A Wink and a Nod From My Ancestors: Flyin’ Over the Old Home Place – 52 Ancestors #343

Have you ever been busy doing something to discover that one of your ancestors just gave you a really, REALLY unexpected, completely out-of-the-blue wink and a nod?

Of course, immediately you think that’s entirely silly.

I mean, that’s not possible. Right?

Yet, there you are…and whatever it was just happened.

An Unplanned Detour

I knew I was flying to a particular destination. I’ve flown there before. No big deal.

But this time, nothing seemed to go right. Flights that used to exist evaporated into thin air. Inexplicably, the flights that did exist were full – at least the day I needed to fly.

I could get a lovely, direct, flight into a city about 90 minutes distant from my destination. That was very confusing because normally it’s THAT city whose flights are typically full.


I couldn’t get there via the path one would normally travel, but I could get there, so I booked the flight.


You know the butterflies you get in your stomach when you head off for a huge life change? Even if you know it’s the right path?

A wedding maybe?


Moving away from anyone or anything familiar?

New job?

Career shift?


Any major life move.

Sometimes the butterflies start hatching a few days in advance and by the time you’re on the way, you have an entire kaleidoscope in residence.

Everyone’s coping methodology is different.

Some people get insomnia.





On this particular flight, I chose distraction because those butterflies were out of control.

I couldn’t concentrate enough to read, so I opted to watch an in-flight movie.

Except…I didn’t like either movie I started to watch, and by that time, If I had started to watch a different movie, the flight would have ended before the movie.

I flipped to the plane’s flight-tracker, and that’s when it happened.

Where Am I?

My window shade was closed. It was dark in the cabin. Most people were either watching something or sleeping.

I didn’t really think much about how to get from point A, my departure location, to point B.

However, I noticed on the flight tracker that the airplane was generally over a part of the country that seemed like it would pass near where my ancestors lived in Virginia and Tennessee, near the Cumberland Gap.

I enlarged the map to view the plane’s path.

Wow, it’s traveling east of Knoxville, near Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The map had an upper limit to how large one can make the map, and only the cities and larger towns were shown. Trust me, not one of my ancestors is from any place even resembling “large.” Not even medium.

I pulled my shade up, not that I expected to see anything that I would even remotely recognize from 30,000 feet in the air.

I was in for quite a surprise.

Goin’ Home

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve driven those ribbon-looking roads home.

Where is home?

Home is where my ancestors lived. Where my Dad was born, and so were his parents and their kin for generations. Home was where I went to find them. When I first began that journey, I only knew one word – Tazewell. A town in Tennessee. According to my Mom, that’s where my Dad was from. I knew nothing else. Nothing about his parents or siblings. Nothing about his grandparents.

Nothing. Not one thing.

That was in 1978.

Oh my, what a long way we’ve come – me and my ancestors. I’ve been pushed, guided, and cajoled. I’ve had many fortuitous “accidents” and met the most amazing people. I found family I had no idea existed, and I’m very close to many of those cousins today.

I cherish those mesmerizing, life-changing trips where a dear cousin took me to stand where my ancestors stood, lived, and yes, were buried.

Uncle George was the first, and he’s been gone for almost 25 years now. We climbed in the cattle grate of his pickup truck for the trip up the mountainside in Estes Holler where our ancestors homesteaded.

After several years, the people you met decades ago have passed over, and the younger generation isn’t necessarily interested. Furthermore, you’ve found the ancestors who lived in that region and pushed the brick wall further back to a time before they settled there. In this case, back into Virginia and North Carolina.

Said another way that genealogists will understand, there just doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to return again – especially if it’s a long distance with no one left.

I haven’t been back to the Cumberland Gap area in more than a decade.

That is, until today.

The Window

I looked out and saw the first of the mountain ridges rising in the distance, like pleats in the fabric of earth, or maybe ripples in the sea of time.

Are those the linear ridges that comprise the Cumberland Mountains, forming a 100-mile group of NE to SW ridges within the Appalachian Range that includes the Cumberland Gap?

Why yes, yes, I believe it is.

We can see these same ridges on this 1795 map that the early settlers would have used. We can see the Kentucky road and the Indian boundary line, just to the left of the road where the red color begins. That Indian boundary line ran right through my ancestor’s land.

A few other steep, treacherous, but passable gaps occur between the ridges, but not many.

Click images to enlarge

I looked back at the plane’s path on the screen which was currently east of Knoxville and yes, sure enough, those mountains out the window are the beginning of the Cumberland Range of the Appalachian Mountains.

My family was from all over, down there.

Each individual ancestor’s journey eventually coalesced in Estes Holler, along Little Sycamore Road which follows Little Sycamore Creek, of course. To get there, you have to follow the valleys, along the Ol’ Kentucky Road, south out of Tazewell, then turn north again when you reach the crossroads called Springdale. You’ll know you’re there when you see the school, the gas station that serves pizza by the slice, and the church. Estes Holler is up yonder a bit.

It’s about 7 miles from Tazewell, unless you’re a crow, then it’s maybe 3. Of course, you could take the unpaved two-tracks across the ridges, but that’s not recommended unless you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.

If I was right, then out my window I was seeing Barbourville, where my Vannoy ancestor, John Vannoy’s son, Francis Vannoy (1746-1822) – Daniel Vannoy’s brother and Elijah Vannoy’s uncle resided. For years, we had no idea quite how Francis Vannoy was related to my ancestor, Elijah Vannoy who lived not terribly far away along Mulberry Creek in Claiborne County, the part that would one day split off to form Hancock County.

Francis Vannoy lived about 60 miles distant in Barbourville, Kentucky, over rough mountain trails. Regardless, we knew the families retained close ties because they intermarried. The Vannoy family, along with the McNiels and several others lived on what would eventually be called Back Valley Road. Back Valley, which is also called Rebel Holler in some places, and is reportedly haunted by the ghosts of Civil War soldiers, follows a holler just below the state line between Virginia and Tennessee.

Pineville and Middlesboro, Kentucky should be visible out the window soon.

When my grandfather, William George Estes, moved back to Appalachia after tenant farming in Indiana, he eventually settled on the highest part of Black Mountain in Harlan County, just 60 miles but almost two hours east of Pineville on hopelessly winding roads with deadly switchbacks. His grandson would die a tragic death on those roads one day.

My grandfather didn’t drive, although I have no idea why not. He rode a horse initially, and then rode as a passenger with others. Cars were scarce in the 19-teens and 1920s when he moved back.

By the 1950s, he would catch a ride down to Pineville, Kentucky, then take the bus through Middlesboro, Kentucky, across Cumberland Gap, and through Tazewell, Tennessee.

Today, there’s a tunnel, but back then, the only road went across Cumberland Gap. You can take a look here, although the road is abandoned today, and hear some of the country music of the hills too. Of course, the earliest pioneers walked the path along the Wilderness Road, which you can view here in a lovely, short historical documentary.

The bus or some kindhearted soul would drop my grandfather south of Tazewell at Springdale where he would catch a ride with someone headed down Little Sycamore Road to Estes Holler. No ride – no problem – he would walk.

His parents and family lived in Estes Holler, as had three previous generations. However, my grandmother, Ollie Bolton’s parents, and family lived on up Little Sycamore into Hancock County, on Wallen Ridge, along the Powell River where the only way across the range is across the river and through Mulberry Gap.

Michael McDowell settled Slanting Miserly and lived near William Herrell, James Lee Claxton, and Joseph Bolton when Joseph arrived from Giles County, Virginia in the 1840s. By that time, those other families had been established for 30 or 40 years – some longer.

Lazarus Dodson, a Revolutionary War veteran, lived close to Middlesboro, on the Tennessee side, just beneath the actual Cumberland Gap.

Civil War soldiers camped in his field, marked on a military map, which is how we located his original land. Lazarus Dodson’s land was sold to David Cottrell, and this map shows the location of the homestead.

In addition to the Dodson homeplace, you can see the corresponding roads today.

Lazarus Dodson Jr.’s wife was Elizabeth Campbell. Her parents, John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins, and grandparents, Jacob Dobkins and Dorcas Johnson lived on the Powell River, near where the river bends back on itself near the Hancock County border. Of course, there’s a family cemetery, as there is in many locations.

It’s difficult to see from this perspective, but I know my ancestors are all down there within view.

John Campbell who married Jacob Dobkins’ daughter lived right above Liberty Baptist Church. In fact, Liberty was built on what had once been his land.

Before the Campbell boys moved to Claiborne County, the Campbell family and the Dodsons lived at the old Warrior Path crossing on the Holston River near Rogersville where the TVA plant is located today, near Dru Hanes Road. Jacob Dobkins lived about 8 miles away, up to Bull’s Gap, near the Hawkins/Hamblen County line.

About 1795, two of Jacob’s daughters married Campbell brothers. About 1801, all three of those families, along with Lazarus Dodson and his family, moved to Claiborne County. Their son, Lazarus Dodson Jr. married Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins.

Generation after generation of closely allied families were born in these hills.

The Crumley family migrated with the Brown family from Frederick County, Virginia to Greene County, Tennessee about 1797, settling on what is now Crumley Road near Greeneville.

Two decades later, William Crumley moved on from Greeneville to Blackwater Creek on the border between what is now Hancock County, Tennessee, and Lee County, Virginia, along with his adult son William, who had married Lydia Brown. The younger William’s daughter, Phebe Crumley would one day marry Joel Vannoy in Hancock County, Tennessee and they would move down Little Sycamore to Vannoy Holler, named after Joel, right across the ridge from Estes Holler.

You know where this is headed, right?

Indeed, Lazarus Estes, son of Rutha Dodson and John Y. Estes went courtin’ across the ridge and married Elizabeth Vannoy in 1867.

Rutha and John’s marriage was rudely interrupted by the Civil War, and never really recovered. She lived out her life in Estes Holler, but he walked on to Texas, establishing a new branch of the family there.

You know, I always wondered how Rutha Dodson, daughter of Lazarus Dodson and Elizabeth Campbell who lived plumb up to Cumberland Gap met John Y. Estes.

John Y. Estes lived in Estes Holler after his parents settled there when they arrived from Halifax County, Virginia, following his father’s service in the War of 1812. I figured it out when we realized Rutha’s mother died young and she was being raised by her grandparents, John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins who owned land right near Estes Holler, where Liberty Baptist Church is today.

You can’t marry who you don’t see – so two people have to be close enough to court.

Another branch of the family, the Reverend Nicholas Speaks and his wife, Sarah Faires left Washington County Virginia near Glade Springs about 1820 to found the Speaks Methodist Church in Lee County, Virginia.

The church is only 6 or 7 miles as the crow flies from Mulberry Gap. Of course, it’s 18 or 20 miles as the horse travels, through Mulberry Gap and then fording the Powell River at a low place – assuming there is a low place to be found.

Nicholas’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Speaks, married Samuel Claxton who fought for the North during the Civil War and died soon after. They lived on the Tennessee side of the Powell River.

Getting to church was not for the fainthearted.

Many of these families lived along or near the Powell River.

James Lee Claxton and his wife Sarah Cook left Russell County, Virginia near Honaker on the Clinch River around 1800 and settled on Claxton Bend near Slanting Misery on the Powell River where Michael McDowell tried to plow land that was more vertical than horizontal.

Samuel Muncy and Anne Workman followed the advancing Virginia frontier too and settled in Lee County, near the Powell River that formed the border with Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Muncy men served in the forts in Russell County, Virginia during the Revolutionary War.

Agnes Muncy married Fairwick Claxton about 1814 in the part of Claiborne County that would become Hancock in the 1840s. They too lived on the Powell River on Claxton Bend, near what is today Camp Jubilee where they are buried on the old homeplace.

Elizabeth Vannoy’s grandparents, Joel Vannoy and Lois McNiel settled in Claborne County, the part that became Hancock, after leaving Wilkes County, North Carolina about 1812 or so. They weren’t the only people from Wilkes that settled among those valleys and mountain ridges along the Powell River. William Harrell, sometimes spelled Harrold in Wilkes County, and Michael McDowell, a Revolutionary War veteran came too, along with their families. The Hickerson line married into those families in Wilkes County, as did the Shepherd and Rash lines.

Wilkes County was located across the actual mountain range itself, not along its ridges or valleys. There was no easy way to get from Wilkes County, North Carolina to Claiborne County, Tennessee. Look at those majestic, and tall, mountains!

These hearty ancestors settled in this rugged terrain, between the ridges, in the hollers, near the tops of mountains, and along the cleanest part of the streams where their families would, hopefully, be safe.

Many families arrived in eastern Tennessee shortly after the Revolutionary War, and some, like Jacob Dobkins, even before. Countless more found their way to the westward frontier when the floodgates opened after the War of 1812.

Perhaps they were joining family members who had already staked a claim and built a small cabin.

Regardless of who they were, how they arrived, or when, over a span of a hundred years or so, 42 of my ancestors lived, loved, and made their lives in these rugged mountains. They came to love them and called them home. Eventually, those ancestors gave life to my father who passed that love of the mountains on to me.

Just looking at them, from the valley floors or from 30,000 feet in the air brings me peace.

I am a product of these hardscrabble survivors. Some of them didn’t even have houses, at least not at first – living in structures created from animal hides before they built small one-room cabins for their large families. Kitchens and bathrooms were both outside. They fetched and carried water from a stream.

Some were Native people who were none too happy to see the new settlers.

Many risked everything, either to fight to defend their land, this fledgling nation and to make the trek to settle the dangerous frontier.

Women plowed, farmed, and performed the work normally done by both men and women. Sometimes only when the menfolk were gone, but all too often that stretched into forever because their husbands never returned.

Today, I saw all of this in the span of a few minutes. Kind of like the panorama of my ancestors’ lives passing before my eyes.

More than two centuries of my ancestors’ blood and DNA waters the land below. Journeys that took months of hard work in muddy ruts, and cost some of them their very lives, slipped beneath my plane window in just a few minutes.

What would my ancestors have thought?


This unexpected birds-eye survey of my ancestors’ lives provided me with an amazing perspective.

I was able to appreciate their journey in a way they never could.

Observing their lives pass before my eyes spoke to my soul and buoyed my spirits.

I felt like my ancestors – all of them, as far as the eye could see – were cheering and waving me on to my future. Of course, that’s the future for the parts of them that I carry in me, too. By virtue of that, they accompany me.

I’m doing my small part to look to the horizon once again. Carrying on the wanderlust tradition.

I must be brave. Compared to what they faced, and survived, this is nothing. I can always fly home, or back to visit. I can text in an instant to someone who lives distantly.

They couldn’t even rely on letters to arrive. No notification if someone passed away. Women didn’t know if their husbands died in war, or hunting, or not. Were they a widow? Would they, could they, should they, remarry?

No modern medicine either. Childbirth was inherently risky, as was any infected cut. Appendicitis? You’re toast. Dig the grave.

My ancestors unquestionably understood fear – for themselves and their family members. It was part of their daily diet.

Yet, it didn’t stop them. They pressed on and persisted. That’s a good thing for me!

A Wink and a Nod

My unexpected, unplanned Appalachian tour that consumed maybe all of 30 minutes was indeed a wink and a nod from those ancestors. Quieted those butterflies right down.

I had my own personal cheering squad.

Silently wishing me well.

I heard them in my heart as I gazed down at their homelands. I can see the line of ancestors, their path extending back into Virginia, and beyond in the misty distance.

Frontiers have never been easy, but I see the horizon just over that next mountain. Just like they did.

Thanks Ancestors. I needed you today!



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

Sitting Bull’s Hair Confirms Relationship With Great-Grandson

Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake, known as the legendary Lakota warrior and leader, Sitting Bull, was born about 1831 and was killed in 1890. You’ll probably remember him for his victory over Custer and his troops in 1876 at the Battle of Little Big Horn, known as the Battle of Greasy Grass to the Native people and as Custer’s Last Stand colloquially.

By Orlando Scott Goff – Heritage Auctions, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27530348

Pictured here, Sitting Bull was photographed in 1881.

After Sitting Bull’s murder, his scalp lock, a braided length of hair used to hold his feather in place was cut from his body as a souvenir of the grizzly event. In 1896, the scalp lock along with his leggings were donated to and held by the Smithsonian Museum for more than a century before being returned to his family in 2007. Sitting Bull’s great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe, now in his 70s, along with his three sisters are Sitting Bull’s closest living relatives.

The family needed to unquestionably prove a familial connection to be allowed to make decisions about Sitting Bull’s gravesite and remains. Genetic analysis was employed to augment traditional genealogical records. According to Ernie, “over the years, many people have tried to question the relationship that I and my sisters have to Sitting Bull.”

After the return of Sitting Bull’s scalp lock to Ernie LaPointe, Professor Eske Willerslev, one of the pioneers in ancient DNA, contacted Ernie and offered to assist the family by analyzing the hair sample.

By Von Bern – Sitting Bull family portrait, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49894969

Original text from the back of the above image:

“4 generations of Sitting Bull: Sitting Bull, two wives, their daughter, her daughter, her baby” “Copy from Mrs. Edward M. Johnson collection Spiritwood, N. Dak.” Sitting Bull and family 1882 at Ft Randall rear L-R Good Feather Woman (sister), Walks Looking (daughter) front L-R Her Holy Door (mother), Sitting Bull, Many Horses (daughter) with her son, Courting a Woman

LaPointe and his sisters descend from Sitting Bull through their mother, through one of Sitting Bull’s three daughters, so neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA were options to prove that they were the great-grandchildren of Sitting Bull. Generally, neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA establish exact recent relationships, but confirm or disprove lineage relationships.

DNA From Sitting Bull’s Hair

In 2007, obtaining autosomal DNA from hair was virtually impossible, even from contemporary hair, let alone hair that’s more than a century old. However, today, the technology involved has improved. Additionally, it’s also possible that some of the DNA from Sitting Bull’s skin or skin flakes were held within the scalp lock itself.

The fact that the hair had been treated with arsenic for preservation while in the possession of the Smithsonian made DNA analysis even more difficult. Unlike traditional contemporary DNA tests, a full autosomal sequence was not able to be obtained. Small fragments of autosomal DNA from the braid were able to be pieced together well enough to compare to Ernie LaPointe and other Lakota people, showing that Ernie and his family match Sitting Bull’s hair more closely than other Lakota.

The academic paper published by Willerslev, with other researchers and authors including LaPointe provides the following abstract:

Only a small portion of the braid was utilized for the analysis. The rest was burned in a spiritual ceremony. You can read the scientific paper, here.

This analysis of Sitting Bull’s hair opens the door for the remains in the two potential burial sites to be evaluated to see if they match the DNA retrieved from the scalp lock – enabling the family to rebury Sitting Bull in a location of their choice.

You can read additional coverage, here, here, here, and here.

Establishing a Relationship

Sitting Bull’s DNA is considered ancient DNA because it’s not contemporary, and it was degraded. But the definition of ancient needs to be put in context.

Sitting Bull’s “ancient DNA” is not the same thing as “ancient DNA” from thousands of years ago. In part, because we know positively that the DNA from thousands of years ago will not match anyone genealogically today – although it may match people at a population level (or by chance) with small fragments of DNA. We know the identity of Sitting Bull, who, on the other hand, would be expected to match close family members and other more distantly related members of the tribe.

Ernie and his sisters are great-grandchildren of Sitting Bull, so they would be expected to share about 887 cM of DNA in total, ranging from 485 cM to 1486 cM.

In an endogamous population, one could be expected to share even more total DNA, but that additional DNA would likely be in smaller fragments, not contiguous segments.

Great-Grandchildren Matches

For example, two great-grandchildren match their great-grandmother on 902 cM and 751 cM of DNA, respectively, with a longest contiguous block of 130 cM and 72 cM.

Another pair matches a great-grandfather at 1051 cM and 970 cM, with longest blocks of 220 cM and 141 cM.

A person would be expected to share about 12.5% of their autosomal DNA with a given great-grandparent. I wrote about how much we can expect to inherit, on average, from any ancestor, here.

In terms of the types of DNA matches that we are used to for genealogy, a great-grandparent would be one of our closest matches. Other relationships that could share about the same amount of DNA include a great-aunt/uncle/niece or nephew, a half-aunt/uncle/niece or nephew, a first cousin, half first cousin, first cousin once removed, or a great-grandchild.

Courtesy of DNAPainter

Since Sitting Bull’s DNA was extracted from hair, and we know unquestionably where that hair had been since 1896 when it was donated to the Smithsonian, we can eliminate some of those relationships. Furthermore, the genetic analysis supports the genealogical records.

What About Hair, DNA, and Your Genealogy?

I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to you and your genealogy.

Like so many other people, I have a hair WITH a follicle belonging to my father and letters written by my paternal grandfather in envelopes that I hope he licked to seal. I tried several years ago, at different times, unsuccessfully. to have both of their DNA extracted to use for genealogy. Not only were the endeavors unsuccessful, but those attempts were also VERY expensive.


I know how desperately we want to utilize those items for our genealogy, but the technology still is not ripe yet. Not then and not now. At least, not for regular consumers.

Remember that this extraction took a very specialized ancient DNA lab and many highly skilled individuals. It also took a total of 14 years. The DNA obtained was highly fragmented and had to be reassembled, with lots of pieces still missing. Then it had to be compared to currently living individuals. The ancient DNA autosomal file, like other autosomal forensic files, would NOT pass quality control at any of the DNA processing companies today, where the required QA pass rate is in the ballpark of 98%.

This type of ancient DNA extraction has only been successfully done using autosomal DNA once before, in 2015 on the remains of someone who died in 1916. While Y and mitochondrial DNA has been used to rule out, or *not* rule out direct patrilineal or matrilineal relationships in other burials, highly degraded autosomal DNA is much more difficult to utilize to establish relationships. The relationships must be close in nature so that enough of the genome can be reconstructed to infer a close familial relationship

I realize that more than one company has entered this space over the past several years, and you might also notice that they have either exited said space or are have not achieved any measure of reproducible success. Do NOT chance a valuable irreplaceable sample to any company just yet. This type of processing is not a standard offering – but ongoing research opens the door for more improvement in the future. I still have my fingers crossed.

If you are interested in preserving your items, such as hair, teeth, hairbrushes, electric razors, etc. for future analysis, be sure to keep them in paper, preferably acid-free (archival) paper, NOT plastic, and in a relatively temperature-controlled environment. By that, I mean NOT in the attic and NOT in a humid basement. Someplace in the house, comfortable for regular humans, and not sealed in a ziplock baggie. Don’t touch or handle them either.

Test Older Relatives NOW!

If you can test your oldest relatives, do it now. Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles. All of your oldest family members. Don’t wait.

FamilyTreeDNA performs the test you order and is the only DNA testing company that archives the DNA sample for 25 years. The remaining DNA is available to order upgrades or new products as technology advances.

That’s exactly how and why some younger people have great-grandparent DNA available for matching today, even if their great-grandparents have walked on to the other side and joined Sitting Bull.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

Come Sit a Spell With Jacob Dobkins – 52 Ancestors #345

Probably 20 years ago, I discovered that Jacob Dobkins (1751-1835) was my ancestor, and began researching in Claiborne County, Tennessee where his daughter, Jenny Dobkins lived with her husband, John Campbell.

In fact, two of Jacob’s daughters married Campbell men. His daughter Elizabeth married George Campbell, believed to be John’s brother, back in Hawkins County before the entire group moved to Claiborne. Jacob lived in Claiborne County in 1801 when the county was formed and he attended the first court session.

Jacob purchased 1400 acres for $100, land roughly a mile wide and about two and a half miles long. That’s a LOT of land. Of course, it was densely forested and no houses or other improvements had been made. Jacob immediately began parceling it out to his sons and sons-in-law, essentially assuring that most of his family would stay nearby.

In the research process, I met other Dobkins researchers, including Bill Nevils, a local historian, and genealogist. He too was descended from Jacob.

In 2006, cousin Daryl talked to Bill who told us he knew where Jacob Dobkins was buried.

Stopped us cold in our tracks. There was no marked grave. No known Dobkins Cemetery.

Say what?

Jacob’s grave?


Cousin Daryl discovered more than that too. She made other calls and the owners in 2006 were family members who had VERY INTERESTING photos of the original cabin.

This very old photo from (probably) sometime in the early 1900s or possibly even late 1800s shows Jacob Dobkins’ homestead, fenced, with a secondary, larger building having been added to the left. Yet another building is shown in the distance and a structure to the rear as well. Notice the fieldstone chimney.

Yes, this is Jacob’s original cabin! Be still my heart.

How can I be sure? The deed work shows that in 1835, when Jacob died, his heirs quitclaimed his property to Betsy Campbell, his daughter who was married to George Campbell. From that point on, her son, Barney, his son Alexander, then his son Arthur lived in this home until Arthur died in 1969. The family had built a new home and retained the property.

Jacob’s cabin in the 1960s or 1970s, abandoned.

Jacob’s cabin lasted for at least another 150 years after his 1835 death before it was purchased, disassembled, and reassembled elsewhere – we think someplace in North Carolina (maybe) in some sort of reenactment or historical park. If you recognize this cabin, please let me know.

Daryl made contact with the lady who owned the farm in 2006:

I just had a lovely conversation with our cousin who owns the property and descends from Barney Campbell. Her family recently celebrated her birthday at the old farm and gave her a photo frame with digital family photos that include the old cabin.

She claims the farm has been in the family since about 1820, but she has never checked it out. Her nephew is the one interested in the family history. Her grandmother, Sally, died when she was about 10 and she heard the story of Barney many times growing up…Barney was a Dobkins, his mother was Elizabeth and he took the Campbell name when Elizabeth married George Campbell.

The original old house was 2 stories, living room & one bedroom on the main floor and 2 more bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen was detached from the original house. I quizzed her a bit, because there were not too many houses two stories in those woods in the late 1700s or early 1800s. She did not know how old the house was, or who the first occupants were. She assumed it was Barney.

The house was moved about 1970. All she remembers is that a man who owned a pottery company, factory or shop bought it. He took it apart and it was to be reassembled at his business in western NC. A cousin in Tazewell was building a house about the same time and he took the chimney/fireplace and connected it to his house. He has since died. She said the old house reminds her of one she saw in the Museum of the Appalachia brochure, the one near Norris Dam.

It’s worth noting that the founder of the Museum of the Appalachia began collecting in 1969, so the timing would be right. Maybe Jacob’s house is there. If so, it’s probably labeled as the Campbell home.

Here’s the cabin from a different view after it was abandoned, but before it was deconstructed.

And here, before it was abandoned, with the “wash” hanging on the line. It looks like a typical home here.

I should mention that this building does not appear, on the surface, to be the traditional log cabin, but is instead a plank or clapboard building. If Jacob did indeed own that sawmill, as was described in the 1819 deed from Jacob Dobkins to John Whitaker, this wouldn’t be too surprising. Regardless, this tells us that a mill was very close by sometime before 1819.

Another story says that this building incorporated the original structure, but was built by Barney Campbell, possibly in the 1830s.

According to family members:

There was a kitchen behind the former house which was converted into a loom house and the previous living quarters used as kitchen facilities when the new house was occupied. The kitchen and dining ell of the present old house is not as old as the living quarters but some of the material of the original house was incorporated into the ell which would indicate that part of the house may date back to 1800.

According to this, the original home was incorporated into the “new” house, a very common practice of that time. Frugal settlers wasted nothing and did not simply “move” to a new house. They added on.

A third story says that Barney built this cabin, but his first wife, then pregnant with twins, died before ever getting to live there. That would have put the origin of this building about 1838 or so. Jacob’s original cabin would have been more than 30 years old by then, and Barney had a passel of kids – something like 17 between both wives, not counting the twins that died when his first wife did! Yes, Barney definitely could have used more room.

But that story doesn’t quite make sense either – because nobody would intentionally build a log cabin and immediately cover it up with lap siding.

Do we have any evidence? Why yes, yes we do.

Aha – this photo of the cabin during disassembly clearly shows a chinked log cabin beneath the clapboard siding.

Here’s the rear during the deconstruction process. Look at those dovetailed logs. Indeed, this is the house that Jacob built from the trees he felled clearing the land. Later deeds also refer to this property as being where Jacob lived.

Barney’s grandson lived here until sometime in the 1960s, so this land never left the Dobkins/Campbell family.

About Barney

Interestingly, we have Y DNA genetic evidence that conflicts with the story about Barney being adopted by George Campbell. Some of Barney’s descendants match the Y DNA of the Campbell line, and some do not. Given that at least one of Barney’s son’s lines matches the Campbell Y DNA, it’s unlikely that Barney was not George Campbell’s son! Not to mention that George was very generous with Barney.

Barney is of course a Dobkins on his mother’s side, so I’m not exactly sure how that original story was intended. It’s ironic that the family story includes an unknown father, but the DNA might disprove that, and prove that a Campbell male was indeed the father – exactly the opposite of what sometimes happens.

Obviously, we have absolutely NO IDEA what actually happened back in 1797 when Barney was born, or later with his descendants.

What I can say is that we could probably resolve this question if male Campbell men descended directly through all males from Barney through the following sons would do a Y DNA test.

Barney had the following sons through his first wife, Mary Brooks:

  • Benjamin Campbell (1820-1882) married Eliza or Louisa Eastridge, born and died in Claiborne County, TN.
  • George Campbell (c1821-1860s) married Nancy Eastridge, lived in Claiborne County and died during the Civil War.
  • Andrew Campbell (c1826-?) married Louisa (Eliza) Campbell, lived in Claiborne County.
  • John Campbell (c 1829-after 1900) married Mary Ann Chadwell, lived and died in Claiborne County.
  • Toliver Campbell (1835-1899) married Sarah Lewis, lived and died in Claiborne County.

Barney had these sons through his second wife, Martha Jane “Jennie” Kesterson:

  • David Campbell (c 1841-1919) married Missouri Williams, lived and died in Claiborne County.
  • Arthur L. Campbell (born circa 1842)
  • Newton J. Campbell (1845-1911) married Lucy Williams, lived and died in Claiborne County.
  • Abraham Campbell (1850-1914) married Nancy Cornelia Williams, lived, and died in Claiborne County.
  • Alexander Campbell (1853-1923) married Sarah “Sallie” Campbell, lived, and died in Claiborne County.

Come On – Let’s Visit Jacob!

Bill Nevils and his mother hosted us for a lovely lunch, but we could hardly wait to set out for the Dobkins land and cemetery, circled in red, above. The house was located near the building with the white roof, halfway between the main road and the cemetery.

Jacob is buried in the Campbell Family Cemetery at 230 A. L. Campbell Lane in Tazewell, although there is no reference to a cemetery on the deed back in the 1800s. Cemeteries were assumed back then and seldom mentioned. It’s still a private cemetery today.

I can’t tell you how much fun Daryl and I had that day. This chimney, at least that’s what I think it is, was probably for the outside kitchen. This chimney was not taken when the cabin was removed – probably because it was not attached to the house. We know that the chimney on the house was moved to Tazewell.

I can only imagine cooking outside in all types of weather, all seasons of the year. Well, actually, I can’t imagine that.

There’s another very early building too.

Look at the size of those logs. This is clearly a very early structure. Is this the building that was converted into the loom house? If so, then it was here when Jacob lived. It’s standing beside that chimney or stone column, whatever it is.

Behind these buildings and the modern-day house, we crossed through the working farm, drove through a gate, and across the field.

This is the same path that would have been followed when a “buryin'” needed to take place. The wagon with the coffin, pulled by horses or mules, would lead the procession of walking family members from the house where the family would have “kept watch” and prepared the body for burial. The wagon wheels would have squeaked under the load. The family knew this was Jacob’s last trip – that late fall day in 1835 – accompanied by a preacher.

Jacob had cleared the field where his funeral procession took place more than three decades earlier. We drove up to the cemetery 171 years after Jacob’s final journey.

Jacob Dobkins Cemetery, Known as the Campbell Cemetery

A fence surrounds the cemetery which is far to the rear of the property, near the Powell River. You didn’t want a cemetery too near a house, or the well for that matter.

Cousin Bill and me before entering this sacred ground. I’m so incredibly glad we made this visit when we did, because Father Bill, an Episcopal priest, has gone on now to meet Jacob. Bill spent years researching this family and I wish he would send a few answers!

A HUGE, massive tree grows in the center of the cemetery.

As we strolled in that direction, Bill told us that it’s believed that both Jacob and his wife are buried under that expansive tree.

That makes sense given that the newer graves radiate out towards the edges. Jacob assuredly wasn’t the first burial here, but he was likely one of the early ones. He would have established the cemetery after he bought the land, as need dictated.

Graves were marked only with rocks. Everyone who needed to know already knew who was buried where. They had stood graveside as the casket was lowered. Neighbors would have come over to help dig the graves and cover them after the service. Perhaps they were marked with a simple wooden cross at the time.

Looking around, we can see Wallen’s Ridge there in the distance.

John Campbell’s land, part of which was apparently originally owned by Jacob, lies across the ridge in this direction. Today’s there’s a cemetery behind Liberty Church, established in the 1850s, on John’s land, but I bet in that time, everyone in the family was simply buried here, in the Dobkins family cemetery. Jacob was the family patriarch.

The photo below connects with the one above at the mountain, looking back over the homeplace, providing a panorama vista of sorts.

Elisha Wallen, the Longhunter, claimed vast tracts of land and sold this farm to Jacob immediately after Claiborne County was formed.

Jane Dobkins Campbell who had married John lived across what is locally known as “Little Ridge.” It doesn’t look very little to me.

I’d wager she’s buried here too.

Jacob would have cleared these fields, tree by tree. Except for that one tree, of course. It was left to shelter those attending funerals. I can’t help but wonder if Jacob did that intentionally. Or maybe he simply started burying family members beneath its branches.

Standing beneath the tree, this is what I see.

I can only imagine the amount of labor that was invested in establishing a farm from the wilderness. By the time Jacob bought this land, he was 50 years old. He did have sons and sons-in-law, but they had their own farms to clear.

Jacob sold the land in the photo below to his son-in-law, George Campbell who was married to Elizabeth.

Even after clearing, Cedar trees aggressively try to reclaim the land for the forest.

You can see that this part of George’s land is very rocky. Impossible to plow after clearing, but reminds me so much of Scotland.

I can see Jacob Dobkins and Elisha Wallen, walking this land together before Jacob’s purchase, discussing the land, and probably so much more. Both men had faced incredible challenges in this new land and somehow survived.

Both had followed what would become the Wilderness Road, when it was wilderness and before it was a road. The only thing there when Jacob and Elisha first arrived was buffalo and Native people, angry at the incursion. Elisha’s first visit was about 1761, and Jacob’s was about 1779 when he arrived at Fort Harrod before the Revolutionary War.

This beautiful stream, Russell Creek, is only about 15 miles, less as the crow flies, from where Jacob traveled back in 1779 between his home in Shenandoah County and Fort Harrod. In 1779, this land was beyond the frontier line.

The area was much tamer 20 years later when Jacob bought this land from Elisha Wallen. Jacob’s service helped to tame the region, making it safe for settlers. Jacob switched from soldiering to homesteading. It’s ironic that Jacob survived the Revolutionary War battles, although bullets ripped through his clothes – but homesteading, which you think would be safer, broke his collarbone and shoulder, disabling him.

Did Jacob look across these ridges from Cumberland Gap and fall in love back in 1779? Did he tell his son-in-law, George about those adventures as they walked this land before Jacob sold him this portion?

Clearly, Jacob wasn’t just buying land for himself, but with the intention of purchasing enough land for his entire family, probably so that his sons and sons-in-law wouldn’t feel the need to “move on.” Best investment ever!

That’s probably the exact reason he sold his land on White Horn Creek near Bull’s Gap and moved everyone to Claiborne County where large tracts of land had become available. Opportunity was knocking.

Of course, Jacob was also establishing a family cemetery whether he initially meant to or not. Every family had one. I wonder if he thought about where would be a good location for a cemetery on his land or if he only thought about that when, due to necessity, they needed to bury someone. Would that first burial have been one of his grandchildren? I would bet so.

Cemeteries were often on higher land so that they didn’t flood and contaminate the water supply. Did Jacob choose this location because of this beautiful tree?

Did he decide that he’d like to be buried right here?

Cousin Bill, dwarfed, pondering beneath Jacob’s tree.

I can’t help but wonder if this tree was already old when Jacob bought this land more than 200 years before.

If only this tree could talk. What stories it would have to tell.

I think this is a maple tree. Medium growth rate for a maple tree is about a foot each year, so this tree must be ancient. Based on the photos, I’m guessing at least 300-400 years and maybe more.

Some gravestones are located beneath its sprawling branches. Bill told us that Jacob is supposed to be buried beneath this tree.

Most of the space beneath the tree consists of unmarked graves. Apparently, there are many, many unmarked graves.

Perhaps Jacob is resting right here in the shade. Surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

Some died in his lifetime. Jacob’s son Reuben died in 1823 at the age of 40.

More unmarked graves.

Many graves weren’t marked, except for field stones, if that, until in the 1900s. A gravestone was a luxury none could afford.

Some field stones remain, but others are clearly gone.

Findagrave shows the Arch Campbell Cemetery with a total of 138 burials, some with photos of the stones.

Barney Campbell’s son Benjamin is listed among the burials. Assuredly, Barney was buried here too following his death between 1853 and 1855, as are his parents who died about the same time, and grandparents who died twenty years earlier.

The day in May that we visited was stunningly beautiful with spring’s warmth not yet giving way to the oppressive summer heat.

Daryl, Bill, and I walked every inch of this cemetery, looking for any clue. Just being with Jacob and our family members for a short time.

I couldn’t help but glance over each fence and picture Jacob standing and doing the same. Of course, his split rail fences would have looked quite different.

Did Jacob go to the far side of his property each day and fell more trees?

Did he stand here pondering life’s unfairness when he buried family members?

I slowly turned in a circle to see what Jacob would have seen.

I can’t help but wonder how all of these people are connected to Jacob. Maybe some aren’t but many appear to have “married in” to the family. After a few generations, these Appalachian families are all related to each other one way or another.

Daryl and I, always the consummate genealogists, photographed gravestones.

This cemetery is not small. Many areas are entirely vacant, signifying unmarked graves. It looks like there are as many unmarked as marked, or maybe more.

While the old burials are near the middle, there are contemporary graves too.

Areas towards the fence had modern burials.

No matter where you look, the mountains are ever-present in the distance. Today, just as Jacob saw them two centuries ago.

By now, there are probably 8 or maybe 10 generations of family members all resting together here. Jacob would probably be quite pleased that his investment in a large amount of common land, enough to share with his sons and sons-in-law, paid such handsome dividends. Indeed, many stayed and continue to stay.

Of his own children, 5 lived out their lives in Claiborne County, two struck out for Texas, and one is uncertain.

Many of Jacob’s descendants still live in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and perhaps some still live on Jacob’s land.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch

Today, I’m reviewing the exciting new AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I love it because this automated tool can be as easy or complex as you want.

It’s easy because you just select your options, run it, and presto, you receive all kinds of useful results. It’s only complex if you want to understand the details of what’s really happening beneath the hood, or you have a complex problem to unravel. The great news is that this one tool does both.

I’ve taken a deep dive with this article so that you can use AutoSegment either way.

Evert-Jan “EJ” Blom, creator of Genetic Affairs has partnered with GEDmatch to provide AutoSegment for GEDmatch users. He has also taken the time to be sure I’ve presented things correctly in this article. Thanks, EJ!

My recommendation is to read this article by itself first to understand the possibilities and think about how you can utilize these results. Then, at GEDmatch, select the AutoSegment Report option and see what treasures await!

Genetic Affairs

Genetic Affairs offers a wide variety of clustering tools that help genealogists break down their brick walls by showing us, visually, how our matches match us and each other. I’ve written several articles about Genetic Affairs’ tools and how to use them, here.

Every DNA segment that we have originated someplace. First, from one of our parents, then from one of our 4 grandparents, and so forth, on up our tree. The further back in time we go, the smaller the segments from those more distant ancestors become, until we have none for a specific ancestor, or at least none over the matching threshold.

The keyword in that sentence is segment, because we can assign or attribute DNA segments to ancestors. When we find that we match someone else on that same segment inherited from the same parent, assuming the match is identical by descent and not identical by chance, we then know that somehow, we shared a common ancestor. Either an ancestor we’ve already identified, or one that remains a mystery.

Those segments can and will reveal ancestors and tell us how we are related to our matches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that not every vendor provides segment information. For example, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage all do, but Ancestry does not.

For Ancestry testers, and people wishing to share segment information with Ancestry testers, all is not lost.

Everyone can download a copy of their raw DNA data file and upload those files to vendors who accept uploads, including FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and of course GEDmatch.


GEDmatch does not offer DNA testing services, specializing instead in being the common matching denominator and providing advanced tools. GEDmatch recently received a facelift. If you don’t recognize the image above, you probably haven’t signed in to GEDmatch recently, so take a look. The AutoSegment tool is only available on the new version, not the Classic version.

Ancestry customers, as well as people testing elsewhere, can download their DNA files from the testing vendor and upload the files to GEDmatch, availing themselves of both the free and Tier 1 subscription tools.

I’ve written easy step-by-step download/upload instructions for each vendor, here.

At GEDmatch, matching plus a dozen tools are free, but the Tier 1 plan for $10 per month provides users with another 14 advanced tools, including AutoSegment.

To get started, click on the AutoSegment option.

AutoSegment at GEDmatch

You’ll see the GEDmatch AutoSegment selection menu.

You can easily run as many AutoSegment reports as you want, so I suggest starting with the default values to get the lay of the land. Then experiment with different options.

At GEDmatch, AutoSegment utilizes your top 3000 matches. What a huge, HUGE timesaver.

Just a couple of notes about options.

  • My go-to number of SNPs is 500 (or larger,) and I’m always somewhat wary of matches below that level because there is an increased likelihood of identical by chance segments when the required number of segment matching locations is smaller.
  • GEDmatch has to equalize DNA files produced by different vendors, including no-calls where certain areas don’t read. Therefore, there are blank spaces in some files where there is data in other vendors’ files. The “Prevent Hard Breaks” option allows GEDmatch to “heal” those files by allowing longer stretches of “missing” DNA to be considered a match if the DNA on both sides of that blank space matches.
  • “Remove Segments in Known Pile-Up Regions” is an option that instructs GEDmatch NOT to show segments in parts of the human genome that are known to have pile-up regions. I generally don’t select this option, because I want to see those matches and determine for myself if they are valid. We’ll look at a few comparative examples in the Pileup section of this article.

Fortunately, you can experiment with each of these settings one by one to see how they affect your matching. Even if you don’t normally subscribe to GEDmatch, you can subscribe for only one month to experiment with this and other Tier 1 tools.

Your AutoSegment results will be delivered via a download link.

Save and Extract

All Genetic Affairs cluster files are delivered in a zipped file.

You MUST DO TWO THINGS, or these files won’t work correctly.

  1. Save the zip file to your computer.
  2. Extract the files from the zip file. If you’re on a PC, right-click on the zip file and EXTRACT ALL. This extracts the files from the zipped file to be used individually.

If you click on a feature and receive an error message, it’s probably because you either didn’t save the file to your computer or didn’t extract the files.

The file name is very long, so if you try to add the file to a folder that is also buried a few levels deep on your system, you may encounter problems when extracting your file. Putting the file on your desktop so you can access it easily while working is a good idea.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

Your AutoSegment Cluster File

Click on the largest HTML file in the list of your extracted files. The HTML file uses the files in the clusters and matches folders, so you don’t need to open those individually.

It’s fun to watch your clusters fly into place. I love this part.

If your file is too large and your system is experiencing difficulty or your browser locks, just click on the smaller AutoSegment HTML file, at the bottom of the list, which is the same information minus the pretty cluster.

Word to the wise – don’t get excited and skip over the three explanatory sections just below your cluster. Yes, I did that and had to go back and read to make sense of what I was seeing.

At the bottom of this explanatory section is a report about Pileup Regions that I’ll discuss at the end of this article.


As a third viewing option, you can also open the AutoSegment Excel file to view the results in an excel grid.

You’ll notice a second sheet at the bottom of this spreadsheet page that says AutoSegment-segment-clusters. If you click on that tab, you’ll see that your clusters are arranged in chromosome and cluster order, in the same format as long-time genetic genealogist Jim Bartlett uses in his very helpful blog, segment-ology.

You’ll probably see a message at the top of the spreadsheet asking if you want to enable editing. In order for the start and end locations to calculate, you must enable editing. If the start and end locations are zeroes, look for the editing question.

Notice that the colors on this sheet are coordinated with the clusters on the first sheet.

EJ uses yellow rows as cluster dividers. The “Seg” column in the yellow row indicates the number of people in this cluster group, meaning before the next yellow divider row. “Chr” is the chromosome. “Segment TG” is the triangulation group number and “Side” is Jim Bartlett’s segment tracking calculation number.

Of course, the Centimorgans column is the cM size, and the number of matching SNPs is provided.

You can read about how Jim Bartlett tracks his segment clusters, here, which includes discussions of the columns and how they are used.

Looking at each person in the cluster groups by chromosome, *WS matches me and *Cou, the other person in the cluster beginning and ending at the start and end location on chromosome 1. In the match row (as compared with the yellow dividing row,) Column F, “Seg,” tells you the number of segments where *WA matches me, the tester.

A “*” before the match name at GEDmatch means a pseudonym or alias is being used.

In order to be included in the AutoSegment report, a match must triangulate with you and at least one other person on (at least) one of those segments. However, in the individual match reports, shown below, all matching segments are provided – including ones NOT in segment clusters.

Individual DNA Matches

In the HTML file, click on *WA.

You’ll see the three segments where *WA matches you, or me in this case. *WA triangulates with you and at least one other person on at least one of these segments or *WA would not be included in the GEDmatch AutoSegment report.

However, *WA may only triangulate on one segment and simply match you on the other two – or *WA may triangulate on more than one segment. You’ll have to look at the other sections of this report to make that determination.

Also, remember that this report only includes your top 3000 matches.


All Genetic Affairs tools begin with an AutoCluster which is a grouping of people who all match you and some of whom match each other in each colored cluster.

AutoSegment at GEDmatch begins with an AutoCluster as well, but with one VERY IMPORTANT difference.

AutoSegment clusters at GEDmatch represent triangulation of three people, you and two other people, in AT LEAST ONE LOCATION. Please note that you and they may also match in other locations where three people don’t triangulate.

By matching versus triangulation, I’m referring to the little individual cells which show the intersection of two of your matches to each other.

Regular AutoCluster reports, meaning NOT AutoSegment clusters at GEDmatch, include overlapping segment matches between people, even if they aren’t on the same chromosome and/or don’t overlap entirely. A colored cell in AutoSegment at GEDmatch means triangulation, while a colored cell in other types of AutoCluser reports means match, but not necessarily triangulation.

Match information certainly IS useful genealogically, but those two matching people in that cell:

  • Could be matching on unrelated chromosomes.
  • Could be matching due to different ancestors.
  • Could be matching each other due to an ancestor you don’t have.
  • May or may not triangulate.

Two people who have a colored cell intersection in an AutoSegment Cluster at GEDmatch are different because these cells don’t represent JUST a match, they represent a TRIANGULATED match.

Triangulation tightens up these matches by assuring that all three people, you and the two other people in that cell, match each other on a sufficient overlapping segment (10 cM in this case) on the same chromosome which increases the probability that you do in fact share a common ancestor.

I wrote about the concept of triangulation in my article about triangulation at GEDmatch, but AutoSegment offers a HUGE shortcut where much of the work is done for you. If you’re not familiar with triangulation, it’s still a good idea to read that article, along with A Triangulation Checklist Born From the Question; “Why NOT use Close Relatives for Triangulation?”

Let’s take a look at my AutoSegment report from GEDmatch.

AutoSegment Clusters at GEDmatch

A total of 195 matches are clustered into a total of 32 colored clusters. I’m only showing a portion of the clusters, above.

I’ve blurred the names of my matches in my AutoSegment AutoCluster, of course, but each cell represents the intersection of two people who both match and triangulate with me and each other. If the two people match and triangulate with each other and others in the same cluster, they are colored the same as their cluster matches.

For example, all 18 of the people in the orange cluster match me and each other on one (or more) chromosome segments. They all triangulate with me and at least one other person, or they would not appear in a colored cell in this report. They triangulate with me and every other person with whom they have a colored cell.

If you mouse over a colored cell, you can see the identity of those two people at that intersection and who else they match in common. Please note that me plus the two people in any cell do triangulate. However, me plus two people in a different cell in the same cluster may triangulate on a different segment. Everyone matches in an intricate grid, but different segments on different chromosomes may be involved.

You can see in this example that my cousin, Deb matches Laurene and both Deb and Laurene match these other people on a significant amount of DNA in that same cluster.

What happens when people match others within a cluster, but also match people in other colored clusters too?

Multiple Cluster Matches = Grey Cells

The grey cells indicate people who match in multiple clusters, showing the match intersection outside their major or “home” cluster. When you see a grey cell, think “AND.” That person matches everyone in the colored cell to the left of that grey cell, AND anyone in a colored cell below grey cells too. Any of your matches could match you and any number of other people in other cells/clusters as well. It’s your lucky day!

Deb’s matches are all shown in row 4. She and I both match all of the orange cluster people as well as several others in other clusters, indicated by grey cells.

I’m showing Deb’s grey cell that indicates that she also matches people in cluster #5, the large brown cluster. When I mouse over that grey cell, it shows that Deb (orange cluster) and Daniel (brown cluster) both match a significant number of people in both clusters. That means these clusters are somehow connected.

Looking at the bigger picture, without mousing over any particular cell, you can see that a nontrivial number of people match between the first several clusters. Each of these people match strongly within their primary-colored cluster, but also match in at least one additional cluster. Some people will match people in multiple clusters, which is a HUGE benefit when trying to identify the source ancestor of a specific segment.

Let’s look at a few examples. Remember, all of these people match you, so the grid shows how they also match with each other.

#1 – In the orange cluster, the top 5 rows, meaning the first 5 people on the left side list match other orange cluster members, but they ALSO match people in the brown cluster, below. A grey cell is placed in the column of the person they also match in the brown cluster.

#2 – The two grey cells bracketed in the second example match someone in the small red cluster above, but one person also matches someone in the small purple cluster and the other person matches someone in the brown cluster.

#3 – The third example shows one person who matches a number of people in the brown cluster in addition to every person in the magenta cluster below.

#4 – This long, bracketed group shows several people who match everyone in the orange cluster, some of whom also match people in the green cluster, the red cluster, the brown cluster, and the magenta cluster. Clearly, these clusters are somehow related to each other.

Always look at the two names involved in an individual cell and work from there.

The goal, of course, is to identify and associate these clusters with ancestors, or more specifically, ancestral couples, pushing back in time, as we identify the common ancestors of individuals in the cluster.

For example, the largest orange cluster represents my paternal grandparents. The smaller clusters that have shared members with the large orange cluster represent ancestors in that lineage.

Identifying the MRCA, or most recent common ancestor with our matches in any cluster tells us where those common segments of DNA originated.

Chromosome Segments from Clusters

As you scroll down below your cluster, you’ll notice a section that describes how you can utilize these results at DNAPainter.

While GEDmatch can’t automatically determine which of your matches are maternal and paternal, you can import them, by colored cluster, to DNAPainter where you can identify clusters to ancestors and paint them on your maternal and paternal chromosomes. I’ve written about how to use DNAPainter here.

Let’s scroll to the next section in your AutoSegment file.

Chromosome Segment Statistics

The next section of your file shows “Chromosome segment statistics per AutoSegment cluster.”

I need to take a minute here to describe the difference between:

  1. Colored clusters on your AutoCluster diagram, shown below, and
  2. Chromosome segment clusters or groups within each colored AutoSegment cluster

Remember, colored clusters are people, and you can match different people on different, sometimes multiple, chromosomes. Two people whose intersecting cell is colored triangulate on SOME segment but may also match on other segments that don’t triangulate with each other and you.

According to my “Chromosome segment statistics” report, my large orange AutoSegment cluster #1, above, includes:

  • 67 segments from all my matches
  • On five chromosomes (3, 5, 7, 10, 17)
  • That cluster into 8 separate chromosome segment clusters or groups within the orange cluster #1

This is much easier to visualize, so let’s take a look.

Chromosome Segment Clusters

Click on any cluster # in your report, above, to see the chromosome painting for that cluster. I’m clicking on my AutoSegment cluster #1 on the “Chromosome segment statistics” report that will reveal all of the segments in orange cluster #1 painted on my chromosomes.

The brightly colored painted segments show the triangulated segment locations on each chromosome. You can easily see the 8 different segment clusters in cluster #1.

Interestingly, three separate groups or chromosome clusters occur on chromosome 5. We’ll see in a few minutes that the segments in the third cluster on chromosome 5 overlaps with part of cluster #5. (Don’t confuse cluster number shown with a # and chromosome number. They are just coincidentally both 5 in this case.)

The next tool helps me visualize each of these segment clusters individually. Just scroll down.

You can mouse over the segment to view additional information, but I prefer the next tool because I can easily see how the DNA of the people who are included in this segment overlap with each other.

This view shows the individual chromosome clusters, or groups, contained entirely within the orange cluster #1. (Please note that you can adjust the column widths side to side by positioning the cursor at the edge of the column header and dragging.)

Fortunately, I recognize one of these matches, Deb, and I know exactly how she and I are related, and which ancestor we share – my great-grandparents.

Because these segments are triangulated, I know immediately that every one of these people share that segment with Deb and me because they inherited that segment of DNA from some common ancestor shared by me and Deb both.

To be very clear, these people may not share our exact same ancestor. They may share an ancestor upstream from Deb and my common ancestor. Regardless, these people, Deb, and I all share a segment I can assign at this point to my great-grandparents because it either came from them for everyone, or from an upstream ancestor who contributed it to one of my great-grandparents, who contributed it to me and Deb both.

Segment Clusters Entirely Linked

Clusters #2 and #3 are small and have common matches with people in cluster #1 as indicated by the grey cells, so let’s take a look.

I’m clicking on AutoSegment green cluster #2 which only has two cluster members.

I can see that the common triangulated segment between these two people and me occurs on chromosome 3.

This segment on chromosome 3 is entirely contained in green cluster #2, meaning no members of other clusters triangulate on this segment with me and these two people.

This can be a bit confusing, so let’s take it logically step by step.

Remember that the two people who triangulate in green cluster #2 also match people in orange cluster #1? However, the people from orange cluster #1 are NOT shown as members of green cluster #2.

This could mean that although the two people in the green cluster #2 match a couple of people in the orange cluster, they did not match the others, or they did not triangulate. This can be because of the minimum segment overlap threshold that is imposed.

So although there is a link between the people in the clusters, it is NOT sufficient for the green people to be included in the orange cluster and since the two matches triangulate on another segment, they become a separate green cluster.

In reality, you don’t need to understand exactly why members do or don’t fall into the clusters they do, you just need to understand generally how clustering and triangulation works. In essence, trust the tool if people are NOT included in multiple clusters. Click on each person individually to see which chromosomes they match you on, even if they don’t triangulate with others on all of those segments. At this point, I often run one-to-one matches, or other matching tools, to see exactly how people match me and each other.

However, if they ARE included in multiple partly linked clusters, that can be a HUGE bonus.

Let’s look at red cluster #3.

Segment Clusters Partly Linked

You can see that Mark, one of the members of red cluster #3 shares two triangulated segments, one on chromosome 4, and one on chromosome 10.

Mark and Glenn are members of cluster #3, but Glenn is not a member of the segment cluster/group on chromosome 4, only Iona and Mark.

Scrolling down, I can view additional information about the cluster members and the two segments that are held within red cluster #3.

Unlike green cluster #2 whose segment cluster/group is entirely confined to green cluster #2, red cluster #3 has NO segments entirely confined to members of red cluster #3.

Cluster #3 has two members, Mark and Glen. Mark and Glen, along with Val who is a member of orange cluster #1 triangulate on chromosome 10. Remember, I said that chromosome 10 would be important in a minute when we were discussing orange cluster #1. Now you know why.

This segment of chromosome 10 triangulates in both orange cluster #1 AND red cluster #3.

However, Mark, who is a red cluster #3 member also triangulates with Iona and me on a segment of chromosome 4. This segment also appears in AutoSegment brown cluster #4 on chromosome 4.

Now, the great news is that I know my earliest known ancestors with Iona, which means that I can assign this segment to my paternal great-great-grandparents.

If I can identify a common ancestor with some of these other people, I may be able to push segments back further in time to an earlier ancestral couple.

Identifying Common Ancestors

Of course, review each cluster’s members to see if you recognize any of your cousins.

If you don’t know anyone, how do you identify a common ancestor? You can email the person, of course, but GEDmatch also facilitates uploading GEDCOM files which are trees.

In your primary AutoSegment file, keep scrolling to see who has trees.

AutoSegment Cluster Information

If you continue to scroll down in your original HTML file, you’ll see AutoSegment Cluster Information.

For each cluster, all members are listed. It’s easy to see which people have uploaded trees. You can click to view and can hopefully identify an ancestor or at least a surname.

Click on “tree” to view your match’s entry, then on Pedigree to see their tree.

If your matches don’t have a tree, I suggest emailing and sharing what you do know. For example, I can tell my matches in cluster #1 that I know this line descends from Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, their birth and death dates and location, and encourage my match to view my tree which I have uploaded to GEDmatch.

If you happen to have a lot of matches with trees, you can create a tag group and run the AutoTree analysis on this tag group to identify common ancestors automatically. AutoTree is an amazing tool that identifies common ancestors in the trees of your matches, even if they aren’t in your tree. I wrote about AutoTree, here.

Pileup Regions

Whether you select “Remove Segments in Known Pileup Regions” or not when you select the options to run AutoSegment, you’ll receive a report that you can access by a link in the Explanation of AutoSegment Analysis section. The link is buried at the bottom of those paragraphs that I said not to skip, and many people don’t even see it. I didn’t at first, but it’s most certainly worth reviewing.

What Are Pileup Regions?

First, let’s talk about what pileup regions are, and why we observe them.

Some regions of the human genome are known to be more similar than others, for various reasons.

In these regions, people are more likely to match other people simply because we’re human – not specifically because we share a common ancestor.

EJ utilizes a list of pileup regions, based on the Li et al 2014 paper.

You may match other people on these fairly small segments because humans, generally, are more similar in these regions.

Many of those segments are too small to be considered a match by themselves, although if you happen to match on an adjacent segment, the pileup region could extend your match to appear to be more significant than it is.

If you select the “remove pileup segments” option, and you overlap any pileup region with 4.00 cM or larger, the entire matching segment that includes that region will be removed from the report no matter how large the matching segment is in total.

Here’s an example where the pileup region of 5.04 cM is right in the middle of a matching segment to someone. This entire 15.04 cM segment will be removed.

If those end segments are both 10 cM each instead of 5 cM, the segment will still be removed.

However, if the segment overlap with the pileup region is 3.99 cM or smaller, none of the resulting segment will be removed, so long as the entire segment is over the matching threshold in the first place. In the example above, if the AutoSegment threshold was 7 or 8 cM, the entire segment would be retained. If the matching threshold was 9 or greater, the segment would not have been included because of the threshold.

Of course, eight regions in the pileup chart are large enough to match without any additional adjacent segments if the match threshold is 7 cM and the overlap is exact. If the match threshold is 10 cM, only two pileup regions will possibly match by themselves. However, because those two regions are so large, we are more likely to see multiple matches in those regions.

Having a match in a pileup region does NOT invalidate that match. I have many matches in pileup regions that are perfectly valid, often extending beyond that region and attributable to an identified common ancestor.

You may also have pileup regions, in the regions shown in the chart and elsewhere, because of other genealogical reasons, including:

  • Endogamy, where your ancestors descend from a small, intermarried population, either through all or some of your ancestors. The Jewish population is probably the most well-known example of large-scale endogamy over a very long time period.
  • Pedigree collapse, where you descend from the same ancestors in multiple ways in a genealogical timeframe. Endogamy can reach far back in time. With pedigree collapse, you know who your ancestors are and how you descend, but with endogamy, you don’t.
  • Because you descend from an over-represented or over-tested group, such as the Acadians who settled in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, intermarried and remained relatively isolated until 1755 when they were expelled. Their numerous descendants have settled in many locations. Acadian descendants often have a huge number of Acadian matches.
  • Some combination of all three of the above reasons. Acadians are a combination of both endogamy and pedigree collapse and many of their descendants have tested.

In my case, I have proportionally more Acadian matches than I have other matches, especially given that my Dutch and some of my German lines have few matches because they are recent immigrants with few descendants in the US. This dichotomy makes the proportional difference even more evident and glaring.

I want to stress here that pileup regions are not necessarily bad. In fact, they may provide huge clues to why you match a particular group of people.

Pileup Regions and Genealogy

In 2016, when Ancestry removed matches that involved personal pileup regions, segments that they felt were “too-matchy,” many of my lost matches were either Acadian or Mennonite/Brethren. Both groups are endogamous and experience pedigree collapse.

Over time, as I’ve worked with my DNA matches, painting my segments at DNAPainter, which marks pileup regions, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have more matches on segments spanning standard pileup regions indicated in the Li paper, nor are those matches unreliable.

An unreliable match might be signaled by people who match on that segment but descend from different unrelated common ancestors to me. Each segment tracks to one maternal and one paternal ancestral source, so if we find individuals matching on the same segment who claim descent from different ancestral lines on the same side, that’s a flag that something’s wrong. (That “something” could also be genealogy or descending from multiple ancestors.)

Therefore, after analyzing my own matching patterns, I don’t select the option to remove pileup segments and I don’t discount them. However, this may not be the right selection for everyone. Just remember, you can run the report as many times as your want, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Regardless of whether you select the remove pileup segments option or not, the report contents are very interesting.

Pileup Regions in the Report

Let’s take a look at Pileups in the AutoSegment report.

  • If I don’t select the option of removing pileup region segments, I receive a report that shows all of my segments.
  • If I do select the option to remove pileup region segments, here’s what my report says.

Based on the “remove pileup region segments” option selected, all segments should be removed in the pileup regions documented in the Li article if the match overlap is 4.00 cM or larger.

I want to be very clear here. The match itself is NOT removed UNLESS the pileup segment that IS removed causes the person not to be a match anymore. If that person still matches and triangulates on another segment over your selected AutoSegment threshold, those segments will still show.

I was curious about which of my chromosomes have the most matches. That’s exactly what the Pileup Report tells us.

According to the Pileup Report, my chromosome with the highest number of people matching is chromosome 5. The Y (vertical) axis shows the number of people that match on that segment, and the X axis across the bottom shows the match location on the chromosome.

You’ll recall that chromosome 5 was the chromosome from large orange AutoSegment cluster #1 with three distinct segment matches, so this makes perfect sense.

Sure enough, when I view my DNAPainter results, that first pileup region from about location 5-45 are Brethren matches (from my maternal grandfather) and the one from about 48-95 are Acadian matches (from my maternal grandmother.) This too makes sense.

Please note that chromosome 5 has no general pileup regions annotated in the Li table, so no segments would have been removed.

Let’s look at another example where some segments would be removed.

Based on the chromosome table from the Li paper, chromosome 15 has nearly back-to-back pileup regions from about 20-30 with almost 20 cM of DNA combined.

Let’s see what my Pileup Segment Removal Report for chromosome 15 shows.

No segment matches in this region are reported because I selected remove pileup regions.

The only way to tell how many segment matches were removed in this region is to run the report and NOT select the remove pileup segments option. I did that as a basis for comparison.

You can see that about three segments were removed and apparently one of those segments extended further than the other two. It’s also interesting that even though this is designated as a pileup region, I had fewer matches in this region than on other portions of the chromosome.

If I want to see who those segments belong to, I can just view my chromosome 15 results in the AutoSegment-segment-clusters tab in the spreadsheet view which is arranged neatly in chromosome order.

The only way to tell if matches in pileup regions are genealogically valid and relevant is to work with each match or group of matches and determine if they make sense. Does the match extend beyond the pileup region start and end edge? If so, how much? Can you identify a common ancestor or ancestral line, and if so, do the people who triangulate in that segment cluster makes sense?

Of course, my genealogy and therefore my experience will be different than other people’s. Anyone who descends primarily from an endogamous population may be very grateful for the “remove pileups” option. One size does NOT fit all. Fortunately, we have options.

You can run these reports as many times as you want, so you may want to run identical reports and compare a report that removes segments that occur in pileup regions with one that does not.

What’s Next?

For AutoSegment at GEDmatch to work most optimally, you’ll need to do three things:

  • If you don’t have one already, upload a raw DNA file from one of the testing vendors. Instructions here.
  • Upload a GEDCOM file. This allows you to more successfully run tools like AutoTree because your ancestors are present, and it helps other people too. Perhaps they will identify your common ancestor and contact you. You can always email your matches and suggest that they view your GEDCOM file to look for common ancestors or explain what you found using AutoTree. Anyone who has taken the time to learn about GEDmatch and upload a file might well be interested enough to make the effort to upload their GEDCOM file.
  • Convince relatives to upload their DNA files too or offer to upload for them. In my case, triangulating with my cousins is invaluable in identifying which ancestors are represented by each cluster.

If you have not yet uploaded a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch, now’s a great time while you’re thinking about it. You can see how useful AutoClusters and AutoSegment are, so give yourself every advantage in identifying common matches.

If you have a tree at Ancestry, you can easily download a copy and upload to GEDmatch. I wrote step-by-step instructions, here. Of course, you can upload any GEDCOM file from another source including your own desktop computer software.

You never know, using AutoSegment and AutoTree, you may just find common ancestors BETWEEN your matches that you aren’t aware of that might, just might, help you break down YOUR brick walls and find previously unknown ancestors.

AutoSegment tells you THAT you triangulate and exactly where. Now it’s up to you to figure out why.

Give AutoSegment at GEDmatch a try.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

Jacob Dobkins (1751-1835); Several Bullet Holes Through His Clothes – 52 Ancestors #344

Jacob Dobkins is one of those border ancestors. What do I mean by that? Some ancestors spanned certain events or timeframes. One of these critical junctions was the Revolutionary War and the westward movement from the colonies into the frontier.

What happened during this period was that many men, and some families, traveled westward. Often courthouses were burned during subsequent wars and any documents that did exist were destroyed. Sometimes those documents never existed in the first place.

Many times, we find those men in their new location with no ties backward in time. At least none that we can find.

Where did they come from? Who were they and who were their wives?

Several researchers spent decades trying to piece the life of Jacob together. Fortunately, Jacob served in the Revolutionary War and applied for a pension in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but that certainly was not where he began his life.

One of the challenges tracking Jacob is that the surname is spelled a variety of ways: Dobkins, Dobbins, Dobikins, and more.

Birth and Early Years

Jacob was born about 1751 in Augusta County, Virginia, the portion that became Dunmore, now Shenandoah County, to Captain John Dobkins, also spelled Dobikins, and his wife, Elizabeth whose surname is unknown but rumored to be Moore. (DAR Patriot Index and The People’s History of Claiborne County, Tennessee 1801-2005, Vol. II, page 164). In 1775 Jacob married Darcus or Dorcas Johnson in Dunmore County, Virginia (Marriage Bonds 1772-1850).

Bill Nevils, long time and now deceased Dobkins researcher showed that Jacob was born in Frederick Co., VA, and married in 1775 in Dunsmore Co., VA. Bill’s work was excellent, but I wish he had shared his sources as he wrote.

Jacob’s age is taken from his application for a Revolutionary War pension in 1832 where he states that he is 81 years old. Thank goodness for that declaration, because that’s the only semi-firm birth year we have from Jacob’s own lips.

We first find Jacob listed on the Fincastle, Virginia delinquent tax list in 1773 with one taxable person – himself. Of course, since Jacob was “not found,” he had moved on from wherever he was living by the time the tax collector arrived.

Where was that? Good question.

When Fincastle County was created from Botetourt County in 1772, it included everything to the Mississippi River including the present state of Kentucky, all of West Virginia south of the Kanawha and New Rivers, Virginia west of the crest of the Blue Ridge and essentially south of present Roanoke and Craig Counties.

Dunmore County, now extinct and renamed as Shenandoah County, was created in 1772 from Fincastle. At that time, Lord Dunmore was leading the military opposition to the “rebels” in Virginia and had already issued the infamous Emancipation Proclamation offering to free any slave who fled their Virginia masters and joined the Royal British forces.

Fincastle Co., VA 1773 Delinquent Tax List
Jacob Dobbins Not found – 1

Elsewhere the surname transcribed from this record is spelled Dobins.

In 1777 Fincastle was divided into Montgomery, Washington, and Kentucky counties. Its records were retained by Montgomery County which explains why these delinquent accounts are found among the Montgomery County delinquent lists.

That first tax list is described as a list of inhabitants on the Clinch River which flows through the present Virginia counties of Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise. The second and third lists are not identified as to area and may be compiled lists. The destinations of the delinquents are primarily adjacent counties including Bedford and Pittsylvania east of the Blue Ridge and Augusta County to the north. Since the present state of Kentucky was a part of Fincastle County at this time, the Indian land referenced was probably in Tennessee or Ohio.

In May of 1774, Lord Dunmore’s War commenced when he, as Virginia’s Governor, essentially declared war between Virginia and the Native people. This conflict resulted from escalating violence between white settlers who believed that in accordance with the Treat of Fort Stanwix in 1768 that they had the right to settle the lands south of the Oho, present-day Kentucky, Ohio, and southwest Pennsylvania, and the Iroquois Confederacy who had the right to hunt there.

The Virginia militia, all-volunteer, was called into service. Access Genealogy has transcribed the rosters of the units and the men at the early forts – although some lists are incomplete.

Many units participated in the Battle of Point Pleasant in October of 1774, but some did not. A transcribed list of volunteers in Robert Doack’s Company of Militia who defended the frontier in 1774, but did not participate in the Battle of Point Pleasant include one Jacob Dobler. I strongly suspect this is Jacob Dobkins, his name misspelled. I would like to see the original document.

Jacob married Dorcas Johnson in 1775 in Dunmore County. His brother, Evan, married Margaret Johnson, possibly a sister of Dorcas on January 30, 1775.

Jacob, along with Evin (sometimes transcribed incorrectly as Kevin) and Reuben appear on a Dunmore County militia roster dated May 29, 1775, so we know that they were living in present-day Shenandoah County at that time.

Evin (Evan) and Reuben are both presumed to be Jacob’s brothers given that there are no other Dobkins families living anyplace close. Based on this record, they would all have been born around 1750, give or take a year or two.

Shenandoah County was created in 1776 to replace Dunmore who proved to be an extremely unpopular governor.

In 1776, Jacob’s son, John Dobkins was born. Daughter Elizabeth was probably born in 1777, followed by Jane, also known as Jenny, about 1778. Both Elizabeth and Jenny married Campbell brothers.

Jacob Dobkins enlisted in Captain Todd’s Company at Harrodsburg (eventually Kentucky) in May 1779 and served for two years during the Revolutionary War. In 1780 he joined Captain McGary’s Company of Colonel George Rodgers Clark’s army and participated in the Piqua campaign against the Shawnee Indians of Ohio in the summer of 1780.

Jacob was obviously a VERY long way away from home, but returned to Shenandoah County after the war. However, that itch to move to the frontier had already taken hold.

Jacob’s name, along with John and Reuben Dobkins, appears on the Shenandoah County heads of family census of 1783.  They do not appear on the 1785 Virginia tax list “census” so they must have migrated to the western lands in the spring of 1785.

We have the names of 4 brothers: Jacob, Evan, Reuben and John Dobkins.

What happened to Jacob in the war?

The War

In 1775 Jacob enlisted in the American Revolutionary War in Shenandoah County in local Militia # 6 in Jacob Holeman’s Company (Revolutionary War Records, Vol 1, VA).

In 1780, this unit was mustered out to repel the British Invasion, but Jacob was already serving in Kentucky, so only Reuben and Evin would have been serving with the Holeman unit.

This information was originally taken from Jacob Dobkins’ application for a military pension in 1832 from the Claiborne County Court notes and later augmented by both the original petition and other historical records. The spelling and some punctuation has been modernized to aid in readability. Note that the writer slips back and forth between third-person and first-person as the narrative unfurls as Jacob speaks. I can just see the court clerk writing with his quill pen as Jacob, then an old man, testified, describing events that took place half a century earlier.

Jacob Dobkins, aged 81, …being duly sworn…states that he has not attended any Court of Justice in fifteen years last past and that he is very infirm and decrepit and about fifteen years ago he met with the misfortune of having his shoulder and collar bone broke [sic] which has greatly disabled him from getting about. He also states that he is much afflicted with the phrumatic (sic) pains.

He also states that he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated. That in the year 1779 and in the month of May in said year he resided in Kentucky at Harrods Burgh when he enlisted in the service of his country under Capt. Todd, which said company was attached to the troop commanded by Colonel Bowman.

(Page 2 of the original document.) Colonel Bowman shortly afterward marched to the Chilicothe towns against the Indians and the company to which this applicant belonged to commanded by Capt. Todd was left to guard the fort at Harrodsburgh where he remained until the spring 1780 and this applicant states that he was then transferred to a company commanded by Capt. McGarry [?] and we marched to the Shawnee Springs where we built a fort and afterwards, the company which this applicant belonged to was ordered to march to the falls of the Ohio with the view of guarding the artillery up the river which we accordingly did and joined the troops commanded by General Clark. Sometime in the month of July in the year 1780 we were then ordered by General Clark to march up the river with a view to kill provisions for the army. We accordingly marched up the river to the mouth of the Kentucky River where we attempted to cross the river to join the main army who were camped on the other side of the river. The Indians made an attack upon us and in the engagement we lost ten of our men. We then marched up the river to Cincinnati where we joined the troops commanded by Colonel Logan. We then built a block house and stationed a guard and the whole of the balance of the army marched to the Chilicothe towns (page 3) and the Indians evacuated the towns and would not give us battle. We then pursued them to the Pickaway towns where we arrived in the month of August in said year. We then found the Indians collected together and we had a very severe battle which lasted about three hours and a half. We killed a considerable number of them, and I think our loss was about 28 men. This applicant states that he did not receive any wounds in the battle but that there was several bullet holes through his clothes and applicant states the whole of the army then marched back to Cincinnati and the company to which I belonged marched back to the Shawnee Springs where this applicant was stationed until the month of August 1781 and during which time we had no general engagements, that a great portion of our time was spent in skirmishing parties through the country. Said applicant states that he actually did serve in the army of the United States putting the whole together more than two years. Applicant states that he does not remember that he ever did receive a discharge and if he did he has lost or mislaid it so that he cannot produce it. He states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his service. He duly relinquishes every claim to a pension or an annuity except (page 4) the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any agency of any state whatsoever.

Signed by Jacob Dobkins

I love that we have Jacob’s actual signature, as shakey as it was. It’s the one personal thing left of him, except for his DNA carried by his descendants.

History Involving Jacob’s Units

What can history tell us about what Jacob was doing when combined with his pension application? Let’s take this apart, piece by piece.

Jacob Dobkins, aged 81, …being duly sworn…states that he has not attended any Court of Justice in fifteen years last past and that he is very infirm and decrepit and about fifteen years ago he met with the misfortune of having his shoulder and collar bone broke [sic] which has greatly disabled him from getting about.

This tells us that when Jacob was about 66 years old, he had some type of painful accident that broke his shoulder and collar bone and never healed correctly. Jacob was a farmer and used mules and horses to plow and for other farm related activities. Of course, horsepower was the only way to get to town, other than walking. I have to wonder if he fell, or something fell on him.

I can only imagine how painful this must have been – not to mention disabling. Thankfully, families took care of one another. We know he lived beside his son Solomon and very near his two sons-in-law, John and George Campbell.

He also states that he is much afflicted with the phrumatic (sic) pains.

I’m presuming here that he meant what is known as rheumatoid arthritis, today.

He also states that he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated. That in the year 1779 and in the month of May in said year he resided in Kentucky at Harrods Burgh when he enlisted in the service of his country under Capt. Todd, which said company was attached to the troop commanded by Colonel Bowman.

What was Jacob doing in Harrodsburg in 1779? He says he already was living there.

These records published in the Genealogy Trails that apply to Kentucky land entries filed in Fincastle County, Virginia include one John Dobbins who could well have been John Dobkins, Jacob’s father, or perhaps Jacob’s brother John.

Name Date Type Zone Assignee Location Page
Dobbin, John 80.01.11 PW 6 N Elkhorn 126

PW = a presumption of 1000 acres for improving prior to 1778. In 1780, one John Smith appeared and represented the claim of John Dobbin on January 11, 1780, meaning the claim had been sold.

According to Wikipedia, North Elkhorn Creek starts just east of Lexington and flows 75.4 miles (121.3 km) through Fayette and Scott counties, and into Franklin County, where it meets the South Elkhorn at the Forks of the Elkhorn east of Frankfort.

South Elkhorn Creek begins in Fayette County, and flows 52.8 miles (85.0 km) through Woodford, Scott, and Franklin counties to reach the Forks of the Elkhorn. South Elkhorn Creek defines the boundary between Scott and Woodford counties. Beyond the Forks of the Elkhorn, the confluent waters flow north and empty into the Kentucky River north of Frankfort.

Elkhorn isn’t anyplace close to Harrodsburg. The southernmost part of Elkhorn terminates in Elkhorn Lake, near Payne Gap on the northern side of the mountain range between Letcher County Kentucky, and Wise County, Virginia.

In 1779 when Jacob enlisted, Harrodsburg was a small village in the middle of the wilderness, only 5 years old. What is now Kentucky was part of Virginia, and the Shawnee people were very unhappy, caught in the middle, feeling betrayed by both white men and other Native people.

In 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals (now Elizabethton, TN) was signed between Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company and the Cherokee people. It opened for settlement the area from the Ohio River south to the Watauga settlement, including Harrodsburg.

The Shawnee people, who inhabited the lands, were not involved in the negotiations and, understandably, refused to accept the terms of the treaty. Hence, they felt betrayed by the Cherokee, that their lands were being invaded, and attempted to repel settlers whom they viewed as trespassers.

The first European settlers were either quite brave or foolhardy, I’m not sure which. Within a few years, attempts were being made to settle the land beyond the few longhunters that frequented the area.

The passage of a Land Act was an important event of the year 1779. Up to that time land had been acquired without money and practically without price, but in that year the public lands of Virginia assumed a new importance. That naturally was the outcome of the Act by virtue of which Commissioners were appointed to sit as a Court to examine and grant certificates of settlements and preemptions. A Court was held in Harrodsburg on the 13th day of October and all who had claims to land were obliged to attend and state them.

Of some of the happenings of this year E. Foley writes: “We started from Frederick County, Virginia, and settled Bowmans fall 1779 about the middle of December; my mother was the first white woman that was there for some time and our coming was the first settling of station. There was nothing but a camp there till some time in March because it was too cold to work. As soon as we had gotten a good camp Col. Bowman brought his family from Harrodsburg and by Spring we had 20 farms…”

The year 1775 saw an influx of settlers to this section, the new arrivals coming from Virginia and North Carolina, and Harrodsburg received its quota. A number, it is said, clustered around Harrod’s old cabin the rising settlement. This year, too, saw a commencement made in the work of erecting the Fort which increasing numbers and the ever present menace of the Indians rendered a necessity. It is said that on the arrival of the pioneers in the previous year a temporary fort or shelter was established, but I have found no mention of this anywhere, and it may be merely a matter of tradition.

The year 1776 saw the completion of the fort which doubtless was greatly accelerated by Clark’s encouragement and example. One of his schemes at this time was Virginia ownership for Kentucky, deciding to call upon for protection. On June 6 he called a meeting of the settlers at Harrodsburg and they decided to send delegates or deputies to the Assembly of Virginia and Williamsburg with a petition asking the Assembly to establish the County of Kentucky. Clark and John Gabriel Jones, a lawyer, were elected as the delegates.

Clark was in Harrodsburg in 1777 and there he wrote an interesting diary which he had begun in the previous December and which was concluded on March 30, 1778. In this diary he says: “March 6th, 1777, Thomas Shores and William Ray Killed at the Shawnee Spring.”

In the Spring the Court of Quarter Sessions held its first sitting at Harrodsburg attended by the Sheriff of the county and its Clerk, Levi Todd. The first Court of Kentucky was composed of John Todd, John Floyd, Benjamin Logan, John Bowman and Richard Calloway. Just after the Court had adjourned, the Fort was attacked by the Indians and it is said that all the hunters and surveyors were driven from the surrounding country and forced to take refuge in the fort.

This census of sorts, taken from the journal of one of Harrod’s men is enlightening.

Almost every man at or near Fort Harrod was in the service.

In 1779, Col. Bowman left Frederick County with multiple families to settle Harrodsburg.

Given that Jacob says he enlisted at Harrodsburg, he was either already there or was with this group of families. For all we know, his father, John, and brothers may have been among this party as well. Regardless, we know positively that Jacob was in Harrodsburg in May.

The situation with the Shawnee continued to escalate and deteriorate.

Colonel Bowman shortly afterward marched to the Chilicothe towns against the Indians and the company to which this applicant belonged to commanded by Capt. Todd was left to guard the fort at Harrodsburgh where he remained until the spring 1780…

In other words, Jacob spent the majority of a year guarding the fort. The march to Chillicothe took place in May of 1779, the same month Jacob enlisted.

Fort Harrod

We are fortunate that a reproduction of Fort Harrod exists today in the Old Fort Harrod State Park.

By FloNight (Sydney Poore) and Russell Poore – self-made by Russell and Sydney Poore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2806881

The actual fort location is under the Fort parking lot today.

The entire park is only 15 acres.

You can view the inside of the fort, here, and here. Imagine Jacob and all of the families living in this small space along with all of their animals in the corral inside the fort.

The fort housed a militia blockhouse, a family blockhouse, several cabins, a school, minister’s cabin and the leader’s cabin. Furthermore, two freshwater springs were located within the fort.

Those springs served several purposes. Drinking water, of course, but they also removed the need to exit the fort to retrieve water if the Indians were attacking.

Furthermore, the Shawnee would set forts afire to burn the settlers and militia out, but because the water source was within the fort, that tactic never worked at Fort Harrod.

The walls were 14 feet tall, with the bottom 4 feet buried in the ground. The posts measured more than a foot in diameter, so I can imagine the men felling those large trees. Ten foot gates were located on the north and west walls.

Inside the walls, blockhouses sat at the southwest and southeast corners where the upper story extended 2 feet outside the walls to allow the soldiers to shoot along the perimeter of the walls. It was here that Jacob would have spent most of his time while on duty, guarding and watching.

Between the blockhouses were seven 20×20 foot story-and-a-half houses separated by 10 feet. A single-story cabin was built next to the east corner and used as a school and a blacksmith shop was located on the southern wall inside the fort.

You can watch several YouTube videos showing inside Old Fort Harrod with stories told by interpreters here, here, here and here. One of the original rifles at the fort still exists and is mounted on the wall. Jacob would have carried a rifle or long-gun like this, along with the powder horn.

Take a look. Even if your ancestor isn’t involved with Fort Harrod, this provides incredible perspective about the settlement of the frontiers.

Sometime in the month of July in the year 1780 we were then ordered by General Clark to march up the river with a view to kill provisions for the army. We accordingly marched up the river to the mouth of the Kentucky River where we attempted to cross the river to join the main army who were camped on the other side of the river. The Indians made an attack upon us and in the engagement we lost ten of our men. We then marched up the river to Cincinnati where we joined the troops commanded by Colonel Logan. We then built a block house and stationed a guard and the whole of the balance of the army marched to the Chilicothe towns (page 3) and the Indians evacuated the towns and would not give us battle. We then pursued them to the Pickaway towns where we arrived in the month of August in said year. We then found the Indians collected together and we had a very severe battle which lasted about three hours and a half. We killed a considerable number of them, and I think our loss was about 28 men. This applicant states that he did not receive any wounds in the battle but that there was several bullet holes through his clothes and applicant states the whole of the army then marched back to Cincinnati and the company to which I belonged marched back to the Shawnee Springs where this applicant was stationed until the month of August 1781 and during which time we had no general engagements, that a great portion of our time was spent in skirmishing parties through the country. Said applicant states that he actually did serve in the army of the United States putting the whole together more than two years. Applicant states that he does not remember that he ever did receive a discharge and if he did he has lost or mislaid it so that he cannot produce it. He states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his service. He duly relinquishes every claim to a pension or an annuity except (page 4) the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any agency of any state whatsoever.

…and this applicant states that he was then transferred to a company commanded by Capt. McGarry [?] and we marched to the Shawnee Springs where we built a fort and afterwards, the company which this applicant belonged to was ordered to march to the falls of the Ohio with the view of guarding the artillery up the river which we accordingly did and joined the troops commanded by General Clark.

The Captain’s name could have been James McGinty. He and his wife, Anne, established the first ordinary, reproduced within the fort today, and are both buried in the cemetery at Fort Harrod.

However, based on the mention of Shawnee Springs about 6 miles distant from Fort Harrod, land was claimed by Hugh McGary, I’d wager that the man being referenced is Hugh McGary. His required land improvement was probably the fort built by Jacob Dobkins and the other men. That doesn’t seem quite right.

A Backwoods Army on the Move

Jacob Dobkins clearly knew George Rodgers Clark, born in 1752, referenced as General Clark, whose headquarters were at the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, KY. Jacob and Clark were about the same age, 27 or 28 years of age. Hard to believe George Rodgers Clark was already a general.

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall of that stockade as the two men talked.

George Rodgers Clark depicted here sometime before his stroke in 1809 and death in 1818.

Sometime in the month of July in the year 1780 we were then ordered by General Clark to march up the river with a view to kill provisions for the army.

 Jacob, along with other men were hunting to feed the soldiers.

In response to Clark’s orders, an army began congregating at the mouth of the Licking River with July 31 as the date by which all of the companies were to be mustered. Clark had dictated a massive mobilization of Kentucky militia. The Licking River’s mouth is across the River from Cincinnati.

We accordingly marched up the river to the mouth of the Kentucky River where we attempted to cross the river to join the main army who were camped on the other side of the river.

The Kentucky River’s mouth is at Carrollton, half-way between Louisville and Cincinnati.

Of course, by this time the Revolutionary War was well underway, and the Native Americans had sided with the British, hoping to drive the frontiersmen out of their lands.

In 1778 and into 1779, Clark led his men on a winter march to Vincennes in what would become Indiana. While Jacob was not present for this march, the depiction of the mountain men in their brown garb and muskets was probably similar.

In June of 1780, the Shawnee, Delaware (Lenape) and Wyandot Indians invaded Kentucky, capturing both Ruddle’s and Martin’s Forts, along with hundreds of prisoners.

The great panic occasioned throughout Kentucky by the taking of Ruddle’s and Martin’s Stations caused the people to look up to General Clark as their only hope. His counsel and advice was received as coming from an oracle. He advised that a levy of four-fifths should be made of all the men in the country capable of bearing arms, whether inhabitants or strangers, and to meet at the mouth of Licking on the 20th July. Those from Lincoln and Fayette, under the command of Colonel Logan, were to march down Licking. Those from Jefferson under General Clark were to march up the Ohio.

In August, General Clark decided to lead a retaliatory force that would lead to the Battle of Piqua near Springfield, Ohio.

As soon as it was decided that an expedition should be carried on against the Indians. General Clark gave orders to have a number of small skiffs built at Louisville capable of taking fifteen or twenty men, which together with batteaux, the provisions and military stores, were taken by water from Louisville to the mouth of the Licking. The vessels were under the direction of Colonel George Slaughter, who commanded about 150 troops raised by him in Virginia for Western Service.

Were those boats involved with Jacob’s unit? Was Jacob on those boats? He was clearly there.

The Indians made an attack upon us and in the engagement we lost ten of our men. We then marched up the river to Cincinnati where we joined the troops commanded by Colonel Logan. We then built a block house and stationed a guard…

If Jacob Dobkins was at the mouth of the Kentucky River, these boats would have passed by on their way to the mouth of Licking River, at Cincinnati – or picked the men up along the way. But Jacob says they marched.

In ascending the river, it was necessary to keep the vessels close to the shore, some of which were on one side and some on the other; it happened whilst one of these skiffs was near the north side of the river a party of Indians ran down to the water’s edge and fired into it and killed and wounded several before assistance could be obtained from the other boats.

The fact that the boat was attacked, and Jacob also mentions losing men makes me wonder if this is the same event, told from two different perspectives. Jacob says they marched to the Kentucky River, then on to Licking River, and were trying to cross the river when they were attached. The boat doesn’t say anything about marching men, so maybe this was two separate events.

That party of the army commanded by Colonel Logan assembled at Bryan’s Spring, about eight miles from Lexington, and on the following night a man by the name of Clarke stole a valuable horse and went off. It was generally believed that he intended to go to North Carolina. When the army arrived at the mouth of Licking, the horse was found there, when the conjecture was that he had been taken prisoner by the Indians; but it was afterwards discovered that he had gone to the Indians voluntarily in order to give them notice of the approach of an army from Kentucky.

The army rendezvoused and encamped on the ground where Cincinnati now stands, and the next day built two blockhouses, in which was deposited a quantity of corn, and where several men who were sick left with a small guard, until the return of the army.

The division of the army commanded by Colonel Logan took with them generally provisions, only sufficient to last them to the mouth of Licking, as it was understood a sufficient quantity for the campaign would be brought up from Louisville to that place; but when the army was about to march, the provisions were distributed among the men, and was only six quarts of Indian corn, measured in a quart pot for each man, most of whom were obliged to carry it on their backs, not having a sufficiency of pack horses to convey the whole, together with the military stores and the baggage of the army.

Jacob received few provisions before they were marching once again.

The Battle of Pickaway

and the whole of the balance of the army marched to the Chilicothe towns and the Indians evacuated the towns and would not give us battle. We then pursued them to the Pickaway towns where we arrived in the month of August in said year.

We then found the Indians collected together and we had a very severe battle which lasted about three hours and a half. We killed a considerable number of them, and I think our loss was about 28 men.

Battle of Pique map, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Jacob describes this as a very severe battle. The Native warriors were outnumbered, two to one, but they fought valiantly.

Clark, in the Shawnee Expedition of 1780, led a total of about 970 men who had crossed the Ohio River and then marched up the Little Miami and Mad Rivers. They arrived at the village of Piqua (not the current day city in Ohio), the head village of the Shawnee with approximately 3000 inhabitants on August 8th. The village surrounded a small stockade.

The Shawnee were driven off when General Clark used artillery to bombard the stockade from river cliffs above the village. Clark’s men then spent two days burning as much as 500 acres of corn surrounding the village.

Clark reported 27 casualties (14 killed and 13 wounded) which seemed like a victory, but historians have corrected that number to almost three times that based on eyewitness accounts of survivors. However, Jacob also reports the same number as Clark. Perhaps that’s what he was told, although an eye-witness report would seem to be quite credible.

Of course, that number of dead does not include the Shawnee casualties.

The battlefield location today is more than 200 miles north of Fort Harrod, a very long and treacherous march on foot through unknown and dangerous terrain, about 7 miles west of Springfield, Ohio on the Mad River, known as the George Rodger’s Clark Park.

It’s here that Jacob spent those three and a half hellacious hours.

It’s here, along the Mad River that the devastating clash of cultures occurred – and it’s here that Jacob came close to losing his life.

The Shawnee never rebuilt their capitol village that housed more than 3000 people and instead moved to the Great Miami River where they settled just north of what is today the modern town of Piqua, Ohio, naming their village Peckuwe (later anglicized to “Piqua”).

You can read more in the George Rodgers Clark Papers, here and see the Peckuwe battlefield site, here and reenactors, here.

Several Bullet Holes

This applicant states that he did not receive any wounds in the battle but that there was several bullet holes through his clothes…

I just had to stop and let that sink in. Jacob Dobkins came that close. Inches or closer.

“Several bullet holes through his clothes.”

Not one.

Not two.



Jacob’s daughter, my ancestor Jenny was probably born sometime between 1778 and 1780. Based on this, I’m presuming 1778 before he left, or perhaps as he was in the thick of the fighting or even after his return. Regardless, had those bullets been just a hair closer, or he had been unlucky that day, she would either never have been born, or never have known her father.

I’m sure the men acted brave, but Jacob must have been terrified facing more than 450 braves on their own territory. Three and a half hours of intense battle. I’d wager that he never noticed those bullet holes until after everything was over and he had a chance to recover a bit.

He had to have known how close he came as the soldiers took stock of what had happened and buried their dead.

Of course, the soldiers would have been surveying the immediate damage when the fighting ended. Who was injured and needed attention? Who hadn’t been so lucky to only have bullet holes in their clothes? Who was dead? What did they do with injured soldiers and Shawnee? What did they do with the dead in mid August? Did they bury the dead Shawnee too? How would they secure themselves before nightfall to prevent an attack?

Back to Shawnee Springs

…and applicant states the whole of the army then marched back to Cincinnati and the company to which I belonged marched back to the Shawnee Springs where this applicant was stationed until the month of August 1781 and during which time we had no general engagements, that a great portion of our time was spent in skirmishing parties through the country.

Armies march about 15 miles a day, resting every fifth day to recover a bit, and it was roughly 200 miles, maybe slightly less to Shawnee Springs. That march would probably have been somewhat more than 2 weeks, so they would have arrived in September sometime.

Shawnee Springs is assuredly the land claimed by Hugh M’Gary in October 1779 about six miles from Harrodsburg on Shawnee Run. This land was contested, which means the M’Gary name was scattered throughout the records. In one suit, his property was mentioned as being a common stopping place between the fort and Harrodsburg.

Based on his comments about skirmishing parties, Jacob clearly was not always at either fort, the one at Shawnee Springs or Fort Harrod. We have no information about the fort Jacob built at Shawnee Springs, but I suspect it may have been little more than a block house. It certainly was not as large as Fort Harrod.

Said applicant states that he actually did serve in the army of the United States putting the whole together more than two years. Applicant states that he does not remember that he ever did receive a discharge and if he did he has lost or mislaid it so that he cannot produce it. He states that he has no documentary evidence of his services nor does he know of any living testimony by whom he can prove his service. He duly relinquishes every claim to a pension or an annuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of any agency of any state whatsoever.

Jacob Dobkins outlived many if not most or maybe even all of the men at Fort Harrod. George Rogers Clark died in 1818. It would have been very difficult to keep in touch with people at that time unless you were related or lived close.

What About King’s Mountain?

Jacob Dobkins is listed on the muster rolls of the men who participated in the Battle of King’s Mountain in Pat Alderson’s book, The Overmountain Men. I wrote about King’s Mountain, here. The Battle of King’s Mountain occurred on October 7, 1780. Based on Jacob’s own testimony, he marched from Ohio in August of 1780 to Shawnee Springs near Harrodsburg where he remained until May of 1781, “during which time we had no general engagements.”

Jacob Dobkins would surely have listed his service at King’s Mountain if he or his unit had participated. Furthermore, he would NOT have said they had “no general engagements.” King’s Mountain was unquestionably a major battle and a turning point in the war.

I think we can take this as evidence that Jacob Dobkins was NOT at King’s Mountain.

Participation at King’s Mountain is difficult to document because there are no muster rolls, so it’s often assumed that any man serving at this time, especially from Virginia, would have assuredly been involved in that battle. Generally, I’d agree, but in this case, I think we can rely on Jacob’s own voice in his pension application.

Jacob’s Path

During 1779 through the spring of 1781, Jacob traveled at least 450 miles – and that’s not counting his journey from and back to Shenandoah County, following the path along the valleys alongside the mountains, sheltering as he could in the forts known as stations along the way. The Wilderness Road.

Jacob would have stopped at Martin’s Station, marked with the red star below, before it was destroyed by the Shawnee.

Martin’s Station wasn’t far from where he would ultimately settle south of Cumberland Gap on the Powell River, some 20 years later, marked with the red pin on Campbell Lane.

By Cmadler – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10842234

Perhaps when Jacob sheltered at Martin’s Station, he made a foray over the mountain, crossing through the gap, hiked along the creeks, saw the lands along the winding Powell River and determined that one day, he wanted to live there.

Or, did Jacob stand at the pinnacle of the Cumberland Gap and survey his surroundings, mesmerized by the stunning majesty, and vow to return one day?

Jacob was part of the beginning trickle of pioneers, mostly men, down a dangerous trail. That trickle would turn into a stream and then a flood of pioneers by 1810 when more than 300,000 people had passed through Cumberland Gap on that Wilderness Road on their way to the new frontier and what they hoped would be a better life and more opportunity – specifically, land.

After the War

I wonder how long it had been since Jacob had seen his wife. Did he have a new baby that was by then a toddler? He enlisted in May of 1779 and wasn’t discharged until August of 1781. Some men went home and planted crops, but it’s an incredibly long, and dangerous path from Fort Harrod to Shenandoah County. Not to mention, we already know that Jacob was at Ford Harrod when he enlisted.

I sure wish we knew more of the circumstances surrounding Jacob’s enlistment and how the war changed him. Did his wife know him when he returned? Had it been more than two full years? Did she even know if he was still alive?

Cousin Carol shows a daughter, Dorcas Dobkins, born May 29, 1780 in Shenandoah Co., VA. married Sept. 16, 1796 to Malachi Murphy. She died Dec. 11, 1858. Carol believes that Dorcas is the daughter of Jacob Dobkins and Dorcas Johnson. Her first name would certainly suggest that’s a possibility.

Not that I’m counting on my fingers, but if she was born in May of 1780, that would be more than a year after Jacob had left for Fort Harrod. Of course, birth years were wrong back then, not to mention people often incorrectly stated their own ages. I’ve seen records of men being AWOL long enough to go home and plant crops too, but that’s an awfully long distance.

In 1783, Jacob’s son Reuben was born in Shenandoah County, Virginia and eventually married Mary whose surname is unknown.

In 1783 Jacob appears in the Shenandoah County, Virginia census as head-of-household. His father, John, and brother, Reuben, are also listed in the area.

Jacob’s daughter, Margaret, was probably born in Tennessee in 1785 since the family is no longer listed on tax lists in Virginia. Margaret eventually married Elijah Jones and lived in close proximity to Jacob in Claiborne County.

Jacob already had that itch and the family didn’t remain long in Shenandoah County. With the end of the war and land opening, the exodus had already begun and Jacob, then about 40 years old packed his family into a wagon and joined the stream of frontier families on the Great Wagon Road heading south and west, often together.

In 1785 there was a court document from the state of North Carolina requesting Jacob Dobkins of Shenandoah County, Virginia for a deposition in lawsuit of J. Sevier and A. Bird McCain. Had Jacob gone back to Shenandoah County again? Maybe to pack his family for the journey?

Jacob and Darcus’s daughter Margaret was reportedly born in 1785 in what would become Claiborne County, but based on these records, I don’t think that’s correct. Claiborne had not yet been formed and no settlers were yet living there. They were probably living in the eastern portion of what would one day become Tennessee.

The State of Franklin

The eastern portion of what would become Tennessee was both Virginia and North Carolina at various points in time, along with the proposed (unrecognized) State of Franklin that existed only from 1784-1788. Jonesboro was initially the capital of the State of Franklin, then Greeneville beginning in 1785.

By Brian Stansberry – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4160937

For perspective, here’s a replica of the capitol building in Greeneville based on the dimensions given in historical records.

Nothing was elegant. Everything was simply functional on the frontier.

Unfortunately, very few records exist from this timeframe, and none from the defacto “State of Franklin” itself.

As far as the rest of the colonies were concerned, “Franklin” was just a rogue part of far western North Carolina. The Franklinites thought about themselves very differently and ran the State of Franklin in conflicting parallel with North Carolina. Both entities thought they had sovereignty over those lands and residents.

By Iamvered – I, Iamvered, drew this map myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3868073

Two factions battled within the State of Franklin: the Tiptonites who were loyal to the state of North Carolina, and the Franklinites, led by Tennessee’s future governor, John Sevier, who desired an entirely separate state.

Washington, Greene, Sullivan and Hawkins County comprised the “Old State Party” who supported staying with North Carolina. The Franklinites did not.

By 1786, the residents of Franklin were negotiating with the state of North Carolina for readmission. Franklin was a mess, suffering from both internal and external conflict. In addition to the political battles, the residents were in conflict with a treaty with the Cherokee that escalated into conflict in 1788.

The book, The Lost State of Franklin provides details and a look into this fascinating time and place.

The residents were tired and frustrated. They wanted to own land and have the protections of a “normal” government of their time.

Two elections in 1786 and 1787 were disputed. In an attempt to resolve the conflict, the poll lists were sent to the North Carolina general assembly, which is the only reason we have that list today.

Jacob Dobkins was listed among the voters in August 1786 at the courthouse in Jonesboro for Washington County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) as was his brother, Reuben.

In 1787, only Reuben is found on the Washington County, NC poll list.

Jacob’s son, Solomon Dobkins was born in Tennessee in 1787 per the 1850 census. P. G. Fulkerson, early Claiborne County historian, says the family was in what would become Claiborne County by 1792. I don’t this is accurate given that Grainger wasn’t formed until 1796. We have a list of Grainger County “Insolvents Living Within the Indian Boundary for the Year 1797,” families illegally living on the Indian lands, which would have been Claiborne at that time, and Jacob isn’t included on that list.

We know that Jacob and his brothers were living in Washington County, in what would become Tennessee in 1787 and 1788. Based on the North Carolina court records, we also know that Jacob was somehow involved in the political intrigue.

The Sevier family was front and center in the State of Franklin, heading up one of the rival sides of the political disputes – the Franklinites.

Washington County, Tennessee Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions

Page 252 – Friday the 6th (think this is May 1785) – ordered the justices of Shenandoah Co. Virginia to take the depositions of Jacob Dobkins, Sylvia Foella and other witnesses in the suit between Valentine Sevier Sr. and Andrew Bird.

Valentine Sevier and Andrew Bird had been neighbors in Augusta County, serving in the same militia unit before moving to the frontier. In 1753, Sevier had sold Bird land in the portion now Rockingham County.

Page 294 – Nov. 5, 1787 – Will of Rudolph Cresslias – executor Elizabeth and John Cathart Cresslias – William Noodling Sr., John Dobbins and Abraham Riffe appraisers.

345 – Jacob Dobkins of John Wier for 100 acres dated February 21, 1788, by Abraham Riffe

358 – Evan Dobkins finds a stray horse on November 13, 1788

Reuben Dobkins (spelled Dobbins) takes part in Martin’s campaign of 1788 against the Cherokee near present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee, also known as Dragging Canoe’s War. Martin, the former Indian Agent, commanded the men from Sullivan County, although there’s no way of knowing whether Reuben served directly under Martin. We do know that the men, when finally paid in 1790, had been from Washington, Sullivan, Green and Hawkins, but some lived in other nearby counties.

The less than straightforward Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with the Cherokee was at the heart of the conflict in this region, and when combined with local emotional politics, the situation boiled over.

Where’s Jacob?

On November 24, 1789, Jacob’s name appeared on the south of the French Broad Petition to the North Carolina Legislature.

The land South of the French Broad River now falls into Jefferson and Sevier Counties. Back then, it was Washington District.

I transcribed the document in its entirety, here. You can hear the desperation and frustration, even from 232 years distance.

Other transcribers of the document provide this information:

This set of documents includes the names of many men who lived in Eastern Tennessee in 1789, names that might not be found in any other records. These men were living on Indian territory that had not been purchased by the United States. They were considered trespassers. Most of them had lived under the State of Franklin, but once that was disbanded, they belonged to no state, no nation. These petitions were written to the North Carolina Assembly, asking for help. Many of these people stayed around and eventually gained legal possession of their land almost 20 years later, but others gave up and left the area, not leaving any evidence behind in county and state records besides their names on these petitions.

Apparently, Jacob is one of those who gave up and moved back to Virginia, but not for long.

Jacob appears on the 1790 census for Shenandoah Co., Va. However, he was in newly formed Jefferson Co., Tennessee in 1792 when he sued Benjamin Wallace and John Sevier. Yes, the famous John Sevier, the man whose case he had been summoned to provide a deposition for in 1785. The families had lived as neighbors in Virginia.

1792 – Historian, Colonel P.G. Fulkerson states “Jacob Dobkins was living in the Claiborne County area in 1792”. In 1792 all but the northeast tip of present-day Claiborne County was designated as Indian Land and remained so until 1796. In Fulkerson’s defense, he was reporting events as they had been told to him from a century earlier, and we’re very fortunate that he committed that information to paper.

When Jacob did move to Claiborne County, he purchased the land north of Wallen’s Ridge above Cedar Fork, but first, Jacob, then in his 40s, settled in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County, Tennessee

Jacob fully intended to settle down and farm. He bought land on the White Horn branch of Bent Creek, near Bull’s Gap in present day southern Hawkins or Hamblen County.

Around 1795 two of Jacob’s daughters married Campbell men, believed to be brothers, probably the sons of Charles Campbell of Hawkins County who lived 8 miles directly down the road near the Holston River. It could be that before Jacob purchased land, he was living closer to the Holston and Charles Campbell.

In 1795 and 1796 we find Jacob Dobkins buying two tracts of land in Jefferson Co., Tn.  Deed book B-210 provides us with the location of Jacob’s land.

Cousin Carol sent photos of this area years ago.

I visited years later, found the location, and took photos after driving from the Campbell land near Dodson Creek in Hawkins County, where it intersects with the Holston River. Raleigh Dodson was the ferryman where the original ford used to be. The Dobkins, Dodson and Campbell families were intertwined.

The Campbell land near Dodson ford to White Horn.

Jacob Dobkins to Henry Cross of Greene Co., June 14, 1796, recorded October 13, 1796, 163 acres, 100 pounds, on the White Oak Fork of Bent Creek adj Col ? Roddy, Abraham Howard, Jacob Dobkins, wit John Goare, John Reed, signed

When I found Charles Campbell’s land, I had to find Jacob Dobkins land too. After all, their children are my ancestors. White Horn from the side road, above, and the main road, below.

Note this entry as well from 1810 – Henry Cross of Greene Co to Jacob Kirkpatrick March 15, 1810, 163 acres on White Horn fork of Bent Creek adj ? Roddy, Graham Howard, Jacob Dobbins, witnessed by Levi Day, Wilkins Kirkpatrick, William Howard proven at the March session 1810.

Lazarus Dodson who had lived by the Campbell family bought land in 1797 on White Horn too. His son by the same name would marry the daughter of John Campbell and Jane Dobkins a few years later after all of these families moved to Claiborne County.

Jefferson County, Tennessee, Court Notes 1792-1798

Page 11 – Jacob Dobkins vs Benjamin ? Wallace and John Sevier. Plaintiff prays for appeal to Superior court of the district of Washington County.

I sure would love to know what this was about. I wonder if this further affirms that Jacob was supportive of this part of Tennessee remaining part of North Carolina and not becoming the State of Franklin? Were hard feelings left from earlier days between the men?

69 – Deed from Jacob Dobkins to Henry Cross

Barnett Campbell was born to Jacob’s daughter, Elizabeth and George Campbell in 1797, according to the 1850 census.

We don’t know much about Jacob Dobkins’ religious leanings, but most people in that time and place attended church. If he was Scots-Irish, then he was probably Presbyterian, but most families attended the church of opportunity.

The Reverend Tidence Lane founded Bent Creek Church, supposedly preaching under the old tree in the Bent Creek Cemetery.

This is probably where Jacob attended church, under this tree.

Tidence Land moved up to Claiborne County too. Maybe they all talked about that under the tree as well.

Claiborne County

Grainger County was born in April of 1796 and Claiborne in October of 1801.

Jacob Dobkins did not stay in Jefferson very long as we find him in the newly formed county of Claiborne County in 1801 where he spent the rest of his life. Jacob was about 50 years old when he made this final move. Maybe he was getting tired of the exhausting work of felling trees and homesteading.

Claiborne County lies in the northern portion of East Tennessee and borders both the States of Kentucky and Virginia. The famous Cumberland Gap is situated near the middle of its northern line. The principal waterway in the county is the Powell River, with the Clinch River forming its southern boundary. The land has a variety of hills, mountains and valleys. For the most part, the soil in the valleys was good, although the hillsides were rocky. In many places, the mountains were unpassable. Jacob and his family, along with other settlers, had to deal with Indian troubles and several forts were built. The pioneers suffered much from savage depredations and conflict, especially in the early days, seemed everpresent.

The act to erect a new county from portions of Hawkins and Grainger was passed October 29, 1801. It was name Claiborne in honor of William Charles Cole Claiborne, one of the first judges of the superior court, and the first representative in Congress from Tennessee.

In 1801 Jacob Dobkins was appointed as a member of the Grand Jury for the First Court of Claiborne County, Tennessee after it was formed from Grainger, so he was already living here at this time.

The court of pleas and quarter sessions was organized at the house of John Owens December 7, 1801.

The next term of the court was held at the house of John Hunt, who lived on the site of Tazewell. The grand jury empaneled included Jacob Dobkins.

The third term of the court was held at the house of Elisha Walling, and it was not until 1804 that a small frame courthouse was erected. It stood near the site of the present courthouse. In 1804, the jail was built and remains today.

At the March court session in 1802, Jacob Dobkins “proved” a deed for 300 acres in court that was conveyed from Alexander Outlaw to John Campbell who was married to Jacob’s daughter, Jenny.

On June 07, 1802, Jacob purchased four hundred acres from Elisha Wallen, the famous longhunter, on the north side of Wallens Ridge. Jacob owned the land north of Wallens Ridge near Cedar Fork – Deed Book “A” June 07, 1802.

At the September Session of the Claiborne Court of 1803, Jacob Dobkins and his neighbor, Abel Lanham reported to the court as members of the “Jury on the road from Powels Mountain to Cumberland Gap”.

Jacob was also ordered to serve at the December term as a juror.

In 1803 and 1805, Jacob purchased additional land.

About 1808, Jacob’s son Solomon married Elizabeth, surname unknown.

Sadly, in 1809, Jacob Dobkins purchased four enslaved people. This hurt my heart, although it wasn’t uncommon.

“I Jesse Cheek hath bargained and sold unto Jacob Dobkins 4 negroes names Aneker or Anekey, Mitilty, Jiary, Amelyer for the consideration of $130 in hand paid.”  March 29 1809 Jesse signs, registered July 30, 1809.  John Campbell and Solomon Dobkins are witnesses.

Jacob’s son and son-in-law were witnesses.

Jacob buys and sells land in 1812, 1813, 1814, 1819 and 1821.

In 1812, Jacob was serving as a juror again, along with John Campbell and George Campbell, his sons-in-law, and laying out roads.

1814 brought war again to the Dobkins family. Jacob’s son, Solomon Dobkins served as a Captain in the War of 1812, also known at the Creek War. Solomon served for three months from January 17 to May 9, 1814 in the 2nd Regiment of East Tennessee militia under Colonel Bunch.

Andrew Jackson’s official report of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (27 March 1814) mentions that:

“A few companies” of Colonel Bunch were part of the right line of the American forces at this engagement. More than likely, some of those companies included Captains Francis Berry, Nicholas Gibbs (who was killed at the battle), Jones Griffin, and John McNair. In addition, muster rolls show some casualties from this battle in the companies led by Captains Moses Davis, Joseph Duncan, and John Houk. Other men from this regiment remained at Fort Williams prior to Horseshoe Bend to guard the post — provision returns indicate that there were 283 men from Bunch’s regiment at the fort at the time of the battle.

This regiment was in General George Doherty’s Brigade and many of the men stayed after the enlistment expiration of May 1814 to guard the posts at Fort Strother and Fort Williams until June/July. The line of march went through Camp Ross (near present-day Chattanooga), Fort Armstrong, and Fort Jackson.

Jacob must have been greatly relieved when Solomon returned home and walked up to his house, probably hungry, bedraggled and exahusted. Other men from Claiborne County weren’t as fortunate. Jacob was probably trying NOT to think about those bullet holes that ripped through his own clothes at the Battle of Piqua.

In 1814 Jacob sold seventy acres to his son-in-law, George Campbell and three hundred and twenty acres to son-in-law, Elijah Jones.

1817 – The accident that broke Jacob’s collarbone and shoulder occurred.

March 17, 1819 – Jacob Dobkins to John Whitacre, $400, 20 acres on the waters of Powels River beginning on the ridge near the head of a large spring known by the name of Hunt’s spring running west crossing a small branch and a few steps above the head of the said spring…crossing the branch below the mill…Jacob signs, Solomon Dobkins and George Campbell witness. February session 1820 Solomon and George swear to the conveyance and prove the deed.

Does this tell us that Jacob Dobkins owned a mill? A small tract of 20 acres would be a respectable-sized mill tract. Jacob may have given up on his shoulder healing by this point, and decided it was time to sell.

In 1823, Jacob’s son, Reuben died and his widow, Polly, served as his administrator. It must have been incredibly difficult for Jacob to lose an adult child.

The 1830 federal census in Claiborne County lists Jacob and Dorcas living next to their youngest son, Solomon. They are also living 3 doors from Abel Lanham who witnessed Jacob’s Revolutionary War pension application, and 5 doors from his son-in-law George Campbell. Jacob owned 4 slaves, 2 males ages 10-23, one female 10-23 and one female slave child under age 10.

In 1832 Jacob applied for and received a pension for his Revolutionary War service. His friend and neighbor, Abel Lanham, recommended him.

In 1833, Jacob, living beside his son Solomon is again shown on the Claiborne County tax list.

Jacob’s pension packet shows that his benefits stopped on March 4, 1833, which was his presumed date of death. But there’s more.

The next court session in Claiborne County occurred on March 18, 1833 where we find an entry referring to a Jacob Dobkins, Jr. If Jacob Sr. was still living, then there would be no need to address Jr. as such.

Ordered by the court that Jacob Dobkins Jr. be appointed overseer of the road from ? Henderson’s shop to the old Hawkins line in room and stead of William Laughan and have the same hands.

We find Jacob Jr. mentioned again in December of 1833 and March 1834.

Another record shows Jacob’s death in late 1835.

On this pension payment record, Jacob is shown as paid through 1835. He would not have been being paid if he were deceased.

And in this next one as well, so perhaps he did not die until in the fourth quarter of 1835. These records are not consistent, but they are close.

However, according to a deed index, in 1835, real estate transactions were taking place between individuals designated as Jacob’s heirs in deed book L, page 177. However, deed book L is missing, and according to FamilySearch, volume M resumes in 1836. Of course☹

In March of 1838, Jacob Dobkins in the court records is no longer referenced as Jr. suggesting that Jacob Sr. is gone, as is confirmed by the above records. However, the Claiborne County court notes reflect nothing about an estate or his death.

Without a court entry date or those deeds, it’s safe to say that Jacob died sometime between March 1833 and the end of 1835.

Based on when Jacob Jr. is no longer referred to as Jr., in March 1834, and the final payment vouchers, I would say that Jacob Dobkins died in the fourth quarter of 1835.

By 1850, two of Jacob’s slaves had been freed, one registered in the court records in 1850, apparently after filing suit.

October 5, 1850 – “I Solomon Dobkins do this day free my negrow boy Jefferson and doe agree to gave to said boy Jefferson a good hors and saddle and bridal on theas conditions that the said Jefferson doath dismiss his suit in chancery at Tazewell for his freedom and relinquish all claim on me for my laber sens my oald master Jacob Dobkins deceist, giveon under our hands and seals this the 5 day of October 1850”.  Solomon signs and Jefferson (+) Dobkins, wit Jacob Dobkins, Nathaniel Brooks and John C. Dodson filed Dec 3 1850, personally appeared before me Thomas Johnson Solomon Dobkins and Jefferson Dobkins with whom I am personally acquainted and who acknowledged the execution of the above deed for the purpose therein contained upon the 7th of October 1850.

I wonder if Jefferson continued to use the surname Dobkins. I didn’t find him in the 1860 census.

Jacob’s Path

Jacob’s path AFTER the Revolutionary War – from Shenandoah County, to Jonesville, back to Shenandoah, then on to Bull’s Gap and finally, to Claiborne County was not a short journey. Those years were filled with conflict, probably far more conflict than we can even begin to imagine.

Jacob was probably extremely grateful to actually purchase land, farm and stay in one place. From 1801 when he bought land and settled in Claiborne County on the Powell River, until his death in the 1830s, Jacob never moved again.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

WikiTree Challenge Fun – It’s My Turn!

For the past year, WikiTree has been having a weekly Challenge where volunteers work with the genealogy of guests.

Every Wednesday at 8 PM Eastern, a publicly viewable reveal is held for the guest from the week before, and the guest for the new week is introduced.

This week, I’m fortunate enough to be the guest and it’s going to be like Christmas early. If you’re interested, you can view last evening’s kickoff, here.

As an added bonus, Shelley, last week’s guest and I discovered that multiple of our ancestors lived in the same places and even attended the same church. Serendipity at work. I have brick walls. She does too. Maybe Shelley and I are related. Wouldn’t THAT be fun!!!

Want to work on a Challenge or learn more? There’s a great video here.

You can sign up for a Challenge team here, but you don’t have to. Anyone can research and add information to WikiTree profiles. You are most welcome to work on mine this week. In fact, I’m hoping that people with common ancestors will improve the information available. Maybe you’ll discover information that’s new to you too!

The Goal

The goal, broadly speaking, is for WikiTree to provide the most complete, documented, accurate genealogy in a one-large-tree format.

Before WikiTree, I was skeptical and discouraged about big one-single-trees because there were (are) so many errors, but WikiTree is different because it’s collaborative, genial and there are people available to help resolve any issues. Did I mention that everyone is a volunteer?

I enjoy WikiTree. WikiTree is free and allows descendants to enter their Y and mitochondrial information, as well as their GEDmatch ID for autosomal.

WikiTree now has about 27 million-ish profiles, so assuredly there’s something there for everyone.

Challenge is Fair Game

How do volunteers work with genealogy during the challenge? Pretty much any way you want!


  • Break down brick walls (my favorite)
  • Find interesting information about known ancestors
  • Add data and detailed information
  • Provide proofs
  • Upload photos and documents
  • Correct information
  • Saw off branches (yep, it happens)

Volunteers who work on the challenge can accrue points, but it’s more about solving puzzles.

If you want to research, here’s my tree on WikiTree. I’m RobertaEstes13 at Ancestry and you can find my tree by searching for my father, William Sterling Estes 1902-1963. No, it’s not cheating to use every resource available.

Of course, everything is game. I tried to add at least the basic information at WikiTree for all of my known and proven ancestors ahead of time because I didn’t want people to replow a field I had already plowed.

I also made notes when people or data previously added was questionable or needed documentation. I also add each of the 52 Ancestors articles I’ve written about many ancestors.

Brick Walls Set in Concrete

I’ve created a list of my most painful, particularly difficult, brick walls that need attention. I’m hoping that maybe someone else either has that same ancestor, or perhaps has experience in the region. Something. Anything.

James Lee Claxton’s father

I feel like this one is so close, but so far away. We first find James Lee Claxton (Clarkson) in Russell County, VA in 1799. He married and shortly thereafter, moved down the valley to Claiborne County, TN. James died in 1815 in the War of 1812, and thankfully, his widow Sarah Cook, provided information in her land and pension applications. The surname is spelled both Clarkson and Claxton in various places, but based on Y DNA matches, the spelling seems to be Claxton in the other family who shares an earlier ancestor with my James.

In the Claxton Y DNA project, James’s descendants match with a group of people from Bedford County, TN, whose earliest known ancestor is James Claxton born about 1746 and eventually found in Granville Co., North Carolina in 1769. He may be connected to an early Francis Claxton from Bertie County.

Two genealogists compiled information about this line on a now somewhat dated website. Some links are broken, but the data is still quite useful. However, a lovely summary can be found, here.

James Claxton born about 1746, reportedly, had a son James who was found in 1798 in Sumner County, TN, so my James could not be the son of James born in 1746 if this is accurate. However, based on autosomal DNA matches between the two groups, these two lines, meaning mine and the Bedford County line, can’t be very distantly removed.

The James from North Carolina is named in 1784 as the executor of the will of John Hatcher whose wife, Mary, is proven Native based on their son’s Revolutionary War testimony. We don’t know why James was named as executor, or if they were related. It would be easy to assume that he was married to a daughter, but there is no evidence for that either.

Unfortunately, there are no other Claxton Y DNA matches that can push this line further back in time, anyplace.

I wrote about James Lee Claxton, here and his WikiTree profile is here.

Joel Cook and Family

Sarah’s says, in her pension application, that her father was Joel Cook and he is quite a conundrum. Based on the history of the region, he was clearly born elsewhere and settled in Russell County about 1795, as the frontier was settled. He is associated with a Clayton (Claton) Cook who moved to Kentucky about 1794, then back, then back to Kentucky again.

Records are sparse. Joel sells his land in 1816. It has been suggested that he migrated to Floyd County, KY, or perhaps elsewhere, along with Clayton, but I don’t have any evidence of that – or anything else for that matter.

Joel arrived out of thin air and disappeared into thin air. The only other hint we have is that a young man, Henry Cook, served as a drummer in the War of 1812 from Claiborne County, TN, and died in the service. It’s certainly possible that he was Sarah’s younger brother or maybe nephew.

We don’t have Y DNA from this line. If the Floyd County Cook group Y DNA tests, it would be nice to know if any of those people match any of Sarah Cook’s descendants.

I haven’t written about either Sarah or her father, Joel, but Sarah’s Wikitree profile is here and Joel’s is here.

By the way, I inadvertently think I and other early genealogists were responsible for the misinformation on her profile that Sarah’s birth surname is Helloms. In 1850 she is living with a man, John Helloms, 5 years younger than she is who is listed as an “idiot.” It was assumed that this was her brother and her surname was assigned as Helloms before we had her pension application. Now I suspect that as a widow, she may have been paid by the Hancock County court to take care of him. Court records have burned. There may be a connection with this family however, as she was assigned as the administrator of a William Hulloms estate in Claiborne County in 1820, not long after her husband’s death.

Unfortunately, Helloms as Sarah’s maiden name won’t seem to die, no matter how many times I saw that branch off of the tree. Having said that, it’s probable that somehow, given her relatively close involvement with Helloms men twice, 30 years apart, that she is somehow related.

Charles Campbell’s Father

John Campbell born about 1772 and George Campbell born about 1770, probably in Virginia, are believed to be the sons of Charles Campbell who lived in Hawkins County, TN. Unfortunately, Charles, who died about 1825, had no will and much to my chagrin, the deed for his land after his death was never actually recorded.

The Y DNA clearly provides matching to the Campbell line from Inverary, Argylishire, Scotland. Both the migration path and neighbors combined with DNA matching suggests strongly that Charles migrated from the Orange/Augusta/Rockingham County portion of Virginia.

I chased a hot lead based on matches that suggest Gilbert Campbell’s line and wrote about that, here. Gilbert had a son named Charles, but in-depth research indicates that his son Charles is probably accounted for in Virginia. Gilbert did have a brother or son named James. We don’t know who the parents of James and Gilbert were and that’s key to this equation.

Oral history suggests a connection with a James Campbell. It’s possible that this John and this George were a different John and George than Charles jointly sold land to, although it’s highly doubtful.

Both John and George Campbell married Dobkins sisters, daughters of Jacob Dobkins who lived up the road from Charles Campbell before the entire Dobkins/Campbell group moved to Claiborne County, TN together about 1800.

I wrote about John Campbell, here and his WikiTree profile is here. Charles Campbell’s story is here and his profile is here.

Julien Lord or Lore’s Origins

Julien Lord, born someplace about 1652, probably in France, is one of the early Acadian settlers. Julien is listed in 1665 on a list of soldiers who sailed for Nova Scotia. He would only have been 13. He is later listed on various census documents which is how we obtained his birth year.

I know that recently additional documents have become available in France and I’m hopeful that perhaps his association with the other men might pinpoint an area and we can find Julien’s parents. Of course, the surname could have been spelled much differently in France – Lohr, Loire, Loree, etc. I can’t help but wonder if he was an orphan and that’s why he was shipped out.

Julien Lord’s WikiTree profile is here.

Magdalene (birth surname unknown,) wife of Philip Jacob Miller

This one is driving me insane. Magdalena was born sometime about 1730, probably in Pennsylvania among the Brethren or possibly Mennonite families. She married Philip Jacob Miller, a Brethren man, about 1751, just as he was moving from York County, PA to Frederick Co., VA.

Magdalena was assuredly Brethren or Mennonite, because marriages outside the faith were not allowed at that time and those who did were effectively shunned unless the spouse converted.

Magdalena’s surname was rumored to be Rochette for years, but thorough research produced not one shred of evidence that Rochette is accurate. There aren’t even any Rochette families living anyplace close. Everyone has heard that rumor, and no one knows it’s source.

We do have Magdalena’s mitochondrial DNA signature. Her haplogroup is H6a1a and she has 2 exact matches. One match provided no genealogical information but the other match showed her ancestor as Amanda Troutwine (1872-1946) who married William Hofaker. I did some genealogical sleuthing several years ago and based on superficial information, found the following lineage for Amanda Troutwine.

  • Sarah Baker 1851-1923 and George Troutwine


  • Elias Baker and Mary Baker 1824-1897


  • Jacob Baker and Sarah Michael 1801-1892



  • Mary Myers 1775-1849 buried Clayton, Montgomery Co., Ohio m Jacob Michael



  • Johannes Meyer and Margaretha Scherman 1750-1825


I have not confirmed this information. If it is accurate, Margaretha born in 1750 could be Magdalena’s sister or niece, perhaps?

I created a tiny tree and discovered that Mary’s husband lived in Frederick County, Maryland, the same place that Philip Jacob Miller and Magdalena lived. Mary died in Montgomery County, Ohio, the same place that many Brethren families settled and very close to the Miller men.

Mary’s WikiTree profile is here and shows her mother, Margaret Sherman/Schuermann to have been born about 1750 in York County, PA, the location where the Miller family was living. The question is, who was Margaret’s mother. Is this the clue to solving the identity of Magdalena, the wife of Philip Jacob Miller?

I wrote about Magdalena, here, including a list of known Brethren families, and her WikiTree profile is here.

Barbara (birth surname unknown) Estes Mitochondrial DNA

Barbara (birth surname unknown) Estes, born sometime around 1670 was (at least) the second wife of Abraham Estes.

Abraham’s first wife, Barbara Burton, died in England before he immigrated in 1673.

For years, on almost every tree, her surname has been shown as Brock, but there is absolutely no evidence that’s correct.

Abraham’s daughter, Barbara Estes married Henry Brock, so there was indeed a Barbara Brock, but this person was the daughter, NOT the wife of Abraham Estes. A man wrote a novel, as in fiction, in the 1980s that assigned Abraham’s wife’s surname as Brock and that myth simply won’t die.

I would very much like to find a mitochondrial descendant of Barbara, Abraham’s wife, mother to his children, to take a mitochondrial DNA test. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from a direct line of matrilineal ancestors. Anyone today, male or female, who descends from Barbara directly through all females from any of her daughters carries Barbara’s mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA may lead us to Barbara’s parents.

I wrote about Barbara, here, and her WikiTree profile is here.

Bonus Round – Elizabeth (surname unknown,) wife of Stephen Ulrich

Elizabeth was born about 1725, possibly in Germany and if not, probably in Pennsylvania. She married Stephen Ulrich sometime around 1743 and died in around 1782 in Frederick County, Maryland. Unfortunately, her identity has been confused with that of her daughter, Elizabeth Ulrich (1757-1832) who married Daniel Miller. And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, her mother-in-law’s name was also Elizabeth, so we had three Elizabeth Ulrich’s three generations in a row.

We have two testers who believe they descend from Elizabeth. Unfortunately, one of them is incorrect, and I have no idea which one.

Tester #1 shows that he descends from Hannah Susan Ulrich (1762-1798) who married Henry Adams Puterbaugh (1761-1839), is haplogroup U2e1, and matches with someone whose most distant ancestor is Elizabeth Rench born in 1787 in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania and died in 1858 in Ohio. I did as much research as possible and wrote about that, here.

Then, I went to visit Elizabeth’s WikiTree profile here which, I might note, reflects the long-standing oral history that Elizabeth’s birth surname was Cripe.

I noticed at WikiTree that another individual has indicated that he has tested for Elizabeth’s mitochondrial DNA, and it’s an entirely different haplogroup, H6a1b3. Uh oh!

He descends through daughter, Susannah Ulrich who married Jacob I. Puterbaugh.

My heart sank. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong, but both can’t be correct. Unless of course Stephen Ulrich was married twice.

My tester’s most distant ancestor on WikiTree is found here. If the genealogy is accurate, her line will connect with Hannah Susan Ulrich (1762-1798) who married Henry Adams Puterbaugh (1761-1839).

A third mitochondrial DNA tester through a different daughter would also break this tie. Anybody descend from Elizabeth, wife of Stephen Ulrich, through all females? If so, please raise your hand!

WikiTree Challenge Results Next Wednesday

I can hardly wait until next Wednesday’s reveal to see what so many wonderful volunteers will find. Breaking through tough brick walls would be wonderful, but so would anything.

I’m excited and oh so very grateful for this opportunity.

If you’re not familiar with WikiTree, take a look for yourself.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

Unraveling the Odd Fellows Lodge Meeting in Claiborne County, Tennessee – 52 Ancestors #343

I have absolutely no idea where I got this newspaper clipping, but I found it buried among some papers as I was sorting through a box. I’d much rather go down this rabbit hole than sort and clean any day, so I felt compelled to see if I could figure out when this mystery photo was taken.

Why am I so interested?

My grandfather, William George Estes, known as Will, is pictured in the center of the second row.

I “thought” Will was probably a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge near Springdale in Claiborne County, but I wasn’t sure.

Springdale, the bottom red star, is more like a named area and not a village or town per se. It’s a crossroads stop along the old buffalo trail, now 25E, marked by a few houses, a gas station today, and the primitive log cabin Big Springs Baptist Church which was already more than a century old by the time this photo was taken.

The Estes family lived in a holler a couple miles down Little Sycamore, the intersecting road heading east from Springdale.

The winding back roads intersect with Little Sycamore Road near Pleasant View Baptist Church. Once there, you follow around the church and up a dirt road around the cemetery where most of the family is buried, until you turn, cross a creek and travel back up into the hollers “till you can’t go no further.”

The Estes Holler “road” turns into a two-track, or less, crosses the mountain, and exits on the other side of the ridge into Vannoy Holler. There’s no turning around or backing up, so once you start over the mountain, you’re going all the way. Trust me on this one.

Back in the WPA days in the 1930s, the first actual road through the county was an amazing 16 feet wide, with three inches of gravel. Before that, dirt and mud.

Some of the other men in this picture are my relatives too and they all lived down Little Sycamore, which is the name of the stream and the road that runs along it, both.

Of course, as a genealogist, I’m curious as to when this photo was taken, and where.

I love the women’s fine hats as they sat on the porch. It looks like a warm day and I’m not sure I’d want to be wearing those long skirts, long sleeves, and bonnets. I can tell you those women probably arrived in wagons or buggies, not riding horses sidesaddle individually. Some may have walked. The home looks well-cared-for and lovely.

According to an old newspaper article, including a photo, there was a fine plantation-style home near “Roundtop,” the “hill” that actually defines Springdale. Unfortunately, I can’t tell if this is the same home, but given the fancy dresses and the location, it surely might have been.

Every man, except my grandfather, was wearing a hat. Not sure what that says about my grandfather, but I’d wager it wasn’t good. If he wasn’t wearing a hat for a photo like this, I’d bet he didn’t own one. Life was difficult for my grandparents back then. In the 1900 census, Will reported 6 months of being unemployed, but none of the rest of the men on that page reported anything near that.

My first guess would be that this picture was taken about 1910 based on a few pieces of information about my grandfather. He was born in 1873 and looks to be around 30 here, more or less. After he married Ollie Bolton in 1894, they moved to Springdale, Arkansas for several years, returning to Tennessee between June 1898 and 1900, before the census.

I know my grandparents moved to Indiana approximately 1912, sometime after the 1910 census and before 1913. I also know my grandfather moved back to Tennessee 1915ish, apparently got divorced, and was living in Claiborne County in March 1916 with his second wife who happened to be his first wife’s cousin. Suffice it to say there was bad blood between Will and the Bolton family.

Sometime after the 1920 census, he moved to Harlan County, Kentucky.

Based on this information, this photo was probably taken sometime between 1900 and 1910, or after 1915 and before 1920, although he does not look 40+ in this photo.

Let’s see what kind of information we can discern based on the names of the men provided.

Front Row, left to right:

Allen Hodge – Born in 1846, he died in 1925 on Lone Mountain. He looks to be about 65 or so in this photo. According to the census, he was 73 in 1920. Lone Mountain is the name of the road at the Springdale crossroads that heads west, while Little Sycamore goes to the east.

Willie Hodge – Son of Allen, Willie was age 26 in the 1900 census and looks to be maybe 30 in this photo. He was born in 1873 and died in 1961.

Worth Epperson – Worth Epperson lived in Estes Holler beside Will and was married to Cornie Estes, my grandfather’s sister. Worth was born in 1873 and died in 1959. He looks to be about 30, maybe 35 in the Odd Fellows picture.

Photo of Worth Epperson, at left, standing with Will Estes in their later years.

Milt Dalton – Born in 1880, he married in 1900 and was living in the Springdale area of Claiborne County in the 1900 census near the Venables, Campbells, and Hursts.

Lee Day – In 1900, Lee Day, born in 1862, was living off of Little Sycamore Road just beyond Estes Holler, near the Plank Cemetery, beside the Boltons and Venables. He married Cora McNiel in 1899. Cora was the daughter of John Anderson McNiel, the great-nephew of my 3 times great-grandmother, Lois McNiel who married Elijah Vannoy. In other words, Lee’s wife was my grandfather’s 2C1R. These families all clustered a couple of miles east of Springdale, between the Pleasant View Church and Liberty Church.

Pryor Carr (holding child) – I wish they had given the name of the child which would make dating this photo significantly easier. Pryor Carr was born in 1869 in Springdale, the area where Little Sycamore Road intersects with now 25E, but formerly the Kentucky Road. He died in 1926 in Madison County, KY. Pryor only had two sons, Shelby born in 1903 in Lee County, and James born in 1905 in Springdale. By 1910, this family had moved to Rose Hill, Virginia.

Willie Vannoy – Born in 1877 in Vannoy Holler, he died in 1950 and looks to be about 35 in the Odd Fellows photo.

Willie and Pearlie Shumate lived “up to Lone Mountain” which is the same road as Little Sycamore, but west of Springdale. Willie Vannoy and my grandfather were first cousins.

Jim Hodge – uncertain, but Hodge family members lived near Estes Holler on Little Sycamore.

Jim Bolton – Two Jim Bolton’s from this time frame are first cousins, born in the early 1870s, and live near each other on Little Sycamore. Will Estes was married to Ollie Bolton who was also first cousins with both Jim Boltons.

Arch Bartlett – Born in 1883, married in 1906 to Lillie Painter whose parents lived in the middle of several Bolton families.


Row Two:

Joe Campbell – If this is the correct Joe Campbell, he was born about 1845 in Claiborne County, the grandson of George Campbell and Elizabeth Dobkins and a double third cousin to William George Estes’s grandmother. Joe would have been about 55 in this photo. The Campbell family members lived all up and down Little Sycamore Road.


Bill Cunningham – Born in 1872, it’s unclear who Bill’s parents were. However, the Cunningham family lived near the Estes family.

Thomas Sulfridge – One Thomas Sulfridge was born about 1855 and lived in Claiborne County, although this may not be the same person. By 1912, he was living in Kentucky.

Bob Ferguson – Born in 1869, in 1900, William Mack Ferguson was living in this part of Claiborne County.

Will Estes – In 1900 and 1910 my grandfather was living in Estes Holler by the Cunningham and Hodge families and Worth Epperson. Sometime after 1910, the family moved to Indiana, but after 1914 and before 1916, he had moved back to Claiborne County and remarried. His daughter, Irene was born in March 1916 in Shawnee which is in the North part of the county. I don’t believe Will ever lived in the Springdale area again and eventually moved to Harlan County, Kentucky.

Martin Venable – William Martin Venable was born in 1881. The Venable family married into the Estes family and was living beside Milt Dalton and the Cook, Bartlett, and Campbell families in 1900. Martin was a 3rd cousin to Will Estes through his mother on the McNiel side.

Milt Bolton – Two Milt Boltons were alive during this time. The younger man was born in 1884 which would mean he would be between 20-30 in this photo. The man in the picture is clearly an older man.

The older Milton Halen Bolton was born in May 1844 and died in 1907, a half-uncle to Ollie Bolton, the wife of Will Estes. Milt’s wife, Narcissus “Nursey” Parks was also Ollie’s first cousin, twice removed on her mother’s side.

We also have a newspaper clipping of Milt Bolton’s funeral. Unfortunately, most of the people are unrecognizable, but the photos look similar and the actual funeral is very interesting.

Mont Carr – a physician born in 1870 and who lived in the neighborhood. I’d say he looks to be about 50 in the picture. He died in 1937. I can’t help but wonder if this photo was taken at his home.

Howard Friar – Howard, born in 1875 and his wife, Mary Ann “Ropp” Bolton were the best friends of Will Estes and Ollie Bolton Estes.

Both couples moved to Indiana as tenant farmers at some time after 1910. Will Estes, at left with Ollie, took their photos together in Indiana.

In 1920, Ropp and Howard were still living in Indiana, but moved back sometime before 1930. Ropp was Ollie’s first cousin. The fact that Howard was in the Odd Fellows photo pretty much eliminates the photo dates in the 19-teens.

Back Row:

Willie Bartlett – If this is the right person, Wiley Bartlett in 1910 was living near a Carr family.

George McNeil – Named after our common ancestor, this George was born in 1866 in Claiborne County, lived by the Bolton families and died in 1934. He married Nervesta Estes, a first cousin once removed to Will Estes. George McNiel was also Will’s third cousin through his mother, Elizabeth Vannoy.


Is there any wonder why I match the DNA of almost everyone from this part of Claiborne County?

So, When Was the Picture Taken?

By process of elimination, we have bracketed these dates:

  • Pryor Carr only had two sons, assuming he is holding his own child. Shelby was born in 1903 in Lee County and James was born in 1905 in Springdale. Given the Odd Fellows vest, the child had to have been a male. By 1910, this family had moved to Rose Hill, Virginia. Based on this, we can fairly confidently say that this photo was taken sometime between 1905 and 1907 when one of those babies was about 18 months old. We know this had to be taken before 1910 when the Carr family was no longer living here.
  • The cincher here is Milton Bolton’s death year of 1907, although unfortunately, we don’t have an exact date.
  • Based on this combined information, the photo had to have been taken between 1905 and 1907, before Milton Bolton’s death.

My grandfather, Will, would have been turned 32 in March of 1905 and 34 in 1907. He and Ollie had brought either 7 or 8 children into the world by then, having lost either 3 or 4.

At least two children died after 1900, Robby perishing in a fire when their cabin burned to the ground between 1904 and 1907. A third was likely born and died about 1900, based on a telltale gap between children.

Will doesn’t look very happy in the Odd Fellows photo, but then again, smiling for photos wasn’t a “thing” back then. I’m actually surprised that Will didn’t take the actual photo. He was a photographer. My Aunt Margaret said that he had his camera “rigged up with some kind of timer.”

Will always looked concerned in the family photos he took, so maybe he was worrying about whether the camera would work without him behind the box. He’s in the back row at far right in this 1913 photo where he looks somewhat older than in the Odd Fellows picture.

Other than Ollie and William George to the right in the back row, Ollie’s cousins, Clara and (the younger) Mont Bolton are at far left, and possibly family friend Ted Barnes is third from left in the tie. Beside Ollie is Elizabeth Bolton, sister of Mont and wife of George Smith. Apparently a family group had gone on a great adventure, visiting Ollie and Will in Indiana.

One of Will and Ollie’s sons, Joseph, was missing in this photo, reportedly at scouts. My father, William Sterling Estes is the youngest male in the front row on the left beside his brother, their oldest son, Estle. Beside Estle at the right of the front row are cousins Lee and George Smith. The blonde female is their daughter, Minnie, born in 1908 and the brunette is Margaret born in 1906.

If Will had been responsible for taking the Odd Fellows photo, I would have thought that he would have been standing in the front row, not behind. But he wasn’t in the above family picture. Margaret was in this photo, so she should have known about how they took photos of the entire family, including her dad. In fact, I specifically asked.

Or maybe, just maybe, Ollie, my grandmother took the Odd Fellows photo. Maybe she went along to whatever event was happening and was dressed in one of those long dresses. Maybe she wandered off the porch long enough to do the honors.

Cameras and photographers were quite scarce at that time which is why we have so very few photos. Photographers had to develop the film and print the final pictures. Will may have been the only photographer in the county. I know he was sought after to attend many family reunions to record the event, his black camera on the tripod in tow with the black curtain that went over his head. He even took along his own quilted backdrop, seen in the photo of Ropp and Howard Friar with their baby.

I’m grateful for this picture, along with the men’s names and this stroll down memory lane with my grandfather and his kin, one warm summer day long ago.



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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research

Genetic Affairs – New AutoKinship Tool Predicts Relationships and Builds Genetic Trees

Genetic Affairs recently introduced a new tool – AutoKinship. Evert-Jan (EJ) Blom, the developer was kind enough to step through these results with me to assure that I’m explaining things correctly. Thanks EJ!

AutoKinship automatically predicts family trees and pathways that you may be related to your matches based on how they match you and each other. Not only is this important for genealogists trying to piece our family tree together, it’s indispensable for anyone searching for unknown ancestors, beginning with parents and walking right on up the tree for the closest several generations.

Right now, the automated AutoKinship tool is limited to 23andMe profiles, but will also work as a standalone tool where users can fill in the shared DNA information for their matches. MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GEDMatch provide centiMorgan information about how your matches also match each other. Here’s a tutorial for the standalone tool.

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide their customers with segment information, but fortunately, you can upload a copy of your Ancestry DNA file to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch, for free. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, here.

Automated AutoKinship Tool

After signing into to your Genetic Affairs account, assuming you have already set up your 23andMe profile at Genetic Affairs, click on “Run AutoKinship for 23andMe.”

I manage multiple profiles at 23andMe, so I need to click on “Profiles.”

Select the correct profile if you manage multiple kits at 23andMe.

You’ll see your various options that can be run for your 23andMe kit.

Select AutoKinship

If you select AutoKinship, you automatically receive an AutoCluster because AutoKinship is built on the AutoCluster functionality.

Make your selections. I recommend leaving these settings at the default, at least initially.

The default of 250 cM excludes your closest matches. You don’t want your closest matches because they will be members of too many clustered groups.

In my initial run, I made the mistake of changing the 50 cM lower threshold to 20 cM because I wanted more matches to be included. Unfortunately, the effect this had on my results was that my largest two clusters did not produce trees.

Hint: EJ states that the software tool works from the smallest cluster to the largest when producing trees. If you notice that your largest cluster, which is usually the first one displayed in the upper left hand corner (orange here), does not have associated trees, or some people are missing, that’s your clue that the AutoKinship ran out of server time to process and you need to raise either the minimum match threshold, in this case, 50 cM, or the minimum amount of DNA shared between your matches to each other, in this case, 10 cM.

You can also select between shared matches and triangulated groups. I selected shared matches, but I may well rerun this report with triangulated groups because that provides me with a great deal of even more useful information.

When you’re ready, click on the big green “you can’t miss it” Perform AutoCluster Analysis button.

Make a cup of coffee. Your report is processing. If your email doesn’t arrive, you can click on the little envelope in your Genetic Affairs profile and the report can be downloaded to your computer directly from that link.

Your Report Arrives!

You’ll receive a zip file in the email that you MUST SAVE TO YOUR COMPUTER to work correctly. You’ll see these files, but you can’t use them yet.

First, you MUST EXTRACT THE FILES from the zip file. My zip file displays the names of the file inside of the zipped file, but they are not extracted.

You must right click, as shown above, and then click on “Extract All” on a PC. Not sure what MAC users need to do but I think it autoextracts. If you click on some of the files in this article and they don’t load correctly, or say they aren’t present, that likely means:

  • You either forgot to save the file in the email to your computer
  • Or you failed to do the extract

The bottom two files are your normal AutoCluster visual html file and the same information in an excel file.

Click on the AutoCluster html file to activate.

Personally, I love watching the matches all fly into place in their clusters. This html file is going to be our home base, the file we’ll be operating from for all of the functions.

I have a total of 23 interrelated autoclusters. The question is, how are we all related to each other. You can read my article about AutoClusters and how they work here.

People who are members of more than one cluster are shown with those little grey squares signifying that they match people in two clusters, not just one cluster.

For example, one cluster might be my grandparents, but the second cluster might be my maternal great-great-grandfather. Membership in both clusters tells me that my matching DNA with those people in the second cluster probably descends from my great-great-grandfather. Some of the DNA matches in the first cluster assuredly also descend from that man, but some of them may descend from other related ancestors, like my maternal grandmother. It’s our job as genealogists to discern the connections, but the entire purpose of AutoKinship is to make that process much easier.

We are going to focus on the first few clusters to see what kinds of information Genetic Affairs can produce about these clusters. Notice that the first person in row 1 is related to the orange cluster, the green cluster, the purple and the brown clusters. That’s important information about that person, and also about the interrelationship of those clusters themselves and the ancestors they represent.

Remember, to be included in a grandparent cluster, that person’s DNA segment(s) must have descended from other ancestors, represented in other clusters. So you can expect one person to be found potentially in multiple clusters that serve to trace those common ancestors (and associated segments) back in time.


The AutoKinship portion of this tool creates hypothetical trees based on relationships of you to each person in the cluster, and to the other cluster members to each other.

If you’re thinking triangulation, you’re right. I selected matches, not triangulated groups which is also an option. Some people do triangulate, but some people may match each other on different segments. Right now, it’s a jumble of hints, but we’ll sort some of this out.

If you scroll down in your html file, below your cluster, and below the explanation (which you should read,) you’ll see the AutoKinship verbiage.

I want to do a quick shout-out to Brit Nicholson, the statistician that works with EJ on probabilities of relationships for this tool and describes his methodology, here.

AutoKinship Table

You’ll see the AutoKinship Table that includes a link for each cluster that could be assembled into a potential tree.

Click on the cluster you wish to view.

In my case, clusters 1 through 5 are closely related to each other based on the common members in each cluster. I selected cluster 1.

Your most probable tree for that cluster will be displayed.

I’m fortunate that I recognized three of my third cousins. AutoKinship constructed a probable genetic pedigree, but I’ve overlayed what I know to be the correct pedigree.

With the exception of one person, this AutoKinship tree is accurate to the best of my knowledge. A slot for Elizabeth, the mother of William George Estes and the daughter of Joel is missing. I probably know why. I match two of my cousins with a higher than expected amount of DNA which means that I’m shown “closer” in genetic distance that I normally would be for that relationship level.

In one case, Charles and I share multiple ancestors. In the other case, I don’t know why I match Everett on so much more DNA than his brother Carl or our other cousin, Vianna. Regardless, I do.

In one other instance, there’s a half-relationship that throws a wrench into the tree. I know that, but it’s very difficult to factor half-relationships into tree building without prior knowledge.

If you continue to scroll down, you’ll see multiple options for trees for this cluster.

DNA Matrix

Below that, you’ll see a wonderful downloadable DNA matrix of how everyone in the cluster shares DNA with everyone else in the cluster.

At this point, exit from cluster one and return to your original cluster file that shows your cluster matrix.

Beneath the AutoKinship table, you’ll see AutoCluster Cluster Information.

AutoCluster Cluster Information

Click on any one of those people. I’m selecting Everett because I know how we are related.

Voila, a new cluster configuration forms.

I can see all of the people I match in common with Everett in each cluster. This tells me two things:

  • Which clusters are related to this line. In particular, the orange cluster, green, red, purple, brown, magenta and dark grey clusters. If you mouse over each cell in the cluster, more information is provided.
  • The little helix in each cell tells you that those two people triangulate with each other and the tester. How cool is that?!!

Note that you can display this cluster in 4 different ways.

Return again to your main autocluster page and scroll down once again.

This just might be my favorite part.

Chromosome Segments

You can import chromosome segment information into DNAPainter – instructions here.

What you’ll see next is the clusters painted on your chromosomes. I love this!!!

Of course, Genetic Affairs can’t tell you which side is maternal and which is paternal. You’ll need to do that yourself after you import into DNAPainter.

Just beneath this painting, you’ll see a chart titled Chromosome segment statistics per AutoCluster cluster.

I’m only showing the first couple as an example.

Click on one of links. I’m selecting cluster 1.

Cluster 1 has painted portions of each chromosome, but I’m only displaying chromosomes 1-7 here.

Following the painting is a visual display of each overlap region by cluster, by overlapping segment on each chromosome.

You can clearly see where these segments overlap with each other!

Surname Enrichment

If you select the surname enrichment option, you’ll receive two additional features in your report.

Please note that I ran this option separately at a different time, so the cluster members and clusters themselves do not necessarily correlate with the examples above.

The Enriched Surname section of your report shows surnames in common found between the matches in each specific cluster.

Keep in mind, this does NOT just mean surnames in common with YOUR surname list, assuming you’ve entered your surnames at 23andMe. (If you haven’t please do so now.) 23andMe does not support user trees, so your entered surnames are all that can be utilized when comparing information from your matches.

These are surnames that are found more than once among your matches. I’ve framed the ones in red that I recognize as being found in my tree, and I’ve framed the ones in black that I recognize as being “married in.” In other words, some people may descend through children of my ancestors who married people with that black bracketed surname.

I can tell you immediately, based on these surnames, that the first cluster is the cluster formed around my great-great-grandparents, Joel Vannoy and his wife, Phebe Crumley.

Cluster 6 is less evident, but Anderson might be connected to the Vannoy family. I’ll need to view the common matches in that cluster at 23andMe and look for additional clues.

Cluster 9 is immediately evident too. Ferverda is Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather and Eva Miller is his wife.

Cluster 10 is probably the Miller line as well. Indiana is a location in this case, not a surname.

Click on “Detailed Surname Table” for more information, as shown below.

Each group of people that shares any surname is shown in a table together. In this case, these three people, who I happen to know are brothers, all share these surnames. The surnames they also share with me are shown with red boxes. The other surnames are shared only with each other and no one else in the cluster. I know they aren’t shared with me because I know my tree.

While your initial reaction may be that this isn’t terribly useful, it is actually a HUGE gift. Especially if you find a cluster you aren’t familiar with.

Mystery Cluster

A mystery cluster is an opportunity to break down a brick wall. This report tells you which people to view on your match list who share that surname. My first step is to use that list and see who I match in common with each person at 23andMe.

My relatives in common with my Cluster 10 matches include my close Ferverda cousins who descend from our common Miller ancestor, plus a few Miller cousins. This confirms that this cluster does indeed originate in the Miller line.

Not everyone in that cluster shares the surname Miller. That might be a good thing.

I have a long-standing brick wall with Magdalena (surname unknown) who was married to Philip Jacob Miller, my 5-times great-grandparents. My cousins through that couple, at my same generation, would be about 6th cousins.

These matches are matching me at the approximate 4th cousin level or more distantly, so it’s possible that at least some of these matches COULD be through Magdalena’s family. In that case, I certainly would not recognize the common surnames. Therefore, it’s imperative that I chase these leads. I can also adjust the matching threshold to obtain more matches, hopefully, in this cluster, and run the report again.

Are you in love with Autokinship and its associated features yet? I am!


Wow is all I can say. There’s enough in this one report to keep me busy for days, especially since 23andMe does not support a tree function in the traditional genealogical sense.

I have several matches that I have absolutely no idea how they are related to me. This helps a great deal and allows to me systematically approach tree-building or identifying ancestors.

You can see if 23andMe has predicted these relationships in the same way, but other than messaging your matches, or finding them at another vendor who does support a tree, there’s no way to know if either 23andMe’s autogenerated tree or the Genetic Affairs trees are accurate.

What Genetic Affairs provides that 23andMe does not is composite information in one place – as a group in a cluster. You don’t have to figure out who matches whom one by one and create your own matrix. (Yes, I used to do that.)

You can also import the Genetic Affairs information into DNAPainter to make further use of these segments. I’ve written about using DNAPainter, here.

Once you’ve identified how one person in any cluster connects, you’ve found your lever to unlock the identity of the ancestors whose DNA is represented in that particular cluster – and an important clue/link to associated clusters as well.

If you don’t recognize these cousins at 23andMe, look for common surnames on your DNA Relatives match list, or see if a known close relative on your maternal or paternal side matches these people found in a cluster. Click on each match at 23andMe to see if they have provided notes, surnames, locations or even a link to a tree at another vendor.

Don’t forget, you can also select the “Based on Triangulated Groups” option instead of the “Based on Shared Matches” option initially.

Run A Report

If you have tested at 23andMe, give the Genetic Affairs AutoKinship report a try.

Is it accurate for you? Have you gained insight? Identified how people are related to you? Are there any surprises?

Do you have a mystery cluster? I hope so, because an answer just might be hiding there.

If you’d like to read more about Genetic Affairs tools, click here for my free repository of Genetic Affairs articles.


Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.


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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services


Genealogy Research