Lydia Brown (c1790-1840/1850), Buried or Attending a Wedding?, 52 Ancestors #78

All I can say is thank heavens for the government.  Even back in “the day,” the government had a place in the lives of the citizens, whether they liked it or not, and because of the government, we have records today.  In this case, without a marriage record and land records, we would never know the name of Lydia Brown, who she married or who her parents were.  She would have been another no-name anonymous end-of-line female, but thankfully, she isn’t.

Besides, I love the name Lydia.  It’s lyrical, almost musical.  Had I known these names earlier, I might have named my daughters Lydia and Phebe.

Lydia was born sometime around 1790, or maybe slightly earlier, to Jotham and Phebe Brown, probably on Brush Creek, a branch of Little River, in Botetourt County, Virginia where they were living at that time. That part of Botetourt became Montgomery County.

By the time Lydia was about 7, her parents began selling their land, probably in preparation for moving, but Jotham died sometime between March of 1797 and May of 1800  when his widow, Phebe and heirs sold 104 acres on Terry’s Creek, a branch of Little River.  Were it not for this deed, we wouldn’t have the names of Jotham’s children, nor would we know when he died.

From the Montgomery Co., VA court records – Deed Book C – page 326, courtesy of Stevie Hughs.  May 16, 1800 – the following heirs of Jotham Brown, deceased, conveyed 104 acres lying in that county, on Terry’s Creek, a branch of Little River to Benjamin Craig of the same County.

The heirs named on the deed as follows:

  • Wife, Phoebe Brown,
  • Christopher Cooper & wife Jane Brown
  • Salvanes (Sylvanous) Brown
  • John Willis (wife unstated)
  • David Brown
  • John Brown
  • Mary Brown
  • Lydia Brown
  • Elizabeth Brown
  • Jotham Brown
  • Mirey Brown
  • William Brown

Lydia would have been between 7 and 10 when her father died and the land was sold.  By the time the family moved to Greene County, she was probably 12 or 13.

Lydia’s mother, Phebe, was probably very perplexed about what to do.  She was about 50-60 years old and she still had 3 unmarried children that she was raising.  Lydia was the baby.  Granted, she did have older children to help, but still, with many of the family members wanting to move to Greene County, or at least contemplating it, she had a decision to make.

Phebe’s oldest daughter, Jane Brown Cooper and husband Christopher Cooper obviously wanted to settle in Greene County, as they were the first to arrive in 1803.  Phebe’s sons, Sylvanus, David and Jotham would follow by 1805.  We don’t know for sure whether Phebe settled in Greene County, but unless she died before she could get there, it’s likely she did.

Phebe’s children who were at that time unmarried all married in Greene County, Lydia and Mercy both in October 1807 and William in 1811.  So either Phebe settled here, living out her final years with her children, or she died and one of her older children took the younger ones to raise.

Given Phebe’s age, probably between 50 and 60 about that time, it’s certainly possible that she lived a good many years, probably with Jane Brown Cooper and family.  We do know that Phebe signed as a witness on the deed when Christopher and Jane Brown Cooper sold their land in Montgomery County in preparation for the move to Greene County – so it’s very likely she moved right along with them.

Lydia would have lived with her mother, probably in the Jane Brown Cooper homestead, which was then, a cabin.  Stevie Hughes found the location of the cabin, sadly, after it has been torn down.  The last thing it had been used for was a storage shed.  It was located very near, within 100 feet of Baileyton Road and Spider Stines Road, in Greene County.  In the photo below, 100 feet from Baileyton Road would be about half way to the row of trees, below.

Cooper cabin crop

On down the road was the family burying ground.  In the photo below, you can see the little balloon on the site.

Cooper graveyward

If Phebe accompanied her family to Greene County, this is assuredly where she lies today.  Lydia, would have stood in this very spot to bury her mother.   We don’t know when Phebe died, but we do know that Lydia herself either died in 1817, or left Greene County in 1819.  So she too could be buried here.

Power wires at Cooper graveyard

For the benefit of anyone trying to find this cemetery, look for the high tension wires and pole, where the little balloon is located, above.  The cemetery is within a few feet and is very overgrown, although Stevie placed a lovely marker so that it will never be lost again.  It would somehow be fitting if they were Scottish with the beautiful thistle blooming right by the stone.

Old Cooper burial stone

You can see the edge of the power wires behind the stone.

Cooper cemetery overgrowth

When I say it’s overgrown, I mean as tall as a person, but the field stones are there, hidden underneath.  Only your similarly crazy cousins will do things like this with you!!!  Love my cousins!

Cooper land

This is the land where Lydia lived as a child, before she met her future husband, William Crumley (the third), as viewed from the cemetery, a location she surely visited far more than she wanted.  That was the pioneer life – the cycle of birth and death was often repeated.

There might have been a problem brewing in the neighborhood, because we know that William Crumley (the third’s) family was Methodist.  His father, William Crumley (the second) was one of the founders of Wesley’s Chapel Methodist Church.

Stevie Hughes, the primary Brown researcher for our Greene County Browns believes that the Jotham Brown family was Presbyterian, in part because two of Jotham’s son-in-laws, Christopher Cooper and William Stapleton, signed a petition in 1785 to establish a Reformed Church of Scotland in Botetourt County, Virginia.  That’s pretty telling.

If this is the case, we don’t know how this clash of religions was resolved, but it apparently was, because on October 1, 1807, Lydia Brown and William Crumley (the third) were married.  David and Jotham Brown, Lydia’s brothers, were her witnesses.  Also signing was William Crumley, although there is some question as to whether William Crumley (the second) or William (the third) signed the bond, because it appears that William Crumley (the third) may have been underage, having been born about 1789.  In which case, both William and Lydia were about 18 and probably starry-eyed in love.  They probably could have cared less which church they attended, if any.  A fourth man who signed for the marriage license, James Gibson, is a complete mystery.

William Crumley Lydia Brown marriage

We don’t know exactly where Lydia and William lived, but we know they lived nearby because three of William (the third’s) siblings married children of Lydia’s older brother, Sylvanus Brown.

Within a year or so, they did what newlywed couple of that era did, they produced a child, John, born about 1808.  William would follow and then Jotham on October 23, 1813, but then the War of 1812 would interrupt their lives.  William Crumley (the third) would march off to War leaving a wife and a 3 month old baby, along with two toddlers at home.  Lydia must have been terrified that he would die.

William enlisted on January 10, 1814 to serve until May 23rd.  Instead, he was discharged, too ill to fight, arriving home on March 28, 1814.  Lydia must have been a combination of thrilled to see William and horribly worried about how sick he was.  I wonder how he got home.

In the first decade of their marriage, William and Lydia had 5 children: John, William, Jotham, Sarah and Clarissa, born on April 10, 1817.

But then, as they say, is when the trouble started.  Now, the ancestors weren’t even aware of the trouble.  They didn’t have a problem.  The trouble is ours, caused by them.  In fact, they are probably all collectively chuckling at us.

One of two things happened, either Lydia died right after Clarissa’s death, or she didn’t.  It has been assumed by researchers, for a very long time, that Lydia died and that in October of 1817, William (the third) married Betsey Johnson, Lydia’s cousin, because the signature on the marriage bond for the 1817 marriage bond, below, looks nearly identical to the 1807 marriage bond for William (the third) and Lydia Brown (above).

William Crumley Betsey Johnston marriage

The problem is that the 1807 marriage says the groom is William Crumley Jr., who is William (the third) who was likely underage at that time and could not sign for himself, and the 1817 bond says the groom is William Sr., who is William (the second).  In neither case does the signature itself reflect Jr. or Sr.  If these bonds are accurate as stated, then Lydia did not die and William (the third) Jr. did not remarry.  Instead, the wife of William (the second) Sr. died and William (the second) Sr. is the William who remarried.

Lydia, instead of being present at her own funeral, was once again pregnant and went to her father-in-law’s wedding.  Big difference, wouldn’t you say?  But now you understand the problem.  We don’t know if Lydia was busy getting buried or busy at a wedding, pregnant for my ancestor.  Phebe, named after Lydia’s mother, would be born just 5 months and 7 days after the wedding between William Crumley Sr. and Betsey Johnson.

Because neither William Crumley the second or the third had a will, nor did Lydia or Betsey, we have had to retrofit the Crumley children by virtue of family history, opportunity, location, process of elimination of other parents, and in some cases, naming patterns.  Not fun.

Therefore, Clarissa is believed to belong to Lydia and William (the third) but she did marry in Greene County in 1834 instead of in Lee County where her parents had been living.  However, we know these families kept in close contact.  They only moved about 50 miles away and there was a main road between Hawkins County Tennessee and Lee County Virginia, where they moved to, and Greene County, Tennessee, where they moved from.  Other parent candidates for Clarissa have been eliminated.

The next child is Phebe, my ancestor, born on March 24, 1818 and she does live, marry and die in the Hawkins/Claiborne area of Tennessee where it borders Lee County, Virginia.  There is very little question about whose child she is.  Furthermore, her name is Phebe, Lydia’s mother’s name, and if Phebe belonged to Betsey Johnson, Betsey would have been several months pregnant when she married William Crumley in October of 1817.  That means if Lydia died giving birth to Clarissa or shortly thereafter, in mid-April, William would have gotten Betsey pregnant in June, just two months later, and married her in October.

The problem is that we have a lot of variables here.  Is Clarissa really Lydia’s child.  Did Lydia die in 1817?  Did Betsey Johnson marry William the second or William the third.  Is there any possibility that Phebe is really the child of Betsey Johnson and William (the second) rather than Lydia and William (the third)?

If Lydia died, then we have the answer to the questions, but I don’t think she did.  One reason is that the child born in 1818 is named Phebe, after Lydia’s mother, and the two following children, respectively, name a child Lydia and Jotham, so it certainly seems like Lydia would be the most likely candidate for the mother of all of the children of William Crumley (the third.)

So let’s move forward with the assumption that Lydia lived.  If so, then she moved to the border of Lee and Hancock County in 1819 or 1820.  William Crumley (the second) purchases land there in 1819, but in the 1820 census, it’s William Crumley (the third) and family who is found living there, probably on his father’s land.

By 1830, William (the third) and wife, according to the census, have moved to Pulaski County, Kentucky but by 1840, they are back in Claiborne County, Tennessee, the neighbor county just south across the state line from Lee County, Virginia.

The last known child is Aaron, born about 1821.  Lydia would have been 31 or 32 at that time, so it’s unusual that they had no more children.  Either some died or there are children unaccounted for, which is entirely possible since the Hancock County records have burned.  In 1845, Hancock County was formed from parts of both Claiborne and Hawkins County, Tennessee.

Lydia’s children begin to marry, with John marrying a woman named Mahala in 1828 followed by Jotham marrying Ann Robinette in 1834.  Clarissa also marries in 1834, but in Greene County to George Graham.  In 1838, Belinda (or Melinda) married James Hurvey Davis in Claiborne County.  In 1845, William married Becky Malone in Greene County.  In 1844 Aaron married Mary Ann Scofield in Lee County, followed by Phebe marrying Joel Vannoy in Claiborne County in 1845 and then the last child to marry, Sallie, also called Sarah, married the widower Edward Walker in Hancock County in 1848.

Lydia is still living in 1840, or at least in the census there is a woman of her age in the William Crumley (the third) household.  She may have lived long enough to see all of her children marry.  If she did, then she also buried her son, Jotham, who died in August of 1841, leaving a wife and three children, one of whom was named Lydia.

Lydia died sometime between the 1840 census and the 1850 census.  I suspect it was closer to 1850 than to 1840, simply because her husband, William Crumley did not remarry until within a year’s time of the 1850 census, according to the census document.  Most men who are going to remarry do so fairly quickly.  The census was taken on November 11, 1850, but it is supposed to be taken “as of” June, so William remarried sometime after June 1849.

We don’t know exactly where Lydia would be buried, because we don’t know exactly where William and Lydia would have lived after their return to Claiborne County.  However, based on the 1840 census records, they lived beside Eli Davis.  Eli Davis in 1829 bought land from Neal McNeal, whose land lay close to Mulberry Creek on present day Turner Hollow Road, half way between the left arrow and Mulberry Gap Church on the map below.

They may also have lived on Blackwater in present Hancock County when Lydia died, because that’s where William Crumley (the second) had owned land and by 1850, William (the third) is found living dead center in the middle of the Melungeon families, neighbors to the Gibson families.  Vardy, the heart of the Melungeon community is found on Blackwater Creek.  Son John Crumley is also living in the Melungeon neighborhood, which suggests strongly that both John’s wife, Mahala, and William’s second wife, Pqa (sic), are likely from that community as well.  The Gibson family is one of the prominent Melungeon families, and remember that a James Gibson signed for Lydia Brown and William Crumley’s marriage license in 1807.

Living on Turner Hollow Road in the 1840s makes a lot of sense, because Phebe Crumley, daughter of Lydia, had to be in the neighborhood to meet Joel Vannoy who she married in 1845.  Edward Walker who married Sarah Crumley lived another mile or so down Mulberry Gap road.

Mulberry Blackwater map

On the map above, Joel Vannoy lived with his parents where the left red arrow is located on Mulberry Gap Road and William Crumley (the second) owned land on Blackwater near the right arrow.  For both families, this church would have been 4 or 5 miles at most, and possibly closer.  However, if William Crumley lived adjacent the Neil McNiel land, then he lived adjacent or at least near the uncle of Joel Vannoy, so it would have been easy for Joel Vannoy to meet Phebe Crumley.

The Mulberry Gap Church is just about equidistant between where Joel lived and the Blackwater community, located in the gap between the two, and people from both areas were known to attend – although Mulberry Gap Church records that early don’t exist.  In that day and time, church events were great match-making opportunities for young people.

Mulberry Gap Baptist Church from Mulberry Gap School (road leads to gap)

This picture shows the Mulberry Gap Church, at right near the pole, snuggled into the Gap through the mountain range.  This is the only Gap between Blackwater and Mulberry Gap road.  Philip Walker took this photo from Mulberry Gap on Mulberry Gap Road.

Blackwater and Newman's Ridge

Lydia may be buried in this vicinity, along Blackwater Road, where she at one time lived.  This land spanned the Hancock/Lee County border along Blackwater Creek, where William (the second’s) land is known to have been located.

Furthermore, Lydia’s sister, Mary who married William Stapleton lived on Blackwater as well.  We know where the Stapleton’s land was located, just on the Lee County side of Blackwater Creek, between the state line and where the two Blackwater Creeks converge, a couple of miles upstream.  In fact, in a very odd twist of fate, eventually, Mary winds up owning the William Crumley land on Blackwater.

Mary, who died in 1843, is buried in the Roberts cemetery, a very small cemetery at the foot of Powell Mountain along Blackwater Road.  It’s possible that Lydia is buried there with her sister as well, especially if William Crumley (the third) did not own land at the time that Lydia died.  She had to be buried someplace.  Mary’s hand carved tombstone is show below, and is located by that of her husband, William Stapleton.

Mary Brown Stapleton gravestone

Lydia’s Children

It would certainly be helpful if we knew whether Lydia died in 1817.  If she did, then clearly, none of the children born after 1817 were hers.  So, let’s divide Lydia’s children into two groups.  The first group would be her children regardless.  The second group belongs to the wife of William Crumley (the third), whoever she was from October 1817 on.

These children have been assigned to William Crumley (the third) and his wife on a variety of evidence, including the fact that William (the second) and William (the third) relocated from the main Crumley group in Greene County, TN, so any Crumley’s found in Lee County, VA, Claiborne and Hancock Counties in TN are very likely descended from the Williams.

  • John Crumley was born 1808/1809 in Greene County, TN and married about 1828 to Mahala.  He had 13 children including one named Lydia and one named Phebe.  He died was living in Lee County, VA in the 1870 census and died sometime thereafter.
  • William Crumley IV, born in 1811, married in 1840 to Rebecca Malone in Greene County, died in August 1864 in Pickens County, South Carolina.  He named one son Jotham.  I have always questioned whether he is truly their child, but how else does one explain the name Jotham?  Plus, we don’t have any other parent candidates for him – the rest have been eliminated.
  • Jotham Crumley born October 23, 1813 in Greene County, married on August 14, 1834 to Anne Robinette in Lee County, VA and died on August 22, 1841 in Lee County.  Had 3 children and named one daughter Lydia.  When you notice Jotham’s birth date and Sarah’s, below, it’s obvious that one family or the other is incorrect and I suspect that Sarah’s is incorrect.
  • Sarah/Sallie Crumley born September 28, 1813, according to her tombstone, in Greene County.  However, her War of 1812 widow’s pension application and census documents place her birth in about 1815.  Her name is reflected both ways, Sarah and Sallie, sometimes even in the same legal document.  In 1848, In Hancock County, Tennessee, she married widower Edward Walker Jr. who died in 1860.  The marriage ceremony was attended by her brother John Crumley, according to a later affidavit.  Sarah left Hancock County about 1880 with her two sons, James Hervey and Milton Green Walker, winding up in Cocke County where Greene was elected to the State Legislature the year after Sarah died.  She died January 11, 1898 and is buried in Newport, Cocke County, TN in the Union Cemetery – at least now.  That cemetery wasn’t opened yet when she died, so her children had her buried and then exhumed and reburied in the new cemetery on the family plot when it opened.  She is buried with her sons in “lane 1.”  Sarah was a dedicated Methodist, attending the Thomas Chapel Methodist Church in Hancock County when they lived there.  In Cocke County, Sarah’s sons owned a hotel near the train station.  It burned in 1912, forcing her sons into bankruptcy and destroying all of the family memorabilia including photos and several Bibles.  If there was a William Crumley Bible, this is probably what happened to it.

Sarah Crumley Walker stone

  • Clarissa Crumley born April 10, 1817 in Greene County, married January 16, 1834 to George Graham in Greene County and died there on Sept. 23, 1883.  Buried in the Cross Anchor Cemetery.  Had a son named William, but no Lydias or Jothams.  Other parents for Clarissa have been eliminated by process of elimination.  The mitochondrial DNA of Clarissa’s descendant matches that of Phoebe’s descendant and both match that of Phoebe Brown’s descendant.


  • Phebe Crumley born March 24, 1818, married January 19, 1845 to Joel Vannoy in Claiborne County, died January 17, 1900 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery in Claiborne County.  Had 7 children, but no Lydia or Jotham among them.  There is a William and an Elizabeth but those are both very common names.

Phebe Vannoy stone

  • Belinda or Melinda Crumley born April 1, 1820 in Lee County, VA, married on November 4, 1838 to James Hurvey Davis who died in 1865 in Lee County, VA.  He was buried in the Mulberry Gap Church cemetery where he was a deacon and church clerk for many years.  When “Malinda” died on September 28, 1905, she was buried there alongside James.  They share a stone.  They had four children, and one daughter was named Lydia.

Photo from Find-A-Grave

  • Aaron F. Crumley was born about 1821 in Lee County, Virginia.  On November 21, 1844, he married Mary Ann Scofield in Claiborne County, TN although she died before July of 1863.  Aaron moved to Appanoose County between 1850 and 1852 with his father, William Crumley (the third) and his second wife, Pya.  Aaron volunteered for the Civil War draft in Appanoose County, giving his birth as age 41 as of July 1, 1863, unmarried, and born in Tennessee.  In 1864 Aaron married Catherine Hopkins in Appanoose County, Iowa.  He married a third time in 1876 in Appanoose County to Provy Lockman, but only had children by his first two wives.  One of his children was named William and one was named Jotham.


We decided a few years back to see if we could solve the question about whether or not Lydia gave birth to both children, Clarissa and Phebe, using DNA testing.  I described this effort and the variants in detail in the article about Phebe Crumley Vannoy, but let’s summarize here.

I utilized the mitochondrial DNA because it is passed from the mother to all of her children, without any of the father’s DNA.  Therefore what is passed to the children is exactly the same DNA that the mother carried.  Her daughters pass it on, intact, to their children, but her son’s don’t pass it on at all.

Therefore, if you can find descendants from these women who descend through all women to the current generation, then you can determine what their ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA looked like, and compare it to each other.

We found descendants of both Clarissa and Phebe, and indeed, their mitochondrial DNA does match.  We then found a descendant of Phebe Brown, Lydia’s mother, through another daughter’s line, and both Clarissa and Phebe’s descendants match that person as well.  Therefore, while it doesn’t guarantee us that this is a mother daughter relationship, what we can say positively is that those three women share a common female ancestor, likely the mother of Phebe Brown, whose mother is unknown.

Phebe Brown has been theorized to be the daughter of Zopher (Zophar) Johnson (Johnston) Sr., also found in Frederick County, Virginia in the 1780s, along with the Browns and Crumleys.  I asked Stevie Hughes if she could find a proven descendant of Zopher Johnson’s wife thought all females to the current generation.  Unfortunately, that is not an option.  Zopher had only one proven daughter, Marsy or Mercy, who married Robert Foster.  They had only one daughter whose line Stevie traced for several generations in Greene County before it disappeared.

What their DNA can tell us, aside from matches, is something about where their ancestors originated.  Can we tell if they were indeed Scotch-Irish?

Family Tree DNA gives us several tools to use.  One tool, the Matches Map shows us where the most distant ancestors of people our participants match are found in Europe.  In our case, there aren’t many, and the two we do have are not in the British Isles.

DNA Phebe Brown matches map

This screen shot is of the most distant ancestral location of the full sequence matches of one of our Lydia descendants.  As you can see, there aren’t any matches whose ancestors are in the British Isles, but let’s face it, there are only two matches who know, or think they know, their ancestor’s locations in Europe.  So that’s not much to go on.

Now, absence of evidence does not necessarily equate to evidence of absence.  We’ll need to wait for more evidence and more high resolution matches before we can make any inferences as to ancestral location of Phebe Brown’s direct matrilineal ancestors.

Another tool is the Ancestral Origins data base, shown below, which tells us the locations that the full sequence matches identify as the location of their most distant matrilineal ancestor.  You’d think it would be the same information as is shown on the map, but it isn’t necessarily because lots of people don’t complete the geographic information for the map.

DNA Phebe Brown ancestral origins

This type of information, of course, can be useful but also suffers from the age-old genealogy problem of people providing information that may or may not be correct.  Still, trends can be suggestive and enlightening.  Unfortunately, we don’t see any trends here.  I’m not using the HVR1 data alone, because it’s not specific enough to be useful.  I’m only utilizing the higher resolutions results.

A third tool, Haplogroup Origins, pulls academic data base matching at the haplogroup level into the mix.  As you can see, the geography is very broad, so while it’s interesting, it’s not definitive.

DNA Phebe Brown haplogroup origins

The Mystery Remains

So, the mystery of Lydia Brown remains.  There is no smoking gun but there is a little bit of smoking DNA evidence that suggests that Lydia was the mother of both Clarissa and Phebe.  Still, mitochondrial DNA can’t confirm a mother daughter relationship and no DNA testing can confirm a child/parent relationship that many generations ago.

Where was Lydia between April and October of 1817 – being buried or getting pregnant for Phebe and attending her father-in-law’s wedding?

Most of the existing records have been thoroughly reviewed in Lee County, Virginia and in Greene, Hawkins and Claiborne Counties in Tennessee, but the records of Pulaski County, KY have never been searched.  It’s possible that a deed or some other record there might provide the first name of William’s wife.

Be it Lydia or Betsey – it’s an answer and that’s what we need.  Of course, if it’s not Lydia, then there are a whole different set of questions that need to be answered, like…what set of circumstances would allow the DNA of both Phebe Crumley’s descendants and Clarissa Crumley’s descendants to match with the DNA of Phebe Brown?  But no need borrowing trouble, at least not yet.  Heaven knows, we have enough challenges with this line already!



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The Kings and I

Not long ago, I was whining to a friend that I hadn’t found a new ancestor in a long time.  Well, now I have to unwhine, because I have hit the ancestor lottery – and I mean the Mega-Millions Jackpot.

Somehow, it’s fitting that this past week was the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede.

Gosh, I wish I could have been there, as I could have met several cousins.  It would have been like a virtual family reunion.

Magna Carta

King John (below), the King who signed the Magna Carta (above), and not really by choice, is my ancestor.

King John hunting

You see, once you tie into the royal lines with what is known as a gateway ancestor, you’re home free…well…kind of.  You’re at least in the door, but you still have to figure out how all of that royalty ties together, and there is a lot of misinformation and wishful thinking out there, believe me.

I learned about a year ago that indeed, I did have a gateway ancestor through Sarah Ludlow born about 1640 in Fairfield, Connecticut, who married Nathaniel Brewster.  A gateway ancestor is considered to be an American or colonial settler who descends from documented royalty.

I started slowly working my way backward, after ordering boxes worth of reference material, and not long thereafter, discovered that I was descended, much to my surprise, from King Edward the First, also known as Longshanks.

Little did I know that was only the tip of the iceberg.  That’s because  European royalty is all related to each other like a big ole kudzu vine.  That is, after all, how you kept the money, power and crown in the family.

I discovered the Magna Carta Facebook group and joined.  They discussed the most interesting topics, and with the upcoming anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the educational factor was what I’ll just call “spongeworthy.”  Given that I had no particular reason to be interested in British royalty before, I wasn’t. But, all of a sudden I have developed an intense interest and I just couldn’t soak up all of the information fast enough.

I kept discovering that I was related to more and more people, like more Kings…King John, King Henry II and III, William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots, King Louis VI, VII and VIII of France…and yes…Charlemagne too.

Now, if what National Geographic reports is true, and you’re descended from Charlemagne, you’re cousins with everyone in contemporary Europe except for newcomers.  And all this from one man who lived about 1200 years ago and was exceedingly prolific.

Wow, was I overwhelmed, both by the sheer volume of information, and the fact that…glory be….the research has for the most part been done.  Now, I just had to put the pieces together, not search for the pieces of needles in a huge scavenger hunt haystack.

Even that is no small task.

Then, one day on the Facebook Magna Carta group, someone showed a dramatic, stunningly beautiful chart of their royal connections…beginning with them.  It was “take your breath away” gorgeous.  I’m a visual person and I wanted one, in the worst way, but I didn’t have nearly enough of my genealogy done.

Imagine my big 24X36 frameable chart with me at one end and King Edward I at the other end and a few scatters in-between.  Nope, not ready yet.

However, I saw a few more of these charts and I DESPERATELY wanted one, so I decided to drop a note to Ky (rhymes with sky), the man making these pieces of art.  I explained to him my quandary…and much to my surprise…Ky offered to help me.  Wow!  I was stunned.  I never expected that.

And just because I needed to know… who was Ky, this man I was willing to send Paypal money to unmet and sight unseen?

Ky White has a BS degree in Weapons Systems Engineering from the US Military Academy and an MA in History from Sam Houston State University. He has always found tales of family history, medieval history, and knights in shining armor to be irresistible.  Ok, so far we have a lot in common…well at least that medieval knight part.

Ky has been compiling names, dates, and places, with documentation, for his entire adult life.  Ky has gateway ancestors for 3 of his 4 grandparents.  That certainly explains his intense interest as well.

About two years ago Ky started posting a daily diary of events that happened in medieval times in several FaceBook groups. One thing led to another, and Ky has recently co-authored a book with Chuck Poley (founder of the Magna Carta Facebook group) on the Magna Carta barons and did the original research linking all the Magna Carta Barons (or their wives) to Charlemagne. That book is not quite ready for publication, but is titled “Descendants & Ancestors of King John, his Supporters, & the Magna Carta Barons through the lines of Charlemagne & William The Conqueror.”  Note to self – buy that book when it’s ready.

For the book, Ky created charts showing inter-connected family trees of the barons. Several people wanted to purchase those charts and an internet business was born.

Ky has a website,, where you can view his incredible work.

Ky already has two books to his credit with the third Magna Carta book being finalized for print.  Ky is currently writing a fourth book on the Crusades and the Crusaders featuring short biographical sketches on about 500 noteworthy Crusaders.  Note to self, buy this book too.

Needless to say, Ky has people waiting for his services, so, I got in line.  When it was my turn, I sent Ky my GEDCOM file, telling him who my gateway ancestor was.  Ky, in turn, did his magic, connecting my gateway ancestor with his data base that includes more than 27,000 royally connected people and over 1000 coats of arms, representing more than 40 years of work.

Guess what.  Ky and his wife are both my distant cousins!!!  How about this for a novel way to meet new cousins.

shield 1Ky also connected me with Nick Buckingham, who created my shield for me.  Now, you know “the rest of the story,” why I wanted my shield.

So, Ky was really my gateway to winning the ancestor lottery.  He showed me people I descend from and connect to.  I would never have had any idea otherwise.  I am descended from a fine mix of Saints and Sinners!

Like, for example, Lady Godiva and El Cid.

Lady Godiva statue

I visited this statue of Lady Godiva’s in Coventry, England two years, ago, entirely unsuspecting that she is my ancestor.  In fact, my husband took one look at that statue and announced that I am surely, surely descended from her.  I laughed at the time, because it was just an incredulously ridiculous thing to say.  I know he was kidding because of her obvious propensity to not behave, but it was uncannily prophetic.

I’m so proud of Lady Godiva, riding nude like that to oppose taxes.  She was an innovative woman, that’s for sure.  I don’t know if the taxes were reduced or not, but it certainly called attention to the issue and her ride has become her legacy.  Indeed, well behaved women seldom make history! That’s my motto anyway.  In fact, here I am, at right below, wearing my favorite t-shirt, with one of my favorite fellow non-well-behaved-women, Anne Poole, on an archaeology dig, carrying on the family tradition.

well behaved women dig

I bet I carry some of Lady Godiva’s genes someplace!  Well, I haven’t ridden through town nude, at least not yet…but then again, I’m not dead yet either!  Besides…that nude ride thing has already been done – I’ll have to think of something else innovative.  Hey, maybe I’ll push the envelope of genetics research…how about that???

I descend from 15 Magna Carta Barons and Sureties, about 20 Crusaders and 3 Saints. Yes, seriously.  I know, those Saints are probably rolling over in their graves, but I’m guessing it’s probably not the first time, especially if they knew about Lady Godiva’s ride.

I have to wonder – how many of those Kings carry the warrior gene?  Did it help them?  It surely would be interesting to do a study.  Maybe as full genome sequencing becomes more common, their actual genes will one day be sequenced from their remains.  Did I inherit this gene from this line?  Do I carry part of King John’s or Lady Godiva’s DNA in me today?  Maybe one day I’ll be able to know.

I was dumbstruck, flabbergasted, speechless when I saw who I descend from.  Absolutely giddy.  I have struck the ancestor mother-lode.

I am extremely excited for my ancestors to have played such a pivotal part at many critical junctures of both European and colonial American history – good or bad – and because they were famous, or infamous, I know who they are what they were doing.  It’s recorded in the annals of history.   My lucky day, indeed!!!

But wait, that’s not all.  Ky can’t possibly fit everyone on the chart, so he also offers a pedigree service.  You provide him with the name of your gateway ancestor, and he will send you a detailed pedigree for 6-12 generations back in time from that gateway ancestor.  I think this is the best value on the market today.  My pedigree document in 40 pages in length.  The great thing about these people is that if you google any one of them, there are wiki and other articles and documentation about them with photos, graphics, pictures of medieval documents and locations.

Yes, I should have been at Runnymede this week.  British history has suddenly become incredibly fascinating.  And those people wearing those funny hats…they are all my cousins, although I doubt they’ll be claiming me anytime soon or inviting me to high tea at the palace.

I’m thinking Queen Elizabeth probably doesn’t care that I’m her cousin 27 different ways to Sunday.  Maybe if I bought a hat or a “fascinator” it would improve my odds.

Now, I’ll just let you peruse and enjoy the chart that Ky made, just for me, including my Mayflower ancestors as well.  This heirloom chart just arrived from the printers and will be framed and on my wall shortly.  Something lovely to enjoy in my lifetime and pass on to my children, along with the rich history and heritage it represents.

Estes chart final

Thank you, thank you, Ky!!!  I can’t thank Ky enough.

I feel like one of those lucky celebrities on “Who Do You Think You Are” who just received their pedigree scroll and it unrolled all the way down the hallway!  I’ve always looked at those scenes with green-eyed envy…but now…thanks to Ky…it’s unexpectedly my turn!  What an incredible gift.

If you have a gateway ancestor, it can be your turn too.



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My Shield

Some things in life are just pure joyful fun.  Making a shield for myself has been one of those adventures.  Or maybe, I should more accurately say, having a shield made for me.

Before the heraldry folks get up in arms (pun intended,) this isn’t any attempt at “real” heraldry – I just wanted a personal statement symbol that is beautiful to those who don’t understand the underlying message and meaningful to those who do – and that reflects my ancestry as well by the fact that it is a shield.  In other words, this could go on my tombstone and I would be happy.  It says “me.”  It’s my graphic signature.  I think of it as my own personal tattoo on paper.

I’ll be showing you in a couple of days the original purpose of the shield, but for now, let’s take a look at what a very talented graphic artist, Nick Buckingham, did for me.  I’m so excited!

Nick is a member of the Magna Carta Facebook group, which is how I found him.

Nick is known for making shields for people, so I dropped him a line and gave him a very odd list of items for my shield.  This is not normal heraldry.  Here’s my shopping list: turtle, eagle, labyrinth – and I sent him a link to a labyrinth site.  I also sent him a photo of my labyrinth so he could see why I want one, since it’s a bit of an odd request.


I also told Nick I liked purple, but wasn’t sure if he could use that successfully in a shield, especially with the very odd list I had just given him.

Just sit and think for a minute what you might expect from that list of ingredients.

Nick was very gracious, and a couple of days later, this is what I received as a first draft.

shield 1To say I was dumbstruck would be an understatement.  I love this – just love it.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect this.  It captures my spirit.  I never expected to love it this much!

But, being a woman, I had to play a bit and change my mind a couple of times.  It’s required isn’t it??  Poor Nick!

I asked Nick what it would look like in red.

shield 2

Nice, but I don’t think this is for me.  But it is striking, and I do like it.

Next, we discussed the blank area at the bottom of the shield border.  I suggested maybe we could add something DNAish there.  I sent him some double helix links.

We tried a DNA double-helix sword.  Some days I am a DNA warrior – and I have that warrior gene you know.

shield 3

Not bad, but I don’t think it adds anything and I think you wind up looking at the eagle’s feet asking “what is that thing anyway?”  I have a lot of good ideas when I quilt that just don’t quite work either.  I tell my friends, “the quilt will tell you what it wants” and I guess shields are the same way.

But wait…what about that DNA helix sword on the red shield?

shield 4

I kind of like that – better than on the purple shield anyway.  But I still like the purple shield better…I think.  It just feels more me.

We returned to the purple shield and added two more turtles to see if that would be pleasing.

shield 5

I like this, but now I think maybe those turtles are too much and visually distract from the eagle.  Plus we don’t want that eagle to reach out and grab one of the turtles.  Nick is probably getting very tired of me by now, but he’s far too much of a gentleman to say anything.  Has to be that Magna Carta or maybe Crusader blood in his veins!

Next, Nick inserted a couple of softer double helix strands in the borders.

shield 6

Hmmm…  I’m beginning to wonder if DNA works in contemporary heraldry.

I asked Nick to put the turtles back, but on top of the DNA strands.  Turtles climbing the double helix – that might be very interesting and symbolic.

shield 7

This too sounded like a good idea, but in reality, I think I liked the very first rendition best.  It truly was love at first sight!

If anything, I’m overwhelmed with several wonderful choices.  Nick is just so talented and I’m so grateful for his hard work and his patience!  You can really tell when someone is working in the element they are passionate about – because it shines through in the final product.

Do you think I could change my shield to go with my mood or the season maybe?  Now there’s an idea.  Can a woman have too many shields?

What do you think?  Which shield do you like best?

And before you ask, because I know you’re going to, here’s how to contact Nick.  He’s very kind and gracious, does this “on the side,” although it’s his passion.  Nick is probably overwhelmed with requests – and if he wasn’t before, he will be now…so be gentle.

Nick Buckingham’s e-mail:



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

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Services

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Lois McNiel (c1786-1830s), Eloped?, 52 Ancestors #77

Lois McNiel or McNeil, depending on which way which side of the family spells the name, has always been one of my favorite ancestors because of the wonderfully romantic love story associated with her and her beau.  Women in the south at that time didn’t have boyfriends, they had beaus.

You see, we have the picture of the cabin she reportedly eloped out of, right out of that top window, into the waiting arms of her true love, Elijah Vannoy.

McNiel cabin

I was a bit younger when I first heard this story, and I thought it was just about the most romantic story I had ever heard, and it happened right in my own family.  I mean, so in love that one would climb out of the upper window, doubtless in the dead of night, drop into the arms of her love, probably in the moonlight, and then dash off to the courthouse to get married.  I could literally see Lois, every step of the way, eloping.  How romantic!

I could see myself doing that too, well, assuming I could find a young man who was game and who wouldn’t drop me, or worse yet, not show up.  Nothing worse than being stood up on your elopement.  Lois didn’t have to worry about that – she had Elijah.

Who wouldn’t want to be that much in love?  I knew that Lois and I were certainly kindred spirits.

Now, I know that the logical group of my readers are already asking questions…like how did Lois get from the window to the ground?  How did they manage to get to the courthouse?  Wouldn’t her father go straight there, at dawn’s first light, and be waiting for them when the courthouse opened?  Who would have signed their bond, something required at that time?  And more logical questions.  Damned logic anyway.

Yes, indeed, there are questions and, ahem, issues with this story.

First, this photo was probably taken in Hancock County, Tennessee, given where it came from, clearly after color photography was available, and we know that Lois McNiel and Elijah Vannoy were married in Wilkes County, NC, in 1807 before migrating to the part of Claiborne County that is now Hancock just a few years later, in 1811 or 1812.  To the best of my knowledge, no one knows exactly where, in Wilkes County, William McNiel lived, so one certainly wouldn’t be able to take a photo of a cabin in a location we don’t know where is.

So, this cabin clearly could have been the cabin of her parents, William McNiel and Elizabeth Shepherd, in Hancock County, but Lois didn’t elope out the window, because she was already married before the family arrived in Claiborne (which became Hancock) County.  Lois and Elijah could easily have lived in the same cabin with her parents when they first arrived in Claiborne County, but any exit out of this window wasn’t Lois getting married.

Wilkes County, North Carolina

Lois was about 21 when she married, born in about 1786 in Wilkes County in the area of the county known as the New Hope District.  Her father would not have been back from the Revolutionary War long.  Lois was either the oldest, or one of the oldest children.

The Vannoy, McNiel and Shepherd families lived in the New Hope area along the north fork of the Reddies River and intermarried considerably.

Church Wilkes County

This is the land of quaint little churches, hills, mountains and dense forests.  This is Appalachia at its best.  The Blue Ridge.

Wilkes Vannoy road landscape

And of course, beautiful streams, carving their way through the countryside, running headlong for the rivers down the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Here, the north fork of the Reddies River runs parallel with Vannoy Road, crossing under Buckwheat Road.  Lois assuredly knew this creek well, and perhaps she and her siblings even waded here on hot summer days, splashing in the refreshing water.

North Fork Reddies River

In 1810, Lois’s father, William McNiel sold land to Elijah Vannoy, so whether or not Lois eloped with Elijah, with or without her parent’s blessing, apparently her father recovered enough to sell them land in 1810.  Of course, their first (surviving) child, Permelia, was born earlier that year.  Lois’s marriage to Elijah would last until her death, sometime between 1830 and 1840, in Claiborne County.

Westward Bound – Giving Birth on the Trail

Apparently the McNiel and Vannoy families like stories, because the next story is about their move to Claiborne County in 1811 or 1812.  There are two parts to the story.  The first part is about the trip being via flatboat and taking two years.  That sounds like a tall tale to me, but it was written in a letter and told by Elijah’s daughter, so there is likely some truth in it, someplace.  You can read that entire saga in Elijah Vannoy’s article.

The second part of the story is that Lois’s son, Joel, was born during this journey.  Whether the family indeed traveled by flatboat, around Florida and back up the Mississippi to Tennessee, or whether they did like every other pioneer family and loaded everything into a wagon and started overland….it’s still likely that indeed, Lois had a child mid-journey.  “Aunt Lou” reported that child, Joel, to have been born in 1812, but Joel’s tombstone shows his birth as May 8, 1813.  I’ve seen tombstones be wrong, and I’ve seen aunt’s be wrong too…so one way or another, it’s still a good story, and it’s likely to be true or Aunt Lou wouldn’t have said that Joel was born during the journey.  She was 15 years younger than Joel, but she would have had first person knowledge of what her parents said about Joel’s birth…and they were there.

I can’t even begin to imagine leaving in a covered wagon, or a flatboat, being pregnant.  Those wagons had no shocks and the “roads” were entirely full of potholes and ruts.  Those women could count, and they knew at least roughly when they were due.  Woman have been “counting on their fingers” comparing birth dates to wedding dates for centuries.

But Lois apparently departed pregnant.  Perhaps that’s when the wagon train, or the flatboat was leaving and she had no choice.  Women in that time were not exactly always in charge of their own lives.  Plus, they were either pregnant or nursing most of their pre-menopausal lives and if there was in fact a group of people who traveled together, there was no convenient time when no one was pregnant, so babies got delivered when and where they decided to arrive.  I wonder if the wagons even stopped for the duration or if they just kept rolling and the baby got delivered in the back of a moving wagon, assuming it was not night time when they would have been stopped anyway.

Claiborne County, Tennessee

We don’t know where Lois and Elijah lived, exactly for the first few years they were in Claiborne County, but we do know where they lived in 1825 when Elijah applied for a land grant.  In the survey, it says that his land includes the improvements that Elijah had made, which means clearing land to farm and building some sort of house, and that he lives north of Mulberry Creek.  It’s certainly possible that they sought out this land and settled there upon arrival in Claiborne County, but didn’t file to own the land for another decade.  One had to pay to file and pay to have the land surveyed (one cent per acre) and then pay to have the survey recorded.  It was five years from the time the grant was filed in 1825 until it was surveyed in 1829 and then registered in 1830, so perhaps the grant and survey were more of a formality than anything else…albeit an important one…especially if Elijah had died in that limbo time.

I have seen lawsuits about a person filing for a claim where someone else was living.  One could call them claim-jumpers, but they were opportunists taking advantage of a multi-year delay or procrastination.  Let’s face it, first one to the land claim office wins.  It was risky not to file.

Vannoy acreage

In 1830, Lois and Elijah were happily living on Mulberry Creek with their 3 male and 6 female children, according to the census.  They had probably lived there for nearly 20 years, and it definitely felt like home.  By then, Lois would have been about 43 or 44.

Vannoy spring

Lois would have used the cool spring waters of the spring found on her land to keep her milk and butter fresh, as the spring water was a consistent 50 degrees or so and was unquestionably the coolest place on their land in the summer.  Maybe a walk down to this spring was a respite for her.  Maybe she cooled her feet in the stream too, and reminisced about the Reddies River days of her childhood.

Lois’s last child we know of was born about 1825, but since Lois died before Elijah, and the Hancock County courthouse records burned after Elijah’s death sometime after 1850, there is no will – so there is no official list of children.  Most of what we know has been reconstructed by family members who were alive in the early 1900s and by documents such as the census.


Things seems to be pretty stable for the first 20 years or so in Claiborne County, but after 1830, things began to unravel.

The next ten years are questionable in terms of what happened in which order.

In the 1830 Claiborne County census, Lois’s mother, Elizabeth McNiel is listed, age 60-70, so born 1760-1770.  With her are two males, one 15-20 and one 20-30, likely her youngest two sons, Jesse and William McNiel.  William McNiel, Lois’s father, has passed on.  There is no 1820 census, so we don’t really know when he died.

It’s certainly possible that William died about the time the family made the move.  In fact, it’s possible that he died before they moved to Claiborne, or in route, as he does not once appear in any Claiborne County records, but his sons do.

So Lois may have named her son, born about 1816, William in honor of her father who had recently passed.

Lois’s mother died sometime between the 1830 census and the 1840 census.  In 1830, Elizabeth is living just 7 houses from Lois and Elijah.  Elizabeth is living beside Neal McNiel, her son, who was granted land on Mulberry Creek in 1818, so we know they are near neighbors to Lois.  Unless Elizabeth died suddenly or Lois predeceased her, you know that Lois was with her mother, at her bedside, in her final days and hours.

I’d wager that Elizabeth is buried in the same family cemetery where Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel Vannoy are buried.  That’s the cemetery we can’t find, of course.

By 1840, ten years later, Lois herself, not yet 55 and maybe not much more than 45, had passed away and was probably buried alongside her mother.  Since Lois and her mother both died in the same decade, we really don’t know who died first, or if they both became ill from the same disease and perhaps died about the same time.  Lois’s son, William, also died sometime between 1835 and 1839, but we’re not sure when.

Other than possibly William, Lois outlived all of her children, or at least the ones we know about because they lived to adulthood.  Based on the birth years of the children we do know about, it looks like Lois may have lost 4 young children, including her first child, born something between her 1807 marriage and the 1810 birth of Permelia. The first child would have died in Wilkes County, the second probably in Wilkes as well, but the third and fourth, in the 1820s, would definitely have been in Claiborne (now Hancock) County and buried on the land along Mulberry Creek.  It’s sad that the only hint we have as to the existence of these children is a gap in the “normal” birth timing of the children who lived.  However, that’s often the case.

Pioneer women were tough.  They had no other choice.

Returning Home

Sometime prior to 1940, several descendants from the Vannoy family decided to take a picnic and go up to Hancock County and see the old homestead where Lois McNiel and Elijah Vannoy lived.  Even then, they had to find a “local” to show them where the house was located.

Vannoy homestead picnic visit

The man in the photo in front of Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel’s cabin is James Hurvey Vannoy, born in 1856, who would have been the grandson of Lois McNiel Vannoy.  The fact that he is holding flowers makes me wonder if they had located the cemetery at that time.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 75-100 years since this photo was taken, and nearly another 100 years since Lois passed away.  We may have lost her grave, but she is still there, someplace nearby, on the waters of Mulberry Creek, near the spring branch that kept her milk and butter cool.

If I could ask Lois three questions, I’d ask her if she eloped out a window to marry Elijah Vannoy, I’d ask her if she gave birth on the way to Claiborne County, as the family story says and I’d ask her about that flatboat story of how they traveled between Wilkes and Claiborne Counties.

Lois’s DNA

One piece of information we don’t have about Lois, but could obtain if the right people were to test, is her mitochondrial DNA.  That could provide us with information that tells us her ethnic group and where in the world her ancestors might have been from.  It could also help us identify those ancestors.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to both genders of their children, but only female children pass it on.  Therefore, to test today, one must descend from Lois through all females to the current generation.  The current generation can be either male or female.

If this fits your situation and you have already tested, please let me know.  If this fits your situation and you have not tested, I have a DNA scholarship for you.

Lois McNiel had the following female children who married and had daughters:

Permelia Vannoy born 1810 married John Baker and had daughters:

    • Sirena Baker born in 1839, married Samuel P. Jones and had daughters Mary (b 1857) and Permelia (b 1860)
    • Nancy Jane Baker born about 1845

Nancy Vannoy born in 1810 married George Loughmiller and had daughters:

    • Mermelia born about 1839
    • Mary born in 1844
    • Elizabeth born in 1848
    • Sarah born in 1850
    • Marty born in 1852
    • Lyda born in 1853

Sarah Vannoy born in 1821 married Joseph Adams and had daughters:

    • Nancy Jane Adams born in 1849, married Franklin Skaggs and had daughters Ann and Lyda
    • Rebecca Elizabeth Adams born in 1853, married William Leroy Throckmorton Bee Boren and had daughters Julia, Laura and Sally
    • Margaret Ann Adams born in 1857, married John Ward and had daughters Mary, Sarah and Emma, died in Oregon



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“Where do I come from?”

This is a true story, one of inspiration and hope, especially for adoptees or those seeking the identity of a parent.

I’ve been honored to be allowed to be a bystander, sometimes a coach, and often a cheerleader for my friend Mark…who…by the way, appears to be a distant cousin…although we don’t have the details figured out.  You know how us southerners are…we’re kin to everyone…as Mark is discovering.

After returning from the amazing experience of meeting his birth family members for the first time, he shared the latest chapter in his journey with me…and I’ve asked him to share it with you.  It’s beautiful and wonderful and let’s face it…finding family is the holy grail for us seekers.

Let me introduce you to guest author Mark and he’ll be telling you his story from this point on in his own words.


“Where do I come from?”

It’s a question everyone engaged in genealogy asks, but for those of us who are adoptees it has much more meaning.

I never asked my parents the question, although they had told me at a very early age that I was adopted. When I was young it was, “Oh, okay, what’s for lunch?”

They were already in their forties when they adopted me at birth right out of the hospital in Miami, and they never had another child. I was it, and kind of spoiled as a result. They were devoted to me and I to them, so while curious of my origins as I grew older, I never broached the subject for fear it might cause anguish or at least concern. I never wanted them to think I saw them as anything less than my real parents. For they were, always have been and always will be. I miss them very much.


Still, the question lingered. Who am I?  Where did I come from?

I remember asking my aunt, actually my mother’s first cousin who lived in New York. She said I was Irish, probably because I resembled some of her Irish neighbors in Far Rockaway.

As a kid, I thought I was German since I kind of looked German and always wound up playing the German in soldier games and while terrible at French in school, excelled at German – little did I know.

I did know my ethnic heritage was not that of my parents – I didn’t look like them at all. As a child, my born-in-Russia grandmother would parade me down the boardwalk to meet her old friends. “Dat’s your grandzohn?” they would exclaim in obvious incredulity.


Heritage and Health

Later, as an adult after my parents had passed, I began reading about genetics and how some diseases are inherited to varying degrees. It made me again think of the question and wonder if I could obtain genetic information that would answer the basic heritage question and the health question without necessarily finding a birth family. I saw no need to meet or contact my birth mother and cause anguish there.

So when I heard about National Geographic’s Genographic Project, I ordered the test right away. This was 10 years ago – boy, how time flies!

I’m sure everyone has experienced the thrill of receiving their first DNA results – I sure did. It came in a nice little package with a Certificate of Y-chromosome DNA Testing, which I still have, showing my haplogroup, R1b, and twelve short tandem repeat results. I had no clue what it all meant, but included was a nice map of the world showing that I came from – (drum roll) – Europe. Duh, that didn’t take rocket science to figure out, but genetic genealogy, or rather population genetics was still in its infancy.

Bitten by the Bug

Of course I wanted more, to know what those numbers stood for and what else I could find out. I was bitten by the DNA test bug and haven’t stopped.

I uploaded the results to Family Tree DNA, the lab that processed the Genographic results, to obtain what they then called Recent Ethnic Origins. This showed my closest matches at 12 STRs by country. I had three exact matches!

I thought I had found the answer – I was Scottish!  And two of the three were named MacGregor; I was a MacGregor! I started going to Scottish Festivals and Highland Games; bought the tartan tie and everything.

Mark Macgregor

Then I found out that 12 STRs doesn’t really tell you anything, even exact matches – you need to test 25, 37, 67 and on and on. I upgraded my markers,  contacted the MacGregor project administrator and received his reply, “Sorry, your STRs don’t match the MacGregor haplotype”

I was devastated, especially after spending money on MacGregor tchotchkes. I guess old man MacGregor has his own haplotype and to be a MacGregor you had to match his. So I tested at 25 and 37 and later at 67. No exact or even close matches at all – the MacGregors disappeared. I was left again without heritage.

I took more tests – Deep Clade and later Big Y for the Y-DNA and the full sequence for mtDNA. I now was R1b1b2a1b with a terminal SNP of L147.3, and H1ad on mtDNA, again simply European.

I shared a terminal Y-SNP with only one other gentleman. We were able to contact each other through the L176.2/SRY2627 project administrator and compare notes. Our STRs were not even close; he had estimated our MRCA at 500-1000 AD. He had traced his own paternal line to Northern Ireland and the Ulster Plantation, and probably back from there to the Borders area of England/Scotland. My Y-DNA could have come from anywhere in Western Europe.

Family Finder

I took the Family Finder test and again it showed European, western European with the largest percentage Orcadian

What the heck was Orcadian? Of course I had to look it up – people from the Orkneys. Well, we’re getting closer but how could they be that precise? It’s a tiny group of islands with a small population? Come to find out that FTDNA used data from the Human Genome Diversity Project that had as its only sample from the British Isles a handful of DNA tests from the Orkneys. Not much precision there! My DNA was simply closer to people from the Orkneys than say Upper Sandusky.

I also received, as one does with Family Finder, a list of cousin matches. Now we’re getting somewhere, as I have to date 102 pages of matches, 7 pages at the 2nd to 4th cousin range. I thought I might find a pattern, like a group of those closest with the same surname, say MacGregor (out of spite).

But no, the names didn’t follow any pattern; my closest match had a German name but those following were not German. A few were even French-sounding; the horror!

My closest match emailed me to inquire about my pedigree. As I had done previously with a MacGregor match who had contacted me from Australia of all places, my response was that as an adoptee I had no information on my birth family, and unless they were aware of a female family member placing her newborn for adoption in Miami in 1952, I would not be of any help, sorry.


I also tested with 23andMe and found their most recent Ancestry Origins test to be the most informative. I was still 99.3% European, but the breakdown had more detail and the sampling was of better quality. It even showed I had 1/2 of 1% Native American; now that’s interesting!

23andMe’s DNA Relatives lists 922 pages of cousin matches, many, including my four closest, without names or contact information, except the ability to send an introduction. Again of course there was no pattern.

The fifth closest match, a 3rd to 5th cousin, contacted me with the usual question. We exchanged emails but she couldn’t figure out how we related. My four closest matches never responded to an introduction.

But now at least I had some genetic health information. (This was before the FDA took that off market.) It was fascinating, how I had a .045 increased risk of this and .128 reduced risk of that. Nothing truly frightening, thank heavens.

Non-Identifying Information for Adoptees

Around this time, I became aware that the State of Florida made available “non-identifying information” for adoptees. This was perfect! I wasn’t looking to identify my birth mother, but to determine my heritage and any hereditary health issues. So I requested what they could provide, knowing that adoption records are otherwise sealed and unavailable except in medical emergencies.

A few weeks later I received a 2-page letter from the Florida Adoption Reunion Registry. This was in December 2010. It provided exactly what I was looking for, and much more. It said that my birth mother was born in the summer of 1920 in a Southern state, so she’d be over 90 at that time, if alive.

It described her features and that she worked as a waitress. It stated that she had come to Miami to live with her mother when she discovered her pregnancy, and that her mother was 52 at the time of my birth; so that her mother was born around 1900.

She reported that both her mother and father were Protestant and of Irish descent, that her father had died in 1929 and at the time was separated from her mother.

She also reported that she had two brothers, one with children and had had a sister who passed away. She said that her mother remarried and was separated from her second husband, and that her father, my birth grandfather, had been a farmer of English and Irish descent.

This was what I was looking for and more closely matched with my DNA results. I concluded she was describing a Scots-Irish heritage when she mentioned both Protestant and Irish together.

She also described my putative birth father, which came as much more of a surprise, if accurate. He was allegedly French Canadian! So much for the German in me. She said she had known him for only a short time, never intended on marrying him and never told him of her pregnancy. Most importantly, she said she did not know of any serious or communicable (sic) diseases in her family. I took that to mean hereditary diseases.

More Please

This was wonderful information, but it somehow left me wanting to know more. I’m sure as genealogists you all know the feeling.

What Southern state?

What was the background of her father’s parents?

Was there anything more on the birth father’s family?

I was resigned to the fact that this would remain a puzzle. After all, I was just seeking heritage, or was there more to my own feelings? I knew I wouldn’t try to contact my birth mother no matter how much information I had. The last thing I wanted was to give some 90-year old woman a heart attack. But that all remained academic anyway; there was not sufficient information to search for any birth family.


Last year I tested with to compare what they would show on ethnic heritage with the two other companies.

It did not compare favorably; the percentages for different parts of Europe were way different from the others. It had 13% for Iberia while 23andMe had 2%, and 7% for Scandinavia while 23andMe had 1%. Maybe they realized that the Orkneys were settled by Vikings.

But what took me to the next level of answering “the question” was their Member Matches. At the top of the list was a 2nd cousin match, administered by the next closest match, also a 2nd cousin, her daughter Jeanene. And she had 955 people on her public family tree!

I couldn’t not look – the curiosity was overwhelming.

Besides, my birth mother had in all likelihood passed away by now and there was no perceived danger in contacting 2nd cousins. So I reviewed her family tree and found a possible candidate for birth grandmother, one Beulah Wooten, born in 1900, whose brother Levon was Jeanene’s grandfather. She and her mother would indeed be 2nd cousins if that were the connection. So I signed up for membership with Ancestry and began my own research.

Connecting the Dots to Beulah

I also decided to contact Jeanene.

She was happy to share what information she had on Beulah, including a recently found death certificate from 1957, listed as Beulah Wooten Ellis who had passed away at her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Intriguingly, the informant was listed as Mrs. Elizabeth Smith. The death certificate included her birth date of December 31, 1900.  It showed she was buried at Browns Gap Cemetery in Trenton, Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga.

I found the cemetery listed on Ancestry’s Find-a-Grave and found a gravestone showing both Beulah B. Langston with dates of birth and death matching that of the death certificate, and Eugene G. Langston, with a death date of March 16, 1928; very close to what the letter from the State had indicated.

I began to match up the facts reported in the non-identifying information provided by the State point-by-point with what I discovered in my research. It appeared Beulah married three times, the first to Eugene Langston who indeed turned out to be my birth grandfather, then to a Walter E. Jones with whom she had the two sons my birth mother reported as brothers, and finally to Alvis Ellis.

Beulah was listed with Alvis Ellis in the 1940 Census residing in Miami, Florida. Here was the connection to Miami.

Also buried at Browns Gap Cemetery was her daughter Junice Katherine Langston who was born in 1922 and died in 1937, matching my birth mother’s predeceased sister. While I could not find any birth certificates, one of those types of records Ancestry has so little of, I did find Beulah listed in the 1930 Census living in Chattanooga with her second husband Walter E. Jones, their two sons, and two daughters from her first marriage, Junice and Elizabeth Langston, age 10, and thus born around 1920. Was she the informant on the death certificate, born in 1920? This was the only reference I could find in my Beulah search to who I thought could possibly be my birth mother.

Suggestive, but not proof.

The Thrill of the Chase

Finding this information online was a thrill, and as you all know, one thing leads to another, requiring ever more research. I can easily see how genealogy can become an obsession. I see people on Ancestry who devote many hours a week over many years to it.

My hats off to those of you who have devoted decades before the internet driving from courthouse to courthouse, cemetery to cemetery, obtaining the information for your family trees.

I understand now, as I too have been bitten by the genealogy bug. That makes two bugs I’ve succumbed to.

I also see how some people make mistakes in their family trees, accepting others’ trees at face value without checking for themselves the sources for the information. My background as a retired attorney and former administrative judge leads me to require substantial evidence to support a fact and not simply accept what others have alleged. Which leads me back to Beulah and her daughter Elizabeth.

There was a private family tree on Ancestry that had an Elizabeth Langston listed. I contacted the person with the tree and mentioned the 1930 Census for the Jones household, asking if the Elizabeth Langston listed there was one and the same person. She replied that yes, it was, and was her husband’s grandmother, now deceased.

She stated, “Elizabeth had 3 children, two while married to Gilbert Conner, divorced (died 1955) Evelyn Conner Scott, Glenn Conner, (deceased) and Yvonne Smith while married to Almon Smith divorced (died1967). Married to William Lucas, lived and died in Portland Oregon, she passed away on Nov. 26, 2004. Hope this helps.”

It certainly did. The name Smith matched the informant on Beulah’s death certificate. I tried to contact her again, explaining who I was, but this time there was no response. I imagined my inquiry had caused quite a stir, or possibly she just ignored it fearing the stir it might cause, or perhaps thought I was misrepresenting myself and had other motives.

In any event, one Census report and one unconfirmed private family tree is not enough in my opinion to establish the fact of who my birth mother was. If true, then at least I knew she had passed away and the fear of her learning of the son she given up at birth 62 years before was gone. I still had to confirm her connection to Beulah, so my next step was to obtain a copy of the death certificate from Oregon.

Is Elizabeth Beulah’s Daughter?

You can imagine how anxious and excited I was opening the envelope containing Elizabeth’s death certificate.

That soon turned to joy.

There she was, born July 4, 1920, in Trenton, Georgia; occupation waitress; mother Beulah Langston. I had finished connecting the dots and matching up every fact from the non-identifying information the State of Florida provided with my research.

I had my proof – within a reasonable degree of certainty, as we say. There was still a deceased half-brother and two possibly living half-sisters out there, but my search for genetic heritage had led to finding my birth family, at least confirming Jeanene’s relationship as 2nd cousin through Beulah and her grandfather Levon.

There was simply no one else that matched up to Jeanene and her DNA.

More Than I Ever Expected

As I continued to research the Wooten and Langston lines, I discovered that the size of my new-found birth family was humongous. Beulah was one of 14 children, and some her siblings had equally large families.

The obituary for her father, Jim Frank Wooten, said he had 56 grandchildren! I had a lot of research to do if I were to find every 2nd cousin.

I still had those other close DNA matches to figure out. The closest match at FTDNA turned out to also be a Wooten whose grandmother was a sister to Jim Frank Wooten, my birth great grandfather.

The closest match who responded at 23andMe was related to the Langston line, through marriage to my birth great grandmother, a Williams.

I was thus able to triangulate, if you will, my closest matches at all three companies.

On occasion, I contacted other Ancestry members whose family trees showed promise but weren’t clear. One contact was to the wife of a nephew of an apparent 2nd cousin, one of 13 children of Matthew James Wooten, one of Beulah’s brothers. There was a different first name on her family tree than what I had found in my research. She responded and confirmed they were the same person, her husband’s aunt, and said she would contact her and provide my contact information.

One thing led to another, and I wound up talking with one of Matthew James Wooten’s sons. He, a sister and another cousin were vacationing in Florida, and we agreed to meet.

Of course I came prepared to argue my case before the Supreme Court with all the evidence I had accumulated up to that point. But they took one look at me and decided I was a Wooten after all. I gave them copies of my DNA reports in case others in the family had their doubts.

After all, how does someone pop up after 62 years claiming to be a son of someone who had three husbands and children by two of them?

They confirmed much of what I had found, such as knowing Elizabeth had spent time in Miami. We spent the entire day together talking about the family.

It was, as you can imagine, one of the most memorable, joyful days in my life; meeting family for the first time, one I never knew existed. They were warm and accepting, and I came away grateful I had started this search.

Decoration – A Southern Family Tradition

They told me about Decoration at the family cemetery, held each May in Trenton, Georgia. I knew I’d be attending no matter what.


Decoration is an apparently Southern tradition I had not known about, one I find very compelling. It moreover serves as a family reunion where everyone gets together for a big feast after cleaning and decorating family headstones. I was able to attend and spent the previous week exploring the area near Chattanooga with its Civil War battlefields.

Of course I wondered how I would be accepted. I needn’t have. In fact, I was kind of an honored guest and welcomed with open hearts and lots of food.

Lots of food, especially deviled eggs.

One cousin remarked that if I had shown up as some skinny little thing they would have had doubts, but seeing I was “full-bodied” I fit right in


Jeanene attended with her mother (above), as did many of the children of Matthew James Wooten from Virginia, some of whom I had not yet met. The Wooten cousin that was my closest match at FTDNA also attended from Alabama.

There were cousins galore, some 70-80 people at the community center in Trenton, including two first cousins, the daughters of one of Elizabeth’s half-brothers. We exchanged information and agreed to stay in touch.


I wish I could remember the names of all the cousins I met, but I thought it would be rude to carry around a notebook.

And the old family photos! There was one of my birth mother at an earlier Decoration and several older photos of my birth-grandmother before she passed in 1957. I took several photos of photos with my cellphone.

I now can place a face with a name and keep in contact with cousins I never knew I had.

The Circle

One disappointment though; no one had had any communication for several years with my two possibly living half-sisters, or their families.

The circle was not yet complete, if it ever would be.

People say you can choose friends but not family. This is only partially true. Some of us have a choice when faced with the knowledge that a family exists out there that has no clue of our existence.

I wonder what it would be like to come to know the siblings I might still have.

The ambivalence is profound.

It’s like First Contact with an alien civilization, having found one a few light years from Earth; do we make contact not knowing what the response would be. But we as human beings have this insatiable need to explore the unknown and ask questions and take actions that may be very risky. It’s in our genes, if you will.

I have to ponder this for a while….

Hope Through Genetics

I’d like to thank Roberta for affording me this opportunity of sharing my quest to answer “the question.” I’ve followed her blog for some three years now and have found her own stories of family search truly inspiring, and appreciate her words of encouragement in my search.

We all seek to find out more of where we come from.

Adoptees and others who have lost contact with family now have hope through genetics to find the answer. We all look forward to the day when we can pinpoint where on Earth our ancestors came from. It might even be the Orkneys.




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Father’s Day – Tracking the Y DNA Line

A fun way to share a quick DNA lesson with your family is to give them a Father’s Day Y line gift.  This is a pictorial history of the paternal surname in my family, which is also how the Y chromosome is passed.  Easy and fun to see the generations together, with a smattering of history.  Make one yourself and enjoy!  Makes a great, quick, Father’s Day remembrance that’s easy to share with lots of family members.


My father, William Sterling Estes, known as Bill as an adult and Sterl as a child was born sometime around 1902 and died in 1963, gone but not forgotten.  He was my Daddy and I loved him.  He was good to me and died in a car accident when I was too young to understand the rest.  But oh did he ever earn a place in the rogues gallery.  And no, I really don’t know what year he was born.  There are several variants depending on what he was trying to accomplish at the time.  We know for sure he made himself “older” to join the Army in WWI, so all of his “variants” weren’t necessarily self-serving.  He served in WWI and WWII and was injured.  When he was in his early 40s, he made himself “younger” by more than a decade to marry a 17 year old girl in Georgia.  Quite the ladies man, he was convicted of bigamy at least once, and committed it at least twice. He had several wives and partners during his lifetime, and I keep waiting for a new half-sibling to appear through one of the autosomal testing companies.

William George Estes3

My grandfather, William George Estes (1873-1971), photographer, moonshiner, ladies man, always just outside the law.  Twice he had affairs with his wife’s younger cousin, twice he got divorced, and twice he married those cousins.  Family lore says he was married to two of those women at once.  Gives new meaning to words “repeat offender” in a tongue in cheek sort of way.  Maybe my father came by his questionable behavior genetically.  William George, known as Bill or Will, is one of my most colorful ancestors who lived in the roughest part of Harlan County, Kentucky, known as “Bloody Harlan.”

Copy of Lazarus and Eliabeth Vannoy Estes

Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) was known as “Laze,” but was anything but Lazy.  He was a huckster, a gravestone carver and the man who took care of things within the family and made them right for whoever needed something.  Every family has one…he is ours.  He helped care for his mentally ill father-in-law, transported him to the institute for the insane and then took care of his mother-in-law.  He was very unhappy with the behavior of his son, William George, relative to his wives and their cousins, and at one point, threw him out of “Estes Holler” in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  Still, when he died, he left Will a little something, so while Will may have been prodigal, he wasn’t entirely disowned.

John Y Estes

John Y. Estes (1818-1895), Confederate Civil War veteran and Prisoner of War.  John was wounded in battle, hospitalized and then captured.  The details are sketchy, but he forever walked with a limp from his injury and used a walking stick as a cane.  That didn’t stop him or even slow him down much.  After his release as a Prisoner of War, at the end of the war, north of the Ohio River, he walked home to Claiborne County, Tennessee, on his injured leg.  Then a few years later, he left his wife and walked with his limp and his stick to Texas, twice, which means he walked back once, 1000 miles each way.  He lived in a dugout house along the Oklahoma border when he got to Texas and sold his “cancer elixir” along the Chism Trail.  There are rumors of another family there in Indian Territory with a possibly Native wife where he lived on Choctaw land. John was one extremely tough man.

John R. Estes restored

John R. Estes (1787-1885), War of 1812 veteran, pioneer, homesteader, man of the shadows.  After the War of 1812, John packed up his family in a wagon and made the journey from Halifax County, Virginia to Claiborne County, Tennessee.  John spent most of his life just under the radar.  Never owning land, or better stated, selling his land grant the day he got it, he was a very difficult ancestor to track.  He lived to be quite elderly and in addition to fighting in the War of 1812, he had a front row seat to the Civil War in Claiborne County, Tennessee, just south of the Cumberland Gap.  Would I ever love to sit down and chat with him.

This is the end of the line in photos.  We’re fortunate to have as many photos as we do, given that John R. Estes was born about 1787.  I wonder what he thought of photography and having his picture taken.

Two of these men, my grandfather and John R. Estes lived to be just shy of 100 years old.  John R. Estes’s father, George, died just as the camera was coming into use, in 1859.  He too lived to be almost 100, or by a different account, just over 100.  Longevity seems to run in this line.  Two daughters of William George Estes lived to be just shy of 100 years as well.

Happy Father’s Day to each and every generation that contributed to me being here today!  Y’all may have been “colorful,” but you’re still mine!



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Kennewick Man is Native American

Finally, an answer, after almost 20 years and very nearly losing the opportunity of ever knowing.

Today, in Nature, a team of scientists released information about the full genomic sequencing of Kennewick Man who was discovered in 1996 in Washington state.  Previous DNA sequencing attempts had failed, and 8000 year old Kennewick Man was then embroiled in years of legal battles.  Ironically, the only reason DNA testing was allowed is because, based on cranial morphology it was determined that he was likely more closely associated with Asian people or the Auni than the Native American population, and therefore NAGPRA did not apply.  However, subsequent DNA testing has removed all question about Kennewick Man’s history.  He truly is the Ancient One.

Kennewick man is Native American.  His Y haplogroup is Q-M3 and his mitochondrial DNA is X2a.  This autosomal DNA was analyzed as well, and compared to some current tribes, where available.

From the paper:

We find that Kennewick Man is closer to modern Native Americans than to any other population worldwide. Among the Native American groups for whom genome-wide data are available for comparison, several seem to be descended from a population closely related to that of Kennewick Man, including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Colville), one of the five tribes claiming Kennewick Man. We revisit the cranial analyses and find that, as opposed to genomic-wide comparisons, it is not possible on that basis to affiliate Kennewick Man to specific contemporary groups. We therefore conclude based on genetic comparisons that Kennewick Man shows continuity with Native North Americans over at least the last eight millennia.

Interestingly enough, the Colville Tribe, located near where Kennewick Man was found, decided to participate in the testing by submitting DNA for comparison.

Kennewick Colville

The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man by Rasmussen, et al, Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14625

Also from the paper:

Our results are in agreement with a basal divergence of Northern and Central/Southern Native American lineages as suggested from the analysis of the Anzick-1 genome12. However, the genetic affinities of Kennewick Man reveal additional complexity in the population history of the Northern lineage. The finding that Kennewick is more closely related to Southern than many Northern Native Americans (Extended Data Fig. 4) suggests the presence of an additional Northern lineage that diverged from the common ancestral population of Anzick-1 and Southern Native Americans (Fig. 3). This branch would include both Colville and other tribes of the Pacific Northwest such as the Stswecem’c, who also appear symmetric to Kennewick with Southern Native Americans (Extended Data Fig. 4). We also find evidence for additional gene flow into the Pacific Northwest related to Asian populations (Extended Data Fig. 5), which is likely to post-date Kennewick Man. We note that this gene flow could originate from within the Americas, for example in association with the migration of paleo-Eskimos or Inuit ancestors within the past 5 thousand years25, or the gene flow could be post colonial19.

The authors go on to say that Kennewick Man is significiantly different than Anzick Child, which matches closely with many Meso and South American samples.  Kennewick on the other hand, is closely related to the Chippewa and Anzick was not.

This divergence may suggest a population substructure and migration path within the Americas, although I would think significantly more testing of Native people would be in order before a migration path would be able to be determined or even suggested. It is very interesting that Anzick from Montana, 12,500 years ago, would match Meso American samples so closely.  I would have expected Kennewick to perhaps match Meso Americans more closely because I would have expected the migration pathway to be down the coastline.  Perhaps that migration had already happened by the time Kennewick man came onto the scene some 8000 years ago.

You can read the entire paper at this link.



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DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage

Adoptees aren’t the only people who don’t know who their parents are.  There are many people who don’t know the identity of one of their two parents…and it’s not always the father.  Just this week, I had someone who needed to determine which of two sisters was her mother.  Still, the “who’s your Daddy” crowd, aside from adoptees, is by far the largest.

The DNA testing strategy for both of these groups of people is the same, with slight modifications for male or female. Let’s take a look.

Males have three kinds of DNA that can be tested and then compared to other participants’ results.  The tests for these three kinds of DNA provide different kinds of information which is useful in different ways.  For example, Y DNA testing may give you a surname, if you’re a male, but the other two types of tests can’t do that, at least not directly.

Females only have two of those kinds of DNA that can be tested.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome, which is what makes males male genetically.

adopted pedigree

If you look at this pedigree chart, you can see that the Y chromosome, in blue, is passed from the father to the son, but not to daughters.  It’s passed intact, meaning there is no admixture from the mother, who doesn’t have a Y chromosome, because she is female.  The Y chromosome is what makes males male.

The second type of DNA testing is mitochondrial, represented by the red circles.  It is passed from the mother to all of her children, of both genders, intact – meaning her mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the mtDNA of the father.  Woman pass their mtDNA on to their children, men don’t.

Therefore when you test either the Y or the mtDNA, you get a direct line view right down that branch of the family tree – and only that direct line on that branch of the tree.  Since there is no admixture from spouses in any generation, you will match someone exactly or closely (allowing for an occasional mutation or two) from generations ago.  Now, that’s the good and the bad news – and where genealogical sleuthing comes into play.

On the chart above, the third kind of DNA testing, autosomal DNA, tests your DNA from all of your ancestors, meaning all of those boxes with no color, not just the blue and red ones, but it does include the blue and red ancestors too.  However, autosomal DNA (unlike Y and mtDNA) is diluted by half in each generation, because you get half of your autosomal DNA from each parent, so only half of the parents DNA gets passed on to each child.

Let’s look at how these three kinds of DNA can help you identify your family members.


Since the Y DNA typically follows the paternal surname, it can be extremely helpful for males who are searching for their genetic surname.  For example, if your biological father’s surname is Estes, assuming he is not himself adopted or the product of a nonpaternal event (NPE) which I like to refer to as undocumented adoptions, his DNA will match that of the Estes ancestral line.  So, if you’re a male, an extremely important test will be the Y DNA test from Family Tree DNA, the only testing company to offer this test.

Let’s say that you have no idea who your bio-father is, but when your results come back you see a preponderance of Estes men whom you match, as well as your highest and closest matches being Estes.

By highest, I mean on the highest panel you tested – in this case 111 markers.  And by closest, I mean with the smallest genetic distance, or number of mutations difference.  On the chart below, this person matches only Estes males at 111 markers, and one with only 1 mutation difference (Genetic Distance.)  Please noted that I’ve redacted first names.

Hint for Mr. Hilbert, below – there is a really good chance that you’re genetically Estes on the direct paternal side – that blue line.

Estes match ex

The next step will be to see which Estes line you match the most closely and begin to work from there genealogically.  In this case, that would be the first match with only one difference.  Does your match have a tree online?  In this case, they do – as noted by the pedigree chart icon.  Contact this person.  Where did their ancestors live?  Where did their descendants move to?  Where were you born?  How do the dots connect?

The good news is, looking at their DNA results, you can see that your closest match has also tested autosomally, indicated by the FF icon, so you can check to see if you also match them on the Family Finder test utilizing the Advanced Matching Tool.  That will help determine how close or distantly related you are to the tester themselves.  This gives you an idea how far back in their tree you would have to look for a common ancestor.

Another benefit is that your haplogroup identifies your deep ancestral clan, for lack of a better word.  In other words, you’ll know if your paternal ancestor was European, Asian, Native American or African – and that can be a hugely important piece of information.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, the ethnicity of your paternal (or any) ancestor is not always what seems evident by looking in the mirror today.

Y DNA – What to order:  From Family Tree DNA, the 111 marker Y DNA test.  This is for males only.  Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide this testing.  Can you order fewer markers, like 37 or 67?  Yes, but it won’t provide you with as much information or resolution as ordering 111 markers.  You can upgrade later, but you’ll curse yourself for that second wait.


Mitochondrial DNA

Males and females both can test for mitochondrial DNA.  Matches point to a common ancestor directly up the matrilineal side of your family – your mother, her mother, her mother – those red circles on the chart.  These matches are more difficult to work with genealogically, because the surnames change in every generation.  Occasionally, you’ll see a common “most distant ancestor” between mitochondrial DNA matches.

Your mitochondrial DNA is compared at three levels, but the most accurate and detailed is the full sequence level which tests all 16,569 locations on your mitochondria.  The series of mutations that you have forms a genetic signature, which is then compared to others.  The people you match the most closely at the full sequence level are the people with whom you are most likely to be genealogically related to a relevant timeframe.

You also receive your haplogroup designation with mitochondrial DNA testing which will place you within an ethnic group, and may also provide more assistance in terms of where your ancestors may have come from.  For example, if your haplogroup is European and you match only people from Norway….that’s a really big hint.

Using the Advanced Matching Tool, you can also compare your results to mitochondrial matches who have taken the autosomal Family Finder test to see if you happen to match on both tests.  Again, that’s not a guarantee you’re a close relative on the mitochondrial side, but it’s a darned good hint and a place to begin your research.

Mitochondrial DNA – What to Order:  From Family Tree DNA, the mitochondrial full sequence test.  This is for males and females both.  Family Tree DNA is the only company that provides this testing.


Autosomal DNA

Y and mitochondrial DNA tests one line, and only one line – and shoots like a laser beam right down that line, telling you about the recent and deep history of that particular lineage.  In other words, those tests are deep and not wide.  They can tell you nothing about any of your other ancestors – the ones with no color on the pedigree chart diagram – because you don’t inherit either Y or mtDNA from those ancestors.

Autosomal DNA, on the other hand tends to be wide but not deep.  By this I mean that autosomal DNA shows you matches to ancestors on all of your lines – but only detects relationships back a few generations.  Since each child in each generation received half of their DNA from each parent – in essence, the DNA of each ancestor is cut in half (roughly) in each generation.  Therefore, you carry 50% of the DNA of your parents, approximately 25% of each grandparent, 12.5% of the DNA of each great-grandparent, and so forth.  By the time you’re back to the 4th great-grandparents, you carry only about 1% of the DNA or each of your 64 direct ancestors in that generation.

What this means is that the DNA testing can locate common segments between you and your genetic cousins that are the same, and if you share the same ancestors,  you can prove that this DNA in fact comes from a specific ancestor.  The more closely you are related, the more DNA you will share.

Another benefit that autosomal testing provides is an ethnicity prediction.  Are these predictions 100% accurate?  Absolutely not!  Are they generally good in terms of identifying the four major ethnic groups; African, European, Asian and Native American?  Yes, so long at the DNA amounts you carry of those groups aren’t tiny.  So you’ll learn your major ethnicity groups.  You never know, there may be a surprise waiting for you.

FTDNA myOrigins

The three vendors who provide autosomal DNA testing and matching all provide ethnicity estimates as well, and they aren’t going to agree 100%.  That’s the good news and often makes things even more interesting.  The screen shot below is the same person at Ancestry as the person above at Family Tree DNA.

Ancestry ethnicity

If you’re very lucky, you’ll test and find an immediate close match – maybe even a parent, sibling or half-sibling.  It does happen, but don’t count on it.  I don’t want you to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  Just remember, after you test, your DNA is fishing for you 24X7, every single hour of every single day.

If you’re lucky, you may find a close relative, like an uncle or first cousin.  You share a common grandparent with a first cousin, and that’s pretty easy to narrow down.  Here’s an example of matching from Family Tree DNA.

FTDNA close match

If you’re less lucky, you’ll match distantly with many people, but by using their trees, you’ll be able to find common ancestors and then work your way forward, based on how closely you match these individuals, to the current.

Is that a sometimes long process?  Yes.  Can it be done?  Absolutely.

If you are one of the “lottery winner” lucky ones, you’ll have a close match and you won’t need to do the in-depth genealogy sleuthing.  If you are aren’t quite as lucky, there are people and resources to help you, along with educational resources. provides tools and education to teach you how to utilize autosomal DNA tools and results.

Of course, you won’t know how lucky or unlucky you are unless you test.  Your answer, or pieces of your answer, may be waiting for you.

Unlike Y and mtDNA testing, Family Tree DNA is not the only company to provide autosomal of testing, although they do provide autosomal DNA testing through their Family Finder test.

There are two additional companies that provide this type of testing as well, 23andMe and  You should absolutely test with all three companies, or make sure your results are in all three data bases.  That way you are fishing in all of the available ponds directly.

If you have to choose between testing companies and only utilize one, it would be a very difficult choice.  All three have pros and cons.  I wrote about that here.  The only thing I would add to what I had to say in the comparison article is that Family Tree DNA is the only one of the three that is not trying to obtain your consent to sell your DNA out the back door to other entities.  They don’t sell your DNA, period.  You don’t have to grant that consent to either Ancestry or 23andMe, but be careful not to click on anything you don’t fully understand.

Family Tree DNA accepts transfers of autosomal data into their data base from Ancestry.  They also accept transfers from 23andMe if you tested before December of 2013 when 23andMe reduced the number of locations they test on their V4 chip

Autosomal DNA:  What to Order’s DNA product at – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

23andMe’s DNA product at – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

Family Tree DNA – either transfer your data from Ancestry or 23andMe (if you tested before December 2013), or order the Family Finder test. My personal preference is to simply test at Family Tree DNA to eliminate any possibility of a file transfer issue.


Third Party Autosomal Tools

The last part of your testing strategy will be to utilize various third party tools to help you find matches, evaluate and analyze results.


At GedMatch, the first thing you’ll need to do is to download your raw autosomal data file from either Ancestry or Family Tree DNA and upload the file to  You can also download your results from 23andMe, but I prefer to utilize the files from either of the other two vendors, given a choice, because they cover about 200,000 additional DNA locations that 23andMe does not. provides you with no tools to do comparisons between your DNA and your matches.  In other words, no chromosome browser or even information like how much DNA you share.  I wrote about that extensively in this article, and I don’t want to belabor the point here, other than to say that GedMatch levels the playing field and allows you to eliminate any of the artificial barriers put in place by the vendors.  Jim Bartlett just wrote a great article about the various reasons why you’d want to upload your data to Gedmatch.

GedMatch provides you with many tools to show to whom you are related, and how.  Used in conjunction with pedigree charts, it is an invaluable tool.  Now, if we could just convince everyone to upload their files.  Obviously, not everyone does, so you’ll still need to work with your matches individually at each of the vendors and at GedMatch.

GedMatch is funded by donations or an inexpensive monthly subscription for the more advanced tools.

Another donation based site is which offers you a wide range of analytical tools to assist with making sense of your matches and their trees.  DNAGEDCOM works closely with the adoption community and focuses on the types of solutions they need to solve their unique types of genealogy puzzles.  While everyone else is starting in the present and working their way back, adoptees are starting with the older generations and piecing them together to come forward to present.  Their tools aren’t just for adoptees though.  Tools such as the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer are great for anyone.  Visit the site and take a look.

Third Party Y and Mitochondrial Tools – YSearch and MitoSearch

Both and are free data bases maintained separately from Family Tree DNA, but as a courtesy by Family Tree DNA.  Ysearch shows only a maximum of 100 markers for Y DNA and Mitosearch doesn’t show the coding region of the mitochondrial DNA, but they do allow users to provide their actual marker values for direct comparison, in addition to other tools.

Furthermore, some people who tested at other firms, when other companies were doing Y and mtDNA testing, have entered their results here, so you may match with people who aren’t matches at Family Tree DNA.  Those other data bases no longer exist, so Ysearch or Mitosearch is the only place you have a prayer of matching anyone who tested elsewhere.

You can also adjust the match threshold so that you can see more distant matches than at Family Tree DNA.  You can download your results to Ysearch and Mitosearch from the bottom of your Family Tree DNA matches page.

Mitosearch upload

Answer the questions at Mito or Ysearch, and then click “Save Information.”  When you receive the “500” message that an error has occurred at the end of the process, simply close the window.  Your data has been added to the data base and you can obtain your ID number by simply going back to your match page at Family Tree DNA and clicking on the “Upload to Ysearch” or Mitosearch link again on the bottom of your matches page.  At that point, your Y or mitosearch ID will be displayed.  Just click on “Search for Genetic Matches” to continue matching.

Get Going!

Now that you have a plan, place your orders and in another 6 to 8 weeks, you’ll either solve the quandry or at least begin to answer your questions.  Twenty years ago you couldn’t have begun to unravel your parentage using DNA.  Now, it’s commonplace.  Your adventure starts today.

Oh, and congratulations, you’ve just become a DNA detective!

I wish you success on your journey – answers, cousins, siblings and most importantly, your genetic family.  Hopefully, one day it will be you writing to me telling me how wonderful it was to meet your genetic family for the first time, and what an amazing experience it was to look across the dinner table and see someone who looks like you.



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Yamnaya, Light Skinned, Brown Eyed….Ancestors???

Late last fall, I reported that scientists had discovered a European ghost population.  This group of people then referred to as the ANE, Ancient Northern Europeans, was a previously unknown population from the north that had mixed into the known European populations, the Hunter-Gatherers and the farmers from the Middle East, the Neolithic.

That discovery came as a result of the full genome sequencing of a few ancient specimens, including one from the Altai.

Recently, several papers have been published as a result of ongoing sequencing efforts of another 200 or so ancient specimens.  As a result, scientists now believe that this ghost population has been identified as the Yamnaya and that they began a mass migration in different directions, including Europe, about 5,000 years ago.  Along with their light skin and brown eyes, they brought along with them their gene(s) for lactose tolerance.  So, if you have European heritage and are lactose tolerant, then maybe you can thank your Yamnaya ancestors.

1.Haak et al. (2015) from Feb. 18, 2015 “Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin” by Ellen Callaway

1.Haak et al. (2015) from Feb. 18, 2015 “Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin” by Ellen Callaway

For those of us who avidly follow these types of discoveries, this is not only amazing, it’s wonderful news.  It helps to continue to explain how and why some haplogroups are found in the Native American population and in the Northern European population as well.  For example, haplogroup Q is found in both places – not exact duplicates, but certainly close enough for us to know they were at one time related.  It also explains how people from Germany, for example, are showing small percentages of Native American ancestry.  Their common ancestors were indeed from central Asia, thousands of years ago, and we can still see vestiges of that population today in both groups of people.

So, if the Yamnaya people are the ghost people, the ANE, who are they?

The Yamna culture was primarily nomadic and was found in Russia in the Ural Region, the Pontic Steppe, dating to the 36th-23rd century BC.  It is also known as the Pit Grave Culture, the Ochre Grave Culture and feeds into the Corded Ware Culture.

"Corded Ware culture" by User:Dbachmann - Own work based based on Image:Europe 34 62 -12 54 blank map.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Corded Ware culture” by User:Dbachmann – Own work based based on Image:Europe 34 62 -12 54 blank map.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Characteristics for the culture are burials in kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions.  The first known cart burial is also found in a kurgan grave.  A kurgan often appears as a hill, example shown below, and have been found in locations throughout eastern and northern Europe..

Hallstatt-era tumulus in the Sulm valley necropolis in Austria, photo by Hermann A. M. Mucke.

Hallstatt-era tumulus in the Sulm valley necropolis in Austria, photo by Hermann A. M. Mucke.

Additionally, some scientists believe that the Yamna culture was responsible for the introduction of PIE, Proto-Indo-European-Language, the now defunct mother-tongue of European languages.  Others think it’s way too soon to tell, and that suggestion is jumping the gun a bit.

Why might these recent discoveries be important to many genetic genealogists?  Primarily, because Y haplogroup R has been identified in ancient Russian remains dating from 2700-3400 BCE.  Haplogroup R and subgroups had not been found in the ancient European remains sequenced as of last fall.  In addition, subgroups of mitochondrial haplogroups U, W, H, T and W have been identified as well.

Keep in mind that we are still dealing with less than 300 skeletal remains that have been fully sequenced.  This trend may hold, or a new discovery may well cause the thought pattern to be “reconfigured” slightly or significantly.  Regardless, it’s exciting to be part of the learning and discovery process.

Oh yes, and before I forget to mention it…it seems that your Neanderthal ancestors may not be as far back in your tree as you thought.  They have now found 40,000 year old skeletal remains that suggest that person’s great-great-grandfather was in fact, full Neanderthal.  That’s significantly later than previously thought, by 10,000 or 20,000 years, and in Europe, not the Near East…and who knows what is just waiting to be found.  The new field of ancient DNA is literally bursting open as we watch.

I’ve accumulated several recent articles and some abstracts so that you can read about these interesting developments, in summary, and not have to do a lot of searching.  Enjoy!


Modern Europe was formed by milk-drinking Russians: Mass migration brought new genetic makeup to continent 5,000 years ago


DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europeans


Science – Nomadic Herders Left a Strong Genetic Mark on Europeans and Asians


Nature – DNA Data Explosion Light Up the Bronze Age


From the European Nucleotide Archive.

Investigation of Bronze Age in Eurasia by sequencing from 101 ancient human remains. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native American


The Bronze Age (BA) of Eurasia (c. 3,000-1,000 years BC, 3-1 ka BC) was a period of major cultural changes. Earlier hunter-gathering and farming cultures in Europe and Asia were replaced by cultures associated with completely new perceptions and technologies inspired by early urban civilization. It remains debated if these cultural shifts simply represented the circulation of ideas or resulted from large-scale human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of Indo-European languages and certain phenotypic traits. To investigate this and the role of BA in the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, we used new methodological improvements to sequence low coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans (19 > 1X average depth) covering 3 ka BC to 600 AD from across Eurasia. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native Americans. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesised spread of Indo-European languages during early BA and reveal that major parts of the demographic structure of present-day Eurasian populations were shaped during this period. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency during the BA, contrary to lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection in the latter than previously believed.


The Bronze Age (BA) of Eurasia (c. 3,000-1,000 years BC, 3-1 ka BC) was a period of major cultural changes. Earlier hunter-gathering and farming cultures in Europe and Asia were replaced by cultures associated with completely new perceptions and technologies inspired by early urban civilization. It remains debated if these cultural shifts simply represented the circulation of ideas or resulted from large-scale human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of Indo-European languages and certain phenotypic traits. To investigate this and the role of BA in the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, we used new methodological improvements to sequence low coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans (19 > 1X average depth) covering 3 ka BC to 600 AD from across Eurasia. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native Americans. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesised spread of Indo-European languages during early BA and reveal that major parts of the demographic structure of present-day Eurasian populations were shaped during this period. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency during the BA, contrary to lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection in the latter than previously believed.

The findings echo those of a team that sequenced 69 ancient Europeans3. Both groups speculate that the Yamnaya migration was at least partly responsible for the spread of the Indo-European languages into Western Europe.

The report on the 69 ancient remains sequenced is below.


Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin

The Harvard team collected DNA from 69 human remains dating back 8,000 years and cataloged the genetic variations at almost 400,000 different points. The Copenhagen team collected DNA from 101 skeletons dating back about 3,400 years and sequenced the entire genomes.


Population genetics of Bronze Age Eurasia


Dienekes Anthropology Blog

Forensic Science International: Genetics Received 2 January 2014; received in revised form 21 May 2014; accepted 25 May 2014. published online 04 June 2014.

The Altai Mountains have been a long term boundary zone between the Eurasian Steppe populations and South and East Asian populations. Mitochondrial DNA analyses revealed that the ancient Altaians studied carried both Western (H, U, T) and Eastern (A, C, D) Eurasian lineages. In the same way, the patrilineal gene pool revealed the presence of different haplogroups (Q1a2a1-L54, R1a1a1b2-Z93 and C), probably marking different origins for the male paternal lineages.


Dienekes Anthropology Blog

Includes mitochondrial haplogroups C, U2e, T, U5a, T1, A10.


Population Genetics copper and Bronze Age populations of Eastern Steppe, thesis by Sandra Wilde (in German)


Eurogenes blog discusses


Polish Genes Blog


Early European May Have Had Neanderthal Great-Great-Greandparent

40,000 year old Romanian skeleton with 5 – 11% Neanderthal, including large parts of some chromosomes – as close as a great-grandparent.  Previously thought that interbreeding was in the Middle East and 10,000 or 20,000 years earlier.


How is this all happening?

The Scientist Magazine has a great overview in the June 1, 2015 edition, in “What’s Old is New Again.”



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Elijah Vannoy (c 1784-1850s), Homesteader on Mulberry Creek, 52 Ancestors #76

Elijah Vannoy was born in the extremely rugged backcountry of Wilkes County, during the Revolutionary War era, around the time that Tory’s were hung in Wilkesboro, behind the courthouse, on the infamous Tory Oak, also known as the Hanging Tree, the large tree shown here in a 1915 photo.

Tory Oak 1915

Wilkes County also decided in the 1900s that they didn’t need all of those musty old records taking up space, so they just burned some of them.  If you just gasped and caught your breath in your throat….so did I.

Wilkes County is quite unique.  Known as “The Moonshine Capital of the World,” it’s where NASCAR was born, out of moonshine running. If you’re getting the idea that Wilkes County is kind of wild, perhaps a little unsettled and a bit nonconformist…well…it is.  They did and do walk to the beat of their own drummer there.  Strong, tough, proud people.  Survivors, all, with a mind of their own..

Wilkes County is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway transects the county.  It’s unbelievably beautiful county, and extremely remote, even today.  The people are still very clannish, exceedingly loyal, mostly religious, and Baptist.  There are more churches in Wilkes County, per capita, than anyplace else in the US.  That means there are more preachers there than anyplace else too, although many are volunteer.  It’s an extremely unique place that truly defies description.  The citizens, a study in opposites and conflicting idealogy.

One thing, however, is beyond question.  It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Wilkes County view

The area where the Vannoys lived in Wilkes County is so remote that even I wouldn’t drive there…in my Jeep.  The local guys told me not to go there, because it was dirt one track road, hanging on the edge of a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other…and if you meet another vehicle, someone gets to back up.  The local guys won’t even drive that road.  So, I decided unless I wanted to meet my ancestors sooner than later…I’d just pass on that level of adventure.  This is the first and only time I’ve ever declined the opportunity to visit where my ancestors lived, although I was told they lived close to the intersection where I was parked.  If they are like the rest of my family, they found the deepest, darkest, most remote, hardest to reach location possible, and settled there – happy as a clam.

Vannoy Buckwheat road

This is the place – Vannoy Road.  I’m sitting at the intersection of Vannoy and Buckwheat Road.

Vannoy road sign

Today, it’s still dense with vegetation and humidity.

Vannoy road vegetation'

Vannoy Road follows the North Fork of the Reddies River from where it is born near the post office at McGrady, NC near the top of the mountain range, to where Vannoy Road joins with Old North Carolina 16 just a couple miles north of New Hope Baptist Church.

Road 1567, one of the spurs of Vannoy Road, as well as Old North Carolina 16 and Carolina 18 reach on up just a couple of miles to intersect with the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Wilkes and Ashe County.  On the map below, Vannoy Road is marked with the red balloon, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the green line above that travels left to right, and Miller’s Creek, to the south, is where the New Hope Baptist Church is located.

Vannoy road map

It’s the section from where 1501 (Vannoy Road) and 1575 (Buckwheat Road) separate to Sparta Road that the locals won’t drive.  I looked at this up close with satellite, and I see why.  Very rough switchbacks.  It’s not a short distance either.  It looks to be maybe 8 miles or so.  My poor husband would have been clinging to the door and the roll bars for his very life.

Vannoy road satellite

There Were Four Brothers

Oh, yes, and did I mention Elijah was born to parents who did not have a will or a Bible, or at least not that we’ve ever found.  Nor an estate.

For many, many years, we didn’t know who Elijah’s parents were, but we knew they had to be one of four Vannoy men living in Wilkes County, all brothers, at that time.  Elijah was born around 1784, we think.

Two of the four brothers were eliminated, after much grief and aggravation.

I thought sure I had nailed who Elijah’s father was when I discovered on a Wilkes County tax list that Nathaniel Vannoy lived beside Lois McNeil’s (or NcNiel) father.  Lois, of course, was Elijah’s eventual wife.  I decided at that point to really focus on Nathaniel…and that’s when I found it.  Nathaniel, has an extant Bible record and one just does not forget to enter their child’s birth in the Bible. I even went to Greenville, South Carolina, where Nathaniel died to see if there were any deeds, wills, estate papers, inventories….anything at all to tie into Elijah Vannoy.  There was nothing relevant…except for that Bible record.  Rats.  Foiled again.

And then there was the brother, Andrew Vannoy, who had another son, Andrew, who was born in 1784.  But Andrew (Sr.) he also had a “spare slot” in the 1790 census for a son not otherwise known, in this age bracket, so Andrew could have been Elijah’s father.  He was my next choice.

We are extremely fortunate to have the Wilkes County tax lists available, along with the 1790 and 1800 census.  Between these documents, we can bracket the ages of children, plus we can assign known children to “slots.”

A third brother, Francis Vannoy was considered to be our best possibility for a while, in part because he moved to Barbourville, KY in 1812, about 60 miles up the road from where Elijah Vannoy settled in Claiborne County.  However, a few years ago, I made contact with a descendant of Francis who had documented Francis’s children quite well, and not only wasn’t he a good fit, Francis already had every spare Vannoy child in Wilkes County given to him, in part, because he had at least 19 children, some say 22 children, and either 2 or 3 wives, or perhaps more.  Francis was difficult to eliminate, but also impossible to confirm.  He did have an estate and no place is Elijah mentioned.  Although that doesn’t necessarily prove anything.

That left the fourth brother, Daniel Vannoy.  Daniel was the youngest, quiet son.  He moved to what is now Ashe County, which fits in with the oral history of Elijah’s people being from “over yonder” and a hand-wave towards Ashe County.  They weren’t “from here” in Wilkes, according to the old people.

Unlike his brothers, Daniel never applied for land grants.  He only had two proven children, one of which was known as “Sheriff Joel.”  Elijah named one of his sons, also my ancestor, Joel.  Daniel’s son, Joel, is the only Vannoy to name a son Elijah.  Daniel disappears before 1819, and his widow may have moved back into Wilkes County, among the Vannoy clan, if she was still living.

Unfortunately, Elijah didn’t name any of his sons for any of these men…or at least not sons that survived.  They may well be buried in that lost cemetery with Elijah and Lois.

The men’s wives names were Susannah, Millicent, Elizabeth and Sarah.  Now, if a Millicent turned up, that would be really telling, because it is such an unusual name.  No such luck.  The rest are common but there is no Susannah.  There is both an Elizabeth and a Sarah, but those names are so common that it’s very dangerous to draw any conclusions or even inferences due to the naming pattern.

Because Elijah’s father was so difficult for us to identify, we began to wonder if Elijah was illegitimate, belonging to a female Vannoy who had never married and had given her child her surname.  Yes, you could say we were desperate.  I even went to the North Carolina state archives in search of bastardry bonds, to no avail.

Elijah Emerges

From Elijah’s birth to 1807 when he married is pretty much just a hazy cloud, lost to the mists of the mountains.  We know he grew up in that vicinity, because he married in Wilkes County in 1807.

The earliest record of Elijah Vannoy is an 1807 entry in the Wilkes County, North Carolina Deed Book G-H (yes, deed book, but I don’t know why).  He married Lois McNeil (daughter of William McNeil and Elizabeth Shepherd) sometime before 1810 and he is listed in the Wilkes County, NC 1810 Federal Census with his wife and one female child under 10 which was probably Permelia, born in February of 1810.  He is listed as age 16-26, which would put his birth between 1784-1794. The three years between his marriage and the birth of Permelia may imply that they lost their first child.

Knowing that Elijah married in 1807 and had a child by 1810, we know that he wasn’t age 16, and that 26 is probably much closer to reality, so that is the year we’ve used for his birth.  He could have been a couple of years younger.

In Wilkes Co., NC, December 31, 1810, William McNeil deeded 150 acres of land to Elijah Vannoy.  This land was in the New Hope section of Lewis Fork Creek.  Happy New Year, Elijah!!!

This conveyance of land suggests that the migration to Tennessee hadn’t been planned for a long time in advance.

Bedford County, Tennessee

Sometime in 1811 or 1812, the McNeil and Vannoy families migrated from Wilkes Co. to Claiborne Co., TN.

Elijah left Wilkes County, NC after 1811 with the McNeil family.  An Elijah Vannoy is listed in the Bedford County, Tennessee 1812 Tax List, along with a Joel Vannoy, possibly his brother.  Some family researchers are adamant that the Joel Vannoy who would be Elijah’s brother stayed right in Wilkes County where he was sheriff.  Regardless, here is Elijah in Bedford County, TN with some Joel Vannoy.  Clearly, there is some connection.  There are no McNiels, by any spelling, on that Bedford County tax list.  Did someone get lost???

Cemetery listings for Bedford County, Tennessee include Andrew Vannoy, born in 1783, who just happens to be the son of Nathaniel Vannoy, one of the Wilkes County Vannoy brothers.  Andrew’s brother, Joel, born in 1777, apparently lived in Bedford County for some time before moving on to Henderson County, Tennessee.

Ironically, guess what river just happens to run directly through Bedford County.  The Duck River.  Why is this important?  Because one of Elijah’s daughters, “Aunt Lou” said the family came to Claiborne via the Duck River, although that made no sense at the time to her niece who conveyed the story Aunt Lou told, or to me, since the Duck River is no place close to Claiborne County, nor is it in-between Claiborne and Wilkes County, NC.

Shelbyville to Sneedville

There is no good way to get from Shelbyville, the county seat of Bedford County, in south central Tennessee to north of Sneedville where Elijah settled, either.  It’s also a 250 mile journey, or about a month in a wagon.  And of course this begs questions of why they followed the Duck River in the first place, if in fact they did.

More questions and no answers.

I checked on for War of 1812 service records for Elijah Vannoy.  There were none. However, there is a Wilkes County War of 1812 record for Joel Vannoy, along with an Andrew Vannoy.  This Joel could be Elijah’s brother.  Joel’s entire file has not yet been microfilmed and indexed, so patience is in order, and maybe another donation to

Claiborne County, Tennessee – The Land of…Land

The first actual record we have of Elijah in Claiborne County was found in the Josiah Ramsey papers.  Josiah was a Justice of the Peace, and he apparently kept a lot of original papers.

“One day after date I promis to pay on (or) cause to be paid to David Pugh or his assigns nine dollars—cents it being for value received of him this 8 March Day of 1817

Elijah Vannoy

Isham X Whealous (his mark)”

The question is whether or not Elijah signed that document too, or if the only original signature is Isham’s.  I’m hoping that the owner can find the original and will scan it to me.

The next records of Elijah are found in Claiborne County, Tennessee beginning in the 1812 – 1814 Court Minutes on page 39 where he was sued by one Thomas Steward, but the case was dismissed.

In 1818, the May court session, Elisha Venoy (sic) was assigned to a road crew.

In 1820, Elijah was called to be a juror, but this is the only instance I can find.  Not all court minutes are extant.

This begs the question of why Elijah was never called again, nor assigned to another road crew.  Other men were repeatedly in the court minutes for these activities.

The 1820 census for Claiborne County doesn’t exist, but in 1830 we find Elijah with his wife and 3 male and 6 female children.

In 1825, Elijah Vannoy filed for a land grant of 100 acres, described as adjoining Rheas and Robert Mann, including “said Venoy’s improvements where he lives on the waters of the north side of Mulberry Creek.”  This survey was made on August 25, 1826 and recorded on September 2, 1829.  It also tells us where he lives, and that he has been living there and built a house.

1829 Elijah grant

Elijah records another survey as well, on January 20, 1830.  The land grant was filed almost exactly a year earlier, on January 16, 1829, and it’s not exactly what you would call a square piece of land.

1830 Elijah grant

The surveyor states that the land adjoins that of John Rheas on Wallen’s Ridge, references Cole’s Corner, and is for 125 acres.  William Vannoy and Charles Baker are the chain carriers.  This survey was made on July 25, 1829 and was recorded on January 20, 1830.  I can’t imagine that this would have been fun in the stifling heat and the heavy forest overgrowth in July in Tennessee, not to mention the insects.

At this point, Elijah has a total of 225 acres.

As luck would have it, sealing the fact that this was indeed, Elijah’s land, when cousin Dan located the land, several years ago, he approached the property owner…who produced the actual land grant to Elijah Vannoy.

Elijah Vannoy original grant

This document was more than 175 years old and was issued to Elijah when he acquired the property.  It’s amazing to see the actual document that Elijah would have owned, would have held, and obviously coveted enough to keep it safe and pass it on.

In 1833, Elijah’s son, Joel would also file a land grant for 100 acres and his land would abut Elijah’s land, that of John Rhea and John Taylor. It was also on Mulberry Creek.

Joel vannoy survey2

This is not a trivial amount of land.  Between Elijah and Joel, assuming they didn’t own land we don’t know about, they owned 325 acres, which is about half of a square mile.  That means it would be a mile long and half a mile wide, or three quarters by three quarters.  From the looks of these surveys, the only thing we can discern for sure is that they weren’t square and the location where the creek exited Elijah’s land, which is how Dan located the land about 10 years ago.  Looking at the map, if the land were square, it would be almost the entire section of land from where Mulberry Creek crosses under Mulberry Gap Road, to both legs of Rebel Hollow Road.

Elijah's land

Elijah’s land via satellite.  Isn’t technology wonderful!

Elijah's land satellite

Here is a closeup of the land we know is Elijah’s.  Note the house with the bridge is at the bottom of the picture.  Someplace on this land is a cave where Joel’s family hid food, livestock and themselves during the Civil War…and someplace on this land is a cemetery.  But where?

Elijah's land closeup

On the 1836 tax list for Claiborne County, “Elijah Vonay” is listed on a list that appears to be in perhaps processioning order.”  Here are the entries a few in each direction, which would be neighbors.

  • George McNiel (Elijah’s wife’s brother)
  • Isiah Ramsey
  • Joseph Ramsey
  • James Ramsey
  • David Ramsey
  • Davis Hamlin
  • Daniel Colley
  • Robert Mann
  • Joseph Mahan
  • Sampson Mahan
  • Edward McColough
  • Elijah Vonay
  • Brail Cole
  • Arthur Edwards
  • Joshua Edwards
  • Owen Edwards
  • John Edwards
  • Nathan Lawson
  • William Lawson
  • Abner Hatfield
  • Henry Hatfield
  • Moses Hatfield
  • Jonathan Light
  • Joseph Wheeler
  • Daniel Rice
  • William Baker
  • John Baker
  • Thomas King
  • Henry Baker
  • Henry Sumpter
  • Foster Jones
  • John Chapman
  • William Simpter
  • Edward Walker (Elijah’s wife’s sister’s future husband)

The 1839 tax list is in alpha order and shows both Joel and Elijah, Jr., but not Elijah Sr.

By 1840, Elijah had lost his wife, but he is still raising children and had one male, 20-30, which would be Joel who had not yet married, a female age 15-20 who probably did the cooking and cleaning and looking after the other two female children, age 10-15.  When Elijah’s son, Joel married in 1845, it could have been a catastrophe for Elijah, but since Joel owned the adjacent land, it was easy just to build a cabin next door and for the two men to continue to work side by side.  It is rumored that Joel wound up with Elijah’s land, but not for long, as we’ll soon see.

It seems that in 1841, Elijah ran into some legal problems. On June 22, 1841, Elijah Venoy signs a deed of trust to J. H. Chapman in front of John and James McNeil.

I have this day sold and do hereby convey to J. H. Chapman for the sum of $30 to me paid, my wagon and two yoke of oxen they being the only oxen and wagon I have  but this deed is made for the following uses and trust and for no other purpose that is to say whereas John Hill became security for a stay of execution on a judgment obtained against Elijah Vannoy Senior and Joel Vannoy before Benjamin Sewell Esqr for about $28 and am desirous to secure and make sure the payment of same now if I should pay the said debt and satisfy said judgment or execution then this deed to be void but if not the wagon and team to be sold on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder with 20 days notice.  Elijah signs and William McNiel, John McNiel and Reuben Harper witness.

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, Elijah and Joel do lose their land.

In 1845, E and J 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.

So, as an old man, Elijah lost his land.  It does appear that it was forestalled for 5 or 6 years, but he lost it just the same and judging from the 1850 census, went to live with his daughter, Sarah.

Claiborne County Becomes Hancock County, Tennessee

In 1845, the part of Claiborne where Elijah lived became Hancock County.

That’s also when the records for Elisha stop too, except for the census, because the Hancock County courthouse burned, more than once.

Elijah is listed in the 1850 Hancock County, Tennessee census, living with his daughter and her husband, although his age is in question.  Age 76 would put his birth in 1774 which is about 10 years earlier than we had thought and was indicated by the 1810 census.  However, this does still fit into the 1790 census categories for the children of the 4 Vannoy brothers.  The 1850 and the 1810 censuses are the only direct evidence we have of Elijah’s birth year.  However, the 1850 census number puts his birth a full 5 years before the marriage of the two best candidates for his parents.  Maddening.  I tend to put more credibility in the earlier census than the latter, especially since in 1850 he was living in someone else’s household…so who knows who provided the information to the census taker.

From the census records, we can tell that Elijah can read and write.  Unfortunately, we don’t have his signature.

Elijah Vannoy 1850 census

Elijah died after 1850 and before 1860.  We don’t know when he died, exactly, nor where he is buried, although my best bet would be someplace on his or Joel’s land in a lost cemetery.

Visiting Elijah’s Land

So, where, exactly, is Elijah Vannoy’s land?  The entrance to Elijah’s land is at the little balloon on the map below.  Come along, let’s take a closer look!

Elijah's house

On the map above, Elijah’s land is located North of the little white balloon which marks the entrance to his land on Mulberry Gap Road, which is also called Brown Town Road, just southwest of the intersection with Rebel Hollow Road.  Rebel Hollow is where several murders took place during the Civil War.  Depending on the version of the story you hear, either Rebels lived there and hung a group of northern soldiers, or a group of Rebels were cornered there with no place to go, and they were hung.  Regardless of who, someone was hung, and the locals tell us that some of those ghosts reportedly haunt Rebel Holler today.

In case you were wondering, Joel, Elijah’s son, was a southern sympathizer, although this area was badly torn.

The entrance to the Vannoy land looked at once inviting and forbidding.  It looked like it led back into a secret, forbidden forest.  Maybe that’s part of why Elijah selected this location – it felt safe if he ever had to defend it.

Entrance on Mulberry Gap to Vannoy land

The land here is rocky, at best.  It would be almost impossible to plow, so the best one could hope for, I think is clearing the land for grass and grazing.

Vannoy hillside

Did I mention, it’s also quite steep?

Vannoy steep

This barn may have been on Elijah’s property and is right up against the road because Mulberry Creek is right up against the barn.  You can’t see it in this picture, but it literally runs right beside this barn.

Vannoy barn across road

Is this not an idyllic picture?  Mulberry Creek, the barn beside the road, the bridge, the house, and across the road behind the barn, the Vannoy land – those tall hills and forest.

Barn scene

The Vannoy family would be grateful for the shelter that this land would provide them, with its caverns and caves and mountainous outcrops during the Civil war – but that would be a decade after Elijah was buried, probably someplace on this land.

The far side of the road looks like the absolutely perfect American country scene, straight out of an Americana magazine.  It could be a painting, but it isn’t…it’s real.

House across from Vannoy land

This is on the flat side of the creek.  According to his original land grant, Elijah owned land on the north side of the creek, which was the hilly side.  This flat land was apparently owned by someone else.

Later, the Ramsey family would own this land, including the house with the bridge, but we don’t know how that chain of ownership happened.

Mulberry Creek at Vannoy bridge

Elijah’s land is located directly across the road from this house with the bridge.

Entering the sheltering arms of Elijah and Joel’s land feels incredibly safe, unspoiled, embracing and like taking a step back in time to when Elijah first set foot here, before it was tamed, or as tamed as it would ever be, before it was settled, before any homesteader owned this land.

Vannoy spring

It was entirely peaceful here, quiet, serene, except for the laughing bubble of the brook and the birds chirping. How could one not love this land?

This spring nurtured Elijah and Lois, their children and grandchildren, for at least 30, if not 40 or more years.

Ironically, it was this very spring that reached across time and beckoned cousin Dan, a decade ago, when he was searching for Elijah’s land.  Dan said:

“There is a small stream that comes out of the hollow and flows into Mulberry Creek. This is what helped me find the property. I noticed a stream that started as a spring located on the drawing for the land survey.”

As we moved deeper onto Elijah’s land, the mountainside forest gave way to a clearing as well, but completely surrounded by mountains, in a private valley, known here as a holler – entirely separated from humanity.  Just you, Mother Nature and the spirit of Elijah.

Vannoy acreage

In the photo below you follow the spring up into Elisha’s land, into the open area, looking northwest, land which he assuredly cleared, himself, one tree at a time, with an ax.

Elisha's land looking NW

On the other side of the trail onto the land, we saw the hillside, likely where the cave was where the family hid their belongings during the Civil War.  This land is nothing if it isn’t rugged.

Vannoy Hancock wooded land

In some places, the rocks aren’t so evident, but the land is still unrelenting.  It’s no wonder Elijah needed 225 acres to eke out a living here.

Vannoy Hancock wooded2

As we left, I looked across the road at a small patch of land and couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the cemetery.  Maybe my imagination has just run away with me.  I just know that both Elijah and Lois are buried here someplace.  There was no place other than your own family cemeteries to be buried at that time – and every family had one.

Vannoy poss cemetery

The Letter

Elijah’s daughter, Lucinda Vannoy Campbell’s memories are recanted in the following excerpts from a letter written probably 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”.

“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.

She 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.

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.

Back row left to right: Ernest Venable, Horace Venable.  Front L to R: Bertha Venable Bray, Nancy Vannoy Venable, Sallie Venable

Back row left to right: Ernest Venable, Horace Venable. Front L to R: Bertha Venable Bray, Nancy Vannoy Venable, Sallie Venable

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 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.  (James Hurvey Vannoy with sister Nancy Vannoy Venable at the Vannoy homeplace, below.)

Vannoy cabin visit

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.

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.”

A Flatboat???

I find that story about traveling on a flatboat around Florida kind of amazing, in a sort of tall-tale way – but even that seems such a stretch for a tall tale.  I decided to look at the waterways from Wilkes County to Duck Creek.  In essence, you can’t get there from here.  There is no direct connection between the two.  The waterways out of Wilkes County flow to the south and east, not to the north and west, across the mountain ranges.

As it turns out, the Yadkin River which drains all of Wilkes County is in the PeeDee River watershed, and if you follow the rivers all the way to the end, you exit this group of rivers in South Carolina at Winyaw Bay.

Yadkin watershed

If indeed you were going to sail around to say, the Mississippi, to head back north, you would have to go around Florida.

My research on flatboats turned up a couple of interesting things.  First, flatboats floated downstream, they did not go upstream, although they could be pushed for some distance by poles.  Going upstream was a function of steamboats.

Flatboats weren’t small, typically about 16 feet wide by about 55 feet long, and they held the family, their worldly goods and even their livestock.  Think of them as floating covered wagons.

People on flatboats apparently didn’t travel alone either.  Take a look at this description of flatboat life from the Steamboat Times.

The settlers’ boat, navigated ever further down the eastern tributaries of the Mississippi in search of new land, was filled with household goods and farm stock. Such boats were a menagerie of cattle, horses, sheep, dogs, and poultry, while on the roof of the cabin that housed the family could be seen looms, ploughs, spinning-wheels, and other domestic implements. Sometimes several families would combine to build one ark.

Methodist Circuit Rider Timothy Flint recalled that it was “no uncommon spectacle to see a large family, old and young, servants, cattle, hogs [on flatboats] … bringing to recollection the cargo of the ancient ark.” Often, when they chose a place to stop, they would re-use the flatboat’s lumber when building a cabin. As these settlements multiplied, with increasing emigration to the West and southwest, river life became full of variety. In some years more than a thousand boats passed Marietta. Several boats would lash together and make the voyage to New Orleans, sometimes navigating months in company. There would be songs and dances; the notes of the violin ~ an almost universal instrument among the flatboatmen ~ sounded across the waters by night to the lonely cabins on the shores, and the settlers would sometimes put off in their skiffs to meet the unknown voyagers, ask for the news from the east, and share in their revels.

The era of the steamboat did not begin until 1811, and indeed, if Elijah and his family did take a steamboat from New Orleans north, you’d think the family would talk about that and not the flatboat since the steamboat would have been a brand new adventure.  Not to mention, they could have taken the flatboat to the Atlantic, but a flatboat simply is not going to work in the sea, so they would have had to switch to a different vessel at that point.

On the other end of the journey, the Duck River empties into the Buffalo which empties into the Ohio just above its convergence with the Mississippi.  The Duck River is not navigable along its entire length due to water falls.

Duck River watershed

It certainly would be possible to make this journey, but it would seem to be the very long way around, especially if you could just have hitched up the wagon and gone overland for all of about 160 miles.  Granted, there were mountains in the way.

Duck River route

On the map above, the blue line connects Wilkesboro in Wilkes Co., NC, to Sneedville, TN in Hancock County.  Of course, that would be a wagon route, not a boat route.  The rest of the map brackets the alternative, around Florida, route.

Or, did the family simply go on a great adventure for 2 years?  Keep in mind, this was also in the middle of a war.  The War of 1812 was being fought on several fronts, one of which was the New Orleans area, where the Mississippi meets with the Gulf of Mexico.

This trip sounds terribly impractical, on several fronts.  To make this trip, they would have had to switch from flatboat to ocean-going boat in Winyaw Bay, from ocean-going boat to steamer in New Orleans, and then to horse and wagon to cross overland from the Mississippi (or Ohio) into Rutledge County, Tennessee.  I’m left with the final question of why?  Why would they want to do this?  However, it does make a great story….AND….we do find Elijah in Bedford County.  So, he did indeed get there somehow.  Someplace in this story is a grain, or perhaps more, of truth.


Another thing we don’t know about Elijah is his religion.  We know that the Vannoy family, as well as his wife’s family, the McNiel’s, were staunch Baptists in Wilkes County.  It stands to reason that they would join the Baptist Church in Claiborne County after they moved, but we find no trace of that in the records of the churches that existed at that time.  Rob Camp, an offshoot of Thompson Settlement, would have been the closest, and there are no Vannoys in the early minutes there.  Next, Mulberry Gap was established in 1829.  The church minutes don’t begin until the purchase of a new minute book in 1852, but there are no Vannoys there either.

Did Elijah simply decide that attending church was too difficult or too far away?  Was he alienated for some reason?  It was definitely quite a distance to Rob Camp – about six miles and you had to ford the Powell River.  In late summer you could do that.  I forded it in August in my Jeep.  Thankfully I had the Jeep, because a bull was chasing me.  In the spring or the winter, no chance of fording Powell River, with or without the bull for motivation.

So, let’s end where we began.  With questions.

Who’s Your Daddy???

Who were Elijah’s parents?  Unfortunately, utilizing the available records and information of the 4 Vannoy men who were brothers and of child-rearing age in Wilkes County during the timeframe in which Elijah would have been born, there is no clear-cut winner.  Now, I know that’s not what you wanted to hear and it certainly is not what I wanted to hear either.

The first thing we did when Y DNA testing became available was to quickly recruit Vannoy males to test.  In particular we wanted to do two things.  First, to establish what the haplotype of the ancestral “Vannoy” Y DNA looked like, and second, to see if Elijah matched that DNA pattern.

In order to establish what the Vannoy Y DNA signature looked like, we had to test people who were not descended from the Elijah line.  Thankfully, there were several genealogy buffs who were anxious to test.  We quickly established the Vannoy signature.  You can see the Vannoy males in the Vannoy DNA Project at Family Tree DNA today.

Vannoy FTDNA project

By looking at the most commonly found value at each marker, we established what our Vannoy ancestor’s Y DNA would have looked like.

Next, we tested men from Elijah’s line.  To begin with they should all match each other, and they should also match the Vannoy Y DNA signature, assuming that Elijah was fathered by a male Vannoy.  If Elijah was fathered by an unknown individual, and took the Vannoy surname through his mother, then he would carry the Vannoy surname, but the Y DNA of his unknown father.

The wait was intense.  Every day I watched for results.  A few weeks can seem interminable.

And finally, the day came.  It was heralded by an announcement to me, as the project administrator, that one of our Vannoy DNA men had a match…and a few minutes later, the e-mail saying Elijah’s descendant’s test was ready arrived too.  Putting two and two together, I knew before I even looked.

Indeed Elijah’s Y DNA did match the Vannoy males.  That was one very big “what if” removed from the list of possibilities.  Now we could concentrate on solving the next question.  Which one of the four brothers really was the father?  Will Elijah’s real father please stand up?

More trips to North Carolina ensued.  I decided that perhaps the key might be in the wife’s family lines and records, so I set out to see.  Elijah’s four parent possibilities were:

  • Andrew Vannoy born 1742 and Susannah Shepherd
  • Francis Vannoy born 1746 and Millicent Henderson
  • Nathaniel Vannoy born 1750 and Elizabeth Ann Ray
  • Daniel Vannoy born 1752 and Sarah Hickerson

Fortunately, we also know the parents’ names of the wives.  Unfortunately, nothing emerged that would concretely either confirm or eliminate them as possibilities.

This research languished, er…., I mean, ripened.  Yea, it was ripening…that was it.  The truth was, I just didn’t know where else to look, so it went on the back burner while other things took precedence.  I had done all I knew to do.  I had visited the courthouse, the library, the genealogy society, the local university and the State Archives.  I purchased every book I could get my hands on and all back issues of the genealogy society newsletters.  I was out, flat out, of resources.

Autosomal DNA Saves the Day

Then, one day it happened.  It was just a glimpse, a flash in the pan, but it was enough.  After AncestryDNA reentered the DNA testing arena with their autosomal DNA test, they began creating Circles.  A DNA Circle is a group of people who match at least one other person in the group, and who share a common ancestor in the tree.  So, if there are 10 people in the circle, you may match 3 of them, but those 3 may match you and others among the 10.  All 10 match someone in the group and all share the same ancestors, at least per their family trees.

Which ancestors, you ask??

Why, Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.

Glory, glory hallejuah.  Oh, I can hear the chorus now!!!

But, the Circle was gone shortly.  Disappeared.  Poof!  Ancestry does this, here today, gone tomorrow.  But, it was long enough for me to see the circle and realize there is a genetic connection.

One thing led to another.  There is more than one way to solve a problem.  I turned to Family Tree DNA where one has the ability to search and to compare your results with others using a chromosome browser.  I was able to connect with several people who descend from the parents of Sarah Hickerson, Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.  I wrote about this experience, from the DNA aspect, in nauseating detail, here, and here, and the sheer joy and beauty of finding Bill, my new Hickerson cousin, here.  It was the best Christmas present a genealogist could ask for.  Elijah’s descendants match several people who descend from Charles and Mary Lytle Hickerson.  It’s amazing what DNA can do, and that their DNA in us is enough to make that connection today.  Of course, it took several descendants of both Charles and Mary, and Elijah, to provide enough information to be relatively conclusive.  Were it not for the many cousins who have tested, I wouldn’t have enough confidence in the rather small matching segments of any one set of matchers to call this a match.

We believe we have identified Elijah’s parents – something we never, ever thought would happen.  We now know why Elijah named a son Joel – it was his brother’s name.

Elijah’s Family

Elijah probably left Wilkes County before his parents passed away, but not long before.  Records are very sketchy, but it appears that his father, Daniel, died before 1819 and his mother died sometime after 1810, possibly outliving his father, and possibly not.  Of course, Elijah would have been notified by letter, and he would never be able to get home in time for the funeral.  It’s about 160 miles from Sneedville to Wilkesboro, NC.  An easy one day drive today, even through the mountains…not so then.

Neither Elijah’s father, nor mother, died with a will.  The Ashe County courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1865, but many records survived.  Wills begin in 1799, but Daniel Vannoy’s is not among them.  Nor is a will found for Daniel or his wife in Wilkes County.

If Elijah died with a will, it burned in the Hancock County courthouse, so we’ll never know what it said.  One thing we do know.  His heirs didn’t fight enough to file a chancery suit, because those still exist.  Somehow, chancery suits escaped both fires.  What I wouldn’t give for a nice, juicy, long, drawn-out lawsuit with lots of depositions!

Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel’s well-behaved non-litigious children were:

  • Permelia “Pearlie” Vannoy, born February 21,1810 in Wilkes County, married in 1838 to John Baker and died February 5, 1900 near Springdale, Washington County, Arkansas.  There were several families from this area who settled in and near Springdale, including some of the Claxton family and my grandparents in the 1890s who would have been Permelia’s great-great-nephew.

Permelia Vannoy stone

  • Joel Vannoy born May 8, 1813, married in 1845 in Claiborne County to Phebe Crumley, died January 8, 1895 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, Claiborne County, TN, just a few miles from the home place where he and his father patented land.

Joel Vannoy marker

  • William Vannoy was born about 1816, married Harriett McClary and died in 1839, before Elijah.
  • Elizabeth Vannoy born 1817, married about 1858 to Elisha Bishop, died after 1880.
  • Elijah Vannoy (Jr.) born 1818, married about 1841 to Mary “Polly” Frost, who died about 1855.  He then married Isabella Holland.  At some point after 1880, they also moved to Springdale, Arkansas. In 1895, he is living in Goshen Township where he executes a deed.  Elijah is reportedly buried in the S. Bethel Cemetery in Bragg, Oklahoma in what was then Indian Territory.  Several Vannoy descendants are reported to have gone to a place named “Baggs” in Indian Territory.
  • Nancy Vannoy was born June 19, 1820 and married George Loughmiller about 1839.  In the 1850 census, they live beside sister Sarah and Joseph Adams.  Nancy died April 29, 1896 in Washington County, Arkansas, near Springdale and is buried in Friendship Cemetery, Springdale, Arkansas.
  • Sarah Vannoy born October 17, 1821, married in 1841 to Joseph Adams in Claiborne Co., TN.  Her father, Elijah, was living with them in the 1850 census.  Her husband, Joseph, was the Hancock County register of deeds.  Sarah died October 14, 1892 and is buried in the Fritts Cemetery, Madison County, Arkansas.

Sarah Vannoy stone

  • Angelina Vannoy born about 1825, married in 1849 in Claiborne County to Sterling Nunn. Angeline died before Elijah, sometime before October 1850.
  • Lucinda J. Vannoy was born March 15, 1828.  On July 6, 1886, she was married to  her cousin, Col. Joseph Campbell in Barry, Missouri where he is listed as being from Sneedville and she is listed as being from Madison County, Arkansas.  She apparently moved back to Tennessee, as in the 1900 census, they are living in Grainger County.  She died on April 2, 1919 and is buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, in Claiborne County, near her brother, Joel Vannoy.  She was reported to have moved to Arkansas about 1890 with “Pearlie,” but apparently they left a few years earlier.  I surely wonder why Lucinda and Joseph were married in Missouri, where neither of them lived, of all places.  Lucinda was an “old maid school teacher” who did not marry Joseph, her childhood sweetheart, until after he was widowed because they were cousins.  His mother was Nancy McNiel, Lucinda’s mother’s sister.  They had no children.

Lucinda Vannoy Campbell

Lucinda was a woman before her time.  She had a marriage contract with Joseph Campbell, although it was signed in Arkansas more than a year after they had married.  I’m sure there is more to this story, and I’d love to hear it!

Lucinda Vannoy prenup

In addition to the above listed children, and based on the census and other information relative to the birth years of Elijah’s and Lois’s children, it would appear that they may have lost 4 children, one before 1810, one between 1810 and 1813, one between 1821 and 1825 and one between 1825 and 1828.

Lingering Questions

We have a few facts about Elijah’s life, and a lot more questions than answers.  We believe we have identified his parents, but I’d still like a slam dunk unquestionable confirmation.  We have a great Duck River story, but we don’t know if it’s true.  Personally, I really like that story and I’d like to know more.  It surely came from someplace, but where, and why, and is there truth in the story?

We know for sure that Elijah married Lois McNiel, that her father deeded Elijah land, and that after moving to Claiborne, now Hancock, County, TN, Elijah obtained two land grants.  Thanks to those grants, we know where he lived.  We know from census and family records who his children were, but we don’t know where he and Lois were buried.  It appears that the family didn’t know where he was buried back in the 1950s either, so that information has long been lost.

Two of Elijah’s children died before him, but as adults.  That must have been extremely difficult for Elijah.  No parent should have to bury their child, and these pioneer parents did a lot of burying.

The last official document we have is the 1850 census where Elijah was living with his adult married daughter.  Not surprising, two of his daughters married Bakers, the near neighbors.

We do find Elijah, very sparsely, in court notes, which causes me to wonder why he was not there more often.  Other men repeatedly were assigned to road duty and jury duty – and Elijah certainly had the qualifications.  He was white, owned land, was eligible to vote and of age.  Is there something we don’t know?

Elijah died between 1850 and 1860. It’s probably a blessing that he went before the Civil War, which was a terrible, heartbreaking time in Hancock County, regardless of which side you were on.

I wonder if Elijah knew that his son, Joel Vannoy was ill.  We really don’t know when Joel’s mental health began to deteriorate, although the bond he signed in 1860 was later contested, saying the person who took the bond should have gotten a better bond.  Whether that was “sour grapes” in terms of what happened financially during the Civil War, or whether it had something to do with Joel, we don’t know.  Clearly by the late 1860s or early 1870s, Joel was “not alright.”  Did Elijah see vestiges or foreshadowings of this before his death?  Is this perhaps why Elijah lived with his daughter instead of with Joel and Phebe?  Joel’s land was adjacent Elijah’s.  Again, we’ll never know.

It’s difficult for me to leave Elijah with so many questions, and no avenue for answers.  I’m just very grateful that we have the one letter, the DNA results, a few interviews with the older people before they died and that cousin Dan found the property.  Without that, we’d have even more questions.

If I could ask Elijah three things, I’d ask him who his parents were, I’d ask about that flatboat ride and migration story, and I’d ask him about his son Joel.



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