Ruthy Dodson (1820-1903), Survivor, Divorced, Land Owner, 52 Ancestors #61

We thought her name was Martha.  They said her name was Martha – but it wasn’t…or if it was there is no direct evidence of that.  She never once used Martha on documents, signing deeds or in the census from 1850 through 1900.

The name Martha came to us from P. G. Fulkerson, a long-time attorney and historian in Tazewell, Tennessee who was born in 1840 and died in 1929.  He wrote about many of the early pioneer families.  His records indicated that John Y. Estes married Martha Dodson.  For all the good information he did provide, he was also wrong a non-trivial part of the time, and he might have been wrong about her name as well.

Ruthy Dodson, often called Rutha, was born in 1820, we’re not sure where, and died in 1903 in Estes Holler, in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  Martha was a family name.  One of Rutha’s daughters was named Martha as was Rutha’s aunt, Martha Campbell Jones, so Rutha’s given name could actually have been Martha, maybe Martha Ruth.

We might have Rutha’s picture too, but we’re not sure.  This photo was found in Uncle Buster’s picture box, along with the photo we think was John Y. Estes, the man once Rutha’s husband.  Uncle Buster said he thinks that he recalls being told that Rutha had red hair.

Ruthy suffered from debilitating arthritis in her later years, and the hand of the woman in the picture is disfigured, suggesting perhaps that she had arthritis.

Rutha Dodson Estes v2

Photo restorers have suggested that her clothes in this photo look more like the 1860s or 1870s, but of course that would assume that they clothes were contemporary.  I know that clothes were kept, passed down and used for generations, so even if her clothes were from the 1860s or 1870s, that doesn’t mean that’s when the photo was taken.  Ruthy looks to be maybe 50 or 60 in this photo, which would make the year 1870 or 1880.  The photo below is restored and colorized.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the restorer.  I can’t believe how much this brings Ruthy to life.


If this picture is Ruthy, or Rutha, she is the mother of Lazarus, George Buchanan, Elizabeth and John Reagan Estes.  Her original photo, enlarged, is shown below.

Rutha cropped

Do these people look like she could be their mother?  It’s sad that this photo had nothing to identify it except what Buster thought he could remember.

Rutha Dodson Estes children

Rutha’s four children above, from top left clockwise are Elizabeth Estes Vannoy, George Buchanan Estes (hat), Lazarus Estes (bottom right) and John Reagan Estes (about 1905).  Of these, I think that both Elizabeth and Lazarus have Lazarus’s nose – which apparently continued to grow for their entire lives.  Elizabeth is age 95 in the photo and John Reagan’s nose grew as he aged too, as you can see in the photo below.

John Reagan Estes

But in the younger photo of John Reagan Estes, about 1905, when he was 34, I think he looks a lot like the woman in the photo who may be Rutha.  It’s difficult to see George Buchanan under his hat, and this is the only known photo of him.

Where was Rutha Born?

Ruthy Dodson was born on March 1, 1820, possibly in Alabama, to Lazarus Dodson and Elizabeth Campbell, although her family was definitely a Claiborne County, TN family, both before and after that time, which is what made an Alabama birth seem so unusual.

This potential Alabama birth location was a bit of a surprise.  Where did that come from?  Is it true?  These families were surprisingly mobile for people without automobiles.

Lazarus Dodson, either Sr. or Jr. sold land in Claiborne County in 1819 and both Lazarus Dodson Sr. and Jr. disappeared from the records entirely until about 1826 when Lazarus Dodson reappears, about the time Lazarus Dodson Sr. died.

Alabama became a state in 1819 and the lands ceded or taken from the Indians in the War of 1812 would become available shortly.  However, many pioneer families knew this and attempted to beat the rush.  Many of the militia from Tennessee returned to Tennessee, packed up their belonging, and returned with their families in two wheel carts to “Squat” on the Indian Lands in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi until they could obtain title.

The Dodson family seems to have been involved with Indian trading in Alabama since at least 1797, so Lazarus may have simply been joining family there and he may well have gone with his father, Lazarus Dodson, Sr.

Or, Rutha may have been born in Claiborne County or elsewhere in Tennessee before they left or along the way.  She certainly would not have been the first child to be born in a wagon on the trail.  Rutha gives her birth location as Tennessee on every census from 1850 through 1910 – so you’d think if she were born in Alabama, at least one census would tell us that – but it doesn’t.

Another researcher indicates that Rutha’s brother, Lazarus Dobkins Dodson’s (say that 3 times fast) Civil War records support that he was born in Jackson County, Alabama as well.

Jackson County is located on the far northeastern border of Alabama, not far from Chattanooga, TN. and bordering both Franklin and Marion Counties in Tennessee and Dade County, in Georgia.  It was formed in 1819 from land acquired from the Cherokee Indians.

Jackson County, Alabama

Jackson County isn’t as distant as it sounds either – just over 200 miles from Tazewell.

Tazewell to Scottsboro

Lazarus Dodson returned to Claiborne County at some point, because he is on an 1833 Claiborne County tax list, but then he’s gone again in 1833 and 1834 because his taxes are unpaid.  In 1835, a Hawkins County court record relative to a lawsuit shows him to be out of the state entirely.  Was his family with him?

We don’t know when his wife, Elizabeth Campbell died, but it may have been before 1830.  In 1830, there are 4 young children living with Elizabeth Campbell’s  parents, John and Jane “Jenny” Campbell in Claiborne Co. TN.  The last surviving child born to Lazarus and Elizabeth Campbell Dodson was Lazarus, born in 1827, so I strongly suspect Elizabeth died between 1827 and 1830.

After the death of Elizabeth Campbell Dodson’s father, John Campbell, in 1838, an administrator was appointed for Elizabeth Campbell’s children who were in Claiborne County at that time.  This record actually threw me for a loop, because these children were listed as minor heirs of Lazorous Dodson, implying that he was dead, but he wasn’t.  He may well have been living out of the state though.

From “Claiborne Co., TN Will Book A / 1837-1846” by Claiborne Co. Historical Society:  June Term 1841 – Settlement application – Wiley Huffaker, Clerk & James A. Hamilton, Guardian.  Guardian’s report of minor heirs of Lazorous Dodson.  John C., Nancy, Ruth, and Lazorous Dodson, minor heirs of Lazorous Dodson.

Whether Rutha was born in Tennessee or Alabama, I think it’s probably safe to say she spent the earliest years of her childhood in Alabama, until she was at least 6 or 7.  She probably found the adventure of the ten day or so wagon ride back to Tennessee exciting…unless it was because her mother had died and Lazarus was going home to bring his children to his wife’s parents.  How does a single man raise 4 small children alone on the frontier, especially if one of the children is a nursing infant?

Rutha was probably very glad to see her grandmother, even though she likely had no prior memory of her.  You know, however, that Jenny Dobkins Campbell welcomed her granddaughter home with open arms.  Grandmothers are like that!

Rutha’s mother, Elizabeth may have died after their return to Claiborne County, and if that is the case, then she is probably buried in the Campbell family cemetery.  The Campbell family cemetery is on the hill above the homestead, in the photo below.  This is looking towards Estes Holler over the landscape.  The Campbell (now Liberty) Cemetery is on the top of a hill.

Liberty cemetery

In 1839, Lazarus Dodson remarried to Rebecca Freeman and in the 1840 census, Jane Campbell, Rutha’s grandmother, is living with one female between the ages of 15 and 20 and one male between the ages of 10 and 15, so it’s very likely that both Rutha and her younger brother, Lazarus, are living with their grandmother on Little Sycamore Road.

That arrangement probably suited everyone, especially since by then, Rutha might have been being courted by John Y. Estes who lived nearby.

Rutha’s two older siblings had married in 1839 and 1840.

The John Campbell homestead still stands, within walking distance of Estes Holler – and probably a shorter distance “the back way” over the hills than down the roads.

The Campbell homestead where Rutha was raised, below, is down the hill from the cemetery.  Standing in the cemetery, you can see the roof of the house.  Literally, John Campbell, after his burial, “watched over” the house.

Campbell house from cemetery

John Y. Estes probably walked Rutha out to the spring, shown here in front of the house in what looks like a ditch, to help her draw water for her grandmother.

Campbell property

He likely carried the buckets for her, showing how strong and capable he was.  Rutha was obviously smitten.

Campbell spring

Maybe John kissed Rutha under these trees by the spring that seeps out of the ground by the rocks on the right.  Do you think her grandmother was watching from behind the curtains?  Maybe Grandma sent Rutha’s little brother, 5 years younger, out to “help,” especially if the kissing got too serious or took too long.

Married Life

On January 3, 1841, Rutha married John Y. Estes and moved just down the road into Estes Holler.  I wonder if John asked Rutha to marry him at Christmas.  I wonder if he asked her grandmother “for her hand in marriage” first.  Was Rutha’s father, Lazarus anyplace close enough to attend the wedding, or was he in already in Kentucky by this time?  Lazarus Dodson is not found in the 1840 census in Claiborne County.

One thing you know for sure, Rutha’s grandmother was right with her when she married and Rutha’s siblings probably were too.  At that time in Claiborne County, the “marriage return” was shown on the page to the right of the license.  John McNeil, a Justice of the Peace in Claiborne County married John and Ruthy.  He lived in or near Estes Holler, so would have known all parties concerned.  And besides, John McNeil was married to another Elizabeth Campbell, likely a cousin, although we’re not quite sure how.

John Y Estes Rutha Dodson marriage

The old Liberty Church (shown below) stands right beside the Campbell homestead but wasn’t organized until 1856, and Pleasant View church at the mouth of Estes Holler wasn’t founded until 1909, so it’s very likely that John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson were married in a now forgotten little church on Little Sycamore Creek near where Liberty Church was organized in 1856 called Little Ridge Church.  Little Ridge Church was located on Joseph McVey’s land, and in 1850, John Y. Estes is living beside Joseph McVey.  Joseph McVey’s sister, Jennie, married John Y. Estes’s brother, William.

Truly, in these hills and hollers, everyone was related to everyone, one way or another – and often in several ways.  That “I Am My Own Grandpa” ditty is funny, quite funny actually, until you realize it’s your family they are talking about.

liberty church

In 1842, John Y. Estes signed for Ruth’s final estate settlement money from her grandfather, John Campbell’s estate. From the court records, “John Y. Estes receipt dated 5th Sept. 1842 for $54.35.”

Wiley Huffaker, the court appointed guardian, goes on to tell us a bit more.

“Leaving yet in my hands, one hundred eleven dollars & fourty one cents which is each heirs share & which is due & owing to Lazarous Dotson, the youngest heir. The other three having received their whole share as appears from the vouchers on file. Which settlement was presented to the court at October term 1842 & by the court examined & ordered to be filed and recorded, being received by the court. Wiley Huffacker, Guardean.”

From this, we know that in total, Rutha received $111.41, the same as her brother Lazarus. In 1841, this would have purchased a small farm in Claiborne County.  Rutha would have been considered an attractive catch.

By 1850, both Rutha and her younger brother Lazarus had married and were both living a few houses from each other and close to their grandmother as well, who was by this time age 70.

Ruth’s brother John Campbell Dodson married Barthena Dobkins, his first cousin, in 1839.  In the 1850 census, they were living near the other siblings and John listed his birth location as Alabama and his age as 29, so the family was in Alabama in the 1820/1821 timeframe.

A land transaction in 1851 shows that John Estes is renting land in Estes Holler, which turns out to be the land that some 30 years later, Rutha would own. A lot would happen between 1851 and Rutha’s land ownership days.

Rutha’s husband John Y. Estes is listed as a laborer in 1850, as a shoemaker in 1860, just before the Civil War

Normally, in the 10 years between census records, if the family is living in the same location, one assumes that nothing much changed, but that wasn’t the case between 1860 and 1870, although both census records look relatively normal.  They don’t even begin to tell the story of the hellatious decade in-between.

The Civil War

From the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 until mid-1865, John Y. Estes was gone close to four years – four very long years, both for John and Rutha who was left in essence living in a battlefield close to Cumberland Gap.  The battles there never ended and neither did the search for food.

John fought for the Confederacy in bloody battles, marched across at least three states and was finally captured when he was probably attempting to come home after being dismissed from a hospital for his leg injury in 1864.

John was held as a POW until March of 1865 and then deposited north of the Ohio River with orders to stay there until the War was over.  When John arrived back home, his family had survived without him for four terrible years. His wife was 45 years old and yet she would have another child in 1867 and yet another in 1871, at age 51.  By 1880, they were divorced according to the census.

In October of 1865, shortly after his return, John deeded all of his worldly belongings to Lazarus, his teenage son.  I don’t know what happened, but I can hear a huge fight after he returned from the war between Rutha and John.  In the 1870 census, they have no land and no personal estate, but then, neither does Lazarus, their son, who lives two houses away.

On top of whatever the situation was with Rutha’s marriage to John and the devastation in Estes Holler, the war had also been fought on the land just beneath the Cumberland Gap where Rutha grew up when her family lived in Tennessee.  It’s the land that her grandfather, Lazarus Dodson, Revolutionary War veteran, owned and where he is buried, we think, or at least where his tombstone rests today, and she clearly would have had some sentimental attachment.  I wonder how she felt knowing that her family land was in the midst of the active fighting for three solid years – that the family homes and cemetery were assuredly destroyed.  Soldiers were encamped by the springs and cannon fire resonated, being fired from the Cumberland Gap, directly above the homestead.

Rutha was probably grateful that her father sold the last of the land in 1861 and had moved to Pulaksi Co., KY – a fortuitous move, and perhaps a farsighted one too.

Dodson Cottrell cemetery

This is the Cottrell Cemetery, formerly the cemetery on the land owned by Lazarus Dodson, in Claiborne County, on the Lincoln Memorial University campus today, but previously accessed off of Tipprell Road.

Cottrell Cemetery overlooking Dodson land

From the Dodson/Cottrell cemetery, overlooking the valley where Lazarus Dodson owned land.

For Rutha, her husband’s role fighting for the Confederacy wasn’t the entire story – not by a long shot.

Rutha’s sister, Nancy, married James Bray who fought for the Union, as did Rutha’s brother Lazarus.  The Bray’s were near neighbors in Estes Holler, living beside brother Lazarus Dodson in the 1850 census and one house away from sister Rutha and John Y. Estes.  Sometime between 1852 and 1860, Nancy died.

Nancy’s death must have been devastating for Rutha, especially after losing her mother, her father living elsewhere and the death of her grandfather who was raising the four Dodson children.  Did Rutha help to raise her sister’s children?  I cannot find these four children in the 1860 census.  Did they perish as well?

By 1860, all three of Rutha’s siblings were gone from Claiborne County and her beloved grandmother had passed away.

Rutha’s brother, John Campbell Dodson had moved to Pulaski County, KY and was living near his father, Lazarus Dodson.

Rutha’s brother, Lazarus was living in Trimble Co., KY in 1860 with his birth location noted at Tennessee, as it was in 1850.  However, his birth place is noted as Jackson Co., Alabama from his Civil War records.

Lazarus Dodson was a Union soldier.  He enlisted at Charlestown, Indiana on Sept. 10 1862 to serve 3 years and was described as being 6 feet tall with light complexion, blue eyes and light hair.  Because Lazarus Dobkins Dodson’s grandfather, Lazarus Dodson, was an Indian trader, there has been some question about whether or not Lazarus Dodson Sr.’s wife was Native.  Given this description of light complexion, blue eyes and light hair, it’s very unlikely that his grandmother was an Indian, unless she too was significantly admixed.

Lazarus Dobkins Dodson was discharged in August 1864 at Rock Island, Illinois, a Union Prisoner of War Camp, by reason of a surgeon’s certificate of disability on account of disease – deafness contracted in service.  Lazarus received a certificate of disability for discharge on August 2, 1864 at which time his address was Bethlehem, Clark Co., Indiana.

In 1880, Lazarus Dodson and his family were living in Fulton Co., KY at New Madrid Bend, just across the Mississippi River from New Madrid, Mo. where Lazarus and his second wife, Harriett died.

Rutha’s brother, brother-in-law and husband were all serving at the same time, fighting for opposite sides.  Rutha had to be very torn and perhaps did not pray for any specific side to win, but for the personal safety of the men in her life.

Was Rutha outcast because her husband fought for the South?  She must not have been entirely ostracized, because Lazarus Dobkins Dodson’s children later went to Claiborne County to visit their “Aunt Ruthy” according to family stories.

After the War

Life in the south, especially in the areas where fighting had occurred or that were otherwise devastated by the war, was divided permanently into two pieces – before and after.  Life changed forever.  It wasn’t so much a matter of who won, but of the effects of the conflict itself.  Everyone picked up the pieces and went on as best they could.  They had no other choice.

Beginning with the 1865 deed where John deeded all of his belongings to his son, Lazarus, we see the foreshadowing that things aren’t quite right in Estes Holler.

Starting in 1867, Rutha’s household would begin to shrink when Lazarus married Elizabeth Vannoy.  Of course, they didn’t go far, just next door.  In 1870 Elizabeth married William George Vannoy and they moved next door too.

In 1878, George Buchanan Estes married neighbor, Elizabeth King and they too would move a few doors away for the next 15 years.

In 1879, John Y. Estes signed a deed granting access across his land and by 1880, he was in living Texas, having walked the entire distance, never to return.

The 1880 census shows us that Rutha cannot read or write, and neither can her youngest daughter, but her son, 3 years younger, can both read and write.  However, this does not seem to be a gender based issue, as Rutha’s two oldest daughters, both still at home at ages 23 and 21 can read and write and her 19 year old daughter. Rutha, can read but not write.  Youngest daughter Rutha was born when her mother, Rutha, was 47 years old, so she may have had a learning impairment.

estes 1880 claiborne

Also on the 1880 census, Rutha was noted as divorced, a status that carried a great deal of stigma in that day and time.  Today, the very fact that she was noted as divorced may signal to us that she was a very brave and self-confidant woman.  Many “divorced” women never officially divorced and claimed they were widows.  Occasionally one of those “dead husbands” would show up causing quite a ruckus!

On December 6, 1881, at 61 years of age, Rutha bought land, the land she had been living on for years. The court records show that Ruth Estes and her heirs made an indenture, to W. H. Cunningham, for $150.00 for 90 acres of land – meaning Rutha had to take a loan to purchase the land.

The property was adjoining the land of Jechonias Estes, Lazarus Estes and others; beginning on a hickory stump, an old baud ? in Houstans line of Wallins Ridge. Thence north 9, west with Harkins line 94 poles to the Buzzard Rock on top of Wallins Ridge. The debt was satisfied and the deed was filed on February 9, 1883.

Buzzard Rock

Buzzard Rock, above, is a local landmark at the top of Wallin’s Ridge.  Everyone who lives there knows where it is.  Every family has a story that their grandpa is the one who named Buzzard Rock because he hunted up on the ridge and cleaned his kill there.  Of course, I didn’t tell all, or any, of those people that Buzzard Rock is mentioned in the original land grants and deeds in the early 1800s, long before their grandpa’s were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.  People love their family stories and connection to the land and there is no reason to tell them otherwise.  This way, everyone gets to share in the lore and “own a piece of the rock.”  Of course, Rutha did actually own up to Buzzard Rock, so maybe she did clean things up there.  It wouldn’t surprise me any!  She had to feed her family one way or another in the desperate days of the Civil War.

In 1884, daughter Martha, known as Nannie, married Thomas Ausban and they lived close by as well.  However, they didn’t have children, or at least none that lived.

Then, in 1888, tragedy struck.  Both Martha and her unmarried sister, Margaret Melvina, would die within two days of each other in April, on the 7th and on the 9th.

With John Y. Estes in Texas, I’m guessing that their brother, John Regan Estes, then age 17, dug their graves with the help of their grandfather, Lazarus, who carved their gravestones.  Their deaths two days apart suggest some type of disease or illness.  There were no death certificates at that time, so other than vague family stories about smallpox and no one other than Lazarus being willing to dig graves, we have no inkling of why or how they died.  We only know it was a tragedy.

Venable Estes stones

Margaret Melvina, known as “Vina,” is buried here among the Estes stones in the Venable, now known as Pleasant View, cemetery.  At one time you could read the hand carving on her stone.  Her brother, Lazarus would have carved her stone, just like he carved the stones for the rest of the family.  Martha probably rests here too, but her husband could have buried her elsewhere.  If she is here, her grave is marked with a fieldstone that was probably carved at one time, but has since succumbed to the elements.

Rutha would have been devastated.  Her life had not quite worked out the way she anticipated in terms of her marriage and the horrible events of the Civil War.  Rutha’s children were marrying and leaving home, her husband gone permanently to Texas, her health was deteriorating and now her two daughters were suddenly dead.  It must have seemed like her world was coming to an end.  That must have been the worst week of Rutha’s life.

Rutha developed crippling arthritis.  The family in Texas tells us that she was disabled for 22 years, which would date from about 1881, right after John Y. left for Texas.

I hope John Y. Estes didn’t intentionally marry a young woman with an inheritance and leave an old woman who had a disabling disease.  I tend to think not, because several of his children joined him in Texas eventually.

The family tells that Rutha lived “up above” Lazarus Estes, and eventually her condition got so bad that the men had to go and get her and carry her down on a litter because she was too “crippled up” to walk.  The clearing on the side of the mountain in the photo below is just above Lazarus’ land.

John Y Estes clearing

Rutha’s three adult daughters lived with her until Margaret died in 1888, but Nancy and Rutha both lived with their mother as long as she lived.

Rutha’s youngest son, John Reagan, however, was another matter.  He married Docia Johnson in Claiborne County in 1891, but by 1893, he had Texas fever.  He told his mother goodbye and headed, on a train, unlike his father who walked, to Texas.  A few days later, he had left Tennessee behind forever and on November 1st, John Reagan Estes stepped onto the platform at Belcherville, Texas to start a new life there, in Texas, the land of promise.

Rutha probably knew when she waved goodbye to her baby, John, on that fall day as he stepped into a wagon for someone to take him to the depot, that she would never see him again.  He was all of 22 years old.  She was 73.  I imagine she shed a lot of tears.  It seems that mothers have been doing this since the beginning of time.

Rutha must have been feeling her age, because on October 20, 1893, just before John Reagan left for Texas, Rutha deeded her 90 acres of land to daughters Nancy and Rutha for $150.  Rutha signed with her mark.

Rutha Dodson Estes deed

This barn is on Lazarus’s land, but it looks “up the mountain” in the direction of Buzzard Rock where Rutha lived.

Lazarus barn toward rutha

In the 1900 census, we find Rutha living with her daughters Nancy and Ruthy.  Ruthy gives her birth year and month as March 1825 and her status as widowed.  John Y. Estes had died in 1895 in Texas, so if they never divorced officially, Rutha was then a widow, legitimately.

Rutha, at age 75 in the census, and more likely actually age 80, is shown as a farmer and her two daughters, 38 and 32, are shown as “farm labor.”  Rutha says she had 8 children and 6 are living, but based on the spacing of her younger children, I suspect she lost 3 if not 4 children early in her marriage, as infants.  She may have been counting children that lived past infancy.  The two who died of course would have been her two adult daughters, Margaret and Martha, in 1888.

In 1903, Ruthy passed away, at age 83.  Lazarus carved her gravestone and she rests with the rest of the Estes Family in the Venable Cemetery.

Rutha Estes stone

Rutha lived a long life for that place and time and saw some amazing history.  Her life certainly did not unfold the way she would have anticipated, beginning with her young mother’s death, probably followed by her father’s absence.  Rutha was most likely living with her grandparents, John and Jenny Campbell in 1838, at about age 18, when her grandfather passed as well.

The Civil War interfered with her married life, with her husband gone for years, a Confederate soldier who was a Union POW, and her brother and brother-in-law fighting for the Union forces.  To make matters even worse, Estes Holler was embroiled in the fighting with regular skirmishes, not to mention under constant threat of hungry soldiers trying to find food for themselves and their horses.  It’s a miracle the family survived at all, and they would not had it not been for Rutha and her daughter.  Rutha’s daughter, Elizabeth, stole the family cow back from the soldiers who had taken the cow during their plundering.

The grim reaper visited far too often, showing no mercy in taking Rutha’s two daughters two days apart.  Rutha probably lost 2 or 3 children when they were young, after she was first married.  She buried at least 10 and probably more than a dozen grandchildren in Estes Holler, including three other instances when there were multiple deaths within a few days.

When Rutha died, the only family left in Tennessee to bury her would have been Lazarus and her two daughters, Ruthy and Nancy.  Everyone else was dead or gone to Texas.  Soon, only Lazarus and his family would remain.

Once again, Lazarus carved a grave stone as they laid Rutha to rest in the Venable Cemetery where her daughters waited for her and Lazarus would join her in a few years.

In the 1910 census, daughter Rutha is living with Lazarus and Elizabeth, but Nancy has gone on to Texas and is living in Comanche County, Oklahoma with her brother, George Buchanan Estes.

In 1911, Lazarus Estes sold Nancy and Rutha another acre of land – probably the acre that held their mother’s house.

Just a year later, in 1912, both Rutha and Nancy appear before a notary in Montague Co., TX to sign a deed selling their land, 90+1 acres, to J.C. Estes and Charlie Estes, their nephews, Lazarus’s sons – the third generation to own this land.

By 1920, both Lazarus and Elizabeth would be dead and Nancy and Ruthy would both be living in Texas in Montague Co., enumerated under last name Easter.

And because, just because, we thought we had the mystery of where Ruth was born resolved, daughters Nancy and Ruthy say their father was born in Virginia and their mother in Alabama. So while Ruthy never claimed her birth in Alabama on her own census records, her daughters and siblings did.

The amazing thing about Rutha is that she not only survived, she triumphed over adversity.  She survived a rough start necessitating that her grandparents raise her and her siblings.  She survived the deaths of her children and grandchildren, an obviously problematic marriage, the Civil War along with the resulting starvation conditions, and being left alone to raise several children when her husband left for Texas.  I’m guessing that might have been easier than the Civil War era.

Not only did Rutha survive, she went on to purchase land in her own name, to pay a mortgage in full and register the deed, free and clear just two years later, and she was the one to leave an inheritance to her children, in spite of her chronically painful condition.  An incredible and inspirational woman.  I wish we knew more.  I hope I carry some of her admirable qualities – even if I didn’t inherit her red hair gene and I certainly don’t want to share her arthritis gene.

Missing Mitochondrial DNA Information

We don’t know anything about Rutha’s mitochondrial DNA.  We know, of course, that she inherited it from her mother, Elizabeth Campbell, and she from her mother, Jenny Dobkins, and she from her mother, Dorcas Johnson and she from her mother Mary Polly Phillips who was supposed to be from Scotland, if all the records are right.  But, those records have gotten might flimsy and unproven by the time we’re back to Mary Polly Phillips – one might say that they fall into the bailiwick of hearsay.

I’d love to have Rutha’s mitochondrial DNA tested.  With that, we’ll be able to tell a great deal about their matrilineal ancestors and where they were likely from.  Who were they?  Scots, Irish, Celts?  Where did they come from?

Ruthy only had one daughter that survived to have children, Elizabeth who married William George Vannoy.

Elizabeth Estes and William George Vannoy had two daughters who lived to adulthood and married.

Eliza Vannoy, also known as Louisa and Liza Vannoy, born in 1871 married Joe Robert Miller.  They had one daughter who married:

  • Nell Lee Miller born in 1902 married William Homer Jackson.

Doshia Phoebe Vannoy born in 1875 who married James Matthew Hutson.  They had three daughters who married as well:

  • Opal Hutson who was born in 1900 who married Grady Murphy.
  • Lizzie “Lucille” Hutson born in 1907 who married a Luttrell.
  • Audrey Hutson born in 1917 who married Alfred Long

In addition to Ruth’s daughter’s children, Ruth’s sister also carries her mitochondrial DNA and passed it to her children as well.  Nancy Dodson is reported to have had the following daughters with James Bray:

  • Margaret Rhoda Bray born 1853, married Johnson Isaiah Davis and had daughter Flora Ann.
  • Mary born 1848
  • Carline (probably Caroline) born 1838

There could be other children whose names I don’t have.

If you descend from any of these women through all women, I have a DNA scholarship for you.  Males in the current generation are just fine – but must descend through all females.

If this is your family, contact me regardless of how you descend, because more importantly, we’re kin!  I’m guessing we might have some interesting stories to share!  Our family may be described a lot of ways, but boring is not one of them.



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20 thoughts on “Ruthy Dodson (1820-1903), Survivor, Divorced, Land Owner, 52 Ancestors #61

  1. Thank you for sharing your genealogical articles. I always enjoy them.
    You mentioned the P. G. Fulkerson papers.. Do you know whether an original copy of the book still exists? All I know of are the articles printed in the local newspaper in the 1970’s and/or 1980’s..

    • As I understand it, the family had his original ledger and the stories printed in the newspaper were taken from that ledger. I don’t think there is any other book, or at least not to my knowledge.

      • I have a Ruth Marion Dodson in my line. My grandma! Born I thought Feb 14, 1908 or so ? If you want E -mail me at . My mom was adopted and born a Johnson. She’s from Fenwick Mi . I have a brick wall in this line .

  2. Thank you Roberta for showing us such great examples for how to remember and memorialize our families. I love the way to take so little and yet turn it into an interesting story.

    • Some of these have been a real challenge, but when you take one person at a time and focus on their life, what little you do know about them, the area where they lived and what was going on around them at the time, it becomes very personal. I feel like I really get to know each of these ancestors by focusing on just them and on life from their perspective for their article.

  3. I think the photo of Lazarus (lower right?) looks JUST like the woman you think might be his mother. At least to me! Same eyes, same shape face, same expression.

  4. Thank you Roberta, my great nephew by marriage is going to love this information with “meat on the bones” of his ancestors. I will be sure he reads it and stores it in his research. I am so glad I found your blog. Your Estes line is my husband’s line. Thanks so much for enriching our genealogy with information.

    I am a descendant of Abraham and Kesiah Fergerson Estes and his daughter, Jemima Estes, through Richard Dearing who m. Jemima Estes, their daughter, Gracie Dearing m. Amos Jenkins, their daughter, Elizabeth m. Henry Bivin, son of John and Verlinda Gibbons Bivin, who migrated from Maryland to Kentucky. John and Verlinda’s son, Henry Bivin was my great grandfather. His son was John Brown Bivin whose second marriage was to Penelope Lyon and their son, Roscoe S. Bivin, Sr. m. Viirna Wells. and are my parents.

    Strange that both my husband’s line and my line include the Estes families. I am not sure if the “twaine” does meet somewhere.

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