?

But then again, I’m not so terribly different in some ways.  And sometimes things I do baffle others.

In the 1980s, I decided to retrace the Trail of Tears, in honor of my Native American ancestors and in protest of the atrocities that befell them.  I walked part of the trail, but that’s a lot easier said than done for various reasons – not the least of which is that the trail isn’t (or wasn’t then) marked and segments are lost or missing in many places.  In the 1980s and 1990s, I had completed the segment through Tennessee and Kentucky, into Illinois.  In 2005, I completed the section between southern Illinois and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the home of the western Cherokee nation today, where the Cherokee settled. Altogether, this trek took me over 20 years because I had to make it in segments.  In 2005, I picked up where I had left off in Illinois and within a couple days, found myself at the location where the Native people crossed the Mississippi..

Trail of Tears State Park

I walked part of that as well, on both sides of the river, but given that I was traveling alone, I had to walk back to my car and then drive to the next segment to walk.  Take my word for it, the state of Missouri goes on forever!

Trail of Tears Crossing

I was a lot younger then that John Y. was when he walked to Texas, and he walked the entire distance, not just a few miles or a day here and there.

One of the most unforgetable stops on that journey was the Trail of Tears State Park in Missouri, just across the border from Illinois where the Cherokee spent a horrific winter, starving and freezing to death, and waiting for the ice to melt so they could cross the Mississippi.  It took eleven weeks to cover 60 miles and the Native people suffered terribly, horrifically – the local people refusing to help them with food.  Within days, there was no wildlife left to hunt.

Trail of Tears at Mississippi

This is on the Missouri side of the River, looking across the river at the land where more than 15,000 Native people camped, and waited, with no food and only light blankets in one of the worst winters recorded.  Weakened from starvation, people froze to death nightly.  The dead couldn’t even be buried, their bodies left in the snow.  There were no reports of cannibalism, but that level of desperation would not have surprised me.

The Trail of Tears as a whole, but in particular, this segment was a unfathomable act of inhumane genocide – torture, hour by hour, day by day, as you watched those you love starve and freeze, as you were doing so yourself.  One can feel their aching spirts as you stand on the land, even yet today.  Some were so devastated that they never spoke again in their lifetimes.  Their torture and grief is unfathomable and the depth of that black hole remains both tangible and palpable today.  There simply are no words.

My final destination in 2005, 125 years after John Y. Estes walked to Texas?  Texas.  Why?  To find John Y. Estes’s grave.  I never, at that time, realized the parallels.  But then, I didn’t really know the rest of the story.  Today, I find the parallels mind-boggling.

What of John Y. Estes do I have in me?  Do I carry his tenacity?  My mother would assuredly have voted in the affirmative, and she would not have meant that as a compliment!  I, on the other hand, am quite proud of that trait.

Sometimes it’s difficult to answer these kinds of questions – meaning how much of one particular ancestor’s DNA you carry.  One reason is that generational DNA is often measure in couples.  By this, I mean that if I compare myself to another individual who descends from John Y. Estes, like cousin Buster for example, the DNA that Buster and I share will not be just the DNA of John Y., but also the DNA of John Y’s wife, Rutha Dodson.

The only way to avoid this “spousal contamination,” and I mean that only in the nicest of ways, is by comparing the DNA of descendants of John Y. to someone who only descends from the Estes side, not the Dodson side.  What this really means is that the comparison has to be against someone who descended from John R. Estes, the father of John Y. Estes (or another Estes whose ancestor is upstream of John Y. Estes and who doesn’t share other family lines.)  Unfortunately, this means that it pushes the relationship back another generation, which means that less DNA will be shared between the cousins.

The cousins I have to work with are as follows, at least at Family Tree DNA.

Estes descent chart

In order for the closest descendants of John Y. Estes to be compared to a descendant of John R. Estes, I utilized the chromosome browser at Family Tree DNA.  Garmon is descended from John R. Estes, so carries none of Rutha’s DNA.  Therefore, any DNA that John Y’s descendants share with Garmon had to come from the Estes side of the house.

The chromosome browser graphic below shows the chromosome of Garmon, with the following individuals with matching DNA displayed as follows:

  • Me – Orange
  • Iona – Blue
  • David – Green
  • Buster – Magenta

On chromosome 1, Buster and Iona match Garmon, but I don’t and neither does David.  This is clearly John Y. Estes’s DNA, but I don’t carry it.

On chromosome 7 there is a small segment shared by everyone except David.

On chromosome 10, there is another small segment shared by me, David and Garmon.

Part of chromosome 13 is shared by Garmon, Iona and David.

To me, the most interesting part of this equation is that chromosome 19 holds a fairly large segment shared by everyone except Buster.

Garmon chromosome

So, let’s answer the question of how much of John Y’s DNA I carry.  I downloaded the segment chart that accompanies the chromosome browser and used that information to triangulate my matches – meaning that I noted when I matched two other cousins.  Not all matches are triangulated, proving a common Estes ancestor, but some are.  I then checked those cousin’s accounts to be sure they did, indeed, match each other on those segments – which is the criteria for triangulation.

This chart shows all of my matches to Garmon, which, precluding a second line or matches by chance, would all be John Y.’s DNA.

Garmon Roberta DNA matches

As we know, the only way to actually prove that these segments descend from John Y. is through triangulation but how can I triangulate more DNA to John Y. Estes?

The answer is the Lazarus tool at GedMatch, a tool built to reassemble or recreate our ancestors from their descendants – to reassemble their scattered DNA.

First, Lazarus allows you to enter up to 10 direct descendants and up to 100 “other relatives,” which means brothers, cousins, descendants of those people, but not someone who descends from the same spouse as John Y. Estes’s wife, Rutha Dodson.  If he had two wives and you were comparing children from both spouses against each other, then the criteria would be a bit different.

In other words, we’re only utilizing direct Estes line descendants, upstream of John Y. Estes.

I selected 4cM and 300 SNPs as my match criteria.

I have a total of 7 descendants and 4 other relatives, not all of whom have tested at Family Tree DNA.

I was pleased to note after running Lazarus at GedMatch that we had a total of 513.9 cM of John Y. Estes’s DNA reconstructed through his descendants and his other relatives.  In essence, that’s approximately 7.6% of John’s DNA that we’ve recovered.  Not bad for someone who was born 197 years ago.

The Lazarus tool matched my DNA with other Estes relatives, but NOT descendants of John Y. Estes.  I inherited the following segments directly from John Y. Estes.  Several of these segments were triangulated with 2 or more relatives.

John Y. Estes reconstruct DNA matches

Of these, only two, on chromosomes 9 and 19, are partial matches to the original list from Family Tree DNA. While, at first glance this looks unusual, it isn’t.  Both of the matches at Family Tree DNA over the threshold selected at GedMatch are included.  The lower segment matches were not “seen” at Gedmatch.  This is one reason why I utilize both tools when possible.  GedMatch allows you to utilize people’s results who tested at a different company, and Family Tree DNA allows you to easily pick up those common small segments.

If all of these segments are from John (and not from a secondary unknown shared line or identical by chance,) then I carry 156.6 cM of John Y. Estes’ DNA that I can map.  Given that John is my great-great-grandfather, I would be expected to carry about 6.25% of his DNA.  Of that amount, I’ve been able to tentatively identify about 2.3%, so if the right people were to test, I should be able to identify about another 3.95%.  So, in rough numbers, I’ve identified around one third of the DNA that I inherited from John Y. Estes utilizing 7 descendants and 4 other relatives.

So, now if I could just figure out which one of these genes is the “walk to Texas” and wanderlust gene, we’d be all set.  If I received that from any ancestor, it’s very likely to be from John Y. Estes, the only man I’ve ever know who walked to Texas, even once.

Red river aerial

Aerial view of the Red River, Texas on the right, Oklahoma on the left.

Acknowledgements:  A special thank you to cousin Gib, who supplied most of the Texas information and a lot of camaraderie over the years.



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Angie Harmon – Who Do You Think You Are – “Mutiny”

This week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are features Angie Harmon, probably best known for her role in the television series, Law and Order.

angie harmon

Angie Harmon, Courtesy TLC

Angie’s adventure begins at her kitchen table in Charlotte, NC, with a package she receives from her father, Larry, that includes a photo of her great-grandparents.  Like many people, up until this time, Angie only knew the names of her grandparents and not much more.

Angie becomes deeply curious (I think the genealogy bug bit her) and she sets out on her adventure to discover her ancestry.

Unlike many of us, Angie started her adventure close to home, meeting professional genealogist, Joseph Schumway at the Genealogy Library at Charlotte Museum of History. Thanks to Joseph’s magic wand, Angie’s tree was able to magically grow to reveal her 5x great grandfather Michael Harmon.  I want one of those magic wands….just saying.

Angie discovers that Michael was the first immigrant ancestor on the Harmon side, and to her surprise, from Germany, arriving on December 23, 1772.  Of course, then Angie needs to visit a different location to continue.

Angie arrives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to meet with Colonial Historian Jim Horn.  Angie pours over the immigration document and finds an entry that details a transaction binding Michael Harmon as an indentured servant! Jim explains that a primary motivator for a poor young man like Michael to agree to servitude would have been the potential opportunity to eventually buy land, which was near impossible in his homeland. Looking through the details of the agreement, Angie sees that Michael was required to assist a tanner for 5 years and 7 months, which was grueling work. Angie then deduces Michael would’ve been released from servitude in 1778, right in the middle of the Revolutionary War! Angie discovers an online record that shows Michael enlisting with the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment on May 10, 1777. Jim suggests she meet with Scott Stephenson, a Revolutionary War Historian, to learn about her ancestor’s time in the war.

I actually found this part very interesting because it delved a bit into how indentured servitude in the US worked.  That is a much-overlooked method of immigration.  Many indentured servants didn’t survive, so we don’t know about them today.  Those that did simply went on with their lives after their indenture and didn’t seem to dwell on that time.  It’s a piece of oral history that hasn’t made its way to current for many lines.  It was simply a means to an end.  One way to end a servitude early was to enlist to serve in the war – although I’m not so sure that wasn’t akin to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Furthermore, I didn’t realize that there were additional records for indentured servitude in at least some cases.  Angie may simply have been very lucky, but I need to go and check on my own indentured servant ancestors.

At the Free Library of Philadelphia, Scott Stephenson tells Angie that Michael entered the war at an unfortunate time; the British had just captured Philadelphia, America’s capital at the time. After that, things didn’t get better for the Patriots. Scott hands Angie a paystub for her 5x great grandfather that is marked “Camp near Valley Forge, May 7, 1778.” Angie is excited to discover that her ancestor camped at Valley Forge under the command of George Washington! Scott explains that Valley Forge is the site of a winter encampment that was one of the lowest points for the Continental Army during the war. He suggests that they visit Valley Forge for themselves.

I could tell by Angie’s demeanor at this point that she didn’t know what “Valley Forge” meant historically – what those men suffered through. But she would shortly.

At Valley Forge, Angie gets a feel for what her ancestor endured as she and Scott visit the site on which Michael Harmon lived. Inside a hut that replicates where Michael would have stayed through that treacherous winter, Scott explains the brotherhood that formed during those very trying times, with little food and clothing and disease rampant, but that by Spring a remarkable renewal happened. General Washington brought the acclaimed General von Steuben to Valley Forge to develop a unified code and train the men so they would be capable of going toe to toe with the British.

I found George Washington’s commentary to the men enlightening:  “The fate of millions unborn depends on what we do here today.”  I don’t know if Washington was visionary or simply trying to inspire his cold, hungry men, but regardless it worked and it was indeed, prophetic.

It was at Valley Forge that I could tell that Angie truly felt what her ancestor was felling, as best we can across more than 200 years.  She said, “I can step in the same steps he did.”  Yes, Angie, you can.

Angie wants to know what happened to Michael after Valley Forge.  Scott sends her to the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, PA, which houses many of the soldier’s records for the Revolutionary War.

Angie meets with Historian Major Sean Sculley, where a letter from a General that reveals Michael and his entire Pennsylvania line mutinied! – that was unexpected!  Things are getting juicy now!

Major Sculley explains that the troops were fed up with the lack of food and clothing – and they weren’t receiving promised payment, either. Not to mention, they weren’t being allowed to leave when their enlistment was up AND the new recruits were being paid more, plus an enlistment bounty.  It’s no wonder they were unhappy.  According to a letter from that timeframe, the soldiers “had suffered every kind of misery.”

Angie Harmon 2

Courtesy TLC

Angie’s curious to know how it played out, and Sean hands her another letter. Angie discovers that British spies offered to meet their demands and take Michael’s line over to their side! Angie’s dying to know if Michael changed allegiances and Sean explains that the soldiers were merely fighting for their rights and had no interest in switching sides. Eventually the U.S. army met their terms, and the soldiers were able to leave service if they chose. Reading a compiled regiment list, Angie finds that Michael’s war service ended after the mutiny.

Angie reflects upon not only his military service, but his servitude and coming to the colonies knowing he would be sold into servitude.  She says that she has always wondered where her personal resiliency came from, and now she knows.  And of course, I’m left wondering if there is a resiliency gene.  Are those traits passed from generation to generation genetically, culturally, or are they simply forged in the fire of the moment?

Angie wants to know what her ancestor did after leaving the army, so Sean passes her a tax record.  In it, Angie discovers that in 1795, Michael owned 130 acres of land at Doctors Fork in Mercer County, Kentucky!  Angie wonders how he finally became a land owner?  And of course, Sean suggests she go to Mercer County to find out.

Angie arrives at the Harrodsburg Historical Society in Mercer County, Kentucky to meet with local historian Amalie Preston. To find out about Michael’s life in Kentucky, Angie searches for his will, and of course she finds one and miraculously, the will book is laying right on the table. In it, she discovers that Michael owned multiple plantations, had married and named 7 children in his will! Wondering how he got the money for the land, Angie looks into Michael’s inventory list, which shows that Michael appears to have used the skills from his indenture to open a tanning business. Angie then finds her ancestor’s land on an old map, and Amalie tells her she made arrangements with the current owners if she would like to see it.  Angie agrees and heads out to see her ancestral land.

Angie Harmon 3

Courtesy TLC

Angie and her daughters who have joined her for this part of the journey pull up to a farmhouse where the current owner… are you ready for this…another Harmon, greets her.  Amazingly, this land is still in the Harmon family 200+ years later.  Angie’s cousin invites her to take a look around the land to see where it all started.  Angie heads up a hillside to fully survey all that Michael Harmon accomplished. One must admit, it’s a beautiful, traditional fall Kentucky farm scene.

Angie Harmon 4

Courtesy TLC

Standing on Michael’s land, Angie says, “All of that fighting, all of that suffering, all of that hardship – was for this.”  Yes, Michael got his land, although he didn’t live terribly long and died with underage children. Yet, he clearly accomplished the American dream…land…a family…freedom – a legacy he literally passed to his descendants.

Angie’s commentary about how whole this process made her feel really rang a bell with me.  I was glad to hear her say, “This gives me new light into the rest of my life and how I’m going to live it.”

My one regret with this episode was that there is an absolutely perfect opportunity for Y DNA testing.  I realize that Ancestry is sponsoring this series, and that they no longer offer Y DNA tests, but DNA testing is an important part of genealogy today.  In fact, having Michael’s Harmon Y DNA proven through two lines, Angie’s father and Angie’s cousin, could help secure Michael’s descendants membership in organizations like the DAR and SAR.  I hope that even though DNA testing isn’t part of the episode, that someone explains this opportunity to Angie and her Harmon cousin.

Who will enjoy this episode?  Anyone who is interested in the Revolutionary War, and in particular, if your ancestor was at Valley Forge, you won’t want to miss this episode. If your ancestor served in the Pennsylvania line between 1777 and 1781, this is for you.  And of course, if you have a contact with Mercer County, KY, this is a wonderful opportunity to see a lovely hilltop view of Mercer County in the fall.  It’s a great feel-good genealogy story.

Would you like a sneak peek?

Watch the full episode Sunday, March 22, 2015 at 10/9c on TLC.



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And A Dozen Things I Got Right

Genealogists copy trees

Yesterday, I told you about some things I’d do differently, from the beginning of my genealogy adventure or as soon as I could, if I were starting over.  But while I made some mistakes, I did get a few things right too.  Now, I’d like to tell you that this was on purpose or a result of brilliance or stellar planning, but it wasn’t.  Mostly, it was either flat out luck combined with a dash of common sense, or a result of my training in a related field.  Still, I’d like to share these things, because they are every bit as relevant now as then – and in some cases, maybe more so.

1. Talk to the older people. Now you’re going to laugh at this, but when I started working with genealogy, my father’s family lines were in the south – in Appalachia – and many people didn’t have phones.  And I mean land-line phones – you know – the kind that were black with rotary dials. Those who did were often not terribly comfortable with them. I heard one man yell at a child who answered the phone when I called one evening about 8PM, “Hang that thing up. You know we don’t answer the phone after dark.” Seriously? So, if you wanted to have a “real conversation” with these people, you went to visit. In person visits are much better, because it encourages story-telling, helps people recall that they do have a box of pictures someplace, and maybe they’ll go and find them, and allows people to really get to know each other. Of course, today, I’d be carrying DNA kits in my bag too. Oh, and mind your manners – take a small gift when visiting – flowers work well for ladies and often, some kind of food goodie for men.

2. Visit local hangouts, like the local coffee shop, the local breakfast place, and mingle with the locals. You’d be surprised what they know, and what they’ll tell you – many times things that your family won’t tell you. And they know who to ask about who owns that land “up yonder” too, and they’ll tell you about the time your grandpa got arrested for tipping the outhouse over on the mayor’s daughter, or put feathers in the stove at the school, causing quite a stink, or getting in trouble for “taking a girl over the state line.” Ahem. But they’ll make you promise never to tell who told you. By the time you leave, you’ll feel like family and have had a great local meal.

3. Visit the local churches that were in existence when your ancestor lived there, and near where they lived. In some cases, I’ve found information in church records, including minutes, that I found no place else – including the fact that my grandmother’s birth year was “adjusted” forward by one to make her conception date after her parents’ marriage. You can’t be baptized a year before you’re born.

4. Visit the local libraries, genealogy societies and court houses. Ask for family “vertical files” which are contributed information on various family lines. Copy the entire file. Courthouses are infamous for keeping older records “out of sight” someplace, so ask what else is available. See if there is someone who is familiar with the older records. Not everyone who works there is and they may inadvertently tell you that they don’t have certain records, when they do. Ask if they have archives, which are often in a separate location.

5. Find your ancestors original land. I do this by following deeds to the current (or near current) and praying, praying that there isn’t a tax sale or estate sale where the land changes hands and I can’t track it forward because an executor made the sale. Sometimes if you “lose” your ancestor’s land, you can track the neighbors land and “find” who owns your ancestor’s land later. Sometimes you can identify the land based on an old family cemetery and don’t need to do the deed work. Visit that land (with the current owner’s permission, of course.) Stand where they stood. See what they saw. This is one of my all-time favorite genealogy activities. Be careful about bulls though….just saying. Daryl, my travel-buddy cousin in the photo below, can tell you all about our great adventure being held captive by a bull.  Yes, we were trapped inside the cemetery.  I’m sure our southern cousins are still laughing about this.  Sometimes you find more than your ancestor’s land.

Clarkson bull

6. Enter information into a genealogy program, along with notes for each person, along with the source and date for the note. Be anal. Enter everything. Your mistake won’t be entering too much, but not entering enough, or forgetting to enter your source.  Then, file those records.  Organize yourself and stay consistent.  A filing cabinet (or 2 or 3) are your friends.

7. Housekeeping. Back up your data. My profession was in a technology field, so I applied the same principles to my own data as I did to my clients’. Not only do I back my system up regularly (nightly), I keep multiple copies and I also make sure there is an off-site copy periodically. I figure if I do that, I’ll never need it. Also, make sure you have current anti-virus/internet protection software as well. I use Norton’s Symantic 360 Premier Edition and I wouldn’t be without it – on my desktop and laptop too.

8. Share. There is nothing I dislike more than someone who has information about an ancestor and refuses to share it. One woman sent me half a document once – on purpose – then told me to do my own research to find the rest – except there was no clue of where to look. That’s akin to holding the ancestor hostage and it’s flat out evil. Yes, I’ve run into a few, but not many. And it has made me resolve to never be that way. They are the perfect example of serving as a bad example. Some of my best results have come through collaboration – the Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann stories are wonderful examples of collaboration with multiple DNA testers and researchers – and there’s more coming to this story – again, thanks to collaboration. We’ve discovered things together we could never have found alone. In another case, a cousin was very generous, sharing with me. A few months later, I wrote to ask him something, and he told me he had lost everything. I sent him his entire package of information he had sent me, plus some. He was ever so grateful he had shared, and so was I, for multiple reasons. His own selfless act of generosity was in turn, his own salvation. Talk about karma at its best.

9. Love the journey. I can’t tell you how much researching my ancestors has enriched my life. The trips, the people I’ve met and the bond I’ve formed with those ancestors whose lives I never knew about before, but can now appreciate. I’m making sure they are honored and remembered, hopefully, long after I’ve joined them. Get in the car (or plane) and go. There is nothing like visiting where your ancestors lived. And I swear, sometimes they help you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called my husband from some ancestral adventure and said, “you’re not going to believe this.”

10. Love your cousins. I come from a very small nuclear family and they are all deceased now. Yep, I’m the last one standing. So, other than my children, my various cousins are my family now, along with my quilt sisters, which is a whole other story. I’m extremely lucky to have met those cousins through genealogy and many have become fast friends, some for just about as long as I’ve done genealogy. I would never have met those wonderful people without genealogy.

11. Stay current with technology and see opportunity in change. Having said that, I still have not forgiven Microsoft for various versions of Windows upgrades. You remember, I know you do. I hear you moaning. While change is not my favorite thing, I guarantee you, and I hate change for the sake of change – I still slog through what I need to slog through to stay current. Technology is the single biggest enhancement and tool we have as genealogists. It’s the foundation for delivering digitized records and other types of information, none of which was available 20 years ago online – and much of which will eventually be available, I hope. But without keeping current with the hardware, software and operating systems, you won’t be able to access the information. Furthermore, being flexible enough to adopt and adapt to new technologies like Facebook and messaging allows us to reach another generation – you know – the generation who are cleaning out the houses that may well have boxes of pictures, Bibles and old letters we covet.

12. Do not wholesale copy other people’s work. And yes, I mean those Ancestry trees. Don’t do it.  Make your own mistakes – don’t copy others. Genealogists don’t let genealogists copy trees. I don’t care how inviting it looks. I do look at the sources and proofs other people have for individual ancestors, and if I think there is something worthwhile, I evaluate that information separately. I never, ever copy/paste an ancestor into my tree.

13.  Ok, so it’s a baker’s dozen. Take pictures, lots of pictures. Of the area, of the old churches, of the neighborhood, of local landmarks – your ancestor would have seen them all and they are part of their story. If you find cousins with old pictures, sometimes the best you can do is to take pictures of their pictures, and of them of course. I now travel (don’t laugh) with a scanner packed in a special suitcase in my car, along with my laptop. And when you get home, of course, share with all of your cousins!

Your ancestor’s story isn’t over yet.  You and your family are part of it and so is your journey to document their life and times.

This picture has become one of my all-time favorites.  It’s my cousin (yes, who I met through genealogy) Daryl (at right) and me, wading in the creek at Cumberland Gap, where our ancestors are from.  It was a miserably hot day and that cool water felt so good.  We’ve had so many fun adventures together and this shows us enjoying ourselves in the stream that runs through my ancestor’s land.  While this isn’t our common ancestor, it’s our common Dodson line.  We’ve chased these families all over the south.  It doesn’t get better than this.

lovin daryl



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Eleven Things I Would Do Differently

I’ve been feverishly working each week on my ancestor for the 52 Ancestor’s challenge.  Of course, this means I’m going back through everything for that ancestor, and for the county where they lived, and everything about their siblings and parents and aunts and uncles….oh my.

This process has given me ample opportunity to take a look at what I could have, would have and should have done differently over these past 37 years, had I known that one day I would be doing this.

Remember, I never started out to be a genealogist.  I just wanted to know something about my father’s family.  That was before the days of internet and there were no online classes.  I don’t even know if there WAS a Mormon Church or Family History Center where I lived at that time, and it didn’t matter, because…remember…I wasn’t doing genealogy – so I didn’t need a class in how to do something I wasn’t doing.

One day, a few years later, someone said to me….”oh, so you’re a genealogist”….and I told them, no, I wasn’t.

Famous last words.  I once said I wasn’t pregnant too…

So, now that I’ve admitted to my genealogy addiction and long-ago declared that I have absolutely no intention of recovering…what would I do differently had I known I was going to become thoroughly addicted…to make the process easier on myself and to be more productive.

1. I would write down everything and DATE it. I can’t tell you how many notes I have from early interviews with people in Claiborne County without even the name of the person I was talking to. Of course, I KNEW at that moment and I would NEVER forget….right????

2. I would note not only who I was talking to, but where, why and something about the person other than their name. I can’t tell you how many times, later, I was to discover that the person I was talking to was actually a cousin through an entirely different line and I so wished I had asked a different set of questions.

3. I would write down on every piece of research not only what I found, but what I didn’t find. In other words, not just that I found the following Estes records, but that I looked for ALL Estes records, not just ones for my first names, and that I also looked for Dodson records, but found none.  This also applies to entirely nonproductive lookups when you find absolutely nothing in a reference resource. Otherwise, you’ll probably look in that same place several times over.

4. I would transcribe my research into two documents (utilizing copy/paste), described below, and at the time I did the research or shortly thereafter, when I still had a prayer of reading my own handwriting.

5. I would create a master county research document for all research from that county, regardless of the surname. Most of your relevant counties are going to hold more than one of your ancestral surnames. After all, people got married, even if they didn’t record it or the courthouse burned and you can’t find it.

To give an example of this, all of the tax records for Moore, Dodson and Estes, including surrounding neighbors, by year, including years where none where listed, would be in the county file, where individual records pertaining to a specific family surname or ancestor would be in their own or family file – see item 6.

6. I would create a master timeline of all family items by surname. I call these files “John R. Estes Everything” files. Clearly the John R. Estes Everything file will include some things that would also be in his father’s and his children’s files. In essence, this is what I’m doing with the 52 ancestor’s articles, except I’m interweaving the stories as told by the facts.  In some cases, like in Halifax County, I have the “Estes Everything” file that is later broken into individual files when I can sort through the data.  If I have a theory, I also write it in this document.  It’s so much easier if I can see what I was thinking or trying to prove or disprove at a particular point in time.  When I think I’m wrong, I don’t delete it, I write WHY.  In some cases, I’ve later discovered I wasn’t wrong and had  deleted that info and discourse with myself, it would have been gone.  Yes, this is considered talking to yourself, just to be clear.  And yes, I answer myself too because if not me, who?  I mean, it’s not like my ancestor is going to reach down there leave me a note.

7. I would utilize a spreadsheet and record everything from the beginning.  Of course, spreadsheets didn’t yet exist on computers when I began but I’ve since made up for it.  I have now done this for most of my surnames. I transcribe the item, and then the spreadsheet is indexed by every surname. This allows me to go back and sort by surname and to discover that, for example, John Doe signed as a witness for deeds for several members of a particular family. This sometimes is extremely useful in sorting families in a county with the same names.  And sorting a spreadsheet is so much more accurate than my memory.  “I think I remember seeing…..”

Halifax spreadsheet example

In this case, the spreadsheet started for all of my Halifax County, VA records but quickly expanded to cover all entries for all of my Halifax County, VA surname families in Virginia and NC.  Abbott is NOT one of my surnames, but you can clearly see that the Abbott family is somehow connected to the Moore family.  In the example above, if I wanted to see the will of Joseph Abbott, I would sort for item 171 and the full text would be there under his entry.  This entry would not be in this spreadsheet, were there not something in Joseph Abbott’s will that involved one of my surnames.  Some of the Moore lines are mine, and some are not, as proven by DNA – but they all lived in the same county.  That should be illegal!  And they should not be allowed to name their children the same names either – but they did and now it’s left to us to unravel the puzzle.

8. I would take pictures of everything, meaning research documents, including the cover or title page. I started this using a good camera that does NOT require a flash years ago – but since then many counties and state archives don’t allow the practice. But I would do as much as I could. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to see the original document again. If in doubt about focus or quality, take 2 pictures. By the way, this is not in lieu of transcribing or extracting, but in addition.  Sorry.

9. I would NEVER, ever read any historical fiction books. Not only can I not remember the difference between the historical fiction and the actual history of the family or area, neither can other people. There is one particular surname, Brock, that appears as a spouse of Abraham Estes, the immigrant, that was introduced in a well-meaning historical fiction book in the 1980s and is now the surname of Barbara, the wife of Abraham Estes, in thousands of trees everyplace – without even a teensy tiny shred of evidence anyplace except for citing each other’s wrong trees. And there are so many of them…they surely must be right. Right? In fact, if you ask the tree-owners, they will tell you they are sure that’s her name. But not one can tell you HOW they are sure, except that there are so many trees that they can’t all be wrong. Right? Wrong! Makes me pull my hair out.

10. I would rethink sharing a hypothesis. Years ago, I found a census record in which one of my ancestors, who was widowed, was found with an elderly man by a different surname, living in her household. We’ll call that surname Hell, because that’s what this became. (It was actually Helloms.) I hypothesized to another cousin that I thought Sarah’s surname might be Helloms and that this invalid male might be her brother. Not long afterwards, I discovered that Sarah’s husband, James Clarkson/Claxton had died in the War of 1812, ordered his paperwork from the National Archives, and discovered in that paperwork that Sarah’s surname was Cook, when and where they were married and that her father’s name was Joel Cook. No question. Hands down.  Not Helloms.  However, in the mean time, the Helloms surname from Hell had attached itself to trees, as fact, and now you find Sarah Helloms, Sarah Helloms Cook and more permutations, or mutations. And while that cousin should never had published speculative information as fact, publicly in her tree, I probably should not have shared that speculation either. On the other hand, collaboration is important – so I don’t know exactly what I should have done differently – but the result has been a disaster. Ironically, when I tell people that Helloms isn’t correct, and give them the source for the original problematic information, and the correct information, they often argue with me.  Go figure!

11. DNA test everyone to the fullest extent possible at the time. I have cheap-sized myself and often, it can’t be fixed later. For example, I mitochondrial DNA tested the one living daughter of my paternal grandmother many years ago now. At the time, I only paid for the HVR1, which was probably about the price then of the full sequence today, thinking I could upgrade later. Well, guess what….NADA. We tried to upgrade a few years later and the quality wasn’t good enough, and she has since passed away. So, no full sequence and even more crushing, no autosomal upgrade. It’s killing me. Eat beans if you have to. Get the DNA when you can and test as much as possible. It’s ultimately worth it. Don’t put it off.  Otherwise you will live to regret it and you’ll wish you had eaten those beans.

12.  (Yes, I added this one later.)  I would write the full source, not just a note like “Halifax County Court Order Books.”  I would write the full book title, the book number/letter, the range of years it covered and the page number, of course.  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, probably related to how tired I was at the time.  My notes pages that went together would get permanently joined as well, immediately, so no strays floating around.

13. (Ok, I added two later.)  Label all photographs, including contemporary ones.  One day, they won’t be contemporary anymore and you’ll be trying to figure out by kids clothes, haircuts and relative sizes, living pets and the house at the time which Christmas was which.  For digital photos assemble them in one place and then back up that source onto a different medium or computer.

Reflecting back upon earlier errors and mistakes through ignorance and learning from them instead of repeating them (again) is called wisdom, and it’s one of the only benefits of getting older.  I hope you can benefit from some of my oversights.  There has to be a silver lining someplace!



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Ann Moore (c1785 – 1860/1870), The Minister’s Daughter, 52 Ancestors #63

Ann Moore, or as the family affectionately called her, Nancy or Nancy Ann Moore, is one of those ancestors we only know due to the men in her life.  Were it not for the men, her father and husband, we wouldn’t know her name or who she was at all.

Nancy was born in Halifax County, Virginia in 1785 or 1786.  She was listed in the 1850 and 1860 census of Claiborne County, TN as age 65 and 74, respectively, once by the name of Nancy, and once by the name of Ann.  We also know from these records that she was older than her husband, probably by about 2 years, but maybe a little more.

Nancy was a Methodist minister’s daughter, born to the Reverend William Moore and his wife, Lucy, whose last name is unknown.  The Moore family had settled in Halifax County in about 1770 and by the time Nancy Ann was born, was well established, as was the Moore Meeting house that stood in what is today the crossroads of Mountain Road and Oak Level Road at Oak Level.

Oak Level

The Moore land and house stood mostly on the south (right) side of the road and the Meeting House on the north (left, above), to the right of where this house stands today, in that clump of trees in the photo below.


Beside the meeting house was a spring where the church attendees went to refresh themselves.  This is today located directly across the road from the Mt. Vernon Church which was built to replace the original Moore Meeting House.

Every Sunday and probably some evenings too, Nancy would have attended services in the Moore Meeting House from as early as she could remember.  I’m guessing that her last Sunday in Halifax County, around 1820, was also spent in this church, hearing her father preach for the last time….hearing her father’s voice for the last time.

This also tells us, by inference, that John R. Estes, the man whom she would marry, was a Methodist too, and attended her church.

How do we know that, even though his family lived miles away in South Boston?  Because there was only one Methodist Church in Halifax County at that time, and all Methodist “dissenters,” meaning those not attending the Anglican church, would have attended this church.  And the Good Reverend would never, ever have consented for his daughter to have married someone not Methodist and not a member in good standing.  John’s mother’s family, the Youngers, were also Methodist, as was his grandmother’s family, the Combs, which means that John’s parents were very likely Methodist too – forming a network of people covering at least two, if not three, generations who had intermarried.

You can’t marry someone you don’t see.  John R. Estes and Ann Moore saw each other through church and extended family.

William Moore signed for daughter Ann Moore to marry John R. Estes on November 25, 1811.  We don’t know, because there is no minister’s return still in existence, but it’s most likely that he performed the nuptials, himself, in the Moore Meeting house.

John R Estes Ann Moore marriage

By virtue of an affidavit some years later, given by John R. Estes, we also know that the family, meaning the extended family, was together that Christmas Day as well.  Howe do we know that?  Well, Lemuel Moore was there, believed to be Anne’s brother, John R. Estes was there and John’s grandmother’s Combs family line was there too.  These people were very likely all Methodist and the Reverend William Moore likely preached on Christmas Day.  Afterwards, they probably all ate together.  It would only be later that what was discussed and who said what to whom would become part and parcel of a civil suit.

We know that Ann was having children in 1812 when their first child, William, named after her father, was born.  On April 7, 1813, their first daughter, Lucy, named for Ann’s mother, joined the family.  If you’re counting, either Nancy was pregnant when they married or William or Lucy’s birth information is incorrect.  Certainly either is possible.

Based on the tax records, I believe that the young couple had set up housekeeping by John R. Estes’s family in South Boston.

Estes land South Boston

This photo is taken from the Oak Ridge Cemetery in South Boston, standing in one of the multiple (later) Estes plots but looking across the road at part of the land that was the original Estes land in South Boston, owned by Moses Estes Jr.  Moses’s son, including George, lived there and eventually, the grandchildren inherited that land.  This is the area where Nancy Ann Estes would have lived as a young bride, minus the paved road, utility poles and car of course.

John R. Estes was drafted for the War of 1812 and enlisted on September 1, 1814.  He was discharged just three months later, in Maryland.  We don’t know if he had a horse or was on foot during his service time.  One way or another, he made it back home unscathed.

We do know that Ann and John’s next son, Jechonias, was born about this time or maybe after John returned.  According to the census, Jechonias was born probably in 1814 or 1815.  I have never been able to figure out where that name came from, Jechonias, but I’m just sure there is a clue in there someplace about ancestry.  I did quite a bit of research in Halifax County surrounding the first Jechonias, which was found specifically in a couple of families, but was never able to discover any connection.

In about 1817, their daughter, Temperance was born.  Again, we don’t know who she might have been named for.

John Y. Estes was born on December 29, 1818, in Halifax County, or at least in Virginia.  Nancy, the next child would be born about 1820 and later census records indicate she was born in Virginia.  I don’t think that the family was living in Halifax County in 1820 because they are not enumerated on the census.  They could, literally, have been in transit.

About this time, Nancy Ann and John R. Estes packed their worldly belongings into a wagon and with at least 4 young children and headed west, leaving all four of their aging parents behind.  I can only imagine how difficult that parting must have been, all parties concerned knowing they would be seeing each other for the last time.

Ann’s uncles, Rice and Mackness Moore were already living in Grainger County, Tenenssee, where The Reverend Rice Moore had established the Methodist County Line church, literally on the county line between Grainger and Hawkins County.  This area was just below Claiborne County, across the Clinch River.

County Line Church,  Grainger Co., TN

We don’t know exactly where Ann and John settled at first, but we do know for sure that their daughter Lucy, married Coleman Rush in Grainger County in 1833 and they lived there for at least a few years.  The County Line Church is gone today, but stood in the above location.

However, in 1830, John Estes and Nancy were living in Claiborne County and had 8 children according to the census.  They were living among the neighbors who would shape their lives and that of their children in the decades to come.  Their neighbors within 5 houses in either direction included the Cooks (John R’s second wife), the Campbell’s (John Y’s wife), the McVeys (William’s wife), the Brays (Jechonias’s wife).  Next door lived William Cunningham, a man who would sign for John R. Estes’s character in 1871, 40+ years later.

Sometimes, my ancestors reveal themselves to me in very unique ways, but when researching Ann Moore, something happened that has never, ever happened before.  I’m just going to share this image with you of the 1830 Claiborne County, TN census from  I am not cropping any of the screen shot so that you can see for yourself that this is an actual screen shot.  For the record, I did not photoshop this or do anything else to it.  This is exactly how it appeared on my screen, much to my surprise.

1830 Claiborne Census ghost picture

Those of you who look at census records regularly know, positively, there are no photos, blurry or otherwise, associated with census records.  And suffice it to say, I’ve looked at this same record several times, and this image was never there before.  In fact, I’ve never seen anything like this before.

1830 Claiborne Census ghost picture cropped

In this cropped version, John Campbell, my ancestor is at the top of the photo and John Estes, Ann Moore’s husband is at the bottom of the photo.  I’m just not going to say anything at all.

After moving to Tennessee, Ann and John had a daughter between 1820 and 1825, but she had died by the 1840 census or married very early and was never noted by P.G. Fulkerson as being one of John R. Estes and Ann Moore’s children.  I suspect she died, because she wasn’t recorded by any other family members either.  I also suspect that a second child died in this same timeframe, because George wasn’t born until 1827 and then Mary after the 1830 census, both named after John R’s parents – so there is a gap likely to represent a deceased child.

Ann’s father, William Moore, died in 1826 back in Halifax County, Virginia, but Ann may not have known that until a circuit riding minister came through the area.  Ann’s mother struggled in Halifax County and died between 1830 and 1840.  Ann’s father lost the farm to debt before he died, not long after John and Ann left Halifax County.

We don’t know much about Ann’s day to day life in Claiborne County.  John had property surveyed in 1826, but sold it immediately.  By 1850, John was a shoemaker and their only child left at home was Mary, age 19.

By 1860, John is noted as a miller, but since they owned no land, he was obviously being a miller on someone else’s land.  A few houses away, Isaac Cole is noted as a millwright, a man who would have built mills and understood the gearworks.  Perhaps these men worked together in some fashion.

The 1850 census indicates that Nancy cannot read or write, but that her husband and her daughter both can.  The 1860 census does not have a checkmark indicating that Nancy Ann can’t read and write, so we’ll never know for sure.  Since there are no documents that Nancy actually signed, we don’t know if she signed with a signature or with an X.

Nancy Ann and John spent their life in Claiborne County in or near Estes Holler on Little Sycamore Creek.  Their first child married when their youngest was just a year or so old, so Ann and John had children in their household for almost exactly 40 years.

By the 1860 census, they had a teenaged grand-daughter living with them.  It’s hard to say whether this arrangement was to help them or for them to help with a troublesome grandchild.

We know that Ann was still alive in 1860, listed as age 74, and was gone by the 1870 census by which time she would have been in her mid-80s.  Ironically, in 1871, John R. Estes completes an application for War of 1812 benefits and in it he lists his marriage to Ann Estes.  It’s appears that he was simply recording that marriage, not indicating he was at that time still married to Ann at that time.

John R. Estes 1871 pension app

Life in Claiborne County during the Civil War was miserable.  Not only were battles constantly waged for the coveted position of the Cumberland Gap which changed hands several times, but the soldiers from both sides were constantly foraging for food for both themselves and their animals.  Many of the local men were away, enlisted to fight either for the Union or the Confederacy, so taking food from women, children and the elderly was easy pickings – at least comparatively speaking.

If Nancy Ann had not already died before the Civil War began, she would have remained at home, worrying, while her son John Y. Estes fought for the Confederacy, was wounded, captured, held as a POW and in 1865 was finally released and walked home from north of the Ohio River, on a bum leg.  John R. and Nancy Ann probably tried to help feed his wife, Ruthy, and the children while he was gone.

Nancy Ann also agonized, I’m sure, over her daughter’s, Lucy and Tempy, whose husband’s were fighting for the north.  She must have been especially worried about her son William’s wife, now a widow in Kentucky, but with 4 sons and sons-in-law fighting for the Union.  And then there was always a question of whether Ann’s son, George, was really dead after he disappeared on his way back to Iowa from California with his gold rush proceeds, or if he was alive someplace.

Or maybe Ann was blessed and died before the Civil War and didn’t have to suffer through any of that.

We don’t know where Nancy Ann was buried, but given that in 1871, John was living 4 miles east of Tazewell, it’s very likely that she was buried on the land that was owned by her son, Jechonias Estes.  Today, that land includes the “upper Estes cemetery,” shown below with 5 Estes cousins in 2004 or 2005.  Actually, there were 6 cousins, but I was taking the picture.

Upper Estes Cemetery 5 cousins

This cemetery is also called the Estes Nunn Cemetery today and has more unmarked graves than marked graves.

Upper Estes Cemetery unmarked

One of the ways we could tell more about Nancy Ann Moore is through her mitochondrial DNA that she inherited from her mother.  Woman pass this DNA to both genders of their children, but only females pass it on.  So, in order to find a male or female today who carries Nancy’s mitochondrial DNA, it’s necessary to find someone who descends from her through all females to the current generation.  In the current generation, males are fine.

Nancy Ann’s daughters with their known daughters were as follows:

Lucy and Coleman Rush

  • Nancy Jane Rush born May 24, 1834
  • Margaret Amanda Rush born January 27, 1836

Nancy and Nathaniel Hooper

  • Mary Hooper born 1853
  • Malinda Hooper born 1855

Temperance and Adam Clouse

  • Ann J. Clouse born 1841
  • Mary M. Clouse born 1842
  • Jemima Clouse born 1844/1845
  • Sarah J. Clouse born about 1849
  • Louisiana Clouse born about 1856
  • Elizabeth Clouse born about 1858

Mary and William Hurst

  • Missouri Hurst born 1854
  • Marion or Mahlon Hurst born 1857
  • Malissa A. Hurst born 1860

Unfortunately, there are two Hurst couples who carry the same first names, so I can’t necessarily tell which Mary Hurst is Mary Estes Hurst.

There could easily be additional children for these women.

If you descend from any of these women, through all females, please let me know.  I have a DNA testing scholarship waiting for you!!!!

Heck, if you are related to this family at all, let me hear from you.



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