A Visitation by Sarah Faires Speak (1786 -1865), 52 Ancestors #91

With Lola-Margaret Speak Hall as Sarah Faires Speak

Lola Margaret as Sarah

Introduction by Roberta Estes

Lola-Margaret Speak Hall is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Sarah Faires Speak, wife of Nicholas Speak through their son Samuel Patton Speak and their great-great-great-granddaughter through their daughter Rebecca Speak.  Lola-Margaret’s ancestors, Joseph Hardy Speak, great-grandson of Nicholas and Sarah Faires Speak through Samuel Patton Speak’s son William Hardy Speak and Frances Rebecca Rosenbaum through William Henderson Rosenbaum and Rebecca Speak, daughter of Nicholas and Sarah, are shown in the photo below.

Speak, Joseph Hardy and Frences Rebecca Rosenbaum

Nicholas and Sarah Faires Speak married in Southwest Virginia in Washington County on August 12, 1804.  Their first 9 children were born there.

speaks chapel 1 cropped

In 1823 they moved to Lee County, Virginia, purchased land and settled down to a life of farming.  In 1828, Nicholas Speak founded the Methodist Church, now known at the Speaks Chapel Methodist Church, built the church and in 1839 donated the land and church to trustees to maintain the church after his death.  One of those trustees was his son, Charles Speak.

Sometime between their marriage in 1804 and 1828, Nicholas and Sarah had converted from being Presbyterian to Methodist.  There is a record of Bishop Asbury visiting the home of Sarah’s father, Gideon Faires, in Washington County, Virginia, so that may have signaled the beginning of the Methodist conversion of the Speak(s) family.

I also descend from Nicholas and Sarah Faires Speak, being their great-great-great-granddaughter through their eldest son, Charles.  His daughter Elizabeth married Samuel Clarkson/Claxton about 1849.  Samuel fought for the Union in the Civil War.  Samuel and Elizabeth are shown here, he dressed in his military uniform.

Samuel Claxton Elizabeth Speaks

This means that Lola-Margaret and I are both 4th cousins, and 4th cousins once removed.  She has a double dose of the Speak DNA.  This explains why Lola-Margaret and I match on autosomal DNA tests while other cousins, about as distant, don’t.  Lola-Margaret really isn’t that distant, she’s about half that distant, genetically.  Endogamy, or intermarriage will make people appear to be more closely related generationally than they actually are and even one intermarriage can make a big difference.  We find this repeatedly in groups like the Mennonites, Amish, Acadians and Jewish families, and of course, we find it in Appalachia too.

Lola-Margaret isn’t just any cousin, however.  She is a very special one, and I’m sure greatly endeared to her great-great-great-(great-)grandmother, Sarah Faires Speak, who looks down upon her regularly, showering her with special blessings.  Why is Lola-Margaret special?  Lola-Margaret lived in Sarah’s skin, walked in her shoes, retraced her steps, visited her land, her church and her grave…..for a year….in preparation to become Sarah Faires Speak.  And become Sarah she did.  Faithfully.

speaks service 2009 cropped

On October 10th, 2009, as all of us cousins gathered at the little white church at the crossroads of Pleasant View and Speaks Branch roads in Lee County, Virginia, Sarah Faires Speak visited us.

Sarah Faires arriving

Sarah entered from the back of the church, greeting all of her descendants just as she had greeted her children, grandchildren and neighbors when she and Nicholas held church every Sunday morning more than 159 years ago, except when the entire church went to camp meetings in the summer.  She made her way to the front and settled in her rocker.

Sarah Faires in rocker cropped 2

Sarah opened her well worn Bible and leafed through it, recanting the details of her life as each entry brought forth memories…some cherished, such as her marriage, jubilation at the birth of her children and their marriages, and then of course, the grief and sadness that comes with death, especially her cherished husband, Nicholas, who died in 1852, 13 years before her own “passing over.”  She saw too many of her own children and grandchildren die untimely deaths.

Lola-Margaret, as Sarah, shared Sarah’s life with us at the Speaks Chapel Methodist church on a beautiful, crisp, fall morning.  An unbelievably moving gift that still leaves me with cold-chills all these years later.

Sarah and Nicholas were with us. We could all feel them.  They were no longer in the Speaks branch road croppedcemetery across the road where our ancestors are buried with their families, settled comfortably around them under the field stones that serve as headstones.  They were with us, beside us, in the little white church on Speaks Branch road.

So come on in, sit a spell by me in the pew and share a few sacred minutes as Sarah Faires Speak touches us from across the years and shares her memories.  As Lola-Margaret, Sarah, spoke that day, from her rocker, she could see out the door of the church and looked directly at the cemetery where so many of her family members were buried.

Speaks cemetery

Listen closely as Sarah speaks from across the years…

My, it is getting so chilly outside.  But it sure feels good to be right here on this hallowed ground. It always warms my heart to be right here on Sundays.

Sarah praying

It’s nice to have that fire right there in the middle of the room, always burning when we got here.  I can’t remember who it was that’s always built that fire, but he must have been a good man.

With winter coming on in these parts, I always seem to feel the loneliest. Seems like Sundays are the hardest.  That’s when I miss my Nicholas so.

Sundays were busy days for us, with preaching and all. Oh – my Nicholas was a good man, and those were good years.  He’s been gone now 10 – no, I believe its 12 years. One misses a really good man!

There were so many good times here at this little church.  Of course, hearing the preaching of God’s word was the most important.  And Nicholas Speak could do that like nobody else I ever heard!

Speaks Chapel painting

And then, oh my, those dinners on the ground. Those are good memories, and one must learn to dwell on the good memories.

There was a lot of kin folks living in this area, and the kids always had such a good time playing with their cousins after services were over.

Speaks old cabin cropped

Our cabin, it’s just up the road a ways in that direction.  Nicholas built that cabin for us and our 9 children when we settled here in Lee County in 1823.

We only had 9 then.  They were all born in Washington County.  Frances Jane and Rebecca, they were born right there in that cabin. Oh my the tales those old logs could tell!

Speaks boards

The years of laughter as 11 children played on those floors.  Well -10, Charles married the year we left Washington County.

And Sarah Jane, I shouldn’t count her – she was 16, nearly grown, hardly playing on the floor anymore.

Now there’s a whole new crop growing up here. Sarah Jane and James built that house just down that road back behind the church.

But at our cabin now, it’s just me and Fannie, we always called Frances Jane, Fannie. It’s just the two of us to look after everybody now.

Her William Henderson won’t be coming home from this awful war.  The union soldiers captured him, horse and equipment, and carried him off to Federal Prison at Camp Douglas, Illinois.

My grandson, Samuel – that’s Samuel Pattons’s son, was captured, too.  We got word a couple of months back that the both of them died there in that prison.  The Union buried them up there.

Sarah Faires reading

My poor Fannie, she never even got to pay her last respects to William.

She’s got another baby coming next month that will never know its father.

And the 2 little boys, William and Alfred, they just don’t understand their Daddy being gone for good.

Speaks old stone

Then there’s Rebecca’s 4 children with us. Henderson was their Daddy, too. That’s seven children under 10 years old.

You see, Fannie married William Henderson Rosenbaum after her sister Rebecca died. Rebecca was married to him first.  My dear, Rebecca.  She was my baby.  She passed from this life on her 5th wedding anniversary, February 9, 1859.  She’d given birth to a little daughter only 5 days before.  Our precious little Frances Rebecca. She’s 5 now – almost 6. Reminds me so much of her mother.

Yes, it is a terrible time now.  So much going on. Sons and fathers going off to war. This terrible war has even divided our families.  Most of the boys right here have joined with the Confederacy.

speaks old stones

Our son, Jesse, and his son – they moved on to Kentucky – they fought with the Union. We don’t hear much from them since they left Lee County, but we did get word they were both wounded two times.   I do hope they are all right.  It tears a mother’s heart out, but still a mother loves them, whatever side they choose to fight on.

All this war and turmoil.  The Union troops burned the courthouse at Jonesville.  Earlier this year President Lincoln was shot and killed.  You wonder just how long this can go on.  It seems to me I’ve been mourning forever!

But, as I’ve said before, one should dwell on the good things – and the crops have been good this year.  Maybe it’s enough to have a roof over our heads and plenty to eat.

This Lee County soil is rich and gives a good yield.  The boys, Samuel, John and James have been so good to me.  They helped me get the crops in and sold.

I won’t forget the first harvest after Nicholas died.  He left me with crops in the field!  If it hadn’t been for the boys, I don’t know what I would have done.  But that is how my Nicholas raised his boys.

Nicholas stone

One should even be thankful for chilly Sunday mornings.  It’s such a good time for recalling memories.  A life time of memories.  This old Bible holds a lot of memories.  I love this old Bible.  It belonged to my Grandmother Faires, on my Father’s side. She was of Scots-Irish descent, and quite proud of it.  They lived near us where I grew up on the north side of the south fork of the Holston River.???????????????????????????????

There is a lot of family history recorded here in this Bible.  Makes one want to go back over one’s life.

I remember growing up – the stories my Father would tell us – I had 5 brothers and 4 sisters you know – stories about the Revolutionary War.  He had served as a private under Col. William Christianson on an expedition to lead a battalion of militia against the “Overhill” Cherokees in East Tennessee.  Father said the British called them “Overhill’ because they were 24 mountains away from the lower lands of the Carolina Cherokees.

These Indians were being encouraged by the British to attack the frontier settlements. The Cherokees were a powerful tribe, but Father’s company subdued them on their home ground and forced them to sign the treaty of Long Island in 1777.

He told us stories about the ferocious Indian, “Dragging Canoe,” and about Nancy Ward. She was a wonderful Indian woman who married a white man, and she became a friend to the white settlers.  She was a friend to Joseph Martin, an agent for Indian Affairs who lived just up the road.  Their friendship saved the lives of many white settlers in the lower corner of Virginia.

You see, the land between Rose Hill and Jonesville had been occupied by the Cherokees. Joseph Martin had built the first white settlement near there, so Indian attacks were a great danger.  The settlers warred with the Shawnee in 1774 and again with the Cherokee in 1776.  It wasn’t far from right here that Captain Vincent Hobbs killed Chief Benge and ended the terrible attacks on the frontiers of Virginia.

Cumberland Gap 1

Our lower corner of Virginia was very important as an outpost for those preparing expeditions into the Cumberland Gap on their way to explore the West.  Daniel Boone camped here many times.

Oh my! I seem to just be going on and on – but, I hope you will humor an old woman!


Here it is!  Right here in this old Bible. The record of our marriage. Nicholas Speak to Sarah Faires, August 12, 1804, signed by Reverend Charles Cummings. You remember, we still lived in Washington County then.

I was so proud! My Nicholas was such a handsome man. I was 18 and he was 22.

This Bible was a gift when we were married you know. I’ve had this Bible in church with me every Sunday now for more than 60 years.  The pages are thin and worn I’ve turned them so much.  Why, I know it almost by heart.  The ink is so faded I can hardly read it anymore.  My Nicholas wrote every birth and death in the front of our Bible.  I remember him sitting by the fireplace with his pen after each of our children was born.

Look, here’s where our first child Charles was born – November 11, 1805.

And here’s where Sarah Jane was born on May 23, 1807.  And then came Samuel Patton, on January 29, 1809.

John was next – born January 2, 1812. Grandmother Faires, God rest her soul, died that same year.  Joseph came along July 20, 1813.

There was another war going on.  That was just known as the War of 1812.

Nicholas was drafted to serve in that war in August 1814.  He was a private in the 7th Regiment of Virginia Militia in the Company of Captain Abram Fulkerson and served at Fort Barbour at Norfolk, Virginia.

Fort Barbour

When he came home 6 months later, we were all greatly relieved, though he had tales to tell of “being sick unto dying” in that war.

Next, came our son, Thomas on November 26, 1816.  My father died in 1818, the same year Jane was born.

rock spring cemetery

Two years later in July of 1820, Jesse was born.

Mother died the year after and we buried her beside Father in the old Rock Spring Cemetery behind the old church back in Washington County.

Rock spring church

Our youngest son, James, was born June 18, 1822.

Seemed like I’d been pretty busy having babies.  But they do grow up, and in February of 1823, our first born, Charles, married his lovely Ann.

Nicholas felt it was time to move on.  My parents had passed on, and he moved our family to Lee County where he bought 520 acres on Glades Branch. We’ve been right here ever since.

nicholas land entry

Oh yes! Here’s where Samuel Patton married Sarah Hardy in 1827.

Nicholas farmed this land with all his boys help, and then on Sunday we’d all come to church.  We all loved to hear him proclaim the Word of God.  One might say “Nicholas Speak was a tiller of the soil during the week and a tiller of souls on Sunday.”  How we loved those dinners on the ground and ice cream suppers in the hot summer time.  Nicholas loved this little church.  He gave the very ground it’s built upon.

Speaks chapel 1910

In the summers we’d all get in the wagon and go to the Jonesville Camp Grounds for revivals.  People would come for miles around to hear those sermons and join in singing praises to God.   Sometimes, if I close my eyes really tight, I can still hear that beautiful singing from so long ago.

Amazing grace cropped

Then in 1829, our Sarah married James Bartley and John married Mary Dean.

Next was Joseph’s wedding to Leah Carnes in 1832.  I remember how proud Nicholas was to do that ceremony.

He also married Jane to George W. Ball in 1835.  I know he was proud to do that one, too, but we sure did hate to see them move off to Kentucky.

Seems like there for awhile we were having weddings as fast as we’d had babies earlier.

Thomas and Mary Polly Ball married in 1837.   Then Jesse married his Mary Polly Haynes in December of 1842.

Thomas died in 1843.  He and Polly had only been married about 5 years.  He was so young.  Only 28 years.

The next year, 1844, James married Mary Jane Kelly.

We laid Joseph and Thomas to rest along with Charles and his wife.  It was hard for Nicholas to bury his children.

Then Jesse moved his family to Kentucky and Joseph’s widow and her children moved west to Kansas.  Seems like our family was getting smaller as quickly as it had grown.

And then…in 1852…I lost my Nicholas.  Can anything be as hard as losing the one you love so dear?  Then, Joseph died that same year too.  So much sorrow.

Nicholas graves

But we had to carry on.  My Fannie and Rebecca and me.  There was so much to do and to think about.  Things I had never handled before.  The will – John took care of that.  Then there was a land bounty grant that was due to Nicholas for service in the 1812 War.  The boys have been such a help to me.

We were all so happy for Rebecca when she married William Henderson Rosenbaum on February 9, 1854.  A fine man, he was.  But then, Rebecca died just 5 years later.  I miss her so.

In 1855 John had his own sorrows when his son, Reuben – he was only 21 – died at Martins Creek.  Two years later John’s little Margaret passed away.  Only 2 sweet year’s old.  So little time to love her.

That same year Charles’ granddaughter, she was named Margaret also, died at 11 months old.  And 3 years later Jesse’s 2 children, 5 year old Martha, and 1 year old Jesse died with the measles.  They are all buried together, right there in the cemetery, near Nicholas.

Oh, that a mother could spare her children of these sorrows.

nicholas church bell

Oh my! I have born 11 children and 5 are still living. Yes, we lost Sarah in 1859, right about the time her sister Rebecca died, and then Samuel in 1861, just before the war.

I have some 75 grandchildren, and it will be 76 when Fannie gives birth. 68 of those grandchildren are still alive.  These are my treasures!

You know, really when one comes to the end of a long good life, what does she have to pass on?

Many times I’ve looked around our little cabin.  There’s an old clock, a looking glass, some books, an old table, a smoothing iron and a couple of old bells.

But the memories – oh the memories!  They will always be there.

There is a time to live and a time to die, and life goes on for those you leave behind.  It’s the heritage and those fond old memories that will forever remain.

NIcholas signature cropped

Sarah signature cropped

Lola Margaret at church door cropped

Thank You

I want to say a very special thank you to my wonderful cousin, Lola-Margaret Speak Hall for this exceptional gift.  Because of you, Lola-Margaret, Sarah lives for all of us today, and through your gift, will continue to live for her future descendants.  Bless you.

Index of Photographs

Normally in a article of this type, I label the photographs with titles, footnote them or describe them in the text, but I did not want to detract in any way from the flow of what Sarah Faires Speak had to say to us through Lola-Margaret, or distract from the continuity, so I’ve chosen to describe the photos here in the order they are displayed.

Lola-Margaret Speak Hall as Sarah Faires Speak in the Speaks Chapel United Methodist Church after her presentation on October 10, 2009.

Photo of Joseph Hardy Speak and Frances Rebecca Rosenbaum.

Photo of Speaks Chapel taken in the mid 1990s by Roberta Estes from across the road in the cemetery.

Photograph of Elizabeth Speak with her husband Samuel Clarkson/Claxton.  Elizabeth is the grandchild of Nicholas and Sarah Faires Speak through their son Charles and his wife Anne McKee.

Photograph of all of the Speak(e)(s) cousins assembled in the Speaks Chapel Church sanctuary on October 10th before Lola-Margaret’s entrance and before the service.  Photograph of Sarah Faires Speak (aka Lola-Margaret) greeting her relatives from across the years as she enters the church.

Photograph of Sarah Faires Speak (Lola-Margaret) with her Bible.

Photograph of the road sign outside the Speaks Chapel Church.

Photograph of the headstones in the Speaks Cemetery directly across the road from the church.  Sarah could see the stones of her family through the window as she spoke to us.

Sarah Faires Speak (Lola-Margaret) in prayer.  Painting of the Speaks Chapel Church.  Photograph of the cabin belonging to and probably built by Nicholas Speak and Sarah before it was abandoned in the 1960s and subsequently dismantled and rebuilt in the 1980s.

Photographs of the old logs salvaged from the original Speaks Methodist church, reused in the barn of Jewell Davis, also a Speak(s) descendant.  Photograph of Sarah Faires Speak (Lola-Margaret) reminiscing from her Bible.

Headstone of Sarah’s grandmother, Deborah Faires, maiden name unknown, wife of William Faires.  Deborah was born June 10, 1734 and died March 22, 1812.  She is buried in the Green Springs Cemetery in Washington County, Virginia and died at the age of 77 years, 9 months and 12 days.  This church was established in 1794, but her stone is one of the oldest with inscribed dates, not just a fieldstone.  It’s believed that her husband, William, who died in 1776 is buried at the now defunct Ebbing Springs cemetery.  The church perished early, to be replaced by another church in a different location, and later, a farmer pushed the cemetery stones into the creek in order to farm the land.

Headstone marking the graves of Nicholas and Sarah Faires Speak set by their descendants in the 1990s.

Sarah Faires Speak (Lola-Margaret) recounting her life.

Early drawing of the Cumberland Gap as it would have appeared to early settlers.

Sarah Faires Speak (Lola-Margaret) reading through her children’s births recorded in the Bible.

Civil War era drawing of a second fort, fort Norfolk, still in existence today and located in front of Fort Barbour in Norfolk Virginia.  Nicholas was stationed at and dismissed from Fort Barbour, located at the present day intersection of Church Street and Princess Anne Road, but he surely was familiar with this fort as well and spent time in both.

The cemetery and church where Sarah’s parents, Sarah McSpadden and Gideon Faires are buried in Washington County, Virginia.  The Rock Spring cemetery and church were established in Lodi in 1784.  Other family names are found among the early burials as well.

The 1824 Lee County, Virginia tax list is shown with Nicholas Speak’s name listed as a landowner.

Early photograph of Speaks Chapel Church taken by Charles Thomas in the late 1910s before the addition of the rear kitchen and bathroom area.  The woman in the photo is probably his wife.  Charles was the son of Nancy Bartley and Josiah Clemans Thomas.

Amazing Grace from the bulletin for our family service at Speaks Chapel on October 10, 2009.

Speak family cemetery showing the family stone with surrounding field stones marking the graves of family members.

The Speaks Chapel church bell, now mounted beside the church.

Signature of Nicholas Speak on his War of 1812 bounty land application and the later mark of Sarah Faires Speak.  She was apparently unable to read and write, or she was too old and frail to sign her name.

Lola-Margaret Speak Hall outside the door of the Speaks Chapel United Methodist Church on October 10, 2009 in Lee County, Virginia.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Are you confused about DNA matches and what they mean…different kinds of matches…from different vendors and combined results between vendors.  Do you feel like lions and tigers and bears…oh my?  You’re not alone.

As the vendors add more tools, I’ve noticed recently that along with those tools has come a significant amount of confusion surrounding matches and what they mean.  Add to this issue confusion about the terminology being used within the industry to describe various kinds of matches.  Combined, we now have a verbiage or terminology issue and we have confusion regarding the actual matches and what they mean.  So, as people talk, what they mean, what they are trying to communicate and what they do say can be interpreted quite widely.  Is it any wonder so many people are confused?

I reached out within the community to others who I know are working with autosomal results on a daily basis and often engaged in pioneering research to see how they are categorizing these results and how they are referring to them.

I want to thank Jim Bartlett, Blaine Bettinger, Tim Janzen and David Pike (in surname alphabetical order) for their input and discussion about these topics.  I hope that this article goes a long way towards sorting through the various kinds of matches and what they can and do mean to genetic genealogists – and what they are being called.  To be clear, the article is mine and I have quoted them specifically when applicable.

But first, let’s talk about goals.


One thing that has become apparent over the past few months is that your goals may well affect how you interpret data.  For example, if you are an adoptee, you’re going to be looking first at your closest matches and your largest segments.  Distant matches and small segments are irrelevant at least until you work with the big pieces.  The theory of low hanging fruit, of course.

If your goal is to verify and generally validate your existing genealogy, you may be perfectly happy with Ancestry’s Circles.  Ancestry Circles aren’t proof, as many people think, but if you’re looking for low hanging fruit and “probably” versus “positively,” Ancestry Circles may be the answer for you.

If you didn’t stop reading after the last sentence, then I’m guessing that “probably” isn’t your style.

If your goal is to prove each ancestor and/or map their segments to your DNA, you’re not going to be at all happy with Ancestry’s lack of segment data – so your confidence and happiness level is going to be greatly different than someone who is just looking to find themselves in circles with other descendants of the same ancestor and go merrily on their way.

If you have already connected the dots on most of your ancestry for the past 4 or 5 generations, and you’re working primarily with colonial ancestors and those born before 1700, you may be profoundly interested in small segment data, while someone else decides to eliminate that same data on their spreadsheet to eliminate clutter.  One person’s clutter is another’s goldmine.

While, technically, the different types of tests and matches carry a different technical confidence level, your personal confidence ranking will be influenced by your own goals and by some secondary factors like how many other people match on a particular segment.

Let’s start by talking about the different kinds of matching.  I’ve been working with my Crumley line, so I’ll be utilizing examples from that project.

Individual Matching, Group Matching and Triangulation

There is a difference between individual matching, group matching and triangulation.  In fact, there is a whole spectrum of matching to be considered.

Individual Matching

Individual matching is when someone matches you.

confidence individual match

That’s great, but one match out of context generally isn’t worth much.  There’s that word, generally, because if there is one thing that is almost always true, it’s that there is an exception to every rule and that exception often has to do with context.  For example, if you’re looking for parents and siblings, then one match is all you need.

If this match happens to be to my first cousin, that alone confirms several things for me, assuming there is not a secondary relationship.  First, it confirms my relationship with my parent and my parent’s descent from their parents, since I couldn’t be matching my first cousin (at first cousin level) if all of the lines between me and the cousin weren’t intact.

confidence cousins

However, if the match is to someone I don’t know, and it’s not a close relative, like the 2nd to 4th cousins shown in the match above, then it’s meaningless without additional information.  Most of your matches will be more distant.  Let’s face it, you have a lot more distant cousins than close cousins.  Many ancestors, especially before about 1900, were indeed, prolific, at least by today’s standards.

So, at this point, your match list looks like this:

confidence match list

Bridget looks pretty lonely.  Let’s see what we can do about that.

Matching Additional People

The first question is “do you share a common ancestor with that individual?”  If yes, then that is a really big hint – but it’s not proof of anything – unless they are a close relative match like we discussed above.

Why isn’t a single match enough for proof?

You could be related to this person through more than one ancestral line – and that happens far more than I initially thought.  I did an analysis some time back and discovered that about 15% of the time, I can confirm a secondary genealogical line that is not related to the first line in my tree.  There were another 7% that were probable – meaning that I can’t identify a second common ancestor with certainty, but the surname and location is the same and a connection is likely.  Another 8% were from endogamous lines, like Acadians, so I’m sure there are multiple lines involved.  And of those matches (minus the Acadians), about 10% look to have 3 genealogical lines, not just two.  The message here – never assume.

When you find one match and identify one common genealogical line, you can’t assume that is how you are genetically related on the segment in question.

Ideally, at this point, you will find a third person who shares the common ancestor and their DNA matches, or triangulates, between you and your original match to prove the connection.  But, circumstances are not always ideal.

What is Triangualtion?

Triangulation on the continuum of confidence is the highest confidence level achievable, outside of close relative matching which is evident by itself without triangulation.

Triangulation is when you match two people who share a common ancestor and all three of you match each other on that same segment.  This means that segment descended to all three of you from that common ancestor.

This is what a match group would look like if Jerry matches both John and Bridget.

confidence example 1 match group

Example 1 – Match Group

The classic definition of triangulation is when three people, A, B and C all match each other on the same segment and share a known, identifiable common ancestor.  Above, we only have two.  We don’t know yet if John matches Bridget.

A matches B
A matches C
B matches C

This is what an exact triangulation group would look like between Jerry, John and Bridget.  Most triangulation matches aren’t exact, meaning the start and/or end segment might be different, but some are exact.

confidence example 2 triangulation group

Example 2 – Triangulation Group

It’s not always possible to prove all three.  Sometimes you can see that Jerry matches Bridget and Jerry matches John, but you have no access to John or Bridget’s kits to verify that they also match each other.  If you are at Family Tree DNA, you can run the ICW (in common with) tool to see if John and Bridget do match each other – but that tool does not confirm that they match on the same segment.

If the individuals involved have uploaded their kits to GedMatch, you have the ability to triangulate because you can see the kit numbers of your matches and you can then run them against each other to verify that they do indeed match each other as well.  Not everyone uploads their kits to GedMatch, so you may wind up with a hybrid combination of triangulated groups (like example 2, above) and matching groups (like example 1, above) on your own personal spreadsheet.

Matching groups (that are not triangulated) are referred to by different names within the community.  Tim Janzen refers to them as clusters of cousins, Blaine as pseudo triangulation and I have called them triangulation groups in the past if any three within the group are proven to be triangulated. Be careful when you’re discussing this, because matching groups are often misstated as triangulated groups.  You’ll want to clarify.

Creating a Match List

Sometimes triangulation options aren’t available to us.  For example, at Family Tree DNA, we can see who matches us, and we can see if they match each other utilizing the ICW tool, but we can’t see specifically where they match each other.  This is considered a match group.  This type of matching is also where a great deal of confusion is introduced because these people do match each other, but they are NOT (yet) triangulated.

What we know is that all of these people are on YOUR match list, but we don’t know that they are on each other’s match lists.  They could be matching you on different sides of your DNA or, if smaller segments, they might be IBC (identical by chance.)

You can run the ICW (in common with) tool at Family Tree DNA for every match you have.  The ICW tool is a good way to see who matches both people in question.  Hopefully, some of your matches will have uploaded trees and you can peruse for common ancestors.

The ICW tool is the little crossed arrows and it shows you who you and that person also match in common.

confidence match list ftdna

You can run the ICW tool in conjunction with the ancestral surname in question, showing only individuals who you have matches in common with who have the Crumley surname (for example) in their ancestral surname list.  This is a huge timesaver and narrows your scope of search immediately.  By clicking on the ICW tool for Ms. Bridget,  you see the list, below of those who match both the person whose account we are signed into and Ms. Bridget, below.

confidence icw ftdna

Another way to find common matches to any individual is to search by either the current surname or ancestral surnames.  The ancestral surname search checks the surnames entered by other participants and shows them in the results box.

In the example above, all of these individuals have Crumley listed in their surnames.  You can see that I’ve sorted by ancestral surname – as Crumley is in that search box.

Now, your match lists looks like this relative to the Crumley line.  Some people included trees and you can find your common ancestor on their tree, or through communications with them directly.  In other cases, no tree but the common surname appears in the surname match list.  You may want to note those results on your match list as well.

confidence match list 2

Of course, the next step is to compare these individuals in a matrix to see who matches who and the chromosome browser to see where they match you, which we’ll discuss momentarily.

Group Matching

The next type of matching is when you have a group of people who match each other, but not necessarily on the same segment of DNA.  These matching groups are very important, especially when you know there is a shared ancestor involved – but they don’t indicate that the people share the same segment, nor that all (or any) of their shared segments are from this particular ancestor.  Triangulation is the only thing that accomplishes proof positive.

This ICW matrix shows some of the Crumley participants who have tested and who matches whom.

confidence icw grid

You can display this grid by matching total cM or by known relationship (assuming the individuals have entered this information) or by predicted relationship range.  The total cMs shared is more important for me in evaluating how closely this person might be related to the other individual.

The Chromosome Browser

The chromosome browser at Family Tree DNA shows matches from the perspective of any one individual.  This means that the background display of the 22 Chromosomes (plus X) is the person all of the matches are comparing against. If you’re signed in to your account, then you are the black background chromosomes, and everyone is being compared against your DNA.  I’m only showing the first 6 chromosomes below.

confidence chromosome browser

You can see where up to 5 individuals match the person you’re comparing them to.  In this case, it looks like they may share a common segment on chromosome 2 among several descendants.  Of course, you’d need to check each of these individuals to insure that they match each other on this same segment to confirm that indeed, it did come from a common ancestor.  That’s triangulation.

When you see a grouping of matches of individuals known to descend from a common ancestor on the same chromosome, it’s very likely that you have a match group (cluster of cousins, pseudo triangulation group) and they will all match each other on that same segment if you have the opportunity to triangulate them, but it’s not absolute.

For example, below we have a reconstructed chromosome 8 of James Crumley, the common ancestor of a large group of people shown based on matches.  In other words, each colored segment represents a match between two people.  I have a lot more confidence in the matches shown with the arrows than the single or less frequent matches.

confidence chromosome 8 match group'

This pseudo triangulation is really very important, because it’s not just a match, and it’s not triangulation.  The more people you have that match you on this segment and that have the same ancestor, the more likely that this segment will triangulate.  This is also where much of the confusion is coming from, because matching groups of multiple descendants on the same segments almost always do triangulate so they have been being called triangulation groups, even when they have not all been triangulated to each other.  Very occasionally, you will find a group of several people with a common ancestor who triangulate to each other on this common segment, except one of a group doesn’t triangulate to one other, but otherwise, they all triangulate to others.

confidence triangulation issue

This situation has to be an error of some sort, because if all of these people match each other, including B, then B really must match D.  Our group discussed this, and Jim Bartlett pointed out that these problem matches are often near the vendor matching threshold (or your threshold if you’re using GedMatch) and if the threshold is lowered a bit, they continue to match.  They may also be a marginal match on the edge, so to speak or they may have a read error at a critical location in their kit.

What “in common with” matching does is to increase your confidence that these are indeed ancestral matches, a cousin cluster, but it’s not yet triangulation.

Ancestry Matches

Ancestry has added another level of matching into the mix.  The difference is, of course, that you can’t see any segment data at all, at Ancestry, so you don’t have anything other than the fact that you do match the other person and if you have a shakey leaf hint, you also share a common ancestor in your trees.

confidence ancestry matches

When three people match each other on any segment (meaning this does not infer a common segment match) and also share a common ancestor in a tree, they qualify to be a DNA Circle.  However, there is other criteria that is weighted and not every group of 3 individuals who match and share an ancestor becomes a DNA Circle.  However, many do and many Circles have significantly more than three individuals.

confidence Phoebe Crumley circle

This DNA Circle is for Phebe Crumley, one of my Crumley ancestors.  In this grouping, I match one close family group of 5 people, and one individual, Alyssa, all of whom share Phebe Crumley in their trees.  As luck would have it, the family group has also tested at Family Tree DNA and has downloaded their results to GedMatch, but as it stands here at Ancestry, with DNA Circle data only…the only thing I can do is to add them to my match list.

confidence match list 3

In case you’re wondering, the reason I only added three of the 5 family members of the Abija group to my match list is because two are children of one of the members and their Crumley DNA is represented through their parent.

While a small DNA Circle like Phebe Crumley’s can be incorrect, because the individuals can indeed be sharing the DNA of a different ancestor, a larger group gives you more confidence that the relationship to that group of people is actually through the common ancestor whose circle you are a member of.  In the example Circle shown below, I match 6 individuals out of a total of 21 individuals who are all interrelated and share Henry Bolton in their tree.

Confidence Henry Bolton circle

New Ancestor Discoveries

Ancestry introduced New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs) a few months ago.  This tool is, unfortunately, misnamed – and although this is a good concept for finding people whose DNA you share, but whose tree you don’t – it’s not mature yet.

The name causes people to misinterpret the “ancestors” given to them as genuinely theirs.  So far, I’ve had a total of 11 NADS and most have been easily proven false.

Here’s how NADs work.  Let’s say there is a DNA Circle, John Doe, of 3 people and you match two of them.  The assumption is that John Doe is also your ancestor because you share the DNA of his descendants.  This is a critically flawed assumption.  For example, in one case, my ancestors sister’s husband is shown as my “new ancestor discovery” because I share DNA with his descendants (through his wife, my ancestor’s sister.)  Like I said, not mature yet.

I have discussed this repeatedly, so let’s just suffice it to say for this discussion, that there is absolutely no confidence in NADs and they aren’t relevant.

Shared Matches

Ancestry recently added a Shared Matches function.

For each person that you match at Ancestry, that is a 4th cousin or closer and who has a high confidence match ranking, you can click on shared matches to see who you and they both match in common.

confidence ancestry shared matches

This does NOT mean you match these people through the same ancestor.  This does NOT mean you match them on the same segment.  I wrote about how I’ve used this tool, but without additional data, like segment data, you can’t do much more with this.

What I have done is to build a grid similar to the Family Tree DNA matrix where I’ve attempted to see who matches whom and if there is someone(s) within that group that I can identify as specifically descending from the same ancestor.  This is, unfortunately, extremely high maintenance for a very low return.  I might add someone to my match list if they matched a group (or circle) or people that match me, whose common ancestor I can clearly identify.

Shared Matches are the lowest item on the confidence chart – which is not to say they are useless.  They can provide hints that you can follow up on with more precise tools.

Let’s move to the highest confidence tool, triangulation groups.

Triangulation Groups

Of course, the next step, either at 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, through GedMatch, or some combination of each, is to compare the actual segments of the individuals involved.  This means, especially at Ancestry where you have no tools, that you need to develop a successful begging technique to convince your matches to download their data to GedMatch or Family Tree DNA, or both.  Most people don’t, but some will and that may be the someone you need.

You have three triangulation options:

  1. If you are working with the Family Inheritance Advanced at 23andMe, you can compare each of your matches with each other. I would still invite my matches to download to GedMatch so you can compare them with people who did not test at 23andMe.
  2. If you are working with a group of people at Family Tree DNA, you can ask them to run themselves against each other to see if they also match on the same segment that they both match you on. If you are a project administrator on a project where they are all members, you can do this cross-check matching yourself. You can also ask them to download their results to GedMatch.
  3. If your matches will download their results to GedMatch, you can run each individual against any other individual to confirm their common segment matches with you and with each other.

In reality, you will likely wind up with a mixture of matches on your match list and not everyone will upload to GedMatch.

Confirming that segments create a three way match when you share a common ancestor constitutes proof that you share that common ancestor and that particular DNA has been passed down from that ancestor to you.

confidence match list 4

I’ve built this confidence table relative to matches first found at Family Tree DNA, adding matches from Ancestry and following them to GedMatch.  Fortunately, the Abija group has tested at all 3 companies and also uploaded their results to GedMatch.  Some of my favorite cousins!

Spectrum of Confidence

Blaine Bettinger built this slide that sums up the tools and where they fall on the confidence range alone, without considerations of your goals and technical factors such as segment size.  Thanks Blaine for allowing me to share it here.

confidence level Blaine

These tools and techniques fall onto a spectrum of confidence, which I’ve tried to put into perspective, below.

confidence level highest to lowest

I really debated how to best show these.  Unfortunately, there is almost always some level of judgment involved. In some cases, like triangulation at the 3 vendors, the highest level is equivalent, but in other cases, like the medium range, it really is a spectrum from lowest to highest within that grouping.

Now, let’s take a look at our matches that we’ve added to our match list in confidence order.

confidence match list 5

As you would expect, those who triangulated with each other using some chromosome browser and share a common ancestor are the highest confidence matches – those 5 with a red Y.  These are followed by matches who match me and each other but not on the same segment (or at least we don’t know that), so they don’t triangulate, at least not yet.

I didn’t include any low confidence matches in this table, but of the lowest ones that are included, the shakey leaf matches at Ancestry that won’t answer inquiries and the matches at FTDNA who do share a common surname but didn’t download their information to be triangulated are the least confident of the group.  However, even those lower confidence matches on this chart are medium, meaning at Ancestry they are in a Circle and at FTDNA, they do match and share a common surname.  At Family Tree DNA, they may eventually fall into a triangulation group of other descendants who triangulate.


As always, there are some gotchas.  As someone said in something I read recently, “autosomal DNA is messy.”


Endogamous populations are just a mess.  The problem is that literally, everyone is related to everyone, because the founder population DNA has just been passed around and around for generations with little or no new DNA being introduced.

Therefore, people who descend from endogamous populations often show to be much more closely related than they are in a genealogical timeframe.

Secondly, we have the issue pointed out by David Pike, and that is when you really don’t know where a particular segment came from, because the segment matches both the parents, or in some cases, multiple grandparents.  So, which grandparent did that actual segment that descended to the grandchild descend from?

For people who are from the same core population on both parent’s side, close matches are often your only “sure thing” and beyond that, hopefully you have your parents (at least one parent) available to match against, because that’s the only way of even beginning to sort into family groups.  This is known as phasing against your parents and while it’s a great tool for everyone to use – it’s essential to people who descend from endogamous groups. Endogamy makes genetic genealogy difficult.

In other cases, where you do have endogamy in your line, but only in one of your lines, endogamy can actually help you, because you will immediately know based on who those people match in addition to you (preferably on the same segment) which group they descend from.  I can’t tell you how many rows I have on my spreadsheet that are labeled with the word “Acadian,” “Brethren” and “Mennonite.”  I note the common ancestor we can find, but in reality, who knows which upstream ancestor in the endogamous population the DNA originated with.

Now, the bad news is that Ancestry runs a routine that removes DNA that they feel is too matchy in your results, and most of my Acadian matches disappeared when Ancestry implemented their form of population based phasing.

Identical by Population

There is sometimes a fine line between a match that’s from an ancestor one generation further back than you can go, and a match from generations ago via DNA found at a comparatively high percentage in a particular population.  You can’t tell the difference.  All you know is that you can’t assign that segment to an ancestor, and you may know it does phase against a parent, so it’s valid, meaning not IBC or identical by chance.

Yes, identical by population segment matching is a distinct problem with endogamy, but it can also be problematic with people from the same region of the world but not members of endogamous populations.  Endogamy is a term for the timeframe we’re familiar with.  We don’t know what happened before we know what happened.

From time to time, you’ll begin to see something “odd” happened where a group of segments that you already have triangulated to one ancestor will then begin to triangulate to a second ancestor.  I’m not talking about the normal two groups for every address – one from your Mom’s side and one from your Dad’s.  I’m talking, for example, when my Mom’s DNA in a particular area begins to triangulate to one ancestral group from Germany and one from France.  These clearly aren’t the same ancestors, and we know that one particular “spot” or segment range that I received from her DNA can only come from one ancestor.  But these segment matches look to be breaking that rule.

I created the example below to illustrate this phenomenon.  Notice that the top and bottom 3 all match nicely to me and to each other and share a common ancestor, although not the same common ancestor for the two groups.  However, the range significantly overlaps.  And then there is the match to Mary Ann in the middle whose common ancestor to me is unknown.

confidence IBP example

Generally, we see these on smaller segment groups, and this is indicative that you may be seeing an identical by population group.  Many people lump these IBP (identical by population) groups in with IBC, identical by chance, but they aren’t.  The difference is that the DNA in an IBP group truly is coming from your ancestors – it’s just that two distinct groups of ancestors have the same DNA because at some point, they shared a common ancestor.  This is the issue that “academic phasing” (as opposed to parental phasing) is trying to address.  This is what Ancestry calls “pileup areas” and attempts to weed out of your results.  It’s difficult to determine where the legitimate mathematical line is relative to genealogically useful matches versus ones that aren’t.  And as far as I’m concerned, knowing that my match is “European” or “Native” or “African” even if I can’t go any further is still useful.

Think about this, if every European has between 1 and 4% Neanderthal DNA from just a few Neanderthal individuals that lived more than 20,000 years ago in Europe – why wouldn’t we occasionally trip over some common DNA from long ago that found its way into two different family lines.

When I find these multiple groupings, which is actually relatively rare, I note them and just keep on matching and triangulating, although I don’t use these segments to draw any conclusions until a much larger triangulated segment match with an identified ancestor comes into play.  Confidence increases with larger segments.

This multiple grouping phenomenon is a hint of a story I don’t know – and may never know.  Just because I don’t quite know how to interpret it today doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.  In time, maybe its full story will be revealed.

ROH – Runs of Homozygosity

Autosomal DNA tests test someplace over 500,000 locations, depending on the vendor you select.  At each of those locations, you find a value of either T, A, C or G, representing a specific nucleotide.  Sometimes, you find runs of the same nucleotide, so you will find an entire group of all T, for example.  If either of your parents have all Ts in the same location, then you will match anyone with any combination of T and anything else.

confidence homozygosity example

In the example above, you can see that you inherited T from both your Mom and Dad.  Endogamy maybe?

Sally, although she will technically show as a match, doesn’t really “match” you.  It’s just a fluke that her DNA matches your DNA by hopping back and forth between her Mom’s and Dad’s DNA.  This is not a match my descent, but by chance, or IBC (identical by chance.)  There is no way for you to know this, except by also comparing your results to Sally’s parents – another example of parental phasing.  You won’t match Sally’s parents on this segment, so the segment is IBC.

Now let’s look at Joe.  Joe matches you legitimately, but you can’t tell by just looking at this whether Joe matches you on your Mom’s or Dad’s side.  Unfortunately, because no one’s DNA comes with a zipper or two sides of the street labeled Mom and Dad – the only way to determine how Joe matches you is to either phase against Joe’s parents or see who else Joe matches that you match, preferable on the same segment – in other words – create either a match or ICW group, or triangulation.

Segment Size

Everyone is in agreement about one thing.  Large segments are never IBC, identical by chance.  And I hate to use words like never, so today, interpret never to mean “not yet found.”  I’ve seen that large segment number be defined both 13cM and 15cM and “almost never” over 10cM.  There is currently discussion surrounding the X chromosome and false positives at about this threshold, but the jury is still out on this one.

Most medium segments hold true too.  Medium segment matches to multiple people with the same ancestors almost always hold true.  In fact, I don’t personally know of one that didn’t, but that isn’t to say it hasn’t happened.

By medium segments, most people say 7cM and above.  Some say 5cM and above with multiple matching individuals.

As the segment size decreases, the confidence level decreases too, but can be increased by either multiple matches on that segment from a common proven ancestor or, of course, triangulation.  Phasing against your parent also assures that the match is not IBD.  As you can see, there are tools and techniques to increase your confidence when dealing with small segments, and to eliminate IBC segments.

The issue of small segments, how and when they can be utilized is still unresolved.  Some people simply delete them.  I feel that is throwing the baby away with the bathwater and small segments that triangulate from a common ancestor and that don’t find themselves in the middle of a pileup region that is identical by population or that is known to be overly matchy (near the center of chromosome 6, for example) can be utilized.  In some cases, these segments are proven because that same small segment section is also proven against matches that are much larger in a few descendants.

Tim Janzen says that he is more inclined to look at the number of SNPs instead of the segment size, and his comfort number is 500 SNPs or above.

The flip side of this is, as David Pike mentioned, that the fewer locations you have in a row, the greater the chance that you can randomly match, or that you can have runs of heterozygosity.

No one in our discussion group felt that all small segments were useless, although the jury is still out in terms of consensus about what exactly defines a small segment and when they are legitimate and/or useful.  Everyone of us wants to work towards answers, because for those of us who are dealing with colonial ancestors and have already picked the available low hanging fruit, those tantalizing small segments may be all that is left of the ancestor we so desperately need to identify.

For example, I put together this chart detailing my matching DNA by generation. Interesting, I did a similar chart originally almost exactly three years ago and although it has seemed slow day by day, I made a lot of progress when a couple of brick walls fell, in particular, my Dutch wall thanks to Yvette Hoitink.

If you look at the green group of numbers, that is the amount of shared DNA to be expected at each level.  The number of shared cMs drops dramatically between the 5th and 6th generation from 13 cM which would be considered a reasonable matching level (according to the above discussion) at the 5th generation, and 3.32 cM at the 6th generation level, which is a small segment by anyone’s definition.

confidence segment size vs generation

The 6th generation was born roughly in 1760, and if you look to the white grouping to the right of the green group, you can see that my percentage of known ancestors is 84% in the 5th generation, 80% in the 6th generation, but drops quickly after that to 39, 22 and 3%, respectively.  So, the exact place where I need the most help is also the exact place where the expected amount of DNA drops from 13 to 3.32 cM.  This means, that if anyone ever wants to solve those genealogical puzzles in that timeframe utilizing genetic genealogy, we had better figure out how to utilize those small segments effectively – because it may well be all we have except for the occasional larger sticky segment that is passed intact from an ancestor many generations past.

From my perspective, it’s a crying shame that Ancestry gives us no segment data and it’s sad that 23andMe only gives us 5cM and above.  It’s a blessing that we can select our own threshold at GedMatch.  I’m extremely grateful that FTDNA shows us the small segment matches to 1cM and 500 SNPs if we also match on 20cM total and at least one segment over 7cM.  That’s a good compromise, because small segments are more likely to be legitimate if we have a legitimate match on a larger segment and a known ancestor.  We already discussed that the larger the matching segment, the more likely it is to be valid. I would like to see Family Tree DNA lower the matching threshold within projects.  Surname projects imply that a group of people will be expected to match, so I’d really like to be able to see those lower threshold matches.

I’m hopeful that Family Tree DNA will continue to provide small segment information to us.  People who don’t want to learn how to use or be bothered with small segments don’t have to.  Delete is perfectly legitimate option, but without the data, those of us who are interested in researching how to best utilize these segments, can’t.  And when we don’t have data to use, we all lose.  So, thank you Family Tree DNA.

Coming Full Circle

This discussion brings us full circle once again to goals.

Goals change over time.

My initial reason for testing, the first day an autosomal test could be ordered, was to see if my half-brother was my half-brother.  Obviously for that, I didn’t need matching to other people or triangulation.  The answer was either yes or no, we do match at the half-sibling level, or we don’t.

He wasn’t.  But by then, he was terminally ill, and I never told him.  It certainly explained why I wasn’t a transplant match for him.

My next goal, almost immediately, was to determine which if either my brother or I were the child of my father.  For that, we did need matching to other people, and preferably close cousins – the closer the better.  Autosomal DNA testing was new at that time, and I had to recruit cousins.  Bless those who took pity on me and tested, because I was truly desperate to know.

Suffice it to say that the wait was a roller coaster ride of emotion.

If I was not my father’s child, I had just done 30+ years of someone else’s genealogy – not a revelation I relished, at all.

I was my father’s child.  My brother wasn’t.  I was glad I never told him the first part, because I didn’t have to tell him this part either.

My goal at that point changed to more of a general interest nature as more cousins tested and we matched, verifying different lineages that has been unable to be verified by Y or mtDNA testing.

Then one day, something magical happened.

One of my Y lines, Marcus Younger, whose Y line is a result of a NPE, nonparental event, or said differently, an undocumented adoption, received amazing information.  The paternal Younger family line we believed Marcus descended from, he didn’t.  However, autosomal DNA confirmed that even though he is not the paternal child of that line, he is still autosomally related to that line, sharing a common ancestor – suggesting that he may have been born of a Younger female and given that surname, while carrying the Y DNA of his biological father, who remains unidentified.

Amazingly, the next day, a match popped up that matched me and another Younger relative.  This match descended not from the Younger line, but from Marcus Younger’s wife’s alleged surname family.  I suddenly realized that not only was autosomal DNA interesting for confirming your tree – it could also be used to break down long-standing brick walls.  That’s where I’ve been focused ever since.

That’s a very different goal from where I began, and my current goal utilizes the tools in a very different way than my earlier goals.  Confidence levels matter now, a great deal, where that first day, all I wanted was a yes or no.

Today, my goal, other than breaking down brick walls, is for genetic genealogy to become automated and much easier but without taking away our options or keeping us so “safe” that we have no tools (Ancestry).

The process that will allow us to refine genetic genealogy and group individuals and matches utilizing trees on our desktops will ultimately be the key to unraveling those distant connections.  The data is there, we just have to learn how to use it most effectively, and the key, other than software, is collaboration with many cousins.

Aside from science and technology, the other wonderful aspect of autosomal DNA testing is that is has the potential to unite and often, reunite families who didn’t even know they were families.  I’ve seen this over and over now and I still marvel at this miracle given to us by our ancestors – their DNA.

So, regardless of where you fall on the goals and matching confidence spectrum in terms of genetic genealogy, keep encouraging others to test and keep reaching out and sharing – because it takes a village to recreate an ancestor!  No one can do it alone, and the more people who test and share, the better all of our chances become to achieve whatever genetic genealogy goals we have.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

Do you ever have one of those days where you say, “If one more thing goes wrong….”?

Well, I was and I did and it did.

One of the things I do daily as a reward and a fun thing is to sign in to Ancestry to check my DNA matches – in particular shakey leaf matches because it means we also share a common, identified, ancestor.

I keep a spreadsheet of my shakey leaf matches.  I know exactly how many I have, and if my “shared ancestor hint” match number has changed, I then go and look for my new match.

Ancestry shakey leaf matches

I check to see the identity of our common ancestor, and then I put them on my spreadsheet, tracking them, the common ancestor and if we have other common ancestors or surnames.

Sometimes my number goes down by 1 or so which always makes me go “hmmmm.”  Sometimes my number increases by one or two but there are no “blue dots” for new matches.  I just chalked it up to, well, Ancestry being Ancestry.

Today, I signed in and my match number had increased, but no new blue dot match.  I noticed a relatively close match that I didn’t recognize, so I checked my spreadsheet to see if they were there – and they weren’t.

So, I checked the next 10 or 20 and guess what – more were missing.

My day went from bad to worse.

I had 175 prior shakey leaf matches, 176 with my newest one today.

I went back and checked all of my shakey leaf matches.

There were 30 “new” matches that have never shown up with a new “blue” button – so I have never put them on my spreadsheet.  And no, in case you’re wondering, no one but me has access to my account.

However, there were 44 previous matches that are missing entirely.  Where the devil did they go?  That’s 25%.  Poof.  Gone.  Just gone.  And these are people I DNA match with AND share a common ancestor.  What’s going on????

These weren’t all distant matches either.  Six were 3rd or 4th cousins, some of which I know are legitimate because we have also tested at Family Tree DNA and/or are at GedMatch and triangulate.

Altogether, that’s a total 74 “changes” that happened.  So, the truth is, I actually had a total (after Ancestry’s phasing purge) of 220 shakey leaf matches but since the 44 disappeared gradually as the 30 arrived, the shift was very subtle and went unnoticed.

If we can’t depend on Ancestry’s match numbers nor the “new match” blue dot indication, then we’re going to have to go through and reconcile our shakey matches one by one, by hand, from time to time.  You can’t download this information.  This wasn’t fun.  It shouldn’t be necessary.  It’s ridiculous that we have to do this.

I hate to say this, but trying to deal with substandard software in the form of bad NADs,  unannounced matches and disappearing matches in combination with no chromosome browser to verify anything is making this more and more like work and less and less like fun.  Yet, we don’t need a chromosome browser because we are supposed to trust Ancestry.  Yea, right….when pigs fly.

I’m becoming increasingly disillusioned and frustrated.  This is not some cute parlor game – for Heaven’s sake – this is my ancestors, my flesh and blood, my DNA.  This is sacred to me.  This matching shell game is not amusing in the least.

I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall, cry, throw in the towel with Ancestry or just keep plugging with the hope that maybe, someday, Ancestry will get their act together.  How many years does it take???  Given that every iteration so far has been supposed to be “right,” how will we ever know when things really are accurate – especially without any tools to verify?  Maybe this is why we don’t have those tools?

Twenty five percent lost matches of people with both DNA and tree matches and we’re supposed to have any modicum of confidence?  This isn’t exactly a minor adjustment.  And it’s not like this is the first problem we’ve seen with Ancestry’s DNA product, or an anomaly.  There has been issue after issue.

So, if you’re not tracking your Ancestry shakey leaf matches independently, you need to start.  If you are already tracking them, check to see if you have unannounced new matches and matches that have disappeared.  You probably have a few surprises waiting.

As for me, I’m taking two aspirin and going to bed.  It’s so late it’s early and tomorrow just HAS to be a better day!



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Genetic Genealogy Has Come of Age

sweet 16

And we didn’t even have a party…no Sweet 16 party…no turning 21 inaugural trip to the bar. It happened when we weren’t looking.  Sometime pretty recently.

In the Beginning…

When I first heard about DNA testing for genealogy, back in 1999, it didn’t even have a name.  Today it’s known as genetic genealogy, but before that, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, one of the early pioneers in this field, about the year 2000, termed it genetealogy.  This was shortly after DNA testing first entered the consumer market space.  That name didn’t catch on.

I had already entered the world of genetic genealogy through mitochondrial DNA testing.  This was about the time I heard about Y DNA testing and suspected it might be a scam – like those bogus pedigree charts sold back in the 1970s and 1980s.  I did some research and called Family Tree DNA.  Bennett Greenspan, the President of the company, called me back, at 9:30 at night and we talked for an hour.  As our discussion progressed and I understood more about Y DNA testing and how it really was applicable to genealogy, I told him I was interested in setting up a surname project for the Estes line, but I was concerned that I didn’t have enough knowledge of how genetic genealogy and the Family Tree DNA website worked to do it justice.  Bennett told me that with my background, I’d be fine and that he would help me if I needed it.  My, how far we’ve come.  And talk about famous last words!

No one knew about DNA testing for genealogy at that time.  And I do mean no one.  Every person I approached to test was skeptical and most of the initial testers tested because they knew and trusted me.  Sadly, many of those folks are gone now.  Thank Heavens they tested when they did, because now would be too late and several were end-of-line people.

Within a couple of years, there were 2 or 3 of us doing DNA for genealogy presentations.  Even as little at 5 or 6 years ago, one had to beg for a spot on a conference schedule for DNA testing.  Today, there are entire DNA tracks at almost every conference and even entire events focused on genetic genealogy, with many speakers to choose from.

Genetic Genealogy Grows Up

Fast forward to 2015.  John Reid at his blog, Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections, has been doing the Rockstar Genealogist voting now since 2012.  Is it a popularity contest of sorts?  Sure.  But, to me it’s much more important than that, and it’s not about who wins individually.  It’s about the fact that we’re all winning.

Last year, in 2014, I really, really wanted to see a genetic genealogist in the winners circle.  Until recently, few traditional well-known genealogists had incorporated genetic genealogy as a standard tool, with Megan being a notable exception.

On the other hand, there were several folks who defined themselves as primarily genetic genealogists, myself included.  It was time for genetic genealogy to become an adult – to join the rest and sit at the big table. I think we arrived.

In order to help things along a bit, I offered a donation to the War of 1812 Pension fund if any genetic genealogist was in the finals.  Indeed, genetic genealogy was quite well represented in the finalists, and not just in the genetic genealogy category either.

However, the evidence that genetic genealogy has finally matured and come of age is that it has become the norm, and not the exception.  Today, very few genealogists don’t know about genetic genealogy now – and even if they are living under a rock and haven’t yet participated, they at least know it exists.  Most genealogists have participated at some level.

When I spoke years ago and asked how many people had tested in a room full of people, a few hands would be raised. Now it’s more like 50% and in many locations, more.

But the real evidence is held in this year’s 2015 Rockstar results.  Yes, there are genetic genealogists well represented again in the winners circle – several of us.  I’m extremely grateful for the level of recognition for DNA testing – because media coverage of any form lends a level of legitimacy and encourages new people to test.  Positive exposure of any sort is wonderful, as is individual recognition.  Genetic genealogy, more than traditional genealogy, is a group, collaborative effort – so we need more testers.  The more people who test, the more walls will fall.

The Devil in the Details

But to me, the real message is buried in the details.  I was thrilled, overjoyed, to see the details.  What details, you ask?

There were a total of 2026 people who voted in John’s poll this year, and of those people, 57% of them listed themselves as genetic genealogists.


That’s not 57% of the people who have heard about genetic genealogy – that’s 57% of the genealogists who also consider themselves genetic genealogists.  They are actively using genetic genealogy in some capacity as a tool for their genealogy.  These are genealogists incorporating genetic genealogy, not a separate group of “DNA people” running around with missionary zeal carrying DNA swab kits and asking everyone their name and where their grandparents were from!

I still remember getting stopped by the Texas State Trooper after one of the Family Tree DNA conferences in Houston and after looking at his badge, quizzing him as to where his family was from.  He decided I was either harmless or crazy and sent me on my way.  He declined to swab but I gave him my card just in case he changed his mind one day!  Imagine the story he told back at the station about the “crazy DNA lady!”  Now the crazy DNA lady is part and parcel of every genealogist – at least 57% anyway.  Hopefully that percentage will grow to 100% shortly.

Red Letter Day

Genetic genealogy is no longer separate or different or “odd.”  Not an outlier anymore, but part of the norm.  A mandatory piece of the puzzle.  In fact, as Judy Russell said, in her article, “DNA, coming on strong,” “it’s part and parcel of what every genealogist should be doing.”

Judy also tells us in her article that Thomas W. Jones, co-editor of the National Geographic Society Quarterly, stated that Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing should be part of what every genealogist does to capture their family story.  Every genealogist.  Not some and not just 57%.  Indeed, this is a red letter day!

Indeed, DNA testing is due for the Sweet 16 party.  It has survived and emerged a lovely flower, blossoming and coming entirely into its own – with the entire genealogy world realizing what kind of a unique gift every one of us has – directly from our ancestors.  And hopefully, with each individual realizing that the way to harness this energy is to test and to share those results along with the rest of our genealogy.

Every genealogist should test their Y (if a male) or find a male to represent their paternal line, test their mitochondrial DNA for their matrilineal line, and test their autosomal DNA.

Document DNA as an Integral Part of Family History

After you are done testing yourself, look around for who in your family carries Y or mtDNA that represents ancestors that your own DNA doesn’t reveal.  For example, your father’s mitochondrial DNA is not your mitochondrial DNA (because males don’t contribute mitochondrial DNA to their offspring) but his mitochondrial DNA provides the story of his mother’s matrilineal line.  Dad already gone?  Did he have siblings?  Test them, and while you’re testing their mitochondrial DNA, test their autosomal DNA as well.

What you are doing, in essence, is creating a DNA pedigree chartWikiTree provides tools that combine pedigree charts and DNA testing so that this information is available to descendants.  So, while you are providing information, you stand to harvest a lot more than you’ll ever provide.  Think about it.  You can contribute but one Y (if a male) and one mtDNA line, but you have many ancestors whose information you can gather as their direct linear descendants test.  Here’s an example of my chart with the haplogroups of my oldest ancestors noted if I have that information.  And if I don’t have it, guaranteed I’m looking for it!  All of this ancestral information except that of my red circle great-great-grandmother came from other people because I don’t carry their Y or mtDNA.

DNA Pedigree

Lastly, I would strongly encourage every genealogist to test the oldest family members autosomally, even if their Y and mtDNA lines are already tested and represented.  Not one of them, all of them.  They have each inherited different DNA from their, and your, ancestors.  Once they are gone, there is no further opportunity – a part of the history of your ancestors will depart with them and there will never be any way for you to recover what is lost.

So test.

Test everyone!

Test now!

While you can.

Build and preserve the genetic part of your family history that you can obtain no other way!



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Edward Mercer (c1704-1763), Hard-Drinking Quaker, 52 Ancestors #90

Trying to track Edward Mercer has been like trying to follow one hair in a braid.

While a surname like Mercer seems fairly unique, it isn’t, or wasn’t in Frederick County, Virginia in the 1700s.  Who would have guessed there would be so many in this new land of opportunity, the frontier, where the settlers lived among the Indians.

Edward Mercer was in Frederick County, Virginia by 1751, based upon his land grant.  While settlers were settling this region, all was not as peaceful at it seemed.  Remember that the settlers were encroaching on the Indian’s territory, territory the Indians did not “sell” and that by treaty, the settlers were not supposed to settle upon.  But they were, and they did, and the Indians were NOT happy.  The court notes in Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants (1738-1908) by T.K. Cartmell, Clerk of Court, reflect that the Indian chiefs were meeting in Winchester in 1753 to negotiate yet another treaty, and the ordinaries were not to sell them liquor.

On page 71, Cartmell tells us:

Sept. 4, 1753 – “A treaty between the Indians in in progress; It is ordered by the Court, for preventing disturbance during the Treaty with the Indians at the town of Winchester that no Ordinary keeper or other person presume to sell or give to the Indians strong liquors of any sort.”  Five great chiefs with a small following spent many weeks near the town trying to work a scheme to have the white settlers vacate their territory west of the Great Mountains.  This was refused, but a treaty was made to allow the Indians to remain in their villages on the Ohio River undisturbed, and that they should have the right to sell land on their reservation to peaceable white settlers.  This treaty was basely violated by unscrupulous adventurers and a bloody war was the result.

And so began the French and Indian War.

The settlers built their homes as stockades and for most of the 1750s, they lived in constant fear, but no one went back from whence they came.  Expeditions were sent to protect outlying settlements.

From 1754 through 1758, this area of Frederick County and what is now Berkeley County, West Virginia, then part of Frederick County, a swath from Gerardstown, West Virginia to south of Winchester, Virginia was raided successively by Indians, sometimes with the French helping the Indians.  This is exactly where Edward Mercer lived, but perhaps Edward was safe, or safer, because he lived adjacent to Jacob Van Meter, the son of long-time Indian trader John Van Meter.

Some settlers were killed outright, some were taken hostage, and some returned to the community later.  Others, especially those taken as children, joined the tribes and never returned to the white settlements.  Both the settlers and the Indians viewed the warfare as invasive depredations.  Cartmell provides details on page 74 of his history book.  Suffice it to say it was a time of high tension and daily fear for those who lived on the frontier.

In 1757, the court justices ordered the court books be taken to Fort Loudon for safekeeping.  They too feared for their scalps and the preservation of anything on the frontier.  It was not a short war.  A peace treaty, such as it was, was not signed until 1763, just before Edward Mercer’s death.

For most of the time Edward lived in Frederick County, the colonists were actively at war with the Indians and French.  The frontier was not a peaceful or safe place to live.

The Many Mercers

Wilmer L. Kerns, Ph.D. wrote about Frederick County families in his book, “Frederick Count, Virginia, Settlement and Some First Families of Back Creek Valley.”  Back Creek Valley was the area north of Winchester where the Mercers, Crumleys and the Quaker families settled in the vicinity of the Hopewell Meeting House, shown on the map below.

Hopewell Meeting Map

Tracking the Mercer Families The Mercer surname was frequently mentioned in Frederick County records during colonial days. Apparently, there were several different Mercer family roots in Northern Virginia. This brief sketch of the Mercer surname is tentative, and is merely intended to acknowledge that several branches of the family were among the early settlers in this region. Further research is needed to compile a more accurate account of this surname.

One Mercer family, some members of which did wind up in Frederick County were known as the John Francis Mercer line.  They were from Dublin, Ireland and before that, from Chester, England.  Their family is detailed in this document.  There is no known connection, nor any hint of a connection between this family and the other two Mercer families – but that does not mean a connection doesn’t exist.  Y DNA testing on Mercer males from both lines would tell us quickly enough.

The second and third Mercer families are quite confusing, beginning with the fact that there are two Edward Mercers who lived at the same time in the same county, but who may or may not be related to each other.

The younger Edward Mercer (1729-1783) settled in a part of Frederick County, Virginia that later became Berkeley County in 1772, so we can tell these men apart to some extent.

The Berkeley County family appears to have come from Ireland, based on a 1783 deposition recorded in Deed Book X, Vol 22, Page 335, Chester County, PA which records a statement by Mary Mercer, Berkeley County, VA, widow of Edward Mercer about sixty years old and a statement by Johathan Mercer, aged 50 regarding their acquaintance with a William Chapman. About two years after they left Ireland, the deponent (Mary Mercer) with others of her family, since dead, also left Ireland and came to America and found the George Chapman and William Chapman living on Delaware River near New Castle and Marcus Hook; they then lived together.

Delaware early map

Below is a current map showing Marcus Hook, New Castle and Chester County, PA.

Current Delaware map

If Mary was 60 in 1783, and was a child when immigrated, this would put her birth in 1723 and her immigration location sometime before marrying Edward (born in 1729) in New Castle and Marcus Hook.  So, this puts that Edward Mercer in the same vicinity or he would not have met and married Mary.  On the map, above, you can see that New Castle on the Delaware River is very close to Philadelphia, maybe 12 or 14 miles distant.

Philly to Winchester

My ancestor Edward Mercer (1704-1763), the elder, settled in Frederick County, Va, north on Winchester, by October 1744 when he first appears in the court minutes, serving on a jury.

A tradition says that he emigrated from Scotland in 1737 although that certainly has not been proven. Nothing is known about his early life, although after he arrived in Frederick County, by this time probably in his 40s or 50s, there are several references in court records.

Beginning in December 1754, Edward Mercer is sued by John Littler who owns land nearby.  In the same book, spanning 1754-1745, both Nicholas and Edward Mercer are sued by Jesse Pugh and both Nicholas and Edward serve on juries.  In the 1745-1748 Court Order book, we find Mercer versus Lemon and in Order Book 4, 1751-1753 we find Edward Mercer suing both James Dunn and Dugal Campbell, both dismissed by the parties.  In 1753-1754 we find Richard Mercer versus Poor and in 1754-1755, Edward Mercer vs Nathaniel Hare where Edward is awarded a judgment after Nathaniel fails to appear.  In 1755-158, we have Edward Mercer vs Hurman and in 1758-1760, Edward sues both Campbell and Lemon.  In 1760-1762, Richard Mercer sues Shibley and Simpson.  This looks like a lot, but is fairly typical for the timeframe.  Most suits were agreed upon and settled.

This branch of the Mercer family was found in Back Creek Valley during the 18th and 19th centuries. Edward Mercer died in 1763, and he named his wife Ann in his will, in addition to his children. A letter written by one Harrington in a letter to Wilmer Kerns on Oct. 27, 1993 states that Edward Mercer married Ann Croat (or Coats) in 1726, and he married second to Mary Gamble. However, we know that Edward was married to Ann when he died, based on his will, so this makes no sense.  Another rumor bites the dust.

Indian Traders

And yet another twist to this story.

In the “History of Scots/Irish,” Chapter 5, The Explorations and Early Settlers of West Virginia states that John Van Meter, a representative of an old Knickerbocker family early seated on the Hudson was an Indian trader. He made his headquarters with the Delawares and made journeys far to the south to trade with the Cherokees. In about 1725 he first told of the fertility of the Lower Shenandoah. In the section regarding the first white settlers of West Virginia in the area it goes on to say – “Among those that came about 1734 and settled along the Upper Potomac in what is now the northern part of the West Virginia counties of Berkeley and Jefferson included: Robert Harper (Harper’s Ferry), James Lemon, Richard Mercer, Edward Mercer, Jacob Van Meter.”

John Van Meter seems to have been headquartered in Kingston, Somerset County, New Jersey.   In an article relating to the last of the Southern Indians, which appeared in the Virginia Historical Magazine [Vol. III., p. 191, footnote], it states that “Mr. John Van Meter of New York gives an account of his accompanying the New York Delaware Indians in 1732 (?) on their raid against the Catawbas. They passed up the South Branch of the Potomac and he afterward settled his boys there.”

Robert Harper was born in Oxford Township near Philadelphia, Pa., in 1718. A builder and millwright, Harper was engaged by a group of Quakers in 1747 to erect a meeting house in the Shenandoah Valley near the present site of Winchester, Va.

In 1762, John Lemon obtains a land grant adjacent to both Nickolas and Edward Mercer.  From a transcription of the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1742-1775, Vol II:

John Lemon 1762 grant

In 1751, Edward Mercer obtained a land grant in Frederick County, Virginia for 275 acres adjoining Jacob Vanmeter. Does this suggest that our Edward Mercer arrived with that group of men?  And perhaps he was related to Richard Mercer?  Our Edward did name a son Richard.  The Edward Mercer of Berkeley County would only have been 12 years old in 1751, so this land grant has to be our Edward.

Richard Mercer’s wife name was Rebecca.  They sold land in 1764 on the Potomac that they had obtained from Josh Hite and Isaac and John VanMeter, the Indian trader family.

While it’s tempting to suggest that Edward Mercer in Berkeley County is the son of the older Edward Mercer (Sr.) of Frederick County, we show Edward Sr.’s son Edward Jr. in 1763 patenting land beside his father in Frederick County.

Edward Mercer Jr 1763 grant

Furthermore, Edward Mercer Jr. continued to live in Frederick County, years after the Edward in Berkeley County died.  We find in the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1775-1800, Vol. III:

Edward Mercer Jr 1788 land

Edward Mercer from Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia) who died in 1783 shows the following people in the will index abstracts of West Virginia Wills and Probate records 1724-1978.

Edward Mercer 1783 death

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bleed through, but page 16 is the relevant page for Edward’s will.

Edward Mercer 1783 probate

Jonathan Mercer is clearly not Edward’s son, so perhaps he is Edward’s brother.  We know from the deposition that Jonathan was born in about 1733.

On November 13, 1752, we find that John Lemmon purchased property and the land deed was filed in Frederick County, VA. The description of the property includes 356 acres adjoining Edward Mercer, Nickolas Mercer, and Francis Lilborn.  A suit, Mercer vs Lemon, is found in the 1745-1748 court notes, but was impossible to find in the actual microfilm of the court minutes.  A Will for Nicholas Lemen is witnessed in 1761 by a Richard Mercer and his wife Mary.  This could be Edward Mercer Sr.’s son, Richard (who could have been in his 30s by this time), but who was Nickolas Mercer?

Nicholas Mercer is found in the road orders in 1746 and in 1748 he is replaced by Abraham Vanmetre, so he was clearly living in the same proximity as the VanMeter family which means he is connected to the Edward Mercer of Frederick County.  To be of age in 1746, he had to have been born in or before 1725, about the time our Edward Mercer would have been about 21 years old, IF he actually was born about 1704.

The Nicholas Mercer who was the son of Edward in Berkeley County could not have been of age in 1746 if Edward himself was only born in 1729.

Nicholas Mercer must have been connected to our Edward in some way.  In the December 1744 Frederick County Court session, we find the Jesse Pugh sued both Nicholas Mercer and Edward Mercer for trespass, in two adjacent transactions.  At that time, trespass typically didn’t mean walking on someone’s land, like today, but planting crops there.  Later, both Nicholas and Edward served on juries. Unfortunately, there is no Frederick County will for Nicholas, so we have no idea what happened to him.

Some people have drawn links between the various Mercer families that may not have existed in reality – drawing scattered references from multiple sources, including online trees, and weaving them together.

However, there are some very tantalizing clues that indeed, do need additional research.

George Washington and the Battle of Fort Necessity

We think of George Washington and his involvement in the Revolutionary War, but Washington’s involvement in the defense of Virginia began long before the Revolutionary War.  George was extremely involved in the French and Indian War as well.

The roster of men serving in the Fort Necessity Campaign of 1754 under George Washington is compiled from two rosters.

Edward Mercer appears.

Roster of Virginia Militia serving under George Washington during the Fort Necessity Campaign Officers – George Mercer, Captain (Lieut.); John Mercer, Lieutenant (Ensign); Wise Johnston, Corporal; Enlisted Men; Edward Mercer;

We know that Captain George Mercer is connected to the Irish/English John Francis Mercer family with no (known) relation to Edward.

Let’s look at what happened at Fort Necessity.  Edward Mercer was clearly there, so this is his story too.

The Battle of Fort Necessity (also called the Battle of the Great Meadows) took place on July 3, 1754, in what is now the mountaintop hamlet of Farmington in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. The engagement was one of the first battles of the French and Indian War and George Washington’s only military surrender.

Winchester to Fort Necessity

In March 1754, Governor Dinwiddie sent Washington back to the frontier with orders to “act on the [defensive], but in Case any Attempts are made to obstruct the Works or interrupt our [settlements] by any Persons whatsoever, You are to restrain all such Offenders, & in Case of resistance to make Prisoners of or kill & destroy them”. Historian Fred Anderson describes Dinwiddie’s instructions, which were issued without the knowledge or direction of the British government in London, as “an invitation to start a war”. Washington was ordered to gather as many supplies and paid volunteers as he could along the way. By the time he left for the frontier on April 2, he had gathered 1,867 men.  During the march to Pennsylvania, Washington picked up a few more men from a regiment they met at Winchester.  This would have been where Edward Mercer joined.

Washington along with about 150 Virginians built Fort Necessity on an alpine meadow west of the summit of a pass through the Allegheny Mountains on June 3rd.  Another pass nearby leads to Confluence, Pennsylvania; to the west, Nemacolin’s Trail begins its descent to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and other parts of Fayette County along the relatively low altitudes of the Allegheny Plateau.

The fort was small, a circular stockade made of 7-foot-high (2.1 m) upright logs covered with bark and skins built around a little hut which contained ammunition and provisions such as rum and flour.  The palisade was built more to defend the supplies against Washington’s own men whom he described as “loose and idle,” than as a planned defense against a hostile enemy.

By June 9th, the rest of the Virginians had arrived.  Originally, the Delaware, Shawnee and Seneca supported the Virginians, but after a Native Council on June 18th, the Indians withdrew their support after the Battle of Jumonville Glen on May 28th in which Native leader Tanacharison killed French Joseph Jumonville personally.   Why the Native people withdrew their supposed is unclear.

Expecting to be attacked, and with word of the impending arrival of the French and Indians, Washington fell back, abandoning most of their provisions and supplies, and reached Fort Necessity by July 1st.

At Fort Necessity, the provision hut was depleted, and there was little shelter from the heavy rain that started to fall on the 2nd. With the rain, the trenches that Washington had ordered to be dug had turned into streams. Washington realized that he would have to defend against a frontal assault and also realized that it would be difficult because the woods were less than 100 yards away, within musket range, making it possible for a besieging attacker to pick off the defenders. To improve the defense, Washington ordered his men to cut trees down and to make them into makeshift breastworks.  The Virginians were clearly in trouble and they knew it.

As the British worked, the French led by Coulon, Jumonville’s half brother, approached Fort Necessity using the road the Virginians had built.  Coulon arrived at Jumonville’s Glen early on the morning of July 3. Horrified to find several scalped French bodies, he immediately ordered them to be buried.

By 11:00 am on the 3rd of July 1754, Louis Coulon de Villiers came within sight of Fort Necessity. At this time, the Virginians were digging a trench in the mud. The pickets fired their muskets and fell back to the fort, whereupon three columns of Canadian soldiers and Indians advanced downhill towards the fort. However, Coulon had miscalculated the location of the fort and had advanced with the fort at his right. As Coulon halted and then redeployed his troops, Washington began to prepare for an attack.

Coulon moved his troops into the woods, within easy musket range of the fort. Washington knew he had to dislodge the Canadians and Indians from that position, so he ordered an assault with his entire force across the open field. Seeing the assault coming, Coulon ordered his soldiers, led by Indians, to charge directly at Washington’s line. Washington ordered the men to hold their ground and fire a volley. Mackay’s regulars obeyed Washington’s command, and supported by two swivel cannons, they inflicted several casualties on the oncoming Indians. The Virginians, however, fled back to the fort, leaving Washington and the British regulars greatly outnumbered. Washington ordered a retreat back to the fort.  Washington must have been furious with the Virginia men who disobeyed his orders.

Coulon reformed his troops in the woods. The Canadians spread out around the clearing and kept up heavy fire on Fort Necessity. Washington ordered his troops to return fire, but they aimed too high, inflicting few casualties, and the swivel cannon fared no better. To add to the garrison’s troubles, heavy rain began to fall that afternoon, and Washington’s troops were unable to continue the firefight because their gunpowder was wet.

Louis Coulon de Villiers, who did not know when British reinforcements might arrive, sent an officer under a white flag to negotiate. Washington did not allow the Canadian officer into or near the fort, but sent two of his own men, including his translator Jacob Van Braam, to negotiate. As negotiations began, the Virginians, against Washington’s orders, broke into the fort’s liquor supply and got drunk. Gotta love those Virginia men.  They had their priorities.  If they were going to die, they didn’t want to leave the liquor behind!  Given what we discover about Edward Mercer later, there is little doubt that he was involved with this drunken escapade.

Coulon told Van Braam that all he wanted was the surrender of the garrison, and the Virginians could go back to Virginia. He warned, however, that if they did not surrender now, the Indians might storm the fort and scalp the entire garrison.

Van Braam brought this message to Washington, who agreed to these basic terms.

On July 4, Washington and his troops abandoned Fort Necessity. The garrison marched away with drums beating and flags flying, but the Indians and the French began to loot the garrison’s baggage on their way out, subsequently burning the fort.

Washington, who feared a bloodbath, did not try to stop the looting. The Indians continued to steal from the soldiers until July 5. Washington and his troops arrived back in eastern Virginia in mid-July. On the 17th, Washington delivered his report of the battles to Governor Dinwiddie, expecting a rebuke, but Washington instead received a vote of thanks from the House of Burgesses and Dinwiddie blamed the defeat not on Washington but on poor supply and the refusal of aid by the other colonies.

The battlefield is preserved at Fort Necessity National Battlefield, and includes a reconstruction of Fort Necessity.

Fort Necessity

“FortNecessityWithCannon” by Ikcerog – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FortNecessityWithCannon.jpg#/media/File:FortNecessityWithCannon.jpg

Voting in Frederick County

From Clark, Murtie June, Colonial Soldiers of the South, 1732-1774, Baltimore, MD: 1983: Pp. 328-332, in 1755, we know that both Richard Mercer and Edward Mercer Jr. are of age, because they both vote, as they do in 1758.  In 1761, both James and John Mercer vote for George Washington.  This puts the birth of both men before 1734, and possibly significantly before 1734.  At that time, and until 1762, according to Cartmell, voting for the House of Burgesses was reserved for men who owned land and significant assets, specifically, the gentry class.  In 1762, the voting rules were relaxed and allowed free men, of age, with only 50 acres of land or 25 acres with a house, or a lot in town with a house, to vote.

But the 1761 voting is interesting for yet another reason.  Colonel George Mercer is on the ballot for the election of Burgesses to represent Frederick County and Mercer Babb votes for him, as do both Edward Mercer Jr, Edward Sr., James, John, Moses, and Richard Mercer.  Col. George Mercer wins and represents the county in the House of Burgesses from 1761-1765.  George Mercer was born in Frederick County in 1733 to John Mercer, reportedly born in Dublin, Ireland, and Catherine Mason.  George was the brother to John Francis Mercer.

This tells us that Mercer Babb, whoever he was, was of age in 1761, so born in 1740 or earlier.  It also introduces the question – who is Mercer Babb?

To answer that question, we have to look at the Babb Family.

The Babbs

Thomas Babb was born in 1697 in Brandywine Hundred, New Castle, Delaware.  In 1730, he lived and was taxed in Bethel Township, Chester County, PA, according to the Hopewell Friend’s History.  He died on October 4, 1760 in Frederick County, Virginia. Not long after his marriage there was a movement of Quakers from Pennsylvania to Frederick County, Virginia. Thomas went with these Quakers and was one of the founding fathers of the Hopewell Monthly Meeting north of Winchester in Frederick County in 1734.

His father had a land grant of 600 acres on Apple Pie Ridge, near Babb’s Run, northwest of Winchester. Thomas settled there and was joined by his brother, Phillip. At his father’s death the two sons inherited his land.

Thomas Babb’s will was proved November 4, 1760. He left the home place to his son, Sampson, and other bequest to his other children. His wife, not being mentioned, is believed to have already died.

The first lovely old home belonging to Thomas was called “The Great Marsh Plantation“, now known as The Babb-Purcell-Janney House. It dates to 1735. Great Marsh is located on the north side of route 673 (Gold Hills Road) between route 522 and the Apple Pie Ridge Road in Frederick, Virginia.  On the map below, Babb’s Run is marked on Gold Hills Road with a small balloon just above the white box at the bottom of the map.

Great Marsh Plantation

The red balloon is James Crumley’s land, also on Apple Pie Ridge Road, about 6 miles distant from the Great Marsh Plantation.

The second home named “The Brick House” is a lovely old brick mansion and dates also to 1735. It is located west of the Apple Pie Ridge Road and south of route 672 on Babb’s Run. This is also in Frederick, Virginia.

The Brick House - Lupton Home

The Lupton family obtained the Babb land after Thomas’s death. The Lupton homestead was located just below Cedar Grove, about where the small gray balloon is located on the map below, according to a map from 1885.

Lupton home satellite

The Lupton homestead is located just south of Cedar Grove between Babb’s Run and the east side of North Mountain today, marked by the small balloon on the map above.  North Mountain is to the left of the balloon, with Cedar Grove Road on the other side of the mountain.

You can see and purchase these old maps at this link.

Referencing Jean Sargent’s Book “Babb Families of America” 3rd edition pg.113.

Philip Babb born in 1699 in Brandywine Hundred, New Castle, Delaware and died in Newark, New Castle Delaware on March 6, 1762, father of Thomas Babb who settled in Frederick County, Virginia, married Margaret Mercer.

This marriage would have had to have occurred after 1720, giving Mercer Babb plenty of time to be born between then and 1740.  This tells us that there were Mercers in this part of the world, likely related to Edward Mercer, and probably in New Castle, Delaware before 1740.

In the book, “The Babb Families of New England and Beyond, “ Jean Sargent on page 20 and 21 tells us the following about Thomas Babb:

In the Newark Monthly Meeting Records there is an entry dated 3 Oct 1713 which reads as follows: “Thomas Babb appearing at this meeting and gives ye meeting to understand yt ye death of his wife and for want of some person to whom he might leave ye care of his young children hath hitherto been ye lett of his not coming more frequent to ye meetings of business.” While there are early entries concerning Bathsheba, none of them mention the birth of her children or the date of her marriage. (7) Thomas prospered in DE and had sizeable land holdings as shown in the early land records. (4) In 1735 he received a Patent to 600 acres of land in Frederick Co., VA. By this time his three sons had moved to Chester Co., PA, just across the state line from their former home. Thomas sent the two younger sons Thomas, Jr., and Philip to occupy the 600 acres in VA and to carry out the other provisions of the Patent. (7) In his will, dated 17 Aug 1748 and proved 13 Aug 1751, Thomas bequeathed the home place in DE to his oldest son Peter, and left the VA lands to sons Thomas, Jr., and Philip. He made other bequests to his daughters Mary, Rebecca, and Lydia, as well as to three children of his deceased daughter Hulda — John, Rebecca and Lydia Gregory. (6)

In a 1758 election in Frederick Co., VA, among those voting for George Washington for the VA House of Burgesses were: Philip Babb, Thomas Babb (son of Phil.), Thos. Babb, Peter Babb, Joseph Babb, and Thos. Babb, Jr. (8)


(1) “History of Town of Hampton, NH” by Dow; (2) Geneo. Diet, of Maine and New Hampshire by Noyes/Libby/ Davis; (3) “History of Salem, MA” by Perley; (4) DE Land Records; (5) VA Land Records; (6) New Castle Co., Probate Records; (7) Records of Robert E. Babb, Jr.; (8) Virginia Historical Magazine, 1899 p. 163.

So, once again, we circle back to Chester County, PA. about 1735-1740.

Margaret Mercer Babb was very probably Edward Mercer’s sister and named her son, Mercer Babb.

Backslidden Quaker

In Cartmell’s history book, he states that the area in Frederick County where Edward Mercer lived was known as the Quaker settlement, but several families lived there that were not Quakers.  He indicates that list includes the Mercers and Babbs who “had nothing to do with the Quakers.”  Cartmell was wrong.

Edward Mercer was a Quaker, but apparently a backslidden one.  So Edward may not have been a Quaker his whole life, and he may not have acted much like one when he was.

Edward was mentioned in the Quaker meeting records in March 1759 at the Baltimore meeting, but not in a very positive light.

Edward Mercer Hopewell

It looks like Philip Babb got to be the bearer of bad news.  Edward may well have been his brother-in-law, as this is the Philip Babb married to Margaret Mercer.

It seems like maybe Edward was systematically drinking too much.  In an economy driven by distilled liquors, as a form of money and a way to preserve corn, drinking “too much” must have meant truly drinking a lot by the standards of today.

Edward Mercer Hopewell2

Finally, Edward Mercer was removed.

Edward Mercer Hopwell 3

Was Edward Mercer being thrown out of the Quaker Church a family scandal?  Was his drinking a scandal?  What did his wife, Ann, do when this happened.  Did she and the children continue to attend the Hopewell Friend’s Meeting, or were they too embarrassed?  Or outraged?

Hopewell Meeting House

Road Orders

Edward may have been in trouble at church, but he was still quite functional as a road overseer – well – most of the time.

In 1759, the Frederick County road orders from August 7th order that a road be cleared between the plantations of William Reynolds and Thomas Babb Jr. and into Sr. John’s road in the same manner as heretofore and that the spring be left open to the said road and it is further ordered that Edward Mercer be overseer thereof and that the tithables a mile on each side of the road clear and keep the same in repair according to law.

On September 4th, the court ordered that Edward Mercer be overseer of Sr. John’s road from Winchester to the Plantation where Isaac Thomas did live and that the tithables three miles on each side of the said road keep the same in repair according to law.

By 1760, however, Edward was in a bit of trouble it seems.  On November 7th, the grand jury presents Edward Mercer for not opening the road from Capt. Pearis’s to Sir John’s Road at the Quaker Meeting by the knowledge of two of us at this present time.

On December 5th, the court notes that the summons had not been executed and refers it to the next court.

The next time we see Edward working on the roads in on May 4th, 1763, the same year he died.  Jacob Vanmetre, Morgan Morgan and Thomas Thornberry having been appointed to view the ground from the Town of Micklinbugh to the most convenient ford on Opeckon Creek made their report whereupon it is ordered that a road be opened as by them laid off and that the tithables three miles on each side thereof work under Edward Mercer who is appointed overseer of the same.

On November 2nd 1763, Thomas Babb is appointed as overseer of the road called Sir John Sinclaire’s road in room of Edward Mercer from the forks to James McGills.


Edward Mercer received his first land grant in 1751 for 275 acres adjoining Jacob Van Meter as recorded in the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1742-1775, Vol. II.  Not a terribly descriptive land grant.

Edward Mercer 1751 land

Note that the entry shows that the adjacent entry was for Nicholas Mercer.

Edward Mercer 1751 grant

In 1759, Edward Mercer is shown on the rent roll for Frederick County as is Nicholas Mercer.

In 1760, Edward obtained a second grant, but this one is much more descriptive and is for 409 acres “near the head of Babbs Great Meadow and joyning Babbs Mountain”

Edward Mercer 1760 land

Fortunately, I was able to find Babb’s Mountain today, just above Cedar Grove.

Babb's Mountain

Philip Babb purchased property and the land deed was filed in Frederick County, VA. on 8 April 1760. The description of the property includes 117 acres adjoining Edward Mercer and on the side of Babbs Mountain. Source: Northern Neck Grants K, 1757-1762, p. 99.  The original survey reportedly exists.  Obtaining the original surveys of these lands would be most helpful in terms of exactly locating Edward Mercer’s land.

The Babb family has done extensive research on the land grants and has drawn the following map.

Babb land drawing

Based on the Babb map, the location of the Lupton home, and this survey from 1812, we know the location of Edward Mercer Jr.’s land, taken from the Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 1800-1862, Vol IV.

Lupton land 1814

Next, we find Edward Mercer Sr. leasing land to his son Moses, Bk 6 pg. 74 14 Oct. 1760: [Lease] between Edward Mercer & Ann his wife of County of Frederick [to] Moses Mercer of County aforesaid …… one tract of land lying and being under the mountain on the easternmost part of Back Creek and being part of a tract of land granted to said Edward Mercer by the Right Honorable Thomas Lord Fairfax by Patent the 18 April 1760… containing 200 acres and a half… Wit: 2 Wit. signed in German John Colson Recorded: 4 Nov. 1760 Signed by Edward Mercer & Ann Mercer

The easternmost part of Back Creek would be current Cattail Creek above Babb’s Mountain, or Babb’s Run, below Babb’s Mountain.

Richard Pearis purchased property and the land deed was filed in Frederick County, VA. on 18 May 1762. The description of the property includes 224 acres adjoining Jacob Vanmeter, and Edward Mercer. Source: Northern Neck Grants K, 1757-1762, p. 430 (Reel 294).

WEst land 1764

In 1764, the year after Edward died, his estate is still on the rent rolls, which is not unusual, especially if his wife is living there.  In addition to Edward Mercer, we find Edward Mercer Jr, Nicholas Mercer, Moses Mercer and Richard Mercer.

All of these men are sons of Edward, except Nicholas who appears consistently with Edward since 1746, before Edward actually appears in the County.  Was Nicholas Mercer Edward’s brother?

Edward’s Will

In 1762, Edward Mercer wrote his will, which was not probated in Frederick County until November 1, 1763, so he apparently lived another 14 months after making his will.  He was obviously ill, because in the will, he states that he is weak of body.

IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN. The twentyth Day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand Seven hundred and Sixty Two, Edward Mercer of the County of Frederick in the colony of Virginia, being sick aged and weak of Body but of perfect and sound mind memory and understanding thanks be given unto God, therefore calling to mind ye mortality of my Body and knowing it is apointed for all men once to dye do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament that is to say principally and first of all I recommend my Soul into my saviour’s hands, and my body to the Earth to be buried in a Christianlike and Decent manner at the Discretion of my Executors hereafter named and as Touching what Temporal Estate it hath pleased God to Bless me with in this Life. I give devise and Dispose of the same in the following Manner and form Imprimis: it is my Will and I do order that in the first place all my just Debts by paid and satisfied.

Item I give and bequeath unto my son Richard Mercer one cow and calf and five shillings sterling. I give and Bequeath unto my Daughter Elizabeth Heath the sum of five shillings sterling.

I also give to my son Moses Mercer the sum of Five Shillings sterling.

I give and bequeath to my daughter Hannah Mercer five pounds and five shillings worth of Puter the same being now in her possession. And also one bed and furniture thereto belonging likewise I give to my said Daughter Hannah Six head of young cattle the same being now in her possession which said cattle shall be kept on the plantation until they be three years old. I also give her a side sadle and the Keeping of her mare on the plantation whilst she continues unmarried.

I give and bequeath unto my son Edward Mercer the plantation whereon I now Live containing two hundred and nine Acres and also a survey adjoining thereto containing Ninety six Acres of Land to him his Heirs and assigns forever. I also give to my said son Edward one bay mare and one bay colt plow and Tacklin thereto belonging. I also Will that if my above named son Edward Mercer should dye without issue that my youngest son Aaron Mercer shall then become sole heir of my Land and plantation whereon I now live and if both my said sons Edward and Aaron should die without issue, I will that my Daughter Hannah Mercer, become the sole owner of my above said Land and plantation, to her heirs and assigns forever.

I also will that my son Edward Mercer should pay as a Legacy to my youngest son Aaron Mercer the sum of Forty pounds and that within the space of four years after the said Aaron comes of age.

I also Will that my wife shall have the best Rooms in the new House now part built until my son Edward shall build her a compleat house on some part of the plantation at his proper cost which House shall be sixteen foot wide and Twenty foot Long. I also give to my wife Ann Mercer one third part of my parsonal Estate that may remain after the debts and Legacies mentioned are paid.

I will bequeath unto my son Aaron the two thirds of my parsonal Estate with the benefit and profit thereof Immediately after my decease which part of the said Aaron’s stock shall be maintained on the plantation until Aaron comes of age.

Lastly I constitute and ordain my well beloved wife Ann Mercer and my son Edward Mercer and Joseph Foset my sole Executors of this my Last Will and Testament revoking and declaring void all former wills and Testaments by me made and done in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal.

Signed Sealed and acknowledged by the said Edward Mercer to be his last will and testament in the presence us.

Jesse Pugh. Thos. Babb. Mercer Babb.

Edward Mercer. (LS.)

We know Edward could write, because he signed his name.

Edward Mercer will 1

Edward Mercer will 2

Edward Mercer will 3

Edward’s will was probated in Frederick County, Virginia on either November 1, 1763.

Edward Mercer probate will

Mercer Babb

Mercer Babb was clearly of age in 1762 when he witnessed Edward Mercer’s will, so was born in 1741 or before.  Generally, when someone witnesses a will, unless it’s a nuncupative will made in an emergency with death imminent, this indicates that the witness is not an heir, or they would not be witnessing the will.  Normally, those who witness wills have no direct interest in the outcome.  If Mercer Babb was born in 1741 or before, that means that either the Babbs and Mercers were together before they lived in Frederick County, they were both living in Frederick County by 1740 or there is a Mercer in the Babb family tree, because the name of Mercer Babb, especially witnessing the will of a Mercer male, is just not a coincidence.  Mercer Babb appears to be the son of Philip Babb and Margaret Mercer.  We know that Philip Babb was in Chester County by about 1735.  I do believe there is more to this story than we know and it all begins back in either Chester County, PA or before that in New Castle or Marcus Hook, Delaware.  These families appear to have come as a group from the Chester County area to Frederick County, VA.

Edward Mercer’s Estate Inventory (added 10-12-2015)

Recently, I spent an entire day in Richmond at the Library of Virginia, also known as the State Archives.  Like always, I prepared a research list.  While most of my research procured nothing, which isn’t unusual after you’re already plucked all the fruit you can readily see – I did come up with one big winner.

The estate inventory of Edward Mercer who died sometime between May 4th 1763 when he last appears in the Frederick County, Virginia court minutes in a road order, and November 1, 1763 when his estate was probated.  At that same court session, he was replaced as overseer or the road, so he apparently was still “working” up to a few months before he died, even though he prepared his will “being sick, aged and weak of body” in September of 1762.  Edward was probably just shy of 60, certainly not an old man – so his estate should reflect an active life, not a “retirement,” if there was such a thing then.

The first bingo I found in the library was a book of transcribed wills and estate inventories.  I was quite relieved because that meant I might not have to ask them to pull the microfilm and read that.  Old books on microfilm are not always legible nor is the indexing ever complete.  The only individuals indexed are the primary individual – not witnesses or wives or anyone else.  Many times the “rest of the story” is told in who surrounds individuals during their lifetime – so we need all of that additional information.

So, when I found Edward Mercer’s estate inventory listed in the transcribed book, I was ecstatic.  I read the estate inventory, and it was short and general.  It listed things like, “agricultural produce and farm animals.”  Well, I have to tell you, I’ve seen a lot of colonial wills and I have never seen one list something like that.  They list the produce and they list the animals, individually, or at least by breed.  In other words, you in far more danger of receiving far more information that you wanted than not enough, if an estate inventory was taken and filed.

It appeared that I was going to have to get the microfilm after all.

Estate inventories are a vastly overlooked source of information not available elsewhere.  The wills tell who your ancestors left his or her worldly goods to, but the estate inventory tells you what those goods were and those goods tell a huge story about your ancestor’s life.  In addition to what IS in the estate inventory, what ISN’T in the inventory tells a story too – especially in the context of the time and place in which they lived.

Many men did have a will.  Most wills were not written much in advance.  Sometimes wills were made verbally as the individual was on death’s doorstep to whomever was nearby.  These are called noncupative wills.  Sometimes, death was unexpected and there no opportunity for a will.

Most women did not have wills because most women did not own items outright, meaning outside of a marriage where the man was assumed to be the owner of the land (except for her dower rights.)  Often women retained what is known as a “life estate” where the woman holds either property or other items for the term of her life, at which point their ownership reverts to others, generally one or several children as specified in her husband’s will when he died.

If the woman dies before the man, the husband automatically owns everything so no will for the wife is necessary.  I’m talking about historical US wills, not current law.  I’m not a lawyer…I don’t play one on TV or anyplace else:)

Understanding how wills and ownership of both property and personal items worked helps in unraveling what estate inventories tell us.

When the man died, an inventory of everything was taken, even if the wife was to retain “household items.”  While that seems vastly unfair, especially since she often had to bid to buy her own cooking utensils back at a sale, it’s a huge boon for genealogists.

Sometimes individuals are mentioned in inventories – and in some cases, an item is left to a daughter in a will, but by the time she collects that item, she is married and a married name is listed.  In other cases, if something is left specifically to an individual, it is not included in the appraisal.  It doesn’t seem standardized, you say?  It’s not – and often it helps to look at other wills and estates from that county and time to observe what was customary.  Any deviation from custom must have been caused by something…and that something could be interesting to a genealogist.

Even the individuals who appraise your ancestor’s estate are important.  In Virginia, if your ancestor’s spouse was still living, one person who was from the “wife’s family” was chosen, keeping her interests in mind, the largest debtor of the person who died was selected, keeping their interests in mind, and one person completely disinterested in the outcome of the estate appraisal was selected.

With that information, you can sometimes add to your knowledge of the family, especially if you know the wife’s family is likely in the area.  How would you know that?  If your ancestor lived in that area when he married, his wife’s family would have been from that area too.  Young people often met at church or social functions – and with limited transportation – that social group wasn’t from any great distance.

People often married their neighbors or individuals from just a mile or two away.  Courting was likely done on foot, or maybe on horseback.  You can’t marry someone you can’t court!

So, let’s take a look at Edward Mercer’s will and see what is actually in the estate inventory.

The subscribers by virtue of an order of Frederick County Court being first sworn has met and appraised such of the estate of Edward Mercer, deceased, as was brought to our view by Ann Mercer and Joseph Fanset the executors – viz –

The values would be given in pounds, shillings and pence.

Edward Mercer estate 1

  • One old loom 0-15-0
  • Red Cow 0-15-0
  • 1 Cow and bell 3-0-0
  • 1 brindle cow 2-10-0
  • A brindle cow 2-0-0
  • A white cow 2-10-0
  • White back heifer 2-0-0
  • White bull 2-0-0
  • White heifer 1-15-0
  • Speckled heifer 2-0-0
  • Red yearling steer 1-0-0
  • White steer 1-7-0
  • White faced heifer 1-10-0
  • Brindle calfe 0-15-0
  • A pide yearling 1-0-0
  • A brindle yearling 1-0-0
  • Six calves 3-6-0
  • 2 pide steers 3-15-0
  • 2 heifers 2-10-0
  • One stear 2-10-0
  • A roan horse 6-0-0
  • An old mare 2-10-0
  • A mare and colt 3-10-0
  • A bay mare and colt 5-0-0
  • Old wagon and gears 9-0-0
  • A pen and gears 1-3-0

Edward Mercer estate 2

  • Eight swine 0-?-0
  • 2 sows and pigs 0-16-0
  • Harrow pens 0-10-0
  • Cart wheels 1-0-0
  • A rick of hay 3-0-0
  • 2 ricks of hay 6-10-0
  • Hay in the barn 2-0-0
  • Grain in the barn 12-0-0
  • Unbreak flax 0-5-0
  • 2 caskes and flax seed 0-9-0
  • Corn foder 0-10-0
  • Hay in the stable 0-15-0
  • A mall and wedges 0-5-0
  • 2 old axes 0-5-0
  • Indian corn 2-0-0
  • 2 old hoes 0-7-0
  • Small grind stone 0-3-0
  • An old gun 0-15-0
  • Another old gun 0-10-0
  • 2 bells and collar 0-5-0
  • Some old carpenters tools 0-14-0
  • Old iron 0-2-6
  • A pair of small hilliards 0-5-0
  • Few nails 0-2-0
  • Some more carpenters tools 0-10-0
  • An old saddle 1-5-0
  • Suit of cloathes 5-10-0
  • Side saddle 1-5-0
  • Old lumber 0-6-0
  • 8 old chairs 1-0-0
  • Old dough trough 0-3-0
  • A chaf (?) bed and cloaths 1-15-0
  • One bed and furniture 4-0-0
  • Seven old bags 0-7-0
  • Old casks and reel 0-5-0
  • Old chest 0-10-0
  • A morter 0-2-6
  • A warming pan 1-0-0
  • Old reeds and wifts (or mosts or wefts) 0-4-0

Edward Mercer estate 3

  • Some salt 0-6-6
  • Smoothing box and candlestick 0-3-0
  • Hand and gridirons 0-8-0
  • Iron poths (pots?) hangers and frying pan 1-3-0
  • Old books 0-6-0
  • Puter (pewter) 2-6-0
  • Some old tins 0-2-0
  • Sythes and hangings 0-14-0
  • Old copper 0-1-3
  • 3 old casks 0-5-6
  • 1 cask of cyder 1-4-1
  • 2 old whelbs(?) and branding iron and old tea kettle 0-11-0
  • Warping barrs and boxes 0-5-0
  • Hannah Mercers puter 5-0-0
  • Her bed and furniture 8-0-0

Jesse Pugh, Joseph Babb, Peter Babb

At court held for Frederick County the first day of May 1764.  This appraisement was returned and ordered to be recorded by the court.

The first thing this inventory tells us is that Edward Mercer was very involved in animal husbandry and likely only farmed enough to feed his animals.  He did not have plows and other typical farming implements and had many more animals than the typical farmer.

The entry for salt is interesting.  Salt was valuable because about 800 gallons of spring water had to be boiled away to yield a bushel of salt.  Today, we take salt very much for granted, but our pioneer forefathers certainly didn’t.

Edward’s family had chairs, not just a bench to sit on. And almost enough chairs for each person to sit at the same time.  He had 7 children, so the estate is one chair short for the entire family to sit together.  Perhaps one chair broke.  They are described as “old.”  However, there is no table listed.  That’s rather odd.

Edward was a good-hearted person.  He did not kill his old mare who was probably no longer useful.

Edward was likely a carpenter.  Every man on the frontier had a specialty skill, and his appears to be carpentry based on his tools.  This means that when you find homes built in that timeframe in that area, Edward may have worked on those.

Edward owned no slaves, but he clearly could have afforded slaves had he so chosen.  His lack of slaves then must have been either a personal moral judgment or a religious conviction.  However, other Quakers did own slaves including the family his daughter, Hannah, married into.

The flax and loom suggest that his wife and daughter spun and wove, although interestingly enough, a spinning wheel is not listed.  However, you can’t get from flax to weaving without spinning it into thread first.

There is cyder, but no alcohol.  There is no still.  This is highly ironic, since Edward Mercer was kicked out of the Quaker church in 1759 for…you guessed it….drinking.  In fact, “too frequently drinking strong drink to excess.”

Edward Mercer signed his will and owned books, so obviously this man could read and write.  How I’d love to know what those books were.

There is no Bible, although Edward was a Quaker up until he was kicked out of the church in 1759, ironically, for drinking, not attending meetings and not being penitent about either.

Other than Hannah’s furniture, which did include a bed, there were two other beds mentioned.  Was there a bed for the parents, then a boys bed and a girl’s bed?  There were two girls and five boys.

And speaking of Hannah, she is mentioned in the estate inventory, but it’s very likely that she was married by this time.  However, the fact that she is mentioned by her maiden name does not prove that Hannah was not married.  They may simply have referred to her as she was listed in the will. I have often wondered if she was already married when the will was written, even though Edward does not refer to Hannah by a married name.  The reason I question this is because Edward says that the “puter” (pewter) is already “in her possession.”  That would likely mean that she is not living at home, but unless she were married, where else would she be living?  Edward said the same thing about Hannah’s 6 heard of cattle as well, that they are already in her possession.  But then he goes on to say she can leave her mare on his plantation as long as she remains unmarried, so obviously she is not married at that time.  There must be something here that I’m missing.  Perhaps she was living with another family member before she married.

Edward does have two old guns, and he fought in the French and Indian War, so this makes sense.  These are likely the guns he carried with General George Washington at Fort Necessity.  What I wouldn’t give to see those guns.

And speaking of things I’d love to see…that old chest is one.  I want to open that chest and see what is inside.  I’m guessing that might be where Edward kept any spare clothes he had or anything of value – like maybe letters!!!

We also know that Edward’s wife, Ann, was living because she was one of the individuals who administered his will and “presented” his estate to the court.

We know that the family had candles.  The poorest families didn’t and worked only by the light of the sun.  Sundown meant bedtime.

In Edward’s case, either his estate was not sold at public auction, or there is no court record of the sale.  Many times, the sale is recorded, item by item, and who was present at the sale can tell you a huge amount.  In some cases, you can track valuable family heirlooms this way.

The moral of this story?  Don’t think you’ve found everything when you find your ancestors will, or even if you don’t find a will.  There is likely to be an estate appraisement with or without a will, and sometimes the information in the estate inventory tells you far more about your ancestors life and how they actually lived than the will itself.  Wills tell you who is supposed to get what, but estates tell you the story of your ancestors life through what they left behind.

If you look around your own house, you’ll realize that your sewing machine and quilting tools, for example, at my house, are far more personal and representative of what you do with your daily life than the land you own.

In terms of getting to know your ancestor, their stuff is far more important than their land.

Edward Mercer’s Children

  • Richard Mercer could have been the Richard who married a woman named Mary and lived in Berkeley County. John Mercer mentioned a brother Richard in his 1748 will that was filed in Winchester.  It’s difficult to tell when Richard first appears in the records because there is an earlier Richard that is found with Edward Mercer as well.
  • Elizabeth Mercer was born about (or after) 1724 and married by 1748 to William Heath who was born on Sept. 18, 1724. William was mentioned in the 1748 will of his brother-in-­law, John Mercer.
  • John Mercer was born circa 1727 and died in 1749, apparently unmarried. John lived in Frederick County, where his will is on file in the courthouse. His father, Edward Mercer, was named administrator for his estate.
  • Moses Mercer was of age and leasing land from his father by 1760. Moses was born in 1732 and died in 1805, in Frederick County. Appraisers of Moses’ estate were Jacob Rinker, Richard Barrett, and Thomas Babb. Moses married Dinah Morrison, who was called Dianna in his will. She was born Dec. 24, 1729, and died in April 1810. After Moses’ death in 1804, Dinah received all moveable property during her natural life, plus one-third of profits from real estate. She wrote her will on April 10, 1810 and it was probated June 7, 1810. Witnesses were Aaron and John Mercer, and John Barnard. Her close friend, Abraham Lewis was named the executor. Moses and Dianah signed their names with an X “His mark” and “Her mark,” respectively.
  • Hannah Mercer married William Crumley about 1763 and had died by 1774. Hannah was mentioned in the will of her brother John in 1748, and in the will of Elizabeth Morris in 1760. Who is Elizabeth Morris?
  • Edward Mercer was given “the plantation where I now live – 209 acres plus adjoining 96 acre survey” by his father. Edward was born about 1744. His age was proven from a deposition given in the Augusta County Circuit Court. The name of his spouse is not known.
  • Aaron Mercer, the youngest son, not of age in 1752 – served in Revolutionary War. On October 28, 1799 he obtained a Virginia Revolutionary War land grant in Ohio and moved to Ohio. Reportedly in his pension application (which is not at www.fold3.com as of 9-15-2015) he says he was born in Ireland. Aaron died on December 17, 1800 in Hamilton County, Ohio and is buried in the Old (Columbia) Baptist Graveyard. Given that there were no Revolutionary War pensions before 1818, there would have been no pension application by him, although if his wife, Elizabeth Carr, was still living, she could have applied in either 1818 as destitute or 1832/33 as a surviving veteran’s wife. She is reported to have died in 1820, so I’m quite suspicious of the claim that his Revolutionary War pension paperwork stated that he was born in Ireland.

Speculative Family

Based on all of the pieces of evidence, it looks like a speculative family might include our Edward, born about 1700, a brother Richard found with Edward early in the records, a brother Nicholas found in 1746, and a sister Margaret who married Phillip Babb sometime between 1720 and 1740.

The identity of the Edward Mercer born in 1729 who lived in Berkeley County is unclear, but given the names of Edward, Richard and Nicholas, and the locations of Chester County, PA and Delaware, these lines do seem very connected.

Edward in Berkeley County could be the son of either Edward Sr.’s brother Richard or Nicholas – although this does beg the question of what happened to either Richard or Nicholas.  Richard could also have been Edward Mercer Sr.’s eldest son, not a brother.  If that is the case, then Edward born in 1829 cannot be the son of Richard Mercer.

The tidbits we do have also support the suggestion that this family may have immigrated from Ireland before 1740.

However, this is speculative and needs additional research before any conclusions can be drawn.  I suspect the answer is either in Chester County, PA, Marcus Hook, PA or in what is now New Castle, Delaware, if the answer exists anyplace.


The DNA results having to do with this line are every bit as frustrating and elusive as the genealogy has proven to be.

I checked the Mercer DNA project and was extremely happy to discover a Y DNA project member that indicated that they descended from Edward Mercer born in 1704, the birth year typically attributed to our Edward.

Home run!


Doggone it, there’s another tester who gives his ancestor as Edward born in 1705.  That’s just too close.  Worse yet, their DNA doesn’t match.  Clearly two independent lines.

So, I checked at YSearch.  No account for Mr. 1705 and the 1704 account had no marker values entered but it did include the death year of 1763, which pretty well cinches the identity as our Edward.  I tried to contact the individual through YSearch, with no luck.  This is a low kit number, indicating an early tester so the tester’s e-mail may be stale of they may not be able to reply anymore.

Next, I wrote to the project administrators of the Mercer project and asked them if they have the oldest ancestor information for either or both testers, or if they would please facilitate contact with those men.  Nothing, nada, silence from the admins.


There is just nothing worse than a desperate genealogist.

Mercer Y DNA Project

(Click on image to see larger version.)

I copy pasted the relevant Mercer project entries into a spreadsheet.  They weren’t grouped on the Mercer DNA site, so I grouped them compared to the entry for kit number 94427 which I believe is our Edward Mercer (c1704-1763).  The yellow cells are mismatches to kit 94427.

There is only one other Mercer that even matches remotely, kit number 99939 just above the lower pink 94427 with the green row.

There is an entire group of blue Mercers that fall together nicely.  However, in this blue group we find kit number 84471 also pink), the other Edward Mercer born in 1705.  This entire line reportedly tracks back to guess where… Chester County, PA with Robert born in 1741 and Elizabeth Brown Mercer.

I checked Chester County tax records, and there are several Mercer men living there in this timeframe.  They may or may not have been related to each other.  And none were named Edward, Richard or Nicholas.  Pulling hair out now….

Finding this large blue group associated with Chester County, and my lonely Edward Mercer with only one distant DNA match is beginning to make me very nervous.

This makes me ask questions like:

  • Was Edward Mercer who died in 1763 “supposed” to be paternally related to the Chester County group, but wasn’t?
  • Is there a NPE (nonpaternal event or undocumented adoption) in the lines of one of Edward Mercer’s sons, but not the other one, causing one descendant to match the Chester County group, and one descendant to not match the group?
  • Is someone’s genealogy wrong?  And if so, which one?  I’d just be happy at this point to actually see the genealogy of either tester, and preferably both.
  • Why aren’t the project administrators answering inquiries about the project?  Are they gone too?

It’s small consolation, I know, but at least the two “Edward” kits are both haplogroup R-M269.  So, assuming (I hate that word, BTW) either of these men descend from my Edward Mercer, I at least know that much.  But at the 50% frequency rate in Europe of M269, that would have been a safe bet with no DNA testing at all.

Needless to say, if you are a male Mercer who descends from Edward Mercer who died in Frederick County in 1763, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

How They Found the Real Benjamin Kyle

Benjamin Kyle 2010

The genetic genealogy community let out a simultaneous whoop for joy last week at the news that the identity of Benjamin Kyle had finally been found. At long last, the “man with no name” finally has a name – a real name – not a temporary name.

In case you’re not familiar, the man known as Benjamin Kyle was found beaten, stripped naked and left for dead behind a trash dumpster in 2004 in Richmond Hill, Georgia, outside Savannah.  He remembered nothing….nothing at all.  Not how he got there, not what happened, and not who he was.  His life became a living hell, because you not only can’t work, you can’t get any services, not even a bed in a homeless shelter, without being able to prove you are.  Surprised?  So was I.

Benjamin did remember snippets from time to time.  He remembered what he believed to be his birthday, 10 years to the day before Michael Jackson, and he remembered that he was Catholic.  He remembered landmarks in Indianapolis, Indiana as a child and some things from Colorado, but not much more.  He thought his first name might be Benjamin.

In 2008 Benjamin Kyle appeared on the Dr. Phil show, and in 2011, a documentary was produced about his plight.  Through this and other media coverage, his situation became known in the genetic genealogy community.  DNA testing commenced thanks to Family Tree DNA, and this saga culminated last week with the announcement that Benjamin’s identity has been found…along with his family…and yes…in Indiana.

Who accomplished this feat?  It wasn’t the police, as one might expect.  In fact, it is a little known group of “search angels” with www.DNAadoption.com, a nonprofit group that helps adoptees and others with unknown parentage find their roots through a combination of DNA testing and assembling the family trees of those whom they match, narrowing the search for their own family.  It’s a long tedious process, but it’s doable, and the DNAadoption volunteers developed and documented the methodology for success.

But hey, let’s listen as Diane Harman-Hoog tell this story herself in her article, Our Greatest Challenge.  After all, it’s their story, their victory – Diane along with the other search angels, and of course a victory for Benjamin Kyle too.  And for the inquiring minds who want to know exactly how the researchers accomplished this incredible feat….Diane shares the methodology!

Congratulations to all of the researchers and genetic genealogists involved in the search and discovery of the true identity of Benjamin Kyle.  I must say, in all of the footage I’ve seen of Benjamin, the video in the news article announcing the discovery of his identity is the first time I’ve ever seen him smiling and he looks genuinely happy!  It must have been an incredible day for Benjamin – like a second birth in one lifetime.  The gift of his life returned.

The folks at www.dnaadoption.com truly are angels.  Amazingly skilled, dedicated, devoted angels.  I’m positive that Benjamin Kyle would agree.  I do believe in the process of finding his original family that he has found a new family of genealogists too!

angel family



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research


DNAeXplain Archives – Basic Education Articles

Today, we’re continuing with our series of articles from our archives that have been published on this blog by group category.  The categories are:

  • Historical or Obsolete – these are items that were interesting at the time by aren’t really relevant today – except in a historical context. An example would be the announcement of the Genographic 2 project in July of 2012. You may wonder why I didn’t delete these. Looking back, these are somewhat like a genetic genealogy journal.
  • General Information – these are generally articles about DNA and genealogy. They don’t presume that you’re actually working with the results.
  • Basic Education – these articles may be basic genealogy or basic DNA fundamentals. These articles provide a foundation for working with your results. Think of it as pre-bootcamp.
  • Introductory DNA – these articles do presume you are working with your results. Bootcamp begins here.
  • Intermediate DNA – these are a little more difficult and you’ll probably need the basics and introductory understanding to be able to work at this level.
  • Advanced DNA – very few articles are advanced. In fact, I try very hard to avoid this, when possible. Mostly, these have to do with advanced autosomal techniques and research.
  • Examples – these are examples of using genealogy and DNA together seamlessly. My 52 Ancestors stories fall into this category. Think of these as story problems that include the answers!
  • Educational – educational opportunities such as classes, books and videos.
  • Entertainment – just for fun, like the Who Do You Think You Are series, some of these have no DNA content.
  • Project Administration – articles written for project administrators at Family Tree DNA. Project administrators, of course, will be interested in all of the rest.

Trying to decide where each article best fits has sometimes been challenging, but I’ve tried my best. Enjoy the Basic Education group today.

Title Date Link
Haplogroup C3*- Previously Believed East Asian Haplogroup is Proven Native American 12-23-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/12/23/haplogroup-c3-previously-believed-east-asian-haplogroup-is-proven-native-american/
Challenges with Irish Autosomal DNA Genealogy Research 8-18-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/08/18/challenges-with-irish-autosomal-dna-genealogy-research/
What Happened to my Mitochondrial DNA??? 7-14-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/07/14/what-happened-to-my-mitochondrial-dna/
The CRS and the RSRS 7-15-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/07/15/the-crs-and-the-rsrs/
Ethnicity Finders 7-21-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/07/21/ethnicity-finders/
What Does MCRA (MRCA) Really Mean? 8-6-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/08/06/what-does-mcra-really-mean/
The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors 8-22-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/08/22/the-dna-pedigree-chart-mining-for-ancestors/
Surprise Matches – What do they Mean? 8-26-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/08/26/surprise-y-matches-what-do-they-mean/
4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy 10-1-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/10/01/4-kinds-of-dna-for-genetic-genealogy/
Autosomal Matching – Is Great-Grandmas Brother Really Her Brother 10-9-2012 http://dna-explained.com/2012/10/09/autosomal-matching-is-great-grandmas-brother-really-her-brother/
Transferring Results from National Geographic to Family Tree DNA 1-13-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/01/13/transferring-results-from-national-geographic-to-family-tree-dna/
Hackers and Your Genetic Secrets 1-20-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/01/20/hackers-and-your-genetic-secrets/
What is a Haplogroup? 1-24-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/01/24/what-is-a-haplogroup/
Downloading Ancestry’s Autosomal DNA Raw Data File 3-21-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/03/21/downloading-ancestrys-autosomal-dna-raw-data-file/
New Y DNA Haplogroup Naming Convention 3-31-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/03/31/new-y-dna-haplogroup-naming-convention/
Swabbing the (Recently) Deceased 4-14-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/04/14/swabbing-the-recently-deceased/
No (DNA) Bullying 5-15-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/05/15/no-dna-bullying/
Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA 6-23-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/06/23/mythbusting-women-fathers-and-dna/
UpFront with NGS Series on DNA Basics – Testing for Genealogy 101 8-5-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/08/05/upfront-with-ngs-series-on-dna-basics-testing-for-genealogy-101/
Optimizing Blog Usage 9-4-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/09/04/optimizing-blog-usage/
Why DNA Test? 9-15-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/09/15/why-dna-test/
Ethnicity Results – True or Not? 10-4-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/04/ethnicity-results-true-or-not/
DNA Testing for Genealogy 101 10-6-2013 http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/06/dna-testing-for-genealogy-101/
Obtaining Help With DNA 2-12-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/02/12/obtaining-help-with-dna/
23 Ways to be a PITA 3-16-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/03/16/23-ways-to-be-a-pita/
Surname Projects 8-7-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/08/07/surname-projects/
Haplogroup Projects 8-29-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/08/29/haplogroup-projects/
Family Tree DNA Announces Free Autosomal Transfer from 23andMe and Ancestry 10-19-2014 http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/19/family-tree-dna-announces-free-autosomal-transfer-from-23andme-and-ancestry/
Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test Is The Best? 2-5-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/02/05/autosomal-dna-2015-which-test-is-the-best/
Eleven Things I Would Do Differently 3-18-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/03/18/eleven-things-i-would-do-differently/
And A Dozen Things I Got Right 3-19-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/03/19/and-a-dozen-things-i-got-right/
A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t – aka – Bad NADs 4-14-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/04/14/a-dozen-ancestors-that-arent-aka-bad-nads/
Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments 5-14-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/14/parent-child-non-matching-autosomal-dna-segments/
A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make 5-19-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/19/a-match-list-does-not-an-ancestor-make/
Memorial Day – Grieving the Losses 5-25-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/25/memorial-day-grieving-the-losses/
Allen County Public Library OnLine Resources 6-3-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/03/allen-county-public-library-online-resources/
Ancestry Reinvents my Ancestors, Again 6-4-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/04/ancestry-reinvents-my-ancestors-again/
And Now…Ancestry Health 6-6-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/
How Much Indian Do I Have In Me? 6-9-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/09/how-much-indian-do-i-have-in-me/
Zeroes aka Deletions – Null DNA Markers 7-7-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/07/07/zeroes-aka-deletions-null-dna-markers/
What is a Population Bottleneck? 7-9-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/07/09/what-is-a-population-bottleneck/
Autosomal Matchmaking Vendor Comparison 7-29-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/07/29/autosomal-matchmaking-vendor-comparison/
African DNA in the British Isles 8-4-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/04/african-dna-in-the-british-isles/
Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – What Now? 8-7-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/07/autosomal-dna-testing-101-what-now/
Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success 8-11-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/11/autosomal-dna-testing-101-tips-and-tricks-for-contact-success/
Ethnicity Testing and Results 8-19-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/19/ethnicity-testing-and-results/
DNA Data Organization, Tools and Who’s on First 9-8-2015 http://dna-explained.com/2015/09/08/dna-data-organization-tools-and-whos-on-first/



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Hannah Mercer (c1740-c1773), Died at 33, 52 Ancestors #89

Hannah Mercer was the daughter of Edward Mercer who made his will on September 25, 1762, although it wasn’t probated until December 1, 1763.  In his will, Edward left several items to daughter Hannah.

“I give and bequeath to my daughter Hannah Mercer five pounds and five shillings worth of Puter the same being now in her possession. And also one bed and furniture thereto belonging likewise I give to my said Daughter Hannah Six head of young cattle the same being now in her possession which said cattle shall be kept on the plantation until they be three years old.  I also give her a side sadle and the Keeping of her mare on the plantation whilst she continues unmarried.”

The wording is a bit odd, with the phrase “being now in her possession” seeming to hint that she does not live with her parents, and therefore might be married.  But Edward refers to her as Hannah Mercer, not by a married name.  Edward, however, removes all doubt about her marital status in the last sentence where he says “whilst she continues unmarried.”

Edward also left Hannah his plantation if his sons Edward and Aaron were to die without issue.  One of the reasons this is so unusual is that Edward Mercer (the father) had another son, Richard, and another daughter, Elizabeth.  Typically all the males would come before a daughter in an inheritance situation like this, but in this case, no.  As it turns out, it didn’t matter because Edward and Aaron did not die without issue or before their father.  Still, this must have made Hannah feel very good. It perhaps speaks of a close relationship between Hannah and her father.

It was previously thought that Hannah married William Crumley in about 1761, because their oldest son, James was born in the 1763/1764 timeframe.  If James was born in that timeframe, then it looks like Hannah married sometime after Edward wrote his will in September 1762 and before the 1763/1764 birth, so Hannah’s mare didn’t stay on her father’s plantation very long.  Hannah clearly wasn’t married in September of 1762, nor, apparently, was a wedding imminently planned.

Hannah’s Childhood Years

The wording of Edward’s will, plus when Hannah began having children would suggest Hannah’s birth about 1740-1742.  We don’t know positively where, but we do have an important clue, although it needs to be confirmed.

Hannah’s youngest brother, Aaron Mercer, fought in the Revolutionary War.  His papers where he applied for a land grant reportedly stated that he was born in Ireland, although I have been unable to verify that actual information.  http://www.fold3.com does not have Aaron’s paperwork and service records, although he very clearly served because he is mentioned as an officer in several other veterans pension applications.

In Aaron’s paperwork, he doesn’t dirctly give his birth year, but working backwards, genealogists have surmised that he was born about 1746. If this is the case, then Hannah would have been born in Ireland as well.  It’s difficult to resolve Ireland and Quaker but we do know that several Quaker families left England and went to Ireland before coming to America.  James Crumley may have been part of this group, and Edward Mercer may have as well.  If Edward Mercer were Scotch-Irish, he would have been Presbyterian and if he were Irish, he would have been Catholic.  However, Edward Mercer is living dead center in the middle of the Quaker community.

Hannah’s mother, Ann was living at the time Edward made his will.

We know that the Mercer family was living in Frederick County in 1759 when Edward Mercer was on the Frederick County, VA rent rolls.

Edward received a land grant in 1751 and another in 1760.  The 1760 grant was located at the head of Babb’s Great Meadow adjoining Babb’s Mountain.  Babb’s Mountain (red balloon) wasn’t far at all, just a little over a mile, from Apple Pie Ridge Road where James Crumley, William Crumley’s father, lived, just north of White Hall.

Babbs Mountain

Unfortunately, we don’t have any marriage information for Hannah Mercer and William Crumley.

What information we do have is that William’s wife was positively named Hannah, based on her signature on deeds, and their son was named Aaron Mercer Crumley.  The middle name Mercer continued to be passed down this line to future generations as well.

Their Home

After Hannah and William were married, they lived on the land that William Crumley bought from his father, James, in 1757.  This land was part of the large land grant obtained by James Crumley and the southern 200 acres of that grant purchased by William spanned the Virginia/West Virginia border, right under that “10 min” sign below.

James Crumley land spanning border

On the map above, William’s land extended south of the border on 51/2, but they lived on the Berkeley County, West Virginia side of the border.  We know this because William’s will was probated in Berkeley County, not in Frederick County. William’s father, James, lived at what is now 3641 Apple Pie Ridge in Frederick County.

While looking for something quite different, I stumbled across the probable location of William and Hannah’s home.

I was able to find William Crumley’s land on an 1890 map by following the ownership of the Francis Silver land, as stated below:

Francis Silver acquired the William Crumley land in two tracts. The first tract of 62 acres before 1820. He built the beautiful brick house in 1821. The 1820 land book lists no house. The 1822 lists $1,000.00 added for improvements added last year. He purchased the larger tract from Abraham Waidman in 1829 (DB lost). In 1836 Francis Silver sold the brick house with 275¾ acres to his son Zephaniah Silver who had married Martha Jane Henshaw April 17, 1834. They kept the plantation until after the Civil War and sold in 1868 for $12,000.00 to John Hershey. John Hershey sold the house with 197 acres for $5,000.00 to Andrew B. Houck and Samuel Garver. May 1, 1876 (DB 73, p. 275). Samuel Garver and A. B. Houck sold in 1880 to J. R. Brown and Robert M. Brown (DB 77, p. 119, page 259). Joseph R. Brown sold his half interest to Robert M. Brown in 1885, who sold the same year to Charles G. Boyles and James K. Boyles for $8,100.00. Charles G. Boyles sold his half interest to James K. Boyles in 1919. James K. Boyles died in 1932 leaving all his estate to be divide equally between his children (WB 27, p. 386). Daughter Maggie R. Busey died in 1951. The heirs of James K. Boyles sold to James A. Lockard in 1959 who gave a Deed of Trust to Darrell K. Koonce.

On the following 1890s map, you can see the location of J. Boyles home at what looks like the headwaters of Mill Creek, just north of the border of Berkeley County and Frederick County, on the road that today leads to Gerrardsville.  You can also see North Mountain, an important landmark, to the left.

Berkeley county 1890

On these satellite views, you can see the same road today.  The house on the map above is about half way between the dog leg in the road north of the house and the state line ot the south, between the creek and the road.

On the map view of the area, you can see the same dog leg in the road and today, there is  Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, shown in green, across from this area.  The location of this cemetery surely makes me wonder if this was William Crumley’s family cemetery and if he and Hannah are buried here.

William Crumley land map

Moving to the satellite map, you can see the farms in that location today.

William Crumley land satellite

Moving a little closer.

William Crumley land satellite 2

Moving even closer you can see that there is a working farm in this location.

William Crumley land satellite 3

Unfortunately, there is no street view of this area.  The address of this property today is 3647 Dominion Road.

William Crumley farm today

This looks like the original structure.

William Crumley farm home


Hannah Mercer and William Crumley (the first) had five children:

  • James Crumley born about 1763/1764, married Mary Stonebridge by whom he had children, and then second to Elizabeth Downey. James died in Frederick County, VA after 1830.
  • Ann Crumley born about 1766 married Thomas Reese, had 9 children, and died on August 29, 1819. Ann had three daughters, Hannah, nancy, Rachel and Sarah.
  • William Crumley (the second) born about 1767, married an unknown wife and moved by 1796 to the frontier of what would become Greene County, Tennessee that year. He married for a second time in 1817 to Elizabeth Johnson in Greene County and moved about 1820 to Lee County, Virginia on the border with Claiborne and Hawkins County, Tennessee, where he died about 1839.
  • Catherine Crumley was born about 1769/1770 and married James Mooney and then John Eyre. She had daughters Catherine, Mary (Polly), and Eliza by James Mooney and daughters Hannah and Nancy by John Eyre. Catherine died on December 20, 1857 in Fayette County, Ohio.
  • Aaron Mercer Crumley was born Oct. 22, 1771 in Frederick County, VA. He married Jane Atherton on February 3, 1796. They had 10 children. It appears that Aaron first lived in Greene County, Tennessee and probably migrated with his brother, William (the second), as 8 of his children were born there and the youngest two in Ohio. Aaron died on August 18, 1835.

Hannah’s Death and William Crumley’s Remarriage

We don’t know for sure when Hannah died, but we do know that it was before William’s marriage to Sarah Dunn.  In 1774, after Sarah’s marriage to William, the Hopewell Friends disowned Sarah for marrying out of faith.  They first summoned her on August 1, 1774 to explain herself, which probably wasn’t long after her marriage.

Sarah Crumley Hopewell

They petitioned her again in September and October, but Sarah never explained herself.  The explanation was obvious.

Sarah Crumley Hopewell2

This tells us two things.  One, Hannah died sometime between Aaron’s birth in late 1771 and William’s marriage to Sarah in mid-1774, and it also tells us that William wasn’t Quaker at that time, in 1774, and so Hannah likely wasn’t Quaker either.  At one time, both William and his father, James, had been Quaker, and are mentioned as such in the Quaker minutes in 1759.

Ironically, Hannah’s father was Quaker too, and he was mentioned in those same records in March 1759, but in very much of a different light.

Edward Mercer Hopewell

Apparently Edward decided not to appear, so they discussed the issues without him being present.

Edward Mercer Hopewell2

Was Edward Mercer being thrown out of the Quaker Church a family scandal?  Was his drinking a scandal?  What did his wife, Ann, do when this happened?  Did she and the children continue to attend the Hopewell Friend’s Meeting, or were they too embarrassed?  Or was she angry and decided to attend elsewhere?  I would love to have been a fly on that wall!

Hopewell Meeting House

Were William and Hannah married as Quakers at the Hopewell Meeting House (above) sometime around 1763?  Were they converted as a couple outside the faith.  Was Hannah not a Quaker after 1759 and William defected when he married Hannah, in effect thrown out of the church at that time?  If so, why are there no records?  Maybe he just decided to stop attending.  So many questions.

If Hannah was a Quaker when she died between 1771 and 1774, then she is likely buried in the Hopewell Meeting Cemetery, shown below.  Otherwise, she would have been buried in a family cemetery, possible the one across the road from where she and William lived.  If she did die in childbirth, then the child was buried with her as well.

Hopewell Cemetery

Given that William Crumley would have had 5 children under the age of 10 when Hannah died, I’m guessing he was not single long. He would have remarried as soon as possible, and his second wife, Sarah, inherited 5 children immediately, and then added another 10 to their family.  She gets my nomination for sainthood!

How agonizing for Hannah to know she was dying and leaving her children, and there was clearly nothing she could do about it except pray that her husband would marry another woman who would love her children – or at least not be mean to them.  I can only imagine how a mother would feel leaving such young children motherless.

Hannah’s oldest 2 or 3 children may have remembered her.  My ancestor, William, born about 1767 or 1768 may have remembered her vaguely, depending on when she died. He would have been between the ages of 3 and 7.  In other words, the only mother most of Hannah’s children ever knew was Sarah.  Hannah must have loved Sarah from the other side for loving and caring for her children.  There was never any hint of conflict in the court records between the children of Hannah and Sarah, or between Hannah’s children and Sarah.

Given this situation, my best guess would be that Hannah died in 1773 having another baby.  The timing would be right given Aaron’s birth in late 1771 and William’s remarriage in 1774.

Regardless of what took Hannah’s life, it was horribly sad, because she was a woman in her prime.  If she was born about 1740, she would have been about 33 when she died.  Much too young and certainly not taken by anything “normal.”  Sadly, deaths in childbirth were much too common at that time.


The closest thing we had to proof that Hannah, William Crumley’s wife, was Hannah Mercer was the fact that their son, Aaron Mercer Crumley was named after Hannah’s brother, Aaron Mercer.

However, with the advent of DNA testing, I match multiple descendants of Edward Mercer through son Moses at Ancestry, and have other Mercer matches at Family Tree DNA.

Ancestry Mercer Match

We now have confirmation through matching and triangulation that William Crumley’s wife Hannah was indeed Hannah Mercer.

We know nothing more about Hannah, unfortunately, but since she did have daughters, if we could find a descendant who descends from Hannah through all females to the current generation (which can be male), we could obtain a sample of Hannah’s mitochondrial DNA, which would tell us about her deep ancestry.  That would be wonderful gift and is information not available any other way.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but is only passed on by the daughters and is not mixed with the DNA of the father.  Because if this, we get the opportunity to “see” the DNA of the direct matrilineal line without dilution.  Through that, we can tell where in the world Hannah’s direct matrilineal ancestors came from.

If someone does descend from Hannah through all females to the current generation, please let me know as I have a DNA scholarship waiting for the first person.  If someone does test, I’ll post the results here – otherwise, we’re still waiting.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

RockStars Shine at Midnight

Open till midnight

When John Reid, of Anglo-Celtic Connections sent me an e-mail telling me he was posting the results of the Rockstar Genealogist voting at midnight, you know I had to stay up waiting.

Yes, he did give me a bit of a hint…but not a big hint…and I was dying to see.

Drum roll please….

My friend Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, is so far scooping the voting.  And if anyone deserves to do so, she does.  Not only is she a personal friend, I would take advantage of any opportunity to hear her speak, on literally any topic.  She could make growing mushrooms in the outback interesting.  By the time she was done with the topic, you’d know all about the history and legalities of growing and selling mushrooms, find them utterly fascinating, and you would want to start growing mushrooms too.

We really are extremely fortunate to have Judy, and her wonderful blog in our community.  I still have no idea how she manages to travel, speak and post daily articles.  The woman is super-human.  Truly.  I think Judy has the EveryReady Bunny genetic mutation which might explain her signature pink jacket.

Judy received the silver medal in International, silver in the USA and bronze in the Genetic Genealogy category.  A three category winner!  Triple crown!

There are lots of other noteworthy people as well.  Everyone knows Dick Eastman who I think has the longest running online newsletter in genealogy.  He’s the CNN of genealogy – if you want to know what’s going on, visit Dick’s website or better yet, sign up for his free newsletter.

And Thomas MacEntee – who doesn’t know and love his blogs, although he’s on sabbatical right now and making some major life changes.  I take this win for Thomas as a vote of confidence for him as well – and I’m sure he will too.

I love these categories, because now when I need someone in say, Ireland, or England, I’ll have a handy-dandy list of who to turn to.  And I have a few new sites to check out too.  What fun.  And I already know they are great – because you’ve all told me so by voting for them.

Congratulations to all of the candidates and the winners!

What about me you ask?  Well, ahem, yes, I’m on the list too – in the best of company – right with Judy Russell in two categories.  Judy and I are doing a dance of sorts.  I received silver in Genetic Genealogy, and shocker of all, bronze in the US.  I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Genetic Genealogy be recognized as a full-fledged citizen along with the more traditional genealogy methodologies.

I started this blog in 2012 in an effort to help people learn, and to reduce the number of questions that arrive daily.  Well, I know, based on your votes that I’ve accomplished at least the first item.  I’m very humbled and a little embarrassed.  Thank you so very much.  It’s really very nice to know you’re making a difference.

Wait…you want to know who came in first?  Well, me too….but we’re all going to have to wait until midnight Monday when John publishes that list!!!  Beats the heck out of turning into a pumpkin.  Meet you tomorrow at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connection at the witching hour!




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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, South Africa has once again produced bones.  Previous finds, nearly one third of all ancient hominin fossils found, date to 3.5 million years of age.  This new find may be the bones of our ancestor, but regardless, they certainly are the bones of a new, previously unknown, species.

The announcement came this week and articles can be seen online in several locations.  The National Geographic Society is a partner in the excavation and retrieval of the bones from a very difficult cave, Rising Star, through only a very small opening following a precipitous decline.  Stated bluntly – this is a “scare the hell out of you” cave.  Not exactly convenient or inviting.

Rising Star Cave

“Dinaledi Chamber illustration” by Paul H. G. M. Dirks et al – http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09561. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dinaledi_Chamber_illustration.jpg#/media/File:Dinaledi_Chamber_illustration.jpg

There was more than one skeleton present.  In this article and video from the New York Times, you can see that many bones were recovered, quite obviously from multiple individuals.  More than 1550 in total – representing at least 15 different individuals.  How did they get in this extremely remote cave with very limited access in the first place? And why?

Is this a separate species from ours, or our ancestors?  How long ago did they live, and where do they fit on the family tree?  The scientists are now referring to the ancient family tree as a braided stream – a river that divides into channels only to converge again later.

These announcements are being followed by a special on Nova/National Geographic Special titled the “Dawn of Humanity” which premieres on Sept. 16, 2015 at 9 PM ET/8 Central on PBS and is streaming online now.  This documentary details the discovery and excavation of the fossils in the cave including Homo Naledi.

In the mean time, take a look at this wonderful article, chock full of pictures of course, by National Geographic.  If you subscribe to the National Geographic magazine, guess what will be on the cover of the October issue???

This article in New Scientist has a great reconstruction of the Homo Naledi skull, and states that no attempt has yet been made to extract DNA.  I continue to remind myself that patience is a virtue.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research