Frank Sadowski (1921-1945), Almost My Father, 52 Ancestors #73

Frank Sadowski

His name was Frank Sadowski.

This Memorial Day, I couldn’t help but think of all of the people who made that ultimate sacrifice and how their deaths changed history – and I don’t necessarily mean history on the battlefield.  I’m talking about personal history.  Many changes are invisible in the big picture – but life-altering to the people on the receiving end.

You see, Frank was scheduled to be my father.  Frank was engaged to my mother.  But Frank never came home from WWII.  All gave some, and some gave all.  Frank gave all.  The ultimate sacrifice.


When I was about 10 years old, I found a man’s ring in my mother’s jewelry box that I didn’t remember seeing before.  Not her “current” jewelry box, but the special box for “old things.”  I got the ring out, put it on and started playing with it.  I thought it might have been my Dad’s, who had died a few years earlier.  The ring, of course, was much too large. I waltzed out into the kitchen with the ring dangling from my finger, and the look on my mother’s face would have stopped a freight train.  Someplace between shock and horror – and then pain as she cried.  She came, retrieved the ring, put it away and told me I couldn’t play with that.  I asked whose it was, and she simply said she couldn’t talk about it.  I felt just awful.  So did she.

It would be many years, but then one day, as I faced Vietnam married to a Marine, she told me the story of Frank.

I felt like I was an intruder into a sacred space made just for two, a time capsule all sealed up.  That capsule was full of both joy and sorrow.  It was the sorrow that sealed it for years.

We sat on the edge of the bed, and Mom told me about Frank, and about her and Frank.  I stared at the pattern on the bedspread, burned into my mind yet today, unable to look at her.  She wasn’t there anyway.  She was someplace else – back in Chicago with Frank in the 1940s.  Her sorrow, even after all those years, was current, real, palpable and painful.  You could feel it in every word she spoke, and even in the pauses between words and the sometimes long stretches between sentences.  Tears silently rolled down her cheeks.  Tears roll down mine today as I remember…

Frank had hopes and dreams and plans.  He was the all-American boy, participating in clubs in high school.

Frank Sadowski yearbook

He wanted to be a doctor.  He wanted to get married – to my mother.  He wanted a family.  But the war interfered.  That war interfered with nearly everything.

Mom went to Chicago in 1943 or 1944 to dance with a professional tap and ballet company that performed primarily at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, a swanky upscale beachside hotel on Lake Michigan that featured acts like Bing Crosby.  Her troupe was sometimes the main attraction, and sometimes the backup act for big name talent. You can see a video about Chicago nightlife in 1947 here.  I think mother is the dark haired women in the front beginning about minute 6:14.

Dorothy Hild Dancers

Mom was a beautiful, talented lady and had many beaus and suitors.  She lived in a house with a widow lady, who she called Mommie Mackenzie, who acted as her surrogate mother/grandmother and chaperone.  It was just not acceptable for a respectable young woman to be unchaperoned in Chicago.  Mother was 20 in 1943.

I don’t know how Mom and Frank met.  I didn’t have the heart to ask Mom any more questions that would be painful. I do know they fell in love in Chicago and planned to marry as soon as he came home.

Frank enlisted in February of 1943, perhaps before he met mother.

By Christmas of 1944, they were an item.  He was stationed in San Francisco at that time, but would ship out to the Pacific theater in early 1945 and faced some of the bloodiest battles of the war.  Those, he survived.

Frank Sadowski christmas

Mom said Frank was a doctor.  I think he actually was a medic, but I really don’t know.  It doesn’t matter now.  What matters is that Frank enlisted to help people.  He died doing just that in a medical unit.  Mom said that Frank was killed trying to help another man “after the first truce but before the second one.”

Mom said that she knew the last time she saw Frank off at the train station that he would never come home. I asked her how she knew and she said she didn’t know, but that she cried too hard – and she knew.  Mom always had a way of knowing things like that.

Mom repeated to herself over and over that things would be alright, that Frank would come home…trying to make it true by virtue of sheer willpower.  But it wasn’t to be.

VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day was celebrated on May 8, 1945 but it would be another three months until VJ Day, Victory in Japan Day, was celebrated on August 15th, 1945.  Frank was stationed in Okinawa during that time.  He never saw VE or VJ Day, because he was killed on April 19th, just days before the end of the war.

Mom tells how she was called and asked around noon on VJ Day, the 15th, to participate in the impromptu Chicago celebrations held in the streets downtown.  The country went insane with celebration described as an “outbreak of giddy.”  Life was going to return to normal and Johnny would come marching home.  Except Frank didn’t.

Mother said she wanted to be happy, and to celebrate, and she did go and sing with the group of performers – but she could not be happy. One of her songs was a patriotic solo and she said she very nearly could not make it through the performance.  The celebration could not overcome her somberness and grief.  While, she was glad that the war was over and no one else would be killed, there was no joy in the celebration for her.

The man who was to be my mother’s husband and my father, would never be those things.  He was robbed of that opportunity, and so was Mom.  Frank gave all.

Frank Sadowski and father

Frank came home, but in a different way.  Frank is pictured above with his father, also Frank, who would bury his son four years later and request a military headstone. Yes, it took the family four years to get Frank’s body back. Four very long years.  On the back of that photo is written “Who’s that handsome fellow in the zoot suit?” and then a note below it with an arrow that says “Sis’s corny cracks are on all pix she sends.”

Frank Sadowski headstone request

I don’t know who called mother with the news of Frank’s death.  I’m guessing it would have been Frank’s parents.  I know she corresponded with Frank’s sister for decades.  Mom was treated as Frank’s future wife by his family, and then as his widow.

Mother never talked about Frank’s funeral.  Nothing, ever.  I think it was just too difficult for her – even 20 years and then decades later.  I know she came entirely unglued every time she heard taps and would do almost anything to avoid that circumstance.

To me, 20 years seemed like an eternity ago, more than a decade before I was born, but looking back now at things in my life that happened 20 years ago, it doesn’t seem so long and many that are painful are still quite fresh.  Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to verbalize experiences that were overwhelmingly painful.  Sometimes talking about them opens that terrible gash again.

Mother was heartbroken.  Devastated.  It would be another decade before she met my father and nearly 20 years after that until she married again, in her 50s.  And that decade in-between Frank’s death and my father, well, let’s just say it wasn’t wonderful.  It’s difficult to live with unrelenting grief so profound.  I don’t think anyone ever measured up to Frank, at least not until she met my step-father.  My own father was simply another heartbreak for mother.

Frank’s death took his life, but it also took the life that mother and Frank had planned, and it took the lives of the children they never had.  It robbed them of their future together…and altogether.  It changed the course of my mother’s life in such a fundamental way that I can’t even imagine the different life she would have had with Frank, or who I would have been or would be today.  Would I even be me?  Half my DNA and half my ancestors would have been different – as would my entire set of life experiences.  I would have been a Catholic child raised in Chicago with Polish ancestors – not a Hoosier with ancestry throughout Appalachia.

Frank Sadowski cemetery

Frank was supposed to be my father, but instead, on a train, someplace between Philadelphia and Chicago, while traveling with the dance troupe, almost a decade later, my mother met my father, a devilishly handsome and extremely personable stranger who already had a wife…but failed to mention that pesky little detail.

The rest, as they say, is history.


RIP Frank.

Mom's stone

RIP Mom.

At least they are together now.  I imagine that was one incredibly joyful reunion – delayed by 61 years.  Love never dies.

Update:  To see “the rest of the story,” that happened as a result of this article, click here and here.



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Memorial Day – Grieving the Losses

floppy discs

It’s Memorial Day weekend.  Time for picnics and barbeque grills.  And for thinking about, and honoring those that have departed.

Originally, Memorial Day was to honor the war dead following the Civil War – although it then morphed into a holiday to honor all Americans who died in the military service.  Also called Decoration Day, it has become a time to honor all of our ancestors, visit the cemetery, pull some weeds, add some flowers, relive the good memories and say a solemn prayer.  Some folks are too far from home, or from our ancestors’ homes, to do those things, so we have to honor our ancestors in other ways.

I’ve chosen to spend this weekend sorting through a particularly thorny genealogical problem involving 4 generations of Crumley men, two of which were veterans, all with the same first name, some with unknown wives, confusing signatures and more.  This is part of my 52 Ancestors series, so you’ll get to meet them soon.

I’ve been working on these lines now for almost 20 years.  I was lucky, because when I started, there were a few who had come before me, and one who had published a book, for which I am EXTREMELY thankful.

Starting about 15 years ago, my correspondence slowly morphed from letters in the mailbox to e-mails which I diligently filed and still have today.  Yes, truly I do.

But that’s part of what I’m grieving today.  No, I didn’t lose my e-mails. I’m a backup fiend.

What I’ve lost…what we’ve lost…is a legacy of research – and with it part of our ancestors.  How big a part?  I guess we’ll never know.

Fifteen years ago, there were two primary researchers who were very actively researching…as in visiting courthouses…retaining professional genealogists…and who clearly did not wish to share until they were done.  I can understand part of that, at least to a degree.  No one wants to put half-baked ideas into the wild, so to speak.

But, and this is a really BIG BUT, there is a limit – and they clearly went past that limit.  They died.  Their books are unpublished.  Their research and maps they had assembled using neighbors’ deeds, all gone.  The family Bibles they said they had found among descendants – that information too all gone.  Letters – gone.




They never shared with any of the rest of us.

I contributed information. Many did.

I volunteered five years ago to proofread the two books that one woman wrote that were “nearly ready” but she didn’t need any help.  But she never published, and then she died.  Her husband is in his mid-90s, if he’s still living, and his e-mail no longer works.  At least this researcher did write some articles about these ancestors, which is not the same as two books with promised discoveries that correct earlier research…but it was something.

The second person refused to share at all, not wanting anyone to scoop his book.  That would be the book, by the way, that has never been written.  He is now in his late 80s (if he is still alive) and his e-mail is also now defunct.  When do you think we can expect that book???

A third long-time researcher came to a Crumley meeting years ago with 3 ring binders of his work.  He did share, generously, but sharing bit by bit on lists is not the same as a body of work that he clearly had.  Where are his years of hard work today???

But that’s not all of it….not nearly all.

In many of the hundreds of e-mails that I’ve saved there were links to works and websites of both primary and collateral lines.  I probably tried 40 or 50 links altogether over the past two days.  Know how many worked?  None.  Not one.  The most current ones were only about 4 years old.  Dead as doornails…all of them.  I was so surprised that they were ALL dead that I checked my system to be sure the problem wasn’t on my end – but it wasn’t and they are all dead.  RIP

web page not found

This is disconcerting.  Some were free rootsweb pages, some were on private sites and some were other types of pages, like ones sponsored or connected to genealogy programs.  But the point is that all of those researchers that had something to share no longer do.  It’s gone.  For all I know, they may be gone too.

Once your website and your e-mail is inoperable – you’re electronically dead to people with whom you communicate in that fashion.  There is no electronic phone book for e-mails.  It’s not like it used to be – you can’t just drive across town to check on your cousin.  Nor are their children going to know who their online cousins are.  You are likely not going to be notified of their death – let alone be considered as the steward of their work.

Yes, you can sometimes find defunct website information, at least pieces of it, using Internet Archive’s Waybackmachine – but it’s seldom complete.  If it’s there, it’s better than nothing.

That information too, all of those links I saved because I would need them one day, is now gone.  Some are entire websites devoted to family research of a particular family, like Brown and Johnson.  Fortunately, some of the articles have been reproduced on the Greene County, TN GenWeb site.  And yes, thankfully that is still working just fine. Google is your friend if the information is out there anyplace.

But think again about what you expect to be “forever” or at least be available to you at a later date.  With the shuffling in the genealogy marketspace recently, a lot has changed.  GenForum, bought by Ancestry, is no longer functional – meaning you can read but not post.  Rootsweb list and board usage is significantly down – in favor of non-archiving social media like Facebook.  Rootsweb trees still include text notes uploadable from a GEDCOM file, but Ancestry trees do not.  Yes, you can copy all of your text into files and add them as documents to your Ancestry tree – but it’s a huge pain in the you-know-what and virtually no one is going to do that.  Ancestry actively discourages that, because they would rather have you attach their records – which is fine – but I’ve yet to see Ancestry have the records I have for my ancestors.  All I can say is I wish they did.  But be aware that if you attach Ancestry’s records to your tree, and you choose to download that GEDCOM file, it’s without any of those attached records.

And with the demise of MyFamily, also discontinued by Ancestry, which upsets people so badly we’re not even going to discuss it, not only did years worth of compiled family history get shuffled to the electronic trash can…people became terribly discouraged about sharing and trusting any “forever source.”

And I haven’t even mentioned the fallacy that your tree is “forever” or safe on a third party site.  I would suggest you keep your main tree right on your computer and use a third party site as a backup if you wish.  But I don’t want to confuse the point.  Sharing a tree is NOT the same as sharing research.  A tree is the skeleton of your family.  Research is the story of your ancestors’ lives – the meat on the bones.

So, now it’s up to you.  It’s not up to Rootsweb, Ancestry, Facebook or anyone else.  It’s up to you, just you.  You need to write.  You need to publish.  There are many sources for you to be able to do this today.  No need to know how to write html code anymore.  Publishing is easy and there is no technology excuse.

I’ve chosen the WordPress platform and blogging.  There are other free sites like (disclosure – I have not used this site personally) and other free and paid websites.  I pay for mine so that I get to choose my domain name and I have more storage space.  However, when I no longer pay for it, it too will be gone.  WordPress claims their free sites will be available forever, whatever forever means today.

But what about when I die, when I join my ancestors and when someone, hopefully, comes to pull the weeds and decorate my grave on Memorial Day?  What about my work?  Well, hopefully because I HAVE made it public because I HAVE shared, because I have NOT held back waiting on forever or someday or perfection – it will be out there – circulating around in cyber space.  Is it perfect?  No – but it’s there and it’s far better than nothing – better than the unpublished book that will never see the light of day.  Because it’s online and not committed to ink and paper, it’s easy to update an ancestor’s article with new information.

I wish there was a cyberbank where I could sign up to be sure certain things are available forever, however long forever is.  I’d bank these stories and a raft of DNA results as well.

I’m going to put each of the lines I’ve been researching on a free “forever” website when I’m finished with my 52 ancestors series.  For me, it will be WordPress because I know and love the platform already.  And yes, I really will do that just like I really do write my weekly ancestor article.  And if I die tomorrow, at least those articles are in print, someplace, even if my website and blog will one day be defunct.

And as for the DNA, it’s a part of every ancestor’s story.  DNA results and how we utilize them are an integral part of every family story now and relevant in one way or another to every ancestor.  DNA is in every one of my 52 Ancestors stories one way or another.

I’ve also arranged with the Estes archivist to place the Estes family articles on the Estes family archive website as well.  Not via a link, but posting the actual articles.  Links only work as long as the original site is functional.  Same goes for the Estes newsletter which is distributed to subscribers and libraries.  Plus, I’ve shared with just about every cousin I can think of.  Just sharing the love, and the ancestors!!!

I’m going to print these ancestor articles in book format and donate them to several significant libraries including the Allen County Public Library and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – yes – the Mormons.  I want my work in that vault.  And by the way, I’m not Mormon, but given that their driving force is a religious conviction that genealogy is important – and not profit like a corporation – I feel that my research stands a better chance of preservation there than in the hands of any corporation.  If you’re looking for an ugly corporate example – just take a look at what did with their Y and mitochondrial DNA database and then a few months later with the Sorenson data base as well.

I’m going to print my work for my descendants, in book form, with archival ink on archival paper, because electronic formats will change significantly over the years.  If you don’t believe me, just try to find something to read an 8 inch or 5.25 inch “floppy disc” now.  So, yes I’ll give them a CD or DVD or thumb drive too – but in 50 years, they’ll still be able to read the book (it’s not in cursive.)

So, here’s my take on this situation.  No one owns the ancestors.  I hope people do not hold the information about their ancestors’ lives hostage…for good reasons or bad…because none of us know which day our proverbial number is going to be up.

Memorialize your ancestors.  Share their lives and their history.  Write about them.  State what you know and what you don’t.  List sources so others in the future can verify your work, update it, add to it, or look where you haven’t.

Make sure that when you die, people celebrate what you DID with your life and grieve the fact that such a wonderful, sharing person departed this earth, and that they aren’t grieving what you didn’t do, or worse yet, what you did do, but never shared or published or is no longer available in any format.  That’s certainly not how I want to be remembered, nor the legacy of my ancestors I want to leave.  They may be gone, but I want to celebrate their lives, preserving them forever for all the generations to come!

Do you have ideas or suggestions for how to permanently memorialize your ancestors?  What steps have you taken?



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Joel Vannoy (1813-1895), Preachin’, Swearin’ and Threatenin’ to Fight, 52 Ancestors #72

Joel Vannoy was the first Vannoy to live his entire life in Claiborne and Hancock County, Tennessee.  Joel was born on May 8, 1813 in Claiborne County (we think,) probably not long after his parents arrived in the area, and he died on January 8, 1895, also in Claiborne County.

Joel’s parents were Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel.  Elijah and family moved from Wilkes Co., NC about 1812 along with his wife, Lois McNiel’s parents, William McNiel and Elizabeth Sheppard.  If we believe that Joel was born in Claiborne County, they obviously arrived before May 1813, although Joel could have been born enroute.  His mother likely made that rough journey bouncing around in a wagon while quite pregnant.  Although, in the 1900 census, Elizabeth Vannoy Estes shows her father, Joel, as born in NC.

The McNiel and Vannoy families settled in what was then Claiborne, but is now Hancock County, near the intersection of Little Sycamore and Mulberry Gap Road. We have located the land where the Vannoy family lived which is on Mulberry Gap Road just north of the intersection with Little Sycamore in Hancock County.

Vannoy Hancock Co Map

We’re quite lucky that Elijah’s daughter, Lucinda Vannoy Campbell’s memories are preserved in the following excerpts from a letter written in the 1950s by her niece, Essie Bolton Marsee (oldest child of Dan Bolton and Pearlie E. Vannoy), as she talks about her “Aunt Lou,” meaning Lucinda.  Lucinda was, of course, Joel Vannoy’s sister.  The notes are mine.

I shall try to write down some of the memorys as told to me by Aunt Lou Vannoy Campbell when I was a little girl.  Aunt Lou was the sister of my great-grandfather Joel Vannoy.  She was an older sister, became an old maid school teacher and in later life married a former sweetheart who had been married before.  They waited until they were older because they were some kind of cousins.

(Note – Lucinda married Col. Joseph Campbell whose mother was a sister to Lucinda’s mother, Lois McNiel – so indeed Joseph and Lucinda were first cousins.)

Lucinda lived in Rutledge and my mother, Pearlie Vannoy Bolton, was staying with her when she got married to Dan Bolton.  She had a small confederate pension which helped her out.

She said the Vannoys left North Carolina on a flat boat and sailed down the coast and around Florida.  She mentioned being on the Duck River, but I never understood how they got from the Duck River to above Sneedville where they finally settled. They were two years on the trip and great grandfather Joel was born during this time, in 1812.

After they had been over here for some time, they learned that the governor of NC freed the slaves and since they had left some slaves in NC, Aunt Lou went back to see if she could collect for the slaves as the governor was paying something to the owners for the freed slaves.  She didn’t collect anything.

(Note – There is no indication that Elijah Vannoy owned slaves in Wilkes County.)

Over 40 years ago, some of us went to Sneedville to see where the people had lived.  We found a native who knew where the place was and took a picnic lunch and ate at the site of the old home.  The house was mostly gone, but there were shade trees and some flowers growing.  We saw the cave where the family hid their valuables and food such as hams when the soldiers were foraging.  Great grandfather (Joel) was a Southern sympathizer and wasn’t bothered too much by the Confederates, but they always hid everything of value when there were soldiers around.  Grandfather, James H. Vannoy, was 10 years old during the civil war.

The family later moved down to Claiborne County on Sycamore Creek and lived in the house where Bill Brocks now lives in the Pleasant View Community.  I remember hearing grandfather talk about playing with Lark McNeil.  The Vannoys, McNeils and Venables seem to have known each other for a long time and they seem to have been relatives of some kind.  I have always heard them speak of Uncle John McNeil.  Grandpa Vannoy’s grandmother was a McNeil.  The Vannoys and Venables have always been close and have intermarried considerable.

(Note – Elijah Vannoy married Lois McNeil in NC.)

Later great grandfather acquired some land in what became known as Vannoy Hollow where we were all raised.  He had several children and gave each of them a  farm.  George Vannoy was given the farm that later became known as the Keck farm.  He married Aunt Betty Ann Estes (Note – daughter of John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson) and later moved to Texas and had several children.  Some were Docia, Sam and Bob who visited relatives in East Tennessee.  There may have been others too.  Aunt Bet Ann died not many years ago.  (Note – died in 1946.)   Aunt Bet (Elizabeth Vannoy Estes) was given the farm where Tom Aushan later lived.  She married Uncle “Laze” Estes and moved into what was known as Estes Hollow where they lived until they both died.  (Note – Lazarus Estes born 1848 died 1918 son of John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson).

Aunt Sarah married Uncle John Nunn and she was given the farm below the home place.  My grandfather was given the home place.  Aunt Nancy married Uncle Nat Venable.  Since his sister married my grandfather and the inheritance of Nancy was swapped for the inheritance of my grandmother, so grandfather and grandmother got a double inheritance.

Great grandfather Joel lived to be in his 80s, was not well in his later years and was cared for by my grandfather.  My great grandmother (Note – Phebe Crumley Vannoy born 1818 died 1900) helped raise my mother since my grandmother died when my mother was two years old.  Grandfather lived to be 92.

We have been a very lucky family.  We are fortunate in the heritage handed down from our parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  They seem to have been descended from Scotch-Irish and Dutch.  They were very strict Protestants and brought up their children in the fear of the Lord.  In general, we have all had good health and there have been no criminals or outlaws in the family as far back and I can find out.  So thank God for our family history.”

In 1835, Joel Vannoy had land surveyed adjacent his father, Elijah, in what is now Hancock County.

Joel vannoy survey2

In 1839, on the Claiborne County tax list, Joel had 225 acres of school land worth $500.

In 1841, Joel signs a deed of trust with his father.  Earlier in 1841, Elijah Vannoy apparently had a suit filed against him for debt, and the plaintiff won.  Elijah signed a mortgage at that time against his wagon and team of oxen.  Three months later, two more debts surface, and now Joel and Elijah are both signing.

In 1841, Elijah sells land to Walter Evans, book P-259, for $5.  On September 21st, 1841, both Elijah and Joel Vanoy sign a deed of trust to Walter Evans for Elijah’s land , the 100 acres granted by the state to Elijah Vannoy Sr grant 16456, Maun’s chestnut, Rhes line…because Elija Venoy is indebted to William Houston merchant in Tazewell for the sum of $33 and 8 cents by note with interest due and also indebted to William Fugate for $62.50.  If Elijah fails to make the payments, Walter Evans to sell the land on the courthouse steps in Tazewell.  Signed by Joel, Elijah his mark

He also sells land that year to William Cole, book S-390, for $50.

Apparently, Joel has some interest in this land, although we don’t have any document that says such.  Regardless, Elijah and Joel do lose Elijah’s land.

In 1845, Elijah and Joel Vannoy sell land to William L. Overton, book S 638, for $250.

May 18, 1846 – Claiborne County deed – Elijah and Joel Vanoy, 100 acres to William J. Overton.  William Fugate and James Overton appear before the court and state that they are personally acquainted with both Joel and Elijah.

Deed – October 3, 1845, deed between Elijah Vannoy of Hawkins County and Joel Vanoy of Claiborne to William Overton, for $250, a tract of land of 100 acres granted by the state of Tennessee ot Elijah Vannoy Senr No 16456, Rheas line, Overton’s line.  Elijah Vanoy signs with his mark, Joel signs with a signature, witnessed by William Fugate, Muhlenburg Overton and James Overton.

Claiborne County Marriage Book 2 page 78 records that Joel Vannoy, at age 33, married Phoebe Crumley on January 18, 1845.

Elijah Vannoy died after 1850 but before 1860 and oral history tells us that Joel Vannoy, the son of Elijah took over the family farm after his father’s death.  We now know that this isn’t true – Elijah lost it to debt but Joel still had his land in Hancock County, adjacent his father’s land.

This part of Hancock County is very steep. On one side of Mulberry Gap Road, Mulberry Creek runs alongside the road, and on the other side of the road the mountains rise straight up from the roadside.

Mulberry Gap road and creek

Every so often, a little stream runs down those steep hills and under Mulberry Gap road to join Mulberry Creek. The land selected by Elijah and Joel Vannoy was alongside one of those little creeks that bisected the hillsides of mountains, across the road from the house shown above. There wasn’t a flat area anyplace.

Entrance on Mulberry Gap to Vannoy land

The first mention of Joel in the court notes is an entry in 1842 where he and his father are both assigned as road hands on Mulberry Road from Sumpter Mill to the widow Rice’s, on the Rice end of the road.

In the 1850 Claiborne County census, Joel is shown as a farmer, born in Tennessee, age 37, with real estate worth $200, wife Pheby, age 32, born in Virginia, and three children, Sarah Jane age 4, Elizabeth age 3 and William G. age 1.

Vannoy 1850 census

Things are pretty much the same in 1860, except Joel now has $1200 in real estate and $400 in personal funds.  He’s 10 years older, of course, still farming and now has 6 children.

But then, all hell broke loose in Hancock County with the outbreak of the Civil War – a war that was anything but Civil.

According to Essie Marsee, Joel was a Confederate sympathizer.  I’m surprised that he did not serve, because he would have been about 40 years old at that time.  If he did serve, he would not have been recorded on the 1890 Veteran’s census, because that document only recorded Union Veterans.

This part of Hancock County is quite famous for Rebel Holler, an area just down Mulberry Gap road that actually wraps around behind Joel’s land.  Rebel Holler is where, depending on the version of the story you like, either there was a cell of Southern Rebels living there and hung Yankees, or a band of Southern Rebels was hung there after discovering they were trapped in Rebel Holler. Local lore tells us that this area is still quite haunted and people take photos of the ghosts that appear.  You’ll only think this is amusing until you see, or hear, one for yourself.  Rebel Holler was suspiciously close to Joel Vannoy’s land.  And then there is the story of Phebe Crumley Vannoy’s niece, her husband and baby who were murdered for being Northern sympathizers…

Hancock County saw quite a bit of Civil War activity, if not any major battles, and everyone was afraid of the soldiers from both sides of the war.  Another letter from a Crumley family member written in the early 1900s talks about living in Greene County, south of Hancock, where the soldiers passed through frequently and having to hide anything of value, “sich as horses, saddles and cowes in the woods or anywhere they could be hid.”  The young boys acted at watchmen to keep an eye out for any soldiers coming their way.

The Vannoy family had an advantage. While the little stream was inviting to the bands of hungry and thirsty soldiers that passed through, the extremely rough and steep terrain held secrets not easily discovered.

Vannoy Hancock wooded land

When soldiers were known to be in the area, the Vannoy children were told to take the livestock and go up high into those mountains into the cave and stay there until someone came for them. They had an area set up where they could live for some time, if not comfortably, then at least safely. They must have taken water to the cave before they needed to take shelter.

The children did as they were told, and they could hear the soldiers making a shambles of their house and farm, but they were never discovered, and they kept their livestock and everything of value to the family. That land might not have been very good farmland, given its slope, but I’m sure the family was immensely grateful for the protection it afforded them when they needed it most.

Not long after the end of the Civil War, Joel moved to the Little Sycamore area of Claiborne County.  His children were marrying neighbors before 1870, so he had to have been in that vicinity in order for his children to meet the neighbors.

I wonder why Joel moved from Hancock to Claiborne County.  He was no spring chicken – he would have been in his 50s and he would have had to build a house. Not to be deterred, he did just that – Joel’s house as it stood in the 1990s is shown below.

Joel Vannoy home

The 1870 Claiborne County census looks like Joel is doing quite well.  He owns $1300 worth of land and $600 in personal assets.  He is age 51 and Phebe is 50.  Four children are still at home ranging in age from 10-21.  Daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Lazarus Estes live right next door.

Land was not conveyed to Joel Vannoy until 1872 in Little Sycamore – and when it was, it was conveyed to his wife and children.  This 465 acre tract was not trivial, by any means, and covers about three quarters of a mile by about a mile, square.  In essence, based on google maps and the legend, displayed in feet, Joel would have owned pretty much all of Vanoy Hollow along Vannoy Road and possibly the end of Estes Road too, where Lazarus Estes and Joel’s daughter lived.

Vannoy road

This “odd” transaction is simply the dark foreshadowing of things to come.  Joel was age 60 by now, and obviously from the real estate transactions involved, was not doing well.  I wrote about the land transactions in detail in the article about his daughter Elizabeth Vannoy who married Lazarus Estes.

Based on these deeds, the children did wind up with chunks of Joel’s land, as Essie Marsee mentioned. I’m still “missing” deeds for 65 acres, but we certainly have enough information to get the drift of what was going on.

In 1877, Joel’s daughter, Mary L. Vannoy, age 26, died just a few days after her birthday.  She had never married.  Mary is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, close to Joel’s home, at the intersection of Bailey Hollow and West Teller Roads, behind the Pleasant View Church.

Pleasant View aerial

The 1880 census shows Joel, age 67, farming.  Again, he tells us he was born in Tennessee.  Phebe has the flux, which was the term for diarrhea.  Bloody flux was dysentery, although sometimes flux meant bloody flux.  Regardless, she survived.

Phebe and Joel have their youngest daughter and son, James H, his wife Matilda and their two young children living with them.  Joel’s son William George Vannoy lives next door and daughter Elizabeth Vannoy Estes lives very close by.

In 1886, when Joel was about 74, the bottom fell out for him – and for the rest of the family too.

On Oct. 4, 1886, Lazarus Estes was granted $26 by the court for “conveying Joel Vannoy to the hospital for the insane.”  That hospital was opened in Knoxville in May of that year.

Per Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, formerly Eastern State Mental Hospital, Joel Vannoy age 74 was admitted July 22, 1886 for “preachin’, swearin’, and threatening to fight.”  He had 5 living children and 2 dead.  He was a Baptist and was a farmer.  He was discharged May 16, 1888.  The person listed to correspond with was James Vannoy.

We know that Joel’s daughter, Mary, died in 1877, but Joel’s other deceased child is heretofore unknown.  In the census, there is a 5 year gap between Mary born in 1851 and James Hurvey born in 1856.  That is likely the place of the child that died sometime after his or her birth and before the 1860 census.  There is also a 3 and a half year gap between James Hurvey and Nancy.  It’s possible that they lost 3 children.  Some people didn’t count if a child was stillborn or died very shortly after birth.  Many times, children weren’t named until the parents felt relatively sure the child would survive, at least initially.  Did the deaths of Joel’s children add to the strain and set of circumstances that would produce mental illness so serious that he would have to be institutionalized?

Uncle George, in the 1980s, said: “Joel lost his mind.  He said something unkind (told a female she was a prostitute for walking on the road alone) to a lady during a walk and she kicked him in the crotch.  The family kept Joel in one end of the house with straw by the fireplace and had to keep a fire in it to keep him warm.”  There were two fireplaces in Joel’s house – one in each end.  The rest of the family lived in the other side of the house.  Someone had to stay with Joel at all times for fear he would burn the house down.

Joel Vannoy house fireplace

This fireplace looks to be original, while the fireplace on the other end of the house looks to have been rebuilt.

Joel Vannoy house second fireplace

From the history of Knoxville, it tells us that persons thought to be dangerously insane were locked in jail or sent to a state hospital near Nashville.  The legislature established Eastern State Hospital for the Insane at Lyons View, near Knoxville, in 1873, but it was 13 years before the hospital was ready to receive patients.  On March 17, 1886 a special train from Nashville with what the Knoxville Chronicle called “forty-nine madmen” arrived at Erin station and unloaded the first inmates.  A crowd of hundreds gathered to view the unfortunates but the Chronicle reported that “it was the worst disappointed crowd one ever saw” adding that “it would be hard to get a crowd of sane men together who would behave themselves as nicely as they did.”  Thus began the history of Eastern State Hospital which became a major Knoxville institution providing not only care for the mentally ill but also employment for many people in the area.  It was where Joel would live for two years of his life.  His treatments included dunking in cold tubs of water.  And Joel was not the only Vannoy from this family to have been a patient in that hospital.

Nearly 60 years later, in the 1940s, Joel’s great-grandson, William Sterling Estes, would work in that same establishment.  I wonder if he knew the family had a bit of history there.

To put things in perspective, in Knoxville the 1880s, livestock roamed the streets at will and some alleys were hog wallows rather than passages.  Many bitter debates raged in the council about regulating unpenned livestock.  It wasn’t until 1890 that council voted to outlaw cows on the city streets and it was said that “no one question had ever caused more different attempts to frame it into a law in this city than the Cow Ordinance.”  The streets had been paved with cobblestones in the 1850s but that merely prevented bottomless mud holes in wet weather.  The streets were either muddy or dusty and it wasn’t until 1893 that paving began with bricks.

Knoxville doesn’t sound like a pleasant place even without being cooped up for nearly two years in a mental institution.  Did Joel have any concept of why he was there or did he simply feel abandoned?  Did he have the capacity to understand or was he simply too ill?

My heart goes out to Joel, who was obviously ill, Phebe who had to deal with it the best she could, and his other family members as well who made the best of a bad situation – and took care of Joel the best way they could.  It would have been an overwhelming situation for all concerned.  It sounds like many pitched in to help though, which is what family is all about.  You can always tell who is true family, because the rest disappear when the going gets rough – both then and now.  Some things never change.

Joel came home to Vannoy Holler in 1888, at age 76.  I don’t know if he behaved differently or not, but regardless, he remained at home until he died on January 8, 1895, seven years later.  I’m sure Vannoy Holler never looked better to anyone that Joel returning from Knoxville.  If he didn’t kiss the ground, I’m sure he wanted to!

Joel was twice buried.  I don’t know why he was buried where he was originally, nor do I know where the original burial took place.  What I do know is that in old newspaper clippings, I found an article that said Phoebe had him “dug up and buried where she wanted him to be.”  Perhaps she wanted him to be near their daughter, Mary.  Why she didn’t have him buried there in the first place will always remain a mystery.  Clearly, there was some drama of some sort taking place.

Joel Vannoy marker

Turns out, that “someplace” where she wanted Joel’s grave is right on the edge of the road by Pleasant View Church and Phebe was later buried next to Joel.  This cemetery is also known as Venable Cemetery and it is just behind the Pleasant View Church on West Teller Road.  The church had not yet been constituted at that time, and the name wasn’t changed from Venable to Pleasant View cemetery until some time later, in the 1900s.

Vannoy markers Venable Cem

This also means that Joel and Phebe likely attended Little Sycamore Missionary Baptist Church.  Little Sycamore was the church closest to where they lived, and the membership includes a large number of both McNiels and Vannoys.  I have not had the opportunity to review the original church minutes, although I would certainly love to.

The separation of Missionary Baptist Churches from the Primitive Baptists was due to a number of doctrinal issues, such as predestination, foot washing, disbelief in missions and universalism, the belief in the non-existence of a hell.  Baptists throughout the years have adhered to the fundamental principle of the complete independence of the worshipping congregation.  Alexander Campbell did much to create disunity among Baptists as well as other denominations by his teaching, among other things, that baptism was essential to salvation. (“Be dipped or be damned.”) and infant Baptism.  Fixed salaries for pastors was also a factor in the separation movement.

One of the first Missionary Baptist Churches to separate from Big Springs Primitive Baptist Church was Little Sycamore, which was organized in 1840.

The present church building was built in 1851, so this is the same building where Joel, Phebe and their children would probably have worshipped.

In the 1870s, the church was also used as a school.  While this was too late for Joel’s children, it’s likely his grandchildren attended.

Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley had the following children:

  • Sarah Jane Vannoy born December 1, 1845, died April 24, 1926, married John Nunn.
  • Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Vannoy born June 23, 1847, died October 25, 1918, married Lazarus Estes.
  • William George Vannoy born March 31, 1849, died September 12, 1895, Montague County, TX, married Elizabeth Ann Estes.
  • Mary L. Vannoy born May 4, 1851, died May 18, 1877, never married.
  • James Hurvey Vannoy born February 4, 1856, died November 11, 1848, married Matilda Jane Venable, Minnie Sanders and Martha Ann Lewis.
  • Nancy E. Vannoy born September 5, 1859, died August 1940, married James Nelson “Nat” Venable.

vannoy siblings

This undated photo is of the Vannoy siblings, left to right, Nancy Vannoy Venable, James Hurvey Vannoy and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes.

Joel’s DNA

Harold vannoy

Back in the 1980s, I met my cousin, Harold Vannoy.  Harold is an engineer and he and I had several traits in common, which made both of us wonder what we had inherited from our Vannoy line.  Doesn’t Harold look a lot like his great-grandfather, James Hurvey?

It would be another 2 decades before we could answer any questions about inheritance – and still today – we can’t answer that particular question.

When Y DNA testing first became available, Harold not only stepped up to have his Y DNA tested to represent our Vannoy line, but he also stepped up to co-administer the Vannoy DNA project.  Harold is a wonderful cousin!!!

We discovered that our line falls into haplogroup I-M233.  By our line, I mean those descend from the Wilkes County Vannoy family whose common known ancestor is John Vannoy (or Van Hoy) the immigrant ancestor born sometime between 1744 and 1658 and who died in 1699 on Staten Island.  He married Rachel Cornwall and they had 3 male sons, all of whom married and reproduced.

There are also a number of other men who have tested and who match this particular group, but don’t know how they track back to John Vannoy, if in fact they do.

Vannoy dna project

Establishing the Vannoy DNA project was exciting for the family for two reasons.

First, it allowed us to confirm that indeed, Joel’s father, Elijah was a biological Vannoy descended from John.  There was some question about this, because we could not directly attribute him to one of 4 Vannoy men living in Wilkes County at the time Elijah was born, but that pesky question has been resolved now for over a decade – thanks to Harold.

Second, it confirms the Y DNA of John Vannoy or Van Hoy, through multiple sons descendants, even though the man has been dead for 316 years – and we didn’t even have to dig him up!

So now, as a family, we know that any Vannoy male who tests and matches this group of men somehow descends somehow from this line.

You might notice that I don’t have any origin for John Van Hoy.  He have rumors – but nothing more.  Confirming John’s DNA also allows us to hope that another Vannoy, Van Hoy or Vannoise from Europe, or with ancestors from a known location in Europe, will test one day and match our group.

Hope springs eternal – and even if that doesn’t happen until Harold and I are both on the other side where we will know not only the answers, but our ancestors (that’s my dream of Heaven anyway), Harold’s Y DNA test, along with the other Vannoy men, keeps on giving forever!!!


One of the great things about publishing articles like this is that people get in touch with you, and sometimes have knowledge of new information.

In 1860, Joel Vannoy’s wife’s sister’s husband, Edward Walker, died.  In 1862 an estate sale was held and two items of value were auctioned – a young female slave and Edward’s land, except for his wife’s dower rights.

The Walker family was beginning what would be a very long legal process in which everyone pretty much sued everyone else – and it lasted for decades, including through the Civil War.  For those interested in Edward Walker and his wives, Mahala Tussey and Sarah (Sallie) Crumley, Philip Walker has written a wonderful summary of events.

Phillip was also kind enough to share a chancery suit with me.  In that suit, I discovered that Joel Vannoy, in April 1862, signed as surety, meaning bond, for Robert Woodson who purchased the slave at Edward Walker’s estate sale.  Woodson bid $800 and a note was taken for a period of 2 years, at which time he was to pay the balance.  Obviously, during this time, the Civil War interfered and clearly, Woodson no longer owned Tilda, the slave, because she would have been freed.  Either he couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the debt, but the court ruled that a debt is a debt, regardless.  These court notes are from 1865 after the Union is in control of the government.  The Civil War ended in April of 1865 and for much of this time, the local governments in this region were virtually nonfunctional.  Furthermore, everyone had an allegiance and Hancock County in particular was severely split between the north and south – and everyone felt very strongly about their position.  To make matters worse, marauding bands of soldiers were problematic throughout the county and lawlessness was rampant – as was hunger.  By the end of 1865, these families were only beginning to recover.

In December of 1865, the court ordered the sheriff of both Hancock and Claiborne Counties to confiscate the assets of both Robert Woodson and Joel Vanoy (sic) since Joel was Woodson’s security on the note for Tilda in 1862.  The total owed at that point was $982.94, including costs.

It is unclear in subsequent court proceedings how much they confiscated, if anything, and what happened.

I suspect, strongly, that the reason the Claiborne County sheriff was involved is because Joel Vannoy had already sold his land and was living in Claiborne County.

This also sheds more light on the possible reason that Joel’s land in Claiborne in 1872 was deeded to his wife and children, not to Joel directly.

The documents pertaining to just this lawsuit, excluding subsequent suits, totaled about 220 pages.  There were many depositions, but never was Joel Vannoy deposed in this process, which I found odd.  To serve as the bond for Woodson, Joel was most likely at the sale itself and he clearly signed subsequent documents.

This is highly suggestive that by this time, Joel Vannoy’s mental condition had deteriorated to the point that both sides knew his testimony would be useless if it could even be obtained.

From Phebe’s perspective, this additional drama must have been both troublesome and weighed heavily upon her heart.  Her brother John, and his daughter were both dead, along with the daughter’s husband and child, and her sister was embroiled in what could be termed a life-long feud between her children and their half-siblings.  Eventually, it appears that one of Sarah’s children turned against her as well.  And Phebe’s own family assets were being sought and perhaps confiscated for the Woodson debt – on top of which her husband wasn’t doing well.

We don’t know why Joel was involved in the sale of Tilda to Woodson.  Was he making a political statement within the family, supporting someone’s position – or was he simply trying to help facilitate a sale?

Was the anxiety produced by knowing that note would come due and likely be unpaid part of what made Joel snap?  With the social and economic changes produced by the Civil War, Woodson was likely to default – meaning Joel would be on the hook.  Was this, combined with the wartime generated necessary paranoia part of the equation that would lead to the decline in Joel’s mental health?

Joel seemed to be well enough to sign as a surety in 1862, although there were allegations that adequate security was not taken on the Woodson note.  By the end of the Civil War, Joel is no longer in any court documents until the 1886 record of his commitment to the hospital in Knoxville.



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Are You Native? – Native American Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins

At Family Tree DNA, having Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins indicating Native American ancestry does not necessarily mean you are Native American or have Native American heritage.

This is a very pervasive myth that needs to be dispelled – although it’s easy to see how people draw that erroneous conclusion.  Let’s look at why – and how to draw a correct conclusion.

The good news is that more and more people are DNA testing.  The bad news is that errors in the system are tending to become more problematic, or said another way, GIGO – Garbage in, Garbage Out.

I want to address this problem in particular having to do with Native American ancestry – or the perception thereof.

At Family Tree DNA, everyone who tests their Y DNA or their mitochondrial DNA have both Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins tabs as two of your 7 information tabs detailing your results.

haplogroup and ancestral orgins tab

The goals of these two pages are to provide the testers with locations around the world where their haplogroup is found, and locations where their matches’ ancestors are found – according to their matches.

Did a little neon danger sign start flashing?  It should have.

Haplogroup Origins

Haplogroup Origins provides testers with information about the origins of other individuals who match your haplogroup both exactly and nearly.  This data base uses the location information from both the Family Tree DNA participant data base and other academic or private databases.

haplogroup origins 2

Ancestral Origins

Ancestral Origins is comprised primarily of the results of the “most distant ancestor” country of your matches at Family Tree DNA.  This tab is designed to provide you a view into the locations where your closest matches are found at each of the testing levels.  After all, that’s where your ancestors are most likely to be from, as well.

ancestral origins 2

Most of the time this works really well, providing valuable information to testers, assuming two things:

1. Participants who are entering the information for their “most distant ancestor” understand that in the case of the Y line DNA – this is the most distant direct MALE ancestor who carries that paternal surname. Not his wife or someone else in that line.

Sometimes, people enter the name of the person in that line, in general, who lived to be the oldest – but that’s not what this field is requesting – the most distant – meaning further back in that direct line.

For mitochondrial DNA, this is the most distant FEMALE in your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line – directly on up that maternal tree until you run out of mothers who have been identified. I can’t tell you how many male names I see listed as the “most distant ancestor” when I do DNA reports for people – and I know immediately that information is incorrect – along with their associated geographic locations.

mtdna matches

In this mitochondrial example, the third match shows a male Indian Chief.  The first problem is that this is a mitochondrial DNA test, so the mitochondrial DNA could not have descended from a male.  If you don’t understand how Y and mitochondrial DNA descends from ancestors, click here.

Secondly, there is no known genealogical descent from this chief – but that really doesn’t matter because the mtDNA cannot descend from a male and the batter is out with the first problem, before you ever get to the second issue.  However, if you are someone who is “looking for” Native American ancestry, this information is very welcome and even seems to be confirming – but it isn’t.  It’s a red herring.

Unfortunately, this may now have perpetuated itself in some fashion, because look at the first and last lines of this next entry – again – another male chief.  The second entry with a name is another male too, Domenico.  Hmmm….maybe information entered by other participants isn’t always reliable and shouldn’t be taken at face value….

mtdna matches 2

2. This approach works well if people enter only known, verified, proven information, not speculation. Herein lies the problem with Native American heritage. Let’s say that the family oral history says that my mother’s mother’s line is Native American. I decide to DNA test, so for the “Most Distant Ancestor” location I select “United States – Native American.”

united states selection

The DNA test comes back and shows heritage other than Native, but that previous information that I entered is never changed in the system.  Now, we have a non-Native haplogroup showing as a Native American result.

Unfortunately, I see this on an increasingly frequent basis – Native American “location” associated with non-Native haplogroups.

non native hap

This scenario has been occurring for some time now.  Family Tree DNA at one point attempted to help this situation by implementing a system in which you can select “United States” meaning you are brick walled here, and “United States Native American” which means your most distant ancestor in that line is Native American.

Native American Haplogroups

There are a very limited number of major haplogroups that include Native American results.  For mitochondrial DNA, they are A, B, C, D, X and possibly M.  I maintain a research list of the subgroups which are Native.  Each of these base haplogroups also have subgroups which are European and/or Asian.  The same holds true for Native American Y haplogroups Q and C.

In the Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins, there are many examples where Non-Native haplogroups are assigned as Native American, such as haplogroup H1a below.  Haplogroup H is European..

non native hap 2

A big hint as to an incorrect “Native” designation is when most or many of the other exact haplogroups, especially full sequence haplogroups, are not Native.  As Bennett Greenspan says, haplogroups and ethnicity are “guilt by genetic association.”  You aren’t going to find the same subhaplogroup in Czechoslovakia, Serbia or England and as a Native American too.

non native hap 3

Haplogroup J is European.

non native hap 4

Haplogroup K is European, and so is U2e1, below.

non native hap 5

Unfortunately, what is happening is that someone tests and see that out of several matches, one is Native American.  People don’t even notice the rest of their matches, they only see the Native match, like the example above.  They then decide that they too must be Native, because they have a Native match, so they change their own “most distant ancestor” location to reflect Native heritage.  This happens most often when someone is brick walled in the US.

non native hap 6

Another issue is that people see haplogroup X and realize that haplogroup X is one of the 5 mitochondrial haplogroups, A, B, C, D and X. that define Native American DNA.  However, those haplogroups have many subgroups and only a few of those subgroups are Native American.  Many are Asian or European.  Regardless, participants see the main haplogroup designation of X and assume that means their ancestor was Native.  They then enter Native American.

In the example above, haplogroup X1c has never been found in a Native American individual or population, although we are still actively looking.  Haplogroup X2a is a Native American subgroup.

In some cases, we are finding new subgroups of known Native haplogroups that are Native.  I recently wrote about this for haplogroup A4 where different subgroups are Asian, Jewish, Native and European.  This is, however, within an already known base haplogroup that includes a Native American subgroup – haplogroup A4.

When testers see these “Native American” results under Haplogroup and Ancestral Origins, they become very encouraged and excited.  Unfortunately, there is no way to verify which of your matches entered “Native American,” nor why, unless you have only a few matches and you can contact all of them.

When someone has tested at the full sequence level, remember that their results will show on these pages in the HVR1 section, the HVR2 section and the full sequence section.  So while it may look like there are three Native American results, there is only one, listed once in all three locations where it “counts.”  In the example below, there are two V3a1 full sequence matches that claim Native American.  Those were the chiefs shown above.  There are those two, plus one more HVR1+HVR2 individuals who has entered Native American as well.  However, if the match total was one for the HVR1, HVR2 and coding regions, that would mean there is one person who tested and matched in all 3 categories, not that 3 people tested.  In other words, you don’t add the match totals together.

non native hap 7

What Does A Native Match Look Like?

Of course, not all matches that indicate Native heritage are incorrect.  It’s a matter of looking at all of the available evidence and finding that guilt by genetic association.

In this first confirmed Native example, we see that the haplogroup is a known Native haplogroup, and all of the matches from outside the US are from areas known to have a preponderance of Native Americans in their population.  For example, about 80% of the people from Mexico carry Native American mitochondrial DNA.

Native 1

In this second example, we see Native American indicated, plus Mexico and Canada, which it typical.  In addition we see Spain.  Just like some people assume Native American, some people from Mexico, Central and South America presume that their ancestors are from Spain, so I always take these with a grain of salt.  Japan is a legitimate location for haplogroup B as well, especially given that this result is listed at the HVR1 level. If this individual tested at the HVR2 or full sequence level, they might be assigned to a different subgroup, and therefore would no longer be considered a match.

native 2

It’s not just what is present that’s important, but what is absent as well.  There is no long list of full sequence matches to people whose ancestors come from European countries like the U2 example above.  Spain is understandable, given the history of the settlement of the Americas, and that can be overlooked or considered and set aside.  Japan makes sense too.  But a European haplogroup combined with a long list of primarily European high level matches with only one or two “Native” matches is impossible to justify away.

What Does Native American Mean?

This discussion begs the question of what Native American means.

It’s certainly possible for someone with a European or African haplogroup to descend from someone who was a proven member of the a tribe.  How is that possible?  Adoption, slavery and kidnapping.  All three were very prevalent practices in the Native culture.

For example, Mary Jemison is a very well-known frontierswoman adopted by the Seneca with many descendants today.  Was she Native?  Yes, she was adopted by the tribe.  Is her DNA Native?  No.  Were her ancestors Native?  No, they were European.  So, are her descendants Native, through her?  She married a Native man, so her descendants are clearly Native through him.  Whether you consider her descendants Native through her depends on how you define Native.  I think the answer would be both yes and no, and both should be a part of the history of Mary Jemison and her descendants.

If a European or African women was kidnapped, enslaved or adopted into the tribe, and bore children, her children were full tribal members.  Of course, today her descendants might have be unaware of her European or African roots, prior to her tribal membership.  Her mtDNA would, of course, come back as European or African, not Native.

This is a case where the culture of the tribe involved may overshadow the DNA in terms of definition of “Indian.”  However, genetically, that ancestor’s roots are still in either Europe or African, not in the Americas.

How Do We Know Which Haplogroups Are Native?

One of the problems we have today is that because there are so many people who carry the oral history of grandmother being “Cherokee,” it has become common to “self-assign” oneself as Native.  That’s all fine and good, until one begins to “self-assign” those haplogroups as Native as well – by virtue of that “Native” assignment in the Family Tree DNA data base.  That’s a horse of a different color.

Because having a Native American ancestor has become so popular, there are now entities who collect “self-assigned” Native descendants and ancestors and, if you match one of those “self-assigned” Native descendants and their haplogroups, voila, you too are magically Native.

I can tell you, being an administrator for the American Indian, Cherokee, Tuscarora, Lumbee and other Native American DNA projects – that list of “self-assigned” Native haplogroups would include every European and African haplogroup in existence – so we would one and all be Native – using that yardstick for comparison.  How about that!

Bottom line – no matter how unhappy it makes people – that’s just not true.

A great deal of research has been undertaken over the past two decades into Native American genetic heritage – and continues today.  The reason I started my Native American Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup list is because it’s difficult to track and keep track of legitimate developments.  Any time someone tells me they have “heard” that haplogroup H, for example, is Native, I ask them for a credible source.  I’ve yet to see one.

How do we determine whether a haplogroup is Native, or not?

The litmus paper test is whether or not the haplogroup has been found in pre-contact burials.  If yes, then it can be considered that the ancestor was living on this continent prior to European contact.  Native people arrived from Asia, across Beringia into what is now Alaska, and then scattered over thousands of years across all of North and South America.  We see subgroups of these same haplogroups across this entire space.

In some locations, the Native people are much less admixed than, for example, the tribes that came into the earliest and closest contact Europeans.  These tribes were decimated and many are now extinct.  I wrote about this in my paper titled, “Where Have All the Indians Gone.”

The tribes that are less admixed are probably the best barometers of Native heritage today.

We are hoping for new discoveries every day, but for today, we must rely on the information we have that is known and proven.

Interpreting Results Today

Native American haplogroup results today are subsets of Y DNA haplogroups Q and C.  If you find a haplogroup O result that might potentially be Native, PLEASE let me know.  This is also a possibility, but as yet unproven.

Mitochondrial Native American haplogroups include subgroups of A, B, C, D, X and possibly M.

If anyone tells you otherwise, personally or indirectly via Haplogroup or Ancestral Origins – keep in mind that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and data is only as good as its source.  Look at all of the information – what is present, what is absent, the testing level and what kind of documentation your matches have to share.

Finding your haplogroup listed as Native American in the Haplogroup or Ancestral Origins doesn’t make you Native American any more than it would make you an elephant if someone else listed “purple elephant.”

purple elephant

The only things that make you Native American are either a confirmed Native haplogroup subgroup, preferably with proven Native matches, or a confirmed genealogical paper trail.  Best of all scenarios is a combination of a Native haplogroup, matches that suggest or confirm your tribe and a proven paper trail.  That combination removes all doubt.


Of the various kinds of evidence, some can stand alone, and some cannot.

Evidence Type Evidence Results Comments
DNA Y or mitochondrial Confirmed Native American subgroup – can stand alone sometimes With deep level testing, this can be enough to prove Native ancestry.  For Y  this generally means advanced SNP testing or matching to other proven Native participants.  For mitochondrial DNA, it means full sequence testing.
Proven paper trail Proven Native tribal membership, but does not prove ancestral origins Needs DNA evidence to prove whether the tribal member was admixed.
Matches to Haplogroup or Ancestral Origins If Native is indicated, need to evaluate the rest of the information. Level of testing, haplogroup, locations of most distant ancestors of other matches need to be evaluated, plus any paper trail evidence.
Autosomal DNA matches To people with Native ancestry Unless you can prove a common ancestor through triangulation, those individuals with Native ancestry could be related to you through any ancestor.  Matches to several people with Native ancestry does not indicate or suggest that you have Native ancestry.
Native DNA ethnicity through autosomal testing Native American results You can generally rely on these results, especially if they are over 5%.  Unless you have reason to believe that other regions could be providing some interfering results, this is probably a legitimate indication of Native heritage.  Locations that sometimes give Native results are Asia and eastern European countries that absorbed Asian invaders, such as the Slavic countries and Germany.  I wrote about this here.

If you don’t test, you can’t play.  If you think you have Native American ancestry, you can take the Y DNA test (at least to 37 markers) if you are a male, the full sequence test if you are testing mitochondrial DNA, or Family Finder to match family members from all ancestral lines and discover if you show any Native American in your ethnicity estimate provided in myOrigins.  Men can take all 3 tests and women can take the mitochondrial DNA and Family Finder tests.  Family Tree DNA is the only testing company providing this comprehensive level of testing.



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A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make

wish list

I can’t tell you how many people write to me and tell me that we must be related because they share a match with several people at the testing companies that have the surname Estes, either today or in their family history.  And, they’d like to know what I think about that list.

What they are really hoping, or wishing for, is that I’d wave my magic Estes wand and say, “well, yes, of course, I know exactly who all of those people are and how they are related.”  If I could do that, I would not have any dead ends on my own tree, believe me.  My magic wand is broken!

A name, alone, does not a match make.  And a list of names doesn’t make an ancestral connection either.

That list of Estes people is interesting, but it really doesn’t mean much of anything, at least, not alone.  These people could be related to the tester through different ancestral lines – although many people find that hard to believe.  But it’s true, and it’s most often the answer.  Let’s take a look at why.

In 10 generations, every person has 1024 direct ancestors.  For someone born in the year 1950, and assuming 4 generations a century, 10 generations take them back to about 1700.

Given that 2 people do have a DNA match – the odds that the match is from any specific one of those 1024 people is 1 in 1024, or if from a couple, 1 in 512.

Given that there are 42,000+ people in the US who carry the Estes surname today, there are many more who don’t, but have an Estes in their tree someplace.  It’s not unlikely that someone would match people who have Estes ancestors – just by chance.  We’ve been here since the mid-1600s – and our early Estes ancestors were prolific.

I ran a little experiment,  just for fun.  I selected a group of people who do NOT have Estes ancestors, and I checked their matches at Family Tree DNA to see how many Estes matches they show.

I am quite familiar with the trees of each of these individuals.  Except for me, none of these people have Estes ancestors.  The Estes surname column is who carries that surname today that they match.  The Estes Ancestor column is the Estes ancestral surname, minus the people who appeared in the Estes surname column if they are duplicated.

I have divided these into two groups – people who came from areas where Estes family members are found, and those who did not.  For comparison, I’m the last entry at the end.

Name Geography Total Matches Estes Surname Estes Ancestor
GB Hatteras Island, NC – not where Estes lived 880 0 1
JC Tennessee – not where Estes lived 1500 3 5
PB Not where Estes lived 340 0 1
CF European ancestry, not where Estes lived 400 1 4
JK Hungarian, German 250 0 1
DL Acadian – not where Estes lived 590 1 2
RG Germanic, not where Estes lived 620 2 1
DB Tennessee – where Estes lived 1440 2 6
JG Tennessee – where Estes lived 1570 4 14
DM Where Estes lived 1090 1 4
GM Where Estes lived 1530 1 5
JZ Where Estes lived 1370 4 6
TM Where Estes lived 1430 1 16
JC Where Estes lived 1380 1 7
KH Where Estes lived 530 1 1
WH Where Estes lived 1910 2 12
WH2 Where Estes lived 1640 2 10
Me An Estes 960 4 4

As you can see, I have a very low number of matches as compared to other people who don’t have any Estes ancestry.  Clearly, those who both descend from areas where Estes families lived for long periods of time stand a better chance of matching people who have Estes in their trees.  They don’t share an Estes ancestor, but they share a common ancestor someplace.

So, while I feel for these people who write me these notes, and wish I had the answer they want – I don’t.  Their list of Estes matches means nothing without finding a common ancestor and matching on a common segment between at least 3 known Estes descendants.  If the person matching those people also matches them on that same common Estes segment, then, we’re beginning to cook.

That evaluation process is called triangulation, of course.  Family Tree DNA and 23andMe both provide tools for triangulation and segment matching, but Ancestry does not.  You can download your Ancestry results to both Family Tree DNA and to GedMatch, fish in multiple ancestor pools, and triangulate from there.

So, get busy triangulating.  No one is going to do the work for you, no matter how hard you wish!

Happy Ancestor Hunting!!!



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Moses Estes (c 1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72

road to halifax

Halifax County Virginia is stunningly beautiful, a gently rolling mountain area.  While visiting there in the fall of 2002, my daughter and I could see why our Estes ancestors were attracted to this area.  The land is beautiful, the mountains so sloping that much rich pastureland is available, and there are plenty of water sources.  Just being there is nectar for the soul.

Halifax County was established in 1752 from Lunenburg which was originally formed from Brunswick County.  Its two major waterways are the Staunton River (known as the Midway in colonial times) and the Dan Rivers, both which are large and navigable.  Even today, while there is some industry along the rivers, most of the county is tobacco farmland.

The first surveyors called it the “Land of Eden.”  Apparently Moses Estes agreed.

Moses Estes Jr. was the son of Moses Estes Sr. and his wife Elizabeth.  Born probably before 1742, in Hanover County, VA, Moses Jr. married Luremia Combs, daughter of John Combs of Amelia County, probably sometime in 1762 since their eldest child, George Estes, was born in Amelia County on February 3, 1763.

By 1766, we find Moses Estes Jr. involved with the buying and selling of real estate in Lunenburg County with his wife’s Combes family.

For a few years, Moses Estes Jr. and Luremia lived in this beautiful location in Lunenburg County on land purchased from Luremia’s brother, George, in 1767 that had been owned by her father, John Combs, before his death in 1762.

Luremia lunenburg estes

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

Moses Jr. moved to Halifax County in 1769 or 1770.  After an initial land investment with his father Moses Sr., on (present day) Grubby Road, Moses Jr. purchased land in what is now South Boston, on what is now Estes Street, and established his own plantation of about 256 acres.  His property spanned relatively flat land from the Dan River Church to the South boundary of Oak Ridge cemetery and was ripe with orchards and fields.  This wasn’t a trivial amount of land.  For purposes of comparison, there are 640 acres in a square mile, so this land would have been slightly less than a half mile by one mile.

Moses produced his own fruit brandy as is mentioned both by descendants and in a chancery suit.  The family tells of huge flower gardens and a beautiful home with porches all the way around the lower and upper levels.  Several springs provided fresh water.  The Estes family would own this land for generations.  The burials in the family cemetery located on the Estes land were relocated to the Estes family tract in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, across the street from the original Estes homestead – although still on land originally owned by Moses.  According to family legend, all that was left of Moses was a collar bone and a casket handle when his grave was moved.

Tom Estes

This photo shows Tom Estes at the old Moses Estes Jr. home place in the early 1900s.  Tom is the great-great-great-grandson of Moses Estes Jr. through George, Susannah, Ezekiel and Henry Archer Estes.

This is the only known surviving photo of this home.  Descendants describe the house as a large house with lots of family photos lining the staircase as it rose to the second level.  Knowing that gallery of photos existed, and burned, just breaks my heart.

This house was special because it had a full porch both upper and lower.  You can see the corner in the photo.

The house was surrounded by lush orchards yielding apples, peaches, pears and cherries.  There were berries to pick as well.  The Estes family made berry wines and brandies.  There were 3 springs on the property as well as Reedy Creek, so fresh water was always abundant.  This truly was prime real estate.  No wonder Moses put down roots and stayed.

The following diagram was drawn by the Estes cousins who visited the Moses Estes home when they were children, before it burned in the 1930s.

Estes Halifax homeplace drawing

House 1 was the original log cabin which later served newlyweds as a starter home.  House 2 was the large Moses Estes Jr. home.  Houses 3 and 4 were farm houses.  Based on what we know from the tax lists and other sources, I’d say that Moses’s sons, George and Bartlett lived in these houses at least until Moses died.  Later, John R. Estes likely lived in one before he left for Tennessee about 1820.

Life in Halifax County

In the 1770s, when Moses Estes Sr. and Moses Estes Jr. are becoming established in Halifax County, there were several land transactions where one or both of them was involved.

Moses Sr. and Moses Jr.’s Halifax County land transactions are as follows:

  • In 1771, Moses Sr. buys 400 acres of land from John Pankey which is on Miry Creek just west of the Greens Folly property.
  • In 1771 Moses Jr. buys 256 acres from John and Elizabeth Owen (the transaction does not say Junior, but Sr. never shows this land on the tax records and Jr. still owns this land after Sr. dies). Moses Jr.’s estate shows this land after his death as well.  This is where the landfill is today, located on and behind Estes Street in South Boston across from the cemetery which originally was part of the Estes land too.
  • In 1772 Moses Sr. sells 200 acres of the Miry Creek land to his sons Moses Jr. and John Estes for 5 shillings – head of Branch of Miry Creek called the Pole Bridge branch being half the track bought of John Pankey.
  • In 1772, Moses Sr. sells other half to son William Estes for 20 shillings. This is where Moses Estes lives and he retains life estate.  This is likely where Moses Sr. and William are both buried.
  • In 1780, a deed from Micajah Estes to Nicholas Vaughn for 150 acres on Poplar creek mentions it abuts the lands of Moses Estes.  Micajah owned the Green’s Folly property and this would have abutted Moses Sr.’s land.
  • Moses Jr. and John Estes sell the 200 acres to Robert Bennett in 1777.  At the end of these transactions, Moses Jr. is left with the 256 acres he purchased from Owens.

In 1772, Moses Jr. was also a security for the will of Nicholas Gillington, the grandfather of Elizabeth Chism, the wife of Moses’s brother John.  In Amelia County, Moses Sr.’s land abutted Nicholas’s land, so the families were well acquainted.

Moses Jr. would eventually file for a 1780 Revolutionary War Claim for 6 bushels of Indian corn worth 15 shillings, 100 sheaves of oats worth#1-13-4, 100 pounds of fodder worth 3 shillings and 11 pounds of bacon worth 11 shillings.  This certainly implies that one of the military units was in Halifax County during this timeframe and needed supplies.  Given where Moses lived, I wonder if they camped at his place.  In the story of Luremia Combs, we discussed a legendary Revolutionary War military campaign that involved Halifax County, right close to where the Estes family lived. At least part of that campaign was literally on their doorstep.

By 1781, a decade after moving to Halifax County, Moses Jr. was well established in the community and was appointed surveyor of the road from Boyd’s Ferry, which is present day South Boston.  Boyd’s Ferry is where one crossed the Dan River at South Boston.  Moses was surveyor from Boyd’s Ferry to Powell’s Ferry on the Banister River.  I’ve been unable to discover where Powell’s Ferry is located on the Banister, but I think it’s just beyond the present day town of Halifax, then called Banistertown.

In 1786, Moses was reappointed and that appointment called for him to be the road surveyor from Boyd’s Ferry to the courthouse, which is located in the present day town of Halifax.  Another reappointment mentioned to the lower Banister River bridge, I suspect that was the original Powell’s Ferry.  The main road ran right directly through Moses Estes’s land in South Boston.

Moses road map

On the map, above, Boyd’s Ferry was located at the current day railroad tressle in South Boston, at the bottom of the map, shown with the red arrow.  Moses’s land is noted in South Boston by the second red arrow.  Halifax, where the courthouse is located is pointed out by a red arrow, as is Banister River, now Banister Lake, just above Halifax.  In total, this is probably 10 miles of road.  Moses is noted in court records as living 5 miles from the courthouse.

The original road through South Boston is present day 129 which started at Boyd’s Ferry.  Route 501 was constructed later and was not the main road at that time.  Moses owned a significant piece of what would become South Boston.

South Boston map

About this same time, in 1781, Moses Jr. is called upon to serve in the Revolutionary War.  Moses’s eldest son, George, served in place of his father, Moses Jr., returning from his father’s 3 month stint just in time to return for his own term of service in October.

This arrangement makes me wonder how both men felt about this.  It’s hard not to project how I feel today onto Moses and George who clearly lived in a very different cultural time and place.  I wouldn’t want my child endangered in my place – under any circumstances.  But then again, perhaps there was a financial incentive that was considered a good opportunity. Perhaps George wanted to go and would have enlisted anyway.  We just don’t know what factors went into that decision.  Moses and George were obviously extremely close as they lived together or adjacent on the same land for their entire lives, and George was the executor of Moses’s estate.  I wish one of these men had kept a journal.

We know, based on the history of the unit where George was serving, that the enemy was indeed camped at Boyd’s Ferry, in South Boston while George was serving elsewhere.  This is the very road where Moses was surveyor, meaning he was responsible for the road maintenance.  It’s somehow ironic that while George was gone and did not see active battle, his father who remained at home wound up in the middle of the Dan River campaign.  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

The tax lists for this time survive, although they are often not terribly robust.

In 1782, Moses Jr. is listed with 11 family members, meaning 9 children, and 1 negro.  This is the only time I have ever seen or heard any suggestion of Moses being involved in any way with slavery – although we don’t know that the negro wasn’t free.  We only know that the negro was tithed with Moses Jr.

The fact that Moses had 9 children in 1782 tells us that at least one child was born after 1782, probably Judith.  We know, according to Moses’s will and estate that he had 10 living children in 1799.

Moses EStes 1782 signature crop

This image is Moses Estes’s signature on a November 6, 1786 petition of vestrymen opposed to a repeal.

Moses first child to marry was Clarissa, in August 1786 to Francis Boyd, of the Boyd’s Ferry family.

Clarissa Estes Francis Boyd marriage

Clarissa Combes Estes marriage bond to Francis Boyd, above.  Moses Sr. may have signed this, given the shakey handwriting.

In December 1786, Moses Jr.’s oldest son, George, married Mary Younger on the same day that his son Bartlett married Rachel Pounds.  There must have been a huge celebration at the Estes plantation with lots of brandy!

Moses did not sign for George, who would have been about 23, but he did sign for Bartlett, which makes me wonder if Bartlett was not yet of age.  In fact, Moses penned this note so we have a wonderful example of his beautiful handwriting.  It’s very different than the Moses signature above on Clarissa’s marriage bond.

It’s interesting that Rachel Pounds signs for herself, and that John Douglas is her surety.  That’s a name we’ll see again

Bartlett Estes Rachel Pounds marriage

Moses’s handwriting is just beautiful.  I can tell you I didn’t inherit that from him.  And, I have to wonder, what was Moses’s “urgent business.”

In 1787, George is listed on the tax list with Moses, obviously farming the plantation, and that same year, George’s first son, John R. Estes was probably born on the Estes land.  John R. Estes is my great-great-great-grandfather who would marry Ann Moore in 1811 and by 1820, settle in Claiborne County, TN, where he would found that branch of the Estes family.

On the 1787 tax list, Bartlett is shown living next door to Moses.  At this point both Bartlett and George are probably living in those farm houses.

On July 19th, 1787, something happened that no child ever wants to witness. Moses’s father, Moses Sr. granted power of attorney and everything he owned to his son, Moses Jr., because he could no longer care for himself.  That must have been a terribly sad day.

I, 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, man’s saddle, bridle tools, carpenters, coopers and plantation tools, all household furniture, tubs, pots, pails, kettles, butter pots and everything else in my estate – Moses Estes mark – William Powell, William Younger, Rachel Younger witnesses

Moses Jr.’s father, Moses Sr. died a few months later, in late 1787.

It was also about this time that Moses and Luremia completed their family.  They had at least 10 children, and probably 11, between 1763 and about 1787.

In 1790, Moses served on an inquisition into “the death of a negro woman on the plantation of Isaac Coles.”

In 1791, Moses was presented for a misdemeanor to the court, but we don’t know what it was because the charge was dismissed in 1792.

In 1792 and 1793, a responsible and trusted citizen, Moses was appraising estates as his neighbors passed away.

In April 1793, Moses is listed as a defendant in a Chancery suit in Halifax County.  I love these suits, because they give us such a flavor of the place and time.

“Daniel Chumbley and Moses Estes at the mansion house of Estes – heard parties make swap of bonds – Chumbley gave Estes bond on William A. Smith and Estes gave Chumbley bond on Thomas Davenport for 45 shillings, Estes to pay Chumbley the difference on some other day which was computed to be at that time, after said Chumbley having some cyder of said Estes 3.3.0 given under my hand Thomas Davenport. Next deposition is from Patience Estes saying Daniel gave Moses Estes the William Smith note upon the condition that if Estes got $$ from Smith he was to pay hisself and then return the balance to said Chumbley and if Estes could not get the $$ and return him the note and he would find property.”

Now can’t you just see these men on a hot summer day, sitting under the trees, sipping “cyder” and making deals?  Maybe someone drank a bit too much.  Daniel Chumbley was the husband of Moses’s niece, Luana, daughter of William Estes and Mary Harris.

I should note here that the phrase mansion house doesn’t necessarily mean what it sounds like it means.  I found this another time, and later discovered that the “mansion house” was something like a 12X20 foot cabin.  Mansion house was often used to indicate the primary home on the property, whether it was a mansion or not.  Every man’s house was his mansion!  Although, given what we know about Moses’s house, maybe by comparison to others – it was indeed considered a mansion.

Moses Estes 1795 signature

On a November 17, 1795 petition opposing the sale of the glebe lands we find the signature of Moses Estes along with George Estes and William Younger, their neighbor.  I love the old style s that looks like an f.

In the Antrim Parish Vestry book, in 1795, we find a note that 10 shillings was brought forward.  What we don’t know is if this entry simply depicts the mandatory payment of taxes or if it also implies church membership.

In 1796, it looks like Moses wound up in jail for a bit of time.

“Alexander Spiers-John Bowman and Company versus Moses Estes, John Douglas surety – deft to pay costs, surety, brought Moses Estes, plaintiff by his attorney and prayed the deft in the custody of the sheriff which was accordingly ordered.”

Now, you know there’s a soap-opera-worthy kind of story buried here someplace.

Since 1791 or 1792, Moses had been feuding with the Douglas family, the families filing dueling lawsuits.  He was then an appraiser for a Douglas estate, so there must have been some connection, someplace.  I was surprised to see John Douglas as Moses’s surety for this lawsuit – but maybe it wasn’t as innocent as it looks.  If your surety thought they were in danger of losing their bond, they could ask the court to take you into custody – and it appears that’s exactly what John Douglas did.

Was he being vindictive or was Moses being difficult or unreliable?  Was this a ploy?  A misunderstanding?  Oh….I’d love to know.  That case, whatever it was, was subsequently dismissed in 1797 with no further explanation.

Throughout this time, Moses continued to be a road hand, testified at court in other cases, and continued with the rhythmic, lyrical pace of southern plantation life in Halifax County.

In 1799, the tax lists shows Moses with 2 white males, no blacks and 3 horses.

Also in 1799, when Moses was 57 years old, something possessed him to write his will.  Normally, at that time, one didn’t write a will unless one thought they would need it imminently.  In his will, he states that he’s in good health, but he also tells us that he is concerned about issues – so maybe all is not well in Eden.

Moses didn’t die until 1813 and he remains actively engaged with the community, signing several petitions, going to court, testifying…doing what southern gentlemen did at that time.

He may have been ill in 1799, because he signed his will with an X, but by 1802, he is once again signing with his name.

Moses Estes 1802 signature

Moses signature from a Dec. 21, 1802 petition wherein Alexander Hey, minister of Antrim Parish, was protesting his dispossession of the glebe lands.

In 1800 and 1801, Moses testified in court a total of 8 times, so he was apparently feeling just fine and attending court.

On the tax lists between 1801 and 1806, Moses increased his total number of horses to 5.  He obviously has a penchant for horses.  His brother, William, who died in 1780, was reportedly a drover of horses.

Judith Estes Andrew Juniel marriage

Moses may have signed in 1806 for his daughter, Judith’s marriage to Andrew Juniel.  Notice that his son Moses is now a player and we again see the designation of Sr. and Jr., but now Moses born about 1742 would be Moses Sr. and his son would be Moses Jr.  Is this Jr. or Sr. above?

Moses begins to slow down after Judith’s marriage.  In 1807 he is a defendant in a lawsuit, which is normal in Virginia in that time and place, and his tithes were ordered to perform road maintenance, also normal.

He isn’t mentioned in the court notes again until 1811 when he is again involved in a debt suit.

We do know, again, from tax lists, that his horse count has increased now to 6 from 1810 until his death 1813.

Moses died in 1813, at the age of about 71.  His will was probated October 25, 1813 but was first entered in the court records on October 6th, suggesting that he had perhaps died in September.

His widow, Luremia Combs (Combes) lived for at least some time after Moses’s death, as in 1816 she was at his estate sale and appears to have been living with son George in the 1820 census.

Berryman Green, Moses’s friend refused executorship and testified that the will had been changed or tampered with.  Maddenly, he doesn’t say in what way.  Moses’ estate was not settled until 1837 and the land not divided until 1842.  It appears that Luremia had died by 1830, so the extreme delay wasn’t due to Luremia living to be ancient.

Moses must have had some inkling that his estate would be a problem, because his will specifically states that he does not want issues. Moses’s will is recorded in Halifax County, will book 9, pages 353-355.

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:

It is my will and desire that whatsoever I have heretofore given to any of my children herewith named, be ? and considered ? so much in ordriemee of their position of the distribution of my estate and to the end, that the amount of what they have to receive from me may be justly known and to prevent disputes respecting the same I will mention each respectively.

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 a horse and saddle, a bed and furniture and a cow values at forty pounds.

To Bartlett Estes my son one mare and saddle, a bed and furniture and a cow valued at 40 pounds.

To my daughter Patience who intermarried with Peter Holt one bed and furniture valued at 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, Clarissa, Bartlett, Patience, Laban, Winstone, Judith, Josiah, Moses and Patsey (the said Patsey now intermarried with Robert Jackson) in as fair and equitable a manner as possible, counting in the sums advanced to the said George, Clarissa, Bartlett, Patience, Laban and Winstone, as a part of their share as aforesaid, and so distributing the whole, that each of my said children shall in the end the share shall be equal.  Wife Luremia Estes to remain in possession of my land and plantation, household and kitchen furniture and property of every kind, and all of my stocks of every kind…unless she should remarry.  Executors wife 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.

Moses Estes willMoses Estes will1Moses Estes will2Moses Estes will3Moses Estes will4Moses Estes will5Berryman Green was assigned as executor and his bond was $5000 – a huge amount of money at that time.  This translates into Moses having an estate that was perceived to be worth a great deal.  According to Dave Manuel’s inflation calculator, $5000 in 1813 would be over $75,000 in 2014.

Berryman Green eventually testified that the witnesses changed the will, but by the time Moses’s estate was settled, the witnesses were all dead as were many of Moses’s children.  While this was horrible for the families involved, it is a boon for genealogists today. Were it not for this lawsuit, I don’t know how we would have ever pieced this family together.

Moses’ Estate Inventory

It’s easy to skip over things when you’re tired in a courthouse, after a day of aerobic exercise consisting of lifting oversized books for hours on end, and you just want to go back to the hotel and take a hot bath.  That’s exactly what I did with Moses estate inventory.  I failed to copy it – keep in mind that when I was extracting these records, copying was entirely by hand.  At that time, I didn’t understand what a valuable list this was in terms of understanding Moses’s life.

So you know what I got to do.  I couldn’t go back, so I retained a very kind genealogist who retrieved the pages from microfilm from the Library of Virginia.

Moses’s estate was extensive and allows us a wonderful glimpse into his life and the time in which he lived.

As I read through this, I had to wonder from time to time what some of these things looked like.  I would particularly have loved to have seen the sword, the bed rugs, the pewter dishes and the sewing items.

Halifax County Will Book 9, page 360

  • 4 pairs harness
  • 2 bridles
  • 2 ropes
  • 5 old sturips
  • 4 ewes bels
  • 2 sheep shears
  • 1 small bell
  • 1 hammer
  • 2 backband hooks flat iron marking iron
  • Some old copper
  • A set of shoemaker’s tools (his grandson John Y. Estes was a shoemaker)
  • Socks, stirrups and large parcel of irons
  • Hinger? 3 pairs
  • 2 rarps?
  • 2 files
  • 4 bridle bits
  • 8 chisels?
  • 3 scraping gouges cold
  • Chisel ? and several pieces of old iron
  • 6 moulding planes and a plough plane
  • 5 chisels and 3 gouges
  • drawing knife (picture below)

drawing knife

  • 2 pistols, 2 hammers

flintlock pistol

  • 2 gimblets (apparently a woodworkers tool)
  • 1 pair consrusrer?
  • 1 pair tongs
  • 1 plumb line
  • Purse and heap of Iron
  • 6 luers and lantern
  • 7 augers and bung boxes and a gouge
  • 1 drawing knife
  • 6 files
  • 1 trowel ring and square
  • 1 carrying knife
  • 1 sword and 2 plume irons
  • 1 addz and small chissel
  • 1 stock 5 bits 1 square and line
  • 7 plains and iron
  • 2 guns
  • 1 cross cut saw
  • 1 ship saw
  • 2 wedges
  • 1 tracer?
  • 1 pole ax
  • 1 broad ax

Halifax County Will book 9, page 361

  • 1 Howel
  • 1 round shave coopers ax, crew?
  • 1 box of old leather and old irons, gourd, nails
  • 3 hilling and weeding hoes, 1 grubbing hoe
  • 1 cutting box
  • 2 knives
  • 1 scythe blade
  • 3 ploughs
  • 1 coulter
  • 1 harrow
  • 3 swingle trees
  • 4 chr
  • 1 grind stone
  • 2 flax wheels
  • 2 pair of breeching
  • 2 pair of hermes
  • 2 pair of plough gears complete
  • 1 saddle and bridle
  • 2 half bushels
  • 2 baskets
  • 1 hogshead
  • 4 barrels
  • 2 runletts
  • 1 half bushel
  • 4 old barrels
  • 2 barrels rum (did Moses distill rum too?)
  • 1 pair stardleards?
  • 5 Hevys
  • 1 pear flat irons
  • 1 kittle and tubit
  • 2 tubs
  • 1 churn
  • 1 can
  • 3 pregins
  • 1 coffee pot
  • 1 candle stick and turnpit and moles
  • Knives and forks and pear large shishers (scissors?)
  • 1 tin pan
  • 2 cups
  • 1 pepper box and funal
  • 3 pewter basins
  • 6 pewter plates and 8 spoons
  • 2 pewter beaow? & earth plate
  • 2 butter pots

butter pot

  • 1 bottle
  • 1 gug
  • 1 nogin
  • 1 horn bellars
  • 2 dishes
  • 1 dutch eaven (oven) and lid

dutch oven

  •  1 flack weale and hakil (flax wheel)
  • 1 loom temples and shuttle
  • 1 pot and hooks over cover
  • 1 pot
  • 1 skillet
  • Will Book 9 page 362
  • 5 tanned sheep skins
  • 1 flax break
  • Warping ban and spool frames
  • 1 folding table
  • 1 chest
  • 6 chairs
  • 1 pine chest and little trunk
  • 9 old books (I’d love to know which books.)
  • 1 bed, bedstead, 5 covers
  • 1 bed, bedstead, 4 covers under beds
  • 4 pairs of cards
  • 1 cupboard
  • 1 cotton wheel
  • 1 pair saddle bags
  • 1 bald face horse
  • 1 bay horse
  • 1 bay mare colt
  • 1 bay mare colt
  • 1 may mare
  • 1 rorrp?
  • 1 bee hives

beehive crop

  • 2 vials of honey
  • 2 revzorz (razors?)
  • 1 bottle strap ?? knives
  • 12 head sheep
  • 1 yoke of steers, yoke and bell
  • 1 proted cow
  • 1 black and white cow and calf
  • 1 cow and black calf
  • 1 little steer
  • 1 heifer
  • 1 small heifer
  • 4 pair harmer
  • 5 house sheats
  • 2 sows and 16 pigs
  • 10 young hogs
  • Black walnut bed posts
  • Parcel of plank
  • Meal sifter

Will Book 9 page 363

  • Table and flax hackle
  • One cart body sheeves and aaletree?
  • Lock chain
  • 1 waggon
  • 2 pr harness
  • 4 gun locks (cocks?0

Filed Nov. 24, 1813

Purchasers at Moses estate sale were:

  • Dr. Granville Craddock
  • Charles D. Fontaine
  • Bartlett Estes
  • John W. Ragall
  • John Thomas
  • Woodson ?
  • William Fitzgivens?
  • ? Boyd
  • Isaac Hart
  • Henry Thomas
  • Robertson Owen
  • John Petty
  • Joseph Estes
  • James Smith
  • William Arnett or Jarrett
  • Moses Palmer
  • Anthony Green
  • Daniel Perry
  • John Hughes
  • Branch Sally
  • Elizabeth Perkesson
  • Thomas Kent
  • Samuel Landrum
  • William Huntin
  • Edmund Chisholm
  • William Abbot
  • John W. Rice
  • Miles Perkison
  • James Dicken?
  • William Owen
  • Richard Throgmartin
  • John Standley?
  • Moses Dunkley
  • Peter Hudson

George Estes bought:

  • 1 bay colt bought by G. Estes and J? Holt

While Moses’s widow, Luremia, legally, may have been entitled to one third of her husband’s estate, and according to his will, she was to be left with the use of everything – she clearly wasn’t.  She had to purchase items at the estate sale.  Apparently at that time, it was perceived that everything, literally, except for his wife’s clothes belonged to the husband – and if the wife wanted anything at all, she had to purchase it at the estate sale.  She even had to buy her coffee pot, dishes, silverware, pots and pans back.  These sales must have been devastating for the widows.

Lurana (Luremia) Estes bought:

  • 2 stays?
  • 1 kettle and trivit
  • 2 tubs and a churn
  • Coffee pot
  • Candle molds and sticks
  • 6 pewter plates and 8 spoons
  • 2 pewter basins
  • 2 dishes
  • 1 flax wheel and hackle?
  • 1 pot
  • 1 skillet
  • 5 tan sheep skin
  • 1 flax loink?
  • 1 warping bars and spool frames
  • 1 folding table
  • 1 chair
  • Books (does this imply she could read?)
  • 1 bedstead
  • 5 bed covers
  • 1 bed, bedstead, 4 covers under bed
  • A cupboard
  • 1 cotton wheel
  • 1 bay mare
  • 1 sheep

Sale filed with the court July 22, 1816.

What does this inventory list tell us about Moses’s life?

He owned books, a rare commodity at that time.  We know he could write, so we can suppose he read those books.  I’d love to know what they were.

And speaking of books, where is Moses’s Bible in this list?  We know he had one, because George refers to it in his Revolutionary War pension application when referencing proof of his birth.

We know Moses was a carpenter and probably a shoemaker too – at least he had the tools for both.

Moses had diverse farm animals including sheep, cows, horses, pigs and bees.  He tanned the skins for leather.

Luremia and the women spun thread.  There is specific mention of both a flax and a cotton wheel.  There are also sheep in evidence which means wool was available for spinning as well.  The family also owned a loom and various tools for the loom.  It must have been a very interesting household.  I wonder if Luremia made the bed rugs.  What I wouldn’t give for a peek.

One thing notably absent, especially with an estate of this size, is slaves.  Moses could clearly have afforded slaves.  I wonder what kept him from utilizing slave labor.  If it wasn’t money, it had to be morals.  While Moses’s father-in-law did own slaves, Moses’s father did not, at least not to the best of our knowledge.

Moses Children

The will lists Moses’s children, and the settlement lists their children when they have died in the interim.  Moses children are listed as follows, in order stated in the will:

  • George Estes, stated as the oldest son – born in 1763, died in 1859. He married Mary Younger (daughter of Marcus Younger) in 1786. Because George is alive, his children, other than Susannah, are not involved in the estate settlement.
  • Clarissa Combs Estes was born before 1770, probably about 1765.  She married Francis Boyd August 8, 1786 with Moses Estes as surety (with very shakey handwriting – probably Moses Sr. before he died) and William Maclin as witness. She was not living in VA in 1837. In 1835 she signs a document from the state of Georgia as to her brother George’s Revolutionary War service.
  • Bartlett Estes born approximately 1764. Bartlett and George, his brother, were married on the same day in Dec. 1786, George to Mary Younger and Bartlett to Rachel Pounds. Bartlett lives near his father for many years, but before the estate settlement, has moved to Tennessee. Bartlett dies during the estate settlement in about 1836, and prior to his death lives outside the commonwealth. His heirs are listed as Allen, John, William and Thomas Estes and Jane Boyd.
  • Patience Estes born about 1777 married Peter Holt and went to Smith Co. TN. She was dead by 1824. Her daughter sells her portion of the estate to Elisha Hodge. Her heirs were in Smith Co. TN in 1837 and were listed as John Holt, Richard Holt and Cintha Holt married to Johnson Moorefield. It has been thought that Patience married Peter Holt before 1797 due to her oldest daughter’s marriage date. However, looking closely at the records, her eldest daughter’s last name was Estes, so was apparently born before her marriage to Peter Holt. Cintha Estes married John (Johnson) Moorefield on January 23, 1817 in Halifax County. Patience Estes witnessed a deed as late as 1798 with her father Moses, and in his will in 1799 he does not refer to her as married, but he does with Patsy.
  • Laban Estes born approximately 1768 and married Priscilla Chism in 1804. By 1837 they were in Davidson Co. TN. His heirs are Barbara Buchanan, Josiah Estes, Susan (John) White, Prisciana (Joshua) Neely, Susan Estes, and Patience Estes.
  • Winston C. Estes born approximately 1770 (pre 1780) and in 1837 was not living in Virginia. His share was conveyed to Susannah, daughter of George. He left for either Tennessee or Arkansas.
  • Judith Estes was born pre-1785 and married Andrew Juniel on Jan. 24, 1806 with Laban and Moses Estes as witnesses, and Moses, her father, as surety. She signs her own consent meaning she was over 21 (born before 1785). She was dead by the time the estate was settled in 1837, probably by 1834 and her heirs were listed. She went to Henderson Co. KY. Her children are noted as Nancy who married John Hust?, Jane who married Charles Winfrey and Sally who married Benjamin Hicks.
  • Josiah Estes (also occasionally called Joseph) born approximately 1774-1777 married Elizabeth Chism (Chisum) (born circa 1789 – died after 1870) March 4, 1814 in Halifax. In 1834 he sells land from Giles Co. TN.  Laban married a Chism also – were they sisters?
  • Moses Estes born approximately 1776 and married Selah Palmer in 1802. He is in Smith Co. TN. in 1834 when he sells his interest in his father’s estate.
  • Patsey J. (Martha) Estes – born about 1780 married Robert Jackson pre 1799 – Moses specifically says in the will “now intermarried with Robert Jackson.” This must be the Martha who later marries a Lax and sues the estate as “Martha Lax”.

The following “child” is not mentioned in the will, but is referenced in the lawsuit, but not consistently.  However, in several places the will and lawsuit very specifically say that Moses has 10 children and then specifically names each one.  Who is Maga?  We may never know.  Maga is a mystery!

  • “Maga Estes,” born about 1772, which could really be Martha, married William Patrick Boyd on Feb. 1, 1792. Moses gives consent for his daughter saying “we”, implying her mother is alive. William Lampoon Is witness and Edward Wallington? as surety. Records surrounding this person are confusing.  There is clearly a marriage record and an estate distribution, but little in-between. She is not mentioned in Moses will. This omission, whether intentional or not, may be the source of some of the controversy, but she is not one of the siblings contesting the will.

Moses wife’s name was Luremia (sometimes spelled Lurana) Combs.   Some records indicate that there was an earlier wife Susanna Combes, but I found the source of this misinformation to be a mis-transcribed name in a deed.  Luremia would be easy enough to misinterpret given the state of early handwriting as it is a rather unusual name.

Surprisingly, Moses didn’t name any of his children Luremia, unless the child died.  Given the ages of Moses children, the only logical break in their ages seems to possibly be between Clarissa born 1765 and the next group of children who were born in the 1768, although we don’t know their birth years for sure.  We do know that three were born in the 1760s, George in 1763, Bartlett about 1764 and then Clarissa about 1765.  Laban was born about 1768, then the next group of 5 in the 1770s, then 2 more in the early 1780s (pre 1785).  This would be the span of years that one woman would be expected to be bearing children, from about 1763 through about 1785.

Moses Jr.’s  Estate Settlement

Moses estate settlement from the chancery suit reads as follows:

“Lax vs Estes – subpoena awarded against defendants George Estes and Elisha Hodge and they not having answered the plaintiff’s bills within 4 months from the filing thereof and still failing to answer the same the said bill is taken as confessed as to them.  Plaintiff’s appearing to have proceeded against defendents; Winston C. (Combs?) Estes, Clarisa Boyd, Moses Estes, Josiah Estes, John Holt, Richard Holt, Cintha Holt, who are not inhabitants of this commonwealth and have not appeared – plaintiff’s bills taken as confessed.  Came on this day to be heard on the bill and answers of the defendents William Boyd and Jane, his wife, Allen Estes (where does he live?), John Estes, Thomas Estes and William Estes and ex? and was agreed by counsel that Joseph C. Terry, Henry Terry and John Jennett or any 2 of them the older Joseph C. Terry being one of them are appointed commissioners for the purpose to ascertain value of the land of which Moses Estes decd died siezed of and to divide into 10 parts by metes and bounds in such quantities in each lot in valuation as well make an equal division amongst the divisees named in the will or among such as are alive and the legal heirs at law of such taking into consideration the advancements made to the divisees particularly as follows; to George Estes advancements to the value of 40#, Clarisa Boyd 40#, Bartlett Estes 40#, Patience Holt 8#, Laban Estes 30#, Winston Estes 30#, and that they assign to Martha Lax one share to Jane Boyd, Allen Estes, John Estes, Thomas Estes and William Estes, children and heirs of Bartlett Estes 2 shares to wit and the share of George Estes sold to said Bartlett, to Clarissa Boyd one share, to John, Richard and Cintha Holt the children and heirs of Patricia Holt one share, to Elisha Hodge purchased from the children and heirs of Laban Estes one, to the plaintiff Susannah Estes (George’s daughter to whom George conveys his interest in the estate) and share to wit of Winston Estes transferred to Susannah, to Elisha Hodge purchased from the heirs of Judith Juniel one share, to Josiah Estes one share, to Moses Estes one share.”

Does the above mean that Bartlett gets two shares plus the one George sold him?  If so, why?  After analyzing the estate settlement and survey and related court records, I believe that George initially sold Bartlett his share, but that Bartlett probably never paid for it, and after Bartlett’s death, George conveyed his share to his daughter Susannah.  Was this an above-board deal, or did George take advantage of the fact that Bartlett had died and there was no proof of ownership?  Did Susannah pressure her father, as George’s response to the lawsuit hints that he is offering this land to Susannah who sued her father as part of his response for not settling the estate sooner.  Was there some other reason why Susannah would wind up with the shares of both Winston and her father, with no record of money changing hands.

The heirs of Moses Jr., his living children and his deceased children’s heirs, are listed in the estate settlement in 1837 as follows:

Moses Child/Spouse Child’s Heirs Advance Shares Awarded Sold To Comment
George 40# 1 share Bartlett, then Susannah *see below
Winston C 30# 1 share Susannah Winston not resident, share transferred to Susannah
Clarissa Boyd/ Francis Boyd 40# 1 share Not resident
Moses 1 share Smith Co, Tn.
Josiah 1 share Giles Co., Tn.
Patience Holt (dead) John Holt 8# 1 share to children & heirs of Patricia Not resident
Richard Holt Not resident
Cintha Holt Not resident
Bartlett (dead) Jane/Wiliam Boyd 2 shares and the share of George Estes sold to Bartlett – eventually gets one share Children and heirs of Bartlett
Allen Estes 40# Children and heirs of Bartlett
Thomas Estes Children and heirs of Bartlett
John Estes Children and heirs of Bartlett
William Estes Children and heirs of Bartlett
Laban (dead) 30# 1 share to Elisha Elisha Hodge Elisha purch share from Children and heirs of Laban
Maga and William Boyd 1 share Implied Maga dead
Judith Juniel/Andrew Juniel 1 share Elisha Hodge Purch from children and heirs of Judith Juniel
Patsy (Martha) Jackson Lax

*George (04) Estes – defendant for not acting (executor) – got 40# advancement of inheritance – initially sold his share to Bartlett, later Susannah winds up with George’s share.

Patsy Jackson must be the same person as Martha Lax.  Otherwise there is a child missing in Moses will?  If not, Patsy Jackson must have died with no heirs between 1792 and 1799?  Martha Lax is definitely NOT listed in the will in any capacity.  Is this part of the lawsuit issue?  Is this part of what was changed by the heirs causing this decades-long lawsuit?

In 1842, the land was finally surveyed and divided, ending the 29 year long wait to settle Moses’s estate.

Moses 1842 survey

The Land

When I first visited Halifax County, Moses’s land was the first Estes land that I found by running the deeds forward in time until I found the deed for the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Oak Ridge entrance

The Estes plot is located just inside the entrance, shown here by the bright white stones. As an aside, the beautiful cobblestone wall surrounding Oak Ridge was created for the cemetery out of the cobblestones from the main road when it was originally paved.  Knowing that Moses Estes was responsible for road maintenance on this segment of road, it’s not only likely that some of these stones were from his property, it’s also likely that he laid them himself.  I’m so glad that they were preserved in this manner.

It’s a genealogists dream to find a landmark adjacent to or on ancestral land – because it means the land is readily identifiable today.  This was this same visit where I met two Estes cousins who knew where Moses’s land was, having played there as children – and who told me about Estes Street and how it used to lead down to the Estes farm – still in the family beyond the 1930s.  According to the cousins, some descendants refused to sell to the city of South Boston when they purchased the land for the landfill and still retain ownership, having granted the city a long-term lease for the landfill.

estes street sign

Today, the water plant sits on the left of Estes Street, and the landfill has replaced the Estes farm at the end of Estes Street, which is now gated.

Estes Street dead end

The family sold off some lots on the main road years ago, and those homes still stand, but behind them, and behind the trees, where the Estes plantation once stood is the landfill today.

Estes land from cemetery

In the photo above, Main Street is hidden behind the cobblestone wall, and Estes Street runs perpendicular to Main Street beside the blue water tower on the left.  This was once all Moses’s land.

I really wanted to see what I could of the original Estes land.  All that was left in the early 2000s was some woods.  I went behind the landfill and photographed across that area in order to catch at least a glimpse of the woods and Reedy Creek which ran though the Estes property, and still does.

In these photos, you can orient yourself because you can see the blue water tower to the right in the first photos, and to the left in the second photo – so the two form a panorama.

George Estes landfillGeorge Estes landfill 2

The road that you see coming from near the water tower is an extension of the original Estes street that led to the homes.  Reedy Creek is running left to right on the forest side of the landfill access road in the bottom of this photo.

Further north, we see more forest and a meadow.  I wonder if this land was ever entirely cleared.

Estes land rear landfill

Estes Halifax google

A Google Maps view of this area today.  The Estes plot in the Oak Ridge Cemetery is marked with an arrow.

On this enlarged map, you can see Reedy Creek to the right, and you can also find it on the 1842 survey map.  The main road is 129 today.  The landfill where the houses stood is that brown bare-earth patch.

This enlargement shows the area where Estes Street remains today, the blue water tower, and the place where Estes Street is now gated, just beyond that water tower.

I was able to speak with the man who actually did the bulldozing of the buildings on the Estes land after the city made the purchase, and he indicated that the houses were located where the landfill is today, along with the original cemetery.  This makes sense, looking at the photos.

Estes Halifax google3

Note that Younger Avenue is shown at the bottom center of this image.  Moses Estes’s land adjoined that of William Younger, and Moses’s son, George, married Mary Younger, daughter of Marcus Younger in 1786.  No link between William and Marcus Younger has been established, but it’s a coincidence too unusual to be ignored.  Finding Younger Avenue also helps us establish the boundaries of Moses’s land.

Reading the various deeds involved, we discover that one of the springs on the Estes land was called the Waddell Spring.  Today, Waddell Woods is a subdivision created to the far north of this piece of property, shown with the upper arrow in the satellite view below. Indeed, it includes a spring, called Waddell Spring

Estes Halifax google4

Based on the information from various sources, including the 1842 land division survey and subsequent deeds, I believe that Moses’s land extended roughly from the west side of 129 including Oak Ridge Cemtery, north through Waddell Woods, south to Younger Avenue and then east to about the right arrow.  Of course, those survey lines weren’t straight – but this gives us some idea.  To make sure I wasn’t terribly askew, I converted acres to square feet and compared to the Halifax County map dimensions, and this looks very close.  He could have owned slightly further east.

The Graves and the Landfill

During my early trips to Halifax County, I was haunted by the knowledge that my ancestors were not only under the landfill, but that their bones, or what were left of them, were probably dug up and scattered.  I was very relieved during later visits to hear the stories told by my cousins of the graves being moved, and the oldest grave, that of Moses, holding only a collarbone and casket hinges.  We know they were moved to the Oak Ridge cemetery, across the street from the original Estes land, but we don’t know exactly where they were buried on the Ezekiel Estes family plot.  This cemetery was established in 1885, and Ezekiel, who died that year, may have been the first burial in the official “Oak Ridge” Cemetery, owned by the city of South Boston.  Now, his ancestors, as well as his children, rest with him.

Oak Ridge Estes plot

On the Estes plot, some graves are well marked and others are only marked with a stone.

Oak Ridge stone marker

Or marked by a flower…

Oak Ridge flower marker

There is a large area of unmarked graves.  Of course, among these would be Moses Jr., his wife Luremia Combs, his son George Estes and George’s wife, Mary Younger.  There are probably children of these couples buried with them as well.

Estes Oak Ridge unmarked graves

About ten years ago, the Estes cousins in Halifax Co. cleaned the markers and discovered that they are all white marble.  Look at the difference in the Estes plot 3 photos above, taken in 2002, and the photo below, taken in 2005.  Unfortunately, all the early graves aren’t marked.  We still don’t know where Moses Jr. and his son George are buried, but we just have to have faith that they were moved and buried someplace on this family plot.

Oak Ridge Estes stones cleaned

There is also a possibility that the Oak Ridge cemetery, established in 1885, was actually the  or an original Estes family cemetery.  In fact, I found information that said exactly that in a historical article on Halifax County cemeteries at the local library.  If this is the case, then there were 2 different Estes cemeteries on the same original plot of land.  This does not surprise me, especially given the long and difficult settlement of Moses’s land and the subsequent dividing of his property between his heirs.  Furthermore, there seems to have been a lot of drama in this family.  Our Estes family makes Oprah and Dr. Phil look boring!


DNA has been invaluable in reassembling this family.  Many descendants today know they carry the surname Estes, or a derivative, but they have no idea how they connect back to any ancestral line.  If they have a male Estes to test, we can easily confirm their membership in the ancestral Estes group (or not) by testing their Y chromosome at Family Tree DNA – and joining the Estes DNA project, which is free for anyone who tests at (or transfers results to) Family Tree DNA. We have connected several people with their specific lines utilizing line marker mutations, when they exist, in combination with autosomal testing.

In the article about Moses Estes Sr., I discussed the Big Y test and how I’ve utilized it to likely dispel the rumor about the Estes family being descended from the House of d’Este in Italy.

Something else we can learn about is the in-between time – from the time surnames end, in the 1300s or 1400s, and back as far as we can go in terms of who our DNA tells us we match relative to different surnames.  In other words, we’re related, but adopted different surnames when that time came.

One of the ways we can know if we descend from a group of people who are found in a remote location is to utilize the Big Y test and look for others whose deep ancestry is found in that location.

Not only did we find no Italian or Iberian DNA matches on either the regular Y DNA STR panel markers or the SNPs, we found our closest deep SNP match to be to the Gallagher family.  They are Irish.  Ireland was settled by the Celts, and our DNA looks to be Celtic as well – so we are likely related to the Gallaghers BEFORE they settled in Ireland.  How about those potatoes?  Not only do I love to discover more about my Estes ancestors after they adopted the surname Estes, but I love to discover their history before we were Esteses.

I wrote about this experience in the article, Estes Big Y DNA Results.

Perhaps the most surprising finding based on the Big Y was that we share an ancestor with Niall of the Nine Hostages, a very early Irish king from the 4th or 5th century, an ancestor of the Ui Neill family dynasty.  You just never know what kind of secrets your DNA is going to surrender!

One Line Complete

This article completes a series of 13 articles about each of my Estes direct line ancestors – meaning those who carry the Estes surname, beginning with my playboy father, William Sterling Estes and ending with my eleven times great-grandfather, Nycholas Ewstas, born in 1495, probably in or near Deal, Kent, England.  As you can see, this is the line of the surname I carry – so I am heavily invested in researching this line and discovering as much as possible.  It’s what brought me to genetic genealogy initially.

In order, my Estes line and the associated articles are:

William Sterling Estes (c1902-1963), The Missing Years, 52 Ancestors #5
William George Estes (1873-1971), You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, 51 Ancestors #53
Lazarus Estes (1848-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59
John Y. Estes (1818-1895), Civil War Soldier, Walked to Texas, Twice, 52 Ancestors #64
John R. Estes (1787-1885), War of 1812 Veteran, 52 Ancestors #62
George Estes (1763-1859), Three Times Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #66
Moses Estes (c1742-1813), Distiller of Fine Brandy and Cyder, 52 Ancestors #72 – this article
Finding Moses Estes (1711-1787), 52 Ancestors #69
Abraham Estes (c1647-1720), The Immigrant, 52 Ancestors #35
Sylvester Estes (1596-c1647), Sometimes Churchwarden, 52 Ancestors #31
Robert Eastes (1555-1616), Householder in Ringwould, 52 Ancestors #30
Sylvester Estes (c1522-1579), Fisherman of Deal, 52 Ancestors #29
Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1533), English Progenitor, 52 Ancestors #28

It’s quite ironic that I don’t have the requisite Y chromosome to be tested myself – but thankfully, I found Estes cousins who did.  Several in fact, which enabled us to do the Y DNA project along with, eventually, the Big Y study.  The Y DNA results, combined with autosomal DNA allowed me to prove my connection to the Estes line – even without that elusive Y chromosome.

Genealogy research is a combination of both genetic genealogy and plain old traditional paper gruntwork research – the more courthouses, the better.  During this decades-long Estes adventure, I’ve visited countless states, counties and courthouses in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.  My search finally took me to Deal, in Kent, England.  Although initially hesitant, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I went.  Deal is the birthplace of our Estes family as we know it today.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like standing and walking where your ancestors trod, lived, loved and died.  Knowing that a part of you not only sprung from there, but remains there, with them, is incredibly powerful.

However, in our Estes line, we’ve literally exhausted all of the available records.  In England, there are no earlier records in Kent where we first find our ancestors.  I’ve scoured, along with other cousins, the Virginia County records that aren’t burned counties.  There is and was no place left to look, except in our DNA – the ultimate gift from our ancestors.

The DNA aspect of this project enabled us to do several things we would otherwise have never been able to do:

  • Confirm that lineages are ancestrally Estes.
  • Establish what the Y DNA of our oldest progenitor looked like by triangulating the Y DNA of the various descendants on each marker.
  • Confirm through autosomal testing that people who do not carry the Estes Y chromosome and therefore who cannot take the Y test are Estes descendants – through the Family Finder autosomal DNA test.
  • Learn which families we are the most closely related to before the advent of surnames.
  • Determine the migration path of our Estes ancestors in Europe.
  • Dispel the myth that the Estes family descends from the d’Este family – although I’d be much happier if we could just find a male from the paternal d’Este line to test directly on the Y chromosome.
  • Discovered that we are probably Celtic.
  • Discovered that we share an ancestor with Niall of the Nine Hostages.

It has been quite a journey and one that would have been sorely lacking…no…impossible… without the DNA tools that we have at our disposal today.

It is with more than a tinge of sadness that I end this series about the direct Estes line.  Of course, that’s mixed with a dash of relief to finally have this done.  I was more than a little concerned that if I continued to delay this publication project, all of my research would either go to my grave with me, or be found sitting beside the trash can on the curb – a wall of boxes, a few days after my passing.

Thankfully, that’s not going to happen.  And I have lots more ancestors to document.  Please continue to join me for more of my ancestral journeys, wanderings, musings and DNA adventures in my continuing 52 Ancestors series.



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RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss

The genetic genealogy community suffered a crushing loss this week.

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation data base of Y and mitochondrial results, complete with pedigree charts, owned by, has been removed.  Here is the statement by Ancestry currently appearing on the website.

smgf rip

This is a grievous loss for the genetic genealogy community.  The site was rich with information and since Ancestry took their own Y and mtDNA data base offline in the fall of 2014, was one of only two remaining Y and mitochondrial comparison sources.

YSearch and MitoSearch remain, today, funded by Family Tree DNA.  Outside of Family Tree DNA itself, these are now the only publicly available comparison data base.

Sorenson held over 100,000 samples of DNA and was linked to pedigree charts of those who contributed their DNA for processing.  One of the earliest data bases, many contributors to Sorenson have passed away today, and their Y and mtDNA information was only available at Sorenson.

While Ancestry did not say specifically, the public relations nightmare surrounding a police case recently has obviously spurred Ancestry to take this action.

Unfortunately, the tabloid reporting in this horribly biased and intentionally inflammatory article was posted and repeated within the genealogy community, even by some well-known individuals, without vetting for facts.  The sky was not falling, until this happened, and well….now we know that the sky falling actually does look like…because it has.

For the truth of the matter, please see Judy Russell’s articles here and here.  Judy Russell, who writes as The Legal Genealogist, is a genealogist with a law degree.  I can’t add anything to what Judy had to say about the facts and circumstances in this case.

What I can say is that the combination of shoddy journalism and rumor-mongering, for lack of any other term, has put Ancestry in a no-win position.  The only way for them to make this situation “go away” is to do exactly what they have done.  Now there is no data base, no way to compare DNA, for anyone, and therefore, nothing to talk about.  This will never happen to them again.  There will be no more negative publicity, at least not about this.  Their problem is solved.  Ours is not.

We are the losers in all of this.  And it’s a grievous loss.  One that cannot be replaced.

And as angry as I was, and still am, at Ancestry for destroying their own data base in October of 2014, I can hardly blame them for this move – as much as I don’t like it.  They don’t sell the Y and mitochondrial DNA testing products anymore – and there is no upside to them as a corporation to continue to support a philanthropic data base that was at the root of the public relations nightmare they have recently endured.

Having said that, I am hopeful that other arrangements can be made.  There is a group of individuals speaking with the folks at Ancestry this week to determine if there are any other options available and to discuss alternatives.



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Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments

Recently, I had the opportunity to compare 2 children’s autosomal DNA against both of their parents.  Since children obtain 50% of their DNA from each parent (except for the X chromosome in males), it stands to reason that all valid autosomal matches to these children not only will, but must match one parent or the other.  If not, then the match is not valid – in other words – it’s an identical match by chance.

If you remember, the definition of a match by chance, or IBC (identical by chance) is when someone matches a child but doesn’t match either parent.

This means that the DNA segments, or alleles, just happen to line up so that it reads as a match for the child, by zigzagging back and forth between the DNA of both parents, but it really isn’t a valid genealogical match.

You can read about how this works in my article, How Phasing Works and Determining IBD Versus IBS Matches and also in the article, One Chromosome, Two Sides, No Zipper.

The absolute best way to determine if a match is a valid match or not, valid meaning that the DNA was handed down by ancestors, not a match by chance, is to compare a child’s matches against both parents.  By doing that, we can quickly identify and isolate matches that aren’t real.


In the example above, you can see that Mom contributed all As to me and Dad contributed all Cs to me.  Joe has alternating As and Cs, so he is a match to me on every location.  However, he only matches my parents on half of their locations, so he is not a match to them, because it’s only chance that caused him to match me on those allele values in that order.

DNA matching programs have to take into consideration both allele values in their match routines, since you carry a value from your mother (A above) and a value from your father (C above), and they are not labeled as to which parent they come from.

Valid matches will also match one parent or the other.  After all, the child received all of their DNA from one parent or the other, so for someone to be a valid genealogical match a child, they must match a parent.

Some time back, when I was matching to my own mother’s DNA, I noticed that I matched her on about 40% of my matches, which left 60% to either be matches to my father or identical by chance.

Notice, I’m not talking about IBS, or identical by state, because that phrase is used to mean both identical by chance and identical by population.  Identical by population means that you did in fact inherit the DNA from an ancestor, but it’s either too far back in time to determine which ancestor, or that segment was present in a specific, probably endogamous population, and you could have inherited it from any number of ancestors.

So, identical by population is identical by descent, but we just can’t tell who we got received that DNA from.

  • IBC – identical by chance – not a valid match – you happen to match someone else on a particular segment, but it’s because the match software is jumping back and forth from your mother’s side to your father’s side.
  • IBD – Identical by descent – you share a common segment of DNA because you and another person(s) inherited that DNA segment from a common ancestor who you can identify
  • IBS – Identical by state – currently used to be both IBC and IBS, where IBS means that you did inherit this DNA from a common ancestor, but it’s so far back you can’t determine who, or that segment is so common within a particular population you could have inherited it from a number of people.

Now a 60-40 parental split is certainly possible, especially if one parent was from an endogamous population, which would mean more matches, or one parent was more recently immigrated from the old country, which would mean fewer matches.

However, without my father’s DNA, which is not available, we’ll never know.

Since that time, I have obtained access to 2 sets of child plus both parents DNA results, so I wanted to take a look at how IBD versus IBC stacked up.  These comparisons were done at Family Tree DNA.

Total Matches Non-Matching Either Parent Percent Non-Matching
Child 1 959 133 13.9
Child 2 1037 133 12.8

Based on other evidence I’ve seen, this percentage seems about right, but the amount of shared DNA and the largest segment size surprised me.  Keep in mind that the smallest possible segment size is 7cM which is Family Tree DNA’s lowest single segment threshold to be counted as a match (assuming you meet the 20cM total threshold first.)  If you match, they show you your matching DNA down to 1cM, but these tables are measurements by the 7cM matching criteria only.

In plain English, this means that in this case, 12% and 13% of these matches were identical by chance, or false matches.  These matches included people who shared up to 57cM of data and the largest block was 15cM.

Largest Shared cM Largest Longest Block
Child 1 46.87 14.38
Child 2 57.06 15.18

Could something else be causing this?  Certainly.  Some of these non-matches could be read errors in the files.  I’d certainly want to take a look at that if any of these became critical.  Another possibility could be that valid match segments are “stitched together” by IBC segments creating longer segments in the child.

An alternative to check validity would be to download the files to GedMatch and see if the pattern continues using the same match criteria.  Of course, testing at multiple labs and downloading the results to compare at GedMatch likely removes the issue of read errors in the first set of files.  And if you really, REALLY, want to know, you can look at the raw data files themselves.

Just so you know, this wasn’t an anomaly with just one high read.  Here are the highest 25 entries from Child 2, or about one fifth of her total mismatches.  Only a few were in the 3-5th cousin range.  None were closer.  Most were 4th or 5th to remote.

non-parent matching relationship range

If you want to do these comparisons yourself, they are easy to do if you have a child and both parents who have tested at Family Tree DNA.

On your Family Finder matches page, at the bottom, in the right corner, there is a button to download matches.

download button

I download the matches into separate spreadsheets for the child, mother and father.  I then color all of the rows pink in the mother’s results, and blue in the father’s results, then copy all three to a common spreadsheet.  You can then sort on the match name and this is what you’ll see.

non-match example

What you’re looking for is white (child) rows that don’t match either a blue row (father) or a pink row (mother.)  Don’t worry about pink or blue rows that don’t have matches. It’s normal for the DNA not to be passed to the child part of the time, so these are expected.

In this example, all white rows matched one parent or the other, except for Winnie Whines.  I colored this row red and added the Comment column where I entered the number of this non-matching entry.  When I’m finished comparing and coloring, then all I have to do is sort that column, bringing all of the nonmatching rows together.  I copied those nonmatching entries into a separate sheet so I could sort those alone and obtained the largest shared and longest segments.  To determine the percent, just divide the total number of nonmatches, in this case, 133, by the child’s total number of matches, in this case, 959, giving a non-parent-match percentage of 13.9%.

So, the take-home message is that not all small segment matches are genealogically irrelevant and not all larger segment matches are genealogically relevant.  Thank goodness we have tools and processes to begin to tell the difference.

So, if you don’t have both parents to compare to, and you’re wondering why you just can’t find a common ancestor with someone you match, the answer might be that they fall into your 12 or 13% that are IBC matches.

If you perform this little exercise, comparing a child to both parents, please feel free to post your results in the comments section along with any commentary about endogamous populations or special circumstances.  It really doesn’t take long, probably about an hour total, and the results are really interesting.  Plus, you’ll have eliminated all those irrelevant matches.

I’ll be writing more about this interesting experiment in coming days.



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Genealogy Research by Jim Bartlett


Today, I want to talk about another blogger – a new blogger – Jim Bartlett.  I’m very glad to see Jim enter the blogging space.  Welcome Aboard!!!!

You might be surprised to see one blogger recommending another.  Don’t be.  There are few people in any field who agree 100% of the time, but Jim is the ultimate, respectful professional and shares graciously and willingly with others, and has for years.

I want to take this opportunity to welcome Jim, and to tell you something about him and why you might want to follow what he has to say.  He may be a novice blogger, but he certainly is not a novice genetic genealogist.

It’s interesting to learn about your fellow genetic genealogists.  None of us began in this field, because most of us began our careers long before this field existed.  For the most part, we were or are professionals in another scientific or technical field.  Jim is no exception and he, like others, brought the best of his professional experience to genetic genealogy.

Jim is an engineer by education (Bachelor and Masters degrees), and spent 50 years in various aspects of construction, including a Design Engineer for the Smithsonian Institution; Program Manager for the $2 billion TRIDENT Base in GA; Program Manager for US NATO Construction, etc.  Jim has a knack for puzzles and spatial design. Jim says, “As soon as I learned about autosomal DNA, I caught on pretty quickly. I view the mapping of my chromosomes to my ancestors as the ultimate puzzle.”  Isn’t that the truth!

Jim has been active in genealogy since 1974 (visiting courthouses, scrolling microfilms, lunches at DAR Library, etc.  In 2002 he began the BARTLETT-DNA Project, which has grown to over 300 participants and has identified 23 separate lines.  Jim cut his genetic genealogy teeth on the Y chromosome.

Since 2010 Jim has been involved with the newest DNA tool, autosomal DNA, which provides matches with cousins from any/all of your ancestors. He has tested at all 3 companies, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry, and also uses GEDmatch.

The simple version of Jim’s advice is: communicate; share; find common ancestors!

The more complex version involves spreadsheets, segment analysis, and triangulation and that’s what his new blog will address.

In any up-and-coming field, new experts appear on a daily basis.  If you follow any of the social media or genetic genealogy lists, you’ll probably notice from time to time that a new “expert” whom you’ve never heard of before appears and states “facts” or opinions as facts.

There are but a handful of individuals whom I truly consider to be experts in this field.  Some are very specialized in one area and some are both wide and deep.  One characteristic in common with them all is that they have years, as in many, MANY years of experience in both genetic genealogy AND genealogy.  None of them are newcomers by any definition.

Jim is one of these seasoned experts with a very unique claim to fame.  Jim has mapped more of his autosomal DNA than anyone else that I know of.  And I mean bar none.  He is #1!  Jim is one of the most dedicated researchers I have ever met.  He is the example that the rest of us aspire to.  That’s because Jim is both retired and committed – working on his genetic genealogy every day!

I asked Jim how much of his autosomal DNA he has been able to attribute to a particular ancestor or ancestral group.

“I now have over 4,000 different Matches in my spreadsheet. I’ve mapped over 88 percent of my 45 chromosomes (based on base pairs). I’ve determined Common Ancestors for about 70 percent of my DNA (based on base pairs). Most of my 340 triangulation groups are heel-and-toe on the chromosomes with only a few gaps over 10cM left (mostly from my maternal grandmother’s immigrant ancestor from Scotland and Germany in the 1850s.)

This has been a fantastic journey. I’m now working with the matches in my triangulation groups to dig deeper into finding our Common Ancestors.”

Fortunately for the rest of us, Jim has decided to share his experiences, advice and puzzle solving expertise with the genetic genealogy community and recently created his new blog,  You can follow his blog by clicking on the little grey follow button on the right hand side of his main blog page.

So far, Jim has published four articles:

What is a Segment?
Benefits of Triangulation
Does Triangulation Always Work?
How to Triangulate?

If you subscribe today, you won’t miss any of what Jim has to say.



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

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Mother’s Day – Tracking the Mitochondrial DNA Line

Just for fun, for Mother’s Day, here is the visual history of my mitochondrial DNA line.  It’s fun, quick to do and a great way to share DNA information with your family!


My daughter.


My son.

me at 5


mom toddler

My mother – Barbara Jean Ferverda (1922-2006)

Edith as a child cropped

My grandmother – Edith Barbara Lore (1888-1960) married John Whitney Ferverda

Nora Kirsch wedding

My great-grandmother – Ellenore “Nora” Kirsch (1866-1949) married Curtis Benjamin Lore

barbara drechsel cropped

Barbara Drechsel – German immigrant – (1848-1930) married Jacob Kirsch

I wish we had photos of Barbara’s mother, Barbara Mehlheimer (1823-1906) who married George Drechsel and immigrated to Aurora, Indiana.  Her mother was Elisabetha Mehlheimer.

Thank you to all of the mothers who came before and contributed their mitochondrial DNA, along with everything else, to their children…and ultimately to my children!



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

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