DNA Lectures YouTube Channel


The Who Do You Think You Are? conference in England is over for this year, and once again, we are the beneficiaries.  Family Tree DNA sponsored the DNA Theater at the event, and Dr. Maurice Gleeson and other volunteers coordinated the speakers.  Currently, the videos are being uploaded to a YouTube DNA Lectures Channel so we can all enjoy them and learn.

Here’s the link to the channel:


Currently, there are five new lectures from this year, plus 10 from last year that are still very relevant.  I understand that more lectures will be posted as they finish putting the videos into final format.

Here is the list of lectures that were delivered at the conference this year.


I have not watched all of the available videos, but I have watched the lecture by John Cleary titled, “It’s not just ‘deep ancestry’ – how NGS and Y-STR testing can further your research.”  For everyone who has taken the Big Y from Family Tree DNA or other Y DNA full sequence test, or who is thinking about taking this test, this is a must watch.  John talks about the technology, the results and best of all, how to put all of the pieces together to glean more information about your genealogy and ancestors.  It’s a wonderful lecture and John makes a complex topic very understandable.

A hearty thank you to Family Tree DNA for sponsoring the theater and to all of the volunteers that make WDYTYA a success.



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Finding Moses Estes (1711-1787), 52 Ancestors #69

The story of Moses Estes begins, actually, generations before he was born.

Moses Estes Sr. was my ancestor, specifically my 6th great-grandfather.  I’ve always been fascinated by his name.  Moses.  It’s Biblical and beautiful, but it’s not common in the Estes family, at least not before my Moses.  I always wondered where it came from.

A few years ago, my cousin returned from Deal, in Kent, England, having visited St. Leonard’s church there, with a photo of the gravestone of an earlier Moses Estes.

st leonard moses estes

Moses’s stone had a skull and crossbones at the top, and an hourglass.  These are very typical of the mariners in this region, and this church is just up the hill from the ocean.  The church even had a Mariners balcony so they could escape down the back stairs when the trouble horn was sounded from the shore so that they didn’t disrupt the service unnecessarily.

The inscription reads:

Here lyeth interred ye body of
Moses Estes who departed
this life 19 of march 1708
age 65 years
Also ye body of Constant Estes
his daughter who departed this life
November 1708 age 36 years

The Moses in Deal died 3 years before my Moses was born.

This is the only other Moses Estes in the Estes family, at least preceding my Moses.  My initial thought was that my Moses descended from this Moses, but as it turns out, that’s not even close.  I’ve highlighted both of the Moses in the chart below with my Moses in the left column.  As you can see, their common ancestor was several generations previous.  So how and why did my Moses come to be named Moses Estes?

The answer to that question lies in the old records in England and with the way Abraham Estes, my Moses’s father’s life unfolded.

Nicholas Ewstas 1495-1533 m Anny, Kent, England
Sylvester Eastye c 1522-1579 m Jone, Kent, England
Robert Eastye c 1555 m Anne Woodward, Kent, England         < 2 sons > Henry Estes b 1549 m Mary
Sylvester Eastye 1596 d 1647/1649 m Ellen Martin, Kent, England Richard Estes 1578-1625/26 m Agnes Dove
Abraham Estes b 1647, immigrant, m Barbara, d 1720 King and Queen Co., VA Richard Estes b 1605 m Sara Norman
Moses Estes b 1711 d 1787/1788 Halifax Co., VA m Elizabeth Moses Estes d 1707/1708 m 2nd to Ellen Estes, daughter of Sylvester Eastye and Ellen Martin
Moses Estes 1742-1813 m Luremia Combs
George Estes 1763-1859 m Mary Younger
John R. Estes 1787-1885 m Nancy Ann Moore
John Y. Estes 1818-1895 m Martha “Ruthy” Dodson
Lazarus Estes 1845-1919 m Elizabeth Vannoy
William George Estes 1873-1971 m Ollie Bolton
William Sterling Estes 1901-1963, my father

Moses’s father, Abraham was born about 1647, during the English Civil War.  We believe Abraham was probably born in Nonington, Kent but his baptism wasn’t recorded.  His next older sibling was baptized there in 1644.  By 1649, Abraham’s father, Sylvester, was dead.  His mother, Ellen (Ellin) Martin Estes was living in Waldershare, probably in the household with her oldest son.  On April 5th, 1649, she wrote her will, saying she was a widow, and dividing her worldly goods between her children.  From then, for many years, the screen goes blank for Abraham Estes, who was only about 2 when his mother died.

Who raised Abraham?  There may be a clue in the fact that Abraham named one of his sons Moses Estes.  Abraham’s sister, Ellen, married her second cousin once removed, Moses Estes, in St. Leonard’s Church in 1667.  This tells us that the two Estes families remained close, and it also tells us that Ellen’s home church was St. Leonard’s, in Deal.  It could mean that the Estes family in Deal, Moses’s parents, Richard Eastes and Sarah Norman Estes could have raised their 1st cousin’s children, at least the younger ones.  Ellen, John and Abraham would all 3 have fit right in age-wise with the children of Richard and Sarah.

And after Ellen and Moses married, it’s likely that Abraham lived with his older sister and her husband.  And that would explain how Abraham Estes came to name his youngest son, Moses.

In America

As an adult, Abraham Estes immigrated to the colony of Virginia after his first wife died.  He remarried in Virginia to a woman named Barbara and lived his life in New Kent and King and Queen Counties, both burned Virginia Counties, so the records we have of his life are extremely scant.

Abraham’s son, Moses, was born in 1711 in King and Queen County, VA.  We know this based on a chancery suit involving Abraham’s estate filed many years, decades, after Abraham’s death.  In fact, it was Moses himself that filed the suit in 1769 against his brother, Elisha, the executor of Abraham’s estate, nearly 50 years after their father’s death.  In the suit, testimony is given about Moses as a child, and when he was born.

Amelia Co Va chancery causes 1785-007

Eastis vs Eastis

Your orator Moses Eastis that in the year of our lord 1721 on the 21st day of Nov your orator’s late father Abraham Eastes departed this life after making and constituting in writing his last will and testament and thereby after specifically leaving? Part of his estate did give or further lend his who personal estate to his wife Barbara during her natural life and to be disposed of amongst his children then living as she might think proper.  He further stated? that the said Barbara Eastes agreeable to the trust and in the presence aforesaid reposed in her by your orator’s father on the 25th day of Nov. 1720 she made in writing her last will and testament in writing and surety? after giving an inconsiderable part of her aforesaid husband’s estate to several of her children therein mentioned directly that the remainder should remain in the hands of her executor Elisha Eastes, Thomas Poor and Susana his wife for the sole benefit of your orator and Barbara Eastes your orator’s sister whom she concluded were incapable of getting their living. But with a precise that they should become an ? in their leave? Or either of them should die then the same to be equally divided amongst Sylvester, Thomas, Elisha, Robert, Richard, John, Moses Eastes, Martha Watkins, Susana Poor and Sarah Eastes or the survivors of them as by the said last will and testament will more fully appear reference being that there to and to which your orator for greater certainty refer and on the day of blank departed this life without altering or revoking the will.  Your orator further shows that in consequence of the said appointment the said Elisha Eastes did understate the trust and execution of the said last will and testament first qualifying himself as an executor thereto agreeable to law.  Your orator further sheweth that sometime after in the blank day of blank your orator’s sister Barbara Eastes died wherefore your orator concluded himself entitled to his proportionate part of his said father’s estate according to the will of the said Barbara and made several friendly applications to the said Elisha the said executor for the same who has hereto refused such reasonable requests pretending that he had expended the whole or the greatest part in the support and maintenance of your orator and his deceased sister.  Notwithstanding there is still as your orator charges the truth to be a considerable part still remaining in his hands.  Your orator is remedyless and prays that Elisha be compelled to make full answer to these several matters and especially whether your orator’s late father did not make in writing such last will and testament as before mentioned and whether your orator’s late mother and widow of the said father did not in consequence of the trust reported make and ? of the estate  before ? and to the uses and purposes aforesaid.  Whether the said Elisha did not qualify as an executor thereto and came upon himself the management and execution thereof. Whether he has fully executed the directions of the said will.  Whether there is not still a considerable part of the said ? property left in his hand sand how much your orator prays that the said Elisha may be compelled to account for he had managed the same and if on a fair settlement of account there is any part still remaining that he may have his equal portion thereof according to the will of the said Barbara Eastis and that he may have such further and other receipts as may be agreeable to the equity court.

Next document

Summons to Elisha Estis, surviving executor of Barbary and Abraham Estis decd to appear in court to answer the case on April 7th, 1769.

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October 1769 – justices ordered to take depositions

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Answer of Elisha Estis to the many untruths of the petition and bill contained for answer thereto or as much of as he feels is material for him to make answer to.  He was nominated as one of the executors of Barbary Estis as in the said bill and that after dividing some legacies in her will did direct the remainder to be retained in the hands of the executor for the support of Barbary and Moses Estis the said Moses being very sickly and the said Barbary accustom to have fits and otherwise helpless so that she required to be nursed and dressed as a child.  The amount of the appraisement of the estate left by the said Barbary Estis was to the sum of 98 pounds 10 shillings and 9 pence, half? being? exclusive of the slaves and one horse and mare show appraisement amounted to 50 pounds fifteen shillings which after the death of the said Barbary were allotted to the children of the said Barbary and her husband Abram by the will of the said Barbary to which together with the said appraisement this defendant for greater clarity begs leave to refer and prays may be made part of this his answer, this def further saith that he expended a considerable deal of money for doctor’s means in endeavoring to cure the said Barbary and Moses and that for the space of 8 years boarded and maintained the said Barbery and Moses of which the def had made an account to which also he beggs leave to refer and prays may be made part of his answer and whereby it appears that the def. account is considerable more ? the said estate than the said appraisement amounts to, the def denies all combination ? and prays to be dismissed with his costs expended.

Elisha Estis (signature)

June 29, 1770

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The deposition of Thomas Poor of full age being sworn…says that about 49 years since Moses and Barbary Estis, orphans of Abraham Estis came to live with Thomas Poor, this deponents father, who was an executor to the decd Barbary Estis and to whom the care of these orphans was committed and this deponent remembers that when these orphans came to his father’s house that Moses Estis was about 10 years old and Barbary Estis was about 8 years old both which children were very sickly the boy being very Buston and commonly seemed inclined to the Kickiosey and for whose benefit three doctors were commonly employed the girl being deponent says lived til she was about 16 years old he also says that she was an idiot having convulsion fits frequently and that this deponent remembers his father was at the expense of 6 shillings a month as satisfaction to Elizabeth Yeates who attended this girl three years.  He also remembers that Moses Estis went to school 2 years while he lived with Thomas Poor this deponent’s father and he further says that since the death of Barbery Estis, Moses Estis and several others with him came to his father’s house and were speaking of settling the orphan’s estate upon which Thomas Poor this deponent’s father said he was ready for settlement brought some papers and as this deponent thinks satisfies those people amongst whom was Moses Estis who also seemed satisfied that nothing was due the orphans upon a just settlement.

April 16 1770                      Thomas Poor (signature)

Moses came to live with Thomas Poor, his brother-in-law, about 1721, so he was born about 1711 and Barbara his sister born about 1713.  This makes his mother’s age about 43 in 1713, so Barbara was born about 1670 and married Abraham probably about 1690.  There are 11 children listed in her will, so that is roughly 22 years, plus Abraham who was not listed, if he is in fact her child.  Abraham could have been omitted because he received land.  Were Abraham’s children from an earlier marriage already taken care of with neither Abraham Jr. nor Samuel being Barbara’s children?

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Elisabeth Harris aged about 60 being first sworn…says that about 48 or 49 years ago Moses and Barbary orphans of Abraham Estis came to live with Thomas Poor, this deponant’s father who was an executor to the decd Barbary Estis and that the said Moses Estis was Buston and Kiskififid and that he had 2 years schooling as well as this deponent remembers .  The said Barbary Estis was an idiot and quite incapable of taking the least care of her self and subject to fits and that there was medicines had for ? of the said orphans and the deponent remembers that Elisabeth Yates was employed by Thomas Poor to take care of the said Barbary and that the said Barbary damaged two beds considerably in tome of her indisposition.       Elisabeth “|” Harris (her mark)

Thank Heavens for those litigious Virginians, and that Amelia County records still exist, except for Barbara and Abraham’s wills, which have disappeared from the Amelia County file boxes!

Abraham’s original will burned in King and Queen County in one of three courthouse fires, but a copy was filed in the Amelia County case.  While we don’t have the will itself today, the balance of the chancery suit provides us with the essence of the will.

What we weren’t able to discover, however, is the surname of Moses’s mother, Barbara.  It’s in all of the trees on Ancestry as Brock, and that is absolutely incorrect.  Or maybe better stated, there is not one shred of evidence anyplace that her surname is Brock.  That name seems to have attached itself to Barbara in the 1980s when a historical fiction book that included the Estes family was published and assigned Brock as Barbara’s surname.  It also doesn’t help any that Abraham’s believed but unnamed son, Abraham, had a daughter Barbara who married Henry Brock, so indeed there was a Barbara Brock in the family, although she was Barbara Estes Brock, not Barbara Brock Estes.

Based on the depositions, Elisha Eastes says that he paid board for Moses for 8 years, which would have taken Moses to his 18th birthday, about 1719.  Men of that time did not tend to marry until they were 25-30 years of age.  They set about earning money and courting after they had a little something put aside.

The first actual record we have of Moses is in 1734 in Hanover County where he and Robert Estes jointly purchase a plantation of 100 acres.  John Estes, their brother is a witness.  I always think of this purchase, with his brother, as their “starter home.”  Probably not big enough for one of the families, let alone both – and certainly not enough land to support two families.  But, it was a beginning.

Hanover County has suffered substantial record loss.  They have deed books from 1734-1736 and 1780-1790 and chancery suits don’t begin until 1831.  Most of their records were burned in the Civil War.

In 1736, Moses patents 370 acres in Hanover County, land adjoining his brother Robert’s patent.

Moses lives in the part of Hanover County which split off to become Louisa County in 1742.  That’s a lucky break, because Louisa’s records still exist.  In 1744 and 1746, we find Moses and Robert assigned as road hands in the court orders.

In 1748, John Compton sells 185 acres that be bought in 1742 from Moses Estes located on Contrary and Northeast Creek.  This is in the vicinity where Moses lives, because in 1749, Moses Estes, now listed as “planter, of Amelia County” sells 285 acres in Fredericksville Parish adjacent John Cumpton’s former corner…on said Estes line to Robert Estes line.  He signs with an X and his wife Elizabeth, releases her dower on the same day.

Using trusty Google Maps, I was able to locate the area between Contrary and Northeast Creeks in Louisa County.

Louisa Northeast Contrary Creeks

On the map, Northeast Creek is the creek near the bottom arrow, but it looks like there may be a lake that could possibly have a dam.  Only the leftmost creek is labeled Northeast Creek, but all three branches could have been Northeast Creek at that time.

Contrary Creek is at the upper arrow.  You can see that there is about a mile, as the crow flies, between these two locations.  Present day Route 522 (208) looks to be the old road between the locations.  Today, the town of Mineral lies on that route.  So does the Louisa County Middle and High School and the Dollar General Store.

Moses would have married by about 1735 or 1740 during the time he was in Hanover County and likely before he purchased the land jointly with his brother, Robert.

Beginning in 1749, we find records of Moses in Amelia County.  The initial records, of course are Moses Sr. but after about 1760 or so, Moses Jr. might be present in some transactions.

In the October court session in Amelia County in 1749, Moses records a deed from John Gillintine proved by Nicholas Gillentine, William Southall and John Chisum.  This John Chism is likely the father of Elizabeth Chism who married Moses’s son, John Estes.  Nicholas Gillentine is her grandfather.

In 1751, Moses sells land to William Compton and Elizabeth relinquished her dower right.

By 1755, Moses and Elizabeth would have been married about 20 years and she had probably born 10 children, although we only know the names of 3 sons.  She probably had another couple of children before she was of the age that nature relieved her of that task, which is also about the same time that the oldest children are marrying.  All three of their known sons, based on their birth years, were probably born in Hanover or Louisa County.

  1. The oldest son born to Moses and Elizabeth may have been John, born between their marriage and 1742, or so. We don’t know the year for sure, but what we do know is that John’s eldest son, Abraham, born in 1764, gave the following testimony when applying for a Revolutionary War pension.

“I, Abraham was born in Amelia County, Virginia.  My father moved from there to Halifax, Va. where he lived until the fall of 1779, where he moved to the Holston River until 1780.”  After that they removed to Warren Co., Ky.

John Estes married Elizabeth Chism, daughter of John Chism and Elizabeth Gillngton.  She was remembered in her grandfather, Nicholas Gillington’s will in Halifax County in 1772.  John Estes died in 1824 in Warren Co., KY.

  1. Another son, Moses Jr., was born about 1742 or maybe slightly earlier, married Luremia Combs about 1762, whose father, John Combs also lived in Amelia County. Moses Jr. bought land in Lunenburg County from his brother-in-law after John Combs death, but moved with his father, Moses Sr. to Halifax County about 1770 where they both spent the rest of their lives.

George Estes, son of Moses Jr. who was the brother to John of Warren Co, KY, states that in the fall of 1781 he moved a family to Washington Co, TN and stayed a year.  George may well have moved his Uncle, John Estes and family, although the years don’t exactly match up.  He may have stayed with his Uncle John before volunteering for a third term in the Revolutionary War and then returning to Halifax County.

  1. The third son of Moses Sr. and Elizabeth, William Estes, was also born in the same 1735-1740 timeframe. William married Mary Harris.  He died in 1780 and his estate was probated in Halifax County, VA.  Family legend says that he was a drover of horses and drove them to the East coast being gone for long periods of time.  He apparently had what was probably an appendicitis attack and became very ill.  His wife was sent for, but she was days away and did arrive but he was already dead.  She brought his body home and buried him in the family cemetery.

In 1758, the French and Indian War was in full swing.  The House of Burgesses passed an act for the defense of the frontier, and in Amelia County, we find Moses, John and William Estes on the roster.   This leads me to believe that perhaps Moses Jr. was the youngest of the three sons, not quite old enough to be on the militia roster.

On page 358 of Deed book 7, in Amelia County, on November 22, 1760, we find a deed from Francis Clement of Amelia to Lyne Shackleford of King and Queen County, 288 acres bounded by John Clement, Jacob Seay, Moses Estes and George Hamm.

On December 1, 1760, Moses Estes witnessed the sale of 5 negroes from Robert to John Farguson.  This is particularly relevant because Moses Jr’s son, George Estes, married Luremia Combs about 1762.  Luremia’s uncle is James Farguson, son of Robert Farguson and brother to both a Robert and John as well.  This puts Moses Sr. in contact with the family which gives Moses Jr. the opportunity to meet Luremia.

We know that by 1762, Moses Jr. was married to Luremia Combs because George Estes, their son, is born in February of 1763 in Amelia County.

In 1764, Moses Estes appraises the estate of John Cook Jr.

We know that Moses Jr. and Luremia purchased John Combs’ land in Lunenburg County in February of 1767.  What we don’t know for sure is where Moses Sr. lived during this time, although I suspect he was still in Amelia County because he doesn’t sell his land there until in 1772.

In 1768, Moses Jr. sells his land in Lunenburg County and is not on the tax list in 1769.  Moses Sr. and Elizabeth witnesses the sale.

In 1769, Moses Sr. files suit against his brother, Elisha who was still living in Amelia County at that time.  Moses alleges that his father, Abraham’s estate was never fully distributed.  Moses would have turned 18 in 1729 and any balance of the estate would have been distributed to all heirs at that time.  It seems odd to wait another 40 years to file suit.  The suit said Moses had asked Elisha several times, so maybe it was one of those “now or never” moments.  One thing is for sure, if Moses didn’t file soon, he would lose his opportunity because neither man would live forever.  Maybe Moses was finishing up loose business before moving south to Halifax County.  The suit was not resolved until 1775.

Based upon this lawsuit, I would deduce that Moses and Elisha not only weren’t close in their old age, but that there was friction and resentment their entire lives.  I wonder if the older children viewed the younger children as a drain on their parents estate.

In 1771, we find the first evidence of Moses Sr. in Halifax County when Moses purchases land.  John and Betty Panke sell to Moses Estes of Amelia 400 acres for #80 – Richard Echols line, George Evins, Terrys line – surveyed for William Powell and conveyed to John Panke with Thomas Tunstall, R. Williams, Moses Estes.

In 1772, Moses (Sr.) sells his land in Amelia County to John Hughes, adjoining Nicholas Gillington.  Moses signs with an X and Elizabeth relinquishes her dower right and signs with an X as well.

Interestingly, before Moses sells this Amelia land, he sells some Halifax County land to his son, William, both men noted as “of Amelia,” 200 acres in Halifax County, 100 acres in full possession of as my own during the life of me and my wife where the plantation now is…bounded by Richard Echols line, George Evans line.

After Moses sells his Amelia County land, he assuredly moves to Halifax County, to begin the final chapter of his life.

Because Moses stays in the state of Virginia, we don’t think of him moving significant distances, but he does.  The blue “route” on the map below begins (top right) at the present day location of a school that is close to where Abraham Estes settled in King and Queen County, near the Essex County border, where Moses was born.  Next, Moses moved to Hanover/Louisa where Mineral, VA is located today.  Then, he sells out and moves to Amelia County for several years before finally moving one last time to Halifax County.

Moses Virginia map

In 2005, I returned to Halifax Co., Va. for my 5th or 6th visit, and I’m going to share this visit with you as I wrote it at the time.

Return to Halifax County

By this time, the roads as I neared Halifax Co. felt like I was approaching home.  The  mountain pass through Lover’s Leap (below) didn’t look quite so ominous.

Lover's Leap

I know all of the hairpin turns for those 7 miles now.

My favorite place, “Top of the World” awaited my arrival.  I love to sit and think of my ancestors looking at this same vista, just a couple miles from the land owned by James and William Moore and on the way from the courthouse in Pittsylvania County on Mountain road to the courthouse in Halifax.  Nancy Ann Moore, William’s daughter, would marry John R. Estes in 1811, so we know that our Estes ancestors saw this vista as well.

Peaks of Otter

Top of the World (on 360 near the Halifax/Pittsylvania Co. border) at sunset. – Peaks of Otter in the distance.

Col. Byrd, when surveying this part of Virginia in 1728, referred to this area as the “Land of Eden” because of its beautify.  He wasn’t exaggerating.

When I arrived in South Boston, I actually saw my cousin Shirley, (now deceased,) crossing the street and pulled over to talk to her.  Made me feel like I belonged there to know someone.  She welcomed me back and we went straight away to our cousin Doug’s house.  Doug asked why I hadn’t stopped earlier.  I told him that I though he had company when I drove by on my way into town.  Doug proclaimed that it didn’t matter who was there, I was kin and I was to stop anyhow.  Yes, I knew I was back home in Halifax Co., if only for a week.  It’s nice to feel like you belong.  I have no relatives where I live, so this felt really, really good to me.

It was Doug that told me that he was told as a child that the Estes family once owned all of South Boston, and if they had retained that land, they would indeed be quite wealthy today.  We laughed, because we’re certainly not wealthy.  I figured that story was at best an exaggeration that some well-meaning older relative had told someone who told Doug.  I would find out differently.  Indeed, what Doug said was absolutely true – and more.

This week was to prove most memorable.  I would find the land of Moses Estes Senior.  If you’re reading this from the distance of years and miles, it doesn’t sound impressive.  However, the history of this project shines a different light on  that accomplishment.

Actually, I view finding this land as a gift – the culmination of a decades long journey – the Holy Grail.

I began looking for the Estes genealogical connection in 1978.  Garmon Estes, before me, had already been looking for 25+ years then.  During my previous visits to Halifax County, at the intersection of Estes and Main in South Boston, I had found the land of Moses Jr., subsequently owned by his heirs including my ancestor, George Estes, hidden under a modern day landfill.  I can’t even begin to express how much this saddened my heart.

Estes Land in Halifax County

Where did Moses Sr. live in Halifax County?  He didn’t’ live with his son, Moses Jr.  And where is he buried?  Surely not the landfill!

The following contemporary map of the City of South Boston shows the general locations of the various Estes land holdings.  You can see Moses Jr.’s 256 acres to the right, across from the Oak Ridge cemetery which used to be Moses Jr.’s’ land.  At the top of this map, you can also see Greene’s Folly, located on 1150 acres that once belonged not to Moses Estes, but to his older Estes brother, John, and his sons.  We knew that Moses lived someplace in this general area.  Doug told me that the Estes land used to back up to his land, located at the bottom left arrow.  I thought Moses Sr. lived someplace near the upper left hand corner of the map.  The Estes land was literally salt and peppered all over South Boston.

Estes South Boston map

However, a general location wasn’t good enough.  Where did Moses Estes actually live?  Where was his land?  I wanted to find it and see what was left.  Maybe his grave would be there.  I had to know.

I had made many trips to Halifax County without finding Moses’s land and I wasn’t at all sure it could be located.  Many old pieces of land don’t track through to the present with titles, especially if they have been sold for debt or by an estate administrator by a different surname than the family.  Complicating things further, families often held deeds for generations before registering them, as registration wasn’t free.

The search for Moses land would take me on a labyrinth of adventures, including absolutely incredible “coincidences,” bordering on the unbelievable.

Moore Information

In preparation for previous trips, I had written to every individual in the phone book with the last names I was interested in.  I told them a little about my genealogy search, and when I would be visiting the area, just in case they had something interesting and were willing to share.  Over the years, I had many meetings in the hotel lobby, at the courthouse and the library.  They probably all referred to me as “the crazy genealogy lady.”

Aside from Estes, my Halifax County names of interest are Moore and Younger, although they didn’t marry in for another couple of generations.  On a previous visit, in 2004, I had sent many letters and received a few phone calls while I was in Halifax County.  I did not receive any hot leads or old photos though, as I had hoped.

One person who called was a very nice, obviously mature, and very talkative lovely southern gentleman named Tommy.  He told me he knew where the old Moore cemetery was located, on Grubby road, down from Sinai school.  He said you can’t see it from the road, and it’s abandoned, but he could take me right to it.  I discerned within the first few minutes, based on location, that this was not my Moore family, who were located probably 10 miles on west, so I felt guilty when I told him thanks, but no thanks.  I would leave the Moore cemetery for someone else.

I talked with Tommy about an hour in all, and he shared with me wonderful stories about his ancestor walking back from the Civil War after being wounded and then changing his middle name because he didn’t want a Yankee name.  He told me this ancestor is buried in the Moore cemetery.  I asked him if it was marked, and he said it used to be, but he didn’t know if it still was or not.  He said he grew up there, on the land next door, and could always go down to the cemetery to see the graves.  I told him he was lucky to know where his ancestors were buried.

I hung up, wishing this were my cemetery that Tommy knew about, wishing someone would call and tell me where my ancestor were buried, and wishing these were my Moores.  I needed to be the “lucky one,” just once.

Little did I know.

Sometimes, I think our ancestors want to be found, and they actually do lead us to them, or to these sites, as best they can.  Sometimes we don’t hear the faint calling very clearly.

Cousin Nancy

Before setting out on this trip, I had called my cousin Nancy to tell her that I was coming back and that I wanted to try to locate Old Moses’s land.  I told her I thought I had found it on an old grant map, the land being originally granted to a William Powell prior to Moses purchasing it.  I needed to work on the deeds, running them forward in time, checking the neighbors in that timeframe to see if Moses Estes did indeed own land next to them, and fervently hoping that there would be some identifying watercourse or road, or both, to help identify where that land is located today.

Nancy indicated that her husband, an Osborne, grew up in that area and could probably help us find the land.  Now this area is not finely groomed farms.  Much of it is first or second growth timber with patches carved out to mow or farm, typically with tobacco plants.  Tobacco is hard on the land and the crops can’t continue there forever, so much land sits fallow.

In Roger Dodson’s reconstructed grant and survey book, it shows that there was a land grant for William Powell, March 5, 1754, for 400 acres on the branches of Miry Creek.  The scanned image from the book shows us the location.  Note the Peter Fontaine land in the lower right hand corner.  This is land that eventually would be owned, in part by Moses Estes Jr. and the land that reaches across the top of this land that looks like an outstretched arm is the land owned by the sons of John Estes, brother of Moses Sr., beginning in the 1750s and eventually sold about 1780, the beginning of the Rev. War period.  This land would eventually hold Greens Folly and possibly also Berry Hill.

Estes Halifax Land Grant map

The following graphic shows the Moses Sr.’s land drawn onto a topographical map.  The yellow arrow at the top is pointing to the intersection of this land and Mountain Road (360).   The bottom yellow arrow is pointing to the utility easement which is easy to find today and seems to be about the North border of the current property.  Grubby Road runs right through this property.  The curve in Grubby road above the bottom yellow arrow is where the old Moore house that Tommy referenced is located.

Estes land drawn on topo

This looked to be Moses original land purchase of 400 acres.  Title work would confirm that, hopefully.

I arrived in Halifax County on Sunday and Monday morning I arrived at the courthouse bright and early.  I’ve been there so many times the clerks greet me like an old-timer and ask how my trip was.  Another “cousin,” Cathy, is deputy clerk there.  Yep, I felt right at home.  I know where the books are located and went right to work.

In essence, I constructed a timeline of transactions that when combined, create a history of the land that Moses owned.

At the courthouse that morning, when I found the Osborne to Moore deeds, in an epiphany moment, I realized that Tommy and I were talking about virtually, if not exactly, the same location.  Could that possibly be?

Moses Estes in Halifax County

Moses Estes Sr. moved to Halifax Co. Va. with his 3 sons about 1772.  Prior to that, he had lived in Amelia County. When Moses moved to Halifax., he assured that his sons came along by giving them land, but retaining life estate for himself on part of the land.

John and William moved with him from Amelia, and Moses Jr. sold his land in Lunenburg to join his father in Halifax.  Sadly, before Moses died, one of his sons, William would predecease him by 7 or 8 years (1780) and his son John would answer the call of the westward movement (1779).  When Moses Sr. died, only his son Moses Jr. was still living near him.  It would have been Moses Jr. who helped Moses Sr. bury his son, William Estes.  John had already gone west.

I have always suspected that Moses Sr. also had married daughters, but if he did, they have yet to be identified.  One possibility is that the wife of William Younger is one of Moses’s daughters.  The evidence is very slight, but the fact that he and his wife witnessed the last transaction, akin to a will, of Moses Sr. and that Moses Jr. bought land adjacent William Younger, that Moses Jr.’s son, George, married Mary Younger, and that the Younger and Estes families had been living as neighbors in King and Queen county on the Essex County border at the time Moses Sr. began having children leads to some speculation about earlier alliances of these two families.  The first wife of Moses Sr. could also have been a Younger.  Given that this is speculation, both ideas could be wrong and unfortunately, there is really no way for DNA testing to help us with this mystery.

1771, Mar. 21 – Moses Estes bought his 400 acres of land in Halifax County that was surveyed for William Powell.  He was preparing to move from Amelia County.

1771, August 6 – Moses sells half his land to his son William, it looks like this may have been in order to encourage William to move from Amelia, but Moses retains life estate in the land.  William subsequently died in 1780, so this remainder passes to William’s underage heirs, but not until Moses Sr. dies due to his life estate.

Moses Estes of Amelia to William Estes of Amelia – in consideration of him moving and also #20 – 200 acres in Halifax – 100 acres in full possession of as my own during the life of me and my wife where the plantation now is – bounded by Richard Echols line, George Evans line, Terry’s line – signed Moses (M) Estes, Elizabeth (x) Estes – wit John Harris, James Harris, Anne Harris (Aug. 6, 1771).

The fact that William received half of his father’s land may indicate that he is the oldest.  His other two brothers split the other half of the land.

In October 1772, Moses sells the other half of his land to his 2 sons Moses Jr. and John.  John leaves for Tennessee before 1780, leaving only Moses Jr. in Halifax with the elder Moses Estes.

Moses Estes Sr. of Halifax to Moses Estes Jr, and John Estes, sons of Moses Sr., of Halifax, for 5 shillings conjointly all that Messuage parcel of land bought of John Pankey, 200 acres – head of a branch of Miry Creek called the Pole Bridge branch being a moiety (that means half) of the tract bought of John Pankey containing 200 acres – Moses Sr mark – wit Joseph Collins, John Martin, John Wooding.  Thomas Hope came into court and relinquished right title in the land conveyed which he might claim under a deed of trust made to him by John Pankey.

At this point, Moses had conveyed all the land he purchased to his 3 sons.  In 1777, his sons Moses and John who did not receive the land in which Moses reserves life estate sell their portion of the land.

I suspect that Elizabeth died between August 6, 1771 when Moses conveyed half of his land to son William, and Elizabeth signs to release her dower and October 1772 when Moses sells the other half of his land, and she does not sign, releasing her dower.

In 1772, the court binds one Littleberry Daniel, a child, the son of William Daniel, to Moses Estes.  Moses would have been responsible for feeding and clothing the child, and teaching him a trade.  I wish the court has been more explicit – because we could have identified what trade Moses was known for based on the trade he was teaching Littleberry.  Littleberry must have been quite young, because he doesn’t marry until 1790.  He clearly did not live with Moses that entire time because Moses died in 1787.

Also, in 1772, Moses was to be paid #18.5 (or 1910 lb tobacco) for building a bridge over Burches creek, not far from his home.  I wonder whether he took the money or the tobacco.  Moses would have been about 61 at this time.

In May of 1773, Moses signs as a witness for Micajah Estes who also lived in Halifax County.  Micajah is believed to be the son of Moses’s brother, John Estes.  Micajah along with his brothers owned the property that came to be known as “Green’s Folly,” located not far from where Moses lived.

Moses signature on Micijah lawsuit

A pair of 1773 records are a bit confusing, in part because we don’t know which Moses, Sr. or Jr., this court record is in reference to.

On complaint of James Mitchell against his master Isaac Coles, Gent, released from service of his said master, the indenture appearing to be insufficient and it ordered that the church wardens of Antrim Parish bind said James to Moses Estes according to law, he confessing himself to be 18 years of age.

John Mitchell, slave, vs Moses Estes, def summoned.  On complaint of John Mitchell against his master Moses Estes for the terms of his indenture not being complyed with ordered that the said Moses be summoned to next court to answer complaint and it is also ordered that said Moses do not beat or ill treat the said John on this account.

This says slave, but this cannot be a slave per se, because a slave would not have a surname.  In the first record, the situation is referred to as an indenture, which would imply indentured servitude.  Indentured servants did have rights.  Slaves in bondage did not.  The other confusing aspect of these records is that one says James and the other says John – and I checked these repeatedly in the original records.  Lastly, it never tells us an outcome, so we have no idea what happened.  It’s a very unusual court entry and I saw no others that were similar.  Was the language directing Moses Estes not to harm John Mitchell standard under these circumstances, or was there something unusual?  It must take a very brave (or desperate) man to file against the very man who can make your life a living hell in too many ways to count.

In 1774, Shadrack Powell is bound to Moses Estes.

1777 – Moses Estes Jr. and his brother John Estes sell their 200 acres to Robert Bennett.  This is not the half that Moses Sr. is living on.  That half is still held by William Estes.

Moses Estes, John Estes, his wife Elizabeth to Robert Bennett 200 acres – witnesses John Pound, Robert Estes, Alexander Moore (Moses signs, John’s mark, Robert’s mark, Alexander signs)

In 1775, 1779 and 1780, there are lawsuits involving Moses – I suspect for debt, which is the most common suit, but these don’t specify.

The Revolutionary War begins about 1775 and reaches Halifax County in earnest in 1780.  In the winter of 1780 and the spring of 1781, Moses Jr. finds himself directly in harm’s way.  I wrote about this in Luremia Combs article, as the soldiers marched right past her doorstep.  Moses Sr. would have been an old man by now, 70 or so, and certainly would not have wanted anything to do with warfare.  Fortunately, his house was not on the main road and he may have escaped notice.

Moses Sr. did contribute to the cause however, likely when Greene’s forces crossed the Dan River on Valentine’s Day, 1781.  Moses Sr. furnished the soldiers with 45 pounds of bacon worth 2# 5 shillings.

This 1780 record is quite disturbing, especially given that Moses is 79 years old.

Moses Estes vs Luke Williams, Thomas Brady, John Nash and Morris Martin for having the said Moses beat, maim’d and wounded and him ill treated against the peace of the commonwealth. – summons issued.

It sounds like 4 against 1, which isn’t a fight but a gang beating.  Moses is lucky to have survived.  1780 seems to be a really bad year for Moses, between the War itself, his son John leaving, his grandson George serving in the war, the beating and then his son, William, passing away.  Moses was alone, with Elizabeth having died some 8 years earlier.  He probably walked to the cemetery, within view of the house, to share these difficult times with Elizabeth.

1780 – William Estes, son of Moses Estes Sr., dies and leaves a will, which, judging from the sentence structure and cadence, was not written by an attorney, but probably by William just before his death:

Lend to my beloved wife Mary Estes the plantation whereon I live together with one third part of my land I now posses and allso won third part of that where my father Moses Senr now lives after his deceas adjoyning the aforesaid plantation during her naterall life and after her deceas I give the said land to my son John Estes.  To my son Ezekiel Estes won third part of my land together with the plantation where on my brother John Estes lived and also won third part of the land that my father proses after his deceas To my son Patrick Eastis the remaining third part of the last my father now poseses after his decease.  To my beloved wife Mary Estes my sorrel mare and my riding hors in order to assist her in raising my small children.  To my son Ezekiel one sorrel horse colt which is now called his.  To my dafter Luana Estes won sorrel mare colt with a blasé face.  My other oldest sorrel horse colt to be sold to pay my debts.  To Ezekiel Estes won cow and heffer earling.  Also my desire is that my dafters Leana, Levina, Sala and Drusila Estes shall each of them have a cow and calf out of my stok with either of them maries.  Like ways to my two sons Partrick and John Eastes won cow and calf when either of them marrieth.  To son Ezekiel one feather bed and furtniture also my gun.  To daughter Leana Eastis won feather bid and furniture.  Allso to dafter Levina, Sala and Drusila Eastes allso Partrick and John Estes my two sons shall each have a feather bed and then the rest of my estate to eaquale divided between my sons Ezekiel, Partrick and John Estes and my dafters Leana, Levina, Salla and Drusila after the decease of my wife Mary Estes.  Executors Ezekiel and Mary Estes and Daniel Gill – Witness James Hardwick and Elizabeth Harris – Presented April 21, 1780  – Securities Micajah Estes and Moses Estes

1782 – Moses Sr. remarries to Elizabeth Talburt with a prenuptial contract.  He was a true Renaissance man.  His first wife Elizabeth probably died between Aug. 6, 1771 and the October 1772 transaction where Moses sells his land to Moses Jr. and John, as Elizabeth does not sign for that transaction, relinquishing her dower.  Regardless, she is clearly dead by 1782 when Moses Sr. remarried.  I just love how this is written phonetically.

Moses Estes of Halifax to hereby jointer Elizabeth Tallburd, widow of Halifax, with one half of my estate, together with her one [own] estate, consisting of 1 mare, 1 feather bed and furniture, in consequence of said Elizabeth Tallburt joining with me in the whole [holy] estate of matrimony and becoming my lawful wife.  I hereby confirm to her as her joynter, in order to support her after my death, and I divest myself of power to transfer the abovesaid joyntered estate, either by will or other means, from the said Elizabeth after we are married.  Moses (M his mark) Eastis.  Wits James Hardwick, Daniel Gill, Thomas Dobson.  Recorded 19 Sep 1782.

Thomas Dodson was the neighbor of Moses Estes.  Three generations later, the Dodson and Estes lines would intermarry in Claiborne County, Tennessee when Rutha Dodson married John Y. Estes.  Indeed, a small world.

After the Revolutionary War, the tax system changed in Virginia.  Beginning in 1782, there was both a poll tax and a land tax.  Moses is exempt, according to the records due to his age.  He is shown in 1785 with two tithables and 2 buildings, but never any negroes.  I am so grateful that Moses was not a slave-owner.

We may have a signature of Moses, although for most of his life, he signed with an X.

Estes, Clarissa boyd marriage

In 1786, Clarissa Combs Estes, granddaughter of Moses Sr., married Francis Boyd.  We know what the beautiful loopy signature of Moses Estes Jr. looks like, and this signature is certainly not that of Moses Jr.  By process of elimination I think this has to be the signature of old Moses Estes Sr.  Look how shakey that handwriting it. He probably welcomed the opportunity to go to the courthouse with his granddaughter and sign for her.  I can just see the grandfather proudly signing his name for his granddaughter – feeling quite special.

William Estes’s widow, Mary, marries John August by 1786 when he is appointed the guardian of her children and Mary requests her dower be laid off.  Shortly thereafter, they too leave Halifax for points west.  The Halifax cousins still recall the story of “the widow Estes” who put all her kids and belongings in a covered wagon and went west, never to be seen again.  It’s amazing that this snippet of a story survived for more than 225 years – and we figured out who it was.

July of 1787 was a sad month for the Estes family.  Moses Sr. signs a power of attorney (POA) saying he can no longer handle his own affairs which is more suggestive of something debilitating, like a stroke, than an illness.  This is the last transaction or record of Moses Sr..  His second wife, Elizabeth, appears to be already dead as well.  Moses dies not long after that in late 1787 or 1788.

I find this document incredibly sad.  My heart sank for old Moses when I read it.  On the other hand, had Moses not signed this POA, we would have had no idea what his “estate inventory” looked like.

Moses Estes Sr. unable to take care of such worldly estate wherewith it has pleased God to bless me – give to my son Moses – grant full power of attorney – all stock of cattle except 1 white cow yearling, 1 white mare, 1 grey horse, 2 sows, 2 barrows, 2 goats, mans saddle, bridle tools, carpenters, coopers and plantation tools, all household furniture, tubs, pots, pails, kettles, butter pots and everything else in my estate – Moses mark – William Powell, William Younger, Rachel Younger witnesses.

At this point, Moses Sr.’s son William is already dead and John has gone to Tennessee – so Moses Jr. is the only one left to help his father.

Note that William Younger is a witness, along with Rachel, which may indicated that they took any warm body to be a witness if this document was created hurriedly, or just in the nick of time.  Females typically don’t witness wills unless it is an emergency situation and the will is nuncupative, or oral only.  However, this document is not a will and it does not seem to be something that would be rushed.  So William and Rachel Younger’s signatures may be significant.

William Younger is a neighbor of Moses Jr, and in fact the Street that the landfill is actually on is Younger Street which would have intersected Estes street.  However, I have always wondered about a close family connection between these families.  We have never established who Moses Estes Sr.’s first wife was, nor who William Younger’s wife was.  The Younger family owned land very, very close to the original Estes land on the border of King and Queen County and Essex County, in the vicinity of the map shown below.

estes land map

We find these families together in 1738 in that location, then later as neighbors in Halifax County.  In 1786, and the son of Moses Jr., George, would marry Mary Younger, the daughter of Marcus Younger, the probable grandson of Alexander Younger of Essex County.  Is William Younger’s wife, Rachel, an Estes, perhaps a daughter of old Moses?  Was Moses’ first wife a Younger?  Is William Younger related to Alexander Younger?  We may never know the answers to these question.  All we can say for sure is that these families clearly knew each other before settling in Halifax County.

Tracking Moses’s Land

Feb. 1788 – Moses probably died in late 1787 or very early 1788.  Evidence of this is given by the fact that his grandson, Ezekiel, son of William who died in 1780, upon which land Moses Sr. reserved life estate, sells his share of the 200 acres, 66 acres.  This land was held in a life estate given by Moses to William, so I don’t believe this could have been sold had Moses Sr. been living.  Given that these family members had moved west, I’m sure they sold it at the first possible opportunity – as soon as that letter arrived saying Moses has passed over.  They could use the money to purchase much more land in the west.

Feb 1788 – Ezekiel Estes of Spencer Co., NC to Daniel Chumbley of Halifax – 66 acres on Miry creek – Bartlett Crenshaw’s line, Hendricks line, Chappells line – witnesses David Parker, George Eastes, Isaac Easley, Mary Ann Parker.

1790 – Moses Jr. and John Estes sell their 200 acres to Robert Bennett.  This is not the land that Moses Sr. lived on.

Deed book 10-190, Moses Estes, John Estes, his wife Elizabeth to Robert Bennett 200 acres – wit John Pound, Robert Estes, Alexander Moore (Moses signs, John’s mark, Robert’s mark, Alexander signs)

1790, Sept. 27 ( Bk 14- pg 709) – In 1790 Daniel Chumbley (the son-in-law of Moses Jr.) sells this 66 acres on Miry creek to Lovill Poindexter for 35# Va. money adjoining Bartlett Crenshaw, Hendricks, Chappels, no witnesses.

Jan. 24, 1791 – Lovill sells it back to Daniel Chumbley for 25#.  Daniel made a quick 10#.

September 1793 – Patrick and John Estes, William’s remaining two sons sell their shares in 1793.

From this point, I can no longer differentiate this 66 acres nor is it evident what Daniel Chumbley does with this land.

However, the next transactions deal with the balance of the land, 119 acres, except for 15 acres that I’ve never been able to find.

Sept 23, 1793 – Partrick Estes and John Estes both of Hawkins Co. NC (which in 1796 became Tennessee) to David Chumbley119 acres on branches of Miry Creek – Bartlett Crenshaws line, James Hadwick line, Stephen Locketts line, Ann Bennetts line, Daniel Parkers – Partrick and John sign with their marks – wit William Parker, Daniel Parker and George Estes.

This 119 acres would appear to be the same 119 acres that is presently owned by the people I visited (in 2005.)  This is where the original house stood, where the graveyard is, and where the second house was located behind the first on the ridge.  This is the land where Moses lived and died.  He is almost assuredly buried in the cemetery right beside the old house.  I wonder if he knew we visited him today (June 22, 2005), 218 years after he was put in his own ground, not far from his house, and likely beside his son, William.  Moses’ first wife Elizabeth is assuredly buried there as well. There were over 25 graves evident in the old cemetery.  It made me feel good to know they were together, and not under the landfill.

1797, Sept. 25 – Daniel Chumbley and wife to William Osborne, 119 ac on Miry Ck 100 pounds Virginia money, lines of Bartlett Crenshaw, signed X, witnesses George Hamblin, Skearn Osborne and John Osborne.

That’s it, the smoking gun.

Maynard Osborne indicates that William Osborne is buried in the cemetery on his land. William Osborne’s land is Moses’ original land where he lived and where he died.  This is also known as the Old Osborne place.  Maynard, Nancy’s husband, descends from Skearn Osborne.  This stranger-than-fiction story gets stranger yet.

1825, March 28, deed book 22-209, William Osborne to Thomas Osborne, land purchased by William and Thomas Osborne of John Bennett and Clayborne Lester on April 26, 1813, signed William and Mary Osborne.  This is the 119 acres.

This land apparently stays in the family for decades.  When we next find it being conveyed, it is in relationship to an estate and the heirs conveying their various shares.  Apparently, it remained undivided, as there are still 119 acres today.

Notice that this land suddenly adjoins Moore land.  This would turn out to be the land described by Tommy, next door to the cemetery where his Moore ancestors are buried.  Tommy reports that Moore family members are buried in that cemetery as well, including at least one Moore Civil War veteran.

1902, June 18, deed book 95-456, William Ballard Osborne to James H. Guthrie, 1/6 interest on land in Banister district on waters of Little Miry Cr. Adjacent land of William H. Moore, J.R. Moore, J.R. Hart and others, 63 acres, William Ballard, divided by the will of John Guthrie to Ann J. Osborne, decd, the mother of said William Ballard Osborne.

The photo below is the Moore home.  Nancy said there was a brick in this building that held a date and dates back to before the Civil War.  This house is located on Grubby Road north of the Moses Estes land across the road on a bend.

Moore House Grubby Road

At this point, we have connected the original Moses Estes land with both the Osborne family and the Moore family.

Placing Moses’ plat on a current topographical map, we see that this is on Grubby road and looks to take in the utility easement. During this visit, we confirmed that the easement runs across the north end of the property.

Estes Grubby aerial

The land of Moses Estes Sr. is exactly at the intersection of the utility easement and Grubby road which is exactly at the tip of the purple arrow.  The first driveway south of the easement on the west side of the road leads to the current home.  The old Estes home was in the rear, beyond the current house.

Estes Grubby on map

Moses’s original land appears to have extended as far north as 360 (Mountain Road), as evidenced by the earlier plat drawing.  Neighbors at that time included Richard Vaughn, Charles Clay, Richard Echols, Alexander Moore, and James Terry.

Notice that between Moses Estes Sr., the land owned by John Estes at Poplar Creek at Key Fork, and the land owned by Moses Estes Jr. on the East side of South Boston, the Estes family owned most of the North part of current South Boston.  Add to that the 175 acres owned by Richard Estes at one time further to the east and the Estes family held even more land.

Estes plat map halifax

The above plat map shows with the yellow arrows the land of Peter Fontaine, part of which would be purchased by William Younger and Moses Estes Jr.

Further east is the land that would be owned by Richard Estes, brother to Moses Sr. and John Estes Sr. who originally patented the land adjacent to Moses Sr. and Jr., eventually to be owned, lost, regained, and eventually sold by his sons Elisha, Micajah, John, Moses and Robert.  But that is a story all its own.  Drama was never in short supply in the Estes family.

The photo below shows the green arrow pointing to Richard’s lands, the purple arrow pointing to part of John’s son’s land, and the top yellow arrow pointing to the Northern boundary of Moses Jr.’s land.  The middle yellow arrow is pointing to the actual headwaters of Reedy Creek.  Notice that it is across (directly east) from Oak Ridge cemetery, once owned by the Estes descendants and directly across from Estes Street, which is where the bottom yellow arrow is pointing.  The purple arrow points to the area owned by John’s sons.  The Southern border of Peter Fontaine’s land plot actually came out slightly north of where it actually was located.  We know this because we know that Moses owned to the current road on the South side of the cemetery where Younger Street intersects.  However, Roger Dodson did an excellent job of recreating these plots and maps and his 24 years of labor on this project is not unappreciated.  It’s amazing that they are as accurate as they are.

Estes topo map Halifax

The Poplar Creek land, shown below, which includes Green’s folly, bordered the land of Moses Estes Jr.  The Estes men were no small landholders in the late 1700s in Halifax Co. Virginia.  Sadly, most of this land was lost or sold during the timeframe of the Revolutionary War.  The plot map below shows the lands that would be owned by John’s sons using purple arrows and shows Peter Fontaine’s holding with yellow.  The green arrow shows approximately the location of the southern border of Moses Estes Sr.’s land.

Halifax topo estes lands crop

The topographical map below shows these lands drawn and located by the green arrow still showing the approximate location of Moses Sr.’s land, the purple showing the land holdings of John’s sons.  We know that the northern border of John’s land is actually slightly too far south, because the yellow arrow below is pointing to the current location of Green’s Folly, which we know both from deeds and historical accounts written by historians alive at the time, was the land originally owed by the Estes men who were sons of John.  There is actually some question about whether the mansion still standing (as a clubhouse for a golf course, and needing restoration badly) on this land was built by the Estes family or Berryman Green, depending on which purchase dates you use and the date the house was built.  However, it’s not called Estes Folly, so we won’t complain too much and will likely never know.  This house was large enough to hold court in, was in fact larger than the courthouse of that time, and they did in fact hold court here from time to time.

halifax Estes boundaries

Green's Folly today

Greene’s Folly today, above.  This land was at one time owned by Estes men, and the house may have been built by Moses’s brother, John, and his sons.

The next topographical map shows the various locations of Estes land involving Moses, Sr., Moses Jr., John and his sons assembled using the magic of transparent tape.

Estes lands south boston

The green arrow points to the lands of Moses Sr.  The yellow points to the lands of his son, Moses Jr. adjoining the lands of William Younger to the east.

The top purple arrow points to Green’s Folly.  The Key Fork is just left of that, intersects Sinai road, then leads to the second purple arrow which points to Berry Hill plantation.  Given we know that the boundary line shown is too far south, if you shift it north to include Green’s Folly, you encompass the lands of Berry Hill as well.  The Bruce family owned and apparently built this plantation, acquiring much of the land between Berry Hill and South Boston, which of course includes the lands owned by John’s sons.  And yes, as cousin Doug had said, these original lands did butt up against the land Doug owned.  So far, those old family stories have been proven true.

There has been speculation in the Estes descendants living in South Boston for years that the middle name of the original Berry Hill owner was Estes.  I have been able to find no documentation to substantiate this, but given that some of the land owned by the Estes men is still unidentified, and many of their children are unidentified, it’s certainly probable that daughters, especially, married in the area and remained.  There were Estes families here from 1752 until after the Revolutionary War whose children have never been identified.  Many women passed their maiden names on as middle names of their children.

Looking at the map above, which does not show the Richard Estes lands to the east, we see that the Estes family at one time owned most of the lands across the northern half of South Boston.  John’s sons died and those who remained sold out before the Revolutionary War, some moving to South Carolina.  Micajah, who didn’t sell, was ruined financially.  He died in 1786, his son Micajah Jr. selling the last of his land in 1794 from what would eventually become East Tennessee.  Moses seemed to be particularly close to his nephew, Micajah, as there were several transactions over the years where the men appear together.  Moses signed as witness and bond for Micajah more than once.

Standing on Moses’s Land

At the end of that fateful Monday at the courthouse when I found all of these deeds and attempted to put them together like a giant jigsaw puzzle (without the aid of the above plats and maps), I met Maynard and Nancy outside the courthouse.  We had arranged to go out on Grubby road to see if we could find the land.

Estes Osborne home

I shared with Maynard what I had found that day, and the realization dawned on all of us that the Osborne house was in fact the Moses Estes house.  We were discussing this, when Maynard said, “I have a picture of that house”, reaching into his car and pulling out a binder with the photograph of the above house on the front.  This painting was created from a black and white photo.  This is a photo of the painting that is in Maynard’s family.

I stood there, shaking, as the realization dawned on all of us that we had, in fact, found Moses land, and I was looking at his house some 225 years later.  This was truly an epiphany, un unbelievable revelation.  I was absolutely stunned, truly speechless, a decidedly rare event.  This was one of those synchronistic events that happen only a few times in any given lifetime.  The genealogical stars had aligned.

Now, we wanted to go and find his actual land, not just on paper.  Maynard, Nancy and I set out to do just that.  Maynard had been there years before.  After all, it was the old Osborne land.  He just needed to get his bearings.

Eventually, after a few false starts (and difficult turn-arounds on 2 track roads), we found the property.  The current owners were very gracious with their entirely unexpected guests.  They showed us the skeleton of the original Estes/Osborne home, and told us that the chimney of that original house had recently fallen in.  Some people had come and taken some foundation stones for a pond, and they were in fact going to bury the remainder because they couldn’t mow their field for the rubble.  The aerial view with the small white balloon marks the location in the field of the homestead, I think.  It’s difficult to tell more than a decade later, not knowing how much has changed on that farm from when we visited and when the google aerial was taken.

Moses Estes land aerial

Nancy, Maynard and I were ecstatic.  Maynard said they always knew that the Osborne’s didn’t build the house, but he didn’t know who did build it.  Nancy and Maynard also use stones in their landscaping, so I loaded foundation stones and bricks from the hearth into my brand new one-week-old Jeep and they made arrangements to get a truck and salvage the stones for their land as well.

Moses Rock

The current owners were glad to be rid of a problem in their field and shared our excitement of our wonderful, historic, find.  Part of Moses’ house lives in my garden, above, now, more than 240 years and 1000 miles away and in cousin Nancy’s as well.

Nancy Osborne rocks

Nancy Osborne selecting rocks from the old Moses Estes homesite.

As we walked out into the field, we all stood quietly, listening over the decades, actually, over the centuries, to the voices from the past carried on the wind.  We listened for the sounds of Moses time.  This was as close to a genealogical spiritual nirvana experience as I would ever have.  Standing on his land, looking at his house, visiting his grave was a religious experience of sorts, the genealogist’s Holy Grail.  And we would never have found the land or the graves without all of the disparate pieces of information from several sources, all coming together at exactly the right time, in the right place.  It was as if Moses had called us and we had found him, or at least his grave, is spite of everything.

We stood where Moses’s house once stood and looked up the hill, “above” where Moses lived, where John’s house would have been, and sure enough, there was a clearing.  The current owners said there used to be a structure there too, but it was completely gone now.  John would have left from here in 1779 for the Holston River in Tennessee, their wagon slowly creaking out of sight.  Moses stood, alone, knowing he would never see his son again.  The land Moses gave him wasn’t enough to keep him in Halifax.

The current owners said the creek was fresh and always ran, and was down the gully past the graveyard and between John and Moses’ houses.  You can see the gulley in the photo below.  Moses had chosen his land well.

Estes clearing

The clearing “up the hill” where John Estes’ house stood.

Maynard remembered where the graveyard had been, although today you’d never know it was a graveyard.  The current owners said they thought there was one grave “back there” in the underbrush, pictured in the woods across the remains of Moses’ house, below.

The graveyard, featured in the photo below, is hidden in the overgrowth.  The only hint is the day lilies growing.

Moses Estes cemetery over house crop

Facing the graveyard, looking North, our backs to the location of Moses old house.  Probably 50 to 100 feet away from the old house.

Moses Estes cemetery

We waded through the waist high weeds into the sacred space of the cemetery, stepping backwards in time.  Maynard and I worked our way into the darkened sanctuary of the box elders.  Indeed, we found the one marked grave, an Osborne.

Estes cem Osborne stone

The only grave with a tombstone in the graveyard.

After we got into the wooded area, we discovered probably 25, maybe more, graves, some inside a grouping of box elder.  This looks to be the graves of Moses, our progenitor, being honored.  There were many newer graves outside of this area, although all graves appeared to be pre-1900, many much older.  The box elders were so large and overgrown that it looked dark, like a child’s dream hideaway, a cathedral of sorts.

Estes cem box elders

Standing inside the box elders, probably looking at Moses grave.

I should have used my flash, although there were only field stones that look like ghostly silhouettes in this picture.  Someone had once clearly cared greatly about the people buried here as they intentionally encircled this area with the box elders.  The rest of the fieldstones were outside this area, but still within the treed area as a whole.  The box elder area clearly looked like the “progenitor” area.  I wonder if Moses Jr. came back here to visit his father’s grave.  I wonder if George and John R. Estes visited this grave too.  John R. Estes was born probably the same year as old Moses, his great-grandfather, died.  Did George visit his grandpa before he left for the Revolutionary War, not knowing if he’d ever be back to see him again?  Did they wonder which of them would die first?  Was George home for the funeral of his Uncle William Estes in 1780, or was he already gone to war?  Did Moses Sr. plant these box elder bushes when his wife, Elizabeth died, and then when his son, William, died?

I can feel old Moses’ sorrow burying his adult son.  Moses was already an old man himself by this time – 69 years old.  Moses must have had more children than 3 sons, so burying William left him with only 2 children that we have been able to identify, one of whom had already gone west, never to be seen by his father again.  That must have been a truly sad day for Moses.

Finding the cemetery was a dream come true alright.  Moses had called to us in muffled whispers through Tommy and Maynard, and we finally had found his home and his final resting place.  I hope he is at peace on this beautiful land.  His grave is no longer lost.  And I too am at peace knowing where he lived, loved and died.  I have found a part of myself in finding him.

Thanks Moses for the help.  Without Tommy and Nancy and Maynard and the pieces falling into place just so, we could never have found you.

Moses DNA – Answering Questions

Moses Estes was bedrock.  His descendants spread from Halifax County across the south, the Midwest and finally the western states.  His descendants probably number in the thousands today.  Moses had 29 grandchildren from the three children we know about.  The only reasons we know about these sons is because Moses sold land to them.  I would bet there are daughters we know nothing about – and there could be additional sons as well.

Thankfully, some of Moses’s descendants are interested in genealogy.  One of the first Estes researchers I ever met, some 30+ years ago, was Garmon Estes.  Garmon descends from Moses, through Moses Jr., George and then John R. Estes.  It’s only fitting that the DNA of Moses’s descendants, along with that of other Estes men, would be utilized to answer one of the long-standing questions to plague Estes researchers.

I surely do miss my research buddy and cousin, Garmon, but he would be thrilled to know that he had an active role in resolving the long debated Estes family mystery.

Because of the persistent similarity of Estes to the name d’Este, it has been rumored for years, centuries actually, that the Estes family is descended from the royal lineage of the d’Este family of Ferrara, Italy.

Of course, that would be extremely exciting and we loved that rumor.  Many researchers dug for years to find that elusive piece of confirming evidence.  That piece, of course, remains elusive, probably because it doesn’t exist.

With the advent of Y DNA testing, Garmon was the first Estes male to test when I first established the Estes Y DNA project.  Of course, having his DNA without other Estes men to compare to was futule, so many other long-time genealogists viewed this as a prime opportunity to prove or disprove a number of lines, along with that tantalizing d’Este family rumor.

The problem was, and is, that we were never able to find a male d’Este to test.  Seems the direct male line has died out, with a couple of exceptions.  However, famous people (royalty) are not inclined to talk to us mere mortals, let alone participate in DNA testing.  There is no upside for them.  They already have their genealogy, on paper, due to their royal lineage, and the only thing they are left to question is whether or not there was a biological break in the lineage, also known as an NPE (non-paternal event,) circumstances which I call undocumented adoptions.  And if you’re a royal, you really don’t want to know if one has occurred.  Plus, I’m not sure the royals really want any new cousins clamoring for whatever they might think they are entitled to, if the Estes family would match the royal line.

Instead, we had to try to discern the heritage of the Estes family utilizing the historical nature of the Y DNA.

Several men from the Estes line tested, including Garmon and other family members from Moses’s line.  Because we know that the Y chromosome is not admixed, and is passed intact, except for an occasional mutation, from father to son, we can tell a great deal about where our ancestors were in times past, both recent past in terms of surname matches, and more distant past in terms of haplogroup or ancient clan matching.

Generally, haplogroups tend to be measured in the thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of years, and STR markers, meaning the 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 panel tests through Family Tree DNA, generally tend to measure relationships in the 400-800 year range.  We were hoping for something in the middle, because we wanted to know where our family was during the time of the d’Este reign from about the year 900 to 1495 when we first find our Estes family in Kent, England.  Records before that time are very scant.

We knew we didn’t have any STR DNA matches to anyone in Italy, but what we didn’t know was whether we would match anyone in Italy a little further back in time.

The Big Y test introduced by Family Tree DNA in 2013 reads the majority of the Y chromosome to find not only known SNPs, which are used to identify haplogroups and subgroups, but to find any personal SNPs not previously found.  In other words, it’s a test of discovery – just perfect for our Estes family.

In the parlance of Family Tree DNA, these new discoveries are called “novel variants.”  That’s just until it can be determined if novel variants are truly a family mutation or if they are pertinent to larger groups of people.  Most novel variants will become named SNPs in time, if not already.  Those novel variants not found in other families will become Estes specific line markers, perhaps indicating our own private Estes mutations. Maybe the Estes haplogroup:)

Looking at the novel variants for the Estes line, and at the SNPs discovered, we can find no relationship of the Estes DNA (by that or any other surname) to that region of Italy.  It’s extremely unlikely that the Estes family swooped in for 500 years (or longer) and left no DNA in the region.  We’re not just talking about matching STR markers, but matching the Big Y and matching the haplogroup subgroup results.  In fact, I would be happy with ANY matching of ANY kind.  It just isn’t there

I wrote about the details in an article called Estes Big Y DNA Results.  Generally, one can’t prove a negative, so while we potentially could prove that the Estes and d’Este DNA is the same, if a male d’Este were to test, we can’t prove that they aren’t without the test.  To prove the negative, we must use the preponderance of evidence.

The longer lookback into history suggests strongly that the rumor that the Estes male line descends from the d’Este family is unfounded.  However, all genealogists are always anxiously awaiting new information to be unearthed, and I am certainly interested in anything new that develops.  I would love to prove or disprove this conclusively and put this rumor to bed forever.  Today, the only known direct lineal d’Este paternal line descendant is Ernst August, Prince of Hanover, husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, who also has 2 sons.  So, there is hope.  In the mean time, I think the Big Y results have put the family myth into permanent cold storage – at least for now.

If you are descended from any Estes ancestor, we’d love to have you join us for Y testing if you are a male who carries the Estes surname.  If you are descended from any Estes through any line, we’d love to have you join us in the Estes project after you take the autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA.  If you have already tested at Ancestry.com, you can transfer your autosomal raw data file to Family Tree DNA for $39.  Hope to see you there!

Moses rock 2



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Melissa Etheridge – Who Do You Think You Are – Season Finale

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

Famed musician Melissa Etheridge is eager to trace the history of her paternal side, having always been very close with her father who passed away. On a family tree that her mother has started, Melissa finds that her dad’s maternal side – The Janises – have deep roots in Quebec City, Canada; so Melissa starts her journey there.

At the National Archives of Quebec, Melissa discovers that her 6x great grandfather Francois Janis was an innkeeper there in the early 1700’s. Searching for him in the archives’ database, Melissa finds a trial record indicating that Francois and his wife sued a man named Jean Dubreuil for seducing and impregnating their teenage daughter Charlotte under the pretext of marriage. The original record shows a dramatic back and forth in which Jean calls Charlotte a streetwalker in court and refuses to marry her. Finally Jean admits to having seduced Charlotte and eventually a warrant is issued for his arrest and then the case ends abruptly. Melissa finds that despite the troublesome court case, Charlotte and Jean did ultimately get married, but the child they had is not mentioned in the documents. Curious to find out what happened to her Charlotte’s child, Melissa heads to the Notre Dame Basilica in Quebec in hope of locating church records on the family.

At the Basilica in Quebec, Melissa looks through original parish records and comes across an April 1725 Baptism entry for Anne-Francoise, the child of Charlotte and Jean born just at the end of the seduction trial. But Melissa discovers that the baby died on the 6th of May, only 8 days old. Finally, Melissa locates a document that shows Charlotte died in 1733 at the young age of 26, bringing this story to a close.

Consulting her family tree, Melissa now wants to know what happened to her 5x great-grandfather Nicolas who was 13 when his sister Charlotte died. Melissa deciphers from the tree that Nicolas may have moved to Randolph County, IL – which at the time was the French cultural hub of Kaskaskia – so she heads there.

At the Randolph County Archives, Melissa discovers that in the 1740’s, Nicolas very quickly moved up in the world of the Fur Trade in the Mississippi River Valley; he was trusted to watch over a large amount of pelts and owned a boutique selling expensive goods.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

Curious about his family life, Melissa discovers Nicolas’ 1751 marriage record, as well as a census that reveals Nicolas owned slaves. She further learns that Nicolas navigated the evolving boundary lines of the time, changing from French subject to British subject to American citizen and finally to Spanish subject with his move across the river to Ste. Genevieve. Melissa heads to Ste. Genevieve to learn how Nicolas spent his final days.

Etheridge 3

Compliments of TLC

At the Ste. Genevieve County Courthouse, Melissa gets to read Nicolas’ original will, which deeded his goods and home to his son. Delighted to find that her 5x great-grandfather’s home still stands, thought to be the oldest house in Missouri.  Melissa visits the house of her ancestor and explores it, and reflects on the legacy of her pioneering family and the effect their story will have on the rest of her life.

You’ll enjoy this episode if you have ancestry in Quebec or early French voyageurs that settled the Mississippi corridor.

Want a peek?

Melissa’s episode airs this Sunday, April 26 at 10/9c on TLC.



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Milestone 5000

double helix band

In our personal lives, we have milestones.  Some milestones we work towards and others happen, whether we do anything or not – like birthdays.

Some birthdays are considered milestone birthdays – like – when I was a kid – 16 – because it brought with it the freedom of driving.

On the night of April 19, 2015, sometime in the darkest hours of overnight (at least here in the US,) the www.DNA-explained.com blog reached a blogging milestone of sorts – 5000 subscribers.  And those are just the folks I know about.  Blogging management software tells us how many subscribers via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter we have, but it doesn’t tell us how many people are following us by RSS feeds.  I know there are quite a few, because one of the very first requests I received when I began the www.DNA-explained.com blog in July of 2012 was to set up the RSS feed subscription ability.

We also can’t tell how many times our article has been shared, reposted, tweeted and retweeted.

Bloggers using the WordPress platform have software that tells us how many page hits we receive, per day or per article, broken down in various ways.  Many people who subscribe via e-mail read the articles in their e-mail, so they don’t actually visit the page itself.  A normal day sees www.DNA-explained.com get about 10,000 page hits, so that’s in addition to e-mail subscribers.  A really popular or controversial article sends that off the charts.

The great irony is that when I started the blog, I wondered if even 100 people would be interested.  My real reason for creating the blog was so that I would have a public location to write about topics that I felt needed answers.  Additionally, I manage several projects at Family Tree DNA, and I wanted a way to provide information to project members about items such as sales and new features without having to send group e-mails to each project.  Why?  The Cumberland Gap projects have about 10,000 members between the Y and mtDNA groups, and sending that many messages with your e-mail address listed as the sender is a really good way to get your e-mail address blacklisted as a spammer. Blogging solves that problem, because I write it once and anyone who is interested can subscribe – and anyone who isn’t interested, isn’t bothered.

I started by taking the most common questions I received and writing the answer – one time – in the format of an article so that I can forever refer people to that article for the answer.  So you might say I started blogging in self-defense:)

From the beginning, I set up topic categories so that searching would be more effective.  (The blog is fully searchable.)  Categories are anything that might be a key word, like DNA types (Y, mitochondrial, autosomal), company names, or topics one might be searching for, like Native American, haplogroups or admixture.

What do you think the most viewed categories might be?

  • Autosomal
  • Family Tree DNA
  • Y DNA
  • 23andMe
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Admixture
  • Haplogroups
  • Native American

What are the most popular articles, over the entire timespan of the life of the blog?

Proving Native American Ancestry

Ethnicity Results – True or Not?

What is a Haplogroup?

Of course, these articles are older as well, so they have had more time to accumulate views.

I can tell you unequivocally that the article I refer people to the most to answer the question, “What kind of DNA test should I take?” is:

4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy

I try to vary the types of articles from general interest to education to technical.  Previously, I wrote and published research articles in JOGG, but now I can publish just as effectively on my own blog, and write for a non-academic audience.

One of the really surprising things, to me, has been the popularity of my 52 Ancestors series.  I almost didn’t do this series.  I really didn’t think people would be terribly excited about reading about MY ancestors, even if they would also be ancestors to a few other people.  I was wrong.  People love stories.

I have written this series in my own voice – documenting the good, the bad and the ugly, warts and all – including the mistakes I’ve made, and I think I’ve made them all at least once.  Hopefully it will help someone else avoid those pitfalls.  I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for the many helpful suggestions I’ve received as a result of these articles.  Genealogists are overwhelmingly fantastic, sharing, people.

Every article in the series also ties to DNA, in some fashion.  How I’ve used it, how it could be used if I could find a proper test candidate, or why it can’t be used.  Case studies make great examples.  Twice now, I’ve had people reply and have found a suitable DNA candidate to represent an ancestral line.  So yes, these articles also serve as “cousin bait.”

I want to thank all 5000 of you e-mail subscribers plus the unknown number of RSS subscribers and everyone who reads this blog forwarded, reposted, retweeted or reblogged.  I hope you all enjoy reading the articles as much as I enjoy writing them.

Please feel free to share these articles with others so that we can continue to educate people about genetic genealogy.  There are still far more people out there that haven’t tested, than have.  Together, we can illustrate how genetic genealogy is a game changer – and hopefully whittle that number of genealogists who haven’t tested to zero.

Overly optimistic?  Possibly.  But hey, you have to have goals or you can’t achieve milestones!



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John Combs (1705-1762), Slave Owner, 52 Ancestors #68

John Combs is my most distant proven ancestor in the Combs line.  His daughter Luremia, married Moses Estes about 1762 in Amelia County, VA.

According to John Combs’ deposition given in 1745, he was about 40 years old, so he was born about 1705, probably in Virginia, but we don’t know for sure.  If he was born in Virginia, his father likely did not own property, because there is no Combs, or anything similar, on the list of 1704 Virginia Tax Rent Rolls of land owners.

Furthermore, I believe John had a brother, one George Combs, who was also born about that same time according to a different lawsuit.  Bless those chancery suits.

Most of what we know about John Combs came in bits and pieces and fits and starts and I’ve had to piece it together like a big jigsaw puzzle with no picture and a few strategic pieces missing.

It has been speculated that our John Combs, was the son of another John Combs, of Richmond, who was born about 1662, probably in Old Rappahannock County, VA and died in 1716/1717 in Richmond Co., VA., appointing John Anderson the executor of his will.  John Anderson is later found as a near neighbor to our John Combs in Prince George, then Amelia, County, VA.

However, John Combes of Richmond who died in 1716 does not mention a son John, nor a son George in his will.  It’s not terribly unusual for the eldest son to be omitted from a will, especially if he already has the family land, but for two sons to be omitted?

The 1715 Essex County, VA Rent Rolls include both Edmund Booker and John Combs of Richmond.  Mason Combs was the son of John of Richmond.  He, along with Edmond and Richard Booker later removed to Amelia County where they are found adjacent to land of our John Combs.  Even if our John is not the son of John of Richmond, he may well be related.  John of Richmond is the son of Archdale Combs, who also had a son, William and also possibly sons Charles, Abraham and Phillip.  Bottom line…we don’t know who our John’s father is.

John Combs in Amelia County

The first actual record we find of our John Combs is a land patent in 1732 on Flatt Creek in the part of Prince George County that would become Amelia in 1734.

Land Grant – John Combs, 400 acres (N.L) Prince George Co. on low side of Flatt Creek adjacent Edward Booker and Farguson’s lines, page 486, 40 shillings.  Sept. 28, 1732

We find John, for the rest of his life associated continuously with the Booker, Farguson, Elam, Cobbs, Jefferson and Anderson families and sure enough, his early neighbors on his Flatt Creek land were:

  • Edward Booker (1727 and 1732 grants)
  • John Anderson (1728 grant)
  • Benjamin Ward (1728 grant)
  • Samuel Cobbs (1732 grant)
  • John Farguson (1732 grant)
  • John Elam (1735 grant)
  • Field Jefferson (1733 grant)

This is the original home of Col. Edward Booker, now restored and functioning as a bed and breakfast, located at 11441 Grub Hill Church Road in Amelia County, photo compliments of Google Maps street view.

Combs Booker plantation

Field Jefferson, the Uncle of President Thomas Jefferson, owned land between Flatt Creek and Knibbs (Nibbs) Creek adjoining Col. Samuel Cobbs.

Finding the Booker land was a great help in locating the area where John Combs lived.  On the map below, the red balloon is the Edward Booker home.  To the far right, you can see where Flatt and Nibbs Creeks intersect.  Flatt Creek is the creek at the top, and Nibbs the one on either side of the Booker’s house.

Combs booker map

Highway 630, shown both above and below, running between the creeks, is Eggleston Road.  We know that the Eggleston land and the Booker land both abutted John Combs land, so John’s land was very likely in-between Eggleston Road and Booker’s plantation.

Combs booker map 2

Here’s a satellite image of the area.  You can clearly see the cleared areas where farming would have occurred.

Combs booker satellite

Joseph Eggleston built the plantation, “Eggleston,” shown below,  on the upper side of Knibbs Creek about 1750.  It’s very likely that John Combs stood in this very building.  He may even have helped his neighbor to build it.  Eggleston still exists today and is on the National Register of Historic places and Virginia Historic Landmarks.

Combs Eggleston plantation

The location of “Egglestetton” is shown in the application for the National Register of Historic Places, below.

Combs Eggleston plantation topo

You can see the Eggleston plantation today, at 16530 Eggleston Road, in perspective to the Booker plantation, below.  My guess would be that Combs land was the land directly between the two, or to the right, touching both.  The Eggleston plantation sits on only 16 acres today, so you can extrapolate the sizes of the original land grants based on the size of that plot.

Combs Eggleston to church

So, John lived someplace in this area, likely here.  Four hundred acres would be approximately the amount of land shown below between the bottom of the picture and the three roads.

Combs about 400 acres

In the 1742 court notes, we find the following entry:

1742, April 16 – Robert Forguson appointed surveyor from Combs bridge over Flatt Creek into the courthouse, John, Robert and William Forguson, John Combs and Richard Boram to do the same.

Looking at the Amelia County map, there are only two roads in this area with bridges across Flatt Creek that would allow George’s land to be located between Flatt and Nibbs Creeks, adjacent to Eggleston’s and also to Booker.  On the map below, the Eggleston plantation is marked as well as the church Cemetery.

Either the bridge over N Lodore Road or Grub Hill Church Road has to be the Combs bridge.  The N Lodore Road bridge does not go into Amelia Courthouse, but the Grub Hill Church Road does.  This is the only candidate to be John Combs road and bridge.

At court, in January 1747, John Booker requests that the road near his house on way to Richard Booker’s mill be stopped and the old road near John Comb’s be kept open and he agrees to build a bridge over the run near Comb’s house and keep it in repair.

In 1751, the court ordered Samuel Cobbs, Gent, the surveryor of the road which leads from the church to Ferguson’s bridge and his tithes to work on the same together with the tithes at Anderson’s quarter, Robert Ferguson’s Sr’s tithes, William Southal’s tithes, James Ferguson’s tithes and William Ferguson’s tithes…in order to make a causeway on the upper side of said bridge.  Given the map below, I wonder if the Grub Hill Church Road bridges over Flatt Creek was John Combs and the Lodore Road bridge was the Farguson’s.

Combs 2 Flatt Creek bridges

If the Grub Hill Church Road (609) bridge is John Comb’s bridge, then the land between the church and that bridge must have been John’s too.  Here’s a satellite view of this land between the intersection of N. Lodore Road (636) and John’s bridge on Flatt Creek.

Combs bridge2

Through the magic of Google Maps street view, we can “drive down” that road today and take a look, just the way John Combs would have done.  This is Grub Hill Church Road moving northeast towards  Flatt Creek.  You can see that this would be very desirable farmland, very nearly flat.

Combs - John farmland

In the distance you can see the tree line where Flatt Creek runs.

Combs - John's bridge

Here is John Combs bridge today.  I was extremely lucky to be able to use the road orders plus the remaining historical buildings and the church to piece together enough information to determine where John Combs land was located.  Now, of course, I want to visit.

In 1766, John’s son George Combs and his wife Phebe sell the 50 acres on the lower side of Flatt Creek to William Eggleston, saying it joins Joseph Eggeleston and William Eggleston’s lines, the land formerly belonging to John Booker.  He mentions it is also bounded by John Ferguson, which may turn out to be a really important clue.

John Combs’ Life and Times

Given that John Combs was born about 1705, he was likely married about 1730, just about the time he obtained the land grant.  His wife and the mother of his children, whose name is unknown, is very likely among the families that lived close by, but which family?

For a very long time I believed that she was a Booker, but I have tracked each of the Booker children and there is no unaccounted for child that is a candidate.  Of course, there is always the possibility of missing children, but that is less likely with wealthier families than poor ones.  More to lose.

John Combs is found serving jury duty in Amelia County beginning in 1736, a typical task for landowners.

In 1737, a George March/Marsh Combs appears in Amelia County records.  In 1737, one George Combs was tithed by John Combs, which means he was over the age of 16.  Is this John’s brother, George Combs, or is this someone else? March/Marsh may well be a clue to someone’s maiden name.

In 1755 a chancery suit tells us what George Combs, believed to be John’s brother, was doing in 1740.  We know that Field Jefferson was a near neighbor of John Combs.  This also provides insight into life in Amelia County in 1740.

Amelia Co. Chancery 1755-005 – Combs vs Jefferson (LVA roll 232-492)

January in the year of MCDCCXL (1740) in agreement was made and entered into by and between Field Jefferson whom your orator George Combs has made defendants to this bill and your orator, touching your orator’s becoming an overseer for the said Field Jefferson.  In which agreement it was properly stipulated by…for in consideration of a share of corn and tobacco should forthwith…ownership of the said defendants plantation in the county together with 5 working slaves thereon belonging to the said defendant in order to raise a crop of corn and tobacco.  By virtue of which…and agreement your entered on the said plantation as an overseer accordingly…during the space of two years and about ten months.  That your orator raised considerable crops of corn and tobacco with the said 5 slaves on said plantation for the first 2 years for which the defendant duly accounted and that in the third year he had raised and housed among other things a very large crop of tobacco which he had mostly in bulk and shipped of near a hogshead of the same under mike? And which he fully intended to finish or compleat according to the tenor of the said agreement that about 6 weeks before Christmas in the said third year, the said defendant without any application of previous notice to your orator sent for and ordered his said 5 slaves off the said plantation from under the care of your orator his said crop of tobacco being then in the above condition and unfinished and sent a tenant (one Benjamin Hawkins) to live upon and take possession of the said plantation which the said Hawkins accordingly did and there up your orator being deprived of the assistance of the said 5 slaves and ousted of the said plantation by the said defendant was forced to leave his said crop of tobacco upon the said plantation unfinished.  That your orator however well hoped and believed that the defendant would finish and take a just estimate and amount of his said crop of tobacco and duly pay and satisfy unto your orator his jut share and proportion of the same when he should be thereunto required.  But now so it is may please your worships that the said def and although often in a friendly manner thereto requested by your orator doth altogether refuse to account with your orator ? his shares of the said crop or in any manner satisfying him for the same.  All which actions and doing of the said def are contrary to the natural equity and good conscience and tend to the manifestation injury apprehension? and impoverishment of your orator. In tender consideration whereof and for that your orator is without remedy and in the premises? Of the strict rules of law he having no proof of the quantity of his said crop of tobacco and his evidence to the said agreement being either dead or beyond the seas and in part remote or unknown by the orator and for as much as he can only…as the defendant to set forth upon his oath and declare whether the agreement aforementioned was not entered into by and between himself and the said orator and whether he did not take the said five slaves and at what time from your orator as above set forth, his said crop being unfinished and whether he did not at the same time put a tenant, the said Hawkins, in possession of the said plantation and thereby oust your orator of his employment on the same.  What was the quantity of the tobacco your orator had made ? and left behind him on said plantation?  Whether your orator hath not often in a friendly manner requested the said def to settle with him for his share of the crop and whether he hath ever made him any just satisfaction for rendering him ? and that the def may fully and particularly answer all of the matters.

A note further down on the paper says “ and this complainant doth ? that his share of the aforesaid crop of tobacco for the year aforesaid amounts to 1/6th part to 7000 pounds of tobacco which this defendant prays may be ? to him.”

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For not appearing to answer the bill of complaint of George Combs exhibited against him by the rule of court.

Ordered Field Jefferson on the 4th Thursday of December next

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Feb Court 1755 George Combs vs Field Jefferson Plaintiff – The court this day heard and finds against the said def Field Jefferson to pay to the said George Combs 1176 pounds of tobacco being one sixth part of the tobacco mentioned in the bill.

John Combs’ daughter, Luremia was born about 1740 or 1742, given that she was married to Moses Estes about 1762, their oldest child George being born in February 1763.  I’ve always wondered why this child was named George and not John.  If they did have a John Estes, he died, although their grandson through George would be John R. Estes.  George Estes never knew his grandfather, John Combs, because John died the year before George was born.  I wonder if John Combs ever knew any of his grandchildren.

In 1745, John Combs gives a deposition in another chancery suit, Blake vs Tabb, wherein John states that he is about 40 years old, that he “assisted Frederick Blake away with his food? whom he removed from Capt. Tabbs plantation whereon he was overseer in cold weather and it snowed that night and snow was on the ground next morning. John “+” Combs (his mark) Sept 19th 1745.”

Based on the rest of the case, Blake was the overseer, not John Combs. The punctuation or lack thereof in these old cases is sometimes distressing.  We also now know that John Combs is not literate and cannot sign his name.  This does not suggest a wealthy or “gentlemanly” upbringing.

In November, 1747, John is appointed surveyor of the road where he lives in place of Edward Booker, Jr.  At that same court session, George Combs sues Robert Ferguson, Jr.

John continues to be in the court records on juries and such until 1750.

In 1749, John tithed 6 people, which could have been a combination of both white and black people.  We know that John owned slaves at this time, because in November, 1749, York, a negro boy belonging to John Combs was judged to be age 9 at court.

We originally believed that all of John’s children were born before November of 1750 when he married a second time to Frances Elam, who may have been a widow herself.   However, now there is doubt.  Don’t you just love genealogy, disproving what you think you knew!

September 11, 1750 (Amelia Marriages C:1) John Combs and Frances Elam. Sur. John Booker. Witness to bond, Samuel Cobbs and William May Cock.

In 1751 John Combs purchased another 50 acres on Flatt Creek from John Booker that was adjacent his own land.

In 1751 and 1752, John is listed in the estate account of Frederick Blake and appraised the estate of Michael Nowland, along with attending the estate sale.

In 1752 John Combs’ negro girl Sue is adjudged to be 12 years old. (AC-COB3:72)

This suggests that Sue may not have been born to John as an owner, because if she were, he would not have had to have the court judge her age unless it was simply to confirm what he said.  Slave’s ages were judged at court in order for them to be tithed, or taxed, when they reached a certain age.

In seventeenth and eighteenth-century Virginia, the term “tithable” referred to a person who paid (or for whom someone else paid) one of the taxes imposed by the General Assembly for the support of civil government in the colony. In colonial Virginia, a poll tax or capitation tax was assessed on free white males, African American and Native American slaves (both male and female), all age sixteen or older. Owners and masters paid the taxes levied on their slaves and servants, including indentured servants.  In 1680, the age that “negro children” were tithable was dropped to 12, “Christian servants” were taxed at age 14 and Indian women the same as negro women brought into the state of Virginia.  White women weren’t tithable, but women of color, both black and Indian, enslaved, bonded or free, were.

John Combes continues to be in the court record through 1754 when he purchased 303 acres in Lunenburg County from James Mathews of Lunenburg.  Although the deed does not identify this land, later processioning records do.  You can read more about this land in the article about Luremia Combs.

In 1754, George Combs was summoned at a witness for Field Jefferson against Benjamin Hawkins, 4 days attendance at court, coming and returning 28 miles.  This is very likely a chancery suit covered in this article and George is probably coming from Charlotte County.  The Fargusons are also summoned for this same case, also as witnesses for Field Jefferson.

In September 1754, the court orders John Combs to appraise the estate of Lucy Clark who is the sister of Edward Booker.  Generally there were three appraisers, someone from the wife’s family, someone representing the largest debtor and someone unrelated and disinterested.

In 1755, George Wainwright brings suit against John Combs for debt, and wins.

On February 26, 1756 the court ordered that John Combs clear the Road from Flatt Creek to the courthouse and that the male laboring tithables of Colonel Harrison be added to those already under his direction. (AC-COB4:32)

Four months later, on June 24, 1756 in the court record we find a presentment of the Grand Jury against John Combs for not keeping the road whereof he is surveyor in repair. (AC-COB4:73)

Given that John bought land in Lunenburg in 1754, but continues to appear in the Amelia County records in 1755 and 1756, he may well have not actually moved.  I find it hard to believe the court would order someone who didn’t live there to clear the road.

In 1758, during the French and Indian War, the House of Burgesses passed an act for the defense of the frontier.  A list of men from Amelia County in included, but John Combs is not among them.  At age 53, he may have been considered too old.

In 1762, John Combs died at about age 57 – clearly not an old man, and apparently with some children still at home.  He died intestate, without a will, so his death was likely unexpected.

28 May 1762. Inventory and Account of estate of John Combs. Administratrix: Frances (X) Combs. Returned & recorded May 27, 1762. Witnesses: Wm. Eggleston, John Booker, Edward Booker. Value: 259/5/1-1/2. Slaves: Negro boy Ned and Negro man Harry. (Will Book 2X:18 Amelia County, Virginia. Gibson Jefferson McConnaughey)

  • 15 pigs
  • Four basins
  • Four dishes
  • 11 plates
  • 15 spoons
  • 1 skimer
  • 10 forks and six knives
  • 3 trays
  • 4 bottles
  • 1 butter pot
  • 1 iron
  • 2 slays
  • Loom and harness
  • 2 sack bags
  • 4 pails
  • 4 reep hooks
  • Iron pots and hooks
  • 1 flesh fork and skimmer
  • 1 mans saddle
  • 3 wheels
  • 3 washing tubs
  • 1 grindstone
  • 39 pieces of bacon
  • 7 joles of bacon
  • Some soap and barrel
  • 1 barrel
  • 1 ? pot
  • 10 pounds fat
  • 3 old sifters
  • 1 gum 1 box
  • Part of sides of leather
  • 2 sides, bed cord
  • 1 old blanket
  • Cart and wheels
  • 1 gun
  • Parcel of old iron
  • 2 drawing knives
  • 3 augers
  • 2 adz
  • 1 iron
  • 1 hammer
  • 3 files, 3 chisels, 1 gouge, 1 hand saw, 1 stock and bit, rule and ? of compasses, 3 gimblets, 1 old lock, 1 pair of fleams, 1 all, 1 parcel of brimstone – from 3 files to here is listed together
  • 4 axes
  • Hatchet
  • 4 iron wedges
  • 1 iron sadle
  • 5 hilling hoes
  • 1 gurbbing hoe
  • 1 band hoe
  • 4 harrow hoes
  • 4 plow? Hoes
  • 2 old brass kettles
  • 20 barrels corn
  • 14.5 barrels wheat
  • 9 old casks
  • 6 bushels oats
  • 1 box
  • 1 white horse
  • 1 bayhorse
  • 1 gray horse
  • 1 gray mare
  • 3 bells
  • Parcel of Harness
  • 1 bed rug blanket
  • 2 sheets and bed cord, piller and matt
  • 1 bed bolster piller
  • 3 chest locks
  • 1 basket and a parcel fo flax
  • 1 trunk
  • 3 pair cards
  • 1 box and some spun cotton
  • 1 basket and cotton
  • 1 jug
  • 1 bag and wool
  • 5 chairs and 1 table
  • 7 books
  • 3 yards linen
  • 1 looking glass
  • 1 bed run blanket, pair sheets, bolster piller , cowhide bedsted and cord (one parcel of goods)
  • 1 chest
  • Two bowls, 1 mug, 1 salt seller, pepper box and shears, 2 pair scissors (one parcel goods)
  • 1 candlestock
  • 2 flat irons
  • 1 sword bayonet cartouch box
  • 1 negro boy named Ned
  • 1 negro man named Harry
  • 1 table cloths and 1 bag
  • 1 yearling
  • 1 cart and wheels
  • Parcel of fowls
  • Plow hoe
  • Harness
  • Two cow hides
  • Two slays and harness
  • Candlestick
  • 5 books
  • One pair money scales
  • Razor straps
  • 2 cups
  • 2 galley pots
  • Four vials on pepper box
  • 5 chairs
  • Hone warping bars and boxes and meal tub
  • One bedsted and one chest and oaks
  • One cradle
  • Parcel shoe leather
  • Parcel carols
  • Parcel corn
  • Parcel pork and tub lard
  • Parcel tallow and one table
  • One hh?
  • Parcel beef and one pigeon
  • One tub and two hoes
  • 5 knives and forks
  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 side leather and one horse skin

William Eggleston
John Booker
Edward Booker

Signed by Frances Combs, admin, her mark
Ordered recorded May 27, 1762

Amelia County Tax lists exist for the next few years and give us a perspective on the Combs family.

1762 – Combs

  • Frances tithes – Thomas Tabb’s List, Raleigh Parish [between Flatt Crk & Appomattox River]
  • George – Ditto
  • Philip – John Winn & Hampton Wade’s List, [middle & lower end?] Nottoway Parish

1763 – Combs

  • Frances tithes – Capt Edmd Booker’s List, Raleigh Parish, the upper side of Flat Creek
  • George – Ditto
  • Philip – Thomas Bowrey’s List, the lower part of Nottoway Parish

Given that John’s estate was filed in Amelia County, and his widow is clearly living there, it’s unlikely that John ever moved to his Lunenburg land.

Fortunately, two chancery cases filed provide us with a lot more information about John’s family, including the names of his children:

  • George was not yet 21 when his father died in 1762, so George was born after 1741. By 1766, when George sold the additional 50 acres in Amelia County that his father had purchased, he had married as his wife Phoebe relinquished her dower. George and Phoebe Combs would move to Halifax County, VA.
  • Martha was married to either James Bowls or Bowlins, so she was likely born before 1742 or earlier.
  • Lurany, wife of Moses Estes, probably born about 1740-1742.
  • Mary Combs
  • Clarissa Combs
  • John Combs. The only other tidbit about John is that there one document in Amelia County in 1778, but we have no idea if it’s the same John Combs.
  • Samuel Combs

Estis et us vs Combs – Amelia Co. Va. Chancery Causes 1764 001 (LVA Reel 234-247)

Humbly complaining Moses Estes and Luranna his wife, James Bowlen and Martha his wife, Samuel, George, Mary, Clarissa and John Combs that one John Combs, your orators father, being in his lifetime seized and possessed of a considerable estate and on the (blank) day departed this life intestate. Soon after the deceased on the motion of Frances Combs, the widow and relict of the said John admin. of all singular the goods and chattels rights and credits which were of the said John Combs at the time of his death. And that said Frances then took into her possession all the estate, that by a certain act of assembly made in the year of our Lord 1705? And in the 4th year of the reign of her ?. The orators have appealed to the said Frances Combs for their proportional part aforesaid but the said Frances refuses unless she may be ordered by the court. Your orators show that they are in some distress in being detained form their rights above contrary to equity… beg for consideration…ask that she be compelled to deliver (writing very faint).

Next document is a summons

Summon Frances Combs, admin of John Combs decd, Samuel, Mary, Clarissa and John Combs children of he said John Combs decd to appear… to answer a bill in chancery filed by Moses Estis and Loranna his wife.

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Amelia court held July 22, 1762

Moses Estes Lorana his wife vs Frances Combs wife of John Combs decd

This cause heard and answered this day and ordered that John Booker, William Eggleston and John Cooke do assign to the def her dower in the lands and slaves of one third part of the estate of her late husband John Combs and that they divide the residue of the estate of the said John Combs among the complainant, children of the said John in equal proportions and assign unto each of them his or her share according to law.

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Agreeable to the order here unto annexed we the subscribers have laid off and do assign unto the said Frances Combs widow of John Combs decd her dower in the lands and slaves one third part of the personal estate of said John Combs decd and have also divided the residue of the estate of the said John Combs decd in equal portions among the children of the said John Combs decd and do lay off and assign each their part in manner following viz’

To Frances Combs for her dower in the lands of the said John one hundred and fifety acres beginning in William Eggleston line on the upper side of the same Combs plantation thence down the said Eggleston´s line to his corner at the branch and from thence along Joseph Eggeleston´s line to a new dividing line and then with the said line to the beginning in William Eggleston´s line which includes the houses and plantation whereon the said Frances Combs now lives and for the said Frances dower in the slaves of the said John decd assign unto her one negro fellow named Harry and we do further assign unto the said Frances for her third part of the personal estate the sum of 52 pounds ten shillings 9 pence three farthings.

To Moses Eastis and Lurany his wife for his part of the personal estate of the said John Coombs decd the sum of 14 pounds and 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing.

To James Bowls [could be a slightly different name] and Martha his wife for his part of the personal estate of the said John Combs decd also the sum of 14 pounds 17 and 7 pence farthing.

To George Combs for his part of the personal estate of the said John Combs decd the sum of 14 pounds 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing and being his part equal with the other children.

We also assign and allot unto Samuel Combs, Mary Combs, Clarissa Combs, John Combs each of them the sum of 14 pounds and 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing current money for their part of the personal estate of the said John Combs, decd given under our hand this 25th day of ? 1762.

In a second suit, Moses Estes filed suit against his brother-in-law, George Combs, regarding the ownership of the slave named Ned.  In this suit, we confirm that John Combs did have 6 children living when he died (although 7 are listed in the suit above) and that he had not disposed of any of his property before his death.  We then hear the story of Ned.  Poor Ned – I wonder whatever happened to him.

Eastes et al vs Combs – Amelia Co VA chancery 1769-001 (LVA Reel 235-247)

Your orator Moses Estes and ? blank Eastes that in the year 17 [blank] and George Combs of this county seized and possessed of a certain negro named [blank] and on the day aforesaid departed this life without making any deposition thereof leaving at that time blank children and on this day your orator being one and after the decease of the said Combs one George Combs being the heir at law of the deceased claiming the same possessed himself accordingly without any regard to your orators and the other children then living and since has utterly refused to make any distribution thereof not withstanding your oratrices ? from said equity she is entitled to her dividend part that being the ? upon an equal distribution all while acting and doing of the said George Combs is contrary to equity and good conscience and tend to the manifest injury and appression of your oratrices. Your orator cannot compel him the said George Combs to make an equal distribution thereof without the assistance of a court of equity where they are properly reliable to the end therefore that the said George Combs my upon his corporal oath make his answer to all the matters of things hereinto contained as to whether blank Combs father of the def was not seized and possessed of a certain negro slave named [blank] at the time of his death an if he was what has since become of him. Whether the said George Combs is not now in the possession of him and how doth he claim the same. Whether the decd did not have 6 children your oratrice being one of them. Whether the said [blank] Combs did not depart this life without disposing of any part of his estate and if any what part your orator and oratrice pray that the said negro slave in the bill set forth may be so disposed of as for them to get their equal and distribution part thereof and that they may have such further and other relief as shall be agreeable to the court.

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Aug 1763 – George Combs summoned (in the third year of the rein of George the third ) to answer the bill of chancery filed by Moses Estes

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The defendant George Combs by enotes? Taken not allowing confessing or acknowledging all or any of the matters and things in the said complaintants bill. He says that John Combs died and in his lifetime in the parish of Raleigh in the Co. of Amelia being then possessed of the said slave Ned in the said plaintiff´s bill mentioned as of his own proper slave made an actual gift of the said slave Ned to this def. being then an infant under the age of 21 years whereby the absolute right and interest in the said slave became vested in this def and that he this def by virtue of such gift became possessed and is now possessed of the slave as of his own proper slave and therefore this def doth plead the said gift….the def father John Combs died intestate leaving this def his eldest son and heir at law then an infant under 21 years of age and that this def is now under twenty two years of age. His father left several other children now living and lastly this def.

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Order to examine “George Combs, an aged person” in relation to this case. Aug 1765

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George Combs of Charlotte County aged about 60 years being sworn…says that some time about ten years ago John Combs the father of George Combs the def in the dedimus mentioned by the one certain John Baldwin one negro boy named Ned and this deponent sayeth the first time he see the said John Combs after he had bought the said negro he heard the said John say he had bought him for his son George and that he should have him and he further heard the aid John Combs say that several people had been asking him why he chosed to give all to George and nothing to his daughters when this deponent sayeth that the said John informed him that this intent w[a]s that his son George should have all his land and negroes and that the rest of his estate should be equally divided among his daughters. George “+” Combs (his mark) taken October 6 1765

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Ordered to take depositions July 1766

Next document – Deposition of James Ferguson taken November 26, 1766

James Farguson aged about 46 years being first sworn…says that he was in the company some years past with John Combs decd at John Baldwins and [t]hat the said Baldwin asked the said Combs if he knew of anybody that wanted to buy a negro when Combs asked what sort of a negro Baldwin said he would show him and brought to him a small boy named Ned when this deponent asked the said Combs what service such a small boy as this would be to him, when the said Combs answered “None at al but that it might be of service to his son George”, this deponent further sayeth the next time he went to the said Combs, the said Combs had bought the above said negro boy Ned and the said Combs says to this deponent “I have got my boy how do you like him?” when this deponent “I have no calion? to like him, how do you like him?” when the said Combs said “my boy likes him” and calling the negro boy Ned and then calling George saying “come here my son” and taking each of them by the hand said “here a negro for you my son” and taking the negro boys hand and putting it into his son George´s hand says “I give you this negro boy here before your uncle Jamey and Aunt Patty” which was then delivered to him.

James Fergusson signature

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Deposition of John Feerguson aged about 61 years old

Being sworn…says that he heard John Combs in his lifetime say at several times that he had given negro Ned unto his son George and that once he said the he would send his son to court one of my daughters and that he had given him one negro and would make something of him if he lived. John Fergusson

Nov 26, 1766

Deposition of Parriott Poindle [Prindle] aged about 47…that he has heard John Combs in his lifetime at several times say that he had bought a negro Ned for his son George and that he shall have him at his death for he had worked for to help to pay for him and he shall have him. Parriott “P” Prindle (his mark)

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William Eggleston aged about 35 being sworn…says he was an appraiser for the estate of John Combs decd and that there was a young negro fellow named Ned appraised of the estate of the said John Combs and that no person laid any claim on property on the said negro at [t]he appraisement as he knowed of and he was appointed by the court to lay off the widow of the said John Combs her third of his estate and that [t]he above said negro Ned was then judged to be the estate of the said John Combs decd and that she had her third of the same. William Eggleston (signature)

Nov 26 1766

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Deposition of Edward Booker aged about 35 says he was an appraiser of the estate of John Combs decd and that there was a young negro fellow named Ned appraised of the estate of the said John Combs and that no person laid any claim or property in the said negro at the appraisement as he knows of. Edward Booker (signature)

Nov. 26, 1766

The testimony of George Combs causes me to wonder if all of John’s children were by his first wife as was originally believed.  Piecing this event together, it appears that Ned was bought by John for George about 1755, a full 5 years after John married Frances Elam.  At that time, George said that people asked why he gave everything to George and not his daughters.  Not his “other children,” but specifically his daughters.  However, in the chancery suit after John’s death in 1762, his two eldest daughters were married, so they were clearly born before his 1750 marriage, but three sons are mentioned – George, Samuel and John.  If all of this is correct, then John and Samuel would have been less than 10 years old when his father died.  It’s odd that no guardianship papers were found.

The repeated useage of the name George, as in John Comb’s brother, John Comb’s oldest son and then Luremia’s oldest (but not necessarily first) son suggests that George is a family named in this Combs line.

The Fargusons

From this suit, we find our one and only clue as to a relationship between John Combs and any other people.

We know that James Farguson was age 46, so born about 1720, and was married to Patty, which could have been a nickname for something else, in about 1755 when the purchase of Ned occurred, according to George Combs the elder, probably the brother of John Combs.

If James Farguson and Patty were the aunt and uncle of George (the younger), that means that either James or Patty were the siblings of John Combs or his first wife, whose name we don’t know.

Since the surname is not Combs, we know that James Farguson is not the brother of John Combs, unless he is a half-brother.

There is a James Farguson who continues to be involved with George Combs after he moved to Halifax County.  We find those records in 1772 and 1783.

I decided to do a quick runthrough on the Farguson family to see what I could find…and I’m telling you, the Combs men, meaning both George and John, fought way too much with the Farguson’s NOT to be related.

I surely wonder if James Farguson’s wife, Patty, is a Combs.  That would explain both John and George’s constant interaction with this family. John Combs first wife could also have been a Farguson.

The Farguson family certainly is interesting.  When you look at the six families who obtained the land grants in the 1730s and in essence, cast their lots together, whether intentionally or otherwise, one would presume that they are about the same economic and social level.  Not so.  The Booker family was quite wealthy.  We find them sitting as judges at court and Edmund Booker represented Amelia County in the House of Burgesses.

John Combs seems to have been a relatively respectable “normal” man for that place and time.  This means he owned land, served on jurys, helped to maintain the roads, and yes, he owned a few slaves.  He was not a large plantation owner but owned a respectable size farm.  He was “middle class” for his day.

The Fargusons, on the other hand, were, well, the wild children of the neighborhood.  Every neighborhood has one of those families, and the Farguson’s seem to be the group that was constantly in some kind of trouble.  Usually not terrible, although there is one notorious exception to that – but ever-present and chronic.

Uncle Jamie, or James Farguson was sued so many times for debt, assault and trespassing that I stopped keeping count.  He was also presented to court several times for “profane swearing.”  I don’t know what he did, but at least once he was sent to prison directly from court for his “ill behavior” during the court session. It might be worth mentioning that at this time in history, there was a lot of drinking that went along with court sessions.

James was sentenced to jail several times too, but generally it was only until he paid his fine.  However, in at least one case, he spent at least 20 days in jail because he refused to pay.

1740 – George Combs sues James Farguson

1742, April 16 – Robert Forguson appointed surveyor from Combs bridge over Flatt Creek into the courthouse, John, Robert and William Forguson, John Combs and Richard Boram to do the same.

1743, July 25 – Court Order Book 1, Lodwick Ferguson committed on suspicion of felony.  Prisoner brought to bar and milemus read.  The following testimony given under oath.

(Note that I have omitted many depositions from this case and included only the ones that reconstruct the Farguson family, but you can read additional Farguson Amelia County entries at this link.

Thomas Whitworth said he had in a small trunk belonging to his daughter, about 35 pounds, chiefly consisting of gold pieces, which were as he believes, double doubloons, and said money was stolen from the trunk and that he has strong reason to believe that Lodwick Fergerson stole the same.


James Fergerson, brother of said Lodwick, came to his house and asked him to go to Lodwick’s father, which he did, and said Fergerson with sons John and Robert wanted to compound with him and offered to enter into bond payable to Whitworth for payment of what money he had lost if he would discharge the prisoner and say he had gotten his money.

Thomas Whitworth, Jr., said…that Lodwick had been committed to the prison for an examination.  Fergerson offered to compound with him on behalf of his father, telling him he could make up about 22 pounds of the money and he would have bond and security for the rest, for he would rather do anything than be hanged.

John Harrison said when Fergerson was in prison, he, Fergerson, desired him to tell his brother John to help him, for he expected to die.  Lodwick told him that he had borrowed 8/14/0 from Samuel Martin, that old Fergerson, father of the prison John Ferguson, Robert Fergerson, brother to him and John Gillintine were to become liable to pay Whitworth the money he supposed Lodwick had stolen from him, if Whitworth stay 2 years.

Prisoner to be tried at next general court held at the capitol in Williamsburg next October.  Prisoner requests bail and court considers that prisoner must give 200 pounds and his securities 100 pounds each against his appearance at next general court.  Robert Fergerson, John Fergerson and Robert Fergerson Jr. securities.

I find no further records of Lodwick, so I wonder what happened to him.  Was he hung in Williamsburg?

1743, December – John and Elizabeth Fergerson vs Thomas Burton.  Jury sworn.  Verdict: By evidence of John Willson and James Robertson that “Thomas Burton did say he never wanted for f***ing the plaintiff’s wife when he pleased.”  (Yes, that really was the f word in the court notes.  I always wondered how long ago that was in use.)

1745 – George Combs sues Robert Farguson

1745 – James Farguson sent to prison for 20 days

1746 – George Combs vs Robert Farguson in trespass

1746 – James and Robert Farguson sued for debt together

1746 – John Farguson sued Benjamin Hawkins

1746 – John Farguson is on the same road crew as John Combs

1747 – John Farguson sued Benjamin Hawkins for slander

1748 – James Farguson for trespass

1748 – James Farguson – treason for speaking against the King and refusing to keep the peace

1749 – Robert Farguson to keep an ordinary at his house

1750 – James Farguson – profane swearing

1751 – James Farguson – profane swearing

1751 – James Farguson’s to the bridge which is on the same road as Winterham, the name of the Edward Booker plantation

1751 – James Farguson – assault and Battery – sent to jail with a fine of 10s until paid with costs

1753 – James Farguson – assault and battery

1753 – Bridge over Flatt Creek near James Farguson’s out of repair

1754, April – James Farguson ordered into prison for his ill behavior during the sitting of this court.

What the heck is “profane swearing?”  I mean, I think I know, but maybe not.

I couldn’t find Virginia’s statute, but here is Maryland’s from 1723.

“If any person, by writing or speaking, shall blaspheme or curse God, or shall write or utter any profane words of and concerning our Saviour, Jesus Christ, or of and concerning the Trinity, or any of the persons thereof, he shall, on conviction, be fined not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisoned not more than six months, or both fined and imprisoned as aforesaid, at the discretion of the court.”

So, I guess damn is swearing, but profane swearing would add God in front of that.  Got it.

Another researcher, using detailed tax and tithe records, found Lodwick and James both listed as tithes of Robert Farguson.

Based on all of the combined information, here is the Farguson family reconstruction as best I can tell.

  • Robert Farguson, wife Mary
  • Sons James, Robert, Lodwick and John.
  • James Farguson is the Uncle of John Combs’ son, George, so James either is a sibling or married to a sibling of John Combs or his first wife.

So, I have to wonder, what did John Combs and his wife tell their children about their irreverent uncle, James Farguson, who was always in some kind of trouble? Was he the family member that everyone uses for a bad example?

“Don’t cross your eyes like that…you’ll wind up like Uncle Dufus.”

You have to admit, life was certainly interesting, much more so than one would expect.  This is not exactly the southern plantation stereotypical lifestyle of Tara, sitting around in white dresses under parasols drinking peach brandy and sweet tea.

John’s Final Resting Place

So, after all of this, where is John buried?  Well, we simply don’t know, but let’s look at the possibilities.

First, there are a lot of early Eggleston burials in the Grub Hill Church cemetery located not far from the Eggleston property.  In fact, it’s certainly possible that this was the original Eggleston cemetery.

Combs Grub Hill Church sign

The Booker family reports that there was a family cemetery on the Booker plantation, but the current owners say there is no cemetery there now.  Likely, there were no marked graves and over the years it disappeared and either returned to nature or became farmland.  There are no Farguson burials or pre-1900 Ferguson burials, so that family may have left entirely.

Grub Hill Church, the oldest church in Amelia County, was built around 1754 and rebuilt in the 1850s and it lies in very close proximity to these plantations.

Combs Grub Hill Church cem

It’s very likely that John Combs attended this church, as it was the only church at that time and Anglican church attendance was required.  Given that, he may well be buried in this churchyard.  It is the closest cemetery to his homestead, or, he’s buried in a lost family cemetery.  The church reports that they have burials into the 1700s.  John’s first wife, mother of his children, is a candidate to be buried here as well, as is his second wife, Frances.

Combs Grub Hill Church cem 2


As I write each one of these 52 ancestors articles, I feel like I really get to know that ancestor on a personal basis.  I try my best to learn what their life was like – how their community worked, where they went to church, and any tidbits I can find about their home life.  I try, as best I can, to see their life from the perspective of the time they lived, not from my cultural and social vantage today.  Often, the only glimpse we get inside their daily life is an estate inventory or sale – where the cumulative efforts of their life work are sold with the proceeds divided among their heirs.

After my step-father’s death, my mother had an auction before she left the farm and moved to town.  It was the equivalent of an estate sale and it was exceedingly painful to watch.

In colonial America, because our ancestors lived so long ago, there are no family stories or memories about John Combs or anyone in this timeframe to be passed down through the family.  He is my 5 times great grandfather, or 7 generations upstream from me.  Oral history stopped at about the 4th generation.  Anything we find has to be through public documents such as deeds, court notes or chancery suits.  That’s the only way we find out about rowdy cousin Jamie Farguson.  It’s also the way we find out about things like slavery.

Because slaves were treated as property, because, at that time, that’s what they were – there are often, but not always, records of transactions involving slaves.  In some cases, sales are recorded in court or deed books.  That’s not the case in Amelia County in records relevant to the Combs family.

We discover in three ways that John Combs was a slave owner.  First, two slave children that he owned, Sue and York, were presented to the court for their age to be determined.  Second, he was tithed at one point with too many people for them to have been family members – so it’s likely that at that point in time he owned 5 slaves over the age of 12 or 16.  Lastly, when he died, there were two slaves in his estate, Ned, a boy, and Harry, a man.  The chancery suits fill in a few blanks.

If we think our genealogy is difficult, try having only the first name of a slave ancestor and if you’re exceedingly lucky, an owner’s name.

John may not have owned slaves until 1749, just prior to his marriage to Frances Elam.  His son George is too young to have been tithed to him, so it’s likely that John Combs had 5 slaves that year over the age of 12.  One of them was York.  The others may have been York’s parents.  Sue may have been one of those slaves too.

We know that John bought the child, Ned, about 1755 for his son George.  I’d like to think that they were playmates, but even if they were close, the expectation that as they became older, that one would serve the other, for the rest of his life, or until sold, was clear.  It was not a friendship of equals, if it was a friendship at all.

My heart goes out to Ned.  He was called a boy in 1762 in John Combs estate, and that was several years after John had purchased Ned.  George Combs refers to Ned as a “young boy” when he was purchased.  Ned was obviously separated as a child from his parents and anyone else that might have been his family.  We don’t know the circumstances.  His parents could have been dead.  What we can probably say without fear of being wrong is that Ned was without parents or even parent-figures.  Ned was a black child in bondage, alone, except for the white child he had been given to.

Ned’s saving grace was that he did have value based on the labor it was expected he would be able to produce as an adult – and for the time being – as a playmate for George Combs.  In many cases, the fact that slaves were so valuable is what literally, saved them.  For example, indentured servants, who were only bound for a period of time, often 7 years, were sometimes literally worked to death – because they had no residual value to their masters.

Slavery, meaning bondage for life, bothers me…a lot – both in practice and in principle.  Indentured servitude does not.  It may have been rough, but people signed up for that willingly.  Slaves had no choice in the matter and no opportunity for freedom other than through the generosity of their masters or groups like the Quakers who bought slaves with the intention of freeing them.

I’m so very thankful that John Combs wasn’t involved in slave trading.  We pretty much know who those slave-trading families were.  Wealth went along with slave trading – and so did being inherently heartless.  The fact that John owned (at least) four slaves, even though not a lot by Virginia standards, bothers me.  The culture of slavery bothers me.  That fact that “everyone else was doing it” does not justify the behavior.  In fact, “everyone else” was not participating, but certainly the wealthy Virginia landowners were.  John owned a relatively small tract of land and his slaves would have been working alongside himself and his family members.  There were no overseers.  In fact, John’s brother George was an overseer for Field Jefferson – which also bothers me.  Clearly the family, as a whole, had no problem with slavery as an institution and participating in that institution.

It’s easy to make excuses, like, “If I don’t buy them, someone else will.  They’ll still be slaves anyway.  They’d be better off with me.”  While that might have been true, it still doesn’t justify slavery.  Nothing does.

I try very hard when I write these summaries of my ancestors to not judge their lives or what they did.  I try to view these people in historical context, and although slavery is a dark blot and stain on the history of our country as a whole, it is a fact of life and it was accepted as normal at the time.  It happened and it’s over.  Some even say that the slaves here and their descendants represent those who were lucky enough to live.  Before slavery offered a lucrative option for what to do with war captives in Africa, they were killed. In the colonies, the same was true of Indian wars and war captives.  Before white traders got involved as middlemen, both African and Indian slaves were captured and killed or sold, by a different tribe of their own people.

While slavery was awful, and those caught up in its tentacles were clearly victims, it wasn’t sure and certain death.  Was it better than death, for the Africans who survived the Middle Passage and went on to have descendants, and for the Indians captured as children and raised as slaves?  Probably, because without our slave ancestors, we descendants would not be alive today.  And there was always hope for a better tomorrow.

Yes, I said we.  I am mixed race – a combination of European (white), Native American from multiple lines, and African.  My white ancestry and ancestors have been much easier to find than my ancestors of color.  That’s because the black ancestors were enslaved and the Native ancestors were annihilated in a variety of ways.  Most people don’t take well to invaders taking their land and slaughtering their families.  The only alternative to death was assimilation – and my ancestors did, as quickly as possible.  It was a matter of survival.

For me, it’s particularly difficult when I read about slavery among my ancestors, because I know I have family on both ends of the stick and I feel very strongly about equality and freedom of choice.  Not only am I mixed race, having endured discrimination on both sides of that fence, especially as a child, too dark to be white but too white to be “of color,” but I am a female who grew up in an age where discrimination against women in various forms was accepted as the status quo.  It too was institutionalized, cultural and considered “normal.”  And it too was and is wrong, unjust and indefensible.

When I write these summaries of my ancestors, I’m limited by the records we can find that reflect the various stages of their life.  John Combs may not actually have been identified in his lifetime by being a slave owner, especially as compared to his neighbors with large tracts of land and lots of slaves.

For all I know he was a pious man and loved his slave family as his own family.  But we have no letters from John, no diary, no account books, nothing.  All we have is the dry court order books, tax lists and the chancery suit following his death.  And in these records, the theme of being a slave owner runs through each one.  I can’t shake it, and when I think of him, that’s really what I think of.  I wish I knew more so that I could have a better rounded picture of John Combs as a person, but I don’t.  All I really know is that he owned land and owned slaves, and that fact permeated every aspect of his life, even after his death.  It’s the elephant in the room I can’t seem to see around.  Today, it’s the aspect of his life that defines him, perhaps because there are records of slaves and there aren’t records of other things.  Regardless of why – it’s still what defines him because that is the information we have.

This certainly makes me pause to think about what will be left of my lifetime to represent me in another 250 years, assuming I have any descendants and anyone is interested.  It won’t be court orders, that’s for sure, but if they mine Facebook, they’ll discover that I take pictures of flowers in my garden, have 3 websites/blogs (will they know what a blog is?), that I have a special penchant for cats, have a fur family, including a grand-puppy, and that I’m a quilter.  Of course, it goes without saying that they’ll know I’m a genealogist too, with grandchildren.  They’ll be able to get to know me at least somewhat through my postings and my blog listings, although assuredly the blogs will be long gone so they would only be looking at the first paragraph or so posted on FaceBook and one of the photos.  They will probably be pulling their hair out, wishing that somehow, those blogs had been preserved in time.  I feel their pain!

I wonder what kinds of things we do today that won’t be considered culturally and socially acceptable in another 250 years, and how my descendants will think of me.  I’m guessing my 52 ancestors article title would be something like, “Roberta Estes, Mis-Behaved Cat Loving Genetic Genealogy Blogger, Quilter and Gardener.”  But then again, that’s from my perspective today.  Not to mention that my Facebook page omits several aspects of my life.  My 30+ year career, my college degrees, my husband and children, etc.  It’s more complete for me than the information we have about John Combs, but it’s still woefully lacking.

I’m sure there are many aspects of John Combs life that we are missing too.  John Combs might have looked at his article title, “Slave Owner,” with pride because owning land and slaves was the measure of success in Virginia in his lifetime.  Given that John started out as a man without an education, unable to even sign his name, he would likely have been very proud of his achievements – rising to the status of landowner, slave owner and juror.

John’s DNA

The one aspect of John we’ve yet to investigate is DNA.  In this case, we have a serious problem, because we only know what happened to one of his sons, George.  John’s sons, John and Samuel disappear, but they may have survived.  We don’t know.

John Combs’ son George married Phoebe, whose surname is unknown and they moved to Halifax County.  They had daughter Judith who married Jesse Dodson, Polly who married Bolling Hamblett, Larcenee who married George Shelton, Phebe who married Thomas Yates in 1788 and then moved to White County, TN, and one son, George, who married Elizabeth Yates in 1809.

To test George’s Y DNA, we would need to find a direct male descendant of his son George who married Elizabeth Yates who carries the Combs surname.  The problem is, we don’t know what happened to him.  And for all those couples who have hundreds of Ancestry trees, there isn’t one, not one, for him.

Our other possibility would be descendants of George Combs the elder, who was born 1701-1705, likely the brother of our John Combs.  He lived in Charlotte County, but we don’t know what happened to him either, or if he had sons.

Looking at the Combs DNA project, we can see that indeed, there is one person who descends from Archdale Combs, haplogroup I-M233.  Judging from the number of markers utilized, the original Combs DNA project was, unfortunately, not at Family Tree DNA.  All of the other companies have discontinued their Y DNA testing business. Based on this information, I checked at www.Ysearch.org and discovered that indeed, these testers are haplogroup I-M233.

So, if our John Combs is somehow descended from Archdale, this would be his Y DNA haplotype and haplogroup.  The problem of course is that making that determination with almost no evidence a very broad step, more like a leap of faith, an assumption with a lot of maybes and it’s a very large leap I’m not comfortable making.

Furthermore, even if our John was proven to descend from Archdale on paper, that doesn’t mean the DNA matches.  One should always, if possible, confirm by testing at least two descendants of the male ancestor in question, meaning through different sons.  Of course, in the case of our John, we can’t even find one son’s descendants, so we’re left waiting for future developments.

The next avenue I tried was to contact the Combs DNA project administrators and ask if Family Finder folks were welcome.  Many Y DNA projects don’t want to deal with autosomal matching.  Fortunately, the admin was very gracious and it says right on their project site that they welcome autosomal folks.  That’s the good news.  The bad news was that we did not match the male who tested from Archdale – assuming he has taken the FF test, which I can’t tell.

Lastly, I used Family Tree DNA’s new search function to see if I could find anyone in their data base who descends from our John, or George.  If they haven’t taken the autosomal test, this would be a great opportunity.  Unfortunately, no luck there either.

Three strikes and I’m out – for now.

I’m hopeful that someone who descends from John Combs or his brother George Combs will read this and perhaps they too will be curious.  If so, please let me know.  I have a scholarship for the first proven male Combs descendant!


I can’t end this article without saying something about collaborative research.

Combs researchers are very fortunate that for several years, through 2010, there was a very active research group whose work is, thankfully, preserved on the Combs-Coombs website.  I am both a contributor and a benefactor and I am very grateful for all of those who have contributed, coordinated and preserved these Combs records.  I wish all of my surnames had a site like this.



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Bill Paxton – Who Do You Think You Are – The Three Stones

This weeks’ episode with Bill Paxton is really outstanding.  Now, I might be biased, because as it turns out, Bill’s ancestor, Benjamin Sharp shares some historic events and locations with some of my ancestors too.

Bill started his journey in the library in Los Angeles, California, where their genealogist unrolls Bill’s pedigree chart.  I sure wish someone would give me one of those with a bow and a few new ancestors to boot!


Compliments of TLC

These pedigree giftings really make me smile.  The recipients are always so excited to see their heritage literally open up before them.

Bill already knew quite a bit about his closest few Paxton ancestors, including that one of his ancestors was an officer in the Civil War, so Bill was looking back up the tree to the Revolutionary War era where he found 3 different men, all 4 times great grandfathers, who could well have served.  Checking the DAR data base, only the last one, Benjamin Sharp, hit pay dirt.

Bill is off to the DAR headquarters in Washington DC.  At the DAR, they produced the 1833 pension application for Benjamin Sharp, written in Warren Co., MO, documenting his Revolutionary War military service beginning in 1775.  That’s when my ears perked right up, because the application, in Benjamin’s own handwriting said that he was at Black’s Fort, and at Glade Hollow, and that he was a spy.

For anyone with Appalachian, Western VA or Eastern TN history, both of these locations grab your attention, because these lands were truly forts, on the true edge of the frontier.  Very few people were there, and the militia protected them, not from the British so much, but from Indians, most of whom were aligned with the Tories because the English promised the Indians that if they won, the pioneer encroachment on their lands would stop.  These fort locations are found today in Russell County, VA.

From there, Benjamin Sharp served in the local militia unit, probably out of Washington County, VA, that rallied to fight in the fall of 1781 at King’s Mountain, a turning point in the Revolutionary War.  At least two of my ancestors fought at King’s Mountain as well.  Today, on the top of the hill, a monument to the men who fought and gave their lives has been erected.  This battle, won by mountaineers known as the Overmountain Men and not professional soldiers has been termed the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

The British commander, Patrick Ferguson, made a grave error in issuing this challenge to the Overmountain men who he held in the greatest contempt.

“If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

Let’s just say that’s not exactly what happened.  Ferguson was among the men buried at King’s Mountain, and the British Army lost.  Talk about both underestimating and inflaming your opponent.

King's Mountain

Photograph by Roberta Estes

You can guess where Benjamin is off to next.  Yes, King’s Mountain is a historic park today and well worth the visit.  A couple of years ago, I walked this trail myself and I can’t even begin to tell you the raw emotions I felt during that journey.  I was fortunate to be alone on the walking path – of course that might had something to do with the fact that it was over 100 degrees.  The men who fought at King’s Mountain did so in the cold rain – in fact – it was probably the rain that saved them – because rain softens leaves and underbrush and the Ferguson, stationed on top of the hill with the Tories, didn’t realize they were surrounded until it was too late.

At King’s Mountain, Bill discovers a letter from Benjamin Sharp in the book “American Pioneer” detailing the actual battle.  Watching Bill read this letter standing on the actual battleground was quite gripping, especially knowing that Benjamin was describing, first hand, something my ancestors experienced too.

Bill wanted to know what happened to Benjamin after the Revolutionary War.  Benjamin was only 18 at that time and he had his whole life in front of him.  Bill’s next stop is the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

Bill discovers that Benjamin became a surveyor in Lee County, Virginia’s westernmost county which borders on the Cumberland Gap.  Many of the men who served in the Revolution on the frontier did settle in this area.  On the Lee County tax list of 1804, shown in the episode, I saw two names I recognized.

Benjamin Sharp moved on though, with the movement westward to Missouri.  They didn’t say how or why Benjamin moved, but I’m betting it might have been where Revolutionary War bounty land was granted.  Many families found themselves pushing the westward frontier due to these grants given as payment for military service.

Bill’s next and last stop is in Warren County where he finds and holds the original will of Benjamin Sharp in his hands.  Benjamin lived a very long life and his will holds, well, let’s just say some surprises.

In fact, Bill has been surprised, or maybe shocked is a better word, several times along the way…and not always in a positive light.

This episode closes with Bill visiting his ancestor’s grave, deep in the brambles in the forest on private property that used to be owned by Benjamin Sharp.  Bill leaves three small stones….but you’ll have to watch Sunday night to discover why.

This was a truly moving, heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching episode.

Here’s your sneak peek.

Bill Paxton’s episode airs this Sunday, April 19 at 10/9c on TLC.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC



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A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t – aka – Bad NADs

Sooner or later, this happens to every genealogist.  You are “gifted” with an ancestor one way or another and either they turn out not to be your ancestor at all, or at least not by that surname.  Then, you have to saw that branch off of your own tree!  Ouch!


There are lots of ways for this to happen, but this past week, we added a new way – and to me – this new avenue is even more frightening because it carries with it the perception of validation by DNA.  After all, DNA doesn’t lie, right?  Well, it doesn’t, IF it’s interpreted correctly. And that IF should be in the largest font size possible.


Bad New Ancestor Discovery (NAD) #1

Yep, last week, Ancestry.com released a new feature that uses only your DNA to find your ancestors called New Ancestor Discoveries.  Great idea.  Not terribly accurate – at least not yet.  Ancestry has since changed their marketing verbiage to reflect that they aren’t necessarily finding new ancestors, they are finding potential ancestors and relatives, and these are hints, not gifts of ancestors. That’s much more accurate.

If you want to, you can catch up with all of that with my blogs here, here and here, and then a final blog by Ancestry “splainin’ things.”  But how I got the new ancestor is much less important that the fact that I did receive two new ancestors, a man and a wife, and they are unquestionably incorrect.  This phenomenon is now called Bad NADs on social media – NADs being “New Ancestor Discoveries.”  Genealogists do have a sense of humor.

So let’s just suffice to say that if you receive a “new ancestor” from Ancestry, treat it as a hint.  It might be a new ancestor.  It might be someone related to one of the same lines, which is why your DNA matches.  In other words, your real ancestor might be the aunt of the woman listed as your ancestor – and you just happen to share DNA with two of her sister’s kids descendants, which is why you got put into her “circle.”

Or, these people may not be your ancestors at or even related.  How can that be, you ask?  Easy – if you match each of two people through different ancestors, and they just happen to share a common ancestor – it looks like you might share that ancestor too.  As I said, treat this NAD as a nice hint and start your research.  Don’t attach these ancestors to your tree without verification…or you may well just have to saw those Bad NADs off.

But Ancestry’s new ancestors are just the newest way to get bogus ancestors.  Let’s look at how I’ve obtained wrong ancestors, aka Bad NADs, and then had to go out and chop branches off of my own tree.  Is that ever painful – because I’ve gotten attached to all of those people on that branch, thinking they were “mine.

So I’m thinking, maybe I should have titled this article “12 Ways to Get (Rid of) Bad NADs?”  Sounds like a social disease.  No, wait….it is!  You often get it by associating with other genealogists:)

Bad NAD #2

Copying trees, or more creatively put, ancestor grafting.  Grafted NADs.

2 branch tree

I have to admit, I started to do this once or twice, but thankfully, THANKFULLY, I was just skeptical enough to copy those trees down as a separate file and they are still hanging out there on my computer waiting to be attached.  Needless to say, they never will be.  They served as great starting or reference points for further study.

And thankfully, THANKFULLY, this novice error was made in the days of Rootsweb trees and not Ancestry trees.  What is the difference, you ask?  Well, you could copy someone’s GEDCOM file from Rootsweb and then attach some part or all of it to your tree on your computer.  At Ancestry.com, it’s much MUCH easier just to copy all or part of a tree and connect it to your own tree.  Just click, click and it’s done.  Like it was never not a part of your tree.  Instant gratification graft – complete with every single one of their errors – all included in the price of your subscription.  In fact, they’ll even change YOUR information already input if you’re not careful.  Yep, will clean that right up for you.

Had it been that easy for me in the beginning, I would have had an awful mess to unravel – because many or even most of those online trees are wrong.  Skeptical about that?  Let’s run an experiment.

I searched on Ancestry and checked the first 50 entries for my immigrant ancestor, Abraham Estes 1647-1720 to see how many of them had his wife’s name listed incorrectly as Barbara Brock.

Care to guess how many?  Go ahead, guess!

All 50.  Every last one.

Ok, well maybe the second 50 aren’t so bad.

Nope, all of those too – so now we’re up to 100 out of 100 wrong trees.

All of these, without one shred of evidence, because none exists.

But wait….there’s more.

Ok, let’s look at the third set of 50.  Finally, the last entry on the third set shows his first wife listed as Barbara Burton, which is accurate, and his second wife, from whom all of his children descend, as Barbara Mn?  Well, Mn is not accurate either, whatever it means, but at least it’s not Brock and there is a question mark present.  But 149 of the first 150 were flat out wrong and wrong in exactly the same way.  The 150th one is wrong in a different way.

Ancestry lists these trees in “best first” order, so if you look at the top trees, they will be the ones with the most sources and information.  The sources for all of these surnames?  Other trees.  In other words, hearsay.  And repeating hearsay 149 times doesn’t make it any truer than it was that first time when it was 100% wrong.

All 149 people need to saw that Bad NAD Brock branch off of their tree.

Ok, so now let’s look at how Barbara became to be erroneously identified as a Brock.

Bad NAD #3

A book.  The Written NAD.  In this case, a historical novel – but it could just as well have been a poorly researched non-fiction book.  These things, once in print, take on an air of permanence, a life of their own, and authority they should never have.

In this case, there was a historical novel written in the 1980s.  In that novel, which included the Estes family, the author gifted Barbara with the Brock surname.  He also gifted another one of my ancestors, Abraham’s son, Moses’s wife, Elizabeth with the surname of Webb.  I think he found the Webb surname in an early land transaction, so he made Webb Elizabeth’s surname in the book because it “worked” with the historical record in the story.  Moses bought land from her family in the book and that became the birthplace of Moses’s wife’s surname, transplanted of course to hundreds of trees like so much kudzu.

Guess what, Elizabeth Webb is just as wrong for the same reason, and just as pervasive as Barbara Brock.  Thanks Bud, thanks so much for the Bad NADs.

In Bud’s defense, he did say it was a historical novel, but so much of his novel was based on the truth that it was easy to extrapolate, and believe me, people did.

Just the same, saw off that Webb surname

Bad NAD #4

Assuming and hypothesizing.  Yep, this one was my own doing – albeit unintentionally.  Self-Inflicted Bad NADs.

I found my female ancestor as a widow in the census with a male of about the same age that was listed as “imbecile” and speculated, with a cousin, that the man living with her could have been her brother.

Well, it wasn’t, because when I ordered her husband’s pension papers from the War of 1812, she tells us her maiden name, her father’s name, her marriage date and more.

But by then, the damage was done.  The cousin let it out into the wild and those trees were being copied and now James Claxton/Clarkson’s wife’s name is Sarah Helloms or Sarah Helloms Cook in many trees.  There is no “recall” button.  By the way, her father was Joel Cook, just for the record, and her mother was Alcy, surname unknown.

If you’ve got something else, get the saw!  You know, the only thing worse than sawing off NADs that someone else gave you is sawing off your own Bad NADs.

Bad NAD #5

Bad sources, in particular, wrong mother’s name on death certificate.  Talk about a bum steer.  So, Wild Goose Chase NADs.

This occurs far more often than you’d think.  On my great-grandfather Joseph Bolton’s death certificate, his birth location is incorrect and his mother is listed as Nancy Cristie.  Joseph’s mother was Margaret Herrell Martin before she married Joseph Bolton (Sr.) as her second marriage.  Where they got Nancy Cristie is absolutely beyond me.  And yes, we know that Margaret Herrell WAS his mother both through family, through other documents and through DNA.

I wasn’t 100% convinced until I had the DNA evidence – simply because this was such an official document.


Looking at this, you would think Joseph’s wife, who knew Joseph’s mother, would have gotten her name right – at least her first name.  But, if you look further into the situation, Joseph’s wife, Margaret, was herself very ill with the flu and pneumonia and she too would die within a few days.  Her death certificate says she had been sick since February 18th, so she could not have been the direct informant on Joseph’s death certificate – regardless of what it says.  Either that, or they were quizzing her on her death bed, after her husband had just died, and it’s no wonder the answer made no sense.

This isn’t the first or only time I’ve seen this type of erroneous information on legal documents.  I’d much rather see that dreaded blank space than incorrect information.  At least with a blank, you’ve not been sent off on a wild goose chase.

At least with this incorrect information, there IS a source.  Unfortunately, death certificates and obituaries are particularly bad about having accurate names. I had to have my mother’s obituary run 4 times until it was correct.  The newspaper was NOT happy with me – but I was even less happy with them.  Often, these records are all we have, unfortunately, that tie people to parents and families together.  And let’s face it, who is ever going to find the second, third or fourth copy of an obituary.

Bad NAD #6

Lax research methodology and drawing conclusions when one shouldn’t.  So, Assumed Bad NADs.

In Halifax County, VA, Moses Estes’s wife, Luremia Combs interacted constantly with George Combs and his wife, Phoebe.  Plus, Moses and Luremia named their first son George.  Moses and Luremia bought land from George and Phoebe.  Over the years, the correlation or accepted relationship between these people came to be that Luremia was the daughter of George and Phoebe.  Indeed, it certainly did look that way.  But it wasn’t.

In fact, it wasn’t until a list of heirs came to light in a lawsuit in Amelia County that we learned that indeed, John Combs with an unknown first wife was the father of Luremia, and that George was likely the son of that John, or the brother, who was also named George.  In any case, George was not the father of Luremia.

However, if you look at those first 50 trees at Ancestry, every tree that has any father for Luremia has George Combs.

Get the saw…Bad NAD George has gotta go…

Bad NAD #7

Poor, bad or incomplete transcription.  Clerical NADs.

Luremia Combs, in an early deed, is difficult to read.  If you don’t read any later documentation, it looks like that word might be Susannah.  In fact, one transcriber transcribed it as Susannah and one as Lurana.  It’s only with the benefit of knowing her name is Luremia that you can see that early document is Luremia, not Susannah.  I don’t even need to tell you how many trees say either Susannah or not knowing what else to do, people combined the two and she is now Luremia Susannah.  Sigh.

At least in this case, you have the right person, just with a different first name – well – except for those trees who have “made up” the story that Moses married sisters by the name of Susannah and Luremia.  I don’t know if you need a saw as much as you need an eraser and glue.

Bad NAD #8

Wrong spouse, also known as the Oops NAD.

A lot of spouses died, and people remarried rather quickly out of necessity.  Many children of first marriages were simply listed on the census with their step-father’s name and some used that surname, not their father’s name.  That’s just the way it was at that time.  Same situation for wives.  Just because you find your ancestor in the 1850 census, age 11 or 12, with a family that includes wife “Mary” as the wife doesn’t at all mean that Mary was the mother of all of the children.

Eventually, you may “discover” this if the Y DNA doesn’t match the “fathers” line, but it’s rare to discover this through mitochondrial DNA – although it’s technically possible.  More often, you’ll discover it accidentally, like by finding a marriage for your ancestor after his or her first children were already born.

Hmmmm….where’s the saw???

Bad NAD #9

Relying on someone else’s documentation.  This would be the Trust Me NAD.

In some cases, you just have no choice in this matter.  For example, I’m connected back through many generations through Nathaniel Brewster and Sarah Ludlow to King Edward I.  I cannot, if I had the rest of my lifetime to do it, recreate the body of research that has been done on the royal descendants.  So, I am left to judge the quality of the information available, and based on that, determine what to use.  I guarantee you, I will never in my lifetime look at anyone’s tree as a source. However, wills, deeds, leases, historical documents and books are all sources that I think I can depend on…most of the time.

Be vigilant and watchful with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Look for well documented sources – and it’s even better if they include photos of the document itself – even if you can’t necessarily read it!  Keep that saw within reach.

Bad NAD #10

Accepting family stories as gospel – aka- the Telephone Game NAD.

No, I’m not saying your grandpa lied to you.  But he might have made the story better, so you would enjoy it more.  Or his grandpa might have done that with him.  Or, someone might have quite innocently gotten the generation wrong, or the location, or, or, or….

Remember that game, Telephone, from when we were kids?

We have the perfect example of this in the Estes family.  In 1852 William Estes left Iowa for the gold fields of California.  He never came back.  That much is fact, and it’s documented in a land sale that the family “didn’t know his whereabouts.”

Everyone agrees that he died…eventually.  I mean, he’s assuredly dead now, regardless of what happened then.  One story out of that family says he died on the way to California, one says he died on the way back and one just says that they never knew what happened to him and assumed he died because he wrote his wife and told her he was selling his gold claim and coming home (which, if true, means he couldn’t have died on the way out).  One version said he was traveling with a man who said he got sick and that he was probably murdered by that man.  And these stories are from his children and grandchildren – not generations later.

But wait, what if he didn’t die right away?  What if I subtly changed the essence of the story in my telling of it, inadvertently, by saying that everyone agreed that he died.  They didn’t really – they assumed he died.  Maybe he just stayed in California, fell in love with a nice widow lady, or a spicy showgirl, remarried and had another family – letting his family in Iowa think he was dead.

Taking this story into consideration, you can see how that Indian Princess story might have happened.

Bad NAD #11

Two men, same name.  Same wife’s first name.  Same county, same time.  This is the stuff genealogy nightmares are made of.  The Twofer NAD.

Want to know how we finally told the difference between the men?  One could write, the other couldn’t.  One had a group of people who witnessed deeds and lived nearby on tax and census lists.  The other had a different group.

Yep, saw that branch off!

Bad NAD #12

And of course, there is always the nonpaternal event – where the DNA doesn’t match who it should.  I call those “undocumented adoptions.”  It’s tempting to think of these as Bad Boy (or Bad Girl) NADs, but they aren’t necessarily.  See the step-father surname discussion in NAD #8.

Regardless of how they happened, they are undocumented and they are an “adoption” of sorts. In essence, these are typically discovered when the expected Y DNA does not materialize in a particular line.  In other words, it doesn’t match the known ancestral family line.  This is exactly what happened in my Younger line.  This is also sometimes discovered utilizing autosomal DNA, especially in close family members, 2nd cousin or closer.

How people react to this, and what you do about it, in terms of further testing to determine where the disconnect happened, is entirely a personal decision that is different in every situation.

In some cases, the Y DNA of the tester does match another surname, and the connection becomes immediately obvious, like it’s the wife’s first husband’s surname.  In other cases, we never make that biological connection – but the great thing about DNA is that it’s out there fishing for you, every minute of every day.



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Luremia Combs (c1740-c1820) and the Revolution on Her Doorstep, 52 Ancestors #67

Luremia Combs was born about 1740, probably in Amelia County, to John Combes and his first wife whose identity is unknown.  John’s wife at the time of his death was Frances Elam who he married in Amelia County on Sept. 11, 1750.

Francis would become embattled with her step-children after John’s death, although she assuredly raised at least some of those children.  Luremia would have been about 10 or 12 when her father remarried, which means, of course, that Luremia lost her mother when she was a young child.  Based on a subsequent lawsuit, and the fact that Luremia did not name a child Frances, I would hypothesize that Luremia did not enjoy a positive relationship with Frances, at least not as an adult.

Luremia was married to Moses Estes, probably in 1762, because their first child, George, was born in Amelia County on February 3, 1763 according to his Revolutionary War pension application..

In February 1767 in Lunenburg County, VA, we find a transaction where George Combs sells land to Moses Estis for £25, 300A adjoining John Combs.  Pheby, wife of George, relinquishes her dower.

It was from this land sale that previous researchers had surmised that Moses’s wife was the daughter of George Combes and Phebe, last name unknown.

On March 30, 1768, this tract of land is processioned and described as lying between “Reedy Creek, Reedy Creek old road, Coxes road and the North Meherrin River.”

Processioning of land is when, in colonial America, you got together with your neighbors once a year and everyone walked the boundaries, agreeing between themselves where the property boundaries lie.  The results of that event, and who was present, was recorded in the church vestry book.  I’d guess this became a social event of sorts as well – including spirits to stay warm of course.  Fortunately, the processioning of this area was very specific, as are some of the deeds, which allowed me to pinpoint the location of Moses’s land.

On the map below, relevant landmarks pertaining to the Estes family in Lunenburg County are shown.

Luremia Estes Lunenburg map

X identifies the location of Moses Estes land in Lunenburg County – between the North Meherrin and Reedy Creek.  According to the local farmers, this area is where the old Meherrin Indian village stood.  They find artifacts and relics regularly.

Given that I could find this specific location, I had to visit.  My ancestral lands call to me like a moth to the flame.  And in this case, 5 of my ancestors lived here, both Moses Sr. and Moses Jr., along with their wives.  This would also have been where George Estes was born in 1763, probably on this same land when still owned by Luremia’s family.

Luremia Lunenburg Trinity Courthouse road sign

Trinity Road appears to have been the original road through that area, forms a loop, and both begins and ends at Courthouse Road, where, of course, you find the courthouse.

Luremia lunenburg courthouse

The courthouse, which does not have a town around it, is shown by the upper purple arrow, on land originally owned by Robert Estes, brother of Moses Estes Sr.

Luremia Lunenburg trinity church

The old church is also on Trinity Road, and the Estes land is just off Trinity Road.  When they lived here, they were right on the main drag, although that’s certainly not apparent today.

Luremia Lunenburg field

There is only one possible location for Moses Estes land in Lunenburg County, given the geography in question, and during my 2004 trip, I found the land.  To this day, there is only one cleared area on both sides of the road, and a very old house in the clearing.  The land is beautiful.

Luremia Lunenburg estes land

This house, above, is located on the east side of Reedy Creek Road.

Luremia Lunenburg small house

This is the older house on the west side of Reedy Creek Road on the land that Moses Estes owned in Lunenburg County.  This could well be the house where Moses lived.  A newer house is located to the rear of the property.

Luremia lunenburg estes

This photo is of both the older house and the newer home in the background.

So this area, and maybe even this house, is where Luremia set up housekeeping and welcomed her first babies into the world.  The first of those babies, George, would one day take his father’s place in the Revolutionary War so his father didn’t have to serve.  Instead, Moses gave food, fodder and other goods to the cause.

On December 2, 1768, Moses Estes of Lunenburg County sells to Francis Combes of Amelia County, for £75, the tract that Moses Estes purchased of George Combes on February 12, 1767.  Witnesses to this transaction were Moses Estes, Sr., Elizabeth Estes and Thomas Munford.

Moses’s wife, “Susanna” Estes relinquishes dower, per one source.  June Banks Evans in her Lunenburg County Deed Books transcribed and interprets her name as Lurania.

July 13, 1769 – Susanna (or Lurania), wife of Moses Estis, came into court and relinquished dower in land conveyed to Richard Jones.  Relinquishing dower meant that the wife indicated that she understood that her husband sold that property and she gave up her right to her one third interest by law, were he to die.

It was from this record that Luremia’s name was ordained to be Susannah and is still shown that way in many trees.  Some trees have merged the two and given her two names, Susanna Luremia or vice versa.  And some have given Moses two wives, Susannah Combes and Luremia Combes, and a nice story that they were sisters to go along with the two wives.  For the record, this isn’t true.

How do we know it isn’t true?  Because there is juicy gossip – in the form of a chancery suit filed in Amelia County, VA.  I just love chancery suits.  They focus on divisions of equity, not on a determination of guilt or innocence and for the most part, in Virginia, unless the courthouse has burned, the depositions, complaints and responses in the case still exist.

Amelia Co. Va. Chancery Causes 1764 – 001

Estis et us vs Combs

Agreeable to the order here unto annexed we the subscribers have laid off and do assign unto the said Frances Combs widow of John Combs decd her dower in the lands and slaves one third part of the personal estate of said John Combs decd and have also divided the residue of the estate of the said John Combs decd in equal portions among the children of the said John Combs decd and do lay off and assign each their part in manner following viz”

To Frances Combs for her dower in the lands of the said John one hundred and fifety acres beginning in William Eggleston line on the upper side of the same Combs plantation thence down the said Eggleston’s line to his corner at the branch and from thence along Joseph Eggeleston’s line to a new dividing line and then with the said line to the beginning in William Eggleston’s line which includes the houses and plantation whereon the said Frances Combs now lives and for the said Frances dower in the slaves of the said John decd assign unto her one negro fellow named Harry and we do further assign unto the said Frances for her third part of the personal estate the sum of 52 pounds ten shillings 9 pence three farthings.

To Moses Eastis and Lurany his wife for his part of the personal estate of the said John Coombs decd the sum of 14 pounds and 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing. 

To James Bowls (could be a slightly different name) and Martha his wife for his part of the personal estate of the said John Combs decd also the sum of 14 pounds 17 and 7 pence parthing.

To George Combs for his part of the personal estate of the said John Combs decd the sum of 14 pounds 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing and being his part equal with the other children.

We also assign and allot unto Samuel Combs, Mary Combs, Clarissa Combs, John Combs each of them the sum of 14 pounds and 17 shillings and 7 pence farthing current money for their part of the personal estate of the said John Combs, decd given under our hand this 25th day of ? 1762.

Next document

Amelia court held July 22, 1762

Moses Estes, Lorana his wife vs Frances Combs wife of John Combs decd

This cause heard and answered this day and ordered that John Booker, William Eggleston and John Cooke do assign to the defendant her dower in the lands and slaves of one third part of the estate of her late husband John Combs and that they divide the residue of the estate of the said John Combs among the complainant, children of the said John in equal proportions and assign unto each of them his or her share according to law.

Next document – the legal complaint.

Humble complaining Moses Estes and Luranna his wife, James Bowlen and Martha his wife, Samuel, George, Mary, Clarissa and John Combs that one John Combs, your orators father, being in his lifetime seized and possessed of a considerable estate and on the (blank) day departed this life intestate.  Soon after the deceased on the motion of Frances Combs, the widow and relict of the said John admin. of all singular the goods and chattels rights and credits which were of the said John Combs at the time of his death.  And that said Frances then took into her possession all the estate, that by a certain act of assembly made in the year of our Lord 1705? and in the 4th year of the reign of her ?.   The orators have appealed to the said Frances Combs for their proportional part aforesaid but the said Frances refuses unless she may be ordered by the court.  Your orators show that they are in some distress in being detained form their rights above contrary to equity… beg for consideration…ask that she be compelled to deliver (writing very faint).

Last document is a summons

Summon Frances Combs, admin of John Combs decd, Samuel, Mary, Clarissa and John Combs children of the said John Combs decd to appear… to answer a bill in chancery filed by Moses Estis and Loranna his wife.

The last record of the Moses Estes family in Lunenburg County is Luremia relinquishing her dower in 1769.  Maybe the family is cleaning up loose ends before they leave.  Moses is not on the Lunenburg tax list that year, but is on a list of road hands in Halifax County, although we can’t tell which Moses, father or son.

On June 20, 1771 in Halifax County, Moses Estes Jr. buys 256 acres from John and Elizabeth Owen that abuts the William Younger land.  The transaction does not say Junior, but Moses Sr. never shows this land on the tax records and Moses Jr. still owns this land after Moses Sr. dies.  Moses Jr.’s estate shows this land after his death as well.  This is the land on present day Estes Street in South Boston, VA.  This is where Luremia would spend the rest of her life – the next 40 years.

Today, Moses and Luremia’s land is the landfill, but I was able to obtain some images from the back side of land that had not yet been disturbed – thanks to the magic of Google maps street view.

Luremia estes halifax

Part of the old Estes land is now the Oak Ridge Cemetery, where it’s likely that Luremia is buried.

Luremia oak ridge

The Estes family land lay on the main road in South Boston.  The world passed by on their way north or south, on their way to the courthouse, on their way to Boyd’s or Irwin’s Ferry, the only way to cross the Dan River.  In fact, the city of South Boston was formed at and as a result of Boyd’s Ferry.  If the Estes family had anything to sell, they certainly had a captive audience, living on the main road.  Judging from the family stories, I’m betting they sold fruit brandy.

By this time, in 1771, Luremia is about 30 and probably has 3 or 4 small children.  Before their family was complete, Luremia would have about 11 living children.

For the next decade, in Halifax County, life hummed along normally.  Men worked on the roads, went to court for the drama of court day and farmed.  Women tended to the kids, preserved food, made clothes and cooked.  And everybody went to church.  It was required and you were fined for not attending.

But life as they knew it would change in 1780 with the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  Halifax County was in the wrong place, and the war came to them.

To make matters worse, Luremia’s oldest son, George, was gone – serving in that War.  He would serve one term for his father, a second one for himself, and a third as a volunteer.  This family clearly believed in independence.

In the winter of 1780, it looked like the Americans were losing in the South after a severe defeat at Camden, SC.  General Nathaniel Greene, George Washington’s right hand man, was sent to NC to see what could be salvaged.  What greeted him was bleak.  His troops were severely outnumbered and what was left of his army was starving, poorly clothed and barely equipped.

Greene managed through what have been framed as “Hurclean efforts” to rebuild the army, and then undertook a brilliant military strategy.  Knowing he was outnumbered, he divided his army in half and sent half south as a decoy.  General Daniel Morgan allowed himself to be pursued by the British, specifically Cornwallis’s Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, known as “Bloody Ban” because he massacred surrendering American soldiers.

On January 17, 1781, Morgan turned on Tarleton and engaged at the Battle of Cowpens, decisively winning the battle, taking prisoners, weapons and supplies, and headed back for North Carolina.  The race to Carolina was on, with Cornwallis’s troops furious and in hot pursuit in an event that would become known as the “Race to the Dan,” meaning the Dan River which divided NC and VA.  Greene knew if he could cross the Dan, that he could defend that position and keep Cornwallis from crossing.  So did Cornwallis – and he was behind – but determined to recover.

Morgan advanced northward through North Carolina, pushing his prisoners as fast as possible and burning bridges, boats and ferries behind him in an attempt to slow Cornwallis.  Cornwallis was so desperate that he burned his own supply train to increase the speed of his chase.  Cornwallis was close, very close, within hours of Morgan’s men, with Morgan’s unit often just barely avoiding his clutches.  Morgan fell ill and was relieved by Col. Williams.  The two halves of the Army attempted to rendezvous for strength.  They skirmished with Cornwallis, but Greene knew that to turn and fight would be a sure loss, so he continued to race for the Dan, a location that formed a natural barrier that he could take and hold.  Cornwallis surely knew that too.

Greene’s re-united army only numbered two thousand and thirty-six men, including fourteen hundred and twenty-six regulars. Col. Edward Carrington joined the command, with the report that boats had been secured, and secreted along the Dan River in Virginia, so as to be collected on a few hours’ warning. The British army was at Salem, only twenty-five miles from Guilford. This was on the tenth of February.  The next 4 days were brutal.

To guard against Cornwallis making a detour and getting between the light troops and Greene’s army, as well as to protect his own force from surprise, Williams had to send out such numerous patrols and establish such strong pickets that half of his force was always on night duty. He halted for only six hours each night; each man got only six hours rest in every forty-eight. They never set up a tent. “The heat of the fires was the only protection from rain and sometimes snow.” They started each day at three in the morning and hastened forward to gain a distance ahead of their pursuers that would give them time for breakfast.  Breakfast, dinner, and supper in one, because this was their only meal for the day. Cornwallis came on with equal speed.  Both sides knew this was a critical juncture – a turning point – and both were desperate.

Four days later, Greene reached Boyd’s Ferry in South Boston, VA.  On this map from 1884 when South Boston was actually formed, you can see Ferry street (upper left corner) still descends to the river where Boyd’s ferry was originally located.  On this map, a railroad bridge has replaced Boyd’s ferry.

Luremia Boyd's ferry

On Valentine’s Day, 1781, Greene’s troops built defensive works, and used every possible vessel to move his men and equipment, including cannons, across the Dan River at Boyd’s ferry, located at present day South Boston, and Irvine’s ferriy located just three or four miles west of Boyd’s ferry.  Boats had been gathered from Boyd’s and Dix’s ferries (In Pittsylvania County), and represented all of the boats on the river.

Cornwallis received the news in the course of the evening. The river was too high to cross without boats, and every boat for miles in either direction was on the farther shore. Greene had won the race.  Cornwallis was stuck.  An exceptional detailed and breath-holding description of this event can be found here.

Not only did Greene hold Virginia, and therefore the north, a month later he would regroup and recross the Dan to face Cornwallis again at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, and the British of course would march on to ultimate defeat at the Battle of Yorktown.  However, had the race to the Dan not been won by Greene and his men, we might well be British citizens today.

Oh, did I mention that the Estes home was between a mile and two miles from Boyd’s Ferry, on that main road, now called Main Street, where the Estes land and homestead was found?  On the south end of Main Street, the name changes and this same street is called…Ferry Street.  In fact, two of Luremia’s children would marry spouses from the Boyd family.

On the map below, you can see Estes Street, marked with the red balloon, Oak Ridge Cemetery in green, and Boyd’s Ferry is marked with the red arrow.  At that time, the main road was current day 129, also called Main Street.  As luck would have it, Moses Estes had been appointed surveyor of the road from Boyd’s ferry to the Banister River – so he was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of that dirt road – which of course meant keeping it passable.  The notes from the commanders of the army talk about how the roads turned to icy cold rivers of mud with the passing of the troops, horses, wagons and supplies.  Keep in mind that the city of South Boston, nor the town of Halifax, existed at that time.

I’d say that Moses Estes had his hands full in more ways than one.

Luremia estes land boyd's ferry

So, whichever Army won the race and crossed the Dan River, they were headed straight for the Estes land.  Hungry, maybe bent on destruction, depending on which side crossed first.  By this time, Luremia was about 40 years old and probably had most of her children.  She could easily have been pregnant or had a newborn at the time.  She surely had a houseful of children to worry about.  What was she going to do?  Would anyplace have been safe?  A war was coming, one way or another – and there was nothing to assure it wouldn’t be fought right there, on her doorstep, literally.

It’s no wonder that her husband, Moses, after the war, submitted a receipt for supplies for the troops.  They contributed 6 bushels of Indian corn, 100 sheaves of oats, 100 pounds of fodder and 11 pounds of bacon.  This makes me wonder if they quartered some of the men at their home or on their land.  I’m sure they were EXTREMELY glad to see Greene and not Cornwallis.

We know, positively, that the entire army passed right by the Estes land, because they lived on the only road north.  On February 17th, Greene’s troops crossed the Banister River, which would be just north of the town of Halifax today.  The only road from the Dan River to the Banister was straight through the Estes land.  Additional troops were called into Halifax County to help and reinforce Greene, including Virginia militia, North Carolina militia and a number of Catawba Indians.  Pleas for food, hundreds of cloth sacks for horse feed, 1000 of the best stallions and other supplies were sent out to local residents who provided Greene’s army with what they needed to continue to fight and ultimately win the war.  I envision the women of Halifax County, Luremia included, gathered together making sacks and clothes for soldiers. Luremia probably prayed that someone was taking care of her son, George, who was serving elsewhere, as she was taking care of these men.

There was other wartime activity in Halifax County as well, but nothing quite so stressful as Valentine’s Day in 1781.  I can see Luremia’s children clustered around her, the younger ones perhaps hiding behind her skirts, watching in awe as the soldiers  marched past and perhaps stopping to camp at the Estes plantation.  Little did they know they were seeing history unfold at a pivotal juncture in a conflict, the outcome of which formed the foundation of the country we live in today.

In 1786, three of Luremia’s children would marry, beginning the exodus of her children, leaving the nest for lives of their own.  Her first child to marry, Clarissa, married Francis Boyd in August, followed by both George marrying Mary Younger and Bartlett marrying Rachel Pounds on the same day in December.  In that time and place, married children often didn’t go far, like next door – unless they left the area entirely.  So at least initially, both George and Bartlett were living on the same land with Luremia and Moses, and Clarissa was certainly living close by, as the Boyd’s lived just down the road in South Boston.

The next we know of Luremia, she was paid to testify in a suit in 1791, Moody vs Armstrong.  Her name is in the court records, but we know nothing more than that.

Luremia’s husband, Moses, seems to get a bit rowdy as his name appears several times in the court records in the 1790s.  He was presented for a misdemeanor in 1791, seemed to be feuding with the Douglas family, and wound up in jail in 1796, although probably not for long.

In 1799, Moses Estes wrote his will and in it names Luremia as his wife and as his executor:

I, Moses Estes of the county of Halifax in the Commonwealth of Virginia being of perfect sense and memory and in good health thanks to God for the same but calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is appropriate for all men once to die and not knowing when that period will arrive to me have thought it necessary and expedient to make and publish my last will and testament in manner to wit:…to George Estes my oldest son I have given a horse, saddle, bed and furniture and a cow value 40 pounds, to my daughter Clarissa who intermarried with Francis Boyd – to Bartlett Estes my son one mare and saddle, a bed and furniture and a cow value 40 pounds, – to my daughter Patience who intermarried with Peter Holt one bed and furniture value 8 pounds – to my son Laban property to the value of 30 pounds, to Winston Estis my son property to the same value, 30 pounds, – it is my will that whatsoever I may die possessed of that at the death of my beloved wife Luremia Estis and not before be equally divided amongst all my children viz George, Bartlet, Patience, Laban, Winstone, Judith, Josiah, Moses and Patsey (the said Patsey now intermarried with Robert Jackson) equally and fairly counting in the sums respectively advanced as part of their shares so that in the end the share shall be equal…Luremia Estes remain in possession of my land and plantation.  Executor Luremia, son George and friend Berryman Green, signed by Moses Estes (his mark) – pronounced by Moses to be his last will and testament in the presence of Arm. Watlington Jr, John Barksdale and H. David Greene.

I have often wondered if Moses became ill in 1799, even though his will says he is in good health, because in earlier (and later) documents he could very clearly sign his name, yet his will bears his mark.

Moses didn’t die until 1813, more than a dozen years later.  Luremia would have been about 70 at that time, maybe a bit older.  Her last child would likely have married a decade or so before.

Luremia did not accept executorship of his estate, and neither did Berryman Green.  Moses’s estate would be contested and would not be settled until 1834 and then not divided for another several years.

We know Luremia was alive in both 1815 and 1816 because there were supplies set aside for her from the estate in 1815 and she was at Moses’s estate sale in 1816.

We believe Luremia was still living in 1820, because George Estes, living on the family land, has a female in that age bracket living with him.  We know she is gone by the 1830s when she is not present in any census and George is living alone.

Luremia is either buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, which is on the original Estes land, or she was buried in the second cemetery on the Estes land between two of the houses, and was later reburied in the Oak Ridge Cemetery on the Estes plot, shown below, when the city took the land for a landfill.  So, one way or another, all or part of her remains are, today, in the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Luremia oak ridge unmarked graves

The Estes family graves that were moved are probably reburied in this area of unmarked graves.

Graves moved would include Moses Jr., Luremia, their son George and probably his wife, Mary Younger – in addition to any children they had that died.  And you know they probably had children that died – everyone then did.  It seems the death of children was a very sad rite of passage.

Luremia oak ridge fieldstone

This small fieldstone and clump of flowers is all that remain in this area today.  Surely those flowers were planted by someone to mark the grave of someone they loved.

Luremia oak ridge flower

How can we learn more about Luremia?

Luremia did have several daughters, and through those daughters, if they had daughters to the current generation, we could test their DNA and in doing so, find Luremia’s mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only females pass it on.  So in the current generation, testing males is fine, but they have to descend through all females back to Luremia.

Luremia’s DNA will tell us something really important – what part of the world were her matrilineal ancestors from.  We do have Native American ancestry someplace in this family line – and it’s not from any of the lines we have already tested.  Remember, Moses and Luremia bought land that the Meherrin Indians had lived on and that the Combs family owned.  Is there a connection?  We don’t know – and I’d surely like to.

Luremia’s daughters were:

  • Patience Estes born before 1780, married Peter Holt, died before 1837, lived in Smith County, TN, and had at least one daughter, Cointhiana (or Cintha) Holt who married Johnson Moorefield.
  • Clarissa Combs Estes born in the 1760s, married Frances Boyd in Halifax County in 1786, lived in Georgia in 1837, and had daughters May Isabel Irving Boyd, Lorany Combs Boyd, Clarice Combs Boyd and Nancy Lawson Boyd.
  • Judith Estes born before 1787, married Andrew Juniel in Halifax County in 1806, died before 1837 in Henderson County, KY.  She had daughters Sally, Nancy, Luraney and Jane.
  • Patsy Martha Estes, married before 1799 to Robert Jackson (also spelled Hackson) and was married in 1837 to a Lax, children unknown.
  • Maga Estes married in 1792 in Halifax County to William Patrick Boyd, children unknown.  Not mentioned as a child in 1837 suit.  Either she was dead with no heirs, or perhaps she was not a child of Moses and Luremia.

If you descend from any of these daughters, please get in touch.  There is a DNA scholarship for the first person from this line willing to test.  You may be the key to solving one last mystery about Luremia.



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America Ferrera Heads to Honduras on Who Do You Think You Are

Unfortunately, TLC didn’t send the pre-screening link this week, so you don’t get my writeup.  Instead, you get theirs, and I’ll be watching right along with you.

America Ferrera TLC

Courtesy TLC

For the first time ever, Who Do You Think You Are? heads to Honduras as actress America Ferrera sets out to search for a connection to her father, whom she barely knew.

Throughout her journey, America uncovers the fascinating details of her paternal great grandfather, who was a General in the army and led numerous revolts against Honduran leaders to fight for the people’s rights.

Key details from America’s episode include:

  • With the help of historians and documentation, America discovers that her great grandfather, at the young age of 27, left a job as a tax collector to join a military campaign to help the liberal president’s party fend off a plot to overthrow them.
  • America finds that her great grandfather then led numerous successful revolts against corrupt Honduran presidents apparently in order to ensure the rights of the people. General Ferrera and his actions made such a mark that he was written about by the United States government and considered a troublemaker, eventually being exiled from Honduras.
  • Upon his return to his homeland some years later, General Ferrera declared that he wished to keep the peace – and then broke his promise as he stockpiled ammunition and prepared once again to take on the latest president and his political party.
  • Finally, America learns from an article which referred to General Ferrera as “the principal enemy of Honduran peace” that he was killed in action.
  • America finds that regardless of her ancestor’s motivations, her great grandfather was loved and considered an icon by the common people of his homeland.

Here’s a sneak peek:


The episode airs this Sunday, April 12 at 10/9c on TLC.



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Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors

First of all, let me say that I like AncestryDNA Circles.  Yes there are problems and still things to work out, but all said, I think they have the potential to be beneficial – so long as they are interpreted correctly.

Much of the grumbling about Circles comes from the fact that Ancestry promised the community a “better mousetrap,” and instead, released DNA Circles.  DNA Circles is just fine for what it is, but it’s a far cry from a better mousetrap – meaning it’s not a replacement for, nor better than, a chromosome browser.  It’s like being promised a “better car” and getting a bicycle while the “gifter” is trying to convince you it’s a Mercedes bicycle and you should love it, plus you don’t need a car anyway – you only think you do.

The biggest problem with DNA Circles is that people perceive Circles to be proof, when they aren’t – partly because of how the DNA is paired with no matching segment proof (chromosome browser) available – and partly because of inaccurate trees.  That said, twice now I’ve found a really good hint through Circles, even if one did subsequently disappear.  For that very reason, I check every single day.

But hear that word – HINT.

What is a DNA Circle and How Does It Work?

Just to be sure we’re all on the same page, let’s take a quick look at what a DNA Circle is.

Circle Henry Bolton

Circles are created around a specific ancestor.  To be included in a DNA Circle, you must match at least one other person’s DNA who shows that same ancestor in their tree, plus there must be at least another person who matches your DNA or that of the person’s DNA you match, and also has the same ancestor in their tree.  So, a minimum of three people.

Now, we don’t know if these people match on the same segment, or if they also share other ancestors that might cause DNA matching, but the more people who match each other (and you) in the Circle, the better chance there is that there is a connection through that ancestor.

Let’s take a quick look at segment matching and how it’s done from Ancestry’s document titled, “Do all members of a DNA Circle have the same matching segment?”  This paper along with others is available on your DNA results page by clicking on the question marks on the right hand side beside your DNA Circles header.  So, no DNA Circles, no help information about DNA Circles.

circle papers

In the segment matching example, below, you can see that the DNA of these three people shown do share DNA segments, but they are not triangulated.  A matches with B and C on different segments, and B matches with C and A – but again, not on the same segments.  A triangulated match that proves a connection through a common ancestor requires 3 individuals to share the same DNA segment.

If these three segments below were triangulated, you would see the same segment colored in blue (for example) on the chromosomes of all 3 individuals, not just two of the three.

circle segment matching

So, what’s wrong with matching?  Not a thing.  Not one single thing.  But a match to someone is not proof of this specific common ancestor.  You could match these two people on different common ancestors, because none of the DNA is shared by all 3 individuals and matches on the same segment.

The bottom line to this is that if Ancestry were showing you only matches that were triangulated to this ancestor, you might not have any at all.  Using Circles rather than triangulation gives you many more matches and many more individuals in your Circle – and Circles where you wouldn’t have Circles otherwise – and it’s much less accurate.  It’s a group of cumulative hints that together are really compelling – but they are not proof.  Proof does not exist in the Ancestry system with the current set of tools.

Proof is triangulation of at least three people who share the same ancestor that also share exactly the same DNA on the same segment.

This however, does not mean Circles are bad – it means they need to be used with full understanding and care.

Now, this does not HAVE to be the case, because every Circle could have an option to “see only triangulated matches.”  That would be the best of both worlds.

Henry Bolton is one of my most robust Circles, so let’s look at that.  You can see that I match the DNA of 5 individuals in the Circle who also show Henry Bolton in their tree.  These are not triangulated matches, because we don’t know if any of us match on the same segments (at least not through Ancestry’s system) – but we do know THAT we match and THAT we share common paper genealogy with the same ancestor.

circle henry bolton matches2

You can see the greyed out individuals and the greyed out connection network.  These greyed out people don’t match my DNA, but they do match the DNA of at least one person that I match, and also share Henry Bolton as a common ancestor, so they too are in the Henry Bolton DNA Circle.

By clicking on one of the other Circles, you can see who they match.  So, for example, by clicking on my first match clockwise, below, you can see that they match 2 of the people that I do, plus four people that I don’t.  These matching networks, while not proof that this is how you are genetically connected to these people, do serve as great research connections.  Hopefully, at least some of them will be willing to download to GedMatch or transfer to Family Tree DNA, or both, where you can utilize a chromosome browser.

circle henry match matches2

Regarding reliability, I’m much more likely to place confidence in a robust Circle like the Henry Bolton Circle with multiple DNA matches between me and other members than the Diedamia Lyon Circle shown below.  Diedamia is one of the “ancestors” identified and assigned to me as my “new ancestor” that isn’t.

circle diedamia lyon

Keep in mind that the Diedemia new ancestor match is WITHOUT the common tree match required to create a Circle – so just utilizing the DNA.  So what this “new ancestor” Circle is telling you is that I match both of these individuals and THEY have a common ancestor between them, so I have been assigned to that same common ancestor – which is incorrect.  Diedamia Lyon is not my ancestor.  We have no idea if I share any common segments between these two matches, which would at least increase the chances that I share a common ancestor with both of these people, because Ancestry does not do segment matching, and they don’t give us any tools to do it either.

Circles are not predictable and often come like the tooth fairy, at night, so every morning I check to see if I have a new DNA Circle, a new “New Ancestor” or any new shakey leaf DNA matches.

How Did I Get My DNA Circles and Matches?

I decided I wanted to see if I can make sense of how Ancestry’s Circles and New Ancestors are actually assigned or created, based on my matches.

As you know, I did the little experiment where I recreated myself as a newbie, so I can compare my results with my regular robust tree and a mini-tree with only me and my parents.  Through that experiment, we discovered that of my 16 DNA Circles, 2 got “assigned” as new ancestors when using a bare bones tree.  In addition, the son of that ancestor was also assigned, correctly as an ancestor, even though he didn’t have a prior Circle.  Of course, there are still the two incorrect ancestors assigned in both circumstances, the robust and the mini tree scenarios.

Let’s see if we can figure out some logic behind how this actually works.

I have been keeping a spreadsheet of my shakey leaf AncestryDNA matches with whom I share an identifiable ancestor on paper.  Why?  Because both matches and Circles tend to come and go.

I’ve assembled the chart below based on my DNA matches with shakey leaves, meaning we have both a DNA match and a tree match.  The column titled “Number of DNA+Tree Matches” is the number of DNA matches to someone who also shares that ancestor in a tree.  Of course, the DNA match could be from another line entirely, but this is based on what Ancestry has provided.

“Gen from Me” means the number of generations removed from me, according to Ancestry’s calculations shown with the match.

“Circle Member Robust Tree” means that I either do or do not have a Circle for that ancestor using the robust tree.

“Assigned as New Ancestor” indicates whether this ancestor was assigned as a “New Ancestor” using only the mini-tree.

Please note that some shakey leaf matches were lost when phasing was introduced.

Let’s see how this works.

For example, in the first row, Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann had 8 DNA matches total, but lost 3 with phasing.  Currently, only 5 are shown as matches.  Henry is also shown twice as a match to just him and not Nancy Mann.  This makes sense, as he was married twice and I can clearly match Henry through a child of his first marriage.  Henry and Nancy are 5 generations removed from me and both Henry and Nancy are shown as Circles with my robust tree.  Both Henry and Nancy are also shown as “New Ancestors” in the mini-tree “recreate myself as a newbie” version.  My only other accurate “New Ancestor” is Henry’s son, Joseph Preston Bolton, who is not a Circle.

I sorted this first table by “Number of DNA+Tree Matches.”  Let’s see how that looks.  To begin with, my second highest match is George Dodson and Margaret Dagord with 7 matches, but they don’t form either a Circle or get assigned as a new ancestor.  However, I have lots of Circles with fewer matches.  Go figure.

Ancestor(s) Number of DNA+Tree Matches Gen from Me Circle Member (Robust Tree) Assigned as New Ancestor (Mini Tree) Comment
Henry Bolton, Nancy Mann 8 5 Yes, both Yes, both 3 matches gone with phasing, also shown by himself, 2 marriages
George Dodson, Margaret Dagord 7 8 No No Margaret also listed separately with 1 match
Johann Michael Miller, Suzanne Berchtol 7 8 No No
Jotham Brown 7 7 No No 3 matches gone with phasing
Joel Vannoy, Phoebe Crumley 6 4 Yes, both No
Abraham Estes and Barbara 5 9 No No
George McNiel, Sarah Coates 5 7 No No
John R. Estes, Ann Moore 4 6 Yes, both No 1 match gone with phasing
Elizabeth Shepherd 4 6 No No Wife of William McNiel, not shown
John Francis Vannoy, Susannah Anderson 4 7 No No 2 matches gone with phasing
Philip Jacob Miller, Magdalena 4 7 No No
Robert Shepherd, Sarah Rash 4 7 No No
John Campbell, Jenny Dobkins 3 6 Yes, both No
Joseph Preston Bolton 3 4 No, but his parents have Circle, Henry Bolton, Nancy Mann Yes Two wives, my wife Margaret Herrell has 1 match, but she is not listed
Daniel Miller, Elizabeth Ulrich 3 6 No No
Stephen Ulrich 3 7 No No Married to Elizabeth Greib, Cripe, shown separately
Thomas Dodson, Dorothy Durham 3 8 No No
Andrew McKee 3 7 Circle disappeared No Had Circle, then gone
Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy 2 5 Yes, both No
Jacob Lentz, Fredericka Moselman 2 5 Yes, both No
Nicholas Speak, Sarah Faires 2 6 Yes, both No 1 match gone with phasing
Henry Bolton 2 5 Yes Yes He was twice married
Charles Dugas,  Francoise Bourgeois 2 9 No No
Cornelius Anderson,  Annetje Opdyke 2 8 No No
Francois Broussard, Catherine Richard 2 9 No No
Gershom Hall 2 7 No No Son of below
James Lee Claxton, Sarah Cook 2 6 No No Gone with phasing
Joseph Rash, Mary Warren 2 9 No No
Joseph Workman, Phoebe McMahon 2 7 No No
Thomas Dodson 2 9 No No
Francois Lafaille 2 2 Matches both gone with phasing
John Hill, Catherine Mitchell 1 6 Yes, John Hill only No
Charles Speak, Ann McKee 1 5 No No
Edward Mercer 1 7 No No
Elisha Eldredge, Dorcas Mulford 1 8 No No
Elizabeth Greib (also Cripe) 1 7 No No Wife of Stephen Ulrich, shown separately
Elizabeth Mary Angelica Daye 1 8 No No
Francois Dugas 1 8 No No
George Shepherd, Elizabeth Mary Angelique Daye 1 8 No No
Gershom Hall, Dorcas Richardson 1 8 No No Father of above
Gideon Faires, Sarah McSpadden 1 6 No No
Honore Lore, Marie Lafaille 1 5 No No
Jacob Dobkins 1 7 No No
Jacque Bonnevie, Francoise Mius 1 8 No No
James Hall, Mehitable 1 7 No No
Jan Derik Woertman, Anna Marie Andries 1 9 No No
Johann Nicholas Schaeffer, Mary Catherine Suder 1 8 No No
Lazarus Estes, Elizabeth Vannoy 1 3 No No
Margaret Dagord 1 8 No No Wife of George Dodson, also listed with him
Michael de Foret, Marie Hebert 1 9 No No
Moses Estes Sr. 1 8 No No Wife Elizabeth, LNU
Pierre Doucet, Henriette Pelletret 1 9 No No
Rachel Levina Hill 1 4 No No Wife of Antoine Hill
Raleigh Dodson, Elizabeth 1 7 No No
Suzanna Berchtol 1 8 No No
William Herrell, Mary McDowell 1 5 No No
Charles Hickerson, Mary Lytle 1 7 Circle disappeared for both No Had Circle, then gone
Francis Vannoy, Catherine Anderson 1 8 Match gone with phasing
John Vannoy 1 Match gone with phasing
Lois McNiel 1 6 Match gone with phasing

This comparison of matches to the Circles created is actually very surprising, because Circle creation seems to have very little correlation to number of DNA matches.  Circles require 2 people to match each other’s DNA, plus a third person that matches at least one of the other two – minimally.  There are very obviously behind the scenes criteria too, or I would have at least 36 Circles based on my matches to 3 or more people and 26 additional Circles if you could matches to only 2 people.  That’s a total of 62 Circles, not 16.

Of the 7 ancestral couples with 5 or more matches, which give us the potential for 14 individual Circles, only two couples, or 4 Circles exist.

The chart below is sorted by “Circle Member (Robust Tree),” so only the ancestors who are in Circles are shown.  The number of DNA matches range from 1 to 8.

Ancestor Number of DNA+Tree Matches Gen from Me Circle Member (Robust Tree) Assigned as New Ancestor (Mini Tree) Comment
Henry Bolton, Nancy Mann 8 5 Yes, both Yes, both 3 matches gone with phasing, also shown by himself, 2 marriages
Joel Vannoy, Phoebe Crumley 6 4 Yes, both No
John R. Estes, Ann Moore 4 6 Yes, both No 1 match gone with phasing
John Campbell, Jenny Dobkins 3 6 Yes, both No
Joseph Preston Bolton 3 4 No, his parents have Circle, Henry Bolton, Nancy Mann Yes Two wives, my wife Margaret Herrell has 1 match, but she is not listed
Andrew McKee 3 7 Circle disappeared No Had Circle, then gone
Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy 2 5 Yes, both No
Jacob Lentz, Fredericka Moselman 2 5 Yes, both No
Nicholas Speak, Sarah Faires 2 6 Yes, both No 1 match gone with phasing
Henry Bolton 2 5 Yes Yes He was twice married
John Hill, Catherine Mitchell 1 6 Yes, John Hill only No
Charles Hickerson, Mary Lytle 1 7 Circle disappeared for both No Had Circles, then gone

Next, let’s take a look at the ancestors who have Circles created for them.

Surprisingly, I do have a DNA Circle based on only 1 DNA match.  The entire Circle is made up of three people.

circle john hill

I’m confused as to why this ancestor, John Hill, with one DNA match and one additional person in the Circle would have a Circle, but an ancestor like George Dodson and Margaret Dagord with 7 and 8 matches, respectively, wouldn’t.  Both of the two Circle matches also show the same wife as I do for John Hill, Catherine Mitchell, but there is no Circle for her.  Why not?

There is a line in the sand at which point Ancestry no longer creates Circles because they feel they are too far back in time to be reliable, but George Dodson/Margaret Dagord are at 8 generations, as are Henry Bolton/Nancy Mann who both have Circles, so that can’t be the problem.

Now, let’s look at who, from the matches and Circles was assigned as a “New Ancestor” when switching out my robust tree for the mini-tree.

Other than the two incorrect ancestors assigned, there were only three ancestors assigned from the more than 60 possibilities from ancestors who have 2 or more matches.  Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann both have a large number of matches, so I can clearly see why they were assigned as an ancestor.

What I’m unclearly about is how their son, Joseph Preston Bolton, was assigned as an ancestor.  He is not assigned as a Circle, or maybe that’s intentional because he’s downstream of Henry Bolton.  In any case, this a correct ancestor assignment.  I do have to wonder how Joseph Preston Bolton was assigned as a “New Ancestor” with only 3 matches and other ancestors with far more weren’t.

I thought perhaps it was because Joseph isn’t really that far upstream from me, at 4 generations, but then Joel Vannoy and Phoebe Crumley are also at 4 generations and have 6 matches and a Circle, but weren’t assigned as a “New Ancestor” using the mini-tree.  I can find no consistent theme here.

The following chart is sorted by “Assigned as New Ancestor (Mini Tree).”

Ancestor Number of DNA+Tree Matches Gen from Me Circle Member (Robust Tree) Assigned as New Ancestor (Mini Tree) Comment
Henry Bolton, Nancy Mann 8 5 Yes, both Yes, both 3 matches gone with phasing, also shown by himself, 2 marriages
Joseph Preston Bolton 3 4 No, his parents have Circle, Henry Bolton, Nancy Mann Yes Two wives, my wife Margaret Herrell has 1 match, but she is not listed
Henry Bolton 2 5 Yes Yes He was twice married
George Dodson, Margaret Dagord 7 8 No No Margaret also listed separately
Johann Michael Miller, Suzanne Berchtol 7 8 No No
Jotham Brown 7 7 No No 3 matches gone with phasing
Joel Vannoy, Phoebe Crumley 6 4 Yes, both No
Abraham Estes and Barbara 5 9 No No
George McNiel, Sarah Coates 5 7 No No
John R. Estes, Ann Moore 4 6 Yes, both No 1 match gone with phasing
Elizabeth Shepherd 4 6 No No Wife of William McNiel, not shown
John Francis Vannoy, Susannah Anderson 4 7 No No 2 matches gone with phasing
Philip Jacob Miller, Magdalena 4 7 No No
Robert Shepherd, Sarah Rash 4 7 No No
John Campbell, Jenny Dobkins 3 6 Yes, both No
Daniel Miller, Elizabeth Ulrich 3 6 No No
Stephen Ulrich 3 7 No No Married to Elizabeth Greib, Cripe, shown separately
Thomas Dodson, Dorothy Durham 3 8 No No
Andrew McKee 3 7 Circle disappeared No Had Circle, then gone
Fairwick Claxton, Agnes Muncy 2 5 Yes, both No
Jacob Lentz, Fredericka Moselman 2 5 Yes, both No
Nicholas Speak, Sarah Faires 2 6 Yes, both No 1 match gone with phasing
Charles Dugas,  Francoise Bourgeois 2 9 No No
Cornelius Anderson,  Annetje Opdyke 2 8 No No
Francois Broussard, Catherine Richard 2 9 No No
Gershom Hall 2 7 No No Son of below
James Lee Claxton, Sarah Cook 2 6 No No Gone with phasing
Joseph Rash, Mary Warren 2 9 No No
Joseph Workman, Phoebe McMahon 2 7 No No
Thomas Dodson 2 9 No No
John Hill, Catherine Mitchell 1 6 Yes, John Hill only No
Charles Speak, Ann McKee 1 5 No No
Edward Mercer 1 7 No No
Elisha Eldredge, Dorcas Mulford 1 8 No No
Elizabeth Greib (also Cripe) 1 7 No No Wife of Stephen Ulrich, shown separately
Elizabeth Mary Angelica Daye 1 8 No No
Francois Dugas 1 8 No No
George Shepherd, Elizabeth Mary Angelique Daye 1 8 No No
Gershom Hall, Dorcas Richardson 1 8 No No Father of above
Gideon Faires, Sarah McSpadden 1 6 No No
Honore Lore, Marie Lafaille 1 5 No No
Jacob Dobkins 1 7 No No
Jacque Bonnevie, Francoise Mius 1 8 No No
James Hall, Mehitable 1 7 No No
Jan Derik Woertman, Anna Marie Andries 1 9 No No
Johann Nicholas Schaeffer, Mary Catherine Suder 1 8 No No
Lazarus Estes, Elizabeth Vannoy 1 3 No No
Margaret Dagord 1 8 No No Wife of George Dodson, also listed with him
Michael de Foret, Marie Hebert 1 9 No No
Moses Estes Sr. 1 8 No No Wife Elizabeth, LNU
Pierre Doucet, Henriette Pelletret 1 9 No No
Rachel Levina Hill 1 4 No No Wife of Antoine Hill
Raleigh Dodson, Elizabeth 1 7 No No
Suzanna Berchtol 1 8 No No
William Herrell, Mary McDowell 1 5 No No
Charles Hickerson, Mary Lytle 1 7 Circle disappeared for both No Had Circle, then gone
Francois Lafaille 2 2 Matches both gone with phasing
Francis Vannoy, Catherine Anderson 1 8 Match gone with phasing
John Vannoy 1 Match gone with phasing
Lois McNiel 1 6 Match gone with phasing

If you’re looking for answers to this mystery, you won’t find them here.  I don’t know.  All things considered, here is my collective wisdom on this subject.

  1. Enjoy your DNA Circles. Communicate with your matches. Ask them to download to Family Tree DNA and/or GedMatch where you have tools to work with. Watch for secondary lines through which you might match. I have found several where the DNA match is not to the ancestor in the Circle, but to a different, common line entirely. Of course, we still share the ancestor whose Circle we are in, assuming the trees are correct – it’s just that the DNA match is not from that ancestor.
  2. Understand that DNA Circles do not prove descent from that ancestor. The more people you match, the more strongly it implies a connection, but keep in mind that the DNA connection and the tree may not be connected either. Circles provide a “wider net” but also increases the potential for inaccuracy.
  3. Enjoy your “New Ancestors” but be extremely skeptical. Some of them will be ancestors. Some may be related but not ancestors. Some not only won’t be ancestors, you may not be able to figure out if or how they are related, no matter how large and robust your tree.
  4. Use all of this as a shakey leaf hint – which we all knows means that there’s something to check out – not gospel being dispensed.
  5. Make a spreadsheet to keep track of shakey leaf DNA matches, Circles and other people in the circle whose DNA you don’t match.  Just because your Circle or match is present today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow.
  6. New Ancestors and Circles are both beta software. There is a feedback button at the top of every DNA Circle, at the far right. Please submit courteous suggestions and comments.  Oh yes, and don’t forget to mention that we need a chromosome browser:)

circle feedback



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