Mom’s Secretary and the Hidden Gift – 52 Ancestors #236

April 29th marks the 13th anniversary of Mom’s “passing over.” Of course I think about this, because I can’t NOT think about it.

Part of the grief is still fresh, especially when I’m somehow caught by surprise, but many rough edges have been softened into cherished memories by time.

Mom’s lovely secretary, one of my favorite things, sits in my living room now. I am the steward.

Mom's secretary.jpg

Mom always referred to it as “Mother’s Secretary,” which is, not surprisingly, what I call it too. But now, it’s mine and someday maybe someone else in the family will eventually call it “Mother’s Secretary.”

A secretary is a type of desk with a drop-down front that is used as the writing surface. Mom’s had some secret cubbyholes inside after you lowered the front, and a couple of shelves below as well.

After Mom passed, I installed a few of her Avon award statues. She was extremely proud of her accomplishments, as was I, especially as a 3rd career that stretched well into her 80s. I know she would approve.


The lower shelves, at home, always held vintage books. Margaret Mitchell’s classic, “Gone with the Wind,” one of my all-time favorites always lived there as did Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry which I don’t think I’ve read even yet today.

Mom's secretary poems.jpg

The book of poetry was bound in soft painted leather and was simply beautiful to behold – it didn’t matter what was inside.

Books were an expensive luxury, so sometimes we bought discarded books from the classroom “library” at Lincoln School.

School books.jpg

Most of those were sold at Mom’s estate auction or rummage sale years ago, but the rattiest, which means my favorites, didn’t sell. They still have the price tags on the front.

Bobsey Twins.jpg

Other books on the shelf included several Bobbsey Twin books – some that had been Mother’s and a few newer ones, now 50+ years old, that were mine. Only two remain. I should give them to my granddaughters. I sure loved the Bobbsey twins and read those books several times each.

Gone with the Wind.jpg

I devoured Gone with the Wind so many times that the book began to fall apart.  Later, seeing the movie in color with Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh was a treat to die for. I loved the movie as much as the book, if that was possible. I learned so much about romance, handsome men and strong women! I also internalized lessons about slavery, freedom and alcoholism along with right and wrong. I’m not at all sure Mom meant for me to absorb ANY of those lessons with the veracity that I did.

A Sacred Space

In my childhood home, the secretary always stood in the living room, nestled in a corner beside the fireplace. For years I felt very grown-up having the privilege of sitting there doing my homework. I actually enjoyed homework, which was much better done at the special secretary instead of at the much-too-sterile Formica kitchen table.

Besides, the kitchen was busy, the living room wasn’t.

One day when I was about 10, I was absolutely horrified to discover that I had pressed so hard that my writing had gone through the paper and had marred the finish inside the desk. I never felt right again about doing homework at Mom’s secretary.

However, I would occasionally sit there to write “special” things. I seemed to connect with inspiration in that sheltered space.

Mom's secretary open.jpg

I began reclusively writing poetry. Mom’s secretary seemed so embracing and safe, with its secret-compartment-like essence. Some of my poems were bright and sunny, but most reflected the darkness of grief, loss and heartache. The loss a child feels when they lose too many loved ones too quickly and are left lonely and alone.

As time moved on, so did the secretary. Mom remarried and moved to my step-father’s farm, taking the secretary along of course.

There too it always had its own reassuring secure place. Mom always kept certain items there, and today, in my home, it still has the same things in the same locations. I wonder if it was the same when it belonged to my grandmother. I’d bet so.

It always made me feel good to see the secretary although I didn’t really think about it at the time. I don’t recall that the thought ever occurred to me that someday it might be mine. The secretary was just always a warm friend greeting me as I walked into the living room, sometimes on an errand to retrieve something for mother.

Twenty-plus years later, after my step-father passed away, Mom moved to an apartment in town. The secretary, which had long before reached the antique stage, looked strangely out of place in the white-washed walls of mother’s new city apartment. By this time, the secretary, along with a table and mother’s bedroom furniture, were the only antiques among the upholstered chairs and carpet.

The secretary may have looked out of place, but as a silent sentinel, it was still welcoming and reassuring. Mom still used it as a desk as well as storage for its familiar stamps, envelopes and paper, along with her crossword puzzle books, a deck of cards, pens and pencils and some dice from the Yahtzee game so we could find them.

It was always beautiful with its carved and raised front. I remember tracing those beautiful wooden swirls so many times with my finger.

From there, Mom moved to another apartment near where my brother lived for the last nine months of her life. It was in this apartment that I first realized that my brother, sister-in-law and I would have to figure out what to do with mother’s things eventually.

While there wasn’t much of a physical nature that I wanted, I did want the secretary which had been such a quiet part of my life for so many years – nearly half a century.

By then I could open the desk and look at the homework marks and smile. Mom never mentioned them to me, but she couldn’t have missed them. Maybe she knew how badly I felt.

A New Home

After Mom’s passing, I brought the secretary home in a rented truck on one very sad Mother’s Day and installed it in the dining room in a little nook that seems to be made just for Mom’s secretary. For the longest time, I’d glance in that direction and be a little startled while reflexively thinking to myself “what’s Mom’s secretary doing here”?

Slowly, the startle went away, and now it’s just a warm presence in the corner, near me as I iron and quilt and sew. Keeping me company, surrounding me with something of Mom’s essence. My old friend, beckoning, saying hello, reminding me of happy times that Mom and I spent together across so many years and miles.

Sometimes I walk by and caress Mom’s secretary, smiling a little sadly and remembering. I open it from time to time and take out things that were hers, Avon notes and receipts in her increasingly shaky handwriting that mean absolutely nothing, but I can’t bring myself to throw away.

Mom's receipts.jpg

Mom’s Bibles, the one her mother gave her for Christmas in 1951, now much worn.

Mom's Bible.jpg

The one we got her when my kids were young when she asked for a new Bible for Christmas, and the one my father gave her. Her old one is my favorite, by far, with her handwriting throughout her life, holding obituaries and birth announcements inside the cover.

Mom's BIble inside.jpg

I imagine what Mom was thinking as she inscribed those important family dates; births, marriages and deaths. I can close my eyes and see her at the secretary, writing. It’s almost as if I could just reach out…

I think of her. I touch her things and smile, sometimes through tears as the ghostly memories transport me back to her.

The trinkets of her life still live in the little cubbies. I’ve added a few items of my own, like boxes of cards that I send with care quilts as they leave for their lives with their new owners. It’s kind of like Mom is with me a bit as I open the secretary to write an uplifting note. That only seems right, given that I make the quilts sitting at the table beside the secretary.

The 13th Anniversary

This year’s anniversary of Mom’s passing is a bit different. As fate would have it, I’ll be leaving the day before to speak about DNA at the NGS conference in St. Charles, Missouri and passing not terribly far from her grave. “Not far,” as in marked by hours.

Mom isn’t buried “near” to anyplace I travel with any regularity. I think I’ve only been to her grave 2 or 3 times, but this year, I’ll be visiting to say hello, on the same day I said goodbye 13 years ago. How’s that for irony.

I’ll chat with Mom, saying whatever comes to mind, as if she can hear me.

Perhaps I’ll sit on a quilt in the grass by her stone and tell her where I’m headed and what I’m doing. She encouraged me to “tell people’s stories” revealed by their DNA. She would be very surprised not only that I’ve done exactly that, but how the fledgling genetics industry she knew has prospered and grown. If she was still with me, I’d have her DNA in the newer databases too.

The Gift

Mom gifted me a few days ago, in a very odd way, reminding me of her presence. I felt her near.

I was dusting the secretary, something I’ve done hundreds of times now. Mom collected toothpick holders. At the auction, a few either didn’t sell or perhaps she held them out because she particularly liked them. I remember her crying as the entire box sold for an obscenely low price, but by then, it was too late. I so desperately wish I had bought them.

In any case, as I moved a toothpick with a metal lid, I heard a faint “clink.” As I put the toothpick back on the secretary, I heard it again. Odd, I had NEVER heard that before.

Mom's toothpick.jpg

I picked the toothpick up and opened the lid to discover my Mom’s cross that I had given her many years before. I wondered after she passed away what happened to the cross, but I presumed that another family member was cherishing the cross and never thought more about it.

Mom's cross.jpg

Imagine my surprise. I couldn’t help but wonder why Mom put it in a toothpick holder, of all places.

The last few months of her life, mother was having multiple small undiagnosed strokes, which makes me wonder if she took the cross off for some reason, putting it in the little toothpick holder which probably was sitting near her chair, for safekeeping. Perhaps she forgot where she put it, and it’s clearly not someplace one would randomly stumble across looking for a piece of jewelry.

Odder still, there was no chain, just the cross. It had a chain when I gave it to her.

I cried when I realized that somehow, Mom had managed to gift me with her cross so many years later. A gift that had been waiting for me all that time – in her secretary.

Now I’m even more grateful to be the steward of her secretary, my silent forever friend – spanning 5 decades of our lives together across two states. The secretary has been in our family for parts of two or three centuries and at least three generations, if not more. I don’t know how, when or where my grandmother acquired it.

I still miss Mom. Perhaps more than ever as the years slowly increase, marking the cavernous time from the last time I heard her voice and held her hand. I remember both events clearly. I was driving home, talking to her, the evening before her “big stroke” and had to stop to remove a family of geese from the road. She was laughing at me, admonishing me to be careful. Just days later, I held her hand as she died.

Even her last message on my phone, which I replayed for years, disappeared one day.

Wearing Mom’s cross eases the pain of her passing a bit, that bottomless hole that will never even begin to fill, for a few minutes anyway, until it doesn’t anymore.

See you Tuesday, Mom.

Mom's cross with my helix.jpg



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Thank you so much.

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DNA Day Prices and Vendors’ Best Features

DNA Day always produces great sales at the DNA testing companies. Here’s a breakdown of the prices available this week and the best autosomal feature of each vendor.

Company Regular Price Sale Price Ethnicity Matching to other testers Additional Tools Best Feature
FamilyTreeDNA – Family Finder *1 *2 79 49 Yes Yes Yes Maternal and paternal bucketing of matches without parents testing
MyHeritageDNA *5 79 59 Yes Yes Yes Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation
AncestryDNA *2 *6 99 69 Yes Yes Yes Data base size
23andMe Ancestry *3 99 99 Yes Yes Yes Ethnicity breakdown by chromosome segment
LivingDNA *4 99 59 Yes No *4 No Focus on British Isles

*1 – Family Tree DNA also sells both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests. For information on sale prices for those products, please see this article.

*2 – Sale ends April 25th.

*3 – The 23andme Ancestry plus Health test is on sale here for $169 versus the normal price of $199. Sale ends May 13th. Free shipping.

*4 – Sale expiration date not provided. LivingDNA’s matching has been in a very preliminary stage for months, and while I feel confident that eventually they will have viable matching, today matching should not be considered in a purchase decision.

*5 – Sale ends April 28th. Free shipping with purchase of 2 or more kits.

*6 – Free shipping through Amazon on Ancestry test at this link.

Test yourself and close family members (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.), especially the older generations, to make full use of the tools and matching.

Fishing in all the ponds either directly or by transfer assures that you don’t miss that critical match.

Many of these prices only last 2 more days.




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Thank you so much.

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Thirteen Good Reasons to Test Your Mitochondrial DNA

Your mitochondrial DNA is a treasure trove of information for one specific line of your genealogy – providing refined information that autosomal tests simply can’t provide.

Some people say mitochondrial isn’t useful, but here’s just one example of mitochondrial DNA bulldozing a brick wall, along with some helpful tips.

But, I Already Know My Haplogroup

Customers who take autosomal tests receive basic haplogroup information from both 23andMe and LivingDNA for their matrilineal line – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s talk about why someone would want to take the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test (mtFull Sequence) at Family Tree DNA if they have already received their haplogroup.

Let’s start out with a very brief description of exactly how mitochondrial DNA testing works.

OK, How Does Mitochondrial DNA Work?

Mitochondrial DNA follows the matrilineal line directly, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree until you run out of mothers and smack dab into your brick wall.

Your mitochondrial DNA is not mixed with DNA of the various fathers, so what you’re seeing is the same mitochondrial DNA that your ancestors carried for many generations, sometimes with a few mutations that accrue over time.

Mitochondrial DNA Who to Test

Please note that you can click on any image to enlarge.

In the pedigree chart above, the pink daughter or son at the bottom of the chart inherited their mitochondrial DNA from the pink direct matrilineal lineage, while their light blue father inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his mother’s magenta lineage.

Stepping back a generation, the dark blue maternal grandfather inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his red mother. The light blue paternal grandfather inherited his from his buttercup-yellow mother – and so forth.

Everyone, males and females both, can test their mitochondrial DNA to see what secrets it reveals.

You don’t know what you don’t know – and if you don’t test your mitochondrial DNA, you’re leaving undiscovered information relevant to several ancestors on the table.

What Information Do I Receive When I Test?

Let’s look at the benefits of testing, the information you’ll receive and what it can do for you. I’m using my own results at Family Tree DNA as an example.

  • Matching – The number one reason to test your full sequence mitochondrial DNA is matching. Your results are matched to the results of other testers. This means you have the opportunity to discover distant cousins who share direct matrilineal ancestors.

mitochondrial matches

I have 71 full sequence matches, about half of which have entered an “Earliest Known Ancestor.” Many have uploaded trees – 4 of the 5 shown above. You may discover other testers who share the same ancestor, a common geography, or people who have pushed your ancestral line back another generation or two. Matching includes your matches trees, if they create or upload one, and their e-mail address so that you can reach out and share.

I’ve broken through more than one seemingly impossible brick wall utilizing mitochondrial DNA matches.

  • Your Full Haplogroup – While autosomal DNA tests can “target test” a few haplogroup defining locations, they can’t test every location needed for a complete haplogroup. For example, my haplogroup at the various vendors is only a subset, like J1c, of my J1c2f. To learn about the history of my ancestors, I need the entire haplogroup.

mitochondrial DNA J1c2f.png

  • Identifying Origins – Mitochondrial DNA haplogroups provide a periscope view into origins, such as Native American ancestors, those of European origin, Asian or African, and subgroupings therein.

Haplogroup J is European, but some of my other ancestors carry Native American mitochondrial DNA which serves to unquestionably prove that line is Native, regardless of how far back in time. Autosomal DNA ethnicity testing can’t do this and is nonspecific to any particular line.

Think your direct matrilineal line might be Native? This is the acid test!

  • Periscope Through Time – Mitochondrial DNA testing allows you to peer behind the veil of your brick wall in that specific line, to view the origins of that ancestor and where her ancestors originated hundreds and thousands of years before surnames originated.

Mitochondrial periscope.png

  • Your Actual Results – Your actual test results, including mutations, hold interesting information, such as genetic locations where you have insertions or deletions along with unusual extra and missing mutations which are the sources of your differences when you match other testers. These mutations arose in a relatively recent time-frame, genetically speaking. Some mutations known as heteroplasmies carry even more information about very recent “mutations in process.”

Mutations are your personal “genetic filters,” meaning that the more matching mutations you have with someone, the closer your common ancestor.

mitochondrial results.png

Look, I have 5 extra mutations and all of my full sequence exact matches have all of those extra mutations too!

  • Haplogroup Origins – Geographic locations where your haplogroup is found and how many of your matches are found in that location.

mitochondrial DNA haplogroup origins.pngmitochondrial DNA haplogroup origins chart.png

It appears that haplogroup J1c2f is found exclusively in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Is there a message here?

  • Ancestral Origins – Countries where your matches indicate that their earliest known mitochondrial ancestor is from.

mitochondrial DNA ancestral origins.pngmitochondrial DNA ancestral origins chart.png

Wow – my full sequence exact matches are almost all Scandinavian.

  • Match Maps – Match maps show you the locations of the earliest known ancestors of your matches, plus the identity of each match by clicking on the colored pin. I’m the white pin.

mitochondrial DNA match map.png

My exact matches, in red, are mostly found in Sweden and Norway, but one is located in Russia and one in Poland. I wonder what history would account for this distribution. There’s a story that needs to be uncovered and told.

  • Migration Map – The path your ancestors took when migrating out of Africa to the location where you find them.

mitochondrial DNA migration map.png

Haplogroup J is found in Europe, but not in Africa, the Americas or Asia.

  • Haplogroup Frequency Map – The frequency by percentage of the people from a specific location that carry a particular haplogroup.

mitochondrial DNA frequency map.png

This interactive map shows that 9.34% of Europeans carry a subset of haplogroup J today. It’s easy to see where the haplogroup is and isn’t found.

  • Projects – Testers can join numerous projects at Family Tree DNA administered by volunteers that reflect specific interests. For example, for people with Native American ancestors, the American Indian project is a good choice.

Haplogroup projects provide the ability to view your results grouped with others in the same subhaplogroup – even if you don’t match everyone in that group. Projects also provide maps of the locations of earliest known ancestors in each group.

mitochondrial DNA haplogroup map.png

I’m a member of the haplogroup J project. Ancestral locations of other people in the project who are members of haplogroup J1c2f are shown above. This map includes people that I match as well as people that I don’t, but with whom I still share an ancestor further back in time.

  • Mitochondrial DNA Haplotree – Not only can you view the Haplotree, but the results of Family Tree DNA’s customers who have taken the full sequence test provide the data for the tree. Testing isn’t just about obtaining information, but contributing to the science as well. I wrote abut the haplotree here.

Mitochondrial DNA haplotree.png

You can see your haplogroup in pedigree format as it descends from its main branch, in my case, J. To the right, the countries where J1c2f is found. The mitochondrial haplotree is important because it’s not limited to people who match you, or to people who join projects.

  • Haplogroup Country Report – The Haplogroup Country Report breaks down the information behind the little flags on the haplotree, above.

Mitochondrial DNA country report.png

41.67% of the people in haplogroup J1c2f have ancestors found in Sweden. I was quite surprised, given that my earliest known ancestor is found in Germany.

  • Your Other Lines – You may be lucky enough to discover that someone who descends from one of your other lines whose mitochondrial DNA you don’t carry has tested. For example, if your father or one of his siblings tests and shares their results with you, you would be “gifted” with mitochondrial information of your paternal grandmother.

If everyone were to test, just think how much information would be available for genealogists to share. How many of your lines would benefit? Can you find testers for some of them?

What About You?

How much of this information could you discover without mitochondrial DNA testing?


As a genealogist, you want to know every single thing you can unearth about each ancestor, right?

Mitochondrial testing holds a world of treasure that’s easily available to everyone.

You might notice that Family Tree DNA offers two tests, the mtDNA Plus and the mtFull Sequence.

Which Test?

The mtDNA Plus test only reads two regions (HVR1/HVR2) of the mitochondria, about 2000 locations out of 16,569 total. You do receive a base haplogroup and matching along with the other tools described above. However, without the full sequence test, your matches may be thousands of years in the past. I think of the mtDNA Plus test as the beginners test.

To use mtDNA successfully for genealogy and to receive the most granular information possible, you need the full sequence test which tests the full mitochondria. This is the test for serious genealogists.

The great news is that if you’ve already taken the HVR1/HVR2 mtDNA Plus test, you can easily upgrade to mtFull Sequence by signing on to your personal page and clicking upgrade.

The full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is on sale right now for $149, a $50 savings, through April 25th for DNA Day.

Discover the secrets in your mitochondrial DNA!

Click here to order.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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

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Notre Dame and Me – 52 Ancestors #235

Not only is the week preceding Easter a religiously significant week for Christianity, it is as well for Jews who celebrate Passover, the root of Christendom’s Good Friday. The Sunni sect of Islam also fasts in observance of Passover. These religions all have their roots in the same place, just as we are all related to each other.

If Easter, Passover and their associated rites in the various religions that mark these days as Holy are emotion-filled in their own right, this past week has been exponentially so.

Notre Dame fire

By LeLaisserPasserA38 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A few days ago, on April 15th, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned, not quite to the ground, but was extremely damaged in the inferno. The attic of the cathedral, known as “the forest” because of the extremely long old-growth oak trees that were harvested about the year 1160 for beams went up like tinder. The walls and towers remain, along with the famous medieval rose stained-glass windows.

Notre Dame rose windows

By Julie Anne Workman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As fate would have it, many of the statues on the roof and spire had been removed due to ongoing renovation. The treasures inside were passed, hand to hand, through a human chain to remove them as the fire burned through the roof and before the flames engulfed the upper reaches of the cathedral.

A stunned world watched Notre Dame burn for hours, staring breathlessly as night fell and the fire moved along the roofline, consuming everything in its path, like a hungry monster. The spire flamed dramatically, like a torch, then toppled, falling through the roof into the church, leaving skeletal scaffolding surrounding a black hole.

The fire photo above is the only one that I’m sure is copyright-free, being found on Wikipedia, but the images below are the result of a Google search.

Notre Dame google fire.png

One of the images, the third row from the top, third photo from the left, is horribly beautiful. God, Mother Nature or whatever name you call the Deity, created fire, and man created Notre Dame. The fire illuminated the cathedral and backlit the oldest Rose Window, the one without stained glass. Later images show the fire burning through the round window, licking the stones above.

Je Suis Dévastée

I spent the summer of 1970 traveling and living in Switzerland, studying French and culminating with a trip to Paris where we took up residence in a youth hostel for a week or two. We enjoyed a combination of student and tourist activities.

The midwestern city where I grew up supported a large Catholic church and school along with many smaller Protestant churches, but I never realized the differences between Catholicism and the Methodist and Baptist churches that I attended. The extent of my consciousness was that every church had their own “rules.” My perception was that “God” was entirely the same regardless and only man’s “church rules” varied. Therefore, I paid little mind to those differences.

I mention this because it sets the stage for my visit to Notre Dame.


Paris in August is stiflingly hot. Air conditioning in Europe is rare and was nonexistent in 1970. That didn’t matter, because nothing was air-conditioned in Indiana either.

As students, we noticed the heat, but it didn’t slow us down.

We spent our days on foot, exploring beautiful Paris and her architectural wonders. I distinctly remember feeling immediately at home in Paris, as if I had been there before – long before. I seemed to remember my way along streets that hadn’t changed much since Medieval times to places I’d never been.

I had no way of knowing that my ancestor, Jacques de Bonnevie, was born in Paris about 1660 and was probably baptized in Notre Dame.

I made my way to the Eiffel Tower, the L’Eglise de Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, the Church at Les Invalides and many parks and historic buildings.

As had been my practice during my trip, I found a local church of some description and slipped into the back row on Sunday mornings. Generally, I managed to slip out again, unnoticed, just as the services ended. My interest was as much cultural as religious, but I enjoyed the wide variety of experiences that were beyond what could be found at home.

My time in Paris was drawing to a close. I had one day left. I decided to go on one final walk-about in the city, knowing with certainty that some wonderful adventure awaited. Not one student in my group was interested in accompanying me, but another young man also staying in the hostel, Jon, wanted to go.

Jon and I set out, walking the streets of Paris in the early morning mist, before the city was quite awake. We marveled at wrought iron gates and old limestone buildings with their guardian gargoyles. If there had been selfies back then, we would have taken several as we laughed, talked and walked.

Eventually, we held hands, not as lovers but as fast friends, enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience that no one else in the world would ever have. Just the two of us on that last, wonderful, day in Paris.

We walked towards the oldest, most historic part of town with the intention of strolling along the Seine River, land of artists, students, peace, love and happiness. The next day, we would forever be parted, so today would be filled with nothing but joy.


As Jon and I approached the Seine and began to cross the bridge, Pont de la Tournelle, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was Notre Dame, “Our Lady,” standing sentry on Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine which is also the middle of both historical and contemporary Paris.

1970 Paris Notre Dame

As we stood on the bridge, I took this photo. I didn’t realize at that point in time that the building I was staring at intently was indeed the famous Notre Dame. Jon knew.

What I did know beyond a doubt was that I absolutely HAD to go inside that building. Jon mentioned that it probably wasn’t free, so he and I began counting our money to see how much we had between us.

My status as a student meant that anything requiring an entrance fee was beyond my means. Furthermore, I had spent every last dime of discretionary funds, given that it was my last day in Europe and the money I brought had been rationed across months, day by day.

Jon and I enjoyed our walk along the Seine, from the bridge to Notre Dame, drinking in the ambiance of the lovely day. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was oppressive, but we didn’t care. We found shade along the banks of the river, sitting and talking about our dreams for the future amid the background chatter of others.

Notre Dame is massive and has the effect of making one feel minuscule and inconsequential. I hadn’t yet learned that the cathedral was 800 years old, give or take a few years, but it was obviously enormous, exquisite in every detail and wonderfully historic.

Notre Dame buttresses.jpg

The flying buttresses were fascinating and incredible. I knew nothing of architecture or engineering, but I knew enough to appreciate the uniqueness of Notre Dame. At that time, I had no idea just how extraordinary the cathedral actually was.

I had developed an affinity for gargoyles during my stay in Europe, which I retain to this day.

Notre Dame strix.jpg

Jon and I enjoyed spying the gargoyles and other stone carved figures, making up stories about what they were thinking or doing, then laughing at our silliness.

Notre Dame gargoyles.jpg

That day could have lasted forever.

Finally, we approached the gargantuan doors of the cathedral, our tone becoming a bit more somber.

Notre Dame cathedral

By GuidoR – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We were relieved to discover that admission to the cathedral itself was free although access to some features required payment.

Grateful, we crossed the threshold, leaving the hubbub of the city behind as we entered a cool, tranquil sanctum. The stone walls absorbed any noise and the cavernous interior transported us back in time before the era of cars and horns. We left 1970 behind.

Our eyes needed time to adjust to the darkness. It seemed that in those moments, we had entered another world and found ourselves transported to the past when our vision cleared.

I remember the opulence of the interior, and that Notre Dame was unquestionably the largest church I’d ever seen or been inside of – staggering in its enormity.

I didn’t understand the significance of the Catholic symbols, icons or relics, but I certainly understood the historical importance and unparalleled beauty of the building.

I understood, felt in my bones, the deep silence and peace – the respite within those ancient sheltering walls.

As my vision adapted to the darkness, the light entering through the rose window at the end of the nave was what my eye was immediately drawn towards.

Notre Dame nave.jpg

The people here did not seem like tourists, or at least not like the tourists I was used to. They were quiet, subdued and respectful, and I think of them as my co-pilgrims on a journey of discovery and enlightenment.

It’s just that many of us had no idea we were on any such journey.

While the rose windows were not the only stained-glass windows, their position, centered in the distance meant that your eye, and in my case, my body was drawn intensely towards them.

Like a moth to a flame.

As I walked towards the windows, I passed a small table where pilgrims could purchase a candle. Not the votive candles of today, but a tall, thin hand-dipped imperfect candle, maybe 10 or 12 inches long.

The candles weren’t free. I purchased one for a few coins and started to walk, with my unlit candle, towards the rose window, entirely mesmerized. A priest who was selling the candles and helping the pilgrims light them with another candle motioned me to do the same.

I looked confused, and then the Priest looked confused too. Not being Catholic, I didn’t understand the meaning of prayer candles. I did, however, comprehend the fact that a ritual was taking place, and I very much wanted to be a part of the community of ritual in this sacred space.

It didn’t seem as much religious as it did spiritual and inclusive. A human experience.

I lit my candle, but I didn’t cross myself which also served to confuse the Priest. Apparently, he wasn’t used to unschooled non-Catholic teenagers purchasing and lighting candles.

However, even though I lit my candle, I still wanted a candle as my souvenir, so I purchased a second one. Now the Priest was thoroughly confused, especially as I left the group surrounding the candle altars and began walking, alone, carrying my candle, transfixed, towards the rose window.

Notre Dame rose window.jpg

There are no words to describe what I felt.

The window transported my spirit to another time and place, not of this world. I was entranced, hypnotically drawn into the surreal beauty that seemed ethereal.

The darkness of the church seemed to allow the window, the light and the color to illuminate my soul, opening it like a flower, a rose, to the wonder of beauty, contrast and color that would endure for the rest of my life. A divine seed was being sewn in fertile soil that I didn’t understand existed.

Even today, this window has a trance-like spellbinding effect on me, as do other mandalas, including the labyrinth I constructed in my yard.

This life-defining experience initiated a chain reaction of events that won’t end until I “walk on” at the end of my life.

I don’t know how long I spent in Notre Dame that day. I have very little recollection of anything inside except for the transformative experience with the candle and the window. I kept looking for and at the rose window, from every angle, as if it were an ever-present peaceful anchor beckoning in a sea of turmoil.

If you’re lost, just look for the orienting window to find your way. It’s always there.

Jon and I left when the cathedral closed and they shooed us out.

That candle remained among my possessions for many years and life-chapters, even though it broke and cracked. Eventually, life’s events consumed the candle itself, but never the effects of Notre Dame on my life. Notre Dame infused me with my love of history, and more, much more.

Far beyond a building or a church and having nothing to do with a specific religion, Notre Dame was, to me, a place of transition or metamorphosis, a portal from this world finding passage into the infinite beauty of the eternal soul.

My experience in Notre Dame was more a nearly-invisible signal than an epiphany. I had no idea at the time what was so subtly occurring and would only connect the dots, slowly, decades later – in part as I watched Notre Dame burn. Many times a well-placed pebble sets us on our life-path.

So yes, as I sat, horrified, watching the flames consume Notre Dame, I truly was devastated. A little part of me died too as I desperately sought to see my beloved rose window in the footage as the fire burned.

I, along with the rest of the digitally-connected world watched helplessly, and to some extent, hopelessly.


I was torn between the stark contrast of devastating loss and the surreal beauty of the fire itself. Torn between agonizing loss and hope that not all would be lost. Torn between knowing that Notre Dame is just a building, and that it’s much more.

These are the thoughts that, in no particular order, raced through my mind at various times as I watched throughout the day, and night:




Witness to history




National symbol



Ave Maria




What happened to Jon?

Rose windows

Shared sorrow

World history







Slow agony









Can’t rebuild the past











Holy Week



Crown of Thorns



Beyond Catholic


Beyond Religious

800 years

32 lifetimes












Human chain

Stab in our collective hearts



Everyone’s past


Not permanent

World heritage








This too shall pass

And there I stopped, because I realized that yes, this too shall pass. Just like Passover in the Jewish faith and Good Friday with the story of the Resurrection in the Christian faith. The end is not necessarily the end. There can be hope, resurrection and salvation even after torturous trials. Notre Dame is metaphorical for all of humanities’ struggles.

Notre Dame is but a building, albeit an incredibly iconic historic one. Buildings can be restored and rebuilt. The heart and soul of Notre Dame is the heights that she inspires people to achieve, the good that she invests in the human condition and the light she shines on the future. Her value is not the building itself, but what she represents, the values she embodies and the inspiration she provides.

Indeed, this dark chapter too shall pass, perhaps uniting and unifying disparate people. Maybe there is a larger lesson in her destruction and rebirth – one for all of humanity. Perhaps this too is a seed of renewal. I hope we comprehend and internalize the message in our current generation and ones that follow.

If so, the hope, inspiration and beauty that Notre Dame infused in me and the seeds she yet holds to plant will live on immortally to guide others and cradle them eternally in her rose-colored, transcendent, illuminating light.



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

Thank you so much.

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DNA Day Sale at Family Tree DNA

Family-Tree-DNA logo

Every year we look forward to Family Tree DNA’s DNA Day sale which starts today and ends April 25th.

This year, virtually everything is on sale – single tests, bundles of different tests, upgrades and even SNP packs for Y DNA testers.

For those who need a primer on the different kinds of tests, the article 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is a quick read.

DNA Day 2019 single tests

Bundles are great values.

DNA Day 2019 bundles.png

If you’ve already taken a Y DNA test, now’s the time to upgrade!

DNA Day 2019 upgrades.png

I wrote about the Big Y-500 to Big Y-700 upgrade and what to expect here.

Know what you want already?

Click here to order!

If you’re a new customer, purchase from the main page.

If you already have an account, sign in and click on “Add Ons and Upgrades” at the top right above the banner on your personal page.

DNA Day 2019 upgrade button.png

Even SNP Packs for Advanced Y Testers are on Sale

Please note that if you have taken or upgrade to the Big Y test, you don’t need to purchase a SNP pack.

SNP packs are an upgrade for those men who have already tested Y DNA STR panels 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 who seek to verify haplogroup branches on the Y tree without taking the Big Y test. The good news is that SNP packs are less expensive than the Big Y. The bad news is that SNP packs test only a fraction of the available SNPs and they make no new discoveries. If you’re uncertain about what to purchase, I would recommend talking to your surname or haplogroup administrator about your goals for testing.

My personal preference is for the Big Y-700 because of the advanced testing capabilities, the additional STR markers, additional matches and the fact that discoveries can be made with the Big Y test. In other words, new SNPs, meaning potential new haplogroups can be discovered with the Big Y, while SNP packs test existing SNPs to place a person further down on the tree.

If you’re interested in SNP packs, they are almost never on sale, but they are now.

DNA Day 2019 SNP pack.png

If you want to order a SNP pack, click here to sign on to your account, then click on the blue upgrade button beside your Y DNA results.

DNA Day 2019 Y upgrade button.png

Next, you’ll see several selections, so click on “Buy Now” under Advanced Tests.

DNA Day 2019 advanced test.png

Next, select SNP Pack.

DNA Day 2019 SNP pack select.png

Then choose the appropriate SNP pack for your haplogroup and testing goals.

No matter which tests you select, you’ll be enjoying the results and new matches soon!



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

Thank you so much.

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Using Ancestry’s New Match Grouping Dots aka “MyMatchDots”

I’d like to say that yesterday’s article titled “Using Ancestry’s Tree Tags” was a little test to see if you were paying attention, but it wasn’t.

I conflated two different new features, and today, I’d like to straighten that out.

First, a shout out to Paula Williams for catching this. Thank you.

What Happened?

Flat out – I messed up. Mea culpa.

Ancestry introduced several new beta features at the same time. Cumulatively, it’s a big change. The functionality is interconnected AND they don’t all work reliably or consistently, so it’s more than a little confusing, or at least it obviously was for me. There is also no “i” information button describing the new features or providing instructions. However, I did find information on MyTreeTags in Ancestry Support here and grouping of matches using colored dots here.

Grouping matches using colored dots also doesn’t have a “name” like MyTreeTags, so it was easy to conflate with the tags. I wish they had named the grouping dots something like “MyMatchDots” to clearly differentiate the function from MyTreeTags, especially since they were released at the same time. Therefore, I’m referring to them at “MyMatchDots” because that’s a lot easier than “grouping matches using colored dots.”

I wasn’t just flying blind. I did watch the training video and thought I understood, but clearly I didn’t have all the moving pieces and parts straight. Maybe you don’t either, and this will help.

There is no graceful recovery here, except to apologize and fix the issue by publishing the correct information.

The good news is that I described the functionality of the colored dots for grouping matches (MyMatchDots) accurately.

The bad news is that I called it by the wrong name in the title and I referred to the colored grouping dots as “tags.” Seemed like a perfectly fitting name to me. Somehow, now I need to bleach that out of my mind. MyMatchDots, MyMatchDots, MyMatchDots…

The error, or course, HAD to be obvious AND in the title – a publishing sin that’s simply non-recoverable. Just like the tool you drop will roll to dead center under the table, bed or the vehicle where you can’t possible reach it. In case anyone had any doubt, Murphy lives!

So, from time to time, those of us who publish just get to suck it up and issue a correction. Today it’s my turn. Thank you for your tolerance and understanding.

One positive aspect – I’ve included additional information about MyMatchDots as well, based on questions and comments from the earlier article.

Groups (MyMatchDots) and MyTreeTags – the Difference

There are now two methods of grouping at Ancestry.

Groups (MyMatchDots) – Colored grouping dots that I described in the original article and am republishing below. I have deleted the earlier article with the incorrect title. The instructions for how to use match grouping dots in that article were and are accurate, but I’ve updated here.

MyMatchDots and MyTreeTags are different in that grouping dots (MyMatchDots) allow you to select up to 24 colored dots to append to and tag YOUR DNA MATCHES on your match list.

MyTreeTags – Tree tags allow you to tag people IN YOUR TREE, living or deceased, with predefined or custom tags.

Here’s a quick screenshot of examples of MyTreeTags as part of a new beta Workspace. In the next few days, I’ll publish an article with examples of how to activate and use MyTreeTags and more about the beta Workspace.

MyTreeTags beta workspace

What follows is the re-publication of yesterday’s instructions for defining and using the colored grouping dots, plus, how to sort and filter using the colored groupings (MyMatchDots.)

Using Ancestry’s New Color Grouping Dots (MyMatchDots)

One of Ancestry’s new beta features is their grouping feature using colored dots that’s I’m referring to as MyMatchDots – my name, not theirs. To enable, you need to click on “Extras” on the top black menu bar, then “Ancestry Lab” on the dropdown, then enable both MyTreeTags and New and Improved DNA Matches.

Ancestry lab.png

No, I don’t know what happens if you only enable one of the features, or turn them off and on. These features seem to be pretty tightly coupled. Feel free to experiment, but I haven’t.

Your DNA Matches

Everyone utilizes matching differently, for different purposes. Your goal should be to devise a grouping methodology that will support the way you are using DNA matching.

I’m showing you how I’m utilizing the colored dots for grouping my matches, and why, but your preferred method and mine may not be at all the same.

Next, click on DNA Matches.

Ancestry matches with tags.png

This shows my closest 2nd cousin matches. You’ll notice that many don’t have trees, or have unlinked trees, but since these are second cousin matches, it was relatively easy for me to figure out quickly which lines they descend from based on who I match in common with them. You can see my comments just below “Add/edit groups” and the little colored dots.

The little colored dots (MyMatchDots) are the group identifiers that I’ve added to each match.

By clicking on the “Add/edit groups” to the right of the colored dots, you can view the legend, meaning the groups you’ve defined. This is what you’ll see every time you want to group someone.

Ancestry tags.png

Notice that the first person, which is my own V2 (version 2) kit, is showing with a green dot, meaning I’ve identified the common ancestor. I could select any number of dots that I’ve defined, or I could define more dots by creating a custom group.

Ancestry custom groups.png

You have 24 colors to select from. I know that sounds like a lot, but you’ll need to do some planning.

MyMatchDots Grouping Strategy

I thought about creating a maternal and paternal match group, but that seemed like a waste of colored dots, so for now, I haven’t. The only way I have to identify maternal and paternal at Ancestry, because neither parent is available to test there, is via known ancestors – and that information is immediately evident to me by the comment indicating the common ancestor.

I tried to think about how I would use the colored dots for sorting.

I decided on the stop light analogy. A green dot for “identified ancestor,” yellow for either “probably identified” or darker yellow for “speculative,” and red for “I’m working on this but it’s tough.” In other words, red means not yet identified. No colored dot means I haven’t worked on that match.

I made both “messaged” and “private” both darker red dots, because often those are used together when I have a show stopper. I want to revisit matches in both of those categories, so I’ll want to be able to sort for them to see if:

  • trees have become public
  • more helpful shared matches exist
  • messages have been answered and I didn’t notice

What’s Missing?

Did you notice what’s missing? That little green leaf on your match list indicating that this person is a DNA match AND has a shared ancestor.

Ancestry common ancestors dropdown.png

While Ancestry just recently re-indexed the trees, the Shared Ancestor Hint “Common Ancestors” leaf is still missing on the matches page where it used to be displayed. I’m hopeful that it will be back as an icon on the match list.

Worse yet, when you click on the “Common Ancestors” filter to display only common ancestors, this error message appears.

Ancestry common matches.png

I do have common ancestor matches – 704 of them to be exact.

Let’s hope that this is a temporary glitch that will be fixed soon.

For me, being able to see the green leaf on my full match list is extremely important because I want to be able to quickly discern which of those matches have shared ancestors.

Fortunately, I made a note for each shared ancestor previously identified, so I sorted for “Notes” in order to group appropriately.

Ancestry notes.png

However, if you haven’t already made those notes, then sorting for notes isn’t useful.

If your account displays Common Ancestors when you select that option, skip to the “Ideas for Using MyMatchDot Groups” section of this article.

If your account does NOT display Common Ancestors, read the Work-Around section, next.


Utilizing my “regular” kit, which does NOT have ThruLines because I have two kits attached to “me” on the same tree, I can group by color (as you’ve seen), but Common Ancestors green leaf function is broken.

Utilizing my second kit V2 kit, which DOES have ThruLines, I can click on “704 Shared Ancestor Hints” from my main DNA Summary page or select the “Common Ancestors” dropdown.

Ancestry shared ancestor links.png

This works.

Ancestry common ancestor leaf.png

I understand that you can “force” common ancestors sorting to work on kits without ThruLines by toggling the Beta option for Advanced Matching to off, but after all the work I just did grouping all 704 of my shared matches, I’m not willing to risk losing all of those dots to test this workaround. The Beta “off” or “on” is for the entire account, not for each individual kit on the account.

What I will do, shortly, is to create a “twin” in my tree and connect my kit that doesn’t have ThruLines to that twin so both kits aren’t attached to “me.” That may or may not solve the problem.

If you do NOT have ThruLines yet, and you want to retain any existing New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), you must do so before you make a change that enables ThruLines, because NADs are gone on my account that HAS ThruLines, but they exist on the account without ThruLines. NADs have not been updated in many months, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to retain the existing information. I wrote about how to archive both your Circles and NAD information in this article. My account with ThruLines did retain the Circles. You can toggle back and forth from having ThruLines to not having Thrulines to view your NADs, but eventually, I’m sure they will disappear.

Sorting MyMatchDots

Now that you have matches grouped by color, how do you sort for those clusters? On your matches page, the dropdown for “All matches” shows the groups as well as reports how many people are in each group.

Ancestry groups sort

Ideas for MyMatchDot Groups 

I’ve shared my MyMatchDot grouping strategy, but I’ve kind of stumbled around playing with what works and what doesn’t. I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything.

One person mentioned to me that they are using dots to identify Leeds clusters. I wrote about the Leeds Method in this article which includes links to several articles by Dana Leeds who developed the methodology. She has also written this update. I may group based on Leeds clusters as well as the group dots I’ve already defined.

The great news is that you can assign any number of colored dots, through 24, for groups associated with any individual match.

Someone else mentioned that they were initially grouping based on Genetic Affairs clusters, but matches can change clusters, especially if the thresholds change, so that might not be such a good idea.

In the next article, we’ll talk about how to activate and use MyTreeTags.



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

Thank you so much.

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Nicholas Speaks (1782-1852), Founder of Speaks Chapel United Methodist Church – 52 Ancestors #234

Nicholas Speak, Speake or Speaks, depending on who was spelling it when, was an ancestor who reunited a family some 200 years after his birth on March 3, 1782 in Charles County, Maryland.

In the 1980s, when I first connected to the Speak line, I found my wonderful cousins, Dolores Ham and Lola-Margaret Hall.

Lola Margaret at church door cropped

Lola-Margaret assembled a great deal of research in order to portray Sarah Faires, Nicholas’s wife. Lola-Margaret above and shown here presenting “Sarah’s likeness” in the very church established by Nicholas.

Nicholas Speaks Dolores Ham.jpg

When I began researching Nicholas, cousin Dolores had already been on his trail for years. I am greatly indebted to both of my cousins for their diligent research and for sharing so freely. Nicholas has not been an easy ancestor to research.

Thank you.

Nicholas’s Birth

Nicholas was born to Charles Beckworth or Beckwith Speak and his wife whose identity remains unknown, in Charles County Maryland.

Nicholas Speaks birth.png

You’d never guess by the fact that Nicholas eventually established a Methodist Church in Lee County, Virginia, but Nicholas was born Catholic. Someplace between Charles County, Maryland and Lee County, Virginia about 1820, Nicholas not only converted, he became a minister in the Methodist faith.

We don’t know much about Nicholas’s young years, but we do know that by 1787, his father, Charles, appears on a tax list in Rowan County, NC. Nicholas would have been about 5. Nicholas probably remembered little, if anything, about Maryland. We don’t know how long the family had lived in North Carolina prior to 1787.

Nicholas’s mother died sometime between his birth and July 16, 1789 when his father remarried to Jane or Jean Conners in Rowan County. If I had to guess, and I do, I would surmise that Nicholas’s mother died in North Carolina not terribly long before his father remarried, because raising children alone for a father in frontier North Carolina would have been next to impossible.

In 1789, Nicholas would have been 7 years old.

By 1793, Charles had purchased land in Iredell County, NC, which is located just east of the Appalachian mountain range.

Nicholas Speaks Iredell County.png

We don’t know exactly what, but something unfortunate happened, and Charles died before September 1794 when his estate was sold.

At this time, Nicholas would have been all of 12 years old, an orphan in a location with little family.

In May of 1795, guardianship of Nicholas and his siblings, Joseph, Thomas, John and James was assigned to one Richard Speaks for the boys and one Elizabeth Speaks for Nicholas’s sister, Elizabeth Speaks. Who are Richard and Elizabeth Speaks? How are they related to each other? We have no idea, but they were clearly kin of some description. We also have no idea what happened to any of Nicholas’s siblings.

What became of Nicholas’s step-mother, Jane or Jean? We don’t have the answer to that either – however – given the fact that the guardianship was not made until probably nearly a year after Charles death, I wonder if the children were living with Jane/Jean and something happened to her too during this time period.

Nicholas and his 4 brothers went to live with Richard who apparently lived in Rowan County on Bear Creek which intersects with the Yadkin River through the South Yadkin.

Nicholas Speaks Bear Creek.png

Bear Creek originates about 15 miles north of the Yadkin in a lake near 398 Log Cabin Road today.

Nicholas Speaks Bear Creek length.png

Nicholas lived someplace along this wooded creek which essentially parallels the road, above.

Nicholas Speaks Bear Creek near mountains.png

By 1797, Richard Speaks sold land in Rowan County on Bear Creek as a resident of Washington County, Tennessee – so apparently Nicholas, now 15, moved with his guardian, because that’s where we find Nicholas first appearing in the records a few years later.

Nicholas Speaks Washington County.png

It would be here that Nicholas met Sarah Faires or Farris whose father, Gideon, is noted in Survey Book I in 1781 as being entitled to 250 acres and stating that actual settlement was made in 1768. Sarah grew up on the frontier.

Washington County was the land of land and opportunity. Nicholas was probably relieved to stay in one place for a few years. His journey from Zachia Manor in Maryland to Rowan County, to Iredell County, back to Rowan and then to Washington County, Virginia, combined with the deaths of his mother, father and step-mother had to be unnerving for a young man. Perhaps they would have destroyed a lesser man, but they may have served to forge Nicholas’s personality and steel him for the future.

Nicholas Speaks Maryland to Washington Co.png

Yes, Nicholas needed to settle down for awhile and stay put.

Wedding Bells

Seven years after arriving in Washington County, Virginia, on August 12, 1804, at the age of 22, Nicholas Speaks married Sarah Faires.

NIcholas Speaks marriage.jpg

The marriage was performed by the Rev. Charles Cummings, a Presbyterian minister reflecting the faith of Sarah’s family. Rev. Cummings is buried at Sinking Springs, one of the churches where he preached.

Sarah and Nicholas probably attended either the Ebbing Springs Church (now the Glade Spring Church), or Sinking Springs Presbyterian church in Abington, Washington County, both of which were served by the fiery Reverend Cummings.

Let’s face it, even if Charles Speak and his wife were both practicing Catholics, there were no Catholic churches in the wilderness of the frontier. By the time Nicholas arrived in Washington County with his guardian, the family would have worshiped at whatever local churches existed.

As one of my minister friends so succinctly put it years ago, people attended the “church of opportunity” where they lived. Worshiping God was more important to them than the trappings and specific sect rules put in place by different versions of Christianity.

By 1804, Nicholas was a practicing Presbyterian.

The First Hint of Methodism

The first hint of how Nicholas might have become Methodist is held in the journal of Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury stating that he had visited in the home of Gideon Faires.

Asbury was one of the first Methodist Bishops in America, volunteering to travel the colonies, then the frontier, on horseback serving in essence as a horseback-riding missionary.

This suggests that it’s likely that Gideon embraced the faith of this new religion of Methodism, probably sometime after his daughter married in 1804, and possibly after Reverend Cummings death in 1816. Perhaps Sarah and Nicholas were also inspired by this new faith as Methodist circuit riders traveled the area evangelizing the new settlers.

The Revival of 1800, a series of evangelical “Camp Meetings” in Kentucky and Tennessee combined both Presbyterian and Methodist communion observances and impressed Asbury deeply. The Camp Meetings in which settlers’ entire families would travel sometimes for days by wagon to “camp” at a meeting house (church) or even in a field to hear evangelical preachers became a staple of the frontier social and religious life. These meetings continued into the 1900s in the area of Virginia and Tennessee where Nicholas established the Speaks Methodist Church.

Wikipedia tells us that Asbury preached in myriad places: courthouses, public houses, tobacco houses, fields, public squares, wherever a crowd assembled to hear him. Beginning in 1784 with his ordination and for the remainder of his life he rode an average of 6,000 miles each year, preaching virtually every day and conducting meetings and conferences. Under his direction, the Methodist church grew from 1,200 to 214,000 members and 700 ordained preachers. Nicholas would become be one of them.

According to cousin Dolores:

Nicholas Speak and his family participated in the camp meetings held at the Jonesville Campground, today the site of the Jonesville Campground Methodist Church. The first Camp Meeting was held about 1810, under a brush arbor. In 1827, a shed or tabernacle was constructed in the center of the grounds and covered with clapboards. The original camps were mostly built of logs inside the enclosure of the rock wall. Crude beds, tables and seats were built and left with the camp from year to year. These camps were burned during the Civil War when the Confederate troops camping there left hurriedly without extinguishing their fires.

“In the early days the people came from far and near, by wagon drawn by oxen or horses, by horseback, or walked to worship at the annual camp meeting. They brought with them enough food, bedding, and cooking utensils for their families and friends, also feed for their livestock, to last the duration of the meeting, a week or ten days.” (Early Settlers of Lee County, VA and Adjacent Areas, Volume I, 1977, Anne W. Laningham, pp. 9-10).

Our ancestor, Nicholas Speak, is listed as a participant in the early church minutes pertaining to this campground. In another reference to the camp meeting held at the Jonesville Camp Ground beginning Aug. 13, 1836 (also the time of a “Quarterly Conference”), Nicholas Speak is listed as a L.E. (local elder) and John Speak (son of Nicholas) is listed as a Classleader. (Ibid., pp. 9-10)

Dola Queener, then of Jacksboro, TN, sent me this explanation of Local Elder, since I am not familiar with Methodism. “Elders are ministers who have completed their formal preparation for the ministry of word, sacrament and order; have been elected itinerant members in full connection with an annual conference; and have been ordained elders in accordance with the order and discipline of the Methodist Church.” This comes from “The Book of Discipline 1984, page 219, Article 432-1.”

Elsewhere, I found reference to Nicholas as a “located minister,” which leads me to believe that Nicholas was the pastor of Speaks Chapel Church and did not preach at other churches on a regular basis.

Nicholas Speaks Jonesville campground.jpg

Photo courtesy Dolores Ham.

Life in Washington County, VA

Like Francis Asbury, Nicholas may have traveled to attend Camp Meetings in Tennessee and Kentucky, but he and Sarah lived in Washington County, VA where 9 of their children were born between 1804 and 1822. The last two children were born after the family moved to Lee County, VA about 1823.

Nicholas and Sarah owned land in Washington County, VA. In deed book 4, pages 231-232, we find that on October 17, 1809 William Brown and Elizabeth his wife of Washington County conveyed 60 acres lying on the south side of the Holston River. Unfortunately, the Holston has three branches in present day Washington County, so without running the deeds forward in time, it’s impossible to know which of the three branches hosted Nicholas’s land.

Then, on December 18, 1810, on page 396 of the same book, Nicholas Speak purchased 28 acres from Robert and Jane Caldwell lying on the north side of Little Stone Mountain, adjacent to William Hickenbottom’s land and also to the corner of Mifflin’s land, also in Washington County.

Little Stone Mountain is on the Powell River in present day Wise County, VA, bordering the Jefferson National Forest. This is rough terrain, and no place close to the Holston River. It’s possible that I’ve misidentified this location, but I don’t find another Little Stone Mountain and Wise County was taken from Washington County.

Nicholas Speaks Little Stone Mountain.png

Then, in deed book 5, pages 61 and 170, on February 16, 1813, Nicholas and Sarah sold both tracts to Christopher Ketring of Washington County, Virginia.

Where they lived from 1813 until 1822 when their last child was born in Virginia is a mystery.

Regardless of where they lived, the War of 1812 interrupted their lives.

War of 1812

Nicholas was drafted to served in the War of 1812 on August 15, 1814 and served in the 7th Regiment of the Virginia Militia in the Company of Abram Fulkerson, serving at Fort Barbour at Norfolk, VA.

Fort Barbour

Nicholas was honorably discharged from Fort Barbour (above) on February 22, 1815, making his way the 380+ miles to home, crossing a mountain range, probably on foot.

NIcholas Speaks Norfolk to Washington Co.png

Nicholas’s military file indicates that he was drafted in Virginia August 15, 1814 and served for 6 months and was honorably discharged at Fort Barbour on February 22, 1815.

Thankfully, even though Nicholas had lost his original discharge papers, in 1850, he petitioned for bounty land.

Nicholas Speaks War of 1812 petition.jpg

Nicholas’s petition from the National Archives packet carries his original signature!

Nicholas Speaks War of 1812 petition Sarah.jpg

Following Nicholas’s death in 1852, in May of 1855, Sarah petitioned for another bounty land grant, adding more information. Sarah and says Nicholas was discharged at Norfolk, VA and that he was drafted in Washington Co., VA She also states that they were married in Washington Co., VA in 1803 by Rev. Cummings, the Presbyterian minister. She provides Nicholas death date as well, June 2, 1852. Sarah signed with her mark.

The Move to Lee County, VA

In the 1820 census, Nicholas and family are living in Washington County, VA, but they moved to Lee County before the 1830 census.

Nicholas Speaks is in the 1830 Lee. Co. Va. census age 40-50, wife 30-40, 2 males 5-10, 1 male 10-15, 2 males 15-20, 1 female under 5, 1 female 5-10, 1 female 10-15. Three people were participating in agriculture.

We know the family moved about 1823 when the first land transaction occurred listing Nicholas as living in Washington County. Since the land was purchased in November 1823, did they move yet that winter, or did they wait until warmer weather?

Nicholas Speaks from Robert Cumings, November 29, 1823 – Lee County Deed book 5, page 145.

Nicholas bought another piece of land in 1837.

Nicholas Speaks from Samuel Ewing April 11, 1837 – Lee County Deed book 7, page 302.

We don’t know what motivated the move to Lee County. It appears that Nicholas and Sarah did not own land in Washington County, so the move to Lee County would not have been complicated by land ownership.

By 1824, Nicholas was on the Lee County, VA tax list, photo courtesy either Dolores or Lola-Margaret.

nicholas land entry

The Early Settlers of Lee County, Virginia book features Nicholas Speak on page 947, providing the following information:

Nicholas Speak of Washington Co., VA, on 29 Nov. 1823, purchased a tract of land lying in Lee, Virginia, USA on the head of a small east branch of Martins Creek (now known as Speaks Branch) containing 520 acres, from Robert E. &Mary Cummings of Washington Co. for $780 (DBK 5, 145).

After the purchase of this land, Nicholas Speak removed with his family to Lee Co., and settled on his newly acquired land where he became a well-known citizen and a leader in the County and the community. Nicholas Speak was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was the founder and a piller of the Church bearing his name–Speaks Chapel.

In deed book 8, p. 216A, Nicholas Speak conveyed the land for the Methodist Episcopal Church to Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, of Claiborne Co., TN, and Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs of Lee, Virginia, USA, for one dollar, and specifies that it shall be used for the said church.

Martin’s Creek, Now Speaks Branch

Over time, Martin’s Creek became known as Speak’s Branch.

Nicholas Speaks Speaks Branch.jpg

Speaks Branch, the beautiful little spring that sustained Nicholas and family.

Today, this property is located on Speaks Branch Road.

Nicholas Speaks Speaks Branch Rd.jpg

Speaks Methodist Church

In 1839, Nicholas insured his legacy, and his church, would last what I’m sure he hoped was forever.

Again, from the Early Settlers book under the title of “A Brief History of Speaks Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church:”

In the year 1839, Nicholas SPEAK, Sr., deed to the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church for their use, a tract of land or lot of land, as shown by deed DBK 8, p. 216A, recorded in Lee, Virginia, USA. The deed is the only written evidence I have been able to find in regard to the church. There is no written evidence in existence telling when the church was organized or by whom.

The original building was a large log structure, with seats made by split logs, with holes bored in them with pins inserted for legs. The heating equipment was made by two box like frames about 5 by 5 feet square, and 12 inches high, which were placed on the floor and filled with earth. In the center of these squares was heaped large piles of charcoal, which served as fuel and heated the building nicely, the smoke passing out through the roof as there was no overhead ceiling. The original building was used to teach school in for many years. I attended my first school there 75 years ago. (M. M. SPEAK) (Note by writer: No date is given for the compilation).

After the Civil War when the “division” came in the church, both branches of the Church used this building for worship for many years. Finally a misunderstanding arose in regard to who was the legal owners of the property. Most of the M.E’s withdrew their membership, and built a church over by Powell River. The church is known as the Fairview M.E. Church. This upheaval became near being the undoing of the two branches of the church in this community as neither has been very prosperous since, but, thankful to a ‘faithful few,’ Speaks Chapel is still functioning.

I am not a member of the Methodist Church but I have always been interested in Speaks Chapel and always will be. My parents and all their people were members of this church. “My sincere hope and prayer is: That God in his mercy and wisdom will help the church at Speaks Chapel to become strong again and once again become a ‘Power for God,’ as it was when I was a boy.

Names of some of the original members: Nicholas Speak, Sr. and wife; Jonathan Haynes & wife; James Bartley and wife; John Speak, Sr. and wife; Tandy Welsh; William Morgan; Adam Yeary; Charles Speak; Nathan Hobbs; Fanny Speak Rosenbaum; Rebecca Speak Rosenbaum; Henderson Rosenbaum; Samuel Speak & wife; William Hardee (Hardy) & wife.

Names of some of the present members now living near Speaks Chapel: Lillie Davis, Susie Levins, Mary Fee, James Rosenbaum, Charlie Ball, J. A. Rosenbaum, Vola King, Charlie Rosenbaum, John Ball, Mrs. Robert Saylor,Emma Edds, Roy DeBusk, Mae DeBusk, Sheffie Rosenbaum.” (Note: Mr. Robert L. Rosenbaum, a descendant of the Speak family, contributed the History of Speaks Chapel by M. M. Speak.)

This account given on pp. 951-952 of “Early Settlers of Lee, Virginia, USA”, as was the following deed. “Deed Book 17, p. 215, 30 May 1874: Samuel Speak, John Speak, James A. Speak, Fanny J. Rosenbalm; to John Speak, Stokely Dagley, Tilman T. Ball, John Botner, William H. Speak, James A. Speak, James Bartley, George Baumgardner, Jonathan Haynes, Fi[e]lding Speak, trustees, grant trustees and their successors…west side of Glade Branch, for the benefit of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church South joingly…free from ourselves, heirs….William A. Speak a justice acknowledged deed, etc.

In a letter to his daughter, Fannie Speak Parrott, Marion Mitchell Speak (b 1866) says, “It was the first church I attended preaching and Sunday School at.” Also, “I attended my first school at the old church house – as there was no school house in the neighborhood when I became school age.

Today, an old school or church bell is installed beside the church although the provenance is unknown.

nicholas church bell

Nicholas assuredly wanted to guarantee that the church would remain viable, which prompted him to deed the acre of land where the church stood to the church trustees, which included his son, Charles Speak.

Cousin Dolores transcribed the deed:

To Tandy Welch, Trustee of Speaks Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church

This Indenture made this ____ day of ____ in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine Between Nicholas Speak of Lee County and State of Virginia of one part and Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs, trustees in trust for the use and purpose herein after mentioned all of the County of Lee and State aforesaid (Morgan, Welch and Yeary of Claiborne County and State of Tennessee) Witnesseth that the said Nicholas Speak for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar in specie to him in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged hath given granted bargained and sold and by these presents doth grant bargain and sell unto the said Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs and their successors (trustees) a certain lot or parcel of land containing one acre and 9 poles lying and being in the county and State aforesaid and bounded as follows Beginning at a white oak on the west side of Glade branch S 150 W 13 poles crossing the branch to a white oak near rocks N700 E 13 poles to a double dogwood & white oak N 150 E 13 poles to a white oak thence a strait line to the Beginning to have and to hold the said tract of land with all appurtenances, and privileges thereunto belonging, or in any ways appertaining unto the said Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs and their successors in office forever for the use of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States according to the rules and disciplin which from time to time may be agreed upon and adopted by the ministers and preachers of the said Church, at their general Conference in the United States. And in further trust and confidence that they shall at all times permit such ministers and preachers, belonging to said M. E. Church to preach and expound the word of God therein. And the said Nicholas Speak doth by these presents warrant and forever defend the before mentioned piece of land with the appurtenances thereto belong unto the before mentioned trustees and their successors in office forever against the claim of all persons whomsoever. In testimony whereof the said Nicholas Speak has hereunto set his hand and seal the day and year aforesaid.

Nicholas Speak {Seal}

At a court of quarter sessions continued and held for Lee County at the courthouse thereof on the 19th day of June 1839 This Indenture of bargain and sale for land between Nicholas Speak of the one part, and Tandy Welch, William Morgan, Adam Yeary, Charles Speak and Nathan Hobbs of the other part, was acknowledged in open court and ordered to be recorded.

During this time, people came from a significant distance to attend church. Both Tandy Welch and Charles Speak lived in the 4 Mile Creek/Slanting Misery area of Claiborne (now Hancock) County, Tennessee on the Powell River, yet they were obviously faithful members.

Nicholas Speaks Speaks Chapel Slanting Misery.png

The earliest known picture of the Speaks Methodist Church is this one taken about 1910. I wonder if the bell was housed in the little steeple structure on top of the church.

Speaks chapel 1910

Another view, judging from the ladder, taken at the same time, photo provided by Dolores Ham.

Nicholas Speaks church 1910.png

The church is small and one room. This photo would have been taken 50 years after the “division” occurred. I can’t help but wonder if the division was precipitated by the Civil War.

This entire region was terribly torn, some fighting and dying for the South, and some for the North. Emotions ran high, not just during the war but for the following half century. Just about everyone had a family member who died in service and some families had members who died fighting for opposite sides. No one was ambivalent.

Nicholas’s son-in-law, William Rosenbalm, died in a Northern Prison Camp and Nicholas’s granddaughter’s husband, Samuel Claxton, died as a result of fighting for the Union. Those are only two examples. These families were ripped apart during and the generation following the Civil War.

Within the family, there is also a persistent rumor of a fire burning the church at one time, but no one seems to have any further information.

speaks chapel 1 cropped

The current church building is this same structure, with a couple of additions, so if a fire occurred, it would have been before roughly 1910. The building in the 1910 photo does not look new, so probably before 1900 if it happened at all. It could possibly have occurred during the Civil War when much unrest occurred in this region and troops from both sides moved through.

Nicholas Speaks church interior 2009

The interior of the church today probably doesn’t look much like the original. You can see more photos by reading the article about when I was baptized in this very church. What a special way to bond with Nicholas with my wonderful cousins in attendance. I felt Nicholas’s presence that day.

For many years, there were less than a dozen church members with a wonderful volunteer minister who could only preach every few weeks. Today many of those members have passed away and the minister is no longer regularly available for the few who are left. I believe the congregation has been combined with another church, and Speaks Chapel is now vacant – which pains my heart terribly.

The future of this historic church and building is uncertain. Currently the Speaks Family Association (SFA) provides some funding for maintenance and upkeep, but without a minister and members, the future may not be as a church.

Nicholas Speaks church commemorative stone.jpg

The Speaks Family Association erected this marker to commemorate the church.

The Cabin

Speaks old cabin cropped

Nicholas’s cabin was abandoned and in grave disrepair in the 1970s. In fact, the family today thought it had simply fallen down and disintegrated, but that wasn’t the case.

Nicholas Speaks cabin 1970s.jpg

The color photo was taken just before what was left of the cabin was disassembled and removed.

Seeing how tiny this cabin actually is, consider that Nicholas and Sarah raised 11 children here, along with several grandchildren.

This is the “mansion house,” Nicholas left in his will for his daughters, Fanny and Rebecca who were not married at the time of his death, which they were to receive after the death of Sarah. “Mansion house” at that time doesn’t have the same connotation that it does today. Mansion house was the primary home on a property. Many mansion houses were referenced as being about 12 by 16 feet, similar to what we see, above.

In the 1970s, a history teacher purchased Nicholas Speak’s cabin for the wood and subsequently, lovingly, integrated it with another cabin left to him by his grandfather.

Nicholas Speaks cabin reconstruction.jpg

The cabin was under re-construction, above.

Nicholas Speaks cabin dovetail corner.jpg

This beautiful building still stands today a few miles away, near Cumberland Gap.

NIcholas Speaks cabin porch.jpg

Not only were the owners extremely gracious and welcoming, inviting us to visit, the view of the Appalachian mountain woodlands is stunning. I could live right here on the porch. I can see myself quilting forever.

NIcholas Speaks cabin welcome.jpg

The owner was extremely generous, inviting me, Lola-Margaret and Dolores to visit and offering us a tour several years ago.

Nicholas Speaks cabin Dolores on porch.jpg

Actually, truth be told, I kidnapped both Lola-Margaret and Dolores and in essence, told them that they both urgently needed to come with me, “right now.” This was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was a now-or-never situation. They hurriedly told their spouses they were leaving the hotel with me, leaving the spouses quite befuddled, and we excitedly got into the car, with me explaining on the way. That conversation started out with, “Well, you’re never going to believe this, but….”

To say this visit seemed surreal is an understatement.

Nicholas Speaks cabin winter.jpg

This little cabin is stunningly beautiful. The downstairs is living area, with a contemporary kitchen added, out of sight in the rear. The owners sleep upstairs in a loft.

Nicholas Speaks cabin fall.jpg

Nicholas would love that Christmas is still celebrated inside his cabin with children’s voices echoing through the years .

Nicholas Speaks cabin Christmas.jpg

The boards on the rear wall are Nicholas’s. The owner cataloged each board, so he knows which sections are his grandfather’s and which are Nicholas’s.

NIcholas Speaks cabin hearth.jpg

The hearth and chimney stones were salvaged as well, although don’t recall if this hearth was either partly or totally from Nicholas’s cabin. I do know the current owner salvaged everything outside and inside, so if there were stones, they are here now.

NIcholas Speaks cabin Dolores Ham.jpg

Dolores sitting in the corner by the fireplace which is certainly the main focus of the room.

Nicholas Speaks cabin open door.jpg

It’s dark inside the cabin, even when it’s bright outside. The photo of Dolores and the one above were taken just minutes apart.

Nicholas Speaks cabin corner.jpg

The opposite corner. The doors to the right lead to a contemporary adjoined kitchen.

Nicholas Speaks cabin window.jpg

The cabin is actually very small.

Nicholas Speaks cabin Lola-Margaret Hall.jpg

This is a terribly out-of-focus photo, but it’s Lola-Margaret in a corner of Nicholas’s cabin just the same and smiling like crazy.

Not only did this wonderful man salvage Nicholas’s cabin, barely saving it in the nick of time, he also saved Nicholas’s stepping stone from the front door into the cabin. He told me he just couldn’t leave it behind, abandoned.

NIcholas Speaks cabin step garden.jpg

He put the front step stone in his garden, until I visited when he asked me if I wanted the stone.


Are you kidding me?

The stone several of my ancestors trod, and some every single day of their lives?

Of course I want the stone!!!

We hoisted the stone into the back of my Jeep with much effort. That one rock made that entire trip worthwhile.

Nicholas Speaks cabin step here.jpg

The stone today that Nicholas’s descendants continue to utilize on a daily basis.

Nicholas Speaks cabin step my door.jpg

Outside my door. Eight generations and counting!

I was also gifted with these metal fireplace frames that came out of the cabin, but weren’t original to Nicholas’s time.

NIcholas Speaks cabin fireplace frame.jpg

I gave this to a descendant whose ancestors lived there during the time when this grate would have been in use. She and her husband made it into a beautiful “fireplace” in their home, with the flames painted by a talented friend. The items on the mantel also descend from this family line. It warms my heart to see this keepsake back where it belongs – with a loving family member.

The Barn

Nicholas clearly farmed in addition to preaching. Many preachers, especially of small churches were never paid. In the 1840 census, Nicholas still had 3 people participating in agriculture. He had 3 males plus himself. Two were older males. The identity of the second man aged between 60-69 is a mystery, but Nicholas and the two younger males were probably the ones engaged in farming.

An old barn remaining on what was the original property, near the church, retains the notches of yesteryear.

Nicholas Speaks barn.jpg

Did Nicholas hew these boards and strip the bark with an adze? They are clearly not milled, as you can see the individual adze marks.

This could well have been the barn that accompanied Nicholas’s cabin. In many of the earliest mountain homes, the barn was larger than the house. That was true on the farm I grew up on more than a hundred years later.

As we’ll see in a minute that Nicholas had lots of livestock.

The 1850 Agricultural Census

I expected with a small cabin, a large family and being a minister that the family struggled. In 1850, Nicholas is shown on the regular census as age 68, Sarah age 64, two unmarried daughters and a laborer living with them. At that age, Nicholas surely needed help with the farm.

Nicholas Speaks 1850 census.png

I thought they would have probably been poor, and that everyone in that geography was probably equally as poor. However, Nicholas listed the value of his real estate as $4000, substantially more than many of his neighbors.

Looking at the 1850 agricultural census for Lee County, VA shows something surprising. Compared to other families, Nicholas was doing quite well, by comparison to his neighbors.

Category Nicholas’s Answer
Improved acres of land 150
Unimproved acres of land 463 (can’t read the middle number well)
Cash value 4000
Value of farming implements and machinery 150
Horses 14
Asses and mules 0
Milk cows 18
Working oxen 0
Sheep 80
Swine 80
Value of livestock 800
Wheat bushels 150
Rye bushels 0
Indian corn bushels 2000
Oats bushels 700
Rice, pounds 0
Tobacco, pounds 10
Finned colon bales of 400 0
Wool, pounds 160
Peas and beans, bushels 15
Irish Potatoes (white), bushels 5
Sweet potatoes, bushels 100
Barley, bushels 0
Buckwheat, bushels 0
Value or orchard products 0
Wine, gallons 0
Value of produce in market gardens 0
Butter, pounds 100 (or 600, can’t read)
Cheese, pounds 0
Hay, tons 1
Clover seed, bushels 5
Other grass seeds 0
Hops 0
Hemp, dew rotted 0
Hemp, water rotted 0
Flax, pounds 200
Flaxseed, pounds 25
Silk cocoons 0
Maple sugar, pounds 15
Cane sugar 0
Molasses 0
Beeswax and honey, pounds 30
Value of home-made manufactures 150
Value of animas slaughtered 300

What can we take away from this? Nicholas had a lot of livestock, which probably explains the large barn, or maybe he even built more than one barn. Perhaps his children and their families were helping him farm. That’s likely, because James, John and Joseph Speaks were all neighbors and none of them owned property. They were probably all living in cabins on Nicholas’s land and the family shared the farm’s produce.

One thing seems to be assured – no one was going hungry.

Somebody was weaving and churning butter. I’d guessing that would have been the two unmarried daughters who were 23 and 25. In a farm economy, everyone worked from as soon as they were big enough until they died or became disabled.

Nicholas’s Will

According to Sarah, Nicholas died on June 2, 1852. He apparently knew he was gravely ill, because he wrote his will on April 22nd, and the will was subsequently probated on June 21, 1852. Men during that time didn’t write their will until it seemed a foregone conclusion that they were going to need one – and soon. That’s why there are so many intestate deaths.

Given the date the will was executed provides us some hint as to how long Nicholas was ill before he died. By late April, the handwriting was on the wall, so to speak, and 6 weeks later, Nicholas was gone.

I can’t help but wonder, given that he was a minister, if Nicholas was looking forward to passing over to what he perceived was his just reward. He would joyfully reunite with the people who had gone on before and wait for the people who would follow. Death might not have been frightening at all – at least not to Nicholas. But Sarah, who probably sat by his side as be became gravely ill, then held his hand as he passed over, was probably devastated, lonely and wondered how she was ever going to manage that farm alone, with only two daughters left at home to help. As Lola-Margaret says when she “channels” Sarah – she was surely grateful for her grown sons who lived close by.

I, Nicholas Speak a citizen of Lee County, in the State of Virginia being of sound mind and memory, do make, ordain, and publish this, as, and for my last will and testament hereby all former wills by me made.

Firstly, I give and bequeath to my beloved wife, Sarah Speak all my estate, both real and personal, during her natural life, if she during that period remain a widow, but if she marry then it is my will that my said wife be endowed of my estate as though I had made no will.

Secondly, it is my will that, at the death of my said wife Sarah Speak, one hundred fifty acres of land be laid off so as to include the mansion house, outbuildings and spring of the tract on which I now reside for my daughters Fanny Speak and Rebecca Speak and give and bequeath the said one hundred fifty acres of land to my said daughters Fanny and Rebecca and to their heirs forever a moiety to each.

Thirdly, at the termination of the estate of my wife Sarah in my land as herein before provided I give and bequeath to each of my sons Samuel Speak, John Speak and James A. Speak and to their several heirs one hundred fifty acres not herein before disposed of, to Jesse C. Speak (my son) I give and bequeath ninety three acres of my land to him and his heirs forever.

It is my will that, if my before mentioned sons Samuel, John, James A. and Jesse cannot agree upon lines of division between them as regards the lands I have herein bequeathed to them then I desire the Court of Lee County to appoint three Commissioners to lay off the said lands in lots as nearly equal in value as may be, quality and quantity being considered and then for my sons to decide the ownership of the several tracts by lots.

The condition upon which I give and bequeath the herein before mentioned lands to my sons Samuel Speak, Johns Speak, James A. Speak and Jesse C. Speak and their several heirs, is that my sons pay jointly and in proportion of the value of their respective lots of lands the sum of seven hundred and fifty dollars as follows, to wit, one hundred fifty dollars to Sarah Bartlet, the like sum of one hundred fifty dollars to my daughter Jane Ball, and the like sum of one hundred fifty dollars to the six children of my deceased son Charles Speak to be equally divided between them the said children, the like sum of one hundred fifty dollars to the eight children of my decd son Joseph to be equally divided between them, and the remaining one hundred fifty dollars to the five children of my decd son Thomas, to be equally divided between them the said children and I direct that the herein before mentioned payments of money to be made by my said sons Samuel, John, James A. and Jesse C. shall be made at the expiration of one year after the death of my wife Sarah Speak to such of the children herein indicated as shall then be of the age of twenty one years or more and then to all the other children as they respectively arrive at the age of twenty one years.

I also give and bequeath to each of my daughters Fanny and Rebecca a horse worth sixty dollars to be delivered to them at the death of my wife Sarah Speak. It is my will that the remaining portion of my estate not otherwise disposed of by my wife at her death, be equally distributed among my heirs at law.

I hereby constitute and appoint my son John Speak Executor of this my last will and testament of which I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 22nd day of April in the year 1852.

Nicholas Speak (SEAL)

The foregoing instrument of writing was signed and acknowledged _in our presence by Nicholas Speak and declared by him as his last will and Testament, and we have subscribed our names thereto at his request as witnesses. Emuel Stafford, John M. Crockett

Nicholas seems to have forgotten about a land warrant, because he added a codicil on My 25th.

Whereas I, Nicholas Speak of the County of Lee and State of Virginia have made my last will and testament in writing bearing the date 22nd day of April eighteen hundred fifty two and have hereby made a disposition of all my land and personal property as will be seen by Reference thereto except my land warrant, which land warrant, now I do by this my writing which I declare to be codicil to my said will to be part thereof will and direct that said land warrant be given to the heirs of Joseph Speak they be eight in number four neffues and four nieces with all its appurtenances as theirs to have and to hold forever and lastly it is my desire that this my present codicil be annexed to and made a part of my last will and testament to all intents and purposes in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this the 25th day of May in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred fifty two.

Nicholas Speak (SEAL)

The above instrument of one sheet was at the date thereof …to us by the testator Nicholas Speak to be a codicil to be annexed to his last will and testament and he achnowledged to each of us that he had subscribed the same and we at his request sign our names hereto as witnesses

Emuel Stafford (SEAL)

Samuel Speak (SEAL)Virginia

At a court of quarter sessions begun and held for Lee County at the Courthouse on Monday the 21st day of June 1852.

The last will and testament of Nicholas Speak deed was proved by the oaths of Emanuel Stafford and John M. Crockett witnesses thereto…and the codicil to the last will was proved by Emanuel Stafford and Samuel Speak and on motion of John Speak Executor therein named together with Cavender N. Robinson, William Collin and William S. Ely his security entered into bond in the penalty of $1000….


Will Book No. 2, Page 209 – Sale Bill of property sold by Robert M. Bales Committee for Sarah Speaks on the 12th day of February 1859.

Admitted to record Monday 20th June 1859 – H.J. Morgan CC

From time to time property of Sarah Speak was sold by Robert M. Bales, Committee.

Sarah Faires Speaks died February 20, 1865.

April 1, 1865 – We the undersigned after being duly sworn have appraised or valued the following articles or species of property belonging to the Estate of Sarah Speak deceased (to wit) Stephen X. Bales Vincent Bales Appraisers Jos. A. Hardy

Admitted to record 28th March 1866

Dolores Ham tells us:

In Sept. 1866, John Speak filed suit for the sale of lands of Nicholas Speak and a division of proceeds or if that cannot be done, then a division of lands. The land was ultimately divided. Many descendants are mentioned in this document, including several who lived out of state.

Children of Sarah Faires and Nicholas Speak

It’s likely that Nicholas and Sarah had one child that that did not survive. They were married in August 1804, and their first child was born in November 1805. Children arrived every 18 months to two years, except for a 3 year span between Samuel and John, both born during the month of January in 1809 and 1812, respectively. A child likely arrived and died about mid-1810. Given the high infant mortality rate at that time, Nicholas and Sarah probably felt God was watching over them and considered themselves lucky to have lost “only one.”

  • Charles Speak, b. November 19, 1805 in Washington County, VA, married 27 Feb. 1823 to Ann McKee in Washington County, Va., died in Lee County, VA between 1840 and 1850.
  • Sarah Jane Speak, b. May 23, 1807 in Washington County, VA. married 1829 in Lee County, VA to James Bartley and died in 1859.
  • Samuel Patton Speak, b. January 29, 1809 in Washington Co. VA; married in Lee County, VA about 1827 to Sarah Hardy. He died March 20, 1861.
  • John Speak, b January 2, 1812 in Washington County, VA; m. Mary Dean and second to Susannah Callahan in 1870. He died after that but before February 27, 1896.
  • Joseph Speak, b. July 20, 1813 in Washington County, VA, died after the 1850 census and before his father wrote his will in April 1852. He was married to Leah Carnes in 1832 by his father.
  • Thomas Speak, b. November 26, 1815 in Washington County, VA, died possibly in 1843, but assuredly before his father wrote his will in April 1852, married Mary “Polly” possibly Ball.
  • Jane V. Speak, b. February 12. 1818 in Washington County, VA; m. January 15. 1855 to George W. Ball, II and died in 1878.
  • Jesse C. Speak, b. 3 July 1820 in Washington County, VA; m. in 1842 to Mary Haynes and died on July 26, 1878 in Laurel Co. KY.
  • James Allen Speak, b. June 15. 1822 in Washington County, VA; d. 9 January 1894 in Lee County, VA. m. about 1844 to Mary Jane Kelly.
  • Fanny J. Speak, b. June 25, 1824 in Lee County, VA, d. May 11, 1906.  Married 2 Nov. 1859 to William Henderson Rosenbaum, as his second wife. Fanny’s sister, Rebecca was his first wife. Rosenbaum died September 26 1864 at Camp Douglas, IL as a prisoner during the Civil War.
  • Rebecca Speak, b. July 12, 1826 in Lee County, VA, d. February 9, 1859, m.  February 9, 1854 William Henderson Rosenbaum as his first wife.

The Cemetery

Across the road from the Speaks Methodist Church is the family cemetery. Based on Nicholas’s will, there were probably at least three sons buried there before he joined them.

NIcholas Speaks cemetery door.jpg

In fact, you can see the cemetery as you look out the door of the church. Did Nicholas think about his departed children as he preached?

Assuredly, Nicholas had preached their funerals and probably laid them to rest as well as several unknown grandchildren.

Did Nicholas think about this every time he saw the cemetery, or did the cemetery provide him comfort to feel that in some way, they were still close?

Nicholas Speaks church from cemetery.jpg

The view of the church from the cemetery. This little white church in the wildwood, at the base of the mountain feels so soul-soothing to me. They ghosts of my ancestors embrace their descendants who visit.

Nicholas and Sarah are assuredly buried here, but their graves, along with many others are unmarked or marked only with now-anonymous field stones. Of course, during the lifetimes of his children and grandchildren, no one needed to mark the location of graves. Everyone simply knew, but that knowledge was lost over time.

Nicholas Speaks cemetery stones.jpg

Several years ago, the Speaks Family Association purchased a memorial stone and placed it in the cemetery.

Nicholas Speaks stone.jpg

The back lists their children.

NIcholas Speaks stone back.jpg

The stone is clearly close to Nicholas and Sarah and many of their children, grandchildren and descendants. The cemetery is small, on a hill overlooking the church.

Nicholas Speaks church from stone.jpg

Perhaps Nicholas has listened to the sermons every Sunday for the past 167 years – over 8500 messages delivered to the faithful in the church left for posterity by Nicholas.

Have subsequent ministers felt his gentle hand and unknown influence?

Nicholas Speaks unmarked stones.jpg

Does Nicholas rest under one of these stones? Does his son, Charles, my ancestor, along with his wife, Ann McKee? Surely so.

They are here.

NIcholas Speaks cemetery 2.jpg

It’s difficult for me to walk away from these places so loaded with the history and bones of my ancestors. They draw me back, again and again.

I always have to take one last painful look backward as I leave, sometimes knowing I’ll never return.

This land is infused with their DNA, and mine.

Nicholas’s DNA

The Speaks Family Association funded several DNA tests for known Speaks direct male linear descendants several years ago. Men inherit the Y chromosome from their fathers intact, so the Y chromosome  would be passed from Nicholas to his sons, and them to their sons, to Speaks males today – intact. The goal was to confirm a connection to the Lancashire “Gisburn” Speaks line, which was successfully achieved.

The good news is that the Speaks Y DNA is rather rare, meaning that 8 out of 11 matches at 111 markers are to other Speaks men, some of which are from the Twiston and Gisburn area of Lancashire. There’s no question that the US Speaks line descends from a common ancestor with those gentlemen.

Unfortunately, many early records are missing and the best we can offer today are approximations as to when that common ancestor lived. We know for sure that it was before 1633 when our immigrant ancestor. Thomas Speake was born, and probably before 1600, but beyond that, we can’t say. In fact, trying to solve this mystery is why we engaged in DNA testing. Some questions have been answered, but not all.

NIcholas Speaks Y DNA.png

From the Speaks DNA Project, open to all descendants, Nicholas’s branch is haplogroup I-BY14004, which is separated slightly from the Twiston group whose haplogroup is I-BY14009.

Nicholas Speaks block tree.png

The Y DNA block tree shows these two brother branches side by side.

The potential intersection of these two branches could be as long ago as 800 years, which would put the common ancestor in the 1200s. Once the private variants are resolved and potentially placed upstream in the tree, the SNP generations could be reduced by 300 or 400 years, so the 1500s or 1600s which would place the common ancestor not long before the records end.

We do know that the surname exists before the records begin in the churches in the area, so the year 1200, give or take, might not be as far-fetched as we might think. On the other hand, if the average SNP generation is 80 years instead of 100, then we’re dealing with 640 years which is approximately the year 1360. Of course, we’re dealing with averages, and who is exactly average?

Other matching surnames on the Big Y test are Carey, Hutchinson, Holmes, Hudson and Ashby, but these men are not STR matches which means that they are more distantly related than the Speaks men are to each other, but still within about 1500 years.

Moving up the haplotree, the first SNP that shows a cluster is I-BY1183, confirming the rarity of the Speak Y DNA.

Nicholas Speaks I-BY1183 SNP cluster.png

The two locations where clusters are found are dead center in England and in Germany as well, which could indicate that the testers knew the country where their ancestor was found, but not the more specific location.

This SNP looks to be about 3500 years old, roughly, and since it’s also found in Germany, one of our ancestors might have migrated from this region, or both groups of men could have migrated from another common region.

NIcholas Speaks I-S2606 SNP cluster.png

One branch further up the tree, meaning further back in time, S2606, between 4000 and 4500 years of age, shows a scattering across Europe as well as the Lancashire region of England, meaning of course that’s where the ancestors of those testers are found. This causes me to wonder how men carrying those SNPs managed to arrive in Lancashire, and no place else in England. Haven’t enough men yet tested, or is there a story there waiting to be discovered?

Did our line develop additional mutations, while their line didn’t? Or have they simply not tested as deeply as our line has?

It’s important to note that while these clusters show the location of the most distant ancestors of people who carry this terminal SNP, those ancestral lines may not have always lived there.

We know that haplogroup I migrated from the Near East into Europe at some point after the last ice age which occurred about 12,000 years ago and that by about 5,000 years ago, the parent haplogroup of our ancestors was found in El Mirador, Spain, having been discovered in an archaeological dig.

Did Nicholas’s ancestor migrate to Europe via the Mediterranean or through the Caucasus? We don’t know yet, but hopefully with the increasing number of people testing and ancient DNA remains being sequenced, more will be revealed in the next few months and years.

Further complicating analysis, the Y chromosome of ancient DNA is not analyzed to the level that we are able to analyze contemporary testers. Once the original academic analysis of ancient DNA is complete, it’s seldom updated as technology improves.

Nicholas’s Autosomal DNA

The Y DNA of Nicholas applies directly to all Speaks surname males. The historical information that the Y DNA conveys applies to all Speaks descendants, females and males who are related but don’t carry the Speak surname. Thankfully, autosomal DNA can be inherited by all descendants.

Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch all three provide segment information to testers that can be compared with other descendants to see which DNA segments carried by descendants today originated with Nicholas and Sarah. The Speaks DNA Project is at Family Tree DNA and welcomes everyone.

Using DNAPainter, I paint segments that descend from a couple, because unless you have the ability to match against the descendants of both sets of the couple’s parents, you can’t tell whether the segment came from Nicholas or Sarah.

NIcholas Speaks DNAPainter.png

I carry pieces of DNA from Nicholas or Sarah on chromosomes 4, 6 and 10. My favorite shared segment, though, is the large 18.2 cM, 4496 SNP segment that I share with cousin Lola-Margaret. That nice juicy large segment seals my special bond with Lola-Margaret.

There’s just something I love about looking at the pictures of Lola-Margaret and me, along with other cousins on our various adventures and knowing that our crazy sense of both adventure and humor might just have been inherited from Nicholas himself.

NIcholas Speaks cousins Charles County MD.jpg

Lola-Margaret, me and cousin Susan standing in “Speaks Meadow,” the land of Bowling Speaks, Nicholas’s great-grandfather, in Charles County, Maryland a few years ago on a great adventure.

NIcholas Speaks Lola-Margaret and me.jpg

Lola-Margaret and me searching for our common love, rocks, on our ancestral land. You might just say we’re the same kind of crazy😊

There’s just nothing like roaming ancestral lands, making discoveries and celebrating ancestors with a DNA-sharing, adventure-loving bonded cousin! Without Nicholas, I would never have found Lola-Margaret, Dolores, Susan, and my other very special cousins. I wonder if Nicholas is watching, laughing and chuckling, or maybe being horrified at our escapades.

Regardless, I am eternally grateful for them, all because of him!



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

Thank you so much.

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Smarmy Upstart DNA Websites – Just Say NO!

Twice now in the last month or so, new websites that promise to provide customers with a different “better” view of their ethnicity, including ancient DNA, have popped up.

I’m not providing the links to these sites, because I do NOT want to drive any curiosity traffic there.

In both cases, the pages about the website or supposed “company” did not provide any information about the individuals behind the service.

Neither did a google search of their supposed name or LLC name.

In one case, the physical address given was illegitimate. In the newest case, this week, no address, not even a country, was disclosed.

A check of the website registration shows that it’s new and the owner’s ID is hidden.

In both cases, an e-mail sent to the address provided asking about who was behind the company and where they were located remains unanswered.

Please keep in mind that these omissions are violations of GDPR in Europe, yet there was no caveat about not accepting clients whose results fall under GDPR auspices which suggests these companies willfully disrespect regulations.

Of course, the first thing that happened was that people saw these new attractive-looking “tests” and uploaded their data immediately – then excitedly reported the results on Facebook, encouraging others to do the same.

Please, please, put the brakes on and think first.

Think, Please

Let’s look at this objectively.

The first thing the newest site does is require your e-mail address to sign up.

Off the bat, they’ve harvested that information.

Then, you upload your DNA file to some unknown person, in some unknown place.

Now they’ve also harvested your DNA.

What are they going to do with your DNA file, ultimately?

Is it going to China? Is it being sold to unknown entities? How would you know and what recourse would you have?

no free lunch

Seriously, what anonymous person would do this “for free, for fun”?

Without knowing who is behind this type of product, how would you as a consumer ever begin to evaluate their competence to provide this service? Why would you even begin to trust them if they hide their identity? This should be your first clue that something isn’t right.

Next, you discover that to see the “analysis” that you have to pay.

You’re sending your credit card number to someone you don’t know.

Now, they’ve harvested your credit card. So far, they have your e-mail, your DNA and your credit card information.

With that, you are entirely identifiable and scammable.

Those “Nigerian Princes” of yesteryear have stepped up their game with much better bait.

But, It’s Safe Because of the Lock…

No, a little lock in the url only means that communications to and from the site is encrypted, it’s not an endorsement or commentary on the legitimacy of what you are purchasing or the website owner.

If something goes wrong, you don’t even have a legitimate business name, address or identity of a person. You have no idea who to complain about, which is most likely the entire goal. If they are offshore, out of the reach of the law where you live, you can complain all day long and there’s nothing that can be done.

Nothing. NADA. You’re toast.


Just stop.



Before providing any information to a company, do your homework. Take a few minutes and research before jumping into the fire.

Stay with the major testing companies that are known and respected entities in the community. A new, anonymous, overnight upstart isn’t going to provide a better analysis than a company with population geneticists working to provide a quality user experience.

Any legitimate startup is going to be telling you WHO they are and WHY they are qualified – not intentionally remaining in the shade.

Unfortunately, bad experiences tend to tar good companies providing similar products with the same brush and we clearly don’t want that to happen.

Don’t set yourself up to become victimized, parted with both your money and your DNA due to your curiosity and love of genetic genealogy.

Please, stop and think.

If it sounds too good to be true, especially if it’s coming from an anonymous knight in shining armor from an unknown kingdom, it probably is.



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

Thank you so much.

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DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy?

The landscape of genetic genealogy is forever morphing.

I’m providing a quick update as to which vendors support file transfers from which other vendors in a handy matrix.

Come join in the fun!

Testing and Transfer Strategy

Using the following chart, you can easily plan a testing and transfer strategy.

Transfers Dec 2019

Click image to enlarge

  1. After May 2016, V2, if no speculative matches, reupload or retest
  2. Dec. 2010 – Dec. 2013 V3 fully compatible, Dec. 2013 – Aug. 2017 V4 reupload or retest, Aug. 2017 and later V5 compatible
  3. GedMatch has been working to resolve matching issues between vendors’ chips, autosomal only, no Y or mitochondrial
  4. LivingDNA does not have functional matching, has recently changed chip vendors, transfers do not receive ethnicity or ancestry results
  5. Customer must extract file before can upload (changing soon to be auto-extract)
  6. Files must be in build 37 format
  7. Autosomal transfers are free, but payment for advanced tools is required at most vendors
  8. If tested at MyHeritage after May 7, 2019 AND transfer your MyHeritage file within 2 yeras of receiving your results.


My recommendations are as follows, and why:

Transfer Costs

Autosomal transfers and matching are free at the vendors who accept transfers, but payment for advanced tools is required.

  • Family Tree DNA – $19 one-time unlock fee for advanced tools
  • MyHeritage – $29 one-time fee for advanced tools or a subscription, which you can try for free, here
  • GedMatch – many tools free, but for Tier 1 advanced tools, $10 per month

All great values!

Please note that as vendors change testing chips and file formats, other vendors who accept transfers will need time to adapt. I know it’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s a sign that technology is moving forward. The good news is that after the wait, if there is one, you’ll have a brand new group of genealogy matches – many holding clues for you to decipher.

I’m in all of the databases, so see you there.

-Updated December 10, 2019



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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

Elijah Vannoy: For Want of $12.58 – 52 Ancestors #233

Recently, I’ve been reading the Claiborne County, Tennessee court minutes 1829-1843 page by page at FamilySearch. Not because I really WANT to, but because I need to and there is no every-name index available for the years in question. As genealogists desperate to discover information about our ancestors, we do what we need to do and there are lots of buried goodies here!

The court minutes are full of all kinds of routine proceedings which include a great deal of both evident and hidden information.

  • Men are assigned to road crews which tells you who their neighbors are and what road they live on.
  • Men are assigned to collect taxes in their districts, which tells you which district they live in and who was the head of the volunteer militia in that district. Both tax collectors and militia leaders are men clearly in good standing and healthy.
  • Residents who were insolvent and could not pay their taxes. These notes state that some had left the state or county.
  • Men were summoned for jury duty and served as commissioners which tells you that they were white, owned land and were considered upstanding citizens.
  • Wills were recorded, probated and estates managed. Supplies for the widows were portioned while the estate was in probate, which means the widow was named.
  • People, mostly but not always men, were arrested and their families or neighbors posted bond, assuring they would show up in court. Not a lot different than today.
  • Poor people were cared for in the homes of neighbors or other residents and the county paid for their care. A lot different than today.
  • Guardians were appointed for orphans and the orphans ages were given.
  • People were sued by their neighbors for trespass, which generally meant a disputed property line.
  • Registration of livestock earmarks.
  • Payment for wolf scalps, after which the sheriff burned the scalp so they couldn’t be claimed a second time by someone else
  • “Juries” were assigned to survey and lay out roads, “the best way,” with as little damage to property as possible. Often property owners adjacent the road were named.
  • A jailer was paid for each prisoner who was named, but there generally weren’t many.

Every now and then, something really scandalous happened – although most of the time the trials were financial in nature. In one case, three men were tried for fighting within sight of the court. I’d love to know what that was about.

One of the most common types of cases was debt. If the debtor had no personal property that could be sold, then their land was attached and sold for the amount of the debt in question. Generally, these transactions provided a description of the property in question, including location, landmarks and neighbors, which can be a godsend when the deed books in question have been destroyed or disappeared as is the case with some Claiborne County records.

Court ordered sales were often not recorded from the previous owner to the new owner, but from the sheriff or constable to the new owner, making tracking the land forward or backward using deeds impossible. The court records provide that missing link.

I’ve been looking for three things in particular dealing with two ancestors and one of their children. Mind you, none of which I’ve found so far which begets many questions and so far, no answers. But them, I’m only through page 360 of 736, which means I have a lot more opportunity to find something.

Plus, I’ve discovered that reading these court notes cures insomnia, but only as long as you are sitting in front of your computer😊

I did discover something about another ancestor, quite unexpected and heartbreaking.

Elijah Vannoy’s Trouble

Elijah Vannoy was born about 1784 in Wilkes County, North Carolina. I wrote about Elijah’s life, but when reading the court minutes, I discovered a chapter I didn’t know before.

Elijah was in Claiborne County by 1817 and obtained two land grants, one in 1826 and one in 1829. The land grant process took several years from the time a grant was applied for, the land surveyed, and the actual land was patented and registered with the county clerk – although the men were living on and farming the land that entire time. There were costs involved too; the filing fees, the surveyor and the recording fees. Many times grants weren’t actually recorded for many years, some descending to heirs without having been properly recorded.

On Elijah’s two land grants, his name is spelled Elijah Venoy and it’s spelled the same way in the court record as well. This makes me wonder if Venoy is how Elijah actually spelled his surname – although we know from his deeds that he didn’t write later in his life. However, in 1817, it appears that he did sign his signature and it was Vannoy.

Elijah makes a few other appearances in the records. In 1818, Elisha Venoy was assigned to a road crew. He was called for jury duty once in 1820, but never again. Many men were called repeatedly. Then, there’s a long gap.

On image 351, page 224 in the actual minute book, at the court session taking place on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 1834, I found the following suit which I’ve transcribed in summary:

Thomas R. McClary vs Elijah Venoy. Found for plaintiff against defendant for the sum of $12.58… no (personal) property found, debt levied against two tracts of land. 125 acres lying on the waters of Mulberry Creek, beginning on an oak and hickory, corner of my twenty five (should say 125) acre survey and survey of John Rays beginning with John Rays chestnut corner bounded by J. Coles and Bakers, this entry number 549 (difficult to read but verified with the actual entry) and 100 acres entry no 272 lying on the north side of Big Mulberry creek beginning at a white oak and maple near a branch and running due west and various other courses for ? so as to include the improvement he (Elijah) lives on. November 19, 1834. Court ordered the sale together with costs.

Elijah Vannoy 1834

Elijah Vannoy 1834 2

On November 19th, the sheriff had gone to Elijah’s and surveyed what property he had, culminating with the recommendation that he had nothing to sell, which meant no cattle, horses, pigs, corn, wagon, nothing. The sheriff’s recommendation was to sell not one, but both of Elijah’s tracts of land – which included the one Elijah lived on.

That’s Brutal

While I certainly understand that’s how the legal system worked, it’s brutal. Why take both of Elijah’s pieces of land? Why not sell one, the one without his home, and see if the debt was covered before selling the second one? 100 acres of land was selling for a lot more than $12.58 in Claiborne County at that time, especially with “improvements.”

In 1834, Elijah was 50 years old. His wife, Lois McNiel either had died since 1830, or would die before 1840. In the 1830 census, Elijah still had 9 children at home – 3 males and 6 females. At 50 years of age, Elijah had no prayer of starting over AND he had children to raise. By 1840, Elijah still had 4 children at home and Lois was assuredly gone.

It is the greatest of ironies that the property owner a few years ago still had Elijah’s original land grant for the property. Few of these State-issued grants remain nearly 200 years later, so this is a rare document indeed. These were the documents shown for the land to be registered, then retained by the property owner. And now, Elijah was losing this land.

Elijah Vannoy original grant

What was Elijah to do? Where would he live? How would he support his family without a farm or any resources?

Joel Tries to Help

As it turns out, in 1833, Elijah’s son, Joel, also obtained a land grant. Joel was young, just 20 in 1833, but Joel tried to help his father by putting a mortgage on his own adjacent land to prevent his father’s land from being sold.

In 1836, both Joel and Elijah are listed on the tax list, but by 1839, only Joel and his younger brother, Elijah Jr. who owned no land but paid a poll tax appeared.

The elder Elijah is missing on the tax list entirely, probably indicating that he is living with another person and had no personal property or real estate. He was not listed as a head of household, but he was a year later in the 1840 census, suggesting perhaps that he was still living in his house on land that someone else, namely Joel, owned.

A Poll Tax had to be paid by and for every while male age 21-50 in order to be eligible to vote. Elijah Sr. would have been 55 in 1839, so he would have been exempt from Poll Tax, but if he owned land or other taxable goods, he would still have had to pay the other taxes due.

Joel, however, is listed with 225 acres total worth $500. It appears that Joel probably owns his own 100 acre tract as well as his father’s 125 acre tract, which is probably where Elijah is living. It appears that Elijah’s 100 acre tract with the house is gone, although later deeds raise confusion about which property was actually retained.

Chickens Come Home to Roost

By 1841 the chickens had come home to roost. Joel and Elijah were refinancing, in today’s vernacular. Both men signed a joint deed of trust because they owed merchants more than they could pay. Elijah signed a mortgage against his wagon and team of oxen, Three months later, two more debts were filed and now both Elijah and Joel are signing deeds of trust for their land. Elijah was indebted to William Houston, merchant in Tazewell, for $33.08, plus interest and to William Fugate for $62.50.

Then, Elijah sells land for $5 to Walter Evans in a deed of trust, stating that if he doesn’t make payments, Walter can sell the land on the courthouse steps in Tazewell.

Elijah also sells land to William Cole for $50.

In October 1845, 11 years after the original Claiborne County suit, both Elijah and Joel, probably very weary of the battle, jointly sold Elijah’s land, signing together, for $250, half of Joel’s land value on the 1839 tax list. The debt being paid was probably to William Fugate because he witnessed the deed, probably anxious to walk out of the room with his funds.

These debts had probably been accumulating and increasing with each refinancing since before 1834. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, until that pattern was no longer sustainable.

By 1845, Joel was 33 years old and had lived with this problem his entire adult life. In January, he had married Phoebe Crumley and I’m sure they wanted to start a life of their own, unencumbered by the behemoth that was clearly not going to resolve itself.

Was There More to the Story?

In 1845, at more than 60 years of age, Elijah went to live with his daughter, Sarah and her husband Joseph Adams, probably a broken man.

Elijah died sometime between the 1850 and 1860 census, his burial location lost to time.

Joel remained in Hancock County (upper right, below) until after 1860 according to the census, but sometime during or after the Civil War, in which Joel was reported to be a Rebel sympathizer, he moved down the valley a few miles to the Little Sycamore community in Claiborne County to start over on what would become Vannoy Road.

Joel Vannoy Mulberry to Little Sycamore

This part of Hancock County saw families torn between the Union and the Confederacy, and not only was there fighting between the north and south, there was infighting between family members. Joel’s wife’s niece and family were murdered for being northern sympathizers.

By 1870, Joel was living in Claiborne County in the Little Sycamore community where his children were marrying neighbors. He apparently owned land, according to the census, but things began not adding up. First, just hints of trouble and oddities, then clear indications.

While Joel Vannoy did “purchase” land again, his life was haunted by the demons of mental illness. By 1872, in Claiborne County, land was deeded to Joel’s wife, Phoebe, instead of to Joel. Deeding land to a wife when the husband was living simply did not happen in that day, time and place. It became impossible to ignore these “irregularities.”

Apparently, by age 50, Joel’s mental health had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer conduct business. No one seemed to question why his wife owned the land instead of Joel, so Joe’s condition was clearly known as a fact and not disputed within the community or by the court.

Fourteen years later, Joel was transported to the “hospital for the insane” in Knoxville, not long after it first opened. According to records of the now-closed facility, obtained in the 1980s, other Vannoy family members were treated in the same facility some years later.

Fifty years of age is the exact age of Elijah in 1834 when the Claiborne County court ordered both of his pieces of property sold for a debt of $12.58 which is equivalent to about $360 today.

Maybe there was more going on than Elijah simply needing $12.58. Had Elisha been suffering from the same creeping and intensifying mental illness that Joel eventually suffered from too? According to family members, Joel’s condition worsened throughout his life. In the end, he had to be “watched” 24X7 and could never be left alone given that he was disconnected from reality. Based on what the family said and his behaviors, I would guess that Joel had a form of schizophrenia, which can be hereditary, and Elijah may have suffered from the same disease.

Any of these problems, unmanageable debt, possible mental illness, or raising children alone is bad enough. However, combined, they may have snowballed on both Elijah and Joel as well. How kind of Joel to attempt to help his father and how sad that it didn’t work, especially after such a long battle, approaching a dozen years.

I can see the two saddened men, father and son, walking together along this creek perhaps, on Elijah’s land, by then owned by Joel, perhaps trying to make it through until they could at least harvest the crops. Maybe, just maybe those crops would bring enough to pay the debt? Maybe this year?

Elijah Vannoy creek and entrance

But the fall of 1845 was no different and they had to make that final, agonizing decision to sell the last piece of Elijah’s land, acquiescing to the fact that they had reached the end of the road. The inevitable had arrived and there was nothing left for them to do. They had fought a long, losing battle and Elijah would have to leave the idyllic little valley and the land he had cleared and farmed along Mulberry Creek, for more than two decades, yet he would live close enough to watch another man farm the land for the rest of his life.

Elijah Vannoy Mulberry Creek

Still, Elijah handed his cherished grant paper for the land he had struggled so long to keep to the next owner. Elijah didn’t have to do that. The deed had already been registered. Thank goodness he did though, because it’s how we verified that indeed, we had found Elijah’s land. A gift to future generations that he didn’t know he was making.

Knowing that Elijah was raising children alone, having lost his wife, farm, home and resources is both tragic and heartbreaking, especially understanding that there may have been yet another health issue complicating factors. All for the lack of $12.58 in 1834.

But that I could send $12.58 back through time and perhaps change the final chapters of Elijah’s life.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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