Testing Ancestry’s Amazing “New Ancestor” DNA Claim

ancestry new ancestor intro

On April 2, 2015, Ancestry rolled out its new ”New Ancestor Discoveries” feature.  The graphic above is now what greets me when I sign into Ancestry.com.

I wrote about my incorrect “new ancestor,” both of them actually, the day after the rollout. Contrary to what some people thought, this was not an April Fool joke – neither their release nor my article.

The software rollout was accompanied by a press release, in which Dr. Ken Chahine is quoted, among others, about Ancestry’s “New Ancestor” feature which claims to identify new ancestors for you by utilizing only your DNA, and not matching trees.  Their already implemented DNA Circles feature uses a combination of DNA matching and common ancestors found in trees between those matches – but this new feature uses only DNA.

“It is effectively a shortcut through time – you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree – AncestryDNA now transports you to the past,” said Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA.

Needless to say, if this is true, it holds unparalleled promised for genetic genealogists.  After all, that’s what we all want – that elusive brick wall ancestor delivered to us – and our DNA has the potential to do just that.  In fact, for those of us brick walled in colonial America, especially in counties with no records, our DNA is the only hope we have of ever solving that mystery.

However, I find the claim that “you don’t need to research records or build a family tree” quite astounding – bordering on the incredulous.  An amazing claim for a genealogy company to make.  In fact, I reread that several times in disbelief, actually, and it has been bothering me ever since.  Ken Chahine is by no means an unintelligent man.  He’s a lawyer and a Ph.D. in biochemistry, among other things – so fully aware of the weight of his words.  I sincerely doubt, however, that he is a genealogist.

The video in this Ancestry blog by Kenny Freestone provides additional information and says that about three fourths of the “new ancestors” given to people are actually ancestors and the other one fourth are people who lived at the “same time and place as your ancestors so could be helpful as clues to point you in the right direction.”  That’s a bit of a different statement than the claim in both the e-mail and on my Ancestry DNA home page, shown below, that “we found you new ancestors.”

new ancestors hype

new ancestor e-mail 2

Ignoring Ancestry’s obvious hype, and the fact that both of my new ancestors aren’t, maybe things aren’t as bad as they appear at first glance.  I’m trying to be generous here.  Maybe if you don’t have a large, developed tree, this new feature is more helpful. Maybe it’s a fluke that I received two new ancestors and they were both unquestionably wrong.

Clearly, I realize that I’m one of the outliers – I have decades worth of experience in genealogy research and 15 years in genetic genealogy spent confirming paper genealogy.  So, I have an advantage that newcomers don’t have in that I know my ancestry back several generations and it has been proven with traditional genealogy records and confirmed with genetics through the 6th generation in most cases, and further back in some.

I’m also Ancestry’s worst nightmare – I’ve already spent my money for the test.  I know what DNA can do, what’s not being done and, along with others in my boat, am constantly clamoring for more – usually a chromosome browser, but in this case, just accurate representation.  I’m also far from alone.

Ancestry, on the other hand, fully knows that the rabid genealogists have already spent their $99 for their DNA test, so there is no incremental revenue to be had from us, aside from our subscriptions which we’re going to renew anyway.  Ancestry is focused on making DNA (and genealogy) easy and on recruiting new people.  That’s certainly not a bad thing – until it crosses the line between fact and wishful thinking.

Because of the investment in time, money and DNA that I’ve made personally over the years, I was able to very quickly discount the two “new ancestors” that Ancestry “found” for me.  Yep, Ancestry’s worst nightmare.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

But Ken Chahine’s claim really made me wonder.  What if I was a new person?  That’s clearly who Ancestry is targeting – someone who has never worked with a tree.  Ancestry wants them to test as the doorway, the entry, to genealogy.  How effective would this test be for them?  Is there a way, short of testing a second time, to find out?

Indeed, there is.  So let’s see if Ancestry really can do what Ken Chahine said.  Let’s try to prove Ken right.

We’re going to do something called regression testing.  In the technology world, this is where you already know the answer, but you set the system up to see if it can find the correct answer through the software only.  Think of new calculator software and testing to make sure when you add 2 and 2 you don’t get anything other than 4.  We’re going to use what we know about my matches, trees and DNA Circles through my normal tree and then we’re going to start over from scratch with a bare-bones tree and see what Ancestry finds.

My Proven Tree

First, let’s look at where we stand today, with my regular tree at Ancestry.  I’ve been a well-behaved genealogist and have done everything I can to help myself find connections.  I’ve entered my ancestor information and attached relevant hints, discarding others.  I have entered my full direct line tree at Ancestry, so all of my ancestors are available, with appropriate source information attached.  My tree is public.  I’m not holding out.  You notice there are no shakey leaves on my tree – that’s because I follow up on every single one of them.

ancestry claim full tree

Based on that information, here is what my DNA landscape at Ancestry looks like, utilizing my full tree, today.  I am a member of 16 DNA circles,  have 135 shared ancestor hints .

ancestry claim matches

And, oh yes, those two “new ancestors” gifted to me by Ancestry who aren’t my ancestors.

ancestry claim wrong ancestors

Of my 16 DNA Circles, several are relatively robust with 14, 15, 17 and 18 members.  These would be the best candidates for “New Ancestors” because there are so many matches.  Those four are Henry Bolton and wife Nancy Mann along with Nicholas Speaks and wife Sarah Faires.  You can see the number of members in the Circle at the bottom of each Circle below.

ancestry claim circlesancestry claim circles 2

Recreating Myself as a Newbie

In order to become a newbie again, I created a new mini-tree showing only my parents.  That’s where many people start.  I made my robust tree “private” and my new tree “public,” which means that Ancestry will not use the private tree for DNA comparisons, and will instead use the public tree.  Then I linked my DNA to my new mini-tree (under the settings gear under the DNA tab.)

ancestry claim mini tree

Given that with the robust tree, I have 16 DNA Circles and my two “new ancestors” who are not my ancestors at all, I should receive at least a subset of those circles and probably those erroneous “new ancestors” with the new mini-tree.

Ancestry told us previously that they refresh their database every 4 hours or so.  Sure enough, in just a few minutes, my circles and shakey leaf hints had all disappeared, which they should because those ancestors don’t exist in the new mini-tree.  However, my two “new ancestors” who are not my ancestors at all both remained.

So, I waited, because I’m sure that some of the Circles I was a member of with my robust tree will be shown now as “New Ancestors” with my mini-tree.

Be aware that Ancestry does have some hiccups in this beta version of the software.  It took overnight for the “switch” to the new tree to be completely effective, and in the meantime, it seemed to have been reading from both the new and old trees.  I know this because, at one point, it gave me back my 16 circles, which, of course is impossible because my mini-tree doesn’t include any ancestors other than my parents.  So, if you’re going to try this experiment, give it at least 24 hours to completely switch.

By the next day this had sorted itself out and I showed the following “New Ancestors.”

ancestry claim new ancestors

In addition to the same two “New Ancestors” who aren’t, Ancestry also gave me three correct ancestors, based on DNA alone, two of which, Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann, were DNA Circles previously, and the other new ancestor is their son.

I wonder where the other 14 Circle ancestors are and why they weren’t discovered?  Perhaps I didn’t match enough DNA or enough people, but that’s odd, because in many of the circles I DNA match far more people, as many as 7, than the two matches used to “give me” Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte, incorrectly, as ancestors.

For a newbie who has no way to differentiate – meaning they don’t know who their ancestors are – this would be very exciting – and partially accurate.  However, there is no way to tell the difference between the accurate and inaccurate.  In fact, as a newbie, you have no way of knowing that some ARE or even might be inaccurate.  After all, Ancestry told you they are ancestors.  Why would you disbelieve them?  If someone finds that one of these ancestors is correct, they are likely to assume they are all correct, and probably vice versa.

I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was to receive two new ancestors, hoping they were brick wall ancestors, and then how horribly disappointed I was to discover that they weren’t.

Remember, for me to receive two new ancestors would mean a 30+ year brick wall would be falling that I have never been able to budge any other way.  Had these matches not been represented as “new ancestors,” I would have had an entirely different set of expectations.  Not only are they not ancestors, I can’t figure out how they are connected at all.  The best I can figure is that I match the two individuals who make up the New Ancestor “circle” on two different, unrelated, unidentified lines.  But let’s skip that for now and look at the three accurate ancestors as if I were a newbie.

Working With Results

Looking at my newbie results, Joseph Preston Bolton would be the easiest ancestor to find, as he shares a common surname with my grandmother and is her grandfather.  If I were an adoptee, of course, I wouldn’t know that, but if I know my grandmother’s surname, I would pick up on that commonality right away, as well as the locations shown in the story displayed for each new ancestor by clicking on the little leaf provided in the upper right hand corner.  Joseph’s is partially shown below.

ancestry claim joseph bolton

While the stories provided by Ancestry are all at least partially incorrect, because they are created from compiled trees – there are useful hints therein – if you know that’s how to interpret this information.  A warning, discussion or disclaimer about accuracy in the verbiage would be a nice touch – before the newbies make all of those novice mistakes and create even more incorrect trees by just accepting everything at face value.  We were all newbies once and did this – only to have to unravel it later.

The Good

The best part of this new feature is actually the new compiled “Facts” tab.

ancestry facts tab

It is a great tool to have the combined possible sources, possible facts and possible family members in one place.  I do really like this.  And Ancestry did the right thing and labeled them “possible.”  In this case, for Joseph Preston Bolton, these are from 188 combined family trees and I know beyond a doubt some of the information is wrong (like Joseph’s second wife’s Martin children from her first marriage are listed as Joseph’s children), but when I was sorting through Joseph initially, I would have loved to have had this repository of “possible facts” available in one place to sort through.

So, yes, I do think this tool could be very useful.  And I do think one day we will be able to tell people who their ancestors are, reliably, utilizing DNA alone.  But that day is not today.  So let’s say something more accurate, like “Your DNA suggests these people may be your ancestors or may be otherwise related to you.”

The Bad

My problem with this new feature isn’t what it does or doesn’t do, or even how well – it’s how it has been portrayed and the extremely inflated marketing hype that came along with it.

I applaud what Ancestry is trying to do.  I have a huge issue with how they are portraying DNA results – both directly and by inference.

It’s fine to give us “hints,” although what we really need is a chromosome browser.  But don’t give us a “hint” under the guise of something it isn’t – a new ancestor.  Call it what it is.  Don’t misset expectations.  This leads either to people who believe the hype and are wrong, seeding incorrect genealogies and trees, or people who discover they’ve been misled and then become disenchanted with both genealogy and genetic genealogy.

And Ken is right about not needing to build a family tree in order to take the test – even though that’s not exactly what he said.  However, receiving disarticulated ancestors, both correct and incorrect, means you absolutely must build a tree in order to figure out which ones actually ARE ancestors.  And then you’re disappointed to discover that some of your ancestors, aren’t, because they were represented as your “new ancestors.”  Of course, by the time you figure this out, you’ve already paid your DNA test money and you’re, hopefully, excited and motivated to find more.  I’m sure that’s the entire point, but saying that, “You don’t need to research records or build a family tree,” is a tad misleading.  Receiving 2 or 3 ancestors is not at all the same thing as knowing how you connect to them – and the only way to make that discovery is through research and by creating a tree.

So, in a way it’s better if you’re a newbie, because you’re more likely to receive a “new ancestor,” but it’s also worse because you have no tools or experience to judge whether your new ancestor actually is your ancestor – or how to connect to them.

Unfortunately, the newer or more naïve the tester, the more apt they are to accept Ancestry’s pronouncement of “new ancestor” at face value.  After all, Ancestry is a big genealogy company who deals with ancestors all of the time, and they are supposed to know what they are doing.  One would also presume they would not represent someone as an ancestor who isn’t, or who might not be, especially since Ancestry very clearly knows that some of these “new ancestors” aren’t.  I’m OK with them not being ancestors – just represent them appropriately.  “These MAY be your ancestors or you MAY be related to these people in another way,” might be a better way to present these results.

The Ugly

Playing fast and loose with the wording and over-representing what the product can do is going to give the entire industry a reputation for DNA being unreliable and testing companies as being smarmy.  Here’s an extract from a comment yesterday, “…the dna industry generally is not reliable.  So, while it may be fun to play with, none of this can be taken or should be taken seriously.”

Ouch, ouch, ouch.  While we know that’s not over-archingly true, it’s certainly the kind of commentary that Ancestry is inviting with its over-reaching and inaccurate marketing hype.  And that hurts all of us.

The Bottom Line

So I wouldn’t exactly say Ken is redeemed, but he wasn’t entirely wrong either – because by remaking myself as a newbie, I did receive three accurate ancestors along with the same two inaccurate ones.

By using my newbie results, Ken Chahine is 3/5th redeemed because 3 of my 5 new ancestors are in fact, ancestors, although we have no idea where my missing 14 ancestors who are circles with my robust tree have gone.  I have as many as 7 DNA matches to some of those circle ancestors who are absent, but only 2 DNA matches to the descendants of John Curnutte and Diedemia Lyons who are my incorrectly assigned “New Ancestors.”  So maybe Ken is really only 3/19th redeemed, depending on how you count.  Or, if you’re looking at my original results, my two “new ancestors” are still 100% wrong – so Ken is only partially redeemed if I’m a newbie with no prior info and no way to know my results are wrong.  So, I’m probably a very happy newbie camper (Wow – I got 5 new ancestors!) and a very unhappy experienced camper (I got 2 new ancestors and they are both wrong!)  Perception – it’s an amazing thing.

Regardless of how you count, If I were Ken, I’d still be going incognito to genealogy conferences where those experienced campers hang out wearing a wig and sunglasses for awhile.  Being 3/5th right about something as serious to genealogists as giving them incorrect ancestors is no saving grace, because it is still 2/5th wrong, especially when we know that given the tools we need, those of us who are so inclined could quickly eliminate the confusion.  It doesn’t have to be like this.

As a community we are beyond frustrated and exasperated, and exaggerated marketing claims are overshadowing the positive aspects of this new feature and making an already difficult situation worse.

What difficult situation, you ask?  The fact that people who don’t understand about genetic genealogy already claim that Circle membership “proves” ancestral descent (it doesn’t) and Ancestry consistently has refused to provide us with the chromosome browser tools we need to prove or disprove an ancestral connection.  Instead, we been given new ancestors who aren’t.  This is not a better mousetrap.  The only recourse we have is to beg our matches at Ancestry to download their results to either or both Family Tree DNA and www.gedmatch.com where we have tools.  That or blindly believe.

My Opinion

I hate hype, in particular untrue or misleading hype.  Out the gate, that colors my perspective of everything else and calls into question the credibility of the entity making the statements.

Setting that aside, I like the forward movement with technology and appreciate what Ancestry is trying to do.

This is indeed, the Holy Grail they are reaching for – being able to identify our ancestors based solely upon our DNA.  I said reaching for, because it’s certainly not here yet.  However, it’s not beyond reach either.  And I certainly want to encourage innovation – because, selfishly, I want to know who those elusive brick-wall ancestors are. I want new ancestors – real ones.

I am grateful for the information.  Ok, I would be grateful for the information were it accurate, or at least portrayed accurately – and it’s the portrayal that is really my issue here.

In my “real me” self, using the robust tree, I’m very irritated about receiving two incorrect ancestors, represented as my “new ancestors,” with no caveats, and no tools.  I am too wizened and seasoned to be a “trust me” kind of person.  I am not a blind believer.  I know better.  That combination of misrepresented and incorrect data is inexcusable because Ancestry knows better.  Not only that, they have the opportunity to provide the types of comparisons and tools that do represent proof, but have chosen not to.

In my “newbie” self that I recreated, I would have been excited to receive 5 new ancestors – and had no idea of what to do next – including no idea that two of them were entirely bogus.

The “real me” wants the novices to be successful – to come to love genealogy as many of us have over the decades.  To have the wonderful experiences we have had.  But to do that, they can’t be disenchanted by discovering that their ancestors gifted upon them aren’t true – after they’ve built that incorrect tree that is being copied.

The technology could be improved.  No doubt about that.  But first steps first and you have to crawl before you can walk.  I actually want to compliment the behind the scenes people for the work they have done.  Unfortunately, that effort is being overshadowed by the “in your face” marketing BS.

However, it takes no development effort to modify the way this test and results are portrayed to the consuming public.  And right now, that is what is needed most.

So, I’m happy that Ancestry is making this technology effort.  I’ll be excited when the methodology is perfected, a few years down the pike.  I’m glad to see Ancestry pushing the edge of the frontier.

I’m extremely unhappy with the combination of Ancestry’s overzealous marketing of this often incorrect new feature with the lack of the tools Ancestry clearly knows we need.

The most frustrating aspect is that the lack of tools holds our ancestors hostage just beyond our reach.  They could do so much.  Did Ancestry really think we would be appeased by Circles and “New Ancestors” that aren’t?

The Back Fence

You can see what others in the genetic genealogy community have to say about “New Ancestors,” below, and you can read the comments on my original article  and Ancestry’s blog postings as well.  Like I said, I’m far from alone.

Dr. David Dowell – Does Ancestry Think We are NOT OK?

Elizabeth Ballard – Ancestry DNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind

Kathleen Carrow Ingram – New Ancestors You Tell Me?  No proof?  Is this an April fool trick?

Annette Kapple – New AncestryDNA Circles: You Need A Big Tree

Judy Russell – Still Waiting for the Holy Grail

John D. Reid – “New Ancestor Discoveries” through AncestryDNA and beyond

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

George Estes (1763-1859), 3 Times Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #66

George Estes was born in Amelia County, Virginia to Moses Estes and Luremia Combs on February 3, 1763.  He tells us his birth date and his father’s name, among several other very interesting things, in his application for a Revolutionary War pension.

In 1832, Congress passed an act making men who served in the Revolution eligible for a pension.  Thank goodness they did, because it caused records to be created documenting the service and lives of these men that would otherwise never have existed.

George applied for his pension on September 14, 1833.  In his owns words, he tells us about his 3 tours of duty.  Yes, three separate tours of duty.

George Estes pension

George Estes pension 2

George Estes pension 3

“I entered the service in January 1781 as a substitute for my father Moses Estes and marched from Halifax County where I then lived under Captain Wall through the counties of Charlotte, Lunenburg, Dinwiddie and Petersburg to Cabin Point on the James River.”

I would think the word “marched” implies on foot.  And there is a lot of marching going on.

Cabin point

“At that place I was transferred to Capt. Long’s company of infantry and marched with him to Suffolk on the Nansemond River where I was stationed for some time under Colonel Dick and Gen. Michlenburg.  From there we marched to Portsmouth and many other places and arrived at Barrett’s Neck where I was discharged by Capt. Lewis in the month of April 1781 having served 3 months on this tour.  My discharge is lost and cannot be found but the service record is proved by Elias Palmer who was a soldier with me during the whole time.

In the month of May 1781 I was drafted to serve my own tour and marched from Halifax County in Capt. Clark’s company through Richmond to New Kent Courthouse where we joined General Mechlenburg’s Company.  I was then attached to Capt. Read’s company of cavalry and continued with him marching in various directions until our time of service for 3 months expired.  I was discharged by General Waine in the County of Charles City in the month of August 1781.  My discharge is lost and cannot be found and I do not know any person living who was in that service with me.

In the fall of 1781 I moved a family of people to the state of Tennessee staid in that country upwards of a year and in the month of October 1782 I entered the service of the United States as a volunteer and marched from the county of Washington in state of North Carolina in Capt. Cox’s company of mounted horsemen under Col. Campbell and Col. Shelby into the Cherokee Nation of Indians.  We marched in various directions in the said nation until we arrived at the shoemake town.  At that place we received information that a treaty had been reached with the indians and we were discharged.  The whole time of service on this term was 2 months and 20 days.  I was discharged by Capt. Cox about the end of December and came to Virginia where I have lived in the county of Halifax ever since.  My discharge is lost and cannot be found and no person [is] in this country that was in that service with me.

I was born in the county of Amelia on the third day of February 1763.  My age was recorded in a family bible that was in my father’s possession but I don’t know what became of it.  I lived in the county of Halifax when I entered the service in the said county when the war ended and have lived in the county ever since.  Christopher White, Thomas Conner and Peter F. Kent and many others can testify as to my character for veracity and their belief of my service as a soldier of the Revolution.  There is no clergyman living in my neighborhood.”

George (X) Estes

      (his mark)

Sept. 14, 1833

So George served three times in total, twice by obligation, when his father and his numbers came due, and once as a volunteer.  He served in place of his father.  War is difficult enough for a young man.

When George filed for his pension, he was 70 years old.  While he signed with an X in 1833, in earlier documents, he signed his name, so he was capable of writing.

George Estes signature 1

George’s signature is shown on a petition dated Dec. 10, 1785, above, for an assessment for religious teachers.  Note that his name appears very near that of William Younger who lived adjacent his father Moses Estes.  George would marry Mary Younger a year later, although a connection between the two Younger families has never been proven.

George Estes signature 2

This petition dated November 17, 1795 shows Moses and his son George Estes both of whom are opposed to the sale of the church glebe lands, in addition to the signature of their neighbor William Younger.  Note that George actually spells his own name in two different ways, Estes and Eastis.  And we wonder why we are confused today.

Documenting George’s first two tour service records in Virginia was difficult, but finding the third one was next to impossible.  Then, quite by accident, when looking for my Dodson family records, I stumbled across the documentation for George’s third tour, where he is listed as George Eastis, in the North Carolina archives, of all places.

From the Book “Tennessee Soldiers in the Revolution” by Penelope Johnson Allen, now digitized at Ancestry.com.

George Estes rev war accounts

Look at this, George is right across the page, directly from Lazarus Dodson, the man I was looking for.  Talk about serendipity.

George Estes Army account

My cousin, Debbie, wrote to the NC archives and was sent the following document that tells us that George Estes was paid in a specie certificate, a type of credit voucher, on June 12, 1783.  His name appears on the 10th line in the third column.  Ironically, Lazarus Dodson, whose name appears two entries below George’s is the father of Lazarus Dodson, whose daughter, Rutha or Ruthy, would marry George’s grandson John Y. Estes in Claiborne County, Tennessee in January 1841, 58 years after their grandfathers  served together in the Revolutionary War.  I wonder if they ever figured that out.

George Estes specie certificates

I called the North Carolina archives and asked if the original pay rosters and additional information were available.  They said they were, but they did not do “lookup work.”  A week later, I was standing at the research desk in the archives in Raleigh, with these papers in hand, and an amazed librarian kind of stuttered and stammered around when I introduced myself and told her where I came from (Michigan) and why I was there.  I think they are far more used to people “going away” when told the archives doesn’t do “lookup work” than showing up 1000 miles and a week later.  Sadly, that trip was for naught, because while they did have additional records for some soldiers, there was nothing more for George.  Don’t even ask how upset I was.

Why, I was then forced to do research on some of my NC lines since I was there in the archives with nothing else to do.  I mean…you can’t waste a trip like that!

George’s certificate was issued by the auditors, Bledsoe and Williams, and by referencing the attached documents, you can determine the location where the soldiers served. In this case, exactly as described by George Estes, he served in the Morgan District which included the Washington and Sullivan County areas which eventually became Tennessee.

George Estes army districts

By putting these three pieces of information together, George’s pay list, which includes the auditor, the auditor and their districts – we can confirm where George was when he served his third service term.

George Estes district auditors

In 1833, from Jasper Co., GA, Clarissa C. Boyd declares that her brother, George Easters, a resident of Halifax Co., VA in 1781, served 6 months in the Virginia militia. On January 15, 1784. George Estes, infantry, Continental Line, was issued a certificate for the balance of his pay.

George was placed on Virginia pension roll at $31.38 per annum, certificate 16886 issued on Oct. 12, 1833.

On April 5, 1855 in Halifax Co., George (X) Estes of said county, age 92, applies for bounty land.  He obtains the land and signs the bounty certificate over to his daughter Susannah immediately.

What do we know about what happened to George during his Revolutionary War service?

In his first term of service, serving in place of his father, Moses, George spent time at Cabin Point on the James River about which we discover the following:

By late summer 1780 with South Carolina under their control, the British were ready to push into Virginia and Maryland and deal Washington a final blow. In Virginia, Governor Thomas Jefferson had placed General Steuben in charge of the state’s defense. By January 1, 1781, the British were in Chesapeake Bay and Jefferson was calling up county militiamen to repel the impending attack. Benedict Arnold, now in charge of the British fleet, sailed up the James River and burned Richmond then moved back downriver to settle in at Portsmouth on the Chesapeake Bay.  The Halifax County Militia and was sent to Cabin Point on the James River to watch for Arnold’s next anticipated raid up the river. The militia had little to do but sit and wait and worry about the news coming in daily of Cornwallis’ raids in the Carolinas and his impending threat to Virginia.

It seems that all was not well at home in Halifax County during this time.  Boyd’s Ferry is the present city of South Boston and the Boyd’s Ferry crossing was very close to the Estes homestead, which was located just above the crossing on the main road.

In a letter to Governor Jefferson dated February 15th, 1781, camped at Boyd’s Ferry on the Dan River, Greene called for reinforcement of militia:

“We have crossed the Dan, and I am apprehensive they will cross it above us…If they should they will oblige us to cross the Stanton branch of the Roanoke…It is by no means certain, that Lord Cornwallis will not push through Virginia.”

Jefferson dispatched letters on February 17 and 18 to a long list of county Lieutenants and Baron von Steuben asking for militia to join General Greene who had “crossed the Dan at Boyd’s Ferry and was retreating before the enemy.” News of the alarming activities of Greene and Cornwallis aligned along either side of the Dan near Boyd’s Ferry must have reached the Halifax County Militiamen shortly after February 18. While they sat on the James River waiting for Arnold to make a move, Cornwallis and his army was camped at the doorstep of their homes in Halifax County.

The record is dated February 23, 1781 Cabin Point, Virginia and states:

“A list of the mens names belonging to Major Jones Battalion of Militia who have deserted. Distinguishing those who carried off their arms from those who did not. Also those who deserted from their post.”

The list of names does not include George Estes.  He had a decision to make, and he chose to remain at his post, although one could scarcely have blamed him had he returned home to protect and defend his home place and family.  Perhaps the knowledge that his father and siblings were there relieved his mind somewhat.

Now let’s turn to George’s third tour of duty from what would become eastern Tennessee, but was at that time western North Carolina..

In 1782, the Cherokee, who had sided with the British continued to raid.  John Sevier banded together a group of men in western North Carolina, now eastern Tennessee, and with Colonels Campbell and Shelby marched on the Cherokee towns.  Shoemake town, as it was called by whites, was located in upper Georgia and had previously been burned in May of 1781.  The Indians allied with the British because the British assured them that they would stop the encroachment of the Europeans into their traditional territory.  The Indians did not fare well in the Revolutionary War, nor afterwards.  This “march on the Cherokee” appears to have been one last final grandstand that gave the Cherokee the final nudge to end their part in the war.

Overhill towns map

Rather miraculously, George does not seem to have engaged in any actual battles during his 3 tours of duty.  By this late date in the war, most of the actual fighting was in North and South Carolina.

Back Home in Halifax County

George Estes street sign

After returning to Halifax County, George Estes spent most of his life on his father’s original land.  His father Moses died in 1813, but the estate was contested and not settled until 1837, long after many of Moses’s children had died as well.

That land is located in the city of South Boston at the intersection of Estes and Main Street.  The following photo is standing in the Oak Ridge cemetery, originally part of the Estes land, looking down Estes Street.  Note the blue water tower.  It’s a landmark we’ll reference later.

George Estes land

The Estes farm used to be beyond the blue tank on the left and the houses on the right. Today Estes Street is gated, not because it’s an upscale gated community, but because that land is now the landfill.  This was heartbreaking to me, until I learned that the graves had been moved.  It still makes me sad.

Below is what’s left of the Estes land taken from behind the area (yes, I was in the landfill but I cropped that portion from the photo.)  We are looking at the original Estes woods.

George Estes landfill

In the above photo, for perspective, notice the blue water tower in the upper right corner. In the photo below, you can see the ‘other end” of the now gated “Estes Street” emerging that originates near the blue water tower that can also be seen in the left upper corner of the photo.

George Estes landfill 2

The Estes family in Halifax County, Virginia tells the story of when the family moved the graves from the old Estes land shown above to the Estes plot in the Oak Ridge cemetery. This apparently happened in the early 1900s and the only graves not moved were those of two unrelated people, one being an unrelated child whose parents had no place to bury the child and the second, an “in-law” of a descendant whose family did not want them moved.

It turns out that when Moses Estes’ children fought so bitterly over his land, they also apparently established separate cemeteries. One cemetery was the “original” Estes cemetery where Ezekiel, Susannah,  Ezekiel’s mother who is George’s daughter, George and probably old Moses himself are buried. The other cemetery was located behind the houses, apparently, down Estes street. I believe that the Oak Ridge Estes plot is the original Estes cemetery, but I cannot definitively prove this through records still in existence today, although an early cemetery history states that this is the case. Oral history says that when they moved Moses’s grave, only a collar bone and a casket hinge were left. Whether this is accurate or a tall tale, we’ll never know, but indeed, whatever remains of the elder Estes clan is buried in the Oak Ridge cemetery directly across the street from the old Estes homestead and at the end of Estes Street. The rest, well, it’s under the landfill or dispersed.

Today Main Street is paved. When they removed the cobblestones to pave Main Street, they used them to construct the beautiful stone wall around the cemetery. George Estes served on many “road crews” as documented in court records and it is entirely possible that he laid these very cobblestones, shaped from the stones found on the Estes land. George was probably glad to get rid of them as they would have made plowing difficult.

The bright white monuments in the cemetery are the Estes family stones, made of marble apparently, after they were cleaned by family members about 2006. Ezekiel who died in 1885 has a stone that proclaims him “an honorable man,” but none of the earlier family members have stones. Ezekiel’s mother Susannah died in 1870 and his grandfather George died in July of 1859, an amazing 96 years of age.

Oak Ridge cem entrance

The Halifax County Estes family has a clearly remembered oral history of “Granpappy George who lived to be 108 (or 106 or 115).” Sometimes stories grow with time, and that one certainly did, but he was quite elderly when he passed and obviously legendary.

George lived far from a sedentary lifestyle. He was obviously not afraid of adventure or danger, serving three separate terms in the Revolutionary War, one as a substitute for his father and one as a volunteer. George returned home and married Mary Younger on December 19, 1786 the same day that his brother Bartlett Estes married Rachel Pounds. I wonder if they were married in a double ceremony.

estes younger marriage

Younger marcus signature

When I first started researching this couple, everyone in the family said that George Estes and Mary Younger could not have been the father of John R. Estes because they only had one child, Susannah. As a novice, I figured those researchers had a lot more information and years of experience, but as one by one, I worked through and eliminated many of the alternative parents, the options became fewer and fewer and I began to wonder how “they” knew that George only had one child. I certainly hadn’t found anything that said he had only one child. And having found only one child doesn’t mean there was only one child. In fact, I’ve become very suspicious of any record before the days of modern birth control that suggests that someone had only one or two children, unless the wife or husband died.

As it turns out, Susannah was the only child that was easily evident. And “they” didn’t know how “they” knew – trying to find the source of that information was like trying to find the elusive fountain of youth. And that was before the days of quick-click trees on Ancestry. If the researchers had looked at the few census records we do have, they would have seen a discrepancy that screamed for an explanation – multiple children living with George and Mary.

George and Mary positively had 7 children who survived to adulthood and probably at least two who didn’t, based on a combination of records, including the 1820 and 1830 census.

It seems that several of George’s children regularly pushed the envelope of the day and would have brushes with the law or, perhaps better stated, the court system and “polite society.” It’s thanks to those records that we can add color to our family portrait. I love lawsuits – well – historical lawsuits anyway. I extracted probably 75-100 years worth of court, deed and tax records from Halifax County and reassembled them, like a big puzzle, into family groups.

Of particular interest was the information from the “Younger, Marcus Chancery Suit 1842-057, Halifax Co. Va.” In the documents from that suit, I found the payments made to the various heirs of Marcus Younger, who had died in 1816. In the case of Mary Younger Estes, her heirs are listed in 1842 because she is deceased. This suit was filed almost 30 years after Marcus’s death.  Normally would never think to look that far out – but chancery suits are often quite different. It’s not at all unusual for chancery suits to reach back 2 generations, to a grandparent’s will, especially if unmarried children are involved, as was the case with Marcus’s will. When the unmarried child dies, Mary’s sister in this case, sometimes the assets revert to the other children or their heirs.

In the suit papers, it is noted that Mary Younger Estes’s children will receive one sixth of her one quarter share of the 83 acres to be sold following the death of Mary’s unmarried sister.

The children of Mary Younger Estes were listed as: John, William, Susannah, Sally wife of T. Estes, Polly wife of James Smith and a grandchild name Mark Estes. This means that Mary had 6 children either living or who had died but who have heirs. In this case, one child has died leaving one heir, Mark.

Of course, I found this list AFTER I had reassembled what I believed to be the family of Mary Younger and George Estes. You know it didn’t match up perfectly, or I wouldn’t even be mentioning it.

I had all of those children listed, but in addition, I had a Bartlett and Rebecca.

There is no son Bartlett listed in the 1842 document, but there is instead a grandchild named Mark Estes. This implies that Mark’s parent is of the Estes surname, the parent is dead and Mark is the only living child. We know through various records that daughter Susannah has a son, Mark, but this cannot be that Mark because Susannah is very clearly included as living. We also know that George’s son, Marcus, died in 1815 leaving a widow and no children. The Bartlett I have attributed as the son of Mary and George had 7 children, and none known to be Mark, although one male name is unknown.

There are several Bartletts living in this vicinity and I could have the various Bartlett’s confused. However, if daughter Rebecca died and left a son Mark, this would fit perfectly. But, if it is the same Rebecca, she is prosecuted in 1844 for living with a black man, which precludes her from being dead in 1842, so Rebecca is not the child of George Estes, but more likely George’s niece.

This family makes me pull my hair out.

Thankfully, it seems that several of George’s children have lived a bit of a colorful life, meaning they have records that remain about them having had brushes with the law or, perhaps better stated, the court system and running afoul of “polite society.” Here is what is known about the children of George Estes and Mary Younger.

  • John R. Estes whose photo we believe is shown below was probably the oldest child and was born sometime between March and June of 1787. He married Ann Moore in 1811 and was on the way to Claiborne Co., TN by 1820 where he died in 1885, like his father, nearly reaching 100 years of age. Obviously, there is a longevity gene in the Estes family. John R.’s great grandson, William George Estes lived to be 98 years of age and William George’s two daughter both lived to be just shy of 100.  There’s hope that I’ll live long enough to finish my genealogy research:)

John R. Estes restored

  • Marcus Estes was born about 1788 as well and is shown on tax lists in Halifax County from 1811-1814 when he dies, leaving a widow with the beautiful name of Quintinney. In 1815, his estate is assigned to the sheriff to administer. There is also a War of 1812 record for Marcus, but there may be no further service records since no one applied for either bounty land or a pension based on his service. He served in the same unit as his brother, John R. Estes and I have to wonder if he died during that time.
  • William Y. Estes was also born sometime in this timeframe. The census says 1785 or 1786, but the census is also often notoriously wrong. In 1815, William married Rebecca Miller and drank to the point where his wife’s father commented on his behavior in his will in a very unflattering manner, forbidding William to ever have any control over Rebecca’s inheritance. William died in Halifax County between 1860 and 1870.
  • Susannah Y. Estes was born about 1800 and never married. She had 5 illegitimate children between 1814 and 1835, 2 males and three females. She lived on the old home place and cared for her elderly father, George, until his death in 1859.
  • Polly Estes, born between 1801 and 1808 married in 1824 to James Smith. She died in Halifax County after 1880, having had 4 children. We know very little about Polly, because, she was apparently one of the few well-behaved Estes’s. You know that old saying about “well behaved women seldom make history.”  I relish my ill-behaved ancestors and their family members because that is often the only way we learn about their lives and put meat on their bones.  Below, George’s signature along with James Smith when Polly marries.

George Estes Polly marriage bond

This photo is of George’s grandchild, J. E. and wife Mary Anne Smith, the youngest child of Polly Estes Smith.

JE and Mary Ann Smith

I’m dying to know about that eye patch.

  • Sally Estes was born sometime around 1800 and married her first cousin, Thomas Estes, son of Bartlett Estes and Rachel Pounds. Marrying cousins was a common practice of the time. They removed to Tennessee shortly after their marriage.  George and Thomas both sign the marriage bond, below.

George Estes Sally marriage bond

I initially thought Rebecca Estes was George’s child because of her proximity in the census where in 1830, a Rebecca Estridge with 3 daughters is living near George Estes and Susan Estes, all living in separate households. In 1835, a Rebecca Estes is in the court notes with Robert Rickman for support of her child, and in 1844, Rebecca is “indicted for felony, report of grand jury – a white woman living together in open adultery with a negro man, James Bird, free man of color, as presented by Jacob W. Farguson and William Ingram.” I cannot find Rebecca nor James Bird after this time. If this is the same Rebecca in 1844 as in 1830 and 1835, then she cannot be the child of George Estes because in 1842, Rebecca would have been dead.

It’s very unlikely that either Bartlett or Rebecca are George’s children and we are simply missing one child who had son Mark. It is certainly possible that this Marcus was born posthumously to George’s son Marcus. Given that Marcus’s estate went entirely to debt, there would have been nothing left to leave to a child, so no guardian would have been appointed.  We’ll likely never know, but this is the most likely explanation.  There is no Mark or Marcus Estes in the 1840 or 1850 census.

Life in Halifax County with Daughter Susannah

We don’t have a lot of information about life as George knew it, but thanks to Susannah, we do have a couple of glimpses into what their life was like.

Susannah Estes never married, lived on the old homeplace and wound up with all of George’s assets which caused problems with his other children. By the time George Estes died in 1859, there was nothing left, so he had no will. He had already deeded his land to Susannah, plus anything left from his pension or his Revolutionary War service.

On February 12, 1833, George Estes grants to Susan Y. Eastes, “my daughter, all my right, title, claim and interest which I have for military services rendered during the War of the Revolution.”

Much to my shock, in early 1837, Susannah brings suit against her father forcing him to answer to the court why he, as executor, has not distributed his father, Moses’s estate.

On March 25, 1837, George Estes deeds to Susannah Y. Estes “for $100 land on both sides of road from Halifax to S. Boston on Dan River adjoining Adam Toot, John Ransom, John Jinnett, tract of land that my father Moses died seized of.” This occurs immediately after George’s father’s estate was settled.

If you look at a map of South Boston plotting the locations we know, this is a huge tract of land.

Estes land South Boston map

We know the land went as far north at present day Waddell Woods (top arrow) because Waddell spring is mentioned in deeds.  The Oak Ridge Cemetery is the green area pointed out by the second arrow from the top.  The blue water tower is across the street, to the right of that arrow.  The main road is 129 and is pointed to by the third arrow from the top, running from the Dan River (at the bottom) through the Estes land and on North.  Today, this land includes most of South Boston, then Boyd’s Ferry.

We get a glimpse of their possessions, when, in 1842, Susannah, who now owns her parents land, takes a mortgage which is void if it is paid. Apparently, the mortgage is paid, because nothing more is ever mentioned in any of the deed or court books.

“Tract of land where we now live, one three-horse wagon and gear, 1 bay mare, 1 grey horse, hogs and sheep, all of our present crop of corn and fodder, tobacco, 4 feather beds and furniture, household and kitchen furniture, plantation tools for debt of $50.16.”

In addition to the land George inherited from Moses, George continues to assist Susannah.

On April 15, 1857, George Estes deeds to Susan Y. Estes the bounty lands he is entitled to “by late acts of Congress and a part of proceeds being in the hands of Easley Holt and Co. In consideration of natural love and affection and value received…all right and interest to any balance that is remaining at my death after paying my debts with him.”

When she died on August 23, 1870, Susannah was not a poor woman and left a nontrivial estate, including land. Her personal property inventory probably included many items inherited from her father and mother:

Appraisement of property of Susan Estes:

  • cow
  • yearling
  • loom
  • potatoes
  • walnut chest
  • barrels
  • flax wheel
  • 3 pots
  • 2 skillets
  • oven
  • brass kettle
  • tea kettle
  • 4 jars
  • 4 jugs
  • 2 water buckets
  • 3 axes
  • lot tin
  • 2 pitchers and bottles
  • 1 jar vinegar
  • lot tableware
  • hoes
  • wedges
  • pot rack
  • candlesticks
  • 1 press
  • 1 desk
  • 1 looking glass
  • 7 chairs
  • 1 bed
  • bolster
  • pillar
  • 1 blanket
  • 1 counterpin and sheet
  • 1 quilt
  • 1 barrell cider
  • small chest
  • basket
  • 2 bee hives

I can’t help but wonder what the quilt looked like and who made it.  Was it from a time when she and her mother and sisters perhaps gathered around a quilting frame?

After Susan’s death, a lawsuit followed regarding a debt incurred before her death and the validity of the debt based on her mental state.  She was deemed competent.  Aside from the depositions, which were in themselves very enlightening as to Susannah’s life, and death, the list of items she purchased at the store, on account, I found very interesting as well:

The following are items appearing on the store account of “Miss Susan Estes”:

  • Coffee
  • Sugar
  • Bucket
  • Linen shirt
  • 2 linen collars
  • 5 yards calico (total 1.06)
  • 3 yard gingham
  • 1 bottle ? oil
  • 20 yards oznaburg
  • 75 yard pant goods
  • Weeding hoe
  • Shelves for buster
  • Coffee pot
  • Tin bucket
  • Sugar
  • Rice
  • Candles
  • Molasses
  • Coffee
  • Bacon
  • Molasses
  • Coffee
  • Nails
  • Shoes
  • 1 oz indigo
  • 1 # soda
  • Coffee
  • Sole leather
  • 2 oz indigo
  • Pale cotton
  • Sugar
  • Copperons?
  • Rubber tuck combs
  • 2 yd cambric
  • Flex thread
  • 6 8×10 window glass
  • Bacon
  • Seed oats
  • Bags
  • Frt and drayage
  • Paid on acct with bacon from house
  • Goods box
  • Plow point
  • Coffee
  • Fine iron
  • Goods box
  • Molasses
  • Hat for Buster
  • Pants for Buster
  • Coat for Buster
  • Vest for Buster
  • Bacon sides
  • Pole exe
  • Pale Box
  • Stamped envelope (.04)
  • Bacon sides
  • 2 doz henning??
  • Paid with Reg. 162 old casting

Obviously, Buster is a nickname for someone, but who?  Whoever, he was, he had a vest, hat, coat, pants and shelves.

In addition, Ezekiel Estes submitted a bill to the estate for $21.18 for shingling the house and Susannah’s doctor bill was $51.  She died a slow death of a heart ailment.

Mary Mildred Estes

Above, George Estes’s granddaughter, Susannah’s daughter, Mary Mildred Estes born April 3, 1828 and died Jan. 20, 1917 in Lynchburg, VA., married William Greenwood and second, Jesse Jacobs..

Susannah’s son, Ezekiel Estes, below, born in 1814 and died in 1885 in Halifax County, married Martha Barley.

Ezekiel Estes

The Court

George Estes himself had a few encounters with the legal system. People at that time seemed to be quite litigious, and George was involved with no fewer than 14 nonfamily cases, generally as a defendant, and went to court even more often as a witness.

Court days, which initially happened quarterly, then monthly, were quite the social event in the 1700s and 1800s in Virginia. Anyone who was anyone attended, and much business was transacted outside the courthouse and in the taverns. It was also one of the best ways to hear the news as well as see the news being made. The original reality TV!

I recall that when my daughter and I first went to Halifax County, we visited the clerk’s office asking asked about the various record books and such. My daughter had the book of court notes out, and was looking in the plaintiff’s index. We told the lady that we were looking for Estes and she said “Oh, well then, your people are in this book”, and retrieved the defendants ledger. Things haven’t changed much over the years apparently. The Estes family is legendary, or at least infamous!

George’s first court appearance was in 1786 when he was prosecuted for “profane swearing.” In one case, George and his father Moses were involved as witnesses in a lawsuit where someone signed a document they later regretted after partaking of the fruit brandy at the Estes home. The Estes family was well known for its fine orchards. The fruit brandies were kept cool in a special compartment under the foundation of the house.

In 1802, George put a mortgage on his household items which included 2 feather beds and furniture for 9 pounds, 2 shillings and 2 pence. You can tell that of their household goods, the coveted items were the feather beds.

In 1837, George gave a deposition in the chancery case of Light vs Yuonger wherein the descendants of Thomas Younger battled, for years, over the estate of Thomas Younger after his daughter Rachel Younger died. Thomas was likely the great-uncle of George’s wife, Mary Younger. While the outcome of the case actually doesn’t involve our family directly, we do find a deposition given by George in 1837 over the value of a slave named Peter who in 1812 had been disabled with elephantitis. George, age 74 at that time, signed his deposition.

George Estes 1837 deposition in Light vs Younger.jpg

Moses’s Land

Most of the court cases, not included in the 15 non-family cases mentioned above, involved years and years of appearances having to do with Moses estate settlement which was finally settled in 1837, 24 years after Moses’s death. George, the eldest son, was 74 years old when his father’s estate was settled and he immediately deeded his portion of the land to Susannah.

This family battled over land and inheritance for generations, beginning in 1813 with Moses death, followed by George’s children and then Susannah’s and continuing into the present generations whose parents were still involved with that land until the county took the land by imminent domain. At least one person refused to sell the land and instead has a ‘long term lease”, although what they think they’ll do with a stinky landfill is beyond me. I suspect it was a matter of principle.

When I visited Halifax County, two elderly living cousins, Doug and Shirley, remembered the land from their childhood. Shirley told me that the original home burned in about 1933, complete with all of the family photos, Bibles, etc. She remembers that someone on the school bus told her that her grandparents house burned the night before.

The man who bulldozed the property after the city purchased it told me there were 3 houses “back there,” all “farm type” homes. Apparently the first home built was a log cabin, probably about 1782 when the family first arrived from Amelia County, and it was later used for the young couples after they were first married.

The home that burned was described as a large 2 story home with upper and lower porches all around. Porches are important in the south.

There has been a great deal of speculation about why George provided only for his daughter Susannah. It could be because she was not married and he felt protective towards her, wanting to provide for her and his grandchildren after his passing. She was very young, 13 or 14 when she became pregnant, and it would be easy to see how he could have been especially protective of her and her children whom he had lived with for their entire lives. In essence, George raised her children as his own, especially Ezekiel who was the eldest. Ezekiel was born right about the time that George and Mary stopped having children, so Ezekiel probably just fit perfectly into the stair-steps of children.

It could also be that George gave his worldly good to Susannah because she took care of George in his old age – although that wouldn’t explain the 1830s deeds. George’s wife Mary probably died sometime between 1820 and 1830, and certainly before George started deeding to Susannah in 1833, because Mary signed no release  of dower rights.

Others have suggested that perhaps Susannah might have been an opportunist and perhaps manipulative or devious. Some have questioned the propriety of the situation. Susannah had only two male children. Her oldest, Ezekiel, has descendants who have DNA tested and they match a Moore family that lived in the area, although not the same Moore family that Susannah’s brother, John R. Estes married into.

I think it suffices to say that George, Susannah and Ezekiel were extremely close and given the social stigma attached to illegitimate birth in that era, let alone 5 illegitimate children, the family was probably increasingly subject to harsh scrutiny, discrimination, criticism and were socially marginalized. One hint may be held in George’s 1833 Revolutionary War pension application where he states there is no clergy in his neighborhood, but the oldest church in the county is but a few blocks down the street from his home, within walking distance. One can certainly understand why and how George could and would feel a great deal of affection for his grandchildren in particular, as he apparently lived with them as they grew up. There are several records that involve both George and Ezekiel who probably looked up to his grandfather as a role model.

In fact, it was Ezekiel Estes who reported the death of George Estes and said that he was 100 years and 4 months old, born in Amelia County. I hope, for George’s sake, that the family had a bang up 100 year old birthday celebration where everyone came to visit and eat that fine southern food, even if we know today they were a few years early. Or maybe George really was 100 years old in 1859 and simply misstated his birth year in 1833. Regardless, I hope they had a wonderful celebration and he had many guests who sat and visited and imbibed some of that fine Estes brandy! I wish I could hear the stories of his hundred years of life.  What a gift that would be.

Estes Cem white stones

George is reportedly buried here in the Estes section of the Oak Ridge Cemetery immediately to the right just inside the entrance.  The Estes family markers are all bright white here after being cleaned by now deceased cousin Nancy Osborne.  We don’t know exactly where Susannah, George with his wife Mary Younger and Moses with his wife Luremia Combs are buried, but rest assured that they are here among their descendants and family members.

It’s believed that George and Mary are buried in the unmarked area, below.

Estes cem vacant stop

In the following photograph, the picture is taken from behind the stones, before they were cleaned and restored, with the original Estes land showing across the street.  The Estes homestead was behind these houses which stand on part of Moses’ land that was sold off by descendants.  The original homestead is now the landfill, although some forest was preserved as a barrier between these homes and the landfill the last time I in visited in 2006 or so.  The cobblestones showing in the wall below are the original road cobblestones that George probably helped to lay.

Estes cem and wall

I would like to have a Revolutionary War marker placed for George Estes in the cemetery so that he will be honored and his grave will be marked for future generations.

George certainly lived an amazing life.  He was born in Amelia County during the French and Indian war, as his father and uncles serving in that conflict.  About 1770, the Moses Estes family migrated in mass, it seems, to Halifax County where his father and grandfather, both named Moses, established homes, albeit a few miles apart.

About the time George came of age, he volunteered to take his father’s place in the Revolutionary War.  After returning home, just a month later, his own “slot” came up, so he then served for himself.

Many Estes men were pushing the new frontier.  In fact, George moved an Estes family to Hawkins County, TN, probably offering to help in order to see a bit of the world.  He stayed for almost a year, and it was from there in October of 1782 that he enlisted as a volunteer to serve his third stint in the military in the Revolutionary War.  George obviously saw a lot and probably talked about that part of the country to his children when telling tales about his great adventure.  He’s one of the very few men I’ve ever heard of going BACK home from the frontier, and staying there.  His son, John R. Estes would eventually settle in Claiborne County, TN himself, some 30+ years later, near where his father was in what would become Eastern Tennessee.

We don’t know much about George’s religious leanings.  When he was young and first married, church attendance was required in the Anglican church.  That’s also about the time he was prosecuted for “profane swearing.”

We know that his wife, Mary Younger’s family was probably Methodist, a dissenting religion, but one that was “legal” by the 1780s.  Given that his son, John R. Estes married the minister’s daughter, in all likelihood, this family was Methodist.  Whether George was enthusiastically Methodist too, “went along” begrudgingly and slept through services in the back row or simply stayed at home, we’ll never know.  We do know, per a deposition, that George Estes was with the Reverend William Moore’s family on Christmas Day, 1811.  George’s son, John R. Estes was married to Reverend William Moore’s daughter, Ann Moore.

At least two of George’s children ran badly afoul of either the law of the social norms of the time.  Son William drank to excess and daughter Susannah had five children out of wedlock, as a pattern occurrence.  This would have made it difficult for the rest of George’s children to “marry well” because something like that paints the entire family with the same brush.

Today, it’s inconceivable to us, but at that time, people who were born “out-of-wedlock” really could only marry others of their same social status.  Interracial marriages were outlawed and the choices people had, both legally and in reality were much more limited than today.  Remember, I told you that the county clerk still knew that the Estes’s would be found in the “defendants” book???  Maybe this is part of why so many descendants left for lands where there was less judgment waiting and one could start anew, without stigma already attached from the behavior of others.

George’s wife Mary would pass away sometime between about 1820 and 1830.  George would have been between 60 and 70 years old at that time, and would live almost another 30-40 years.

After Mary’s death, it appears that Susannah took care of George.  Given that by this time, Susannah had 5 illegitimate children she had to provide for, George’s pension probably took care of Susannah as well.  I wonder how military pensions were figured at that time.  I would have thought they would all have been relatively equal for the same rank (private), and if unequal, perhaps George received something for each of his three stints in the military.  By way of contrast, his son, John R. Estes who served in the War of 1812 was collecting a pension at the same time received $8 a month as compared to George’s $31 year, which breaks down to $2.58 per month.  In the end, Susannah wound up with all of George’s assets although, clearly, his pension stopped when he died.

By the time George died, his son Marcus had passed away, possibly in the War of 1812, and there are a couple of children I lose in the records, but as far as we know, most of George’s children outlived him. Some had moved west but George still had Polly, Susannah and William Y. nearby, although William Y. seemed unable to even help himself, due to his drinking, based on numerous court records.

The good news is that because of where Moses’s land was located, and the ability to locate the Oak Ridge Cemetery today, then track through the landfill deeds and family records, we were able to find the original Estes land.

Furthermore, we know that graves were moved from the Estes cemetery, now under the landfill, to the Estes plot in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, which may have been the original Estes cemetery in the first place.

All I know is that when cousin Nancy started talking about having moved the graves and finding the collar bone of Moses Estes, I just couldn’t stop myself from thinking about DNA.  I know fully well that today, even with enough money, that the retrieval of ancient DNA for consumer purposes really isn’t a viable option.  But I also know that in another decade, with the advances in technology and the associated drop in prices, combined with what has been able to be accomplished with sequencing ancient genomes – that eventually – that collarbone would have been useful.

I know, bad genealogist, bad genealogist.  Bad, bad, bad.  I can’t help it.  It’s that nonconformant Estes side coming out!  It’s in my genes.  I can’t help it.  In fact, I know where there’s a bone we can dig up to prove it….

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Tony Goldwyn – Who Do You Think You Are – “She Was A Radical, The Fire Flew”

Actor, director and producer Tony Goldwyn, probably best known for his drama, Scandal, has a remarkable Hollywood pedigree. What few people may know is that on his mother’s side, he hails from a celebrated stage and screen family – his grandfather was Sidney Howard, best known for writing the screenplay for Gone With the Wind. Tony acknowledges that he knows nothing about the Howard side and anything he can learn about Howard’s ancestry would be a boon.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

With the help of a genealogist, and an instantly appearing pedigree chart, Tony pushes past his two times great grandfather Lawrence Coe and finds his three times great grandparents Nathaniel and Mary Coe living in Albany, New York in the mid 1800’s, where Nathaniel was a politician in the state assembly.

One tool Tony made a lot of use of, that I don’t and perhaps should think of more often, is www.newspapers.com.

At the NY State Library in Albany, Tony learns that his 3 times great grandfather Nathaniel Coe proposed ‘anti-Seduction’ legislation which concerned issues surrounding pre-or extra-marital sex and prostitution.

I found this to be very interesting if initially a bit confusing.  As the historian explained, typically, when a female was “seduced,” willingly or unwillingly, she was marked as “damaged goods” and especially if she bore a child out of wedlock, not marriageable material.  In essence, the woman bore the brunt of the scandal and the male skipped off scot free.  The inferred link to prostitution was that there were few professions where a woman could support herself and a child, and by then, probably children as in plural – so the woman had few options.  So while this legislation initially sounded like it was penalizing women, it wasn’t, it was actually holding the males involved responsible for at least their part of the “immoral” behavior.  In fact, there was an entire “anti-sedition” crusade.  Who knew?

Curious about why his ancestor focused on this social issue specifically, Tony decides to head to Nathaniel’s hometown of Nunda, NY to see if the explanation for his 3x GGF’s concerns about “seduction” lie there.

In Nunda, Tony finds out that Nathaniel hosted a meeting of the Female Moral Reform Society at his home in 1837. A social historian explains that this undoubtedly indicates Nathaniel’s wife Mary’s membership in the organization. A newspaper article reveals that Mary was “a radical” activist in her community, suggesting that the two shared a passion for this cause and formed a productive, well-suited partnership.

Tony also learns that Mary and Nathaniel were revivalist Baptists, joining much of the country at that time in an Evangelical resurgence.  Baptists in particular were concerned with moral reform and the purification of society.

Wondering why a late-middle aged couple would leave New York for the frontier, Tony is surprised to learn that in 1852, Nathaniel became a U.S. Postal Agent across the country in Oregon via Presidential appointment.

Tony heads to Oregon, where he finds that as a U.S. Postal Agent, Nathaniel was responsible for laying out the infrastructure of the developing Postal Service as the U.S. expanded westward. Nathaniel, Tony learns, was on the cutting edge of modernization as a frontier agent – with all the prestige that implies.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

You know when the archivist comes out with your boxes on a cart, that you’ve made a haul.  Sure enough, the Nathaniel Coe Collection holds original letters and documents, including a scrapbook from the Coe estate.  I am SOOO envious.

Through original letters written by Mary Coe, Tony discovers that not only did Mary make an arduous journey around the nation via ship, crossing as the Isthmus of Panama, to join her husband in Oregon, but that after arriving, his three times great grandparents had to flee their home as the Indian Wars broke out around them.

Tony is startled to learn that his ancestor may not have been as progressive as he thought. Reading a letter written by Nathaniel, Tony sees that Nathaniel believed the Indians were hell-bent on exterminating all white settlers, and that any resistance by the Indians to American “progress” and expansion westward justified removing them or exterminating them.  This unfortunate European attitude and policy was referred to as Manifest Destiny and was thinly disguised as a religious belief that God had ordained the Europeans to possess the Native lands.  Fortunately, Tony visits with a historian that presents both sides of the picture in a chapter of expansion that is none too pretty.

Finally, Tony finds an article detailing Mary & Nathaniel Coe’s importance in the region – they helped establish the still thriving city of Hood River in Oregon, after Mary had the name changed from Dog River.

At the Oregon State Archives, Tony discovers that Nathaniel left all of his property to his wife. He learns just how rare that would have been, legally, for a man with grown male heirs, and Tony considers the unique relationship that his three times great grandparents must have enjoyed.

Tony discovers that the graves of Nathaniel and Mary still exist at the aptly named Mountain View Cemetery in Hood River, and makes the pilgrimage to pay his respects to Hood River’s founding couple at their gravesite.

Compliments TLC

Compliments of TLC

Nathaniel and Mary Coe lived an impressive and very long life.  Mary, the radical, didn’t die until she was in her 90s after having crossed the country, the long way, and establishing homes in two different locations, one being an unsettled frontier.

Reflecting upon his experience Tony says that as he looks back over the landscape of his ancestors, he “can begin to see it in the genes,” meaning their strength, determination and character.  He can also see their descendants, his closer ancestors, following the same pattern of husbands and wives as equal and indispensable partners.

Who will like this episode?  Anyone with a New York background or an interest in Democrat vs Whig politics – the westward movement or the social history of that timeframe.  After the move west, the Yakima war and Native people.  Anyone with any history in the Cascade Valley, the Dalles or Hood River, Oregon or with an interest in the Westward expansion.

My ancestors never ventured that far west, so I found the information about the settlement of the west in the 1850s extremely interesting.

Here’s a sneak peek.

Tony’s segment airs Sunday, April 5 at 10/9c on TLC.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Ancestry Gave Me A New DNA Ancestor – And It’s Wrong

About six weeks ago, Ancestry had a meeting with a few bloggers and educators in the genetic genealogy community and brought us up to speed on a new feature that was upcoming.  Ancestry showed us their plans to expand the DNA Circles feature, although to be very clear, to the best of my knowledge, none of us were involved in any type of beta testing with Ancestry.

Today, Ancestry assigns you to DNA Circles based on a combination of your DNA results and your tree, based on common ancestors shown in trees of matching individuals.  I wrote about Circles and how they are calculated in the article, “Ancestry’s Better Mousetrap – DNA Circles.”

As an enhancement to DNA Circles, today Ancestry rolled out their new feature which is called “New Ancestor Discoveries” where Ancestry assigns ancestors to you based on DNA matching alone, without matching ancestors in your trees.

And, in my case, they are wrong.  Unquestionably wrong.  What I hate the most about this situation is if you’re not a genetic genealogist, and you haven’t done your homework, you’ll be thrilled with your new wrong ancestors, “proven,” of course, by DNA.

new ancestor discoveries

We received a quick glimpse of the pre-beta product – and truthfully – if this was accurately done and appropriately portrayed as a DNA match with people who shared common DNA and maybe a common ancestor – I could be excited.  In fact, I was excited.

I do believe this type of matching can be done accurately – but Ancestry has missed the mark – not just with me but from other early reports in the community as well – with lots of people.  Portraying this match as a “new ancestor” is wrong and it’s terribly misleading.

Here’s what Ancestry has to say about the New Ancestors matching.

new ancestors

new ancestor circles

Ok, what does Ancestry have to say about Diedamia Lyon, my New Ancestor who is not my ancestor?

New ancestor Diedamia Lyon

Clicking on the green “Learn About” button shows me the “facts” that ancestry has gleaned from their trees about Diedamia Lyon.

new ancestor Diedamia story

What this tells you that isn’t immediately evident is that Diedamia Lyon was married to John Curnutte, my second “New Ancestor.”  There is a “Facts” tab that shows you the sources that Ancestry used to create Diedamia’s story.  They have used compiled data from 215 trees.  I cant’ speak for Diedamia, but I know several of my Circle Ancestor’s stories are wrong – based on the compiled trees – substantially wrong in fact.  Because the trees are wrong.

new ancestor Diedamia sources

So, in essence, Ancestry is saying that I descend from both Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte, an ancestral couple.  This would be invaluable, if it were accurate.  Ok, how did Ancestry connect those dots to arrive at that conclusion?

Clicking on the “See Your Connection” button under the Circle icon shows you the members of the Diedamia Lyon Circle.

New ancestor Diedamia circle

I have DNA matches with Don and Michael who are members of the Diedamia Lyon circle.  Clicking on Don, I can see that he has DNA matches to Michael and three other individuals who I don’t have DNA matches with in the Diedama Lyon circle.  However, all of those individuals also share a pedigree chart and Diedamia Lyon is their shared ancestor.

New ancestor Diedamia circle 2

I can click on any of these people and see who they match in the circle, or I can see a list.

What I can’t see is how Ancestry drew those DNA conclusions.  There are no tools, no chromosome browser, and obviously, “trust me” isn’t working.

I want to share with you how I know, beyond any doubt, that Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte are NOT my ancestors.  I am a long-time meticulous researcher.  I would invite you to search for any of my ancestors’ names on this blog.  I have been writing about one ancestor per week now for more than a year in the 52 Ancestors series and, if I have written about them, you can see the types of information we have on each one.  I know which of my ancestors are proven and which are questionable.  So, let’s see why Diedamia and John cannot be my ancestors.

First, we can eliminate my mother’s line.  My mother’s ancestors are from Holland, Germany, Canada/Acadia and one line from Vermont/Connecticut.  They are all accounted for and I know where they were, shown below.

new ancestor mother tree

The 6th generation shown above is the generation into which Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte, both born about 1800, would fall.  Mother’s generation 6 ancestors, at the far right, were all born between 1766 and 1805, many in Europe.  You’ll note there are no blank spaces for missing ancestors and the geography is not southern – meaning no place near Wilkes County, NC where Diedamia was born in 1804.  So, my mother’s side is immediately eliminated.

My father’s side, however, does have several lines that come through Wilkes County, NC and many other southern lines. So the connection would be through my father’s side of the family.

new ancestor father tree

Again the 6th generation would be where Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte would have to fit if they are my ancestors, and there are no blank spaces here either.  All of these ancestors were born between 1759 and 1804.

Of the above generation 6 ancestors, the following have a Wilkes County connection:

  • Elijah Vannoy born in Wilkes County about 1784
  • Lois McNiel born in Wilkes County about 1786
  • William Herrell born about 1789 in NC, possibly Wilkes County where he married in 1809
  • Mary McDowell born 1785 NC, possibly Wilkes County where she married in 1809

New ancestor Herrell tree

Looking at the pedigree chart of William Herrell and Mary McDowell, you can see that indeed there are some unknown wives.  John Herrell was born in about 1760, possibly in Frederick Co., VA and Michael McDowell in 1747 in Bedford Co., VA.  While the connection may be through these lines, it’s clearly not from any two people born in 1800 and is at least in the 7th generation – IF the connection is through these lines.  At this point, this is the most likely connection because it’s in the right location and there are two unknown wives.  If I had triangulation tools, I could probably tell you immediately.

Now let’s look at the pedigree chart of Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel, also from Wilkes County.

New ancestor Vannoy tree

As you can see, this pedigree is even more complete than the Herrell/McDowell pedigree.  Not only is there no room for a couple born circa 1800, there are no unknown parents for another 3 generations prior, not until the 9th generation.  The only individual here through the 8th generation not proven via both paper and genetics, meaning triangulation, is Sarah Coates.

So, not only are Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte NOT my ancestors, it’s very unclear how they are related to me, IF they are related to me.  It’s obvious that the only way we are related is that someplace upstream, I do share a common ancestor with both Don and Mike who share the Lyon/Curnutte tree with each other and several others as well, but that does NOT mean that I descend from Diedamia and John, nor that I share a common ancestor with them.

Now, if I share the SAME DNA segment with Don and Mike that could be triangulated to the Curnutte/Lyon descendants, then that would mean we do all share a common ancestor someplace along the line.  But wait – Ancestry doesn’t use triangulation – nor do they give us the tools to do so.  So we have NO idea if we actually share the same DNA segments or not.

So, let’s take a look at the trees of both Don and Mike to see if we share any common surnames that might be linked.

Fortunately, Ancestry does provide an easy way to do this.  By clicking on your matches name to the right of the circle, and looking at their tree, Ancestry shows you the common surnames.

new ancestor match surnames

By clicking on the shared surname, you can see the people in both trees, theirs and yours, with that surname, side by side.

new ancestor surname list

All three of us have a dead end Moore line.  That is our only other surname in common, and Moore is very common.

So, it’s possible, given that we have no way to tell which segments are matching whom, that I match both Don and Mike through an entirely different ancestor, or ancestors, known or unknown. It’s also possible that someone upstream of Diedamia and John is a child of one of my unknown lines, and while Diedamia and John are not my ancestors, I do carry some of the same DNA as their descendants because we all share a common, unknown, ancestor.  But I have no way of knowing.

What I can do is to contact my two matches and see if they will download their DNA to GedMatch where I can get at the truth via triangulation.  It’s a shame we have to do that.

So, what is the net-net of this new tool?

  1. Ancestry missed, big time, especially by labeling the match as a “New Ancestor.”
  2. Ancestry can salvage the situation at least somewhat by renaming the “New Ancestor” something like “Common DNA Match.” This would alert people that there is some common ancestry someplace, but not mislead people into thinking that Ancestry really HAS discovered a new ancestor or ancestral couple. In some cases the named couple MAY be ancestors – but that’s certainly not always the case. And I don’t like the label “Potential Ancestor” either because I think it implies a much closer relationship than may be present. I remember how completely thrilled I was to see my “New Ancestors” names and without having enough experience to piece the puzzle together, both genealogically and genetically, I would never have known enough to be as disappointed as I am. I feel terribly sorry for the many people who will take this erroneous information as gospel – and the rest of us who will have to live with the incorrect fallout – forever. This amounts to a new way to create an incorrect ancestor and Heaven forbid, attach them to your tree.
  3. This would all be a moot point with a chromosome browser, but then again, Ancestry already knows that.

And I was so hopeful….

Fortunately, the New Ancestors feature is still in beta and changes can be made – and I hope they are.  I know Ancestry has already incorporated at least one the suggestions made as a result of the meeting a few weeks ago.

As I looked back over the new features and the information I received from Ancestry, I am especially concerned about the verbiage accompanying this information.

Here’s what greets me on my DNA page.

new ancestors hype

Here’s the e-mail I received.

new ancestor e-mail 2

The problem is – it’s just not true.  These matches may be valuable in some cases.  But they are not as represented.  This match is not my ancestor.

So yes, I do want Ancestry to “Show Me.”  Show me the chromosomes.  Show me how Diedamia Lyon and John Curnutte are my ancestors.  Show me how you put 2 and 2 together and came up with this.  Show me.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Help System at Family Tree DNA Updated Today

family tree dna logoGroup Administrators received this e-mail on April 1st. Presuming it’s not an April Fools Joke (it’s not), the new system is being implemented today, April 2, 2015 and it looks like it should help a lot with timely responses.

Family Tree DNA writes:

After reviewing several options to speed up e-mail response times and improve overall Customer Support efficiency, we are are putting a new system in place as of 10 am Central Time tomorrow, 2 April, 2015.

You’ll want to pay close attention because this is radically different from what you’re used to doing, but it’s for a good reason.

Until now, many of the emails would come to the general email boxes info@ familytreedna.com or helpdesk@familytreedna.com, uncategorized, adding the extra step of having to sort and triage emails, which takes a lot of time since they can vary from something as simple as changing a SNP order to more detailed analysis. Long emails with no kit number and an uninformative subject line complicate the process and require time to determine what the real question is.

With the new system, the above email addresses will be deactivated. Incoming emails will receive an automated, but politely worded reply directing the customer – or you – to the re-vamped Contact Us form. This form will require a kit number, unless you’re a new customer, and will require the submitter to choose a subject category.

All questions will be directed through a “Contact Us” form so that they are already categorized and can be routed to the appropriate customer service representatives.

ftdna support page

Again, please note: info@familytreedna.com and helpdesk@familytreedna.com will no longer be monitored. Emails sent to either of those addresses will get an auto-response directing the sender to the “Contact Us” form here: https://www.familytreedna.com/contact.aspx#contactForm

For future reference, a link to the Contact Us form is conveniently located at the bottom of the www.familytreedna.com home page under the “About” column.

ftdna support page 2

There will still be a “Group Projects” category, and for administrators, the email address groups@familytreedna.com will still be active, so if you’re writing with questions or situations regarding your project, or if you’re writing on behalf of project members, please use either of those options. The groups@familytreedna.com address is a priority category and is monitored regularly.

Please reserve messages to groups@ftdna.com for those that are time-sensitive, urgent, or simply cannot be answered by a CSR. Over the past few months so many routine – though still important – emails have been going to that email address that your Group Project Manager/Liaison cannot answer them all and still perform other duties such as advocating for you with management on important issues regarding group administration.

Important information for you to know and to share with your group members:

  • It’s important to choose the category closest to the topic of your email.
  • Kit numbers are mandatory.There will be an “I don’t have a kit number yet” box to click for new customers. Existing customers can recover their kit number from the “Lost Your Password” link on the login page.
  • Submitting multiple tickets from the same email address about the same issue before having received a reply groups those issues together and puts them at the bottom of the queue. (That will not be the case with groups@familytreedna.com, since admins write about different projects and discrete issues from the same email address. Still, please keep in mind our service hours and use your best judgement when submitting a second email about the same issue.)
  • Contact form submissions do not generate a confirmation email at this time. Your submission will be acknowledged on the page and you’ll be given a request ID number.

Thank you for your support and understanding as we work to bring you and your project members better service.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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